Wake up, my friends! I am experiencing first-hand how difficult it can be to stay focused on a disappointing fantasy baseball team or two, especially when presented with alternate activities like hitting the beach, heading out on a family vacation, or preparing for a soon-to-happen football draft. But I’ll once again say to myself and everyone else, that even if you’re not in the thick of a fantasy pennant chase, this is still a great time to take a close look at what’s happening in baseball. Some of the unexpected names making a late season offensive or pitching impact may be irrelevant by next April, but others won’t. The more you know come draft season about which players had a strong finish in 2023, the better off you’ll be to prepare for next year. And if a few reinforcements can still help your cause in 2023, even better.
This week we’ll concentrate solely on American League players, as we take a look at some guys who’ve been outperforming their ownership levels of late and/or have jumped in ownership over the last week or so. Who knows which players might end up being of some help in even shallower leagues this year, let alone who could turn into a late-round pick in 2024 and ultimately help contribute to a fantasy title run a year from now.
Zack Littell. Littell’s CBS ownership has gone from 8 to 12% just since I started writing this blurb earlier this week, so he’s already put himself closer to “normal” league consideration. Littell’s season has already included being signed a Rangers minor league contract, being traded to the Red Sox as middle relief depth, being DFA’d and claimed by the Rays, and hitting the IL with a bad shoulder. (And that all happened before the end of May). He’s mostly been functioning as an opener for Tampa Bay since his return but seems to be getting stretched out in a hurry given the Rays’ injury issues when it comes to their starters. After a 5-inning, 2-runs-allowed win in Houston, Littell picked up another victory with 6 scoreless against Detroit. He’s a 27-year-old with lackluster peripherals and an equally unimpressive strikeout rate, but anyone in the Rays rotation is usually worth at least a look, as his recent ownership increase reflects. Watching him against the Cardinals on Thursday, there was a lot to like for a guy without a ton of velocity, including his comfort level with throwing his fastball inside on almost every hitter, and getting Paul Goldschmidt to chase an 0-2 pitch for a first-inning strikeout. There were also disappointments, like watching him give up a 2-run bomb to backup catcher Andrew Knizner. I have one or two leagues where I’m really just looking for wins, ratios be damned, and I may be looking his way as I peruse the free agent pool this weekend.
Dallas Keuchel. If you’ve been a little less focused on baseball lately as discussed above, you may not have even realized that Keuchel was currently on a major league roster, let alone that he’d actually been pitching of late. He’s on the Twins, it turns out, and if he can stay healthy and even moderately effective he should have a firm spot in their rotation, given that it looks like my 2023 fantasy crush-turned-heartbreaking-letdown Joe Ryan will be on the shelf for a while. Keuchel’s made one start and it went kind of well and kind of horribly at the same time: 5 scoreless against Arizona, but without a single strikeout and with a terrifying 8 hits and 2 walks. Clearly, this feels like disaster waiting to happen, but if you’re in a similar situation to the one I just mentioned where you’re looking for anyone who is starting games for a major league team and could theoretically get some counting stats, here’s your public service announcement that Keuchel fits that bill for now.
Nick Allen. If you missed out on Zack Gelof, i.e. one of the only A’s hitters who has provided a little fantasy value this year, why not turn to the 1% owned Nick Allen? Well, probably because he’s hitting about .200, and, in what is now about 70% of a season of baseball, has just 3 homers and 3 steals in 63 games. Let’s move on to the (relatively) good news: he’s playing pretty much every day, and heading into Thursday has hit in four games in a row, including a huge 2-homer effort earlier this week. If he can keep any of this momentum going, he could be a deep-league serviceable middle infielder for now.
Jesse Scholtens. I was feeling optimistic about Scholtens, but then realized that that optimism might be coming largely from the fact that I don’t know much about him. Also, let’s remember how low a bar we’re talking about at this point. We’ll once again start with the bad, which is that there’s no strikeout upside here; Scholtens has 35 in 50 innings in the majors so far this year and less than a K an inning for his minor league career. Oh, and did I mention that he’s 29? The good news is that he’s in the starting rotation for the White Sox after their trade deadline rotation fire sale, and he’s had two solid outings in a row, going 6 innings with 6 Ks in each, and allowing only 3 total runs in those 12 innings. One thing this week’s waiver wire options are doing for me is reminding me how difficult trying to build and maintain a productive deep-league roster is, so if nothing else this week, if you’ve read this far let’s all pat ourselves on the back for making it to mid-August, regardless of how our teams are doing.
Ryan Jeffers. Jeffers isn’t going to be available in a AL-only 2 catcher league, but he’s still just 9% owned overall. So, this is really just a chance to point out, for future consideration and/or a slightly shallower league look, how well he’s been hitting lately. In the last 3 weeks he has a .370 average/.414 OBP, with 4 homers and 10 RBI. The Twins are finding ways to keep him in the lineup as he’s getting some DH reps when not catching, and I for one am sad that I dropped him after drafting him this spring in one of my deepest leagues. He’s hitting an eye-catching .291 on the season, and even though that’s over just 182 at bats, to have a plus average from a second catcher plus 9 homers to go with it is not a bad deep-league deal. I’ll be keeping an eye on him as this season plays out and depending on how things go and his situation heading into 2024, he may even be a guy I’ll target late in next year’s drafts.
Beau Brieske. Briske picked up a 2-inning save (his second save this year) out of the currently messy Tigers bullpen on Thursday, while the recently erratic Alex Lange watched from the sidelines. Even if Lange’s troubles continue, Briske is certainly way behind Jason Foley, who’s been out on bereavement, on the depth chart. But in the deepest leagues where you’re in dire need of saves it’s worth noting that he may be next in line for now. On top of that, he’s been pitching really well; in 13 innings this year he’s got 10 strikeouts vs. just 1 walk, with a 2.08 ERA and an 0.923 WHIP.