Champ or Chump: Rafael Devers & Eduardo Nunez

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Deals have continued coming in, with the focus again on relievers. Anthony Swarzak becomes a Chump with his trade to Milwaukee after looking like a possible saves candidate when David Robertson was moved. Kansas City acquired three arms: Trevor Cahill remains a Champ with increased win potential, Brandon Maurer becomes a Chump after losing saves, and Ryan Buchter remains relevant in only the deepest formats. The Twins acquired Jaime Garcia, but his 4.30 ERA and 17.9% K% do not figure to be fantasy-relevant in the AL.

The Red Sox startled some by promoting top prospect Rafael Devers instead of making a trade to find a third baseman, then startled others by acquiring Eduardo Nunez shortly afterward. Both are of fantasy interest, so let's take a closer look to see how this situation will shake out.

Ownership rates provided are from Yahoo leagues.

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The Fantasy Jury is Out

Rafael Devers (3B, BOS) 39% Owned

Devers has an elite prospect pedigree (13th in baseball according to Baseball Prospectus's preseason rankings), a stock that only approved when he slashed .300/.369/.575 with 18 dingers in 320 PAs at Double-A this year. He performed well in a brief taste of Triple-A (.400/.447/.600 with two homers in 38 PAs) as well, suggesting that he may be ready for the Show at the tender age of 20.

Devers's Double-A line is supported by elite plate discipline and a strong .316 BABIP. He posted a 9.7% BB% and 17.2% K% in his first taste of the Upper Minors, a stellar performance for such a young player. He also took two walks in his MLB debut, suggesting that this skill will play at the highest level immediately. This should prevent him from being completely overmatched by MLB pitching, giving him a higher floor than would generally be expected from a 20-year-old prospect.

His BABIP may not be quite as sustainable. He pops out too much (25% IFFB%), a fact likely to drive down his MLB BABIP. His swing seems to produce an average number of line drives (21.6% LD% at Double-A), so an exceptional number of them should not be expected to prop up his BABIP either. His BABIP is likely to settle around the .290 range at first, making him a slight batting average asset in fantasy.

His pop-ups are mitigated somewhat by a relatively low FB% (34.6%), but increasing airborne baseballs is the general trend these days. Devers's current FB% at Double-A is a professional best, so it is possible that he is already changing his swing to produce more flies. Devers's 22.5% HR/FB on the farm seems unlikely in the Show, so the additional fly balls will be necessary if Devers is to hit for the power some are expecting from him.

Devers stole 18 bags at High A last year, but does not have a single attempt so far in 2017. He should hit for a reasonable batting average with power upside, but the scouting reports comparing him to All-Stars such as Robinson Cano will probably not come to fruition this season. Still, his best case scenario is a lot better than what you can typically get for free this time of year.

Verdict: Champ

 
Eduardo Nunez (3B/SS/OF, BOS) 75% Owned

The earliest Devers supporters may have been dismayed to learn that the team had acquired Nunez to take his spot, but he probably won't actually cost the rookie a lot of playing time. A report in the Boston Herald quotes Dave Dombrowski saying that Nunez will play "a lot," but reporter Chad Jennings glosses over the final line: "I think we'll have to probably sit down and visit how he's going to be used." No such meeting would be required if Nunez was going to play everyday, so this suggests that Devers is getting an extended opportunity with Nunez in more of a utility role.

A closer look at Nunez's numbers also suggests that Boston is best served using him as a utility man. His .308/.334/.417 line with 18 swipes (five CS) seems fine on the surface, but there are a lot of problems under the hood. His .328 BABIP is probably unsustainable, as his grounders are substantially beating their career average (.320 vs. .301) despite a massive decline in exit velocity (83.2 mph vs. 88.1 last year). His flies are also overachieving (.129 vs. .087 career) despite a decline in both average airborne exit velocity (90.8 mph vs. 92) and rate of Brls/BBE (1.1% vs. 4.4%) relative to last season.

Most hitters could expect a power surge upon leaving San Francisco's pitcher-friendly ballpark, but Nunez's 27.1% FB% and 5.4% HR/FB will not produce usable power numbers anywhere. His 1.1% rate of Brls/BBE is particularly pathetic, illustrating how much of a singles hitter Nunez is. In an era where speedsters have a shot at 10 homers, Nunez's complete lack of oomph can hurt a fantasy roster's power production significantly.

His approach at the plate could also use improvement. He's not walking at all (3.8% BB%) thanks to a chase rate of 39.9%. He's not striking out either (9.1% K%) because he is making frequent contact outside of the strike zone (76.2% O-Contact%), but this is not actually a good thing. He is putting unhittable pitches into play, producing the sub-optimal Statcast numbers detailed above. Worse, his K% will skyrocket as soon as he loses even a little of his contact ability.

Less relevant in fantasy but of interest to Boston is Nunez's poor glovework. His -3 DRS at 3B may not seem terrible, but Nunez splits his time between multiple positions. Add in his -4 at SS and another -4 in the outfield, and Nunez has been "worth" -11 DRS this year. If the Red Sox wanted defense like that, they could have stuck with Pablo Sandoval. Devers may eventually grow out of playing third base, but his defense rates above average there today.

If you own Nunez in fantasy, try to trade him immediately while other owners delude themselves into thinking he'll consistently hit in a potent Boston offense. He'll have no value to you or anyone else as a bench bat with a declining BABIP and no pop.

Verdict: Chump

 

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