Hitters to Target in Deep Leagues (Fantasy Baseball)
Memorial Day is typically billed as the marker where MLB teams start taking a closer look at the standings. Fantasy baseball managers likely have not exuded such patience. Many of us, this writer included, are worriers who frequently check the scores each day and fixate over every flaw.
It’s early enough to turn a poor start around, but not quite early enough to dismiss every unexpected and disappointing outcome because of the date. Although not all strong performers will stay hot for another four months, managers can’t sit idly by and wait for a damaged roster to repair itself.
The waiver-wire tides have calmed after the recent rookie frenzy. Those in deeper leagues, however, can still uncover a handful of productive hitters, all of whom are rostered in less than 5% of all leagues.
Rowdy Tellez (1B- TOR): 3% Owned
For better and worse, Tellez has performed as advertised. While Toronto’s burly slugger is batting .243 with a 31.3% strikeout rate, he also socked nine dingers in 45 games. Remove walks from the conversation, and he’s essentially been the same as Kyle Schwarber from a five-by-five fantasy perspective. He even generated more value than Justin Smoak before the fellow Blue Jay caught fire last week.
That’s not to disparage either of those hitters, both of whom have encouraging Statcast numbers and are beginning to heat up. In fact, they should each be rostered in far more than half of fantasy leagues because of their pristine batting eyes. While Tellez won’t reach base as often, he shouldn’t remain available in 97% of leagues. Smoak’s high OBP directly helps his 24-year-old teammate, who is regularly batting cleanup for the Blue Jays. That pace aligns in direct proportion to Depth Charts’ projected 50 RBIs in 90 games for the rest of the season.
Tellez, a career .271 hitter in the minors, was never going to come close to replicating last year’s .314 batting average in 73 plate appearances with Toronto. He may not be a total liability in the category either. All four projection models displayed on FanGraphs forecast him to hit in the .248-.251 range going forward. Statcast’s .260 xBA offers a slither more optimism, but the slow lefty will lose some knocks to shifts. Although his ceiling is capped, he’s a fine deep-league power source who will hopefully get a start or two at Coors Field this weekend.
Dexter Fowler (OF – STL): 3% Owned
Few seem to have noticed, but the old Fowler is back. Buoyed by an elite 15.3% walk rate, he’s batting .263/.399/.409 with the Cardinals’ second-highest wRC+ (126) behind Paul DeJong. Because of his success and Matt Carpenter’s struggles, the Redbirds have transferred the 33-year-old back to the leadoff role in the last three games.
Given St. Louis’ crowded outfield, most onlookers wanted the club to jettison Fowler after posting a dreadful 62 wRC+ and -1.2 fWAR last season. He instead received a second chance. While a lengthy contract undoubtedly played a factor in the Cardinals not promptly giving his job to Jose Martinez or Tyler O’Neill, Fowler — in addition to dealing with a foot injury — talked candidly about his struggles with depression last season.
Taking another look at his career ledger, 2018 stands out as the clear outlier:
Fowler still isn’t a perfect contributor in standard fantasy leagues that don’t reward walks. He’s a career .262 hitter who hasn’t stolen double-digit bases since 2016 and has never offered more than 18 homers in a single campaign. He also hasn’t topped 125 games in a season since 2015. This would be concerning for an expensive investment, but let’s not over-dissect a leadoff hitter available in many 15-team mixed leagues. For the price of free — or a few FAAB bucks — Fowler can comfortably hold his weight by hitting in the .260 vicinity with 12-15 homers, a handful of steals, and a bunch of runs if he maintains a featured starting role atop the Cardinals’ lineup.
Jake Marisnick (OF – HOU): 2% Owned
Derek Fisher (OF – HOU): 1% Owned
George Springer went on the injured list with a hamstring strain, so it must be time for Yordan Alvarez. No? Oh, OK, Kyle Tucker is also awesome. Sorry, not him either. The Astros instead promoted Fisher.
Once a top prospect in his own right, Fisher batted just .196/.274/.369 in 252 plate appearances dispersed over the last two years with Houston. The shine has faded, but the 25-year-old earned one last look by hitting .314/.379/.555 with eight home runs and six steals in Triple-A. While strikeouts will continue to derail his average at the big league level, he remains an intriguing power/speed lottery ticket. Yet he also may just hold the fort down for a week or two until the Astros bring up Tucker or Alvarez.
Although certainly a boring option when dreaming of two premier prospects stuck in the minors, Marisnick makes the best short-term filler. He has quietly notched a stellar .278/.340/.546 slash line and 138 wRC+ in 107 plate appearances for the Astros while accruing six homers and three steals. Saddled with a 31.8% strikeout rate, the average will likely soon tumble closer to his .230 career norm. The 28-year-old is also surging despite a cavernous drop in launch angle from 17.6 to 1.7, so consider the fourth outfielder a hot hand to ride for a little pop and speed while he receives a brief burst in playing time.
Stashing Alvarez or Tucker, however, remains a better use of a bench spot in shallow mixed leagues.
Bryan Reynolds (OF – PIT): 2% Owned
Tough break for Melky Cabrera, who finds himself in a fourth outfielder role despite batting .331/.367/.458. The Pirates, who have Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco healthy and locked into the other two spots, have given an extended look to Reynolds.
It’s hard to blame them from preferring someone a full decade younger, especially since he’s also raking. Reynolds sports a sharp .319/.373/.564 slash line with five long balls in 102 plate appearances. This comes after batting a blistering .367/.446/.735 with five homers and three steals in 13 Triple-A games.
The former Giants farmhand is not getting cheated at the plate. FanGraphs credited him with hard hits on half of his batted balls, prior to going deep Sunday, and Statcast is a tad more generous at 52.9%. Combining a 91.6-mph average exit velocity with a 14.1-degree launch angle has awarded the switch-hitter a .289 xBA and .353 xwOBA. Even when he cools down, Reynolds could stick around as a viable fantasy producer. It helps that he has batted second, third, or fifth in every start since May 1.