FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Mercado, Cooper, Valdez, S. Anderson, Sparkman

First Impressions is a look at recent call-ups, a snapshot of their early progress so far in the majors. Initial BaseballHQ.com minor league write-ups for all of the players in today's column can be found in the News tab on their individual PlayerLink pages. Because the majority of these players have accumulated less than 100 AB or 50 IP, small sample size warnings apply to the analysis here.

 

First Impression: Oscar Mercado (OF, CLE)

CALLED UP: 5/14/2019
BASEBALLHQ PROSPECT RATING: 8C
CURRENT ROLE: Starting OF
POTENTIAL ROLE: Starting CF
2019 MINORS STATS: Columbus (AAA)—119 AB, .294/.396/.496, 10 2B, 4 HR, 0.50 Eye, 14 SB

Year   AB   BA    xBA  bb%  ct%  HctX  GB/LD/FB   PX/xPX  hr/f  Spd/SBO  HR/SB
====  ===  ====  ====  ===  ===  ====  ========  =======  ====  =======  =====
2017# 477  .265   N/A    5   75   N/A     N/A     72/N/A   N/A  127/N/A  11/33
2018+ 485  .251   N/A    7   80   N/A     N/A     64/N/A   N/A  112/N/A   6/29
2019  114  .316  .283    6   80   134  42/27/31  100/117   14%  146/26%   4/ 6
#Double-A MLEs
+Triple-A MLEs

His performance has taken a big step up, but there are some lingering skill questions:

  • Mercado has been terrific so far, with a nice mix of contact, power, and speed. xBA says he's not a .300 hitter yet, and that .283 mark comes with a LD% and PX that might be at risk for some mild regression, meaning his actual batting average skill level might be in the .270s.
  • The power has been a pleasant surprise, and from a skill support standpoint, his HctX and xPX back what he's done thus far. But his PX history and MLE HR totals in the minors are reason to question whether this is just a small sample size fluke, though he did hit 4 HR in roughly the same number of AB in Triple-A prior to his call-up; we'll need more data before buying into the idea of him as a 15-20 HR hitter rather than a 10 HR hitter.
  • On the plus side, his skills have been improving rather than declining with prolonged exposure to major league pitching. From May to June, he's raised his contact rate from 76% to 82%, his PX/xPX from 82/94 to 111/132, and his xBA from .248 to .305.
  • Speed is his best skill, and the one with the longest track record. The Indians have already shown great confidence in letting him run, and he has the tools to be a 30+ SB contributor over a full season.

The 24-year-old Mercado has been better than expected thus far, and the power he's added to his skill mix makes him a very intriguing hitter. On steals alone, he offers good value for the remainder of 2019, so any additional contributions would be a nice bonus. Long term, keep an eye on whether he can sustain his plus HctX and xPX over the remainder of the season, as that will go a long way toward determining if he's mainly a steals guy, or emerging as something more.

 

First Impression: Garrett Cooper (1B/RF, MIA)

CALLED UP: 7/14/2017, 8/6/2017, 3/29/2018
BASEBALLHQ PROSPECT RATING: 7D
CURRENT ROLE: Starting 1B/RF
POTENTIAL ROLE: Starting 1B
2019 MINORS STATS: None

Year   AB   BA    xBA  HR  bb%  ct%  HctX  GB/LD/FB   PX/xPX  hr/f
====  ===  ====  ====  ==  ===  ===  ====  ========  =======  ====
2016^ 428  .248   N/A   7    5   79   N/A     N/A     64/N/A   N/A
2017^ 306  .314   N/A  18    9   78   N/A     N/A    148/N/A   N/A
17MLB  43  .326  .288   0    2   72   109  34/38/28  122/ 60    0%
2018+  30  .234   N/A   1    7   79   N/A     N/A     55/N/A   N/A
18MLB  33  .212  .187   0   11   64    33  67/24/10   31/-27    0%
2019  131  .313  .286   6    9   75   119  53/29/18   96/ 80   33%
------------------------------------------------------------------
MLB   207  .300  .275   6    8   72   101  51/30/19   91/ 59   21%
^Double-A/Triple-A MLEs
+Triple-A MLEs

He's likely playing a little over his true skill level:

  • Cooper is in his third go-round in the majors, but injuries kept him from accumulating any meaningful amount of playing time in previous seasons. He's a tall (6'6") hitter who makes average contact with a line drive swing, and while he's managed to hit .300 for his career, xBA suggests he doesn't really have the skills to maintain that level of performance, and the fact that it has taken a 39% hit rate to get there seconds that notion.
  • And while he is a good line drive hitter, a 30% or higher rate is tough to sustain over the long term. Only three MLB hitters were able to do so over a full season in 2018: Freddie Freeman, Whit Merrifield, and Joey Votto. Any regression there would further lower his xBA.
  • His power skill is still an open question. While he had a very nice MLE PX in 2017, it stands out as an outlier in his history (excluding his small sample 2017 mark in the majors). And he hits too many ground balls and not enough fly balls—he's had to hit a third of his fly balls over the fence just to set a 20-25 HR pace, and once again, a 30% or higher hr/f is tough to sustain over a full season. And the gap between his PX and xPX suggests he's already due for some regression.
  • He received an F health grade in the 2019 Baseball Forecaster, and even that might be kind. He missed a month and a half in 2017 with hamstring tendinitis. He missed almost all of 2018 after being hit on the right wrist in his second game of the year, re-aggravating the injury in July, and then having season-ending surgery in August. And in 2019, he's already had an IL stint for a calf strain, a left hand contusion (after being hit by yet another pitch), and has missed a couple games in June with triceps tightness. He's a huge injury risk.

The 28-year-old Cooper is a good hitter, but at the moment, it seems like his skills lean more league average than the .300 BA, 20-25 HR hitter he's looked like so far in 2019. And while his BaseballHQ rest-of-season projection calls for another 12 HR in 275 AB, that's based on a fly ball rate (32%) that he has yet to own at the major league level. The ROS reality could be half that HR total. His high LD% and plus HctX make him worth monitoring, as they could lead to better things, but right now, he's likely a little overvalued.

 

First Impression: Framber Valdez (LHP, HOU)

CALLED UP: 8/21/2018, 3/28/2019, 4/20/2019
BASEBALLHQ PROSPECT RATING: 7C
CURRENT ROLE: Starting pitcher
POTENTIAL ROLE: Starting pitcher
2019 MINORS STATS: Round Rock (AAA)—2.25 ERA, 4 IP/3 G, 0.00 Ctl, 13.5 Dom, 0.0 Cmd

Year   IP   ERA  xERA  Ctl  Dom  Cmd  GB/LD/FB  H%/S%  hr/f  FpK  SwK  BPV
====  ===  ====  ====  ===  ===  ===  ========  =====  ====  ===  ===  ===
2017#  49  7.38   N/A  4.3  8.5  2.0     N/A    42/61   N/A  N/A  N/A   54
2018^ 103  4.57   N/A  2.7  9.0  3.4     N/A    36/67   N/A  N/A  N/A  105
18MLB  37  2.19  3.61  5.8  8.3  1.4  70/13/16  21/86   20%  51%   9%   39
2019   42  3.61  3.73  3.8  8.3  2.2  60/19/21  28/73   16%  63%  11%   84
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
MLB    79  2.95  3.74  4.8  8.3  1.7  65/16/19  25/79   18%  57%  10%   63
#Double-A MLEs
^Double-A/Triple-A MLEs

There's room for improvement, but he's got a solid base of skills to build on:

  • Valdez's biggest skill is his elite ability to generate ground balls. His 60% rate is tops in the majors among pitchers with at least 40 IP, and limiting fly balls to the degree he does can go a long way toward minimizing HR damage in today's game.
  • And that's a good thing, because walks have been an issue for him throughout his career. He's made excellent progress with throwing more first-pitch strikes so far in 2019, and his current rate actually suggests that his Ctl should be much lower, even sub-3.0. He's lowered his Ctl rate to 3.1 so far in June, which has helped him lower his xERA to 3.01 for the month.
  • For his career, he's had more success vs. LHB than RHB, holding lefties to a .453 oOPS with a 2.3 Cmd rate, compared to .687 and 1.5 vs. righties. Right-handed hitters have also hit all 7 of the HR he's allowed in the majors.

The 25-year-old Valdez's recent move to the rotation has raised his profile and fantasy value, and his skills suggest he has the talent to stick as a starter for the remainder of 2019. (And pitching relief for the first two months might prove to be an efficient way to limit his innings for the year, after throwing only 140 IP in 2018.) If he can find his way to further lowering his walk rate, he'll enhance his value even further; that and finding greater success against right-handed batters are the two remaining hurdles in his long-term path.

 

First Impression: Shaun Anderson (RHP, SF)

CALLED UP: 5/15/2019
BASEBALLHQ PROSPECT RATING: 7B
CURRENT ROLE: Starting pitcher
POTENTIAL ROLE: Starting pitcher
2019 MINORS STATS: Sacramento (AAA)—4.11 ERA, 35.0 IP/7 GS, 2.8 Ctl, 9.5 Dom, 3.4 Cmd

Year   IP   ERA  xERA  Ctl  Dom  Cmd  GB/LD/FB  H%/S%  hr/f  FpK  SwK  BPV
====  ===  ====  ====  ===  ===  ===  ========  =====  ====  ===  ===  ===
2018^ 142  4.17   N/A  2.1  6.7  3.2     N/A    33/70   N/A  N/A  N/A   83
2019   40  4.08  4.75  3.2  5.4  1.7  48/28/24  29/74   17%  61%   7%   38
^Double-A/Triple-A MLEs

There's not much to see here at the moment:

  • Anderson is a big pitcher (6'4", 225 lbs), but not a big strikeout pitcher, and that really limits his upside. His 5.4 Dom is currently third-lowest among MLB pitchers with at least 40 IP, and his 7% SwK is tied for lowest.
  • Ideally, he'd counter that with pinpoint control and a lot of ground balls. He's doing pretty well with the latter, but his Ctl is far from pinpoint, and his league-average FpK doesn't currently offer hope for improvement, though his 2018 MLE does.
  • He's struggling to get left-handed batters out, as they have an .829 oOPS against him, and especially to strike them out, as he's managed just a 4.1 Dom against them.

The 24-year-old Anderson has perhaps had some modest deep league appeal thus far, but his 4.75 xERA calls even that into question. Without either more strikeouts or fewer walks, he'll be hard-pressed to stick in the majors long-term, though his 2018 MLEs and brief time in Triple-A in 2019 offer a glimpse of better skills. Look for signs of growth in his FpK and SwK; without that, he's unlikely to be of much fantasy interest.

 

First Impression: Glenn Sparkman (RHP, KC)

CALLED UP: 6/29/17, 7/8/18, 8/13/18, 9/3/18, 4/8/19, 4/30/19, 5/6/19
BASEBALLHQ PROSPECT RATING: 6C
CURRENT ROLE: Starting pitcher
POTENTIAL ROLE: Starting pitcher/swingman
2019 MINORS STATS: Omaha (AAA)—0.00 ERA, 6.1 IP/2 G, 1.4 Ctl, 5.7 Dom, 4.0 Cmd

Year   IP   ERA  xERA  Ctl  Dom  Cmd  GB/LD/FB  H%/S%  hr/f  FpK  SwK  BPV
====  ===  ====  ====  ===  ===  ===  ========  =====  ====  ===  ===  ===
2017^  27  3.65   N/A  3.2  3.7  1.1     N/A    29/79   N/A  N/A  N/A   11
2018^ 103  4.74   N/A  1.1  5.0  4.4     N/A    35/69   N/A  N/A  N/A   84
18MLB  38  4.46  4.98  3.5  6.3  1.8  47/23/30  35/73    8%  60%  10%   44
2019   50  3.62  5.12  2.2  4.9  2.3  39/27/34  28/76   12%  64%   7%   46
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
MLB    89  4.65  5.28  2.8  5.6  2.0  42/25/33  33/71   10%  62%   8%   43
^Double-A/Triple-A MLEs

All signs point to this run of success being short-lived:

  • Sparkman has a solid 3.62 ERA so far in 2019, but he's been aided by a slightly low hit rate and high strand rate. His 5.12 xERA suggests that not only does his performance not have any skill support, he's also pitching badly enough to risk losing his rotation spot—and possibly roster spot—if/when full regression sets in.
  • He's unable to generate much in the way of strikeouts. He had a little more success during his brief time in the majors in 2018, but some of that was inflated by pitching in relief, and he dropped to a 3.1 Dom and 7% SwK in September. His 4.9 Dom is the lowest in the majors among pitchers with at least 50 IP, and his 7% SwK is tied for lowest.
  • Left-handed batters have hit 6 of the 7 HR he's allowed, and have an .840 OPS against him in 2019, and .838 for his career. His career Cmd rate against LHB is 1.4, compared to 3.2 vs. RHB.

The 27-year-old Sparkman has the best ERA among current KC starters, but the worst xERA, which could eventually lead to his removal, though the Royals aren't exactly swimming in alternate options. His skills suggest he's simply not an MLB-caliber pitcher long term. He probably doesn't have much trade value, but if you've benefited from his luck-fueled performance to this point, this would be a good time to see if you can get anything for him.

 


Click here to subscribe

  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.