Fantasy baseball: Which big bats will recover from slow starts?

Jose Ramirez hit his second home run of the season Wednesday after hitting 39 last season. Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire

As I conveyed in last week's Hot Starters article, we can't glean everything from three weeks' worth of baseball. Unfortunately, we do need to at least pay attention and consider any long-term fallout from what's in the books.

Even with all the juiced-ball studies showing we're once again in an offensive surge, some big bats aren't living up to their preseason fantasy billing. How much should we worry about them?

Jose Ramirez, 2B/3B, Cleveland Indians

The top-10 (if not top-five or -three) overall pick has seemingly been dipping since last summer. Note his .218 clip and .427 slugging percentage in 2018's second half.

He hasn't found a solution yet. According to Brooks Baseball, he's whiffing on 32.5 percent of his swings at breaking balls and a 13.6 percent pace on fastballs, both career-worst rates. So is his 82.7 contact percentage. Despite posting a career-high 47.1 fly-ball percentage, Ramirez lifted his only homer on April 15 -- offering the latest evidence that there's such a thing as too much launch angle (21.4 average, the 19th-highest so far, per Statcast).

On the bright side, his exit velocity (89.9 mph) and barrel rate (9 percent) are up from last season, and he's already converted all five of his stolen-base attempts. Maybe his seemingly concerted effort to go the other way more often (he's dropped his pull rate from 50 percent to 29.6 so far) is resulting in weaker connections. As he gets more comfortable that way, better results should come.

Francisco Lindor's return doesn't directly impact Ramirez -- they usually bat first and third, respectively -- but might put a reliable player on base more often to give Ramirez better chances to produce a run.

Concern level: Low to Medium

Some flaws in Ramirez's game trace back to last season, but the fact he's trying to expand his spray chart is a sign of him regaining a vital part of his potential five-category game. Among all the batters on this list, a corrected Ramirez, unsurprisingly, holds the highest upside, thanks to his base-stealing reliability (78-for-96, good for 81.3 percent, from 2016 to now).

Nicholas Castellanos, OF, Detroit Tigers

I wasn't overly excited to draft him, despite the 27-year-old's nice skills foundation, because I was uncertain how he'd be able to repeat his solid RBI (89) and run (88) totals from 2018 with a weak Detroit lineup. The RBI column is lagging, for sure, but he hasn't even left the yard yet. That's surprised me.

It's not for lack of oomph, though: His hard-hit percentage (43.6) is his highest in the Statcast five-year era, and his 16.2 degree average launch angle is solid. Plus, he ranks 35th with an average Sweet Spot percentage of 43.6. Maybe a sprain of his right big toe a few weeks ago is limiting his lower-body strength and technique.

Maybe it's because he's played in less-than-ideal weather conditions, suiting up in weather-affected northeast and Midwest locales (not including Toronto).

Concern level: Low to Medium

Though that donut in the HR column stares us in the face, he has eight doubles, and more of those extra-base knocks should travel over the fence. I don't foresee the toe being a long-term concern, barring more news being revealed. Considering his history of solid contact metrics, I'd look into buying him -- which probably won't cost you as much as our next subject, who has similar skill points but has much more street cred.

Kris Bryant, 3B/OF, Chicago Cubs

Another star with struggles dating back to 2018, Bryant again looks light on pop. The Cubs say the shoulder issue that limited him last year isn't a factor in 2019, but it makes sense not to blindly trust that assertion. His Statcast hard-hit rate has cratered to 29.1 percent while his barrel percentage falls to 7.3. On top of that, his launch angle is at a five-year low of 14.4 degrees, while his ground-ball rate is at a career-high 41.4 percent.

To try getting back to elite production, Bryant adjusted his swing last season, shortening his follow-through to reduce stress on his shoulder. Unfortunately, he hit just three second-half diners and limped to an 80-point drop in slugging. If he's still tinkering, it's showing in how he's attacking pitches in the zone:

Looking for positives? At least he's still walking at a double-digit percentage (12.1) while cutting his whiffs (20.9 percent), a sign he's reading the zone well. It's just a matter of clearing up his bat path.

Concern level: Medium to High

It's tricky. Sometimes, poor mechanics can cause poor Statcast readings, but with Bryant's recent health history, the cause could be much more dire. The 27-year-old's value has often been propped up by bloated run totals (121 in 2016, 111 in 2017), so maybe the club can help him there as long as he keeps hitting in the top of the order. The main difference is whether we believe he's merely attacking the baseball incorrectly and not feeling restrained by physical woes. Determining which is contributing to his struggles is the question to ask ourselves before buying in, which remains tempting considering his MVP upside.

Jesus Aguilar, 1B, Milwaukee Brewers

Names that come out of nowhere the previous season often dwindle the following year when their prices goes up. Aguilar may be the prime 2018-to-2019 example so far. His 35-homer, 108-RBI year has been followed with zero bombs so far.

His contact peripherals were already shaky, but his nauseating 28 percent hard-hit rate is far cry from the 42.6 percent rate in his breakout. He lost 235 points on his OPS with a .760 second-half figure.

The hulking 250-pounder looks slow through the strike zone, and pitchers are forcing him to be late on pitches to a disturbing degree: He's swinging and missing on 30.2 percent of strike-zone fastballs, compared to 12.8 percent last year.

Though he's having more trouble creating pop when challenged along the black, at least he's still commanding the strike zone effectively, improving his walk rate (11.4 percent) and strikeout rate (22.8 percent) from 2018.

Concern level: Medium to High

Though we've seen Aguilar go on elite streaks of production, the holes in his swing look more apparent thanks to his more extensive opposition research. He has a discouraging floor, and it'll be difficult to buy low in mixed leagues for a frequent top-75 pick who doesn't steal bases and could lose top-side platoon work (hello, Eric Thames?).

Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds

A 35-year-old losing power has been a common tale in baseball, but optimism with Votto heading into 2019 was justified, considering at least he was probably going to regain his elite batting average in an increasingly swing-and-miss world.

Welp, he, for one, welcomes baseball's new whiff overlords. Even with his .342 OBP, he has just two homers in 20 games and has a whopping 27.0 K%. The Reds offense on the whole isn't giving Votto many chances to get back to his 100-RBI and -run days.

Aiming for more than 20 homers, of course, was probably a mistake to begin with. Even with his 51.1 fly-ball rate, he's not leaving the yard more frequently. He's another "too much launch angle" victim, with his 20.3 degrees average by far being his highest in the five-year era of Statcast coverage.

Concern level: High

Votto has turned things around in short order before, but the ceiling isn't as high as it used to be in batting average fantasy formats. Recent back issues and continued talk of mechanical adjustments continue to breed concerns that ... maybe he's just done. I'm more willing to wait this out in OBP games.

More to watch

  • While his three stolen bases aren't exactly a letdown, Starling Marte isn't building many other offense stats on top of that (two homers, eight runs, nine RBI, .203/.247/.377 through 16 games). He's currently nursing abdomen and quadriceps injuries and might be back sometime this week following his ugly collision Friday, but the big concern is his batting average: His ground-ball-centric profile already doesn't walk much and has struggled recognizing the strike zone early on (38.9 percent chase rate, 55.2 percent contact outside the zone). Tightening up his plate discipline should rectify things, but it may require patience.

  • Plenty of drafters probably reached for the upside of Yasiel Puig, who's finally showing life by hitting his first three homers of the season over his past nine games. He hasn't taken a walk since April 1, though. Hopefully Turner Ward, Reds hitting coach and Puig's mentor/friend since their Dodgers days, can help him fix things.

  • Matt Carpenter is struggling in April again, though his .333 OBP and three homers at least put him on track to survive this early slump. Last year's turnaround made the Cardinals veteran arguably baseball's most dangerous hitter most of the year, and he hasn't dipped below a .361 wOBA in any of the four previous seasons, but he'll need to get back to the top-level hard-hit rates (just 33.3 percent this season, compared to 44.7 last year).

  • A.J. Pollock isn't squaring up well (2.1 percent Barrels/PA), and he's batting fifth, so he's not stealing bases; however, his exit velocity is a his Statcast-era high (90.7 mph), and he's actually on his career-best pace in hard-hit rate (44 percent). We may need to throw expectations of 15-plus swipes out the window, but he has rebound potential as long as he's slotted in the middle of this great lineup (90-plus RBI?). Remaining healthy for a significant chunk of the season? That's another (wishful?) story.

Any other bats concerning you? Tweet me. I'll throw down some words about pitchers next Wednesday.