Hitters to Target in Deep Leagues (Fantasy Baseball)
This early into the season, it’s virtually impossible to find a hot hand on a deep league’s waiver wire. Without earlier results to conceal streaks, those whose raked out of the gate quickly found homes. Potential candidates for this column to start the season, Christian Walker (26%), Dansby Swanson (22%), and Alex Gordon (16%) have flown past the rostered requirement of below 10%.
Instead of searching for gaudy stat lines, managers in 15-team mixed leagues or single-league formats must search for silver linings. Positive trends in playing time or brief bursts of success put the following hitters on the radar entering the fantasy season’s official second week.
Christin Stewart (OF – DET): 7% Owned
Don’t get too bogged down in a bad batting average in early April. Stewart’s currently hitting just .188, but one 3-for-4 showing could bump it to .250.
Let’s focus on the positives. For starters, he’s starting. Whether as the left fielder or DH, the Tigers have written him into their lineup’s sixth slot with a Sharpie. That has helped him gather 10 RBIs in just six hits. Blasting two doubles, a triple, and two home runs, he’s at least making his rare knocks count. He has also drawn five walks in his 39 plate appearances, a hallmark for someone who notched a 12.8% walk rate in Triple-A last season.
After belting 30, 28, and 27 homers in each of the last three seasons, respectively, the 25-year-old should make an immediate power mark in a full-time role. Don’t expect a strong average, but he can hold his own in deep leagues by meeting Steamer’s .243 rest-of-season projection. He’s only one hot streak away from capturing everyone’s attention, a la Walker.
Clint Frazier (OF – NYY): 6% Owned
Frazier remained eligible with a little room to spare entering Sunday, but that will likely change by Monday. Going deep three times over the weekend made the outfielder a popular FAAB pickup. Even if he hadn’t caught fire at the perfect time, a young player with prospect pedigree and Yankees pinstripes wouldn’t have stayed under the radar for long.
The Bronx Bombers resisted promoted Frazier when Aaron Hicks suffered a back injury. Losing Giancarlo Stanton and Miguel Andujar, however, forced their hand. The 24-year-old has started four of their last five games and went yard off the bench on Saturday. That should refresh everyone’s memory about a premier young talent who batted .311/.389/.574 in Triple-A last season.
Concussions have slowed his rise and put his long-term career into question. For now, a big weekend should secure a starting job. Frazier flaunts too much power upside to leave on the waiver wire beyond shallow mixed leagues.
Ji-Man Choi (1B/DH – TB): 3% Owned
No group is more disrespected in fantasy leagues than designated hitters. Even Nelson Cruz — and David Ortiz before him — didn’t receive proper recognition while annually swatting 40 homers, so a platoon player doesn’t stand a chance.
Choi is batting 10-for-27 through eight games. As of Sunday, he sported a 45.0% hard-hit rate, which is not too far from the 43.8% he registered in 221 plate appearances last year. Although he has yet to go yard this season, he demonstrated pop by belting 10 long balls in 2018. Since he opened the new year as an utility-only option, no mixed-league managers seem to care.
That could change once he’s granted access to first base. Having played every game there thus far, he’s already 1B-eligible in Yahoo formats. He’ll soon unlock it in all leagues. Perhaps then his ownership rate will at least hit double-digits.
Franchy Cordero (OF – SD): 2% Owned
Projecting San Diego’s outfield is going to be a pain in the butt for a while. It’s a shame, as any of the five candidates would warrant mainstream attention in a full-time role.
Barely a week into the season, Hunter Renfroe appears to have already wrestled right field away from Franmil Reyes. The most ignored of the bunch, Cordero drew two consecutive starts before leaving the second one early with a sore elbow on Saturday. Available for bench duty on Sunday, this brief setback should not disqualify him from center field’s competition.
Although he hit a robust .237/.307/.439 with a 35.7% strikeout rate last season, Cordero teased some promise with a .199 ISO and 46.4% hard-hit rate against righties. He’s also a Statcast favorite who arranged a .273 xBA and .502 xSLG. Assigned 70-grade speed and raw power by FanGraphs, he needed just 40 games with the Padres to tally seven homers and five steals last season. If he continues to steal reps from Manuel Margot against righties, the 24-year-old will deliver enough power and speed to stomach a waning batting average.
Wilmer Difo (2B/3B – WAS)
Forget about replacing Trea Turner. It’s not going to happen. Regardless of the league’s size, nobody on the waiver wire — or trade market — can replicate the injured shortstop’s gargantuan stolen-base ceiling.
In a truly deep league, the best managers can do is find a warm body with steady plate appearances. Those gamers can turn to Difo, who has slid into Washington’s starting lineup after the first-round fantasy pick fractured his right finger on a bunt attempt.
While Difo can’t swipe 40-50 bags like Turner, he did steal 10 bases in each of the previous two seasons. He was more prolific in the minors, poaching 107 combined bags from 2014 to 2016. The 27-year-old is better suited for NL-only competitors, but he could develop into a versatile stopgap in mixed leagues with 15 teams or more. He’ll soon add shortstop as his third position.