Hitters to Target in Deep Leagues (Fantasy Baseball)
Failure is often the backbone to future success. While this goes well beyond the world of sports, it has proven especially true in baseball.
Remember when Lucas Giolito posted a 6.13 ERA last year? Now he’s an ace on a league-winning hot streak. Tommy La Stella, Daniel Vogelbach, and Hunter Dozier have joined a long line of hitters who have found unforeseen glory after years of strife. Fantasy managers have a tendency of expecting perfection with no patience or margin for error. As a result, the following players are all rostered in under 10% of ESPN and Yahoo leagues.
The following four position players have all had different journeys thus far, but all of them have hit their share of roadblocks along the way. One top prospect is redeeming an unpleasant first impression by dominating in the minors. Another hasn’t brandished that top prospect shine in years, but the former first-round pick is finally displaying his promise. After highlighting a fringe player wildly exceeding expectations over the last five weeks, a familiar face with years of up-and-down production is once again strutting his stuff. All of them deserve a second — or in some cases, third or fourth — chance in deep leagues of 14 or more teams.
Luis Urias (2B/SS – SD): 7% Owned
After celebrating Yordan Alvarez’s highly anticipated call-up, everyone will quickly begin to wonder who’s next. Teammate Kyle Tucker could join his fellow top prospect in Houston this month, but Urias could now beat him to the majors as the next impact arrival.
The middle infielder’s first stab at the big leagues wasn’t pretty. He went 2-for-24 with 11 strikeouts for the Padres, who sent him back to Triple-A in late April. He has since pleaded for a second chance by pulverizing easier opposition to a .363/.455/.717 slash line. Urias had 19 home runs in five professional seasons before towering 14 in 45 games for the El Paso Chihuahuas. The five steals are also a nice bonus for someone yet to poach more than 10 in a season.
Prior to 2019, the 5’9″, 185-pound prospect looked like a future source of empty batting average whose game would never fully translate to fantasy formats. The 22-year-old has emphatically changed that perception, and managers must now open their minds to a possible burgeoning power uptick a la Jose Altuve or Jose Ramirez early in their careers. Discrediting him because of early shortcomings in a microscopic sample size would also be a mistake. Speaking of shortcomings, Ian Kinsler is batting .208/.269/.382 for San Diego, so it wouldn’t hurt to put Urias back in the line of fire. Per The Athletic’s Dennis Lin, Urias could rejoin the team “before the end of the month, perhaps even in the next week or so.” Now is the time to stash him in deeper leagues.
Colin Moran (1B/3B – PIT): 4% Owned
The “post-hype sleeper” label gets thrown around often, but Moran is embodying its true meaning better than anyone. Drafted sixth overall six years ago, any buzz withered by the time he made a brief and underwhelming (3-for-23) debut for the Astros in late 2016. By batting .308/.373/.543 in Triple-A the following year, he repaired some of his stock and generated fantasy interest when the Pirates acquired him in the Gerrit Cole deal.
He wasn’t a bust, but he hardly dazzled either. He was simply fine in his first prolonged MLB look, hitting .277/.340/.407 with 11 home runs and a 103 wRC+ in 144 games. Heading into 2019, the sleeper posts vanished. No longer guaranteed to fend off Jung Ho Kang for everyday reps at third base, Moran had a 514 NFBC ADP in March. The 26-year-old was hardly proving anyone wrong when carrying a ho-hum .265/.319/.402 slash line through May 28.
Moran has since gone on an unexpected power surge, bolstering his line to .273/.330/.477 with five home runs and two doubles in 11 games. He notched at least one hit in nine of 10 games started and has batted fifth (behind Josh Bell) in each of the last five games. This could merely be a case of an everyday starter due to eventually get hot, and the unexpected gains have come at the expense of a diminished contact rate. Yet it came at the perfect time, as Pittsburgh activated Kang over the weekend. Moran has shown enough to stay in the lineup, so Kang started Sunday. Since he’s also managing more hard hits and barrels with a one-degree boost in launch angle, Moran could at least morph into a legitimate 20-homer hitter to roster as a corner infielder or utility piece in deep mixed leagues.
JaCoby Jones (OF – DET): 3% Owned
This is mostly a “ride the hot hand” recommendation. Jones is a career .210/.271/.364 hitter still striking out at a 30.6% clip despite his upgraded .250 average. He only hit .263 across seven minor league seasons, so Detroit’s 27-year-old outfielder will likely experience a contact swoon soon.
Until then, he’s offering scintillating power and speed that can’t go ignored. Jones, who managed 11 home runs and 13 stolen bases despite mustering a 70 wRC+ in 129 games last season, already has eight homers and six steals in 51 games. He’s the only player with at least five homers and steals apiece rostered in below 10% of Yahoo and ESPN leagues.
After exiting April with a putrid .137/.214/.216 slash line, Jones is batting .301/.362/.566. Perhaps this blazing stretch isn’t entirely a fluke. A player perceived as a light-hitting depth piece has elevated his exit velocity from 88.0 to 91.8 mph, as of Sunday, while hitting more fly balls at an elevated launch angle. Statcast’s .256 xBA and .334 xwOBA show that he has earned his success. Perhaps this at least means he can meet THE BAT’s rest-of-season projected average of .238, which would make him an effective deep-league contributor if he also manages the forecasted 12 homers and seven steals. Jones could have some staying power after all.
Delino DeShields (OF – TEX): 3% Owned
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me four times, well maybe you deserve one more chance. DeShields has continuously toyed with our emotions, mixing stretches of relative productivity with hitting returns porous enough to get benched or — as was the case earlier this season — demoted. He didn’t exactly demand another look from the Rangers by hitting an adequate .258/.338/.439 in 15 Triple-A games. An oblique injury to the far more outstanding Joey Gallo, however, opened up a roster spot for the speedster.
It still seemed possible Texas would simply deploy DeShields as a fourth outfielder for defense and speed substitutions. The club has instead started him six of the last seven games in center, batting the owner of a .363 OBP first or second every time. He has gone 11-for-24 with three walks, four runs, and two steals.
In five-by-five leagues, he only matters for speed. The 26-year-old has swiped 10 bases in just 40 major league games, making him just one of 16 players with double-digit steals. For all his turmoils in terms of making contact, the career .244/.330/.339 hitter has stolen one base for every five games. Playing time is the only obstacle to another 25-30 steals, especially if honing his craft atop the lineup. And despite his early woes, DeShields has a career-high 85.3% contact rate that’s less than a half of a point behind both Anthony Rendon and Alex Bregman. He is also setting personal bests in strikeout (18.1%) and walk (14.5%) rates, so the talent is still there to at least replicate his useful 2015 or 2017. Spurned gamers who slap the “dead to me” label on DeShields could miss out on a rare impact speed source on the deep-league waiver wire.