Now with the All-Star Break come and gone, some of these players shouldn’t fooling us anymore. It used to be funny that Joey Meneses was batting .275 with three homers, but now it’s downright horrific. We used to dismiss the fact that Willy Adames was hovering around the Mendoza Line, but now (.206 average) he entered the break with a bottom-15 average and on-base percentage in Major League Baseball.
If you’ve been waiting all this time to make some of your cuts of players you loved in your spring drafts, it may just be too late. Players have shown us who they are this season, and many of them are proving they don’t belong anywhere near your fantasy rosters.
With that in mind, here are six players whose fantasy values I am watching closely based on injuries, their recent play, and team context.
Spencer Steer, 1B/3B/OF, Cincinnati Reds
Somewhat lost in the hype of Elly De La Cruz and Andrew Abbott is that Spencer Steer has been a huge reason why the Cincinnati Reds’ ascension to first place in the National League Central. In essentially half of a season (88 games, which is technically still his rookie season), Steer is batting .277/.267/.477 with 14 home runs and nine steals. He has been a rock at the corner positions for Cincinnati this season, playing at both first base and third base.
The Reds employ quite a bit of handedness shift in their lineup, especially now that Joey Votto is back from injury. Between Nick Senzel, Jake Fraley, and Kevin Newman, there are a lot of games being played with the lineup. But Steer’s play has helped him be exempt from those shenanigans. When the Reds play a lefty, he bats fifth. When they play a righty, he bats seventh. The last time Steer sat out a game was June 2nd, so he is going to be out there every day. Now approaching both 50 RBI and runs (51 and 45, to be exact), Steer has already emerged as a top-50 fantasy hitter this year.
Lane Thomas, OF, Washington Nationals
There is a really strong case to be made that Lane Thomas is the fantasy MVP considering his performance compared to where he was drafted in the spring. Looking back at NFBC spring drafts, Thomas was taken after pick 300 (ADP of 306) and barely made the cut in 15-team, 5-OF teams (Thomas was OF73). But now that there are 2.5 months left of the season, we have to start thinking about Thomas as a pick in the first five rounds next season.
Just in the last month, Thomas has put up phenomenal numbers. He is slashing .331/.358/.561 in the 32 games since June 2 with six home runs and four steals. Add in 23 RBI and 25 runs and this is a five-category contributor at an elite level. On the season, Thomas is hitting .302 with 14 home runs and eight steals. The other players in MLB with a minimum .300 average, 14 bombs, and eight steals? How about Ronald Acuna, Freddie Freeman, and Shohei Ohtani? This is the level that Thomas is playing at this year on an under-watched Nationals squad. But by next year, Thomas is going to be a household fantasy name.
Reid Detmers, SP, Los Angeles Angels
Not even a seven-run blowup against the Dodgers in his last start before the All Star Break can derail what has been an incredibly strong five weeks for young Reid Detmers. It’s been a tale of two halves over the first 90 games of the season for Detmers. From April 1 to June 1, Detmers was 3-7 with a 5.15 ERA and was letting batters reach base 35.7% of the time. Much of that was BABIP bad luck, however, as his .377 was well above the league average of .290. He struck out 60 batters in those first 50 innings, so the signs of a turnaround were lurking. Things just needed to start clicking for him. In June, they did. In a big way.
Over his next five starts, Detmers posted a 1.42 ERA with an opponent OBP of .210. He continued to strike out a ton of batters (43 in 31 innings) and he approached two-thirds of his pitches being strikes (65%). This season, he is only using his fastball 42% of the time (compared to 45% of the time). And his slider usage is up to 37% from 25% and it’s far and away his best pitch. If that trend, plus the good luck, continues, Detmers could be the fantasy star many predicted before the beginning of the 2022 season.
Tim Anderson, SS, Chicago White Sox
Drafting Tim Anderson in years past always came with a Faustian bargain, but fantasy managers were willing to accept it. In exchange for next to nothing in home runs and RBI, you were given a very high batting average (over 500-600 plate appearances), a basketful of runs, and 15-20 steals. Well, fantasy drafters kept up their end of the deal this year, drafting Anderson as the SS12 around pick 85 in the 2023 preseason. But what they have received in return is just about the dirtiest White Sock you can imagine over almost 300 plate appearances.
Yes, Anderson has nine steals in less than 70 games played, but in this sprint speed landscape, that only ranks 34th in the leagues. In addition to that, you have .231/.268/.273 slash line with a big donut for home runs and just 13 RBI. In his age-30 season, basically, everything in Anderson’s batting profile is in freefall. His 3.4% barrel rate is the lowest of his career. He is hitting a groundball more than 64% of the time (far and away the highest in the league), and his contact rate on pitches in the zone is down two percentage points from last year.
Anderson is riding most benches right now, I have no doubt. But this is about as far away from his elite seasons in 2019-2021 as he can get.
Cedric Mullins, OF, Baltimore Orioles
If I can, I would like to direct your attention to the Razzball Player Rater for the first half of this season. On that list of outfielders, you will find that Mr. Cedric Mullins falls outside the top-50 players at the position, behind such luminaries as Corey Julks, Jose Siri, and Andrew Vaughn. That means in 10-team, 5-OF leagues, Mullins has not been worth a starting spot this season.
Part of that was a groin injury that sidelined him for a few weeks, but the seasonal numbers (.248/.343/.437) are not up to his usual standards from the last few weeks. He is walking a career-high 12% of the time in 2023, but the lingering effects of the groin injury have him batting .170/.268/.234 with no homers or steals since he returned on June 24th.
Maybe the All-Star Break is what he needs to get some rest and fully healed, but right now he is a negative in your starting lineup despite the powerful Orioles offense around him.
Cristian Javier, SP, Houston Astros
Yours truly was the bandwagon driver of the Cristian Javier fan club last season. There was just too much talent and strong offense behind him for Javier not to succeed if he was given the chance. Well, that’s all gone in the crapper this year due to a variety of factors. Javier has been one of the worst starting pitchers in fantasy baseball over the past three weeks, posting a 15.19 ERA and not making it past 4.1 innings since June 15th. He struck out only six batters in his last three starts after averaging 11.74 K/9 last season. The only thing we can do at this point is hope there is a turnaround lurking somewhere in here, but I’m not optimistic.
Rumors are flying all over the place that Javier is one of a handful of pitchers significantly impacted by the new pitch clock rules. With just one season as a starter under his belt, fatigue with the faster pace may be starting to catch up to him. We can clearly see it in his velocity. His fastball is down 1.2 miles per hour from last year and his changeup is down almost two miles per hour. The slider is still hovering around 80 miles per hour, but it has lost 80% of its value according to Fangraphs’ pitch tracking.
Add in the fact that the Astros offense is in shambles due to injuries right now, and Javier’s ADP at pick 62 this spring looks like we lit money on fire.