Fantasy Baseball

The Villar Village: Mitch Haniger

In this week’s edition of the Villar Village, we will spotlight a player involved in one of this offseason’s biggest trades even though he was not among the headliners.  The deal between the Diamondbacks that sent Jean Segura and Mitch Haniger to the Mariners for Taijuan Walker and Ketel Marte.  The perceived centerpieces of the deal were Segura and Walker and understandably so.  Segura just came off a dominant 20 HR, 33 SB season, where he triple-slashed .319/.368/.499 at the age of 26.  Although Walker does not have results of that sort, he has been considered among the best young arm talents in the game for the past few years.  However, since this trade was completed, the Mariners have done their best to pump up Mitch Haniger as a legitimate asset and not just a throw-in to their acquisition of Segura.

A former first round pick, Haniger, 26 years old, hit 30 home runs and swiped 12 bases across three levels last year.  Of course, Haniger did not dominant the MLB in a brief 123 PA sample, hitting 5 homers and triple-slashing .229/.309/.404.  Despite subpar results in that sample, Haniger’s skills looked good.

Haniger posted a healthy walk rate – 9.8% – and an okay K-rate – 22%.  Along with a good approach at the plate, Haniger also hit the ball with very good authority – 37.3% Hard contact.  When that hard contact rate is considered in tandem with Haniger’s batted ball distribution, we can see the roots of Haniger’s promise.  His profile is flyball heavy (43.4% FB%, 0.89 GB/FB) and leans towards pulling the ball (41% Pull%).  Pulled flyballs are quickest route to unlocking one’s power potential.  Haniger has that.

The exit velocity data doubles down on Haniger’s power potential.  In his brief sample, Haniger ranked in the top five percent of average exit velocity and just outside the top ten percent in average exit velocity on balls hit in the air.  Clearly, when Haniger was making contact, it was with the type of authority, which should lead to a healthy, if not robust, power output.

Admittedly, there are ample reasons to be skeptical of Haniger.  The numbers before last year are entirely mediocre.  Despite being a first round pick, he comes with zero prospect hype or pedigree.  He was old for his levels in the minors.  At 26 and getting his first real taste of the MLB, Haniger looks to be definition of a Quad-A player, who is destined for KBO home run titles within the next two to three years.  All of that is possible, but at an NFBC ADP of 375.74, the downside is virtually non-existent.

According to a recent article in The Seattle Times, in 2015, off the heels of a demotion to A-ball, Haniger began to analyze his swing and study similarly built, successful right-handed MLB hitters – specifically, Josh Donaldson and A.J. Pollock.  The change in the approach has fueled a meteoric rise through the minor leagues and been sufficient for the Mariners to hand their starting left field job to the former center fielder, Haniger.  Although we often overlook defense in fantasy, Haniger’s glove is plenty good to keep his bat in the lineup, if he does endure some struggles.

On podcasts and in articles, I have mentioned many times my affinity for players that undergo approach changes that correlate with results.  To me, a change in approach indicates that a player is thinking about what they are doing wrong and attempting to fix it.  The old saying goes that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”  Haniger (and these players, generally) have recognized when something is broken and have attempted to correct it.  I like that characteristic in a player – it means they are actively thinking about the game and more prone to adapt to future challenges or incorporate further changes, which could lead to subsequent improvements.

The other reason why I like players that have undergone changes in approach is there will always be skeptics.  There will always be owners, who will look and dismiss Haniger based upon his age and minor league track record.  That explains why a player, who was described by Seattle General Manager Jerry Dipoto as being simply “the best offensive player in the minor leagues at any level” could be an afterthought to the fantasy baseball community at-large with an ADP of 375.74.

Although the usefulness of spring stats is highly debatable, Haniger has done nothing to dampen the Mariners’ enthusiasm.  In 28 spring training plate appearances, Haniger has homered twice, a 4/3 K/BB ratio and is triple slashing .400/.483/.760.  Additionally, he has received the “green light” from his manager and has set a goal of stealing 20 bases.

Mitch Haniger, welcome to the Villar Village!

My Projection for Mitch Haniger: GP 153, 70 R, 23 HR, 73 RBI, 13 SB .261/.340/.445

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