The 2022 Fantasy Baseball season is in full swing and with that we definitely have some reactionary questions popping up in the Fantasy Baseball Seasonal Discord channel. Surprisingly, I haven’t fielded a ton of questions yet regarding the Catcher position partially because this is a position where you can be flexible and a bit cavalier. But one player who has seen his ownership experience a mild spike in the last week is Austin Nola of the San Diego Padres. I’ve always thought of Nola as an interesting fantasy baseball commodity and wanted to look into his prospects after a fairly significant sacrifice fly over the weekend…
Now he’s probably still available in your shallow leagues, but in deeper leagues or two-catcher formats, a lot of people have been seeking him out for their rosters. Normally I’d offer up plenty of reasons to buy in, which I’ll still do. But I have my reasons to be skeptical…
So what’s behind the slight spike in ownership? On the surface, I’m only seeing two things that are independent of his actual production: the players surrounding him, and wherever Bob Melvin slots him in the top of the lineup. Truthfully, I can’t blame fantasy baseball players for jumping on a player for hitting atop the order. Generally, the top of the order presents more plate appearances and opportunities to produce. In 12-of-13 games so far this year Nola has started in the one-or-two-hole for the Padres. When healthy and at their best this lineup is rounded out by Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado, Jake Cronenworth (who is struggling, but went deep on Saturday), Eric Hosmer, etc. And hitting atop the order presents plenty of opportunities in any leagues that reward counting stats. More appearances at the dish can lend themselves to more runs, hits, RBI, etc.
But should we really be chasing “top of the order” projections for Nola? Entering Sunday he was slashing just .239/.296/.304 with just one extra base hit which was a home run on the road nearly two weeks ago. He started the season relatively hot; I won’t argue that. In his first six games he had six RBI, six hits, and five runs scored. He’s been relatively quiet the last week, which is probably what should be expected of him. Most of his projections entering 2022 had him hitting about .250 with less than ten home runs, and about 40 runs and RBI a piece.
What has previously plagued Nola was the fact that he was never really given a full-time opportunity behind the dish. In what can be considered a half-season with Seattle in 2019, Nola hit ten home runs with 31 RBI and 37 runs scored with a .269/.342/.454 slash line. Then 2020 hit. We all remember the shortened season in 2020, and Nola started the season relatively hot with Seattle with five home runs through the first 25 games. He was traded to San Diego prior to the 2020 trade deadline since Seattle was feeling pretty good about Tom Murphy at that point in time.
Injuries plagued Nola’s 2021 campaign from the start. A fractured finger kept him out for the first three-to-four weeks. A sprained knee would later cost him two months during the Summer of 2021. Following that he was shut down with a thumb injury in late September. Basically, what it boils down to is that he’s never had a full season’s worth of opportunities whether you blame that on the shortened 2020 campaign or an injury-riddled 2021 season.
So far the Friars seem committed to Nola for the 2022 campaign. In the previous seasons the Padres had the luxury of depth with the likes of Luis Campusano, Francisco Mejía, and Victor Caratini. Nowadays, Jorge Alfaro serves as the backup catcher for San Diego and he only seems to appear on days where Nola is slotted in as a DH or is receiving a day off. Alfaro strikes out a ton and has just one walk in 31 plate appearances with just five hits. That’s a small sample size, but he’s hardly making the impression that he’s a threat to Nola’s playing time as of right now.
Maybe Nola is the kind of player that we just need to look at the circumstances surrounding his struggles the last couple seasons. He had to endure a shortened season because of a pandemic after having a mild breakout in 2019. Then after a trade late in 2020, he battled injuries throughout 2021. The commitment to hitting Nola at the top of the order is promising. But Nola is also 32 years old and isn’t necessarily a spring chicken. Keep in mind he was drafted out of college in the 2012 MLB Draft and didn’t make his debut until 2019. By all accounts he could already be past his prime.
Nola may not be a significant long-term option. But maybe you just click that little flag icon in your ESPN leagues to monitor him. Even if he maintains a healthy batting average and remains atop the order, that warrants consideration especially once Fernando Tatis returns and can contribute to the lineup. That raises the stock of anybody hitting around him. But overall, we need production from Nola himself.
What I like from Nola so far is that it appears he’s hitting the ball pretty hard. You wouldn’t know it based off of just one extra base hit but coming into Sunday he had a .239 batting average with a .256 xBA and a .304 slugging percentage next to a .458 xSLG. His average exit velocity is 91.3 mph which isn’t groundbreaking by any means, but it’s notable for him and his hard-hit percentage (43.9%) is up from previous seasons.
In the upcoming week, the Padres only get six games and you have to assume Nola gets at least one day off, so we should assume he plays about five games. But they’ll visit Cincinnati and Pittsburgh this week with no pitching matchups that warrant significant fear. However, the weather will be on the cooler end of the spectrum which does give us pause for offensive production. But if he can take advantage of this week’s matchups while also hitting closer to the top of the order, which has been the case so far, then maybe he warrants consideration in more than just deeper leagues.
Fantasy Baseball 2022
- Two-Start Pitchers/Streaming Starters
- MLB Streaks & Trends
- Fantasy Baseball Daily Round-Up
- MLB Injury Report
- MLB Fantasy Baseball Podcast