Collette Calls: 2022 NL Central Bold Predictions

Collette Calls: 2022 NL Central Bold Predictions

This article is part of our Collette Calls series.

The premise for this year's series was laid out in the first installment, so please review it. ADP references are looking at Draft Champions leagues in 2021 and 2022 (over last 30 days). Auction values are based on standard 15-team league formats. 

Chicago Cubs

Clint Frazier is a top 75 outfielder

Player

2021 ADP

2022 ADP

2021 Earned $

2022 Projected $

C. Frazier

182

420

-$12

-$8

Frazier currently sits 104th by outfield ADP, 155 spots behind the outfielder occupying the 75th spot on the board in Julio Rodriguez. Frazier did what Snake Plissken did many years ago and escaped from New York where the expectations and pressure of the fans and media were too much of a burden for Frazier to bare. He is not the first and certainly will not be the last player to melt in the bright lights of The Bronx. Frazier now moves to the perfect situation to rebuild his mental game, to a team that is in an obvious rebuild thereby removing the pressure to win every game. We are not back to the good old days of Chicago baseball of "win or lose, we still booze!" 

In all seriousness, let us not forget that this is the same player whose 2017 scouting report cited "elite bat speed" and "well above-average raw power," while earning 60 scores on his game and raw power from scouts. This was all out there when Cleveland packaged him along with other players to New York

The premise for this year's series was laid out in the first installment, so please review it. ADP references are looking at Draft Champions leagues in 2021 and 2022 (over last 30 days). Auction values are based on standard 15-team league formats. 

Chicago Cubs

Clint Frazier is a top 75 outfielder

Player

2021 ADP

2022 ADP

2021 Earned $

2022 Projected $

C. Frazier

182

420

-$12

-$8

Frazier currently sits 104th by outfield ADP, 155 spots behind the outfielder occupying the 75th spot on the board in Julio Rodriguez. Frazier did what Snake Plissken did many years ago and escaped from New York where the expectations and pressure of the fans and media were too much of a burden for Frazier to bare. He is not the first and certainly will not be the last player to melt in the bright lights of The Bronx. Frazier now moves to the perfect situation to rebuild his mental game, to a team that is in an obvious rebuild thereby removing the pressure to win every game. We are not back to the good old days of Chicago baseball of "win or lose, we still booze!" 

In all seriousness, let us not forget that this is the same player whose 2017 scouting report cited "elite bat speed" and "well above-average raw power," while earning 60 scores on his game and raw power from scouts. This was all out there when Cleveland packaged him along with other players to New York in 2016 to acquire Andrew Miller, and Frazier spent his formative years falling short of expectations whether by injury, lack of focus or lack of playing time. He is but a season removed from this Statcast profile:

He is projected to hit sixth for Chicago in some sort of outfield/DH rotation as one of six former first-round picks in the projected starting nine for the Cubs (Ian Happ, Patrick Wisdom, Jason Heyward, Nico Hoerner, Nick Madrigal.) This would appear to be a season which will reward those who produce with playing time, and Frazier could even move up the lineup once Willson Contreras is dealt in his final year before free agency. The entirety of Frazier's playing time over the past three seasons has equated to 624 plate appearances and a .239/.337/.436 slash line with 25 homers, 75 runs and 79 RBI. He now gets to move to a friendly park for righties and play an unbalanced schedule with extra games against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. We are but a season removed from watching Patrick Wisdom and Frank Schwindel make the most of their opportunities and Frazier has that same chance before him this season should he choose to accept it. 

Codi Heuer leads the Cubs in saves

update March 8th - Heuer appears to have had TJ surgery via this picture from his Instagram account

Player

2021 ADP

2022 ADP

2021 Earned $

2022 Projected $

Codi Heuer

644

564

-$4

-$3

Heuer's ADP shows he is mostly an afterthought this season, only going in Draft Champion formats as the 211th pitcher off the board by ADP. I believe there is much upside in speculating on him late in those drafts or even in NL-only formats. Heuer came over in the crosstown trade in July with a confusing statistical split. His strikeouts and walks were excellent with the White Sox, but home runs were a problem, leading to an inflated ERA. The exact opposite happened with the Cubs where the strikeouts and walks were awful, but he did not allow homers and his ERA was nearly two full runs lower. Welcome to reliever volatility, especially with young relievers.

Heuer throws three pitches: a fastball averaging 96, a slider and a changeup. That mixture helped him produce the following Statcast rankings last season:

  • Average Exit Velocity: 80th percentile
  • Barrel %: 93rd percentile
  • Chase Rate: 82nd percentile

The combination of being tough to square up as well as tough to lay off is enticing, and it comes from how Heuer uses his non-fastballs to attack righties and lefties. The league hit .151 off his slider with a 45% whiff rate and .170 off his changeup with a 47% whiff rate. He allowed one home run off 460 non-fastballs thrown last season while generating swings-and-misses nearly half of the time. However, the fastball was the exact opposite as the league hit .336 off the pitch with six homers and just a 13% whiff rate. Heuer threw a higher rate of fastballs with the Cubs (more on that later):

It is worth noting that the league struggled to hit the fastball when Heuer was a rookie in 2020. The league hit .186 off the fastball with a 23% whiff rate and went 1-for-24 against his other two pitches because he came up looking like this:

The other aspect to consider with Heuer was the notable decline in his velocity last year, but there is a story behind it:
 

Heuer actually had better results off the lower-velocity fastball last season as most of the damage off the pitch came in the first three months of the season even though he was throwing more fastballs with reduced velocity after the trade. Turns out the Cubs presented him with some ideas to work on as he finished out the season, which would help explain the change in numbers. Bleacher Nation had more on this in a piece last month: 

When you look at raw spin rates, you'll find that Heuer's fastball (2366 RPM) doesn't necessarily clock in anywhere elite (127th in MLB, 78th percentile). It's strong, no doubt. But not much more than that. But the active spin rate on his four-seamer? It was up at 98.3% last season, which ranked 28th in MLB (min. 1000 pitches). And in 2020, it was 98.6%, 25th in MLB. All that for a pitch he throws 56.1% of the time.

The Cubs clearly see something in Heuer and believe there is another level to his abilities to be untapped. It is also worth noting that it has been reported the inclusion of Heuer in the Nick Madrigal trade is what sealed Kimbrel to the White Sox rather than the Rays at the deadline. Simply put, this is not a middle reliever narrative and I believe we will see that next level from Heuer this season. 

Cincinnati Reds

Jose Barrero is a top 25 shortstop

Player

2021 ADP

2022 ADP

2021 Earned $

2022 Projected $

J. Barrero

616

427

-$16

$7

Barrero is currently 41st at the shortstop position, over 200 spots behind teammate Eugenio Suarez and his dual eligibility. Shortstop is ridiculously deep this year when you consider the likes of Andres Gimenez, Gio Urshela and Jonathan Villar can't even crack the top 30. Barrero's calling card is his speed and defense, which is what got him to the majors at age 22. The problem for him is he has been absolutely abysmal at the big-league level in a very small sample size because he has walked four times and has struck out 43 times trying to hit everything in 117 at-bats.  He has not had the opportunity to establish much of a minor-league track record because went from High-A to the big leagues from 2018 to 2020. He has shown both impatience and good contact at the lower levels, but has become a more patient hitter at the upper levels of the minors while showing a willingness to steal bases with 13, 15 and 16 bases in his past three minor-league seasons.

Barrero has the athleticism to make some noise with the opportunity to produce when provided the opportunity. He has been a shortstop, but Cincinnati has also given him reps in the outfield to provide him more options to stick at the major-league level. A good spring (we'll have one) could get him on the roster to flex his raw talents and roster movement by a team which is heading into a rebuild should create opportunities sooner rather than later. This is a case where I want to draft the potential and let the playing time work itself out. His market price safely puts him in the reserves in most formats, which is where Jonathan India was living this time last year himself. 

Luis Cessa is a top 200 pitcher

Player

2021 ADP

2022 ADP

2021 Earned $

2022 Projected $

L. Cessa

689

713

-$1

-$4

Cessa is the 311th pitcher by ADP, some 200 ADP spots behind Brad Hand. Cessa is part of the late-inning bullpen with the Reds along with Lucas Sims, Art Warren and Amir Garrett. Cessa lacks the velocity of the other three arms, but we should not be sleeping on a guy who could see himself working in a variety of situations from middle relief to save chances. We are but a season removed from Alex Reyes being a fringe option in the St. Louis bullpen to grabbing a high volume of wins and saves. I would not go as far as calling Cessa this year's Reyes because what Reyes did is extremely rare. The list below shows the pitchers to get at least 10 wins and 20 saves in the same season over the past 25 seasons:

However, lowering the threshold to double-digit wins and saves presents us with two recent interesting names: Paul Sewald (2021) and Brandon Workman (2019.) Cessa lacks the huge strikeout rate of either guy, but what he does have are two pitches with whiff rates over 30% in his slider (32%) and changeup (38%.) Cessa throws four different pitches, but only three to each righties and lefties, using the changeup against lefties and the sinker against righties. The pitch mixture helps him keep hitters off balance and generate softer contact throughout the season. Cincinnati tweaked his approach after acquiring him at the trade deadline by increasing his changeup utilization and dialing back on his rather hittable fastball:

Cessa finished the season with a 21 K-BB% in his time with Cincy, jumping his strikeout rate four percentage points while lowering his walk rate by eight percentage points from his time with the Yankees in 2021. I am intrigued enough with this new approach to see him having a prominent role in this unsettled bullpen and providing a nice return on investment for late-round grabs in Draft and Holds or a final round reserve pick in NL-only leagues.

Milwaukee Brewers

Willy Adames is a top 10 shortstop

Player

2021 ADP

2022 ADP

2021 Earned $

2022 Projected $

W. Adames

329

134

$15

$9

Shortstop is so deep that Adames is the 18th shortstop off the board by ADP. I took him at 123 in my recent DC50 league because I believe in the player now that he is freed from the blinding lights of Tropicana Field. Adames spent two years complaining about the home lights and backed up those complaints by hitting terribly at home while mashing on the road. These are his numbers over the past three seasons in that context:

SPLIT

PA

AVG

OBP

SLG

BB%

K%

Tropicana Field

438

0.192

0.247

0.312

7%

32%

Anywhere Else

715

0.306

0.374

0.540

10%

27%

Adames was so happy to finally leave Tropicana Field he hit the ground running with Milwaukee and raked to a .294/.375/.529 clip with 17 homers, 51 RBI and 52 runs scored, and it was only a strained quad injury that was able to stop him from further pounding NL pitching. "Home Willy" got better in Milwaukee, hitting .236/.335/.467 in nearly 200 plate appearances, but "Road Willy" went to another level as he hit .325/.392/.565 on the road with the cozy NL Central parks making up a majority of that time. 

Adames is projected to hit high in the lineup for Milwaukee which should provide him with ample opportunity to produce runs both driving in Kolten Wong and being driven in by Christian Yelich, Hunter Renfroe and others. It is worth noting that Adames had the final numbers he did in 2021 despite hitting just .197/.254/.371 at the time of the trade to Milwaukee. 

Javier Baez currently comes in at 10th via ADP at 64 at the position, so this prediction would need Adames to essentially half his current ADP while everyone else stays stagnant. It seems as though he has been in the league for awhile, yet he does not even turn 27 until very late in this season and is two years away from free agency. I view 2021 as the foundation for that case with the real climb coming over the next two seasons. 

Aaron Ashby finishes in the top 200

Player

2021 ADP

2022 ADP

2021 Earned $

2022 Projected $

A. Ashby

729

267

-$7

-$2

Ashby has all of 31.2 innings of major-league experience, but he's impressed in that time, striking out 39 batters while allowing 25 hits and helping Milwaukee down the stretch. His overall numbers hold up despite a very poor major-league debut which saw him allow seven baserunners and four runs in two-thirds of an inning and a regular-season finale which led to all six of his baserunners scoring in the same amount of work. Thus, we saw him allow 13 baserunners and 10 earned runs in 1.1 innings of work while allowing 24 baserunners and six earned runs in the other 30.1 innings of work. Never forget it just takes one or two bad appearances to sink a reliever's overall numbers. When he was good, he was very good (1.79 ERA) and when he was bad, he was very bad (67.50).

Ashby has above-average stuff and velocity, but his fastball is of the low-spin variety which leads him to work both up and down in the zone with his fastballs and then use his nasty slider and solid changeup to get his results. The league hit a minuscule .077 off his slider, swinging and missing 42% of the time while hitting .167 with a 35% whiff rate against his changeup. As you may have guessed, they had little trouble with his fastball (.333, 13%) which is not surprising for rookie pitchers who are not yet comfortable using their non-fastballs when behind in the count. Ashby struck out 139 batters and walked 44 in 95 innings of work between Triple-A and the majors, but also generated groundballs on over 60% of his batted-ball events. 

The three-pitch repertoire (his curveball makes rare appearances as a fourth pitch) is good enough for him to work in a rotation when everything is going well, and easily good enough for him to flourish as a swingman while awaiting an opportunity in the rotation. This comes down to a case of targeting skills and not roles, and a pitcher with a high strikeout rate and a very high groundball rate will always have a path forward on a pitching staff. It is no secret that the Milwaukee Pitching Lab has been churning out successful creations in recent years, getting the most out of the talents on the staff, and Ashby is next in line to continue his trajectory upward. The automatic assumption is to look at Devin Williams as the closer in waiting should any of the long-standing Josh Hader trade rumors finally come to fruition, but with other lefties already in the bullpen, Ashby should not be shackled by the LHP penalty when it comes to working the ninth just as Hader was not when he transitioned from middle-relief beast to elite closer in his second major-league season. 

Pittsburgh Pirates

Anthony Alford is a top 100 outfielder

Player

2021 ADP

2022 ADP

2021 Earned $

2022 Projected $

A. Alford

540

565

-$10

NYP

Let us just accept the fact Pittsburgh will begin the season 20 games out of first place and fall from there. Ke'Bryan Hayes, Bryan Reynolds as well as the big prospect Oneil Cruz are being taken in all formats with Yoshi Tsutsugo sneaking into the end of some mixed-league reserve drafts. The rest of the bats on the roster are all going outside the top 540 by ADP:

PlayerPosition(s)ADP / AAVMinMax
 Bryan ReynoldsOF95.4163131
 Ke'Bryan Hayes3B141.4377208
 Oneil CruzSS231.72129373
 Yoshi Tsutsugo1B, OF372.48257677
 Roberto PerezC544.32321745
 Anthony AlfordOF593.09303737
 Colin Moran1B595.69362743
 Michael Chavis2B609.45389731
 Cole TuckerSS621.78423738
 Ben GamelOF655.32367742
 Kevin NewmanSS669.76440744

5/9ths of the everyday lineup is ripe for opportunity with little talent available to stake an everyday claim on the job. In cases like this, teams will reward the hot hand or give someone with some talent the opportunity to showcase what they have, and nobody in this group of outcasts is more physically gifted than Alford. He has used those talents both on the baseball field and as a football player in Mississippi where he played as a dual-threat quarterback. He eventually settled on baseball by 2015 and has shown both a propensity to draw walks as much as he has to strike out in bunches wherever he has played. Over the past two minor-league seasons in Triple-A, Alford is 31-for-43 in steals with an 11% walk rate as well as a 32% strikeout rate. 

He has previously profiled as a guy with 60 raw power and 70 speed on the 20-80 scale, but has never had an opportunity such as the one before him now to show what he can do with consistent playing time. He is going to be a drag on the batting average, but he also has the potential to steal 20-plus bases and hit double-digit homers while scoring a decent amount of runs. Simply put, this is a really bad roster and there are going to be opportunities for folks to step forward and utilize their talents on the bases as Derek Shelton looks for ways to generate offense for the bottom two-thirds of the lineup. Alford's athleticism is the shiniest toy in the bargain bin for him to use. 

Miguel Yajure is a top 250 pitcher

Player

2021 ADP

2022 ADP

2021 Earned $

2022 Projected $

M. Yajure

702

744

NA

NA

Take everything I said about the lack of hitting talent on the Pittsburgh roster and multiply that with the pitching staff. David Bednar is the only pitcher on the team who is consistently going in every draft format because he is a closer and should get saves. Nobody else on the roster has been taken before pick 480 in the month of January in NFBC drafts. In fact, even Yajure is the 11th pitcher off the Pittsburgh board ahead of only Chad Kuhl and Steven Brault. So why do I believe that a pitcher can make a leap from 354 into the top 250?

As recently as last season, Yajure was given a 50 Future Value score by the folks who do the reporting at FanGraphs, grading all of his pitches and command at a 50 or higher. Recall that a 45 score is average, so we're talking about a guy whose entire repertoire is slightly above average and can touch 97 with his fastball. His breaking stuff has been his best stuff in his limited time at the big-league level between the Yankees and the Pirates. This video from 2020 shows what his stuff looks like:

Last season, Yajure worked a total of 58.2 innings between Triple-A and the majors, highlighted by this effort in mid-May against San Francisco

He eventually hit the IL with a sore right forearm and missed two months before making it back late in the season for two ugly outings against the Phillies and Cubs where he allowed 10 earned runs and four home runs in 5.2 innings of work.  His average velocity fell by two miles per hour by season's end and one has to wonder whether it would have been more effective for Pittsburgh to just shut him down for the season. They attempted to send him to the Arizona Fall League after the season, but a back injury shelved those plans.

The fact remains that in this void of pitching talent on the roster, Yajure has at least the recipe to make a name for himself. He is 258th on James Anderson's Top 400 prospect list, and could become a nice late grab for folks in draft and hold formats or deeper NL-only reserve rounds. 

St. Louis Cardinals

Paul DeJong is a top 25 shortstop

Player

2021 ADP

2022 ADP

2021 Earned $

2022 Projected $

P. DeJong

214

442

$0

$2

DeJong's massively disappointing 2021 season has done serious damage to his ADP and has taken him now to the 42nd shortstop by ADP. We have already discussed how the position is very deep, but this drop in ADP is still very surprising to look at. There as no dramatic difference in his plate discipline, his groundball/flyball rates or his pull rate. The one thing that stood out was that while he could still handle the fastball, he was completely lost against anything with a wrinkle or offspeed as he hit .123 off non-fastballs with a 26% strikeout rate against those pitches. Given his strikeout rate on those pitches was at his overall average, he just appeared lost. It is so strange to see a guy go from 30 homers to this in such a short amount of time without an injury. He went from All-Star to losing his everyday job.

DeJong has not been idle during the lockout and recognized he needed help. As he explained to Derrick Gould of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

"I really think I'm in a different place as far as my understanding of my swing," DeJong said. "I thought my mechanics — I was searching. I don't take offense to (that description). I really was kind of all over the map last year. I addressed a lot of things with my coach now. We're on the same page, and I'm understanding the correct way I can do things."

The aforementioned hitting coach is Lorenzo Garmendia of Gradum Baseball, who counts Willy Adames, Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez as clients with whom he as worked the past couple of years. Garmendia proselytizes the G-Swing with hitters, and I'll let him explain why:

DeJong has been working with Garmendia five days a week, seeking help revamping his swing working to get better coordination with his swing and his lower half that has clearly been out of whack with the discrepancy between fastballs and non-fastballs. 

If these two can help realign DeJong's swing to help him rediscover the 25-30 homer power he had in the first three years of his career, his current ADP is a tremendous bargain. The lineup around him has gotten better, so he will now hit down the bottom third of the lineup, cutting into his runs and RBI chances in the near-term, but a resurgence to his power bat could move him back up higher in the lineup.

Steven Matz is not a top 150 pitcher

Player

2021 ADP

2022 ADP

2021 Earned $

2022 Projected $

S. Matz

509

257

$6

-$1

Matz is currently the 96th pitcher by ADP, going just after Aaron Civale and just before Jon Gray on the overall list of pitchers. Matz is coming off a career year after many were openly laughing about the homer-prone pitcher moving to Toronto and the AL East, including yours truly:

It took Matz all of three weeks to shut me up:

After years of wanting more from Matz, he finally delivered with the career-best ERA and win total even with a below-average WHIP of 1.33. The reason he was able to win 14 games with the baserunners he put on and average BABIP and LOB rates was the primary reason I do not like him this season.

Matz started 29 contests and won 14 of those. In contrast, Jordan Montgomery started 30 games and won six. Matz had a very fortunate path to 14 wins as he tied with Michael Pineda and Carlos Rodon for the most "cheap" wins in the American League. A cheap win is defined as a pitcher earning a win in a non-quality start. Matz also suffered no tough losses where he took the loss in a game where he had a quality start. Look at the pitchers with at least 14 wins last season and how Matz compared to each of them:

He had the lowest quality start rate as well as the best run support when he was in the game, which is living the good life as a pitcher. Matz and his sinker should certainly enjoy the defense the St. Louis roster brings to the table. The layups against the Pirates will be nice, but the the other lineups and parks within the NL Central will be tough for someone coming off a season where so much went right for him for a change. There is not another level up for him, but we have seen what the lower levels look like for him a few times in his career and I believe another dip is coming in 2022. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jason Collette
Jason has been helping fantasy owners since 1999 at RotoJunkie, Fanball, Baseball Prospectus and now here at RotoWire. You can hear Jason weekly on many of the Sirius/XM Fantasy channel offerings throughout the season as well as on the Sleeper and the Bust podcast every Sunday. A ten-time FSWA finalist, Jason won the FSWA's Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year award in 2013 and the Baseball Series of the Year award in 2018 for Collette Calls.
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