Hitters to Target in Deep Leagues (Fantasy Baseball)
It doesn’t take much for a streaking hitter to draw attention in April.
Included in last week’s column, Hunter Dozier stayed hot with three more dingers. He is now rostered in one-third of all leagues (and rising) included in FantasyPros’ consensus. It’s also likely too late to grab Dwight Smith Jr. (21% owned) or Mitch Garver (15%) in a 15-team mixed league.
New arrivals also didn’t stay under the radar for long. After each making their major league debut on Saturday, Cole Tucker and Michael Chavis were already inching close to double-digit ownership rates on Sunday. That means it’s probably too late to grab either newcomer in a deep format. They thus were not included, but feel free to take a flier on either infielder if still available.
All the offseason hubbub about the scarcity of stolen bases still holds up. Of the nine players who have stolen five or more bases, DeShields is the only one with a rostered rate below 60%. The Rangers outfielder remains an outcast because of his .218 batting average, but he’s only a pair of two-hit games away from getting added just about everywhere.
Although the average is right in line with last season, everything else is better. Always a patient hitter, he has upped his walk rate to an elite 16.2% while slightly trimming his strikeout percentage to 20.6. The 26-year-old also wields career-best clips in contact (84.6%) and swinging-strike (5.3%) rate, as of Sunday. These improvements should at least yield an average close to his career .243, if not higher. Simply batting .250 would make him an on-base fiend worthy of Texas’ full-time leadoff role, which would allow him to potentially swipe 35-40 bags. For the deeper leagues of this column’s concern, he’ll pull his weight with another 20 stolen bases.
Howie Kendrick (2B/OF – WAS): 5% Owned
Kendrick, who has gone 11-for-27 with three homers to start the season, will make regular starts if Anthony Rendon misses extended time with an elbow injury. While he sat out Sunday’s game after getting hit by a pitch on Saturday, the star third baseman hopes to avoid an IL stint after X-rays came back negative.
Even if Rendon is fine, Kendrick still may be worth a short-term add. The Nationals will travel to Coors Field for a three-game set starting on Monday. Kendrick should at least start against lefty Kyle Freeland before facing another pair of Padres’ southpaws (Matt Strahm and Joey Lucchesi) to close the week.
Renato Nunez (3B – BAL): 4% Owned
The theme of last week’s column, bad teams often conceal deep-league diamonds in the rough. Nunez, however, won’t stay hidden after touching them all three times during Saturday’s doubleheader.
Baltimore’s designated hitter — who has third-base eligibility from last season — had only two homers entering the weekend while batting a respectable .271/.320/.400. Offering yet another example of how someone’s fortunes can instantly change, he now sports a .293/.341/.512 slash line.
Although a majority of hitters have improved their exit velocity this season, a rise from 88.9 to 92.0 (as of Sunday) still merits recognition. His xSLG has also skyrocketed from .372 to .538, as Saturday’s fireworks bolstered his career wRC+ to a slightly above-average 101. Nunez may not rake all season long, but he’ll at least get the opportunities. He’s batting cleanup nearly every day for Baltimore, resulting in 16 RBIs in 22 games. He’s one or two more homers away from taking Dozier’s expedited path from deep-league grab to a mainstream addition in all leagues.
David Fletcher (2B/3B – LAA): 2% Owned
Nobody will ever confuse Fletcher for Mike Trout. After hitting 13 home runs in 1,517 career minor league plate appearances, the 5’10”, 175-pound infielder has touched them all twice in 101 big league games. The rest-of-season projections for five or six more may be too optimistic.
Fletcher doesn’t hit baseballs with much authority. He has, however, hit them with more consistency than anybody in the majors. As of Sunday, his 96.7% contact rate sits 4.2% higher than Trout, MLB’s runner-up. He has swung and missed just three times in 72 plate appearances, leading to the lowest strikeout rate among qualified batters.
Even in a season where players are popping home runs like Tic Tacs, there’s value in Fletcher’s elite bat-to-ball skills. While he doesn’t provide enough power or speed to matter in a standard mixed league, he can help stabilize a deep squad’s batting average by hitting at least .280. The game’s league-wide average has continued its decline to .245, and it shouldn’t be too difficult to find other sluggers to make up for his meager strength. And oh yeah, he’s led off for the Angels — directly ahead of Trout — three times last week.
Mike Tauchman (OF – NYY): 1% Owned
Mike Ford (1B – NYY): 1% Owned
It’s official: The Yankees are now the Mets. After injuring his oblique on Saturday, Aaron Judge joined … takes deep breath …. Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, Didi Gregorius, Troy Tulowitzki, Miguel Andujar, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks, Jacoby Ellsbury, Luis Severino, and Dellin Betances on the IL. Expected to break their own record set last year for home runs in a season, they instead batted Brett Gardner third on Sunday.
The scroll of injuries creates playing time for a pair of minor league boppers named Mike.
Acquired from the Rockies as a contingency plan last month, Tauchman has made that investment look wise by smacking three home runs in his five four games. The ultimate Quad-A breakout candidate, he went 9-for-69 with no long balls for Colorado’s big league squad. He also, however, dominated in Triple-A. As Homer Simpson carried on his hunger strike, the 6’2″ righty feasted for the Albuquerque Isotopes, hitting .327 with 36 round-trippers and 28 steals combined in 2017 and 2018. While the Pacific Coast league’s hitter-friendly confines helped those rates, he now has the opportunity to bat in Yankee Stadium, possibly in the heart of the order.
Tauchman is the superior deep-league add of this duo, but Ford is also worth monitoring. He may have eventually worked his way onto the Yankees without an avalanche of injuries forcing their hand. Through 10 sensational games at Triple-A, the 26-year-old batted .410/.467/.879 with five doubles and four home runs. He may not have an extended window to earn an extended audition, as Stanton could return for his DH job as soon as this week.