Fantasy Baseball Takeaways: The Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Show is just starting

Dalton Del Don
·4 min read

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. blasts three homers

Many expected big things from Guerrero this year after he showed up to camp 40 pounds lighter, and he’s more than lived up to the hype so far. After slugging three homers (including a grand slam off Max Scherzer) Tuesday, he’s batting .360/.484/.693 with more walks than strikeouts. He’s on pace to finish with 52 homers, 111 runs scored and 140 RBI. His launch angle has increased from 4.6 degrees last season to 10.6 this year, resulting in fewer ground balls not to mention this ...

Guerrero Jr. didn’t turn 22 years old until last month, and he’s off to such a hot start while the Blue Jays have played more than twice as many games on the road to open the season (he sports a 1.594 OPS at home). Dunedin has been an even more extreme hitter’s park than expected, so Guerrero Jr. looks like a first-round fantasy hitter even without the steals. He has a comical 0:8 K:BB ratio over 10 ABs versus lefties this season. Good luck to the rest of the American League hitters trying to win a batting title over the next decade.

Jesse Winker homers for third straight game

Winker has multiple hits in five of his last six games and five homers over that span. He knocked 12 home runs in fewer than 150 at bats last year and gets to call home to a Reds park that’s increased HR for lefties an MLB-high 32% over the last three seasons, so he’s a real threat to finish among the league leaders. His Barrel%, exit velocity and Hard Hit% are all in the top 7% of MLB. I figured a Reds outfielder would be one of the bigger draft day fantasy steals — I just thought it would be Nick Senzel (who’s now in danger of sitting against righties in a crowded Cincinnati outfield).

Carson Kelly breaking out

Kelly went deep for the sixth time this season Tuesday night, and that’s come with four more walks than strikeouts and a shocking 227 wRC+. He hit 18 home runs over 314 ABs in 2019 but was an afterthought at draft tables after an ugly 2020 and with Daulton Varsho looming. Kelly has been baseball’s best hitting catcher by a mile and should be rostered in all fantasy leagues by now. Given his strong defense as well, Varsho better get used to the outfield.

Yankees have a catching timeshare

Kyle Higashioka homered again Tuesday night and has “earned more playing time” according to manager Aaron Boone. Gary Sanchez is “hitting” an ugly .182/.308/.309, putting him less than a .190 BA in three of the last four seasons. Moreover, while Higashioka is among the best pitch framers, Sanchez ranks 52nd out of 56 qualified catchers. Sanchez’s K rate has actually improved, and he’s almost certainly due some better luck moving forward, but Higashioka hit 20 homers over 70 games in Triple-A in 2019 and held his own in New York (102 wRC+) last season. Bottomline, Higashioka could quickly start getting the majority of starts after already acting as Gerrit Cole’s personal catcher.

The Yankees have disappointed but still have a loaded lineup and a home park that boosts power for righties. Higashioka is available in 95% of Yahoo leagues, but he’ll soon be rostered in all two-catcher formats.

Austin Slater is a sneaky pickup in deeper leagues

Slater isn’t off to a great start at the plate, but he stole his third base over the last three games Tuesday and had overtaken Mauricio Dubon as the Giants’ starting center fielder before recently moving to RF while Mike Yastrzemski deals with an oblique injury. Slater quietly posted a .914 OPS and a 151 wRC+ last season, and he has two homers with five steals in limited playing time to open 2021. While the ball was flying out of the park Tuesday night, San Francisco has returned to being a pitcher’s park despite the archways remaining closed, although that could certainly change as the weather does. Slater is plenty capable of going 15/15 over the rest of the season yet remains available in more than 90% of Yahoo leagues.

Byron Buxton returns and goes yard again

One day after sitting with patella tendinitis (making him a tough call in weekly formats), Buxton returned to action Tuesday and swatted his seventh long ball of the season while hitting in a cushy third spot in the lineup between Josh Donaldson and Nelson Cruz. It’s clear Buxton is going to be seemingly dealing with some sort of health issue regularly, but the power is quite real after he led all hitters in home runs per plate appearance last year. Of course, that came with an ugly 36:2 K:BB ratio, and Buxton hasn’t walked this season since Opening Day, but he’s sporting a .361 expected batting average that’s in the top 2% of the league anyway. It remains unclear how much Buxton runs, but this version ranks first in Barrel% and second in Hard Hit% among all hitters in baseball.

However, Buxton’s most impressive 2021 feat is being the only hitter to take Corbin Burnes deep.

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