One of the things I enjoy about NL and AL-only leagues is that they often provide a comfortable home for fantasy baseball’s otherwise undesirables. I’m amazed at how many players there are that I’ve just flat out never heard that get promoted each year, no matter how well I think I know every MLB team’s roster and depth chart, and no matter how much time I put into trying to improve my knowledge of the minor leagues. Most of the players that get called up and have been completely under the radar do exactly what we’d expect them to – perhaps make a little splash as they dive into their first cup of coffee, but then quickly fade into oblivion. A few defy the odds and become mixed-league relevant. And some do what we deep leaguers need them to do – play just well enough that they are worth rostering. Much like actual baseball teams, it doesn’t seem like many deep league fantasy champions get through their 162-game seasons without a few spells of random help from players who seem to have appeared from completely out of the blue.
It’s still May, but we are already seeing many players who may ultimately fit this description come October. There are always a handful of guys that are somehow able to outperform their stats/projections/abilities, and I always think of 2016 Junior Guerra as the poster boy for this phenomenon. When writing about him last year, the more research I did, the more I realized that he didn’t have a single peripheral in his past stats to suggest he could do exactly what he did: have a prolonged run of success at the major league level. Yet somehow watching him pitch, there was an intangible (Grit? Moxie?) that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but made me want to own him. Back to the present: in the last couple of weeks, I feel like every time I turn around there’s a newbie that’s being thrown into a major league starting rotation. This week, I’ll be highlighting a few of these pitchers amongst the other players that might be available on the scrap heap that is your single league waiver wire…
Ben Lively. He hasn’t been called up to replace Zach Eflin in the Phillies rotation yet, but it sounds like most of the Philadelphia sports community thinks he should be, so I’m intrigued. (Tuesday note: now Velasquez is hurt, so how is this guy not up by the weekend?). I’m a sucker for a pitcher who doesn’t walk guys, and Lively is one of those fellows. Is he a hot prospect with amazing, top-of-the-rotation stuff? Nope! But he’s walked seven batters in 56 innings in AAA this year, after a 2016 season where his WHIP was 0.94 over 170 innings (53 of those in AA; 117 in AAA). He has a decent curveball and slider, and a changeup that he rarely uses because he doesn’t usually need it. Evidently his AAA manager has already pointed out that he’ll need that changeup in the show, especially against lefties… I’m looking forward to seeing how this situation is going to play out, so I’ve stashed Lively in a couple NL-onlys.
Asher Wojciechowski. He did nothing to impress in 2015 when he made five appearances (three starts) for the Astros (7.27 ERA, 1.86 WHIP… though the Ks were already in evidence, as he had 16 in 16 innings). He’s been dominant for the Reds in 2017, however, as he made five starts in AAA with a 1.40 ERA and a 10.17 K/9, followed by allowing just one run in four innings once he was promoted to Cincinnati. His spot start Tuesday may be just a one-off, but I’m going to watch a bit and report back. (Cut to four hours later). Here’s my intel: he’s got a solid-but-obvious nickname (Wojo), throws lots of strikes, and looks completely poised on the mound. (Cut to one inning later). Hmm, he just gave up three of the most no-doubt jacks I’ve seen this year. Or ever. In the same inning. Yet I’m still kind of loving that he didn’t walk anyone in 4 innings. Let’s just say he’s going to need to make some adjustments.
J.T. Riddle. Moving from young, untested pitchers to young, untested hitters, the Marlins seem to have an unlimited supply of infielders that, fantasy-wise, would matter in only the deepest of leagues. Martin Prado and Adeiny Hechevarria have each missed significant time due to injury, opening the door for additional uninspiring names like Derek Dietrich and Miguel Rojas. Now that Rojas is also down, enter 25-year old J.T. Riddle. Riddle’s minor league numbers are so boring that there aren’t even any stats worth mentioning, but that didn’t stop me from picking him up in my deepest NL-only league. The never-ending search for deep-league ABs is real! He’s started 9 games in a row now as I write this, and has 3 homers and 13 RBI in 66 at bats, and there are even rumblings that he could stick at short after Hechevarria returns, pushing Adeiny into a utility role.
Franchy Cordero. It seems he’ll be getting the majority of spare at bats for the Padres while Manny Margot’s on the DL, which of course I read about just after one of my NL-only lineups locked for the week with Matt Szczur in it (did I mention the search for deep-league at bats is real?) Cordero got two hits in his first game on Sunday, and I grabbed him in one league, because who knows (plus, who can resist a guy named Franchy?). He’s 22 years old, 6’3”, and has already shown a nice speed/power combo in the minors (he was hitting .289 with 7 homers and 8 steals in 42 AAA games).
Orlando Calixte. Who?? This is exactly what I’m talking about; just when I think I have some idea of what the San Francisco Giants lineup options are, I find that someone named Orlando Calixte, who seems to qualify only at shortstop in my fantasy league, is not only playing left field, but leading off for the Giants on Tuesday. Let’s see, a super utility type who had a hitless, 2-game call-up with the Royals a couple years ago (getting sleepy and losing interest)… wait, what?! Has eight home runs and eleven stolen bases in 41 games for AAA Sacramento this year??! Dudes and 5 dudettes, that would be like 30/40 over a full major league season… color me intrigued!
Eric Skoglund. Skoglund is a 23-year old who has already made a tiny ripple in deep fantasy leagues: his CBS ownership went from 0% to 2% when it was announced he’d start for Kansas City against Detroit Tuesday. His fastball tops out in the low 90’s, his curve is decent, and it sounds like his changeup is nothing to write home about. He projects as a #5 starter with perhaps a ceiling of a #4, but in the deepest of leagues, sometimes a borderline #4 starter is just what the doctor ordered. We may need to come up with a term to replace “upside” in deep leagues, because guys like Skoglund don’t necessarily have any by our usual definition of the word. What he does have is a lack of any significant injury history (he dealt with an oblique issue at one point but has never had a single thing wrong with his arm), a completely uncomplicated delivery, and a penchant for keeping the ball in the strike zone. He also could join the cast of Silicon Valley tomorrow and would probably come in fifth in a “guess which one of these guys is actually professional athlete” poll. (Post-game update: I didn’t get to watch as much of Skoglund’s start as I’d hoped, but damned if he didn’t pitch 6.1 scoreless, 1BB/5 K, beating Verlander 1-0. Moxie!!)
Christian Bergman. The 2017 Mariners starting rotation alone has already felt like an injury-plagued revolving door of random youngsters getting a Hunger Games-like chance to fight to their death against major league baseball teams. I was going to write about Bergman (who’s 29, so not really a youngster at all in baseball-ese) last week after his brilliant start against Oakland (2 hits, no runs, 2 BBs/9 Ks). Then I got terrified after he faced a good team, and imploded for 14 hits and 10 runs against the Nationals. And then something reallly weird happened; he was great again against the Red Sox, shutting them out on four hits and 2 walks (only 2 Ks this time though) over seven innings. I’m not even going to try to guess what he’ll do Friday against the Rays; I’ll only remind you that he’s getting starts in a major league rotation, in case that’s the kind of thing you’re into.
Sam Gaviglio. Another contestant in the Mariners’ “Who the Hell is Starting for Us Today? game”. I had trouble finding much info. on Gaviglio, which should probably be a sign that my hopes for him should remain tempered. For the record, he’s 27, and his minor league career numbers (he was drafted by the Cardinals in 2011) look like this: 4.01 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 501 Ks/164 BBs in 624 innings. Ew. So far in 18 major league innings this year, he has 8 Ks and 5 BBs, which you may agree is not very good. During that same 18-inning span, however, he also holds a 3.50 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, and notched a 5-inning win in Coors. This probably means that he’s been really, really lucky with the ERA and WHIP… but it might also mean… Moxie??
Guillermo Heredia. While Mitch Haniger reminds us that oblique issues can take freaking forever to heal, the Mariners – and some of us deep fantasy leaguers — are getting plenty of exercise throwing outfielders at the proverbial wall to see what sticks in an attempt to replace him. We’ve already seen the rise — and perhaps fall — of Ben Gamel (over the last two weeks, Gamel has just three runs scored, one solitary RBI, and thirteen Ks in 39 at bats). Now it’s Heredia’s turn: he recently started six games in a row, and is hitting .350 over the last week to bring his season average to .287. The bad news: he’s not really good at either power or speed. The better news? He’s a .300 hitter over his 343 minor league career at bats. As long as he’s in a major league lineup semi-regularly, he has a chance to pick up a counting stat or two for you in the deepest AL-only leagues.
Ben Revere. Writing about one of the worst hitters in major league baseball getting more playing time because the man many call the best player in major league baseball got hurt is just depressing, and I don’t even own Trout anywhere. Revere’s 2016 in Washington was just disastrous and embarrassing, as he hit .217 over the course of 103 games. In his heyday, though, I actually always thought he was a little underrated, getting pegged as a one-category guy when he actually had a few seasons where he’d help you in three, piling up the runs and contributing a plus batting average in addition to the steals. I mean, we’re talking about a guy who from 2013-2015 hit .305, .306, and .306. He had 49 stolen bases in 2014, and scored 84 runs in 2015. That was all just a couple few years ago and he still is only 29 this year; can he really suck this badly now? Well, quite possibly yes. It seems like this should be his last chance to prove he belongs in a major league starting lineup, though, so maybe he’ll do something crazy like steal just enough bases to make a difference to a team in an ultra-deep AL-only league.
Whit Merrifield. At a whopping (compared to the others on this list) 10% owned in CBS leagues, Merrifield probably isn’t– and shouldn’t be — available in the deepest AL-onlys. And he’s quietly making a case to be on more fantasy rosters. On Monday, Merrifield missed a cycle by a mere single while extending his hitting streak to 14 games. He’s now batting .289 with 6 home runs and 5 steals, and all that in a season which began with Raul Mondesi as the Royals starting second baseman. To paraphrase Tuesday Grey, Merrifield is not good. Actually that was a direct quote from Tuesday Grey, but he also pointed out (here comes the paraphrasing) that Merrifield looks pretty okay at hitting compared to the rest of the Royals. That may not be saying much, but sadly, Merrifield also looks pretty spectacular compared to most of the hitters on one of my more lackluster AL-only teams (now that’s me paraphrasing myself — and don’t let anyone tell you that there’s anything wrong with paraphrasing yourself when you’re home alone thinking about fantasy baseball on a Tuesday afternoon!) His good-looking numbers may be fueled by boring things like a super-inflated BABIP, but why not enjoy riding the wave now and worry about a potential wipeout later?