Hitters to Target in Deep Leagues (Fantasy Baseball)
If a player on a bad team barrels a baseball with nobody watching, does it still make a sound?
The game’s division of power continues to expand, creating a caste system of juggernauts and bottom feeders with Triple-A quality lineups. Most managers will only care about the Giants, Indians, Orioles, Tigers, or Marlins when streaming starting pitchers. In deeper leagues, these dreadful offenses can churn out some useful contributors.
Gamers in single-league formats or 15-team mixers can extract regular starters from these wastelands. Even if they’re not stars with high ceilings, they’re stockpiling plate appearances — often in an attractive lineup slot — and holding their own at the plate.
Before taking this road less traveled, let’s start with another oddity: an appealing catcher with a rostered rate below 10 percent, as of Sunday evening.
Mitch Garver (C – MIN): 6% Owned
It’s not often catchers will get love here. For starters, yuck. They’re catchers. Also, the guys who qualify are typically only viable in two-catcher formats, where they’re more likely to be rostered anyway.
For all the jokes made at the position’s expense, quite a few off-brand names are delivering positive returns early in the season. This includes Garver, who homered twice off Jacob deGrom before taking Edwin Diaz deep the next day. Although limited to just 23 plate appearances this season, he has started behind the plate in three of Minnesota’s last four games.
This isn’t an out-of-nowhere arrival, either. That came last summer, when the career reserve helped managers with a .293/.340/.474 slash line in 39 second-half games. Garver funded the late surge with a rise in fly balls (41.7%) and hard hits (47.2%). He also slashed his strikeout rate six percentage points to 18.1.
He’s obviously not going to hit .500/.522/1.045 all season long, and playing time remains uncertain with Jason Castro drawing starts and Willians Astudillo proving he deserves reps wherever he can get them. The power tear against elite competition still makes Garver a viable second catcher, and managers in one-catcher formats can ride his hot hand in place of a slumping Welington Castillo or Francisco Mejia.
A somewhat popular sleeper in deeper leagues, Mullins has just five hits in 15 games. Smith, meanwhile, has gone 15-for-58 with two home runs and steals apiece. As much as Baltimore’s offense will generate snickers and streamers, the 26-year-old has already plated 11 runs. Batting second helps … even in a lineup with Chris Davis.
Despite posting a 124 wRC+ in 75 big league plate appearances last season, the Blue Jays shipped him to Baltimore for international signing bonus money. He’s now a career .280/.347/.447 MLB hitter with just a 15.1% strikeout rate at all levels. While his upside is limited, the righty could tally a dozen homers and steals each with respectable rates and counting numbers.
Although scratched from Sunday’s starting lineup with a sore leg, Smith came off the bench as a pinch hitter and defensive replacement. If healthy, he’s an enticing Week 3 option with the Orioles facing at least two starting southpaws among their seven games.
Hunter Dozier (1B/3B – KC): 2% Owned
An expected weakling, the Royals wielded a respectable 95 wRC+ prior to pounding Corey Kluber on Sunday. A key component to their early success, Dozier is batting .277/.352/.489. Showing how quick a hitter’s fortune can change in April, he was mired in a slump before collecting 10 hits (including two homers) over his last five games.
This is another case of a player who made quiet gains to close out 2018. The former eighth-overall pick batted .254 with six homers from August 1 onward. Exciting? Hardly, but he has at least showed some pop that has transferred over into April. He’s now flourishing with a demonstrably lower strikeout rate (16.3%, down from his career 27.3%). A 93.6-mph exit velocity, as of Sunday, has also led to a forceful .632 xSLG on Statcast.
Locked into a full-time role, Dozier has displayed the skills to offer 20 home runs. If his early contact improvements stick, he’ll do so with a decent batting average. That’d make him a nice corner infielder or utility play in 15-team mixed leagues.
Leury Garcia (OF – CHW): 5% Owned
The White Sox have also held their own as a merely below-average offense. While Tim Anderson will almost certainly cool down from an unsustainable start, Yoan Moncada and Eloy Jimenez give them two burgeoning young stars to build around.
If Jose Abreu wakes up, the White Sox’s leadoff role will prove sneakily valuable real estate. Topping the lineup in a dozen starts, Garcia has batted .302 (16-for-53) with four steals and 10 runs scored. The average won’t stick; he’s a career .245 hitter benefitting from a .421 BAABIP. The speed, on the other hand, is no fluke. He swiped 12 of 13 attempts despite recording a middling .303 OBP in 82 games last year. It’s still encouraging, as he missed a month late last season with a hamstring strain.
Sporting a career 3.9% walk rate, Garcia is far from an ideal leadoff hitter. Yet the White Sox don’t have many alternatives at the moment. Ride the hot hand for some cheap steals and runs.
Carlos Gonzalez (OF – CLE): 4% Owned
Collectively batting .194, Cleveland is paying for its offseason complacency. Until Jose Ramirez snaps out of an atrocious funk and Francisco Lindor returns from the IL, Gonzalez will have to do as the AL Central champion’s major offseason purchase.
Signed to a minor league deal in mid-March, the 33-year-old outfielder immediately batted third in Sunday’s team debut. For the first time since 2008, when he commenced his career with the A’s, CarGo can’t fall back on Coors Field to pad his numbers. The career .251/.307/.420 hitter on the road didn’t accomplish much over the past two seasons anyway, batting .269 with 30 combined home runs through 1,038 plate appearances. This isn’t a must-add who will re-discover his past form as a five-category superstar, but he might help as a decent compiler in deeper formats.
Steamer projects him to go .255/.320/.445 with 15 homers in 394 plate appearances. Those rates seem fair, but Gonzalez will exceed the playing time if he stays healthy. Even if the former first-round cornerstone is now just a league-average hitter who doesn’t run, he could bat third for an offense that can’t possibly stay this bad all year long.