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The Watchlist: Brendan Donovan, Brandon Pfaadt & Ryan Mountcastle (2023 Fantasy Baseball)

The Watchlist: Brendan Donovan, Brandon Pfaadt & Ryan Mountcastle (2023 Fantasy Baseball)
cameraThe Watchlist: Brendan Donovan, Brandon Pfaadt & Ryan Mountcastle (2023 Fantasy Baseball)

This is “The Watchlist.”

“The Watchlist” is a weekly column designed to help you monitor and pick up players in the coming weeks. Whether they’re waiver wire or trade targets, these are the players you’ll want to add now before becoming the hot waiver commodity or trade target in a week or two.

Using underlying and advanced metrics, “The Watchlist” will help you get ahead of the competition in your league and reap the rewards later from your pickups.

The players could be anyone from a prospect in an ideal situation close to the Majors, a reliever in a saves+holds league or even a starter doing well with misleading surface-level stats like ERA. They might even be hitters with quality underlying stats. Or they could be none of those types of players and a different kind of player entirely. The point is that they’ll help you find success in your fantasy league while staying ahead of the curve of your league mates.

The payoff might not be immediate, but they should eventually provide significant value, more often than not.

These are some of those players for this week.

Fantasy Baseball Draft Watch List

Brendan Donovan (1B, 2B, 3B, SS, OF – STL)

Brendan Donovan enjoyed a solid debut season for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2022, hitting .281 with a .394 on-base percentage in 468 plate appearances, showing strong plate discipline and contact skills. The 26-year-old finished in the 88th percentile in strikeout rate (15.0%, 88th percentile), chase rate (21.4%, 89th percentile), whiff rate (15.6%, 92nd percentile) and walk rate (12.6%, 94th percentile).

Unsurprisingly, with so much contact, Donovan’s .266 expected batting average finished rather high league-wide, checking in in the 80th percentile.

But for as much as the former seventh-round pick did well in making contact and not offering at unideal pitches outside of the strike zone, Donovan’s quality of contact metrics were a bit of a mixed bag. His .339 xwOBA was, in short, solid. However, he registered little in the way of barrels, with just 11 total barrels and a 3.4% barrel rate.

That, in part, led to just five home runs for Donovan, who also added just a pair of stolen bases. The lack of power or stolen base numbers certainly wasn’t ideal for a player who brought so much else to the table from a fantasy standpoint, with his high batting average and on-base percentage metrics, not to mention multi-positional versatility. Donovan made at least seven starts at every position on the field besides pitcher and catcher last season.

At the end of the day, more power ideal would’ve been ideal, and more power might be coming this season for the versatile Cardinals player.

Entering play Monday, Donovan was tied for the second-most home runs in Spring Training action with four. Clearly, Spring Training stats aren’t the be-all, end-all, but if Donovan is going to hit more home runs, it changes things considerably where his fantasy upside is concerned. Even a 10-or-more home run season would be significant, considering what else he brings to the table. His power metrics and production are certainly something to keep an eye on moving forward.

For context, the 26-year-old is hitting .325 with a .386 on-base percentage, four home runs and a double in 44 plate appearances this spring.

Considering the Cardinals’ wealth of options around the field, Donovan might not always be a regular starter for the team, which might relegate him to more of a deeper league option for significant stretches. Still, given his versatility, he shouldn’t have trouble playing a semi-regular role for St. Louis. That same versatility could position him nicely if injuries or ineffectiveness affect one of the National League Central club’s other starters.

Brandon Pfaadt (SP – ARI)

The Diamondbacks officially reassigned Brandon Pfaadt to Minor League camp on Sunday, per a tweet from the team’s official Twitter account. And while that obviously isn’t ideal fantasy-wise, it does make now the perfect time to stash him for those in leagues with deeper benches.

One of the game’s best pitching prospects - and overall prospects in general - Pfaadt currently sits at 16th on FanGraphs’ list of the top 100 prospects in the sport. The Diamondbacks starter checks in ahead of the likes of Grayson Rodriguez, Marcelo Mayer, Brett Baty, Josh Jung and Hunter Brown.

In their write-up of Pfaadt in an article breaking down the publication’s top 100 prospects, Eric Logenhagen and Tess Taruksin wrote the following about the right-hander:

“A power on-mound athlete, Pfaadt is one of the few pitching prospects capable of missing bats with every one of his weapons.”

Pfaadt’s fastball, slider, curveball and changeup’s current and future grades were as follows, per FanGraphs:

  • Fastball: 60/60
  • Slider: 55/60
  • Curveball: 50/55
  • Changeup: 45/55

And while he was reassigned to minor league camp, he’s certainly someone who could be in the Majors relatively soon. Success in the minors aside, Pfaadt logged a 2.63 ERA and a 4.18 FIP to go along with 74 strikeouts and just 14 walks allowed in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League last season.

Arizona doesn’t have a ton of long-term solutions in its rotation. Of course, there is Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly, but Madison Bumgarner and Zach Davis both struggled to a degree last season.

The veteran duo both failed to top 7.00 strikeouts per nine innings while registering nearly identical FIP numbers at 4.85 and 4.83, respectively.

  • Madison Bumgarner In 2022: 158.2 IP, 4.88 ERA, 4.85 FIP, 6.35 K/9, 2.78 BB/9, 1.42 HR/9
  • Zach Davies In 2022: 134.1 IP, 4.09 ERA, 4.83 FIP, 6.83 K/9, 3.48 BB/9, 1.41 HR/9

With a youth movement in its early stages, with Gallen, Corbin Carroll, Gabriel Moreno, Jake McCarthy, Kyle Lewis and Alek Thomas all expected to play significant roles this season, it might not be long before Pfaadt joins them.

Of course, that’s entirely speculative, and Arizona does have two more promising young starters in Drey Jameson and Ryne Nelson. But as long as Pfaadt continues to pitch well in the minors, he should be in Arizona sooner rather than later.

He’ll be one of the marquee names on the waiver wire whenever that time comes. If you’ve got the room on your bench now, the 24-year-old makes for a quality stash for later in the season.

Dynasty Addition/Trade Target Of The Week

Ryan Mountcastle (1B, DH – BAL)

Given the nature of the position, there are a number of elite fantasy first basemen, particularly in dynasty leagues, with Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Freddie Freeman, Pete Alonso, Vinnie Pasquantino, Paul Goldschmidt and Matt Olson all representing strong options.

However, Ryan Mountcastle makes for an interesting alternative for fantasy managers who don’t have any of those options on their roster.

The 26-year-old is entering his third full Major League season after logging a breakout 2022 campaign for the Baltimore Orioles, though the surface-level metrics might not suggest it. Mountcastle hit .250 with a .305 on-base percentage, 22 home runs and four stolen bases in 609 plate appearances for the Orioles.

Those surface-level metrics might also let you work out a trade without giving up significant value for Mountcastle. If you can do that, it might just work out. Because while the surface-level numbers were alright, it’s the advanced numbers that really catch the eye.

Mountcastle was the definition of a player making consistent loud contact, with a .362 xwOBAcon, .463 xwOBAcon, 15% barrel rate and .509 xSLG. He finished in the 90th percentile or better in xwOBA (92nd), xBA (91st), xSLG (96th) and barrel rate (94th).

For reference, the only other players to finish in the 90th percentile or better in xwOBA and barrel rate were Aaron Judge, Yordan Alvarez, Shohei Ohtani, Austin Riley, Kyle Schwarber, Paul Goldschmidt, Joc Pederson and Rafael Devers.

Elsewhere, Mountcastle had a rather pedestrian .303 BABIP while cutting down his strikeouts from 27.5% in 2021 to 35.3% last year.

A fixture in the top half of Baltimore’s lineup, the first baseman should benefit significantly from full seasons of Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson where counting stats are concerned in 2023. Looking more long-term, it’s hard to ignore the fantasy upside hitting alongside those two-not to mention O’s prospects like Jackson Holliday, Coby Mayo and Heston Kjerstad, who should all make their Major League debuts in the coming seasons.

It’s a potentially very fantasy-friendly environment for Mountcastle’s counting stats, especially if his elite quality of contact metrics continue. If you don’t have an elite dynasty first baseman or are the type of fantasy manager to punt on the position, Mountcastle is the player for you.

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