Hitters to Target in Deep Leagues (Fantasy Baseball)
While opportunity is paramount to success, a deserving performer will eventually receive playing time. Just ask anyone who drafted Jeff McNeil, D.J. LeMahieu, or Hunter Renfroe despite of an uncertain role.
Two of the four players highlighted below have settled into regular reps over the last month. The other two are still scrounging for plate appearances in congested lineups, but that could change in a hurry if they keep swinging hot bats. All of them remain available in under 10% of Yahoo and ESPN leagues, per FantasyPros’ consensus rate taken on Sunday. Steady chances are all they need to deliver during the closing weeks.
Luis Urias (2B/SS – SD): 8%
Ten games into his promotion, Urias went 3-for-31. Oh well. It’s time to close the book on a 22-year-old prospect who hit .315/.398/.600 in Triple-A. He’s clearly an irreversible bust.
Most onlookers didn’t react so tersely, but the early struggles were enough for managers to lost interest in re-draft leagues. It didn’t help that he batted .208 in a dozen MLB games last year and 2-for-24 before getting demoted in April. Of course, that’s still too soon to put a premier prospect out to pasture.
Urias has fared much better this month, batting .326 (14-for-43) with three doubles and a homer in 13 contests. Although he’s managed just two home runs and no stolen bases for the Padres, the middle infielder showed promise with 19 dingers and seven steals in the minors. Don’t chase him, however, for crooked marks in those columns. As a career .308 hitter with a 10.7% walk rate down in the farm, he’ll make his biggest mark in the AVG and/or OBP department.
Perhaps a bigger reason to sing his praises once more, Urias should now be locked into playing time after San Diego sent Fernando Tatis Jr. on the IL with a season-ending back injury. Urias could even work his way atop the batting order by sustaining his recent success. He would compose plenty of runs in that scenario, as he has drawn 13 walks to 14 strikeouts since last month’s call-up.
Wilmer Flores (1B/2B/3B – ARI): 7%
Most fantasy gamers forgot about Flores months ago. A burgeoning sleeper finally getting regular playing time, he batted .246/.312/.333 through April. Just as he began to turn the corner by hitting .347 in May, a right foot fracture sidelined him for two months.
Flores returned to a sporadic role, and it took 19 games — and a trip to Coors Field — before he went yard again. After ending the power drought last Wednesday, he homered twice more Friday, collected four hits the following day, and took Madison Bumgarner deep to close the week. The 28-year-old is suddenly batting .312/.355/.473 through 200 plate appearances this season. Much like last year, he’s keeping his strikeout rate (10.5%) remarkably low.
To put this quick turnaround in terms the Friends aficionado may not appreciate, Flores has gone from the Ross Geller of the fantasy world to … well, another sitcom character who isn’t annoying and generally awful.
This jaded Mets fan has waited years for Flores to escape Flushing and discover the Daniel Murphy/Justin Turner breakout potion. However, Arizona’s lineup card is far more crowded than anticipated this spring, especially after promoting Josh Rojas. Flores saw more playing time this week because Ketel Marte is dealing with back issues. It may take an IL stint from Marte for Flores to play regularly, but perhaps the former takes more reps in the outfield if the latter stays hot. After all, Adam Jones just hit his first home run in two months Friday.
Dexter Fowler (OF – STL): 2%
Discussed here in late May, Fowler only lasted a week in St. Louis’ leadoff role. While he managed to muster four homers apiece in June and July, the 33-year-old ditched the plate discipline that made him an intriguing option atop the lineup card.
Perhaps Fowler merely adjusted his approach lower in the order rather than suddenly losing his batting eye. Injuries to Jose Martinez and Tyler O’Neill, as well as Harrison Bader’s demotion, have thrust the veteran back into the spotlight. He has thus spent most of August batting first or second, drawing six walks in his last six games occupying the leadoff slot.
Overall, his .249/.346/.427 slash line is far more reminiscent of the steady hand who earned a five-year, $82 million contract before 2017 than the man who notched a minus-1.2 fWAR last season. His current role offers plenty of run-scoring promise, but Fowler has also chipped in 14 homers and seven steals in just 406 plate appearances. The 33-year-old remains streaky, and the Cardinals aren’t shy to respond accordingly. Fowler is nevertheless poised to once again finish as a valuable contributor in five-outfielder mixed leagues.
Sam Travis (1B/OF – BOS): 1%
Players don’t tend to stay hidden in a market like Boston, but Travis has a lack of expectations working in his favor. Although considered the club’s third-best prospect by MLB.com in 2017, the 25-year-old hasn’t achieved much in the majors or minors since. Even his current production is narrowly above-average, as a 102 wRC+ accompanies his .265/.318/.490 slash line.
He’s quietly turned the corner, however, by hitting .299/.368/.629 with six home runs in 27 games since getting re-called after the All-Star break. It may not be just a random hot streak. As of Sunday, before tallying his fourth homer in his last eight games, Statcast’s rolling averages leaderboard credited the righty with a .404 expected wOBA over his last 50 plate appearances.
Travis had not earned a single barrel in 112 major league plate appearances dispersed between 2017 and 2018. He has eight this season with a higher average launch angle (13.0) and lower strikeout rate (22.4%). The first baseman is swinging more, but he’s also making more contact at harder rates. These encouraging developments could, or at least should earn him more opportunities down the stretch beyond a platoon role against lefties. He’s someone to monitor closely if Mitch Moreland continues to struggle or gets hurt again.