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Fantasy Baseball Waiver Wire: Nico Hoerner, Shane McClanahan, Yusei Kikuchi

by Andrew Gould | @andrewgould4 | Featured Writer
May 4, 2021

Shane McClanahan displayed remarkable stunt during a short, but promising debut.

One month through the season, fantasy baseball players have already experienced the waiver wire’s impact. Yermín Mercedes, Jazz Chisholm Jr.., Cedric Mullins, Carson Kelly, Danny Duffy, Carlos Rodón, Trevor Rogers, Diego Castillo, and Alex Reyes all excelled in April after falling under the radar in March.

When returning here next month, there will be a new list of free-agent finds who delivered some reprieve from injured and under-performing draft picks. Now it’s just the pesky matter of finding them.

A couple of rookie hitters highlighted last week are joined by two young hurlers coming off big-league debuts. There are also some grizzly veterans and post-hype sleepers jousting for attention on the waiver wire. Even if most are merely filling a vacancy or hoping to stay hot a little longer, we could look back at some next month and wonder how they were available in the first place.

Note: Rostered rates are from Yahoo leagues as of Monday night.

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FAABulous Four: Top Waiver Targets

Nico Hoerner (2B/3B/SS- CHC): 33% Rostered
Pending his status after an outfield collision with Ian Happ, this could be the last call on Hoerner. He has reached base every other plate appearance in 11 games since his recall. Hoerner has more walks (eight) than strikeouts (seven) and has stolen a base in three of his last four games. Although he has spent most of his time in the bottom third of the Cubs’ lineup, the 23-year-old could force their hand by staying hot if able to avoid an IL stint.

Shane McClanahan (SP/RP – TB): 17% Rostered
Anyone who monitored McClanahan’s debut through Twitter probably assumed he tossed a 27-strikeout perfect game. The lefty had onlookers salivating with a lively triple-digits heater and a nasty slider that reached 92-93. He accumulated five strikeouts, getting the A’s to whiff 15 times.

He also only went four innings. Before dismissing this as a big-league club easing in a newcomer, remember that this is the Rays. They could treat him with kid gloves all season, or even move him out of the rotation. Luis Patino, another hotshot prospect listed here last week, relieved McClanahan from the bullpen.

The stuff is tantalizing enough to take a chance anyway. McClanahan could be awesome. Just don’t rely on too many innings.

Yusei Kikuchi (SP – SEA): 29% Rostered
The fantasy community’s spring fling with Kikuchi disintegrated when the popular sleeper surrendered five runs in consecutive starts. He then, however, reminded everyone why they were originally excited. Last Thursday, the 29-year-old allowed just one hit over seven scoreless innings against the Astros.

His strikeout rate is down from 24.2 to 21.8% despite picking up seven against Houston, but he still wields a strong 11.9% swinging-strike rate. Furthermore, he’s improved his walk rate to a passable 8.9% while attacking way more hitters with the highest first-pitch and called strike rates of his MLB career. The dream of a Kikuchi breakout — or at least a sub-4.00 ERA with a favorable WHIP and high strikeout rate — remains alive and well.

Tyler O’Neill (OF – STL): 38% Rostered
Is the O’Neill breakout finally happening? Probably not. With just one walk and 23 strikeouts in 69 plate appearances, he hasn’t improved the glaring problem that’s concealed his potential. But he’s in the midst of a blazing heater, going 14-for-35 with four homers and two steals in his last eight games. O’Neill is finally cashing in on his immense raw power with seven barrels — he had eight last season — and a .652 xSLG. Given St. Louis’ lack of alternatives, he could finally stick in the starting lineup and deliver 25 homers with a handful of steals. Just don’t expect too much in terms of batting average or consistency.

Priority Pickups – <35% Rostered

Daniel Lynch (SP – KC): 29%
Lynch had a shaky initiation for the Royals, giving up three runs over 4.2 innings Monday night against Cleveland. The evening started on a more positive note, as he was scoreless through three and exited with a 3-1 lead before Scott Barlow allowed two inherited runs. Lynch operated in the mid-to-high 90s with his fastball and made a fool of Josh Naylor for his first career strikeout.

Unfortunately, that was one of only three punchouts. The southpaw drew seven swinging strikes and issued four walks against a lineup with six starters sporting an OPS below .400. While he went slightly deeper, Lynch didn’t dominate like McClanahan. That means there likely won’t be a mad dash to the waiver wire, but MLB.com’s 24th-ranked prospect warrants a roster spot. Climbing velocity and a well-rounded arsenal put him in a position to contribute during his rookie campaign, even if he’s more a matchup play than a league-winning gem.

Evan Longoria (3B – SF): 29%
Longoria is quietly enjoying a career renaissance. In his age-35 season, the former All-Star third baseman is batting .284/.400/.537 with four homers. Flattering Statcast metrics suggest there’s been nothing fluky about his hot start. In fact, he trails only baseball punisher Giancarlo Stanton in hard-hit rate while brandishing the 14th-highest expected wOBA (.437) of all qualified hitters. Even if you’re not looking for a long-term option, pick up Longoria for three games (in two days) at Coors Field.

J.A. Happ (SP – MIN): 29%
This is almost certainly just a hot hand to ride, as Happ’s 1.96 ERA doesn’t compute with a 14.9% K rate and 4.01 FIP. Worry about regression later; he’s scheduled for two favorable starts this week against the Rangers and Tigers, who respectively rank 28th and 30th in wOBA against lefties.

Josh Rojas (2B/SS/OF – ARI): 27%
Since last week’s mention, Rojas continued his sudden 180 by going deep in three consecutive games. His OPS was .281 on April 17. It’s now .781. An ability to play across the diamond makes the 26-year-old useful for both the Diamondbacks and fantasy investors with any hitting holes to fill.

Cole Irvin (SP/RP – OAK): 13%
Irvin continued his stellar run by permitting two runs to the Rays with a career-high eight strikeouts last Wednesday. He now has a 3.67 ERA and 25:4 strikeout-to-walk ratio despite a pair of poor turns against the Astros to commence the season. A 3.48 FIP and 3.85 SIERA suggest there was nothing fluky about his strong April, but a 5.45 XERA sheds light on the opposition making plenty of hard contact. He’s best reserved as a matchup play or back-end depth piece in larger leagues.

Pavin Smith (1B/OF – ARI): 12%
So nobody wants this 2017 No. 7 pick batting .272/.309/.478 atop Arizona’s batting order? Smith has mostly offered gap power, punctuating six doubles and two triples to his three homers. That might not change unless he cuts down on grounders, but Smith nevertheless sports a .540 xSLG. He’s also limited his strikeouts (16.5%) and scored nine runs in his last 12 games, so he’s a useful corner infielder or fourth/fifth outfielder in most mixed leagues.

Dom Núñez (C – COL): 11%
Anyone rostering Travis d’Arnaud, Yadier Molina, Omar Narvaez, or Alejandro Kirk needs a new backstop. Kyle Higashioka is emerging as a popular pickup, but he’s still won’t play too regularly alongside Gary Sanchez. Besides, there’s another power bat with a great home park. Núñez is slugging .611 with five homers and 15 RBIs in 26 games. He also already has 25 strikeouts, so you’re not paying for batting average. If you can make that sacrifice, or play in an OBP league, Núñez is an intriguing power source with Coors Field at his disposal.

Deep League Targets – <10% Rostered

Adbert Alzolay (SP – CHC): 9%
This is more of a forward-thinking recommendation. Managers should be in no rush to add Alzolay for Tuesday’s matchup against the Dodgers, and there might be a longer window to act if he falters. However, there’s plenty to like from his early start beyond a 4.70 ERA. Leaning heavily on his lethal slider, the 26-year-old has 23 strikeouts and 21 innings with a 33.2% CSW. A low contact rate — and a fortuitous .208 BABIP — has led to an elite 0.90 WHIP. He’ll remain volatile without a third pitch, but Alzolay is a high-upside option worth chasing.

Willie Calhoun (OF – TEX): 8%
What’s taking so long for everyone to rediscover Calhoun? Since making his delayed 2021 debut, the 26-year-old is batting .321/.379/.453 in 14 games. The Rangers have taken notice, as he’s often leading off against righties. Calhoun always had the making of a prolific hitter derailed by injuries and defensive limitations. Now healthy and parked into the DH spot, he’s poised to make a loud four-category impact beyond deep leagues.

José Ureña (SP/RP – DET): 8%
Ureña went into Yankee Stadium, right as the Bronx Bombers were heating up, and held them to two runs over seven innings. That marked the fifth straight start in which the 29-year-old righty allowed exactly two runs. He’s also worked seven innings in each of the last four turns, bolstering his value in leagues that replace wins with quality starts. Although the workhorse is likely pitching over his head, he holds a 59.6% ground-ball rate and 3.25 FIP to go along with his 3.53 ERA and 1.26 WHIP.

Mike Tauchman (OF – SF): 4%
When given his first crack at a full-time role in the majors, Tauchman hit .277/.361/.504 with 13 homers and six steals in 87 games for the Yankees. He then went 111 plate appearances without going yard last year, which was enough to become expendable once more. New York shipped him to San Francisco for lefty reliever Wandy Peralta. Tauchman is no mere organizational depth for the Giants, who have started the 30-year-old all four games — twice batting second and homering Sunday — since the trade. With 14 homers and 14 steals in his last 145 games, Tauchman is an interesting outfield option in deep leagues.

Andrew Knizner (C – STL): 4%
Knizner will get regular playing time with Molina on the shelf. He’s hitting .227 with only two extra-base hits (doubles) in 49 plate appearances, but he’s also struck out just six times while displaying an 87.1% contact rate. Managers who lost Molina (or any other sidelined catcher)in a two-catcher league will struggle to find a better alternative than his real-life replacement.

Gregory Polanco (OF – PIT): 3%
Polanco never lived up to his promise as a five-category fantasy star. That’s not about to change; he’s hitting just .208/.291/.364 for the Pirates. But he could post double-digit home runs and/or stolen bases for the first time since 2018. The 29-year-old has three homers and steals apiece as the regular starting outfielder. Mixing steady playing time with decent power and speed puts the long-forgotten breakout pick back on the deep-league radar.

Brad Miller (2B/3B/OF – PHI): 3%
When given playing time, Miller delivers. The utilityman has hit .254/.343/.503 with 22 homers in 385 plate appearances since the start of 2019. He has a higher wRC+ (122) over that timeframe than Trevor Story, José Altuve, Gleyber Torres, and Manny Machado. A rash of injuries has prompted the Phillies to play Miller more, but that could change with Didi Gregorius back in the lineup. Yet the 31-year-old has at least earned playing time against righties and provides deep-league managers great pop and positional flexibility.

Mychal Givens (RP – COL): 2%
Daniel Bard has allowed a run in five of his last six outings after getting tattooed for four runs by Arizona on Sunday. A change in Colorado’s ninth inning is likely imminent, as a 35-year-old who spent six years out of the majors won’t get too many second chances. Givens, a former closer who has posted a 2.53 ERA, 11 strikeouts, and two walks in 10.2 innings, is the logical next-man-up.

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