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Fantasy Baseball Waiver Wire Pickups: Week 1

by Andrew Gould | @andrewgould4 | Featured Writer
Jul 21, 2020

Howie Kendrick should receive more playing time following an exceptional 2019.

While some fantasy baseball players are preparing for last-minute drafts, others are just now circling back to squads selecting months ago.

In pandemic time, those drafts might have well occurred 12 years ago. Chances are, you’ll quickly identify some players to drop once refreshing your memory of those rosters. Chris Sale, Noah Syndergaard, Chris Archer have all undergone Tommy John surgery. David Price and Buster Posey headline the list of players who have opted out of playing this season.

Of course, there’s also the complicated landmine of deciphering who’s going through COVID-19 protocol, missing for unexplained reasons, or not yet stretched out in time to begin the season at full throttle. Combine this uncertainty with the shortest MLB season ever, and fantasy managers have no time to sit back and suss out the landscape.

Every day is pivotal. Managers should immediately develop plans to replace those who may miss the opening week. On the bright side, several players have seen their stocks soar since spring drafts. Many NL sluggers will benefit from the addition of a universal DH, and others had time to recover from past injuries.

Before beginning, anyone who drafted months ago should check to see if Rich Hill (52% rostered), Ross Stripling (48%), and Zach Britton (56%) remain available. They’re both rostered in a majority of Yahoo leagues, but they demand top priority if still unclaimed. Although Yoenis Cespedes (40%) is also now claimed in more than 35% of Yahoo leagues, he’s likely available if an earlier draft is just now opening free agency.

Note: Rostered rates are from Yahoo leagues as of July 20. 

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FAABulous Four: Top Waiver Targets of Week 1

Howie Kendrick (1B/2B/3B – WAS): 34%
The apple of any Statcast aficionado’s eye, Kendrick ranked sixth in expected wOBA last year. Take a gander at the leaderboard:

Rank Player xwOBA wOBA
1 Mike Trout .455 .436
2 Cody Bellinger .429 .415
3 Christian Yelich .419 .442
4 Anthony Rendon .417 .413
5 Nelson Cruz .417 .417
6 Howie Kendrick .415 .400
7 Yordan Alvarez .407 .432
8 Mookie Betts .406 .380
9 Juan Soto .406 .394

Here are the players who posted a higher expected batting average than his .330: Nobody. By the way, that’s lower than his actual .344 batting average.

The Nationals nevertheless seemed content letting him flourish in a part-time role. That was before getting a DH and receiving news of Ryan Zimmerman opting out this season. Not only is Kendrick likely to now play more often than not, but he could hold down a prominent spot in the defending champion’s batting order. The veteran’s three-position eligibility will also come in handy for short-handed fantasy squads. Kendrick should be rostered in an overwhelming majority of leagues by August.

Ryan Pressly (RP – HOU): 29% 
Yet to throw off a mound, Roberto Osuna’s Opening Day outlook is murky. Pressly is also dealing with a blister. If he’s ready by Friday, one of baseball’s premier set up men would suddenly become one of fantasy baseball’s most valuable closers. His 27.6% K-BB rate in 2018 and 2019 ranks eighth among qualified relievers, and only four have yielded a lower contact rate. Last year, he hadn’t surrendered a walk or run until Houston’s 52nd game on May 24.

Even if not receiving save opportunities, a healthy Pressly should be rostered everywhere.

Sam Hilliard (OF – COL): 25%
It’s clear what move makes the most sense for our fantasy teams. Hilliard stockpiled 35 homers and 22 steals in 126 Triple-A games last season. Then he went to the majors and compiled seven long balls, two steals, and a .407 wOBA in 27 games. Giving him more playing time seems like an open-and-shut case, right?

This is the Rockies, so we can’t assume they’ll play Hilliard over Raimel Tapia or the newly signed Matt Kemp. The universal DH, however, brings him one step closer to a featured role. While high strikeout rates across every level pose some risk in batting average, Coors Field would heal those wounds. If given a regular role, Hilliard could easily become a starting fixture even in the shallowest mixed leagues.

Alex Wood (SP – LAD): 24%
Wood, who wields a career 3.40 ERA and 3.49 FIP, will look to recover from last year’s disastrous seven starts (5.80 ERA) in a season marred by injury. He should get plenty of run support from the Dodgers, who have locked the southpaw into the rotation. He’ll open as the No. 4 starter — or third if Walker Buehler is pushed back.

The Dodgers open the season with a four-game series at San Francisco, an extremely pitcher-friendly lineup where he’ll face a subpar offense likely playing without Buster Posey, Evan Longoria, and Brandon Belt. Consider Wood the first week’s runaway top streamer with potential long-term appeal.

Priority Pickups – <35% Rostered

Nate Pearson (SP – TOR): 34%
The season may seem too short to stash prospects, but Pearson is worth the (hopefully short) wait. After posting a 2.30 ERA, 119 strikeouts and 27 walks in 101.2 minor league innings last year, the 23-year-old was doing his best to force Toronto’s hand in spring. It now appears the Blue Jays — who still have a pesky “where are they playing their home games” issue to resolve — can save a season of service time by delaying his arrival at least a week.

The young team is capable of making noise in a 60-game script, and Pearson would immediately become their second-best starter behind Hyun-Jin Ryu. As a hard-thrower with superb control, he has the ability to make an instant fantasy impact.

Mike Yastrzemski (OF – SF): 33%
The Giants and Dodgers are the only teams playing four games during the abbreviated opening week. No Dodgers regulars should be available, but fantasy managers (rightfully) have their pick of San Francisco’s hitters. Yastrzemski batted .329/.382/.943 against lefties, and he could see three starting southpaws right out of the gate.

Wil Myers (1B/OF – SD): 31%
Myers’ offense continued a steady downward slope last season, dwindling to his lowest wRC+ (96) since joining the Padres in 2015. He batted .239 with an appalling 34.3% strikeout rate. Few would have blamed the Friars for relegating him to a platoon role against lefties, which seemed like the initial plan.

Although the DH presented him an opening, it was still possible he’d end up ceding some (if not most) of the reps to Josh Naylor. Then the Padres traded his initial outfield platoon partner, Franchy Cordero, to the Royals. Edward Olivares is drawing rave reviews in camp and could seize a starting outfield job. He’s also a 24-year-old fringe prospect who has yet to play beyond Double-A. Myers, who has averaged 25 homers and 21 steals per 162 games over his five seasons in San Diego, should see a large chunk of playing time. His warts are real, but this type of power/speed combination is seldom found on the waiver wire.

Garrett Richards (SP – SD): 31%
There was no chance Richards was going to make 30-plus starts, but perhaps he can stay healthy long enough for 10. The 32-year-old is once again on the comeback trail. This time it’s for the Padres, who signed him to a two-year pact in 2018 knowing he’d miss essentially all of the first season recovering from Tommy John surgery. They’ll want to derive a return from the righty, who sports a career 3.62 ERA and 1.26 WHIP.

Take the innings when you can get them, but move on if Richards runs into any health setbacks.

Ryan Helsley (RP – STL): 19%
Cardinals team president John Mozeliak touted Helsley as a closing candidate earlier this month. Giovanny Gallegos has joined the team, but he’s on the IL and uncertain for Opening Day. In the likely event that pitching this weekend is too optimistic, Helsley could still get the first save opportunities. Besides, Gallegos was never certain to handle the role.

Then again, it’s also possible Carlos Martinez takes back the ninth if he moves back to the bullpen. Helsley is less of a priority add as he would have been even a week ago, but managers needing saves should cover their tracks with a righty who throws triple-digit heat.

UPDATE: On Monday night, Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said Kwang-Hyun Kim (22% rostered) will probably begin 2020 as the closer. The lefty had worked as a starter for 12 years in the Korean Baseball Organization, where he recorded a 2.51 ERA and 4.7 K/BB ratio last season. It’s an unexpected choice, but grab him over Helsley if searching for saves.

Carter Kieboom (SS – WAS): 15%
In early July, Nationals manager Davey Martinez gave Kieboom the leg up on opening 2020 as the starting third baseman. More recently, however, he clarified that the 22-year-old will likely share the role with Asdrubal Cabrera. That dampens any urgency to grab Kieboom, but he’s still an alluring post-hype prospect. Despite going 5-for-39 in his first bite of big-league action, the infielder is still a bat-first prospect who had hit .303/.409/.493 in Triple-A.

Jordan Montgomery (SP  – NYY): 16%
After going months without live baseball, onlookers hastily reacted to Jordan Montgomery carving up the Mets (5.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 K) in Sunday night’s exhibition. One of Yahoo’s most added players on Monday, he vaulted from deep-league add to standard-league consideration. This excitement isn’t unjustified; he was also gaining sleeper steam with a strong spring. Prior to missing nearly all of 2018 and 2018, the lefty posted a 3.88 ERA and 1.23 WHIP as a rookie with a well-rounded repertoire of pitches.

Aaron Hicks (OF – NYY): 10%
Hicks is now poised to become the first player to return from Tommy John surgery without missing a game. He went undrafted in The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational Drafts conducted in spring, and some participants unloaded their FAAB budgets early for the Yankees outfielder.

It’s probably wise to temper expectations for a 30-year-old who has never hit above .266 and only once exceeded 375 plate appearances in a season. Playing time could be scarce if Hicks struggles early, as Mike Tauchman proved a more than capable understudy. Yet given his elite batting eye and potential to rack up runs or RBIs in a loaded Yankees lineup, Hicks is worth rostering if he doesn’t require a substantial FAAB investment.

Eric Thames (1B/OF – WAS): 10%
Thames was already likely to start against righties before the NL received the DH and Zimmerman opted out of the season. Now he should be locked into the lineup — potentially in a cleanup role — at first base whenever Washington opposes a right-handed starter. Don’t expect much help in betting average, but Thames has slugged .504 in three seasons since returning from Korea. He’s an especially strong add in OBP/OPS leagues.

Deep League Targets – <10% Rostered

Kyle Crick (RP – PIT): 8%
The Pirates placed Keona Kela, who has yet to join the team, on the IL without disclosing the reason. This likely vacates Pittsburgh’s closer role for the start of 2020. Despite issuing a ghastly 35 walks in 49 innings last year and surrendering four runs in a weekend exhibition outing, Crick could get the first opportunity. While he needs to control his heater, the 27-year-old stymied batters to a .247 wOBA and 17.8% swinging-strike rate with his sharp slider last season. Nick Burdi could also be worth an NL-only dart throw.

Justin Smoak (1B – MIL): 7%
Smoak possesses a similar profile to Thames. The major difference: He was at risk of a bench role before the DH unveil. First base or DH now especially looks like his for the taking as Ryan Braun deals with numerous nagging injuries. Although he batted .208 with an underwhelming .198 ISO, Smoak maintained a 15.8% walk rate. He was also one of the year’s top under-performers based on Statcast data. Nobody had a more unfavorable discrepancy between their expected slugging and actual mark than Smoak (.406 SLG, .495 xSLG). He’s a high-priority add in OBP/OPS formats.

Isiah Kiner-Falefa (C/3B – TEX): 6%
Kiner-Falefa, who has tallied a whopping five home runs in 618 career plate appearances, touched them all four times in 15 spring games before MLB shut down in March. He has continued to dazzle the Rangers in summer camp. Per’s T.R. Sullivan, manager Chris Woodward said Kiner-Falefa “has the inside edge” on the starting third base job. A catcher-eligible player receiving regular reps elsewhere is the dream, or at least promising enough of a proposition to grab him in two-catcher formats and keep tabs on him everywhere else.

Tyler Rogers (RP – SF): 3%
Could the Rogers family produce another breakout closer? Tyler Rogers, the twin brother to Minnesota Twins stopper Trevor, is a candidate for saves in San Francisco. In limited 2019 action for the Giants, the sidearmer allowed just three walks and two runs over 17 appearances. Gabe Kapler said he views Rogers as a “Swiss Army knife,” which could mean his role varies based on the situation. Even in that scenario, he might snag a few saves and a couple of wins with intriguing ratio potential.

Austin Voth (SP – WAS): 3%
Voth, who registered a 3.48 ERA and 1.06 WHIP in eight starts last year, became the de facto winner for Washington’s final rotation after Joe Ross opted out. Beyond an effective four-seam fastball, his curveball, cutter, and changeup each induced a swinging-strike rate above 16.0% in 2019. Starting the fifth, 10th, and 15th game of Washington’s schedule would put him in line to face the Blue Jays, Marlins, and Orioles, respectively. After fanning five Phillies in four scoreless innings last Saturday, he looks ready to go without any severe restrictions.

Vince Velasquez (SP – PHI): 1%
Velasquez has fooled us too many times to count. But it’s been so long without baseball, and quite frankly, we all need the small joy of overreacting to some filthy pitching GIFs:

That’s not the Yankees’ B-Team. Although I’m more inclined to take a wait-and-see approach, that’d change in deeper leagues if Velasquez replaces Wheeler this weekend against the Marlins.

Higher-Owned Players to Ignore – 35-50% Rostered

Michael Chavis (1B/2B – BOS): 38%
Chavis is in danger of platooning with Jose Peraza, who is drawing rave reviews with a revamped swing. There are plenty of part-time power sources on the wire, so there’s no need to roster Chavis is shallow leagues.

Jo Adell (OF – LAA): 31%
He’s fallen below the 35% clip in recent days, but it’s worth noting that Angels manager Joe Maddon isn’t exactly begging the front office to put Adell on the Opening Day roster. “He has things to work on, quite frankly,” Maddon said of the club’s premier prospect, per’s Rhett Bollinger. Without the ability to force his way to the majors with minor league success, the 21-year-old could spend most of (if not the entire season) stuck on the taxi squad.

Cole Hamels (SP – ATL): 50%
Out with shoulder inflammation during spring training, Hamels received extra time to recover. He still, however, looks likely to miss the start of the season. Unless you have an IL slot to burn, the 36-year-old southpaw is no longer worth stashing beyond the deepest of leagues.

Jeff Samardzija (SP -SF): 38%
The Giants open 2020 with a four-game season against the Dodgers. Starting August 3, they take a brutal 10-game road trip to Colorado, Houston, and Los Angeles for three more contests against the NL champions. For the first third of the season, Samardzija is likely only usable once for a home tilt against the Padres or Rangers.

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