Fantasy Baseball Waiver Wire Pickups: Week 3
Almost enough time has passed to stop prefacing every thought with a reminder of how early it is in the MLB season. Almost. Some procrastinators just filed their taxes yesterday, so it’s still pretty early.
But hey, evaluating three starts is better than freaking out over one. While someone’s stats can still change in the blink of an eye — Austin Meadows elevated his OPS from .738 to 1.170 last week — there’s at least a growing chunk of data to absorb. Don’t read too much into batting average or ERA, but batted-ball trends and velocities can offer glimpses of which April breakouts to buy.
Week 3’s waiver-wire purview keeps the consensus ownership bar at 35%. Despite those eligibility requirements, it might not be too late to snag Jorge Polanco (45%), Jesse Winker (45%), or Gregory Polanco (43%) in a shallow mixed league.
Priority Pickups – <35% Owned
Niko Goodrum (1B/2B/3B/SS/OF – DET): 32% Owned
A sneaky deep-league asset last season, Goodrum has refined his game in early April. The Swiss Army position player has shown far more selectively at the plate, cutting his percentage of pitches chased outside the strike zone from 32.8 to 22.3. This adjustment has caused a drop in strikeouts (20.0%) and a seismic surge in walks (18.0%). He has also improved his hard-hit rate by 15.0% by exchanging ground balls for line drives.
If these changes stick, Goodrum will soon be rostered in every fantasy league. Eligible at literally every offensive spot besides catcher in Yahoo formats, a .482 xwOBA suggests he has actually performed above his .292/.420/.512 start. Now Goodrum, who garnered 16 homers and 12 steals in 492 plate appearances, just needs to get cooking in those pivotal categories again.
Matt Strahm (SP/RP – SD): 28% Owned
Remember how much we all loved Strahm in March? One lousy start was apparently enough to kick him to the curb. He bounced back from an atrocious 2019 debut (2.2 IP, 8 H, 5 ER, 3 BB, 2 K) to yield two runs (one earned) in a pair of road tilts at Arizona and St. Louis. The former reliever has also tallied eight combined strikeouts with diminished velocity, so it’s understandable that managers in 10- and 12-team mixed leagues moved on to shinier new toys. Drafters who jumped on board following an encouraging spring, however, will regret the early hook if he regains a tick or two on his heater in upcoming outings.
Mitch Moreland (1B – BOS): 24% Owned
Moreland brandished a 1.000 OPS on June 3 last year, only to watch it shrink to .758 by season’s end. Despite occasionally flashing upper-tier potential, he has ultimately never clubbed more than 23 home runs or hit above .278 — both achieved in 2015 — in a single season. This latest hot streak won’t last with such fervor, but managers can do far worse than someone slugging .647 and batting between Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez against righties.
Brandon Lowe (2B/OF – TB): 22% Owned
It’s time to get to know Lowe, whose last name rhymes with “wow.” Narrowly maintaining rookie eligibility with a 113 wRC+ in 129 at-bats last year, the 24-year-old signed a six-year extension early in the season. That helped him land a roster spot, and Joey Wendle’s hamstring strain quickly opened up playing time at second base.
Lowe has quickly touted playable power by batting .302/.356/.585 with four homers and two steals in 59 plate appearances. He’s usable in most mixed leagues, but temper expectations. With all of his pop coming against righties, he could spend the season in a stringent platoon. Along with a 30.5% strikeout rate, his .238 xBA and .455 xSLG foreshadow regression. Particularly useful for managers who can play the matchups, Lowe can offer cheap pop with some chip-in steals.
Ryan Pressly (RP – HOU): 20% Owned
Pressly isn’t just any run-of-the-mill middle reliever. In 7.2 spectacular frames, he has held opponents to zero runs and walks with nine strikeouts and a 64.7% ground-ball rate. His fastball has yet to yield a hit. His slider remains a sharp strikeout weapon, and his curveball carries baseball’s highest spin rate. Regardless of his saves tally — he has one as a result of a scheduled Roberto Osuna day off — Pressly is a valuable asset in all leagues. If he ends up handling the closer’s role, he’s a top-five stud.
Caleb Smith (SP – MIA): 17% Owned
Smith may have leapfrogged Miami’s talented young rotation as the top option. The 27-year-old has thrown his fastball less than half the time in favor of a slider and changeup that have respectively yielded a .159 and .167 wOBA. This pitch mix has led to 21 strikeouts in 17 innings with a 14.3% swinging-strike rate. He also sports a 2.65 ERA through three tough NL East showdowns against the Mets, Braves, and Phillies.
Even if his 11.12 K/9 drops a full punchout to his career norm, Smith can withstand a below-average walk rate by expertly limiting contact. FantasyPros’ own Michael Waterloo aptly dubbed him a “poor man’s Robbie Ray.” Like the Arizona southpaw, Smith will net major strikeout and ERA dividends at his best to offset the shaky command and WHIP concern. This could be the last chance to snag a mixed-league mainstay.
Anibal Sanchez (SP – WAS): 16% Owned
This is merely a streamer recommendation. After twirling seven solid frames against the Pirates, a trip to Miami is next in line for Sanchez. Since gamers can’t ask for a matchup better, trust the 35-year-old in spite of two rough opening outings against the tougher Phillies. There’s little need to hold on afterword in standard mixed leagues; the scheduling gods balance out his fortune with a Coors Field excursion next week.
Manuel Margot (OF – SD): 15% Owned
A prized breakout selection last spring, Margot was often San Diego’s fourth outfielder off the board in 2019 drafts. As the only true center fielder of the bunch, he also has the tightest grip on playing time. As of Monday, the 24-year-old has gone 16-for-48 with five doubles and two homers to start the season. Padres manager Andy Green has taken notice, vaulting the righty up into the leadoff role.
While he also has just one walk and stolen base apiece, Margot has sliced his ground-ball rate from 43.0 to 20.5% in favor of more hard-hit line drives and fly balls. Even if the speedster is elevating too much, his fantasy ascent could come a year later than expected if given the green light to run atop San Diego’s lineup.
Deep League Targets – <10% owned
Jeff Samardzija (SP – SF): 6% Owned
He benefited from running into an ice-cold team at the right place — Oracle Park in San Francisco — at the right time, but Samardzija still submitted seven strikeouts in seven scoreless frames in last week’s victory over the Rockies. Back from a strained right pectoral muscle that limited him to 10 starts last year, he has allowed just three earned runs in as many outings.
Prior to a shortened 2018, “Shark” had worked over 200 frames in five consecutive seasons. Although all but one of those campaigns ended with a higher ERA than FIP, the righty has recorded a strong 14.3 K-BB% during his career. He calls one of baseball’s premier pitching parks home, but most managers can wait another week to grab Samardzija, who is scheduled to make his next start at Washington.
Jordan Lyles (SP/RP – PIT): 6% Owned
This deep down the wire, any starter who posts a 10-strikeout performance is going to receive some stares. Having seemingly pitched his way out of the majors, Lyles transformed himself into a semi-productive long reliever for the Brewers and Padres last season. He closed September with a dozen strikeouts scattered across 7.1 scoreless frames, so perhaps last Wednesday’s gem shouldn’t go down as one of April’s biggest shockers.
After working five more shutout innings against the Reds, Lyles tallied 10 punchouts to just one walk against the Cubs. His 11.7% swinging-strike rate tops last year’s personal high (10.3%), and his changeup has already earned a 2.3 pVAL. He’s still just someone to watch in most mixed leagues, but deep managers may not have the luxury of waiting for further verification.
Tyler O’Neill (OF – STL): 4% Owned
The Cardinals gave O’Neill three starts in their last three games. He collected two hits each on Thursday and Sunday, including a home run in the weekend clash clash at Mexico, before leaving Monday’s contest with arm soreness. The raw outfielder hasn’t matured his plate approach, striking out 11 times with just one walk in 29 plate appearances. He does, however, make thunderous power when connecting. Following last year’s downturn with a -0.2 fWAR, Dexter Fowler could soon get shoved aside for the promising O’Neill in right field. Monitor his health to see if he’s worth a flier in 15-team mixed leagues.
Nick Anderson (RP – MIA): 2% Owned
Miami’s bullpen is mostly a messy scene to ignore in 12-team mixed leagues. Those who run a bit deeper, however, should consider taking a flier on Anderson. The 995th overall pick from 2012 has stockpiled 16 strikeouts in 7.2 innings to commence his major league career. It has come with a troubling amount of hard hits, but he’s still sporting a 1.17 ERA and 0.15 FIP despite a .500 BABIP. He’s a worthy upside grab in holds formats.
Jarrod Dyson (OF – ARI): 1% Owned
Dyson has started five of Arizona’s last eight games from the leadoff spot. The two homers are an unexpected treat from a slap hitter who mustered as many in 237 plate appearances last season, but the 34-year-old can still run when given the chance. He has swiped two of three attempts, so playing time could yield another 20-plus steals. Last year’s final tally of 16 marked the first time since 2011 that he fell short of 25.