Fantasy Baseball Category Analysis: Owen Miller, Merrill Kelly, Brad Keller (2022)
Now that we’re 10 days into the season it’s time to panic if your team is tanking! Drop all your underachieving stars and completely start over. While I’m obviously joking, it is never too early to turn your attention to the waiver wire and focus on those few players who may have slipped through the cracks. Also, there are a plethora of new guys who have hit the ground running and have claimed a starting role to begin the season. Plus, there are a few veterans who have figured out a new way to win.
Riding hot streaks can be a dangerous game, but this early in the season it’s sometimes worth the gamble to pick up the hot hand just to see how far they can take you. My strategy is to usually look for a reason behind the boost in production or at the very least something that shows that it’s not just dumb luck. If there’s a good reason for it analytically or if they just simply pass the eye test, it’s usually enough for me to place a waiver claim. I’m not one to give up on players quickly but I do make a ton of roster moves in the early weeks because there are often more than a few league winners still floating around ripe for the taking.
With that in mind here are a few players who can help you right now (or soon). Continuing with our weekly series, these ten players are rostered in less than or close to 50 percent of Yahoo leagues and can help you in at least one of the major roto categories. Many will contribute in more ways than one with their heaviest contributions likely coming in the one in which they are listed.
Similar to last week’s outpouring of love for Connor Joe, this week I have another player that I am completely infatuated with. Trust me, it will be obvious once you get to him. Hopefully, he’s still available in your league.
Nathaniel Lowe (1B – TEX): 41%
Lowe is doing what he does best which is driving in runs. A player I highlighted early and often as a possible 100 RBI candidate, Lowe has already knocked in a run in five of the eight games he has played. Hitting behind some of the league’s best, Lowe should have multiple opportunities on a nightly basis to add to his RBI total. With six already to his credit and a .375 average to boot, Lowe deserves a spot in all leagues.
Oneil Cruz (SS – PIT): 34%
The Pirates have miraculously won three of their last four games and now their defensively gifted shortstop has a groin injury. Roansy Contreras was already brought up to pitch out of the bullpen (strangely), so it’s only a matter of time until the Bucs call upon the future of their franchise. Cruz may not help you this week or even the next, but if you want to obtain his services and he is still available in your league, now is the time to get him.
The 24-year-old behemoth possesses light-tower power, blazing speed, and a great eye at the plate. He should make for a fine pairing with the Pirates’ other best hitter, Bryan Reynolds. Reynolds just signed a two-year deal and while he could be traded at any moment, I strongly believe he’ll stick around until at least the late summer. Having Reynolds bat and leadership will only help Cruz’s overall production.
He hasn’t done much to begin the season in Triple-A but it won’t take long for his bat to come alive. Add Cruz now while you still have a chance.
Owen Miller (1B/2B – CLE): 54%
This may be coming a bit late for some of you (as his rostership is climbing at a record pace) but I am buying the offensive resurgence in Cleveland. Do you remember the impressive second-half output for players like Rafael Ortega, Frank Schwindel, and Ian Happ in Chicago last year? Well, there may have been a method to the madness. And that method’s name is Chris Valaika.
Valaika was the Cubs’ assistant hitting instructor who was often praised by his players. A top target for many teams this year, Cleveland quickly snatched up the hitting guru and become their new lead hitting coach. A lifelong student of the game, Valaika recently discussed his methods and approach with the media back in November – “I was always really curious on individualization (of hitters and athletes). We worked with force plates at Sparta Science. Taking that over to Chicago, it wasn’t necessarily the technology as much as it was really understanding how each athlete moves and how they tick and being able to try to tailor a plan based on what they do well, what they don’t do well, rather than just trying to throw blanket drill packages or approach or goals.”
Whatever magic he was able to provide in Chicago has shown up in spades so far in Cleveland. The lineup from nearly top to bottom has been on fire, with Jose Ramirez and company absolutely raking.
Miller was a player Valaika highlighted in that same interview as someone he really wanted to focus on and felt he could make a major impact with. Miller was stellar in Triple-A last year but was dreadful after earning his call-up. This season, after some strenuous work with the new coaching staff before and after the lockout, Valaika’s teachings seem to have taken hold. Not only did Miller crush in Spring while rarely striking out, but he has arguably been one of the top five hitters in all of baseball to start the season.
Perhaps the most impressive feat so far has been while his teammates were scuffling to get on base and make contact against the rugged San Francisco staff, Owens continued to make things look easy by going three for four with a sac fly and two walks.
While everyone’s fawning over Jose Ramirez, Steven Kwan, and even Myles Straw, it’s the rookie Owens who has yet to produce an OPS below 1.167 in a single game. For the season he is now 14 for 25 with seven doubles, two homers, three walks, and just three strikeouts. Even though it’s a minuscule sample size, if that’s not worthy of a roster addition, I don’t know what is.
Austin Nola (C – SD): 26%
A lot of catchers are raking across the league, but if you’re looking for one to score a lot of runs, look no further than Austin Nola. Nola, who has been consistently batting second for the Padres, has already scored five runs in six games. Hitting in front of Manny Machado, Jake Cronenworth, and Luke Voit should allow Nola to score early and often. With a career OBP near .350, the Friars have turned to their catcher to be the catalyst that bridges the gap between the top and the middle of the order. His average sits at .250 but he’s already driven in seven to go along with the five runs scored. Nola also launched a solo home run in San Francisco and stole a bag against Atlanta.
Fully healthy, look for Nola to start close to 120 games and possibly end up as a ten 10 catcher this year. Just about every player who hits regularly in the two-hole is worthy of a roster spot and Nola’s no different. Add him now.
Kolten Wong (2B – MIL): 49%
Wong got off to a slow start (can you even say that yet?), but after spending a day riding the pine Wong reminded everyone why he’s still a premier threat on the base paths. In the sixth inning of Thursday’s game, Wong decided to swipe second on his former teammate, Yadi Molina. Molina may be playing in his final year, but stealing on one of the greatest to ever do it is still highly impressive.
Wong stole 12 bases last year in only 116 games. If he can each 140 this year he could easily surpass 15 bags on the season. With steals at such a premium, Wong becomes a valuable asset. He’ll also help contribute across the board while batting leadoff for the Brewers most nights. Add Wong now as a solid MI play.
Brad Keller (SP – KC): 19%
Brad Keller’s uptick in velocity and reworking of his changeup is already paying a hefty dividend. The 6’5″ Keller, better known as a sinkerball/ground ball specialist has slightly moved away from his signature pitch while throwing more changeups and four-seam fastballs. His slider is even reaching 90 on occasion.
Keller limits homers and free passes and is already showing signs he can be the ace he was back in 2020. He’s worth a speculative add in most leagues.
Merrill Kelly (SP – ARZ): 30%
Kelly also retooled his changeup in the offseason. A pitch he has tinkered with throughout his career, Kelly admits to overanalyzing the nature of the pitch and has now found eBay he calls his most comfortable and simplified grip. Whatever he’s done, the results so far, including Spring, have been staggering. The way he mowed down Houston’s lineup was enough for me to add him right away. He won’t earn many wins pitching for the snakes, but he could help fill up the stat sheet otherwise. Add Kelly in all leagues.
Daniel Bard (RP – COL): 52%
Well, that was fast. Daniel Bard is the man again in Colorado. Bud Black admitted before the season that he liked a closer who could rack up K’s. It was pretty clear even then that he was not too fond of naming the newly acquired Alex Colome the closer.
The Rockies’ offense puts them in a good position to win games on a daily basis and if the pitching staff can do even a remotely decent job, the club has a chance to win 80 games. While Bard has been up and down in the past and may hurt your ERA a bit, there’s no doubting he’s the man to roster out of Colorado’s bullpen and should be owned in all leagues.
Carlos Carrasco (SP – NYM): 54%
The competition wasn’t exactly playoff-bound, but Carrasco has been extremely impressive so far. Finally healthy and with his full repertoire of pitches at his disposal, Carrasco has looked like the pitcher of old through his first two starts. The Mets’ righty has already accumulated 13 K’s in just 10.2 innings. Perhaps more impressively he’s done it while allowing only seven base runners (including an IBB).
With a fantastic 33.3 K percentage, 31 percent CSW, and a 28.2 K minus BB percentage, Carrasco has looked like a steal so far, one that many of my colleagues predicted. It’s only been two games, but Carrasco has resembled every bit the player New York was hoping to get when they signed him last year.
Paul Blackburn (SP/RP – OAK): 7%
This may be very short term but after going on the road and shutting down Toronto and Tampa Bay, Blackburn is ticketed for a home game (in the spacious confines of Oakland) against Baltimore. The Orioles just placed their only decent pitcher on the IL, so whomever Blackburn matches up against, it shouldn’t be much of a competition.
Yes, Oakland’s roster on paper is atrocious, but they’ve somehow been winning games and with Blackburn’s two-mile-per-hour uptick in velo and six-pitch arsenal, he shouldn’t have that difficult of a time securing his second win on the season.
If you want to dive deeper into fantasy baseball, be sure to check out our award-winning slate of Fantasy Baseball Tools as you navigate your season. From our Lineup Assistant – which provides your optimal lineup, based on accurate consensus projections – to our Waiver Wire Assistant – that allows you to quickly see which available players will improve your team, and by how much – we’ve got you covered this fantasy baseball season.
Austin Lowell is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Austin, check out his archive.