Fantasy Baseball: Paul DeJong Deserves Your Attention
In 2016, Aledmys Diaz, a young St. Louis Cardinals shortstop, was in the midst of a fantastic inaugural season. The accolades piled up as the Cardinals' rookie made the All-Star team. Another young prospect, Paul DeJong, continued his ascent in the minors but was stuck down on the farm.
Roll the calendar forward a year, and it's Groundhog Day for the Cards -- except the roles are reversed. This time DeJong is the rookie making a loud first impression while Diaz sits in the minors, hoping to get up to the big leagues.
Diaz's success didn't last (and he's still struggling after his demotion), but can DeJong maintain his fast start? Let's find out more about the young player.
Forever a Redbird
The central Illinois native played collegiate baseball at Illinois State Redbirds and after a redshirt season, he saw significant playing time for three seasons at the Missouri Valley school.
Adjusting to college baseball took a year, but after his freshman season, DeJong started to show some serious pop, cracking 9 jacks and 21 doubles on his way to a .596 slugging percentage in his second season. He was drafted in the 38th-round as a draft-eligible sophomore, but DeJong opted to return to school.
As good as that season was, his junior year was even better. He built a .605 slugging percentage on a 14-homer, 15-double campaign, and he shot up 34 rounds to be a fourth-round pick of the Cards.
College power doesn't always translate in professional ball, but his time at Illinois State was just a preview of things to come.
Time to Fly
DeJong didn't waste much time making an impact.
In MLB history, 118 players have hit a bomb in their first major league at-bat. DeJong is the last member of that 118.
Ever since that first at-bat, which came out of necessity due to Diaz's poor play, DeJong has been smashing the baseball.
But his power is nothing new. We know he displayed it in college, and he kept raking in the minor leagues.
In all five of his professional stops, DeJong has shown major power. His .151 ISO in Single-A ball two seasons ago is the lowest mark he's had at any stop, and it's still a good ISO.
In 364 plate appearances this season across two stops, DeJong has already ripped a total of 25 homers. If he were to have enough plate appearances, DeJong's ISO in the big this year would be the ninth-best mark in all of baseball. That's no typo.
Here to Stay?
It's a pretty incredible story that the Cardinals have flipped their All-Star shortstop from last season to potentially an even better version this year.
DeJong owns a 38.1% hard-hit rate and 46.0% fly-ball rate, so the power numbers are pretty legit. His thump has been a major shot in the arm for an offense that ranks 18th in ISO (.166). Both his .356 BABIP and 23.1% home-run-to-fly-ball rate will likely regress a bit, but he's hitting the ball hard and in the air -- the recipe for power.
Over the past 30 days, he's fantasy's 55th-best overall player, per ESPN's Player Rater.
If there's room for improvement, it's two-fold. Never one to get cheated, DeJong is striking out 32.8% of the time. Even with increased strikeout rates across the board in baseball, his level of production will be tough to sustain while striking out nearly one-third of the time.
Secondly, for a team clearly in need of defensive help -- the Cards sit 24th in team fielding percentage (.983) and 26th in Ultimate Zone Rating -- DeJong doesn't offer much in that area. Using FanGraph's defensive ratings, DeJong would check in as the 22nd-best shortstop if he qualified.
Overall, DeJong clearly looks like he belongs up in the bigs, and if it weren't for the absurd season by Los Angeles Dodgers rookie Cody Bellinger, he could be right in the thick of the Rookie of the Year race in the National League. He may see some negative regression moving forward, but it's unlikely to be so significant that it keeps him from being a worthwhile fantasy asset, especially at shortstop.
Currently owned in just 45.7% of ESPN leagues, give him a long look if he's on your waiver wire.