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Champ or Chump: John Hicks & Willy Adames

Injuries are always a touchy subject in fantasy baseball. Nobody ever wants anybody to get injured, especially if you paid a high price to acquire them in March. Yet if your roster is light on saves or in need of a particular position in a deeper format, somebody getting hurt is the best chance you have at finding playing time on the wire.

The two players below have been thrust into potentially fantasy-friendly roles because somebody else got hurt. Willy Adames is a top-rated prospect in a loaded farm system, and he figures to play everyday until Daniel Robertson comes off of the DL. John Hicks has been named Detroit's starting first baseman in the wake of Miguel Cabrera's season-ending biceps injury.

Will either produce enough to help fantasy owners?

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The Fantasy Jury is Out

John Hicks (C/1B, DET) - 28% Owned

Hicks has been solid so far in 2018, slashing .285/.327/.437 with five homers in 162 PAs. The 28-year old doesn't have much of a prospect pedigree, nor did he light the minor leagues on fire. Many of his peripherals suggest that regression is forthcoming. Yet you should still add him to your team for one simple reason: he's catcher-eligible and will be playing everyday at not-catcher.

Let's get the worst news out of the way first: Hicks has awful plate discipline. His 40.6% chase rate would be tied for the seventh highest rate in MLB if he qualified, and his 17.4% SwStr% (third) is atrocious too. That adds up to a 27.2% K% with a chance to rise further, making it incredibly unlikely that he keeps hitting .280.

The BABIP gods have provided Hicks with a .369 BABIP to offset his strikeouts thus far, but it probably won't last. Hicks runs like the catcher he used to be (26.4 ft./sec Statcast Sprint Speed) and isn't crushing his ground balls (82.5mph average exit velocity according to Baseball Savant), so there's no good reason for his .405 BABIP on the ground. Even elite speedsters struggle to sustain a BABIP on grounders north of .300, making .400 virtually impossible.

That said, Hicks projects for a decent BABIP moving forward. Both his fly balls (.150 vs. .182) and line drives (.684 vs. .714) are underachieving relative to his 388 PA career, providing hope for favorable regression. He's also completely shift-proof (45.2% Pull% on grounders), a fact that should help him run a decent BABIP on grounders despite his lack of speed. Finally, his 17.9% LD% is on the low side even after considering his below average rates in the minor leagues. Even one more percentage point could offset a lot of losses elsewhere.

Overall, Baseball Savant's xStats say that Hicks deserves a batting average of .241 this year based on his K%, launch angles, and exit velocities. The metric has flaws, but it seems like a good projection in this case. Most fantasy owners aren't excited by the prospect of a .240 hitter, but Hicks makes it work with league average pop and catcher-eligibility.

Hicks has a healthy FB% (42.5%) that should allow him to pop 20 homers in this environment. His airborne contact quality is slightly above average: 94.9mph and a 7.5% rate of Brls/BBE. He put up similar metrics last season in 190 PAs (92.5mph and 8.9% Brls/BBE), so it seems to be his level. If he maintains his FB% (it bounced around the league average on the farm), Hicks should hit enough homers to matter in fantasy.

The real draw is the counting stats he'll be able to provide from the catcher slot. Catchers require more off-days than any other offensive position due to the physical demands of the position. While you want your outfielder to play at least six times a week, you're lucky if your catcher averages five without compromising their performance.

Hicks has 13 games at C this season, earning eligibility there in nearly all formats. However, he's now Detroit's starting first baseman moving forward. This will allow owners to roster a "catcher" actually playing first base, likely crushing other catchers in PAs accumulated. More PAs means more counting stat opportunities.

Better yet, the Tigers are likely to give him a favorable lineup spot. While he's been hitting sixth lately, he has been the team's cleanup hitter on numerous occasions this year. He'll have to move up at least one spot since Cabrera is no longer batting third, giving him the R+RBI chances expected of a first sacker.

The position switch may also help Hicks offensively. Over his young career, Hicks has been much better at first base (.297/.353/.470) than at catcher (.226/.267/.387). The split could be useless noise, and should probably be regressed even if you believe in it. Still, it stands to reason that a player who isn't squatting for nine innings or working with his team's pitchers on a daily basis would hit better than one who is.

In summation, Hicks isn't an especially good hitter. He strikes out too much, can't run, and offsets it with only league average power. However, he's been thrust into a role that seems destined to make him a top five catcher. He should be owned by somebody in every league.

Verdict: Champ

Willy Adames (SS, TB) - 11% Owned

Adames has 20 total PAs with Tampa Bay, slashing .278/.300/.500 with a homer for the season. That's neither great nor terrible, but his minor league history suggests that he needs to develop a little more before being counted on in fantasy.

The appeal of Adames is encapsulated in his 2016 line for Double-A Montgomery: .274/.372/.430 with 11 HR and 13 SB (six CS) in 568 PAs. He walked a ton (13% BB%) to balance an average K% (21.3%), making him look like the rare 20-year-old with an advanced approach at the plate. His 68% success rate on SB attempts wasn't great, and his 34.7% FB% didn't lend itself to an aggressive power projection at the highest level. Still, it was a strong debut against advanced competition.

The problem is that Adames has yet to progress beyond that point. The Rays promoted him to Triple-A Durham for 2017, where he slashed .277/.360/.415 with 10 HR and 11 SB (five CS) in 578 PAs. It looks like the same season on the surface, but all of his peripherals got worse. His BB% (11.2%) declined a little, but was still strong for a 21-year old at Triple-A. His K% increased slightly (22.8%), while his FB% fell to 32.6%. His 8.3% HR/FB wasn't special, so he'll need to elevate more often to reach the 20-25 HR projection many scouts expect of him. He even maintained his mediocre 68% success rate on SB attempts.

The same trends continued into 2018. Returning to Durham, he slashed .286/.356/.424 with four homers and three steals (three CS) over 233 PAs. That 50% success rate on SB attempts probably earns him a red light in the majors, and his K% increased again (24.9%) while his BB% fell (10.3%). He hit more fly balls (38.7% FB%), but lost some HR/FB in the process (6.9%). Everything is trending in the wrong direction.

Adames's minor league numbers become more troubling when his environment is considered. Montgomery slightly favors hitters (1.033 ballpark factor for runs scored from 2014-2016) because it's easy to homer there (1.115 HR factor). Adames failed to take advantage despite being billed as a power prospect. Likewise, Durham inflates power production slightly (1.078 HR factor), and Adames failed to capitalize on it.

This doesn't mean that Adames is a surefire bust, just that he might be too raw to contribute much in 2018. It's a ridiculously small sample, but his 40% K% and 16% SwStr% suggest that he's overmatched by MLB hurlers right now. He's worth a speculative add in OBP formats, but remember that he's guaranteed nothing once Robertson comes off of the DL. It might be best to let somebody else use a roster spot on him.

Verdict: Chump


MoreĀ 2018 Player Outlooks