Hitters to Target in Deep Leagues (Fantasy Baseball)
Just five weeks remain to the MLB campaign, and some head-to-head leagues have already commenced the fantasy playoffs. In a game that requires patience, managers must adjust their approach and operate in the present moment. As a result, this week’s look at recommended hitters pays more attention to their upcoming schedules than usual. That naturally puts a particular emphasis on two streaking position players who get to experience Coors Field in all its glory.
Although this column ends here with 2019’s final edition, I’ll continue to spotlight deep-league hitters in the weekly Waiver Wire article, which will move from Tuesday to Monday in September because of that other sport.
Raimel Tapia (OF – COL): 9%
I already made the case for Tapia three weeks ago, but it’s worth repeating since the Rockies are scheduled to play seven games at Coors Field this week. He’s hitting .330/.376/.505 at home and now playing regularly — typically batting either first or fifth — in place of the injured David Dahl. After collecting seven hits in five contests away from his utopian hitter’s park last week, the 25-year-old outfielder is batting .341 (42-for-123) in 34 games since the All-Star break. If Tapia stays this hot, deep-league managers might not even need to bench him when Colorado leaves town.
Nick Solak (2B – TEX): 4%
The Rangers stayed relatively quiet at the trade deadline, holding Mike Minor and Lance Lynn in hopes of making a 2020 push. Earlier in July, however, they stealthily snatched Solak from the Rays for two-time Tommy John recipient Peter Fairbanks. The prospect swap has looked better for Texas by the day.
After the move, the 24-year-old second baseman facilitated a promotion by slashing .347/.386/.653 in Triple-A. Solak’s new employer is clearly intent on letting him play; he has made seven starts in six games by debuting in both ends of Tuesday’s doubleheader. He handled himself well in his first week, going 7-for-23 with three walks, two doubles and a homer. The newcomer spent some time as the designated hitter, but the Rangers are finally losing their patience with Rougned Odor, who’s batting .195 this season.
This is, of course, too small a sample size to draw a meaningful conclusion. Still, why not roll the dice in deeper leagues? Solak smashed 27 homers in 115 Triple-A contests for Tampa Bay and Texas, so there’s plenty of power promise now that he calls Globe Life Park home. While he has swiped just five bags this season, he stole 21 bases in 2018. He has batted fifth in each of the Rangers’ last three games, and the righty is currently slated to oppose four starting southpaws this week.
Jose Osuna (1B/3B/OF – PIT): 2%
Shortly after getting highlighted two weeks ago, a five-game suspension halted Osuna’s momentum. On the bright side, he has since started five of Pittsburgh’s last six games. Now hitting .305/.351/.574 in 155 plate appearances, he should keep getting regular work at third base and right field down the stretch.
More importantly, this week’s schedule makes him a monumentally shrewd add in deeper mixed leagues. The Pirates begin a three-game set at Philadelphia on Monday, narrowly missing Aaron Nola to instead face Jason Vargas, Drew Smyly, and Vince Velasquez. They then travel to Colorado for four games. According to FantasyPros’ park factors, no two MLB venues are more conducive to home runs for right-handed hitters than Coors Field and Citizens Bank Park. As long as he’s in the lineup, this could be a major coming-out party for Osuna. He doesn’t have the same power upside and narrowly missed the eligibility cutoff point at 13%, but Kevin Newman also makes a wise Week 22 streamer.
Alex Dickerson (OF – SF): 3%
Austin Slater (OF – SF): 1%
It appears too many fantasy managers are now more focused on the New York Giants than San Francisco Giants, who have become an improbable reservoir of waiver-wire finds. As of Sunday, their 102 team wRC+ after the All-Star break matches the Brewers, Blue Jays, and Indians for 12th on MLB’s leaderboard. Buster Posey, however, is their only hitter rostered in more than half of Yahoo and ESPN leagues. The 2012 NL MVP may be the one guy in this scorching offense not worth playing.
At least Kevin Pillar (45%) and Mike Yastrzemski (39%) are drawing more mixed-league attention for their unheralded success. Unfortunately, San Francisco isn’t daring enough to deploy a four-man outfield. With Dickerson back from an oblique strain, Slater has returned to a platoon role despite batting .288/.406/.523 in 133 plate appearances. Although particularly lethal (174 wRC+) against southpaws, the 26-year-old is still a force (130 wRC+) versus righties despite his 35.9% strikeout rate. Per Statcast, his 54.9% hard-hit rate ranks third among all batters with at least 50 batted-ball events.
Yet Dickerson also deserves to play. A tremendous feel-good story after missing all of 2017 and 2018, he’s hitting a spectacular .326/.382/.598 as a left-handed mercenary. The 29-year-old shook off the rust to collect five knocks over his last three starts. He’s also hitting the ball with authority, sporting a 46.0% hard-hit rate and .363 expected wOBA.
San Francisco is slated to face three righties and lefties each this week. That makes it tough to use either in leagues with weekly lineup changes, but managers who can play the matchups daily could even grab both and play the platoon right alongside the Giants. Those who only have space for one should grab Dickerson, who will get more playing time to make a serious September impact.
Tim Lopes (2B/OF – SEA): 1%
It turns out nobody cares about a 25-year-old rookie keeping a seat warm for a last-place team. The 1% is rounding up because Yahoo only provides whole numbers, but it seems fair to assume he’s not claimed in literally zero leagues. Although Lopes is rostered in just 0.2% of ESPN formats, his mark catapulted to a resounding 2% on CBS. So yeah, he’s going under the radar despite hitting .288/.387/.404 with three steals in 18 games. He even led off for three games before Seattle turned back to Mallex Smith.
The outfielder never displayed such stout plate discipline in the minors, so his current 12.9% walk rate could easily get sliced in half. But Lopes did bat .302 with a 17.1% strikeout rate in Triple-A. More importantly, he stole 26 bases in 95 games. Speed is scarce, so the ability to poach a handful of bags makes Lopes worth grabbing in AL-only leagues. Helping the right-handed hitter’s cause, Seattle will play five of this week’s seven games (four at Texas) against a left-handed starter.