Image credit: Heston Kjerstad (Photo by George Kubas/Diamond Images via Getty Images)
Last season we took a look at a variety of profiles to target in fantasy leagues. Across a pair of articles we covered 36 hitters with strong analytical traits that were worth targeting throughout the off-season.
In the first story, three of the top four names were Corbin Carroll, Gunnar Henderson and Josh Jung, and that story also included Evan Carter, Yainer Diaz, Colt Keith and Spencer Steer among others.
The follow-up story on lesser-noticed names included Edouard Julien, Junior Caminero and Aaron Zavala.
By employing the use of data into our evaluation process over the years we’ve been able to find a degree of accuracy we previously could not. While no statistic or combination of statistics is truly 100% predictive, by looking at a combination of metrics we get a good understanding of a player’s strengths and weaknesses from a tools perspective. Through the use of data and analytics we can look at skills isolated or set thresholds on a variety of skills to find the most well rounded hitters.
We can measure bat-to-ball skills with contact rate and in-zone contact rate, giving us a good idea of how much swing and miss is present in a hitter’s game. In-zone contact rate gives us a clear idea of how frequently hitter’s are missing hittable pitches.
Walk rates can be tricky in the minor leagues, where strike-throwing can often be poor. Understanding if a hitter’s walk rate is a product of the environment is nearly impossible to quantify without a deep understanding of each at bat. This where chase rate or O-swing gives us a good grasp of how frequently a hitter expands the zone. While not foolproof it at least gives us a way to contextualize walk rates and plate discipline.
Finally we can lean on exit velocity stats to identify a hitters power without falling a victim to friendly home run environments. It also gives us a window into power potential. There have been numerous players over the years who had strong underlying exit velocity data but flat launch angles that have been able to add loft without compromising contact quality.
Jackson Holliday, SS, Orioles: In 2023 Holliday took the minor leagues by storm early, blowing through Low-A in just 14 games as he hit .396/.522/.660 before seeing promotion to High-A Aberdeen. Holliday saw two more promotions before the end of the season reaching Triple-A in his first full professional season. Holliday’s profile is driven by plus-plus plate skills, his contact rate is strong for his age and level boasting an above-average contact rate (76%) and in-zone contact rate (18%). While Holliday’s discerning eye is obvious, his 17.3% walk rate and 19% chase rate are squarely in plus-plus territory. Holliday’s high end power is just mediocre with a below-average 90th percentile exit velocity of 102 mph. He does however hint at his power with a plus average exit velocity of 91 mph. Holliday’s swing is geared toward line drive contact and he’ll need to add loft to reach his power ceiling but it’s present.
Junior Caminero, 3B, Rays: Way back in the summer of 2021 a young advanced hitting infielder was making waves with the Guardians DSL affiliate. While there was a hushed buzz about Caminero publicly at that time, he wasn’t ranked as a Top 30 prospect in the Guardians system. The Rays astutely acquired the infielder on 40 Man Roster deadline day 2021 and the rest is history. After an impressive stateside debut in 2022, Caminero brought his game and prospect status to new heights in 2023. His combination of plus-plus game power and average plate skills have allowed him to thrive as a 20 year old in Double-A. His 110.5 mph 90th percentile exit velocity is tops among players 21 years of age or younger with a minimum of 200 plate appearances. He’s one of just three players in the minor leagues this season with a contact rate above 70%, an in-zone contact rate above 80%, a chase rate below 30% and a 90th percentile exit velocity over 108 mph. Caminero’s combination of plus-plus power and plate skills make him one of the most promising power hitters in the minor leagues.
Wyatt Langford, OF, Rangers: No 2023 draftee has enjoyed the initial success that Langford has out of the gates. Based on the post-draft data Langford ranks in a class of his own as far as combining plus-plus power, plus plate skills and optimized batted ball angles. Of players with a minimum of 100 plate appearances Langford is the only player in the minor leagues with an in-zone contact rate above 85%, a chase rate below 16% and a 90th percentile exit velocity of 107 mph. Beyond Langford’s plate skills and power, his swing is optimized for power as well as any power hitting prospect. He shows the ability to consistently make contact at optimal angles with launch angle averages in optimal ranges for batted balls above 95+ and on contact to his pull side. One can argue that Langford is the best data hitter in the minor leagues. Already at Double-A and producing, Langford enters the offseason with the possibility of immediate impact in 2024.
Walker Jenkins, OF, Twins: Coming out of the draft Jenkins was considered a consensus top two high school position player in the draft. Since debuting Jenkins has separated himself as one of the top three hitters in the class. His advanced plate skills were on full display between Florida Complex League play and Low-A. Jenkins’ contact rate was north of 85% while his in-zone contact rate exceeded 90%, showing swing and miss was extremely minimal in first taste of professional competition. His 22.5% chase rate is well above-average as well, showing a discerning eye. Despite being billed for his power, Jenkins exit velocity data isn’t eye-popping, but solidly above-average for a teenager. His batted ball launch angle averages are solid across the board, lending some hope that slight tweaks and further refinement could push Jenkins into the top tier of positional prospects.
Colson Montgomery, SS, White Sox: The only thing holding Montgomery back from dominating during his professional career have been injuries. Limited to just 156 minor league games over his first two full seasons. In the 50 games since returning to a full season affiliate Montgomery has hit a respectable .272/.450/.451 but his underlying data is far more rosy. Montgomery was the only player in the minor leagues 25 years of age or younger that met the following thresholds over a 200 plate appearance minimum: contact rate of 75% or above, an in-zone contact rate above 85%, a chase rate below 19% and a 90th percentile exit velocity of 104.5 mph. Montgomery has easy plus plate skills making good decisions and consistently hitting strikes. His high end power is unusual for a player of his age and skill level.
Colt Keith, 3B, Tigers: The Tigers infielder teased us with his potential for the first two months of 2022 before going down with a right shoulder injury. He returned in 2023 ready to deliver as he climbed to Triple-A before season’s end hitting .310/.381/.556 over 118 games. Keith’s strong plate skills compliment his power, as he makes consistent contact, rarely expands the zone and shoots hard contact to all fields. Keith was the only player 21 years or younger with a chase rate below 24%, a contact rate above 76%, an in-zone contact rate above 84% and a 90th percentile exit velocity above 104.5 mph. This advanced combination of offensive tools has seen Keith succeed against older competition throughout 2023. He’s poised to join an improving Tigers lineup in 2024.
Coby Mayo, 3B, Orioles: Mayo was featured in this article last year and has developed from a backend of the Top 100 consideration to a Top 50 prospect. Mayo began the season at Double-A Bowie hitting .307/.424/.603 with 17 home runs over 78 games. Mayo saw promotion to Triple-A following the all-star break and hit .263/.384/.511 over 55 games. Mayo’s strong combined skills continued to blossom this year, as his underlying data put him into exclusive company. Mayo was one of three players this season with a contact rate of 73% or above, an in-zone contact rate of 80% or above, a chase rate below 24% and a 90th percentile exit velocity of 107 mph or above. In fact Mayo was the only one of those three players with more than 400 plate appearances. 2023 was less of a breakout for Mayo and more a culmination he’s been building toward the past two seasons.
Roman Anthony, OF, Red Sox: The early part of Anthony’s season was a test case in the value of underlying data. Over the first 42 games of the season Anthony hit just .228/.376/.316 despite having some of the best underlying data across either level of A ball. With a mid-June promotion to High-A Anthony’s production began to match his data as he hit .294/.412/.569 with a dozen home runs. Since the beginning of the season the plate skills and exit velocity markers we’ll pointed toward an Anthony breakout. The outfielder was the only hitter under 28 years old in the minor leagues to meet the following thresholds: A 90th percentile exit velocity of 105 mph or higher, a contact rate above 74%, an in-zone contact rate of 83% or higher and a chase rate of 20% or below. Anthony balances above-average bat-to-ball skills with a discerning eye and plus raw power. His takeoff in the second half of 2023 has pushed Anthony to the upper echelon of positional prospects in the game.
Samuel Basallo, C, Orioles: The just-turned-19-year old is the number one prospect in Double-A per RoboScout on the heels of his 20 home runs across three levels in 2023. His plus game power is supported by his plus barrel rates and exit velocities – he is third amongst teenagers who reached High-A in barrel rate (behind Roman Anthony and Moises Ballesteros) and in 90th percentile exit velocity (behind Xavier Isaac and Junior Caminero). Although his contact rate, in-zone contact rate, and chase rates are slightly worse than average, the contact quality is so strong that RoboScout projects him to have the highest peak wRC+ amongst High-A hitters based on his performance prior to his recent promotion to Bowie.
Jasson Dominguez, OF, Yankees: On July 1st, Dominguez was hitting .197. Although he had a 18% walk rate, leading to a .345 OBP, in aggregate he only had a 97 wRC+. From that day forward, as a 20 year old, he put up a 148 wRC+ in Double-A Somerset and had a strong major league debut prior to being felled by a UCL injury. With contact rate, in-zone contact rate, barrel rate, chase rate, 90th percentile exit velocity, and maximum exit velocity all higher than average for Double-A and also amongst 20 year olds – many of whom faced worse pitching opponents than Dominguez – the Yankee outfielder’s high-OBP power/speed fantasy contribution seems well supported by the underlying statcast metrics and he should be hitting in the middle of the batting order for years.
Emmanuel Rodriguez, OF, Twins: In 2022, Emmanuel Rodriguez had one of the lowest swing rates in the minors, swinging at fewer than one third of the pitches that he saw. When he did swing though, he had some of the most impressive power in the lower levels before his season was cut short due to a knee injury. In 2023, he started off slowly but still showed that discerning eye while swinging slightly more frequently but without sacrificing the massive power. The only player younger than 22 in High-A that had a higher 90th percentile exit velocity was Junior Caminero. Although he has played nearly exclusively in center field, he will likely move to a corner outfield position, but with the power he is displaying, he can be a productive major leaguer there. RoboScout gives him the 2nd highest RoboCast score for hitters in High-A with at least 40 plate appearances.
Heston Kjerstad, OF, Orioles: Although he only had a .200 ISO in Triple-A Norfolk, the Orioles 2020 first round draft pick has underlying data suggesting that there is more power lurking under the surface. With a 90th percentile exit velocity in the top 20% for Triple-A and a barrel rate higher than what Christian Encarnacion-Strand, Davis Schneider, and Zack Gelof showed at the same level, Kjerstad pairs that with an average contact rate, suggesting production implied by his data to be 25% better than average at Triple-A. Considering he missed nearly two full years of development, the 24 year old showed the Orioles enough to call him up in mid-September where he hit his first major league home run in his 3rd plate appearance. His ultra-aggressive approach may be vulnerable to big league pitching, but Kjerstad looks like he can fall into a 20 home run bat in Camden Yards with full time at bats at peak in a loaded Orioles lineup.
Matt Shaw, SS, Cubs: The 2023 draft featured two former Cape Cod League MVPs in Brewers first rounder Brock Wilken and Cubs first rounder Matt Shaw. After a strong career at Maryland, Shaw has shown early signs of star upside as a professional. There’s one player with 100 or plate appearances with a contact rate of 83% or higher, a in-zone contact rate or 89% and a 90th percentile exit velocity or 106.5 mph or above. Shaw is a more aggressive swinger, with a chase rate just north of 30% but his plus or better bat-to-ball skills and plus power makes this a wise approach. An above-average athlete with base stealing prowess, Shaw could develop into a top three round fantasy pick in his peak seasons.
Spencer Jones, OF, Yankees: The 6-foot-7 slugger had plenty of buzz heading into the 2023 season but failed to meet unrealistic expectations this year. He hit .263/.334/.436 across 116 games with 15 home runs and 43 stolen bases. While there’s an obvious power and speed combination present, his line was disappointing for a highly touted big conference player. His underlying data however tells another story. There were six hitters in the minors leagues who in 200 or more plate appearances had a contact rate of 70% or above, an in-zone contact rate of 80% or above, a chase rate of 26% or below and a 90th percentile exit velocity of 107 mph. Of that group Jones is the only player with a 90th percentile exit velocity of 109 mph or higher. His combination of elite raw power, plus speed and plate skills is nearly unmatched among prospect eligible players.
Owen Caissie, OF, Cubs: Amongst hitters in the minor leagues with at least 100 plate appearances, Cubs outfielder Caissie has the 7th highest 90th percentile exit velocity, and amongst the subset of those players who are younger than 22, has a barrel rate in the 99th percentile. Paired with this double-plus raw power, although his contact rate is below average, he has worked on cutting his strikeout rate down from 36% on July 1st, to 26% since July 1st. He also has improved his walk rate from 12% on July 1st to 17% thereafter. He might put up a three true outcomes profile, but is showing a high OBP, with 25+ home run power from a corner outfield position.
Xavier Isaac, 1B, Rays: When the Rays drafted Isaac in the first round – and signed him at slot value for the 29th pick – it was one of the more surprising selections in 2022. A full season later, and it seems to be one of the more prescient selections as the first baseman has exceeded expectations for his athleticism while displaying the ability to hit and hit for power that scouts saw in him. The second highest 90th percentile exit velocity for a teenager in High-A (behind Junior Caminero), Isaac also shows slightly better than average barrel rates and chase rates amongst all High-A hitters. Although he has a contact rate and in-zone contact rate that is slightly below the average for High-A, his quality of contact and launch angles portend 20 to 25 home run game power in the major leagues, more than enough for a first base only profile.
Bryce Eldridge, OF/RHP, Giants: Two-way talents have continued to pop-up in the professional ranks more and more frequently of late. Few teams are at the center of this trend like the Giants who have drafted two-way players in the first round of the last two drafts. After selecting Reggie Crawford from UConn in 2022, the Giants went to the prep circuit to find their two-way star in 2023 selecting Bryce Eldridge. While Crawford is likely a pitcher-first going forward, Eldridge has the type of bat that may push him off the mound for good. In a sample of 31 games split between the Arizona Complex League and Low-A Eldridge hit .294/.400/.505 with five doubles and six home runs over that period. The slashline is excellent for a high school player fresh out of the draft and the underlying data supports it. There were three players in the minor leagues with a minimum of 100 plate appearances with a 90th percentile EV of 107 mph or higher, a contact rate of 70% or above, an in-zone contact rate of 80% or above and a chase rate below 21%. Those players were the Pirates’ Henry Davis, the Rangers Wyatt Langford and Bryce Eldridge. His rare combination of high end power and plate skills make the two-way star a potential top 25 prospect in the coming years. Beyond his power and plate skills, Eldridge is a rare athlete in the Spencer Jones mold, who likely will handle right field long term.
Zach Dezenzo, 3B, Astros: No player rose as high and as quickly as Dezenzo in 2023. A 12th round pick out of Ohio State Dezenzo hit High-A out of spring training with a Bondsian flair, slashing .407/.474/.628 over 31 games before seeing promotion to Double-A Corpus Christi. Dezenzo spent the remainder of the season with the Hooks hitting .257/.339/.486 with 14 home runs and 16 stolen bases over 63 games. Dezenzo’s profile centers around his plus-plus raw power, as his 107.5 mph 90th percentile exit velocity ranked in the top dozen hitters 23 years of age or younger in the minor leagues with at least 350 plate appearances in 2023. He pairs his plus-plus power with average plate skills, as Dezenzo ran a contact rate above 70% with average in-zone contact numbers and an average chase rate. Another underrated prospect in a long line of talented but underappreciated players in the Astros system over the years.
Moises Ballesteros, C, Cubs: Ever since signing out of Venezuela in 2021, Ballesteros has done nothing but hit. Identified last year as a sleeper to target, the Cubs catcher/first baseman has improved even further with the bat with barrel rates, contact rates, and exit velocities all above average. Although his conditioning needs to improve if he is to stick at catcher, the bat appears potent enough to profile at first base. RoboScout agrees, giving him the 7th highest RoboCast score amongst High-A hitters (after putting up the 4th highest RoboCast score for Low-A hitters).
Jacob Melton, OF, Astros: With 18 home runs and 41 stolen bases at High-A Asheville, it should come as no surprise that Melton is on a list of fantasy contributors. Although one should exercise caution with the fact that the just-turned 23 year old outfielder played half of his games in one of the most hitter friendly parks in the South Atlantic League, the data underneath his performance suggests that it wasn’t an Asheville mirage. You may be surprised to see that the toolsy center fielder has a 90th percentile exit velocity in the same cluster as more widely regarded sluggers in High-A as James Wood, Carson Williams, Yanquiel Fernandez, and Brady House, while also putting up a contact rate nearly one standard deviation better than all of them.