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The beauty of an analytical approach to the game is that it's constantly evolving. When I first started writing this column, I avoided minor leaguers completely because there was no worthwhile data. Metrics like BABIP and FIP became available, allowing me to take a cursory look at a few. Last year, batted ball distribution made it possible to identify fly ball revolution guys before they hit the major leagues.

Environment matters too, and most fantasy owners know to take numbers from Colorado Springs with a grain of salt. There are a lot of minor leagues though, and memorizing where favors what simply isn't feasible. I recently found minor league ballpark factors for Triple-A and Double-A to make this step much easier. They're from 2014-2016 and use a base of 1.000 instead of 100, but they should still be helpful to get a rough sense of how any given park plays.

That said, we have to play with the new toy. Let's take a closer look at Jake Junis and Scott Kingery.

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The Fantasy Jury is Out

Jakob Junis (SP, KC) 67% Owned

Junis hasn't allowed a run yet this year, making him an early waiver wire darling. He was okay over 98 1/3 IP last year (4.30 ERA, 4.77 xFIP), and this year's xFIP (4.55) suggests that he's the same guy. A deeper look suggests that the 25-year old has a ton of potential, but hasn't put it all together yet.

His repertoire is diverse but bland, as he throws a fastball (41.2% of the time over his career), slider (32.3%), sinker (15.3%), change (6.7%), and curve (4.5%). The curve has a career slash line against of .444/.444/1.556, and its usage rate is low enough that it's not a factor. That leaves us with four pitches to examine.

His fastball has been great so far this year (.111 average against), but its career triple slash line of .302/.390/.528 suggests that a ton of regression is in order. Its average spin rate (2,017 RPM last year, 666th of 725 players who threw a four-seamer) suggests that it should be great at inducing weak contact on the ground, but that hasn't manifested yet by launch angle (42.9% career FB%) or contact quality (14.3% HR/FB). His spin rate is roughly the same this year (2,024 RPM), giving Junis the potential to become a successful ground ball specialist. As it stands though, it's too easy to loft.

Junis's sinker is similar but better. Its 57.1% career GB% and .205/.213/.282 slash line suggest that it works how his heater is supposed to. Its performance is supported by very low spin rates both last year (1,960 RPM, 135th of 157) and this (1,948 RPM). Its Zone% is strong too (58.9%), so Junis should probably ditch his problematic four-seamer in favor of his sinker. Its usage is up so far this year (27.1% vs. 14%), but not by enough to support his current performance.

Junis's put away pitch is a slider that has produced a 15.2% SwStr% over his career, but not in the traditional way. It's not chased out of the zone that often (35.2% chase), instead getting whiffs in the zone (47.1% Zone%). Elite strikeout arms usually get Ks in and out of the zone, and Junis's slider has the harder part of the equation covered. Unfortunately, his change has been useless (10.5% SwStr%, 33.9% chase, 48.3% Zone%), leaving Junis with a 19% K% last year.

A quick look at Junis's performance on the farm suggests strikeout upside. He posted a 3.25 ERA backed by a 3.19 xFIP over 119 IP at Double-A in 2016, striking out a solid 24.1% of the batters who faced him. Kansas City's Double-A affiliate is Northwest Arkansas, and it's a slight pitcher's park (0.998 ballpark factor for overall scoring from 2014-2016). The team's Triple-A affiliate in Omaha is in the dreaded Pacific Coast League, and Junis had a 7.20 ERA there in 30 IP that year.

He got a second crack at the level last year and did the impossible: tame the PCL. His 2.92 ERA was considerably lower than his 3.57 xFIP over 71 IP, but even the latter is an excellent performance considering Omaha's park factors for HR (1.283), hits (1.021), and overall run scoring (1.070). His K% spiked to a sexy 29.9%, and he hardly walked anyone (5.2% BB%). Where the heck is the stuff that did this in the PCL?

It's not responsible for his early season performance, as his K% (17.7%) is actually down compared to last year. Unfortunately, this means that you should probably sell high on Junis if you can. His spin rates support a strong ground ball profile, but his 44.4% GB% this year isn't special. He had great K% rates on the farm, but hasn't approached them at the MLB level. There's a really good pitcher in here somewhere, but the peripherals don't yet support that Junis has reached his potential.

Verdict: Chump

 

Scott Kingery (SS/3B, PHI) 60% Owned

Kingery doesn't start every game, limiting his appeal in weekly formats. Daily leaguers can make great use of him though, as he already has four appearances at shortstop, three at third base, two in the outfield, and one at second base. The 24-year old is off to a hot start, but obviously the sample size is too small to prove anything. Let's take a closer look at his minor league career.

Kingery broke into the High Minors with 166 PAs at Double-A Reading in 2016. His slash line was pedestrian (.250/.273/.33), his counting numbers lacking (two homers, four steals), and his plate discipline mediocre (3% BB%, 21.7% K%). Fantasy owners had no reason to take notice.

That changed in a big way last year. He opened 2017 by slashing .313/.379/.608 with 18 HR and 19 steals over 317 PAs at Double-A. His walks were up (8.8% BB%), Ks were down (16.1% K%), and BABIP reasonable (.324 BABIP) for a player with wheels. Reading inflates HR significantly (1.427 HR factor from 2014-2016) while also providing a small boost to batting average (1.019), but fantasy owners always go gaga for somebody who can hit a homer and steal a base.

Kingery nearly maintained that pace upon reaching Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He slashed .294/.337/.449 with eight homers and 10 swipes over 286 PAs. His BB% declined again (4.5% BB%), but his strikeouts were reasonable (20.3% K%). It's worth noting that Lehigh Valley is also a hitter's park (1.100 factor for overall runs) because it inflates batting average (1.053), but it actually hurts power slightly (0.942 HR factor).

Kingery won't be as good in the majors as he was in the minors, but he could still be solid. Philadelphia had the highest HR factor for right-handed hitters in baseball last year according to Fangraphs, and Kingery hit a ton of flies at every minor league stop. Last year alone, he posted a FB% of 50.4% at Double-A and 41.4% at Triple-A. That should give him a floor of 25 HR assuming regular playing time, even if his raw power has some developing to do.

He's also been good for about 30 steals per season on the farm, going 30-for-37 on SB attempts in 2016 and 29-for-34 in 2017. He already has two bags this season, so he wants to run. His batting average could be a drag considering his fly ball profile and low LD% figures before he reached Triple-A (22.2%), but his legs should prevent a complete disaster.

Kingery's plate discipline is a mixed bag, as his SwStr% (12.7%) and chase rate (32.9%) are both high while his Z-Contact% (87.5%) is solid. He'll probably be streaky this season, a situation that could cost him playing time on a crowded roster. Still, his potential as a realistic five-category contributor right out of the gate means that he's worth a speculative add.

Verdict: Champ

 

More 2018 Player Outlooks





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