If you held your breath it’s a fine time to relax, let it out, and enjoy today - opening day has come and gone and the 2021 baseball season is officially underway! One COVID scare and one rainout couldn’t stop it. And now with draft season behind us the real work starts.
The daily grind of checking box scores, monitoring injuries, and searching twitter feeds for that golden nugget in information that will give you the edge in your matchups. Or maybe you scour the list of available players in your league, filtering the stats trends hoping to catch a player mid-hot streak. This is where I come in. Let me do some of that work for you!
Although spring training gives us a glimpse into what teams will do with their lineups and rotations, they still can tend to be tight lipped with what their real plans are. For example: the Chicago White Sox put their top prospect Andrew Vaughn on the Opening Day roster, but he wasn’t in the starting lineup. Is he going to platoon with Leury Garcia? Are they just going to ease him into action? We’ll explore situations like that and more!
And with that I give you my week 1 watch list:
With the acquisition of Andrelton Simmons and the presence of Jorge Polanco and Josh Donaldson there was seemingly no regular spot on the infield for Luis Arraez. And then Arraez started in left field on opening day and batted leadoff. I expected Arraez to play somewhat regularly as a utility player - I did not expect him to have such a prominent spot in the first game of the season. Then Donaldson injured his hamstring rounding first base during his first inning double and ended up leaving the game while Arraez moved to third base. Arraez went 2-for-5 with a walk and an RBI in the game.
With Arraez being the likely regular replacement for Donaldson, for however long he’s out plus possibly logging games in the outfield he essentially has an everyday role in some capacity. While Arraez doesn’t have much, if any, power he is incredibly difficult to strikeout and has a career triple slash line of .332/.391/.429. Batting leadoff and playing every day with second base eligibility already while possibly adding third base and outfield shortly (he may already be 2B, 3B, and OF eligible in your league) means Arraez becomes an excellent bench piece or utility filler for your fantasy lineup, whether you play in AVG or OBP leagues. He’ll score plenty of runs and drive in his fair share thanks to his excellent contact abilities.
Rostered: 7% in ESPN, 26% in CBS, 18% in Yahoo
The book is out on Byron Buxton - tantalizing power and speed skills with perhaps the worst plate discipline in baseball. On opening day all of his tools were on display (he homered and stole a base) except one thing was different: He walked twice in the first game of 2021. That could just be an extremely small sample bit of noise, but what really piqued my interest is that Buxton walked only twice all of the 2020 season!
It is really easy to overlook this feat because it is only one game and it was just two walks. We all know what Buxton brings in terms of fantasy appeal: big power and speed. This guy isn’t just a threat for double digit home runs and double digit stolen bases - he’s a 30/30 candidate, if not better! He hits the ball hard (89 MPH avg EV, 113 MPH max EV) and runs well (63 career steals to just 9 times caught). Health and consistency have been his greatest enemies, which is why walking twice in the first game of the season stands out. If he is even a little bit more patient at the plate and can earn more times on base his opportunities to run will increase and his lineup spot may improve. It’s easy to forget Buxton was once among the best prospects in the game and is still only 27 years old.
It’s likely Buxton is rostered in your league, but it doesn't hurt to look. And if he is rostered, now is the time to target him in a trade.
Rostered: 91% in ESPN, 99% in CBS, 90% in Yahoo
When the White Sox brought Adam Eaton back this offseason it was considered questionable by most. Considering the other, higher upside options such as Kyle Schwarber and Joc Pederson Eaton just seemed like an underwhelming add for a team with championship aspirations. That sentiment ignores the fact that Eaton as a hitter has been 13% better than the league over his career. His .360 career OBP is tied for 30th in baseball among players with at least 2500 PAs since 2012. It’s no wonder, then, that new manager Tony La Russa slotted Eaton second in the lineup, behind Tim Anderson and ahead of Jose Abreu and Yoan Moncada. And it’s because of that that Eaton again has fantasy appeal.
Eaton rewarded that decision with a 2-run home run on opening day and although he’s not a big source of power usually, he has cracked double digit home runs three times while swiping 14 or more bases four times. He’s also the owner of a career .282/.360/.416 triple slash line. Health permitting, Eaton could easily return a 15/15 season with 90+ runs while helping you in AVG and OBP.
If you’re chasing cheap speed and average, Eaton is certainly a guy I would consider over the next few days.
Rostered: 18% in ESPN, 62% in CBS, 11% in Yahoo
Who are you watching in week 1? Let me know in the comments or hit me up on twitter @JoeyThomasD!