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Personally, I use a player's track record as my primary means of evaluating minor leaguers. While other owners chase after the Juan Soto's and Ronald Acuna's of the world based on their prospect ratings, I tend to let other owners burn their early draft picks and FAAB on those guys. They could be studs right out of the box, but they could also be Yoan Moncada, Byron Buxton, Jurickson Profar, Phil Hughes, or Mike Pelfrey.

Instead, I look for upside in unheralded minor leaguers and bench pieces. The 2017 versions of Whit Merrifield, Adam Frazier, Luis Castillo, and Rhys Hoskins were not beloved by scouts before they turned significant fantasy profits. Either approach can work of course, but I think I gain a little competitive advantage by zigging when others zag.

Below are two names that fit my approach to minor leaguers perfectly: Alen Henson and Max Muncy. They may be able to provide the jolt your roster needs.

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The Fantasy Jury is Out

Alen Hanson (2B/OF, SF) - 9% Owned

Hanson has enjoyed 65 PAs to open his MLB season: .350/.385/.733 with five homers and three steals. The line makes him look like a power bat, but owners should look at him as more of an SB threat.

The 25-year old's High Minors career began with 150 PAs for Double-A Altoona in the Pirates organization back in 2013. He was kind of meh, slashing .255/.299/.380 with a homer and six steals (two CS). He didn't strikeout (17.3% K%) and walked some (5.3% BB%), establishing a competent baseline to build off of.

Hanson did exactly that when he returned to Altoona in 2014. He slashed .280/.326/.442 with 11 dingers and 25 SB (11 CS) in 527 PAs. The 69% success rate on steal attempts wasn't great, but he flashed both the contact ability (16.7% K%) and productivity (.321 BABIP) that fantasy owners look for in a speed play. His 6.4% HR/FB didn't suggest a ton of raw power, but it was a lot better than the 2% rate he managed the year before.

The Pirates promoted Hanson to Triple-A Indianapolis in 2015. He hit .263/.313/.387 with six homers and 35 steals (12 CS) over 529 PAs, dramatically improving his SB success rate (75%) at the expense of some pop. He continued to avoid the strikeout (17.2% K%) while earning a significant number of walks (7% BB%). A .311 BABIP also fit right in line with his previous marks, suggesting a baseline slightly above the league average.

The 2016 season saw more of the same from Hanson at Indianapolis. He slashed .266/.318/.389 with eight homers and 36 SB (15 CS) across 478 PAs. His 71% SB success rate was a step down from his previous campaign, but the rest of his peripherals (6.7% BB%, 16.3% K%, .307 BABIP, 7.5% HR/FB) fell into his established norms.

Hanson spent the entirety of the 2017 season at the MLB level, first with the Pirates and then the White Sox. He slashed a disappointing .221/.262/.346 with four homers and 11 SB (three CS) over 234 PAs between them. His contact quality was not good (88.8mph average airborne exit velocity, 80.5mph on grounders, 1.8% rate of Brls/BBE), so he may have deserved his low .268 BABIP. He also struck out more often than he did on the farm (22.2% K%).

Hanson became Giants property in the offseason and raked at Triple-A Sacramento (.403/.479/.661 with three homers and six steals (one CS)) over 71 PAs to earn more big league time. He has a .348 BABIP and 22.7% HR/FB with the Giants this season, but there are several reasons to believe that he can remain useful in fantasy after his hot streak has run its course.

First, his contact quality is much better. His average airborne exit velocity is up to 90.3mph, grounders are up to 85.4mph, and his rate of Brls/BBE is now a much better 9.8%. He can also run (28.5 ft./sec Statcast Sprint Speed), giving him all of the tools required to run a BABIP between .310-.320 moving forward.

Second, his BB% (6.2%) and K% (15.4%) are in line with his minor league resume after a blip last season. Pitchers aren't challenging him that much right now (37.4% Zone% vs. 49.2% last year), and his 33.8% chase rate is worse than the league's average. The latter could be impacted by the former, and his 10.2% SwStr% is fine as is.

Third, he's lifting the ball (43.1% FB% this season). Hansen hit plenty of flies in the two Double-A seasons cited above (45.9% and 44.5%), but his FB% declined dramatically at Triple-A (29.3%, 30.4%, 31.5%). He doesn't have much raw power even with his contact quality improvements, so he needs to run a high FB% to be a non-zero in the power categories.

Fourth, his power production was probably muted by his minor league home parks. Double-A Altoona takes a bite out of HR totals (0.732 HR factor from 2014-2016) even while boosting overall offense slightly (1.014), while Triple-A Indianapolis is a straight pitcher's park (0.656 HR, 0.900 runs). Triple-A Sacramento (0.781 HR, 0.756 runs) is also a pitcher's park despite its inclusion in the Pacific Coast League.

Finally, he led off for the Giants on Saturday. He didn't start at all yesterday, suggesting that he still needs to finagle a regular starting job before fantasy owners can rely on him. That might make him more of a watch list guy than an immediate add, but don't be afraid to pounce as soon as he gets an opportunity. With 2B and OF eligibility, finding a spot for him shouldn't be a problem.

Verdict: Champ

Max Muncy (1B/3B, LAD) - 38% Owned

This 27-year old has come out of nowhere to slash .268/.385/.593 with 11 HR in just 148 PAs with the Dodgers. His minor league history suggests a very high OBP as his floor, with a recent change of approach responsible for the power surge.

Muncy debuted at Double-A (for Oakland's affiliate Midland) in 2013. He slashed .250/.340/.413 with four homers in 197 PAs, immediately establishing the type of player he is with a 12.2% BB% and 17.3% K%. His .289 BABIP capped his batting average, but it wasn't a terrible debut.

Muncy got a full season at Midland in 2014, slashing .264/.385/.379 with seven homers in 530 PAs. He walked even more often (16.4% BB%) while striking out at roughly the same rate (17.4% K%), using a slightly favorable .316 BABIP to earn a promotion to Triple-A Nashville the following year.

He didn't miss a beat at the higher level, slashing .274/.350/.406 with four homers in 243 PAs. His K% (23.9%) increased as more advanced pitchers began to use his patience against him, but he still took his walks (10.7% BB%) as well. His .351 BABIP was probably too high for Muncy to sustain long-term though. The performance earned him MLB time, but he was horrid (.206/.268/.392 with three homers and a 27.7% K%).

That sent him back to Nashville for 2016, where he slashed .251/.360/.408 with eight homers in 268 PAs. He corralled his K% (20.1%) while increasing his BB% (13.1% BB%), suggesting that he may have mastered the level. It earned him a second chance with Oakland, where he managed to walk (15% BB%) nearly as often as he struck out (18% K%) but still put up a putrid .186/.308/.257 line thanks to a .218 BABIP.

He joined the Dodgers organization for the 2017 campaign, spending the entire year at Triple-A Oklahoma City. He had his best season yet, hitting .309/.414/.491 with 12 HR in 379 PAs. His .387 BABIP was on the high side, and he appeared to trade some of his low K% (22.2%) for power gains. As always, he saw a lot of ball fours (14.2% BB%).

Muncy had a tiny 38 PA stint at Oklahoma City before his MLB debut this year, slashing .313/.421/.563 with two homers. He walked (15.8% BB%) more often than he struck out (13.2% K%), suggesting that he has nothing left to learn on the farm.

The Dodgers are using Muncy as their two-hole hitter, giving him a floor as an OBP machine (15.5% BB%, 19.8% chase rate) that scores a bunch of runs atop the lineup. Better yet, his Statcast contact quality metrics suggest that his power to date has largely been real.

Muncy is averaging 96mph on his airborne batted balls this season, but his 20.5% rate of Brls/BBE is even more impressive. The latter mark is the third highest in all of MLB (minimum 50 batted ball events), suggesting a power potential that few can match. He's also hitting a ton of fly balls (47.7% FB%), a trend that was present in his minor league history to a smaller degree. Finally, his 28.6% Pull% on fly balls makes it easier for him to muscle one over the fence.

His minor league seasons do not support this much power production, but his minor league parks share at least part of the responsibility. Midland is a favorable offensive environment overall (1.141 ballpark factor for runs scored), but it's tough to hit a homer there (0.841). Nashville suppressed offense significantly in 2016, the only season for which data is available (0.784 runs factor, 0.633 HR factor). Oklahoma City is a neutral environment overall (0.991 runs factor), but still hurts power hitters a little (0.859 HR factor).

Muncy's .268 batting average likewise appears sustainable. While an extreme fly ball profile often hurts a player's BABIP potential, Muncy is largely avoiding pop-ups (4.8% IFFB%). He didn't pop up often in the minors either, suggesting that it may be a skill he has. His 19.3% LD% is below the league's average and in keeping with his MiLB resume, so there's no reason to expect a decline.

Muncy is also faster than you might think, clocking in with a Statcast Sprint Speed of 27.8 ft./sec. That doesn't make him a true burner, but he's fast enough to leg out the occasional infield hit and even swipe a bag when the mood hits him. The shift hasn't bothered him yet, either (.302 average against it vs. .273 without it).

Finally, his elevated 24.3% K% is more the result of his patient approach (36.8% Swing%) than an inability to make contact (7.9% SwStr%). Extremely patient hitters often strikeout more often than SwStr% suggests they should, but the high BB% rates they run makes the trade-off worthwhile.

Munch has eligibility at both corner infield positions this year, with some professional experience in the outfield and at second base if the Dodgers want to get cute. He may have come up out of nowhere, but Muncy is a worthwhile add in all formats.

Verdict: Champ

 

 

MoreĀ 2018 Player Outlooks





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