We’re less than two weeks in to the 2021 baseball season, and already player values have been changing all over the place. Deep-league names that we were talking about weeks ago — and who were completely off the radar for most fantasy owners then — have shot up ownership charts. Guys that weren’t even drafted in many or even most NL or AL-only leagues suddenly have medium/mixed-league numbers. In CBS leagues, Yermin Mercedes is now an 80% owned player. Akil Baddoo went from 18 to 68 percent in one week, Cedric Mullins from 20 to 60%. And in perhaps in the most extreme deep-league rags to standard-league riches story of the young season, Tyler Naquin’s ownership went from 1% to 82% in one week.
So, what’s a deep-leaguer in need of lineup reinforcements but facing a picked-clean waiver wire to do? I’d say re-group to the changed landscape, and keep looking in case more hidden gems emerge. There may not be anyone out there who’s going to give you a first-week Tyler Naquin level of production (he’s on pace for 90 homers, 252 RBI, and 18 stolen bases, by the way… so, uh, pretty sure there’s a bit of a cool-down coming at some point), but let’s look at a few names to see if there may be someone who can fill a temporary hole or give you a small deep-league boost. We’ll go from most to least owned, starting with those that may be available in medium-deep leagues and finishing with some ultra-deep league 1-percenters.
Phillip Evans (20% owned). Evans is a 28-year old who started getting MLB cups of coffee in 2017 but has never appeared in more than 19 games in a season. He’s currently on pace to hit .393 with 54 home runs for the Pirates, numbers that are obviously unsustainable to say the least. I like him, however, as a guy that could stick in the lineup even after Ke’Bryan Hayes comes back from injury and keep providing a steady stream of deep-league at bats. He’s not going to be a real-life or fantasy stud, but listening to the Pirates announcers talking about Evans, I get the idea that the Pirates as an organization are as impressed with Evans’ approach as I am (loving that he’s only struck out twice so far). If he can keep hitting at all, I have to think Evans will get more chances in the outfield once Hayes is back at third, especially if the trio of Gregory Polanco, Dustin Fowler and Anthony Alford continue to struggle at the plate. And I just read that Jared Oliva, who I thought might be an early-season call up to reinforce the Pittsburgh outfield, is not at the alternative training site but rather back in Florida to work on “skill development”. If ever a decent-but-not-spectacular player was in the right place at the right time to get a solid run of every day playing time, it might be Evans in Pittsburgh in 2021.
Kyle Isbel (18% owned). I don’t own Isbel anywhere and am already regretting not trying to grab him early in a deep league or two (to be honest he only came to my attention the week before the season started when I saw that an owner in my keeper AL-only league had Isbel on his team and that he’d made the big league team). His numbers aren’t flashy yet (no homers, 3 RBI, 1 steal) and may never be, but he’s looked comfortable at the plate, hitting .292 to start the year. At 24, he is one of those players who was probably hardest hit by not getting a year of minor league development and experience in 2020, but a great spring got him added to the 40-man roster and ultimately a regular job with the big club, at least for the time being. He stole 24 minor league bags in 2018 and I’ve seen him described as a good contact gap hitter with a little sneaky pop, so I’m interested to see if he can make the huge leap to the majors this year and perhaps provide some fantasy value while he’s at it.
Tim Locastro (11% owned). So far Locastro is doing exactly what we expected him to: providing a meh average (.265) but a nice pop of speed (2 steals, putting him on pace for 32 on the year for what that’s worth). What we might not have expected is that he also has a home run, has played in all 10 games for the D-Backs as they juggle outfield injuries, and has now broken Tim Raines’ recored for consecutive successful stolen base attempts to open a career (he’s 28 for 28). If you’re already realizing you’re going to have stolen base issues and he’s available, no reason not to give him a chance to show you that that’s what he was born to do, at least from the perspective of a deep-league fantasy baseball player.
Yandy Diaz (9% owned). Okay, I freely admit that my mild (?) obsession with Diaz is probably officially out of control with this blurb, but I just can’t quit the guy. Has he rewarded my faith in him at all this year? Nope, he’s hitting .214 without a home run or a steal or much of anything interesting. Please humor me as I try to reverse jinx him by calling out the lack of production… he still looks so good to me when he’s batting, and he sometimes hits the ball so hard when he does hit it, and he’s actually getting playing time for the Rays, having appeared in all of their first nine games. Holding him in my deep and deep-dish leagues for a bit longer since A) I don’t really have any other options available, and B) there’s still a chance this is the day/week/month/year he actually has a moderate breakout.
Brandon Crawford (8% owned). Perhaps it would have been more appropriate for me to include the 34-year old Crawford in my ‘old guys’ post last week, but I’ll give him a shout out here. San Francisco has a crowded infield, but any fear that Crawford was no longer an every day player should be put to rest for the time being as he’s started all nine games for the Giants. Granted, he’s hitting just .172 in those games, but that means the average is likely to only go up, right? And he does have two homers, including a 3-run blast that proved to be a game winner.
Daniel Vogelbach (3% owned). Look for Vogelbach to get some starts at 1B while Keston Hiura moves to second with Kolten Wong hurt. He’s not going to do your batting average any favors, but no one’s ever questioned his power and he seems awfully likely to run into a homer or two given the additional playing time.
Kyle Garlick (1% owned). I was a little surprised to see Garlick’s ownership was still at rock bottom, as I tried to add him over the weekend in an AL-only league but got outbid for him. Garlick has played in 7 games at OF for the Twins as they juggle injuries and figure out playing time, and in this year’s minuscule sample size is hitting .395 (the counting stats aren’t quite as impressive: no homers or steals with 2 RBI, though he does have a solid total of 5 runs scored). That’s looking a lot better than the hole that will be in my lineup in the league where I didn’t pony up a few more bucks for him.
Austin Dean/Lane Thomas (both 1% owned). The Cardinals outfield is not exactly a cavalcade of stars at the moment, which means there could be fantasy scraps laying around in it for the taking. Granted, leftover scraps are not usually very tasty, but sometimes you’re not looking for a gourmet meal, you’re just trying to stay alive. Dean has a serious strikeout problem that I suspect won’t be going away any time soon, but he had a great spring and has already had a couple of nice games — he’s 4 for 14 to open the season, with 1 homer, 3 runs scored, and 5 RBI. Thomas was called up over the weekend after Tyler O’Neill got hurt and was thrown right into Sunday’s starting lineup. Meanwhile, Justin Williams, who got off to an 0 for 10 start and is still just 2 for 18 is also around, and Williams is the only left-handed hitter of the trio. We’ll see how this all plays out, but like it or not it’s a situation that’s probably worth monitoring for those in the deepest of leagues who are chasing at bats.