Here we are halfway through the season – still a small sample size of games in the grand scheme of things, but I’m finally willing to admit that some of this year’s most surprising breakout hitters may continue to help fantasy teams as the season progresses. Just looking at the All Star starting lineups, each team has several pretty huge surprises (unless you correctly predicted back in April that Ryan Zimmerman, Zack Cozart, Justin Smoak, and Corey Dickerson would all be starting). In the outfield, I certainly didn’t see Marcell Ozuna and Aaron Judge getting the starting nod.
With all of these guys, I feel like the tendency from a fantasy perspective would be to sell high while you can, and avoid trading for them at all costs when their value is sky-high (and if you own any of them and you can, say, get a king’s ransom for Aaron Judge in a re-draft league, go for it). But if you find yourself on the other side, getting offered a guy like Ozuna by an owner who you suspect might be desperate to sell him when his value is as high as possible, making a deal to add a perceived over-performer may not be the craziest thing in the world.
Last year, I traded for Daniel Murphy right around this time of year, even though I knew I was getting a player who was most likely at the peak of a career year. But I knew that even if his batting average came down substantially (amazingly, it didn’t) and the power evaporated somewhat (it did, to about the extent I expected), he would still be a huge asset to my team in terms of helping me in a couple categories that would, and did, lead me to gain a few points in the standings. It never feels good to buy high on a player, but I don’t like to discount it as an option if I feel it might ultimately help my team over the long haul – especially in very deep leagues where you know the waiver wire pickings are always going to fall into the slim-to-none category. And speaking of slim pickings on the waiver wire, let’s get to some names who might be relevant in AL and NL-only leagues.
Joey Rickard. He’s made five starts in a row in the Orioles outfield, despite the fact that in three of them he had a righty-righty matchup. On Monday, he moved from ninth to leadoff. In 135 at bats, he now has three homers and four steals, and if he gets more chances at the top of the order there’s no reason he can’t provide a smattering of runs for your fantasy team. I mean, he’s 1% owned in CBS leagues, but I’m thinking it should be at least double that!
Alcides Escobar. Could there be a more boring player to add to a fantasy team? Perhaps not, especially given that he’s on pace for an even more dreadful than usual season. But if he was drafted and dumped in your league and you need a middle infielder, know at least that he’s been hitting much better of late. After hitting .200 in April and .220 in May, he improved to a .301 average in June, and is batting over .400 over the last week or so. If he doesn’t start stealing (only two steals this year after a three-year average of 22) his value is obviously limited, to say the least, but he’s still a bit of a deep AL-only, 7%-owned equivalent of hot schmotato right now.
Alex Claudio/anyone in the Rangers bullpen. The Rangers bullpen is a closer-by-committee style absolute mess, which makes for a situation to steer clear of in mixed leagues, but a chance for the desperate to find a needle in the saves haystack in an ultra-deep league. After Matt Bush was demoted, Keone Kela hit the DL before getting a save opp, while Jose LeClerc got a blown-save loss Sunday after giving up two eighth-inning runs to the White Sox. (Perhaps we should also note that Jason Grilli is now a Ranger and could be in the late-inning mix despite an atrocious year so far. Did I mention the Rangers bullpen is an absolute mess?) At any rate, Claudio’s numbers on the year are not exactly Mariano Rivera-esque, but they’re not half bad either (2.76 ERA/1.16 WHIP, 10 BB/27 K in 42 innings), so we’ll see what happens next. Which, quite possibly, is going right back to Bush as if nothing ever happened (insert joke about your favorite lesbian-turned temporarily straight girl-turned right back to lesbian here… I’m just a bit too classy do to if for you).
Robinson Chirinos. Welcome to this week’s deep league catcher dart throw. Chirinos has almost doubled his modest CBS ownership percentages (going from 5% to 9% this past week), which is enough to force us to take notice in the wasteland of 2017 single-league catcher options. Chirinos has been getting more starts behind the plate, and while he’s only hitting .232, he does have twelve homers. For those of us who are power-starved, that isn’t an insignificant number for half a season.
Paul Blackburn. I would have sworn I already talked about him, but it appears I have not… hard to tell, since it seems like there’s been about four guys a week who are new to a major league rotation, but don’t really have much to offer fantasy-wise and project as back-end starters. The A’s were interested enough in getting a look at Blackburn to demote Jesse Hahn, and to commit to more starts for him even with Jharel Cotton recovered from a blister issue, and Blackburn’s first start was great: six innings, no runs, three hits, one walk, four strikeouts against the Braves. Ralph listed Blackburn as an “other” under the Floorboreds section of his A’s minor league preview back in January, and it is indeed difficult to look at Blackburn’s minor league numbers and not be bored, at best. In fact, I’m going to have to consider his 26 BBs and 56 Ks in 80 innings this year in AAA a dealbreaker… but you may be looking for something different than I am in a relationship (for instance, I believe I read somewhere that Blackburn has a “good” curveball), so I’ll try not to judge.
Brent Suter. Got a spot start for the Brewers on Monday, and turned in an excellent six innings – no runs, four hits, one walk, and eight strikeouts. Craig Counsell announced immediately after the game the Suter would get at least one more turn in the rotation, but you’d need to be in a pretty deep league to even think about adding him. His career minor league numbers aren’t exactly eye-popping (3.44 ERA/1.29 WHIP, though I suppose it should be noted a large chunk of that was at Colorado Springs), but he does have about a 3 to 1 K to BB ratio, and those numbers were looking even better for him so far this year in AAA (8 BBs, 38 Ks in 36 innings).
Luke Weaver. Called up by the Cardinals on Monday after pitching 56 innings in AAA with a 1.93 ERA, 0.96 WHIP , and 60 Ks/13 BBs. It’s easy to forget about Weaver even in keeper leagues after his disappointing 2016, and word in St. Louis is that he’ll pitch out of the bullpen (plus he may just be up until the All Star Break). I’m going to keep him on my radar though in case he’s taken a legitimate step or two forward this year. I will, however, have to dock him a point or two for what I would consider a fairly cheesy Twitter handle (@DreamWeava7), but I don’t suppose that will have a major impact in fantasy.
Sam Dyson. Named the Giants’ fill-in closer last week with Mark Melancon hurt. This seems to have disaster written all over it, but Dyson has already gone two for two in save opportunities, so who knows. He’s probably no longer available in NL-only leagues, but if you’re looking for some SAGNOF in a slightly shallower league, the first step is opportunity in the 9th inning, which Dyson clearly has for the time being.
Nick Williams. Called up by the Phillies, Williams is a talented guy who, as Prospector Ralph has told you, has almost zero plate discipline (not a direct quote, but I’m sure he said something like that). It sure doesn’t seem likely that he’ll suddenly find any in the majors, but there’s a reason he was labeled a top prospect, and there’s no reason for the Phillies not to give him a good look in the outfield.
Ketel Marte. With Nick Ahmed hurt, Marte is finally getting the look at short for the D-Backs that many thought he’d have to open the season. He may still not start regularly depending on where Brandon Drury and Chris Owings play, and when A.J. Pollock returns, but he had a walk-off hit on Sunday, and was having a great season at AAA (.338 AVG, .391 OBP, 6 HR, 7 SB in 70 games).