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 2019 is no exception. We’re not talking about established guys like Cody Bellinger or Alex Bregman who took their game to another level or top prospects such as Victor Robles or Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
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 65 position players who provided at least 3 Wins to their team with Mike Trout leading the way at 8.6. In that top 65, we’ve identified a dozen who would certainly qualify as a pleasant surprise. Let’s take a look at the list with their overall ranking and WAR contribution…
> #5 Marcus Semien, Athletics (7.6 WAR) – Had a nice year in 2018 with a 4+ WAR, but this year in his 5th season as the A’s SS, his performance was off the charts. 33 HR’s, 92 RBI’s, 10 SB and a .892 OPS.
> #6 Ketel Marte, D’Backs (7.1 WAR) – His age 25 season was like nothing we’d seen before. 32 HR’s, 92 RBI’s 10 SB and an increase in OPS from .768 in ’18 to .961 in ’19. And he played multiple positions!
> #12 Rafael Devers, Red Sox (5.9 WAR) – At age 22, in his second full big league season, this 3B became a star. 32 HR’s, 115 RBI’s, a .916 OPS and he improved his BA from .240 to .311.
> #16 Yoan Moncada, White Sox (5.7 WAR) – The perfect example of a post-hype breakout, this former #1 prospect finally fulfilled the expectation. Cut down his strikeout total by 40% and contributed 25 HR’s, 79 RBI’s, 10 SB’s and a .915 OPS.
> #18 D.J. LeMahieu, Yankees (5.4) WAR – A really curious free agent signing because there wasn’t anywhere for him to play, turned into a coup for the Bronx Bombers. Playing all over the diamond, he provided an All-Star season. 26 HR’s, 102 RBI’s and a .893 OPS made him a bargain.
> #21 Pete Alonso, Mets (4.8 WAR) – A valued prospect but no one expected this kind of season. A new major league record for HR’s by a rookie with 53, he also added 120 RBI’s and a .961 OPS.
> #36 Jorge Polanco, Twins (4.0 WAR) – When a player gets an 80-game suspension for PED’s, you temper your expectation for the following season. Stats like 22 HR’s, 79 RBI’s and a .841 OPS from the SS position certainly helped the Twinkies to a post-season berth.
> #37 Austin Meadows, Rays (4.0 WAR) – The former Pirates prospect got the chance to play everyday and became an All-Star at age 24. 33 HR’s, 89 RBI’s , 12 SB’s and a .922 OPS foresees a bright future.
> #46 Jorge Soler, Royals (3.6 WAR) – Came to KC from the Cubs in 2017, but injuries seemed to hold him back creating a general consensus that his prospect rating was overdone. That all changed in ’19, as he played all 162 games, hit 48 HR’s and contributed 117 RBI’s.
> #50 Christian Vazquez, Red Sox (3.5 WAR) – Had been a part-time Catcher in Beantown for the last four seasons, hitting just .207 in ’18. This year, everything changed as he became the full-time backstop and contributed 23HR’s, 72 RBI’s and a .276 BA.
> #52 Tim Anderson, White Sox (3.5 WAR) – Three seasons with the Pale Hose had been fairly disappointing and his 2018 BA of .240 was the low point. This season , he cut down the K’s significantly and ended up winning the AL batting title at .335.
> #60 Bryan Reynolds, Pirates (3.2 WAR) – Not considered a top prospect in the Buccos organization, he came up in late-April, started hitting and never stopped. A rookie season of 16 HR’s, 68 RBI’s, a .314 BA and a .880 OPS makes him look like a mainstay moving forward.
On the pitching side, surprises included Lance Lynn at #3 (6.8 WAR), Lucas Giolito at #10 (5.1 WAR) & Sonny Gray at #18 (4.4 WAR).
If you had these 15 players on your Fantasy squad, congratulations on winning the championship.