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Champ or Chump: Brad Miller and Kyle Tucker

This column has spent a lot of time covering prospects so far in 2018. We've had some calls that proved correct (Shane Bieber, Ronald Acuna, Fernando Romero) and others that don't look as great in hindsight (Juan Soto, Gleyber Torres). The Astros called up top prospect Kyle Tucker prior to Saturday's action, so we'll take one more stab at it.

However, July means that the MLB Trade Deadline is rapidly approaching. This column will begin to focus on the fantasy impacts of players switching teams, most notably in matters concerning playing time or a new park. Brad Miller joined the Brewers a couple of weeks ago, so we'll start with a closer look at him.

Fantasy baseball research remains important regardless of your position in the standings, so let's get to it!

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The Fantasy Jury is Out

Brad Miller (1B/2B, MIL) - 4% Owned

Miller has been solid but unspectacular in 2018, slashing .269/.333/.452 with seven bombs over 219 PAs. His peripherals suggest that he's not a batting average play, but the power could help owners in a lot more than four percent of leagues.

Let's get the negatives out of the way first. Miller's 30.6% K% is way too high for somebody with a career strikeout rate of 23.2%, but his career-worst 15.1% SwStr% supports it (11.5% SwStr% career). His chase rate (31.8% vs. 31% career) and BB% (9.1% vs. 9.5% career) are in line with his career norms, but his O-Contact% has cratered (53.3% vs. 64.4% in 2017). His Z-Contact% has actually increased relative to 2017 (79.1% vs. 75.7%), so his decreased contact ability is entirely outside of the zone. Hitting pitches out there is often a bad idea anyway, so it's not too much of a cause for concern.

Miller's batting average to date has been propped up by a .368 BABIP, an exceptionally high mark for somebody with a career mark of .290. His grounders (.304 vs. .250), fly balls (.200 vs. .122), and line drives (.750 vs. .651) are all crushing their career rates.

Let's start with grounders. Miller is pretty fast (27.7 ft./sec Statcast Sprint Speed this year and last) and always hit his grounders reasonably hard (85.4mph last year, 89.4mph in 2016, 86.7mph in 2015), so it's no surprise that his career BABIP on grounders is a bit higher than the league average.

This season's 87.9mph average exit velocity on ground balls is good, but doesn't stand out as exceptional in Miller's body of work. His 52.2% Pull% on grounders is also low enough to avoid the shift, allowing him to hit .407 in 56 PAs against it (.348 in 69 PAs without it). Still, it's hard to expect the 50 extra BABIP points to be sustainable moving forward.

Miller has 80 extra points of BABIP on his fly balls, but his airborne contact quality has been noticeably better. His 95.1mph average airborne exit velocity is a Statcast Era best for him, though not by that much (94.3mph in 2017, 94.4mph in 2016, 93.1mph in 2015). More notable is his 12.1% rate of Brls/BBE (6%, 9.7%, and 4.3% the previous three campaigns). He's also managed to cut down on his pop-up rate (7% IFFB% vs. 9.5% career) while increasing his fly ball rate (43.5% FB% vs. 35.7% career), a trend that generally indicates improved contact quality.

That said, it's not all good news on the airborne front either. Miller's 21.4% LD% is a full two percentage points above his career norm (19.4%). While it's possible to make a swing change that produces more liners, it is more likely to be a random fluctuation with no future significance. Two percentage points of a batted ball with a BABIP of .750 make a large impact on a player's overall BABIP, suggesting that regression is imminent even if Miller sustains his airborne contact quality.

Miller also seems likely to lose a couple BABIP points to additional homers, but fantasy owners won't mind. His 12.3% HR/FB is actually shy of his 13% career mark despite the contact gains above, giving him a couple of extra bombs through regression alone. He's also pulling a few more of his flies (26.3%) than he has over his career (21.1%).

However, the switch from Tropicana Field to Miller Park dramatically increases Miller's power projection. In 2017, the Trop hindered left-handed pop slightly (99 HR factor), while Miller Park boosted it significantly (111). Miller's numbers already reflect this, as he slashed .256/.322/.429 with five homers in 174 PAs for Tampa and .317/.378/.537 with two in 45 PAs with the Brewers. The Brewers front office has done a great job making roster moves with their home park in mind, and Miller looks like the latest success story.

Miller doesn't play against left-handed pitchers, so he's best deployed in daily formats where you can bench him whenever a lefty is on the mound. His positional versatility (1B and 2B eligibility in all formats, with six games at SS to boot) makes him a nice bench piece as well. He's not perfect, but four percent ownership is way too low for this profile.

Verdict: Champ

Kyle Tucker (OF, HOU) - 45% Owned

Tucker made his MLB debut at the tender age of 21, going 1-for-4 with a single, RBI walk, and three strikeouts. He hit seventh, which isn't great from a fantasy perspective. However, manager A.J. Hinch stated that he intends to play the rookie everyday from here on out, giving him a chance to impress and maybe move up a deep lineup.

We can't make too much of one game, so let's look at his MiLB career for clues on how he'll perform. Tucker made his Double-A debut in 2017, slashing .265/.325/.512 with 16 HR and eight stolen bases (four CS) in 318 PAs for Corpus Christi. His plate discipline was reasonable, as he walked 6.9% of the time against a K% of 20.1%. His 40.4% FB% and 17.8% HR/FB also bode well for his immediate power potential. His BABIP was low (.286) despite a high LD% (25.6%), so the ball may not have been bouncing his way. That suggests possible batting average upside.

It was a fine campaign for a 20-year old making Double-A for the first time, but he seemed to take several steps forward at Triple-A Fresno this season. His slash line improved to .306/.371/.520 with 14 homers and 14 steals (three CS). His BB% increased (9.7%) while his K% decreased (18.9%), suggesting mastery of the level. He also repeated his LD% (25.3%), suggesting that he may have a line drive swing suited to favorable BABIP marks (.347).

His power regressed a little on the surface (36.2% FB%, 15.1% HR/FB), but the latter mark probably had more to do with his environment than anything else. Corpus Christi increases power totals substantially, posting a HR factor of 1.278 from 2014-2016. Fresno is a more neutral environment, posting a HR factor of 1.013 in the same time frame. Honestly, the loss of just a couple of HR/FB percentage points probably indicates an increase in raw power from the year before.

Tucker swiped 32 bases (against 12 CS) back in 2016 (497 PAs across two levels), suggesting that he has the SB upside many owners are searching for. Add in decent power numbers, and Tucker makes for a nice speculative add as long as you don't need to burn all of your FAAB or drop an All-Star to roster him.

Verdict: Champ


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