The 5 biggest fantasy surprises so far: Is there hope for Christian Yelich?

·7 min read

Managing a fantasy roster is most difficult early in the season. How you react to a player's start 10 days into the season could determine whether you're in the running for the championship, or furious and in ninth place come September.

It's easy to feel like you have to do something, which isn't always the best strategy. If you cut Toronto Blue Jays slugger Teoscar Hernandez last April after he hit just .235, you missed out on a 32-home run and .295-batting average season.

Conversely, you don't want to be too conservative. Fantasy players too quick to dismiss Carlos Rodón's 0.72 ERA last April missed one of the waiver wire's biggest wins.

That's where we come in. Each week, we'll look at some of the biggest surprises in fantasy baseball and provide context for their numbers.

Want to find the next Logan Webb before your leaguemates know about him? We've got you covered.

Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers OF

Current player rank: 495

Nobody was excited to draft Christian Yelich in 2022. After two MVP caliber seasons, Yelich has hit just .234/.360/.392 since 2020. A knee injury — and the pandemic-shortened season — can be blamed for his initial struggles, but last year's poor performance was puzzling.

Did an early back injury really wreck Yelich's entire 2021 season?

Despite Yelich's early struggles — he's hitting .200 with zero home runs and zero steals — there's hope better numbers are coming. Yelich's average exit velocity is up to 92.9 mph, in line with his 2018 MVP season. His hard-contact rate is up and he's pulling the ball more. With the caveat that it's extremely early, all of this indicates Yelich should regain his power stroke.

And he's already come close twice.

Yelich scalded a double against the Baltimore Orioles on April 12 and another double against the St. Louis Cardinals on April 14. Both balls hit the very top of the outfield wall.

Yelich has struggled to make contact early, though not at an alarming rate. He's also put too many balls on the ground. But once he makes those adjustments, Yelich should be in for his best season since 2019.

Christian Yelich should have a better fantasy season.
Christian Yelich should put up strong fantasy numbers if he stays healthy. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

Owen Miller, Cleveland Guardians 1B, 2B

Current player rank: 5

Steven Kwan has received the most attention of any player on the Cleveland Guardians, but another unknown player on the team has actually performed better. That would be Owen Miller, who is hitting .500 with 2 home runs to kick off the season.

Miller was never considered an elite prospect with the team, making it easy to doubt his performance. Add in last season's poor debut, and you might be tempted to let someone else take the risk. But Miller is showing some encouraging signs he's found another gear this season. Miller is making significantly more contact this season. He's also cut his swinging strike rate down to 4.7 percent. When he swings — like Kwan — Miller doesn't miss.

Unlike Kwan, Miller might actually give you some home runs. Miller's average exit velocity sits at 92.6 mph, up from 86.4 mph last year. He's also making hard contact twice as much as Kwan.

Maybe it's just a hot streak and Miller crashes to Earth. But there's enough good here to make Miller an intriguing pickup, especially if you need help at second base.

Tylor Megill, New York Mets SP

Current player rank: 20

A middling New York Mets pitching prospect makes an offseason adjustment and suddenly becomes a superstar.

That's a tough thing to do, but it's not impossible — just ask Jacob deGrom.

Let's stop the comparison there. No one should expect Tylor Megill to be the next deGrom, but it certainly looks as though Megill found another level this season. Megill has yet to give up an earned run in two starts. He's averaged just over a strikeout per inning and hasn't walked a batter.

Megill showed flashes last season, with his secondary stuff grading out well. His fastball, however, was an issue. Batters slugged .494 against the pitch in 2021, a troubling figure considering he used the pitch 57 percent of the time.

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Megill apparently worked on the pitch in the offseason. His average four-seam velocity is up nearly 2 mph, now sitting at 96.4 mph. Batters are slugging .294 against the pitch in the early going. Megill is also getting more whiffs with it too, He hasn't used his slider much in 2022, but it looks like a strong put-out pitch vs. righties. The pitch has much more vertical movement compared to last season and has resulted in a whiff an astounding 66.7 percent of the time (though it's a small sample of 22 sliders).

Megill could run into an innings limit down the line, though. His career-high in a season came last year when Megill threw 130 innings across three minor-league levels. Until he hits that limit, Megill could prove to be one of the biggest breakout pitchers in baseball. He made legitimate improvements during the offseason.

Nelson Cruz, Washington Nationals DH

Current player rank: 563

You never want to be too reactive to slow starts with established players, but Nelson Cruz is 41 years old. When a player that old slumps to open the season, it's natural to wonder if this is finally the year Father Time wins the battle.

Nelson Cruz with the Nationals.
Fastballs have been an issue for Nelson Cruz in 2022. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Cruz is hitting just .190 in 10 games. He has one home run and a .262 slugging percentage. All of Cruz's most important indicators are trending in the wrong direction. His exit velocity sits at 87.6, his lowest figure in the Statcast era. He's not barreling up the ball as much and his launch angle is down.

The most worrisome aspect of Cruz's early slump, however, is his performance against fastballs. Cruz usually feasts on heaters. He hit .295 with 21 home runs against fastballs in 2021.

This year, Cruz is hitting .148 against fastballs.

It's possible Cruz is going through a slump. Maybe his timing is off, and a slight adjustment at the plate gets him back to being one of the game's elite sluggers. But Cruz's age makes his early season issues all the more concerning. What if his struggles against fastballs aren't a result of a timing issue, and are actually a sign he's finally lost bat speed?

You're not cutting Cruz after 10 games. He has over 1,000 games on his resume that suggest he's a tremendous hitter. But Cruz's struggles against the fastball combined with his age make his early slump something to monitor.

Kevin Gausman, Toronto Blue Jays SP

Current player ranking: 468

Through two starts, Kevin Gausman has a 4.22 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP. Those aren't awful figures, but they are more in line with his average starts with the Baltimore Orioles compared to his breakout figures with the San Francisco Giants.

If you drafted Gausman, don't worry — you probably aren't getting the Orioles version. There's enough in Gausman's profile to suggest he'll retain some of those San Francisco gains. For one, his breaking pitches remain excellent. Hitters haven't touched his split-finger or slider this season. Through 10 2/3 innings, Gausman has 14 strikeouts and zero walks; yet another sign he's still an elite player.

The main issue early on has been Gausman's fastball. He's given up a .409 batting average on the pitch in his first two starts and a much lower whiff rate. His velocity is down on it, but just slightly. Last year, it averaged 94.6 mph. This season, Gausman's fastball is 94.0 mph.

Is that enough to explain Gausman's struggles? Probably not. The pitch was effective last season and has a similar spin rate.

This could be an issue of poor location, bad luck, tipping pitches or a combination of all three. Gausman's fastball is probably not one of the worst pitches in baseball. Even if it's less effective, Gausman has good enough breaking stuff to carry his repertoire. Is he going to post a 2.81 ERA again? Probably not. But a 3.62 ERA with a fair amount of strikeouts, which is exactly what Gausman did his first season in San Francisco, is still very much in play.

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