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Fantasy Baseball Stock Watch: Hot Hitters to Trade For


This week’s edition of the RotoBaller Stock Watch takes a look at five hitters, whom some fantasy owners shied away from this offseason for a variety of reasons, but have so far impressed through the early part of the season.

All five are owned in virtually every league, but with their stock on the rise, now is the time to make a blockbuster trade to acquire their services before it’s simply too late to make a deal.

Editor’s Note: be sure to check out our famous waiver wire pickups list which is a running list of waiver wire options and is updated daily. Trading for the right players, while also adding the right guys off the waiver wire, is the recipe for winning your leagues.

 

Freddie Freeman, 1B - Atlanta Braves

Few players saw their fantasy stock slip more dramatically, for reasons beyond their control, than Freeman this offseason. When the Braves jettisoned the core of their lineup in a series of trades, a majority of fantasy owners docked Freeman a few counting stats, bumped him down on their draft boards, and moved on. As a result of the uncertainty surrounding him, everyone seemed to forget that the 25-year-old Freeman is just starting to enter his prime and remains one of the elite hitters in the National League.

Freeman is hitting .283/.353/.609 with four home runs, nine runs scored and eight RBI through 12 games and ranks fifth on ESPN.com’s Player Rater trailing only Adrian Gonzalez, Paul Goldschmidt, Joey Votto and Miguel Cabrera. What’s even more impressive is that Freeman has actually been pretty unlucky this season. His numbers should be even more gaudy when you consider that he owns a .290 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) this season, well below his career mark of .338.

So what exactly is going on? Freeman is hitting more fly balls than ever before. For a guy who has never posted a fly ball percentage above 38%, his fly ball rate this season is 51%. More fly balls is resulting in a lower BABIP, but it also should result in a few more home runs for Freeman, a trade most fantasy owners will gladly take.

 

Stephen Vogt, C/1B/OF - Oakland Athletics

While Rule 5 selection Mark Canha rightly deserves some buzz for his early season outburst, the far more valuable fantasy option in Oakland is Vogt. A vital cog in the Athletics three-headed catching rotation a season ago, Vogt finally gained catcher eligibility in most standard leagues this past week. He’s off to a torrid start, hitting .368/.429/.737 with three home runs in 42 plate appearances to open up the 2015 campaign.

Vogt’s numbers are being propped up by a lofty .393 BABIP, which screams regression for any hitter, especially a plodding catcher. The power breakout appears legitimate, however. Vogt cranked nine homers in 287 plate appearances last season and with three already in the bag, he’s primed to set a career-high this year.

The odds of Vogt finishing the season as one of the top catchers in fantasy seem extremely low, but given all of the injuries around the league and some of the ice cold starts some backstops have had, making a move to acquire Vogt could be a difference maker. It’s going to be much harder to trade for him a few weeks from now, so the time to make the move for his services is now.

 

Dee Gordon, 2B - Miami Marlins

I challenge you to cite a recent example of a hitter (aside from Mike Trout) who has followed up a breakout campaign by exceeding lofty expectations the following year. After leading the Majors with 64 steals last year, Gordon is currently the number one fantasy option at the keystone according to the ESPN Player Rater. The speedster is slashing .389/.404/.500 with eight runs scored, nine RBI and six stolen bases in just 58 plate appearances, proving that last season was no fluke. He’s still not walking at all, but he is putting the ball on the ground, hitting it in the air the other way and using his speed (.420 BABIP) to set the table for Miami.

There aren’t a ton of elite leadoff hitters in baseball these days. Despite a less-than-prototypical leadoff guy skill set (he doesn’t walk, which turns off some fantasy owners), Gordon is getting the job done. Once the big bats, led by Giancarlo Stanton, start to heat up, the numbers have a chance to be truly impressive for Flash Jr. this year. Is he the top second baseman in fantasy baseball? Probably not. But there's no reason he shouldn’t considered among the top dogs anymore.

 

J.D. Martinez, OF - Detroit Tigers

Speaking of following up a breakout campaign, Martinez has been nothing short of spectacular to open up the 2015 season. Miguel Cabrera is still the straw that stirs the drink in Detroit; but, Martinez has teamed up with fellow corner-outfielder and honorable mention for this list Yoenis Cespedes to form a “bash brothers” tandem in the heart of the Tigers order. The duo strung together back-to-back singles off CC Sabathia in the seventh inning on Tuesday night to propel Detroit to yet another victory.

Martinez is now hitting .245/.273/.547 with five home runs, eight runs scored, 11 RBI and a stolen base in 55 plate appearances on the young season. Coming off a 23-homer campaign last year, the power is what fantasy owners are looking for from the 27-year-old and so far he has delivered. What is most impressive about Martinez early season power outburst is that four of his five home runs have been hit to the opposite field. If there were any doubts about Martinez, aside from a poor average, he’s silenced them thus far.

 

Nelson Cruz, OF - Seattle Mariners

Remember when virtually every fantasy analyst was down on Cruz moving to the spacial confines of Safeco Field this offseason? Those were good times. Cruz is just the latest example of a power hitter, who isn’t going to be affected very much by where he is playing. As the old saying goes, when you hit the ball as hard as he does, it’s going to be out in every ballpark. He's got eight home runs on the year already.

The biggest knock on Cruz throughout his career was his ability to stay healthy. Last season, he matched a career-high with 159 games in Baltimore, and the result was a career-year in which he slugged 40 homers. At this point, health might be the only thing that prevents Cruz from potentially surpassing his home run output from a year ago.

Going beyond scouting the stat-line. Watching Cruz at the plate, he’s clearly locked in. He’s also hitting virtually everything in the air right now. We always look for whats changed for a hitter and with Cruz, it's clearly the staggering increase in fly balls. At the time of publication, prior to Monday night’s game versus Houston, Cruz owns a 64% fly ball percentage. He was already one of the more extreme fly ball hitters in the game, posting marks above 40% in six consecutive seasons. The increase in fly balls combined with a .500 BABIP has created a perfect storm of fantasy production for Cruz.

 




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