You should all know the Face-Off drill by now. When our experts disagree on a pair of similarly priced fantasy assets, we ask them to debate. Then, in the finest American democratic tradition, the issue is settled by blog commenters.
Today, we’re discussing a pair of buzzy young outfielders with high fantasy ceilings. Let’s play the feud…
Here’s some Hoskins hype
This debate involves two players who each bring a different set of skills to a fantasy roster, so it’s easy to imagine making the choice based on a team’s need for either speed (Buxton) or power (Hoskins). If you were to select, say, Stanton, Votto and Cruz at the top of a draft, then you might reasonably decide that Buxton’s base-stealing is a more essential trait than Hoskins’ pop. I’m not going to be overly critical of Buxton here. I like him. But if we’re simply evaluating these two young players on overall expected 5X5 fantasy potential, gimme Hoskins every time.
It’s easy (and unhelpful) to look at Hoskins’ 50-game visit to Philadelphia last season and declare him to be a regression candidate. The kid hit a ridiculous 18 homers during a 30-game stretch from mid-August to mid-September. You don’t need an expert to tell you that no player can sustain that level of production. But it’s not as if Hoskins’ power credentials weren’t well established before August of 2017. He hit 38 home runs at Double-A two years ago while slashing .281/.377/.566, then he slugged another 29 homers in 115 games at Triple-A last season, batting .284/.385/.581. He’s a disciplined hitter who rarely swings and misses and he isn’t inclined to chase. Hoskins drew 101 walks last season between Triple-A (64) and the majors (37), so, when he isn’t homering, he basically lives on base.
Hoskins will open the season hitting in the heart of Philly’s batting order, with a pair of high-OBP guys ahead of him (Hernandez and Santana). He’s going to be a serious asset in runs, homers and RBIs, and there’s little reason to think he’ll torpedo your team batting average. He’s simply a very good hitter. (As no less an authority than Scott Pianowski recently noted, Hoskins can certainly expect better luck in terms of BABIP this season.) Don’t be surprised if he goes 85-35-95-.270, or better. Forty homers is definitely in play.
Again, I have no problem with Buxton as a bankable source of steals and run-scoring. He gets full credit for making a few necessary adjustments at the plate. It’s not hard to imagine a 20/30 season (or 15/35), assuming good health. He doesn’t have Hoskins’ contact rate or batting eye, so we can expect him to be a liability in AVG. As a real-life player, his defense of course gives him a big edge. But in our game, I’ll take Hoskins. —Andy Behrens
The case for buying Buxton
It’s difficult to know what Hoskins’s immediate, short-pocket breakout means for his future. I did a post-expansion query on baseball-reference, looking for players with an OPS+ over 140 that played between 40 and 90 games in their rookie seasons. In other words, monster debuts over a short sample of games, starting with the Age of Aquarius.
The search returned 39 names, and they’re all over the place. Frank Thomas smashed into the Hall of Fame. Brian Giles was a good hitter for an extended period of time. Khris Davis is making it. Gary Sanchez and Trea Turner have all the earmarks of stars. (Dave Kingman, a longtime Behrens favorite, is also on this list.)
But plenty of these players fizzled, too. Phil Plantier and Kevin Maas are poster children for flash-and-fade. Allen Craig lost his way (though his sophomore year was good). Garrett Jones. Sam Horn. Erubiel Durazo. Chris Duncan. Anyone remember the Brett Lawrie hype train? There are several other players here who had solid but unremarkable careers. Did Luke Scott and Jason Michaels take over the world?
Buxton didn’t just come to Minnesota as a prospect, of course — he was the prospect, the crown jewel of the minors at one point. To be fair, his sterling defensive play factored into that, but Buxton was also seen as a multiple-tool stud who could be a star someday. That elite potential started to blossom in 2017.
The Twins overhauled Buxton’s batting mechanics in the middle of last summer, and eventually things clicked. Buxton slashed .314/.359/.553 over his last 62 games, with 12 home runs and 15 steals. Those are second-round fantasy numbers. If you prefer to judge Buxton on the time that overlaps with Hoskins’s promotion, Buxton was an equal fantasy source: .309-36-11-24-10.
Buxton might not be a good bet for a .300 average, but he’s doing what we want from developing players — walking more, striking out less, making more contact. And when he wants a base, he takes it — Buxton swiped 29-of-30 last year, with the only miss coming on an overslide. Buxton should get a boost in counting numbers, simply from batting-order promotion; he slotted seventh or lower 62 percent of the time in 2017, but that was old news at the end of the season. He’s locked in as one of Minnesota’s primary hitters now. (And while Philly may be improved in 2018, keep in mind the Twins were seventh in scoring last year, the Phillies 27th. The check mark for supporting cast goes to Buxton until proven otherwise.)
If you’re going to dream of a Buxton breakout, don’t stop at 30 or 35 bags. The guy is 89 percent for his career and the Twins are one of the last remaining teams to value the stolen base. There’s a monster upside in that category. And if any of last year’s plate-discipline gains are real, other categories are going to come for the ride. This is a four or, gasp, maybe even a five-category player.
The climax to the Shawshank Redemption has Red traveling for a hidden treasure, buried somewhere in Buxton, Maine. Fantasy owners are wise to hunt in the same area. —Scott Pianowski