Baseball fans and Fantasy Baseball Managers love pleasant surprises. Those players who weren’t on the radar in March and then turned out to be a very productive asset to your team.
They could fall into a number of categories. There are prospects who exceeded their ranking in the organization. Then there are those acquired in some insignificant trade who emerge with their new team. Or a post-hype player who disappointed in his first season or two and then figured it out. Every season, these players make a difference in the success of MLB teams and 2018 is no exception. We’re not talking about established guys like Javier Baez or Aaron Nola who took their game to another level or top prospects such as Ronald Acuna Jr. or Juan Soto.
To identify the best of these, we’ll once again rely on “Wins Above Replacement” (WAR) which is a statistic designed to answer the following question…if this player got injured and their team had to replace them with an available minor leaguer or a AAAA player from their bench, how much value would the team be losing? The value is expressed in a wins format, so we can compare each player’s actual value.
According to the rankings provided by Fan Graphs, there were about 100 major leaguers who provided 3 Wins to their team with Mookie Betts leading the way at 10.4. In that top 100, we’ve identified 11 who would certainly qualify as a pleasant surprise. Let’s take a look at the list with their overall ranking and WAR contribution…
> #26 Max Muncy, Dodgers (5.2 WAR) – Originally drafted by the A’s in 2012, he had short stints with the big league club in 2015 & 2106, hitting .206 & .186. Released in March of 2017, he hooked on with the Dodger organization and played at AAA hitting .309 with 12 HR’s. This season (at age 27), he gave L.A. a big boost toward their pennant-winning campaign with 35 HR’s & 79 RBI’s.
> #29 German Marquez, Rockies (5.2 WAR) – Traded to Colorado from Tampa Bay in 2016, he had a decent rookie year in 2017 with a 11-7 record and a 4.39 ERA. No one gets too excited about Pitchers in a high-altitude home park, but 2018 was off the charts with 14 Wins, a 3.77 ERA and 230 K’s in 196 IP. Won’t be a free agent until 2023.
> #42 Milos Mikolas, Cardinals (4.6 WAR) – A 29 year-old hurler coming back from three seasons in Japan doesn’t create much of an expectation, but he was “lights out” with a record of 18-4 and a 2.83 ERA. The Redbirds paid him $15.5 Million for two years and now it looks like a bargain.
> #44 Brandon Nimmo, Mets (4.5 WAR) – Never as highly regarded as Michael Conforto and other prospects, he took advantage of injuries to get into the line-up and produced a .263 BA with 17 HR’s & 11 SB’s. Even an analytically challenged organization like the Mets should be able to recognize the value of a .404 OBP & .886 OPS.
> #46 Zack Wheeler, Mets (4.4 WAR) – A former top prospect, he came back from injuries in 2017 but seemed done with a 5.21 ERA in 17 starts. This year, a record of 12-7 with a 3.31 ERA has made him relevant again at age 28.
> #55 Kyle Freeland, Rockies (4.0 WAR) – Another Colorado SP? Went from a .500 record with a 4.10 ERA to 17-7 with 2.85 and Cy Young Award consideration. Like Marquez, he’s not a free agent until 2023.
> #62 Joey Wendle, Rays (3.7 WAR) – Traded by the A’s last December for a Minor League Catcher, he turned 28 in April. The perfect example of a player on an over-achieving ball club, he hit .300 with 7 HR’s, 61 RBI’s & 16 SB’s. And, he also played 2B, 3B, SS & OF.
> #74 Harrison Bader, Cardinals (3.5 WAR) – The Cardinals paid Dexter Fowler over $80 Million to be their CF through 2021. Now it looks like this player may be the CF of the future. A 3rd round pick in 2015, he put up decent numbers at AAA in 2017 but was primarily thought of as a 4th OF. A .264 BA with 12 HR’s & 15 SB’s complimented impressive defense in 2018. Won’t even be arbitration-eligible until 2021.
> #76 Marco Gonzalez, Mariners (3.5 WAR) – Seattle got him in middle of the 2017 season from the Cardinals for prospect Tyler O’Neill. Became a member of the rotation in 2018 and was 13-9 in 29 starts at age 26.
> #89 Johan Camargo, Braves (3.3) – Atlanta was rumored to be looking for a short-term 3B free agent to hold the spot for top prospect Austin Riley. Failing that, they turned to this 24 year-old who only had 4 HR’s in 241 AB’s in 2017. The result was 19 HR’s & 76 RBI’s for the division-winning Braves.
> #96 Jesus Aguilar, Brewers (3.1) – Hit 16 HR’s as a platoon option in 2017 but was never considered an everyday player at age 27. The Brew-Crew won the division this year thanks in part to his enormous production…35 HR’s, 108 RBI’s & .890 OPS.
If you had these 11 players on your Fantasy squad, congratulations on winning the championship.