Hitters to Target in Deep Leagues (Fantasy Baseball)

by Andrew Gould | @andrewgould4 | Featured Writer
May 20, 2019

When will the Mets give Davis a shot over their struggling veterans?

In deeper leagues, proactive managers gained the most from the recent influx of promotions.

This column has profiled Oscar Mercado and Brendan Rodgers in recent weeks. Following their call-ups, it’s far too late to snag either one in a 15-team mixed league. The same goes for Keston Hiura, Austin Riley, and Nicky Lopez. Those who caught prospect fever can instead stash Kyle Tucker or Cavan Biggio before they burst onto the scene.

However, now could present the perfect time to zag and pluck some less heralded position players from the bottom of the waiver wire. Two veterans highlighted below have a short window to deliver in the starting lineup. A couple of organizational-depth outfielders are getting regular reps on bad teams, and another quietly stout slugger is on the cusp of parlaying his strong bat into a steadier role. All of them have a consensus ownership rate below 10% as of Sunday night.

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Jason Castro (C – MIN): 7% Owned
Those who lost Mitch Garver don’t need to look outside of Minnesota for his replacement.

Actually, the Twins have two other options. Shortly before the red-hot Garver went down with a left ankle sprain, the Twins welcomed back Willians Astudillo. With Nelson Cruz also out of commission, the throwback contact hound has started each of the last six games. He’s available in plenty of leagues (77%), but not enough to meet this column’s requirements.

Those in 15-team mixed leagues or AL-only formats may still have a chance to scoop up Castro, who has apparently borrowed Garver’s 2009 Joe Mauer portion. In eight starts this month, the 31-year-old has clobbered three doubles and five home runs, tallying 10 runs and 13 RBIs in the process.

He’s hitting .246/.370/.656 with a .420 wOBA, and yet the Statcast numbers are way better. Having barreled 12 of 45 batted balls — only Joey Gallo and Gary Sanchez have a higher rate — he holds a .474 xwOBA and MLB-best .749 xSLG.

This is coming from a glove-first catcher who hasn’t submitted a wOBA above .315 since 2013’s unsustained breakout. Castro won’t stay this hot, but most managers can’t ignore a catcher currently hitting the snot out of baseballs. Ride the hot hand until Garver comes back, which could lead to baseball’s most prolific backstop platoon.

Kendrys Morales (DH – NYY): 7% Owned
You’re probably sick of reading about Morales’ Statcast numbers by now. Despite a humdrum .249/.331/.438 slash line in 2018, a .526 xSLG and .377 wOBA offered hope of a rebound to his 30-homer peak.

He’s now hitting .212/.324/.288. Once again, a .379 xwOBA is more optimistic. Although this could merely be a case of a slow slugger getting buried by the shift, he’ll have another opportunity in a better environment to reignite his power bat.

Already traded twice, the A’s picked him up from Toronto to replace Matt Olson. Once he returned, they re-gifted him to the injury-decimated Yankees. It’s unclear how long the Bronx Bombers will need him. Giancarlo Stanton could begin rehab on Monday, which means the well-traveled DH could be relegated to a bench role in a week. Yet Stanton’s recovery from a biceps strain has already lasted longer than planned with increasingly confusing updates. In the meantime, Morales will enjoy a seven-game week against the Orioles and Royals, baseball’s worst pitching staffs in terms of ERA. Last year’s eight-HR week from Morales included an outburst against Baltimore, so try to catch lightning in a bottle before Stanton crashes the party.

Charlie Tilson (OF  – CHW): 2% Owned
Tilson has yet to touch them all in 171 career big league plate appearances, and prospective buyers shouldn’t expect that drought to end anytime soon. After missing all of 2017 with a stress fracture in his foot, he mustered one long ball in 403 Triple-A plate appearances.

At least he’s a regular who can run. While he’ll never match 2015’s 46 steals in Double-A, the 26-year-old has swiped three bags in 12 games for the White Sox. He’s also batting .311, but a .452 BABIP won’t stick around to conquer a 29.2% strikeout rate forever.

He’s batting at the bottom of the order with Leury Garcia back in action, so don’t expect game-changing speed. After recording -0.6 fWAR in 41 games last year, Tilson is also not guaranteed to stick around this time. For now, he’s simply worth grabbing in deep leagues just to chase a few short-term steals.

J.D. Davis (3B – NYM): 1% Owned
It’s safe to say Davis wouldn’t be available in 99% of leagues if he had a starting job. Most fantasy gamers tend to like mashers hitting .287/.357/.455, especially when the Statcast numbers are far more flattering. With a 49.3% hard-hit rate and a dozen barrels in just 75 batted balls, as of Sunday, the former Quad-A prototype has a .323 xBA and .404 xwOBA.

He’s leaps and bounds better at the plate than Todd Frazier, who has mustered a dismal .183/.222/.333 slash line and 21-2 K-BB rate since returning from an oblique injury last month. Frazier has defense and veteran cache on his side, but he won’t hold job immunity at the hot corner for much longer.

Some of the Mets’ lineup surplus has also eroded. With Michael Conforto recovering from a concussion, Mickey Callaway could use Davis in the outfield if desperate for offense. While Davis still must supplant Frazier to play his natural position — where he’s still a defensive liability — at least he doesn’t have to look over his shoulder for Jed Lowrie, who has no timetable to make his team debut after suffering a setback last week.

Davis demolished Triple-A pitching to the tune of .335/.400/.589 in 450 plate appearances in Houston’s farm, but he struggled in sporadic major league work over the last two years. Finally putting his potential to good use, he’s a steady role away from becoming a mixed-league mainstay and the latest J.D. the Astros gave up on too soon.

Stevie Wilkerson (OF – BAL): 1% Owned
Just how desperate are you for a big league starter? A career .268/.342/.371 hitter in the minors, Wilkerson wielded a 25 wRC+ in last year’s momentary debut for the Orioles. In need of a warm body, Baltimore moved the 27-year-old infielder to center field. His second chance has gone far better; he’s batting .282/.300/.500 with four homers in 23 games.

It doesn’t take a sabermetrics scholar to expect regression. Despite his success, Wilkerson has drawn one walk with 23 strikeouts in 80 plate appearances. On the bright side, he still looks more competent than last season. His contact rate has risen from 68.7 to 77.7%, and his swinging-strike rate has plummeted from 17.2 to 9.7.

But yeah, he’s only here because the Orioles are playing him every day. He has even batted fifth in each of the last five contests. Wilkerson isn’t a long-term solution, but he has three doubles and two homers in his last eight starts.

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Andrew Gould is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Andrew, check out his archive and follow him @andrewgould4.

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