Fantasy Baseball Waiver Wire Pickups: Week 5
Well, well, well. How the calendar turntables. That’s right, it’s now May and you can all officially look back at monthly split data as a finished product. Please be mindful of leaguewide trends (especially with plate discipline) when comparing a player’s 2018 March/April to seasons of the past. Sorry to those of you who lost Corey Seager for 2018. I hope you have someone else who’s SS eligible to slot in. If not, we’ll start this week’s piece off with my top “band-aid.”
Ownership levels are taken from Yahoo leagues and, along with the stats unless otherwise noted, are accurate through April 30.
Priority Pickups – <30% Owned
Eduardo Escobar (MIN – 2B/3B/SS): 30% owned
Escobar has hit cleanup for the Twins in five of their last seven games and has produced a solid .301/.348/.578 slash through 21 games on the heels of a seven-game hit streak. His impressive three-position versatility and non-zero speed (one steal on two attempts) provide a nice backdrop for his increasing pop. He smacked 21 homers in 499 plate appearances last season with a 31.4% hard-hit rate and 45%/34%/21% fly-ball/ground-ball/line-drive profile. Compare that with his current 39% hard-hit rate and a 44% fly-ball rate leading to homers and an eight-percentage-point boost to his line-drive rate backing the .375 BABIP and high average. That will likely subside a bit, but 25 homers with five steals, a .280s average and counting stats from the heart of the order are worth it.
If Escobar is gone then I strongly suggest trading to fill the gap at SS. Otherwise, the lesser guys I like are Enrique Hernandez, Chad Pinder, and Nick Ahmed. If you can wait, stashing Willy Adames isn’t a bad idea either.
Franchy Cordero (SD – OF): 14% owned
Realizing that batting average is a weakness with Cordero, he still entered Monday ranked 74th overall by traditional 5×5 standards over the last 14 days thanks to four long homers, 10 RBIs, and a stolen base. That was before going 2-for-3 with another swipe. At first, I thought that Cordero’s ownership was suffering because of perceived playing time issues, but now Wil Myers is out — mitigating Manuel Margot‘s return — and Franchy has been hitting cleanup or fifth in each of San Diego’s last five contests.
A slump with his penchant for strikeout gives him a low floor, I know, but he’s doing enough to justify his slot (being a top-75 player is decent, yes?) and the power-speed upside makes him a strong add.
Kyle Gibson (MIN – SP): 14% owned
Gibson made headlines by dominating the Yankees (only to see Fernando Rodney blow the save, more on that shortly) thanks to some potent secondary offerings alongside his 92 MPH fastball. Gibby is throwing his curveball more to kick off 2018, spinning it 12.8% of the time compared to 9.9% in ’17 and 5% in ’16. While his heater has a negative pitch value at -1.9, all of his secondaries are in the green.
His success is rooted in a 13.1% swinging-strike rate that’s 19th-best out of 96 qualified starters, which has helped mitigate his career-high 12.2% walk rate. It’s possible his seeking out more whiffs has left him nibbling more on the edges, but it’s a worthy price to pay considering his HR/9 mark is at a paltry 0.33 compared to 1.37 in ’17. If he can trim the walks at all but keep the whiffs then we’ve got a top-40 SP on our hands.
Mac Williamson (SF – OF): 9% owned
Williamson was named last week in the deeper targets section, but he’s graduated despite being on the seven-day concussion DL. In just 69 PAs (50 at Triple-A, 19 in the MLB), Mac Attack has nine homers and 23 RBIs. This isn’t just a random surge, as he worked with the same coach who spurred on the Justin Turner renaissance, Doug Latta, this offseason and has always had plus power. He’s just always hit far too many grounders in a Christian Yelich-y kind of way. We’ll need to see him retain his improved mechanics when faced with adversity, but there’s no reason for SF to not play him every day when healthy given his fast start.
Trevor Cahill (OAK – SP): 10% owned
We recommended Cahill last week despite a rough Houston matchup on deck, and I came away very encouraged by it despite Trevor taking the loss. He managed to post a quality start against the defending champs, allowing just four hits and a walk over six frames of work. He 1-2-3’d the ‘Stros in the first and second innings before a bunt single and catcher’s interference led to two runs in the third. The point is that the 30-year-old sinkerballer is showing life and his 3.28 SIERA is tied with Dylan Bundy for 20th-best among SPs with at least 10 innings and lies one tick ahead of Blake Snell’s 3.29 mark. He deserves to be treated at least like a top-50 starter right now.
Addison Reed (MIN – RP): 29% owned
On the one hand, it’s only been one month, Rodney is on a big contract and Minnesota had so many rainouts that they’re practically still in the third week of April. On the other hand, Rodney is old and a known risk for cold streaks. Reed hasn’t been lights out, but his early 2.57 ERA/1.00 WHIP in 14 innings is golden compared to Rodney’s 5.87 ERA/2.09 WHIP. Yeah, a WHIP over two is disgusting no matter how small the sample size. The Twins are dealing with plenty of injuries right now and sit at 9-14 through 23 games, but are just 3.5 games back in a weak division and won’t let Rodney do this for too much longer.
Scott Schebler (CIN – OF): 18% owned
Schebler had one of the more underappreciated 30-homer seasons in recent memory last year, though I understand that doesn’t mean as much as it used to. He’s off to a roaring start after being shelved for two weeks with an elbow injury, hitting .320 with 22 R+RBI and a .930 OPS in just 14 games. The 27-year-old possesses serious power that should stick around, just don’t buy the .300-plus average. That said, a return to his .265 mark from 2016 is possible, which would be a worthy complement to his power stroke in 12-team leagues. And no one’s saying he can’t ride out a hot streak!
Leonys Martin (DET – OF): 13% owned
I realize Martin’s wearing a “DTD” tag right now, but his slight hamstring tightness didn’t keep him from pinch-running for Victor Martinez on Monday so I’m not going to worry. It would appear that Ron Gardenhire’s decision to anoint Martin as Detroit’s leadoff bat over Mikie Mahtook has paid off, with Leonys delivering an 18/4/12/1/.271 line through the end of April. That makes him a good candidate to sniff 100 runs with 20-homer pop and an average that won’t hurt, and we know he has double-digit-steal wheels. He’s only one-for-three on swipe attempts so far so he needs to regain his timing to increase Detroit’s odds of sending him, but he’s doing enough with the other facets of his game where he doesn’t need to steal to be valuable.
Mark Trumbo (BAL – OF): 26% owned
Remember him? The slugger who sent 47 baseballs to Souvenir City with 202 R+RBI only two seasons ago before disappointing with a .686 OPS and just 23 taters in 603 PAs last year? That’s right, Trumbo is ready to be activated after dealing with a quadriceps injury throughout April. You didn’t hear much about his rehab assignment because he didn’t really do anything throughout it, going a mere 5-for-24 with a double and zero homers. But the 32-year-old slugger still possesses one of the highest power ceilings in the game and it’s worth seeing if he starts hot.
Deep League Targets – <10% owned
Caleb Smith (MIA – SP/RP): 6% owned
While the Marlins are easy to brush off, they seem to be embracing the analytical side of things and appear to have unlocked Caleb Smith in the process. The PitchFX leaderboard for Whiffs per Swing (min. 200 pitches) are a “Who’s Who” of SP studs this season, with the top 10 reading: Patrick Corbin, Shohei Ohtani, Max Scherzer, Robbie Ray, Gerrit Cole, Blake Snell, Charlie Morton, Lance McCullers, Caleb Smith and Chris Sale.
The 26-year-old has struggled with control throughout his career but has walked only one batter over his last two starts while striking out an incredible 19 over those 13 frames. This seems to stem from Don Mattingly showing him just how good his swing-and-miss stuff was, prompting a directive to attack the strike zone. It’s clearly working! Do note that he only threw 120 innings last season, so I doubt the Marlins push him past 160. The crazy thing is that he could still get 200 Ks.
Jorge Soler (KC – OF): 6% owned
Looking at Soler’s big-league stat sheet ahead of Monday night’s game is a fun exercise. In 110 PAs last season, the slugger had seven runs, two homers and six RBI with a .144/.245/.258 slash line. He had exactly seven runs, two homers and six RBI with a .307/.436/.467 slash through 94 PAs entering Monday night. His walk rate has soared (10.9% to 18.1%) while his 45.3% hard-hit rate is the 18th-best mark in the Majors. Yes, he has a .412 BABIP that will come back to earth, but he should stay on the healthy side of .270 if he keeps peppering the ball like this. Lost in the shuffle is nearly a 10-percentage-point increase in zone-contact rate (74% to 83.8%) from last season, which should lead to more homers as the season plays out.
Marco Gonzales (SEA – SP): 9% owned
Gonzales makes for an interesting study with his 5.02 ERA and elevated .390 BABIP so far. He’s got the type of control (4.1% walk rate) and enough putaway stuff (25.4% strikeout rate) to be an above-average starter. He boasts five pitches now that he’s started working in a cutter and sinker — trading some velocity for movement — but he still has a four-seamer to fall back on alongside a changeup and curveball.
The real story here is his elite 3.08 SIERA and 2.73 xFIP underneath the hood, as a .390 BABIP and poor 67.9% strand rate continue to do him wrong. The “interesting study” part comes from his 41.2% hard-hit rate allowed, as his BABIP almost feels earned to this point with the exit velocities and a whopping 29.8% line-drive rate. Hopefully, he can improve his sequencing and use his versatile repertoire to his favor, which should see those peripherals come to the surface.
Jose Alvarado (TB – RP): 5% owned
Alvarado is a bright light in an otherwise dreary Rays bullpen right now, as his 1.94 SIERA backs the early 2.70 ERA, and the 24% K-BB% is nothing to scoff at either. He’s one of just 15 qualified relievers with a sub-2.00 SIERA. And don’t think that he’s got awful splits just because he’s a lefty. In fact, he entered Monday night with identical .174/.250/.174 slash lines allowed to both left- and right-handed batters alike this year. Pretty eerie, no? Sergio Romo has been shaky with a 1.86 WHIP and 48% hard-hit rate allowed so far, so Alvarado could see some ninth-inning action if Colome hits another cold patch, gets hurt or is dealt.
Fernando Romero (MIN – SP): 7% owned
No, you didn’t read Fernando Rodney by mistake. That would also be very confusing with the earlier Reed propaganda. No, Romero is but a 23-year-old starter who rides a mid-90s fastball and upper 80s slider to success that’s stepping into Phil Hughes’ rotation for at least one turn to face the Blue Jays. I’m a bit worried about his K-BB% rate slipping from 22.7% at High-A in ’16 down to 13.8% at Double-A last season, as it’s only worsened in ’18 at 11.5%. But he does a great job of keeping the ball on the ground and limiting homers, so perhaps he’ll turn into the next fun story of this season.
Jung Ho Kang (PIT – SS/3B): 2% owned
Kang is set to rejoin the Pirates shortly after being granted a work visa to enter the U.S., though his timeline for being in game shape is very much up in the air. Manager Clint Hurdle said Kang would go through a spring training, but it’s impossible to ignore that the 31-year-old’s last MLB action (in 2016) saw him hit 21 homers in just 370 PAs. Those with a rogue N/A slot in deep mixed or NL-only leagues have my blessing for the stash.