Fantasy Baseball Waiver Wire: Andrew Vaughn, Roansy Contreras, William Contreras (2022)
Evidently it’s “Contreras Week” here on the Waiver Wire. Cubs catcher Willson Contreras was a consensus top-six catcher on draft day, but his younger brother William is still widely available, as is exciting Pirates hurler Roansy Contreras (no relation).
But before we get to the Conterases (Contreri?), we have to begin with a slugging corner outfielder on the South Side of Chicago. One I like so much that I am going to break my own rule about not mentioning guys who are rostered in over 50% of leagues. So sue me!
Note: Rostered rates are from Yahoo leagues as of Friday night.
FAABulous Four: Top Waiver Targets
Andrew Vaughn (1B,OF — CHW): 53% Rostered
A top-3 pick in the 2019 Amateur Draft and a top-13 prospect in baseball, Vaughn leaped from High-A straight to the Majors, so perhaps we shouldn’t be too hard on him for having a somewhat underwhelming rookie season in 2021. He looks more than ready for primetime now.
The 24-year old White Sox outfielder got off to a nice start in April before spending early May on the injured list with a bruised hand. He quickly picked up right where he left off, though, and has been swinging an awfully hot bat lately, and capped it off by hitting a home run and driving in five on Thursday. He’s now hitting .292 with five homers and 19 RBIs in just 28 games, while striking out in only 17 percent of his plate appearances.
A strong plate approach and tons of raw power were the main calling cards for Vaughn as a prospect, and they are translating nicely to the Big Leagues this season. He’s even worked his way up to the number two spot in the lineup recently. Vaughn is still available in almost half of leagues, so go get him now if it’s not too late.
Andrew Vaughn makes it a ballgame! pic.twitter.com/e1zESntG2O
— Talkin’ Baseball (@TalkinBaseball_) May 27, 2022
Roansy Contreras (SP — PIT): 25% Rostered
Contreras profiled as a back-end starter while toiling away in the Yankees’ system in 2018 and 2019, but then he added some serious giddy-up to his fastball. Now averaging 96-97 mph with his heater, Contreras’s slider has become even harder to hit, and his strikeout rate and swinging strike rate have soared.
The 22-year old right-hander began the season pitching out of Pittsburgh’s bullpen, but the Pirates sent him to Triple-A to get stretched out and he returned to throw five scoreless innings against the Rockies in his first start. He currently sports a 2.13 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, and 10.66 K/9 through 12 2/3 innings. While he could face an innings limit later in the year, Contreras should get every chance to stick in the Pirates’ rotation moving forward.
Roansy Contreras, 97mph 🔥 pic.twitter.com/2gxdsz0miv
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 24, 2022
William Contreras (C — ATL): 41% Rostered
After getting a very brief cameo in the Majors in 2020, Contreras hit 17 home runs between Triple-A and the Majors in 2021, although his contact rate and batting average were much lower in Atlanta than Gwinnett. Contreras is striking out a lot for the Braves again this season (29.1 percent K%), but he’s managed to substantially improve his swinging strike rate, suggesting the strikeout rate could come down. Perhaps more importantly for fantasy purposes, he’s already swatted seven home runs in just 55 plate appearances, which has simultaneously allowed him to hit .277 (home runs are hits, too).
It’s fair to expect Contreras’s batting average to settle in the .250 range even if he does cut down on the Ks, but he could absolutely be a source of 20+ home runs. He’s also been showing excellent patience in Atlanta, drawing walks at a much higher rate than he did in the minors. That could allow him to be a decent source of runs scored, especially if he continues to occasionally hit in the second spot in the lineup and get starts in the outfield when he’s not catching. He’s currently the seventh-best catcher in standard 5×5 formats, and it would be no surprise if he finishes the year inside the top-12.
🚨 WILLIAM CONTRERAS WALKS IT OFF 🚨 pic.twitter.com/n1BCLN4qB6
— Bally Sports: Braves (@BravesOnBally) May 25, 2022
Brandon Belt (1B — SF): 42% Rostered
Ok, so Belt is 34-years old, off to a relatively slow start, and currently on the injured list with knee inflammation, but that doesn’t mean he should be on the waiver wire.
First off, the injury is not considered serious, and Belt should be able to return in a matter of days. Second, let’s not lose sight of what Belt has accomplished at the plate over the last two seasons. Since the start of 2020, he is hitting .275 with 104 runs, 42 HRs, 100 RBIs, and four stolen bases, and that’s counting this season’s quiet start. Nothing in his peripherals indicates that he’s hit any sort of age cliff, and even if it did, the sample size for 2022 is too small to be meaningful.
Once Belt returns to the San Francisco lineup, he will regularly be hitting somewhere between second and cleanup, affording himself plenty of opportunities to score and drive in more runs. It’s easy to lose patience quickly with old, injured guys, but Belt is worth holding onto or picking up if someone else in your league dropped him.
Priority Pickups – <40% Rostered
Aaron Ashby (SP,RP — MIL): 32% Rostered
I recommended adding Ashby over a month ago on the off-chance he would be permitted to remain in the Brewers’ rotation. That didn’t happen initially, but it has now that Freddy Peralta is looking at a “lengthy absence” after straining his shoulder.
Ashby has the kind of profile you want to see from a fantasy pitcher because he generates a lot of strikeouts and ground balls. The Ks keep men off the base paths and the grounders keep the ball in the yard. He’s also in an ideal environment in Milwaukee, where Peralta, Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, and Eric Lauer have all developed into frontline starting pitchers over the last couple years.
The only thing standing in the way between Ashby and fantasy superstardom is his problematic walk rate, which has always been high but is currently higher than ever at 5.29 BB/9. Still, there is so much else to like about his game that he’s well worth the risk. Even if he can bring that walk rate down to four walks per nine, he could really blossom into a top-notch fantasy asset.
Aaron Ashby, Sick 82mph Breaking Ball…and Sword. ⚔️ pic.twitter.com/WVBiChEWpp
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 25, 2022
Jeffrey Springs (SP,RP — TB): 29% Rostered
Unlike some other names on this list, Springs isn’t a top prospect or former star. The 29-year old left-hander has bounced around three organizations since debuting with the Rangers back in 2018, and he’d made a grand total of two starts before this season. He began 2022 in the bullpen, too, but has been gradually getting stretched out and pitched six strong innings in his fifth start of the year on Friday night against the Yankees.
Springs currently has a 1.62 ERA and 0.81 WHIP. He doesn’t throw hard — his fastball is averaging just 91.6 mph — but he’s inducing lots of weak contact and had an expected ERA of 2.32 entering the Yankees game, according to Statcast. While his strikeout rate is down from previous years, he is still generating plenty of whiffs, and is a good bet to strike out over a batter per inning moving forward.
Zach Eflin (SP — PHI): 22% Rostered
Eflin isn’t a pitcher that you’re ever particularly excited to roster in fantasy leagues, but he is a quietly effective one. He’s currently working on his fifth straight season with a sub-4.40 ERA, and while he isn’t typically a big strikeout pitcher, his minuscule walk rate has helped him post a useful WHIP more often than not.
Although he has just one win to show for it this year, Eflin has pitched pretty well in five of his seven starts. He saved his best effort for the Dodgers, striking out 12 while allowing only two runs over seven innings against L.A. last time out. That isn’t likely a sign of things to come, but Eflin can continue to be what he’s always been, a reliable back-end fantasy starter.
Alek Thomas (OF — ARI): 32% Rostered
Thomas was the headliner of this column a couple weeks ago, but his roster percentage seems to have plateaued in the low-30s. Sure, he’s more exciting in dynasty than redraft, but that still feels low for a highly-regarded prospect who has more than held his own against Big League pitching so far. Thomas hit .313 with 18 HRs and 13 SBs in 106 games between Double-A and Triple-A last year, and is hitting .278 with seven homers and three steals over 41 games between Triple-A and Arizona this year. His sprint speed is elite, and he’s making more than enough contact to continue to hit for a solid batting average.
Kyle Lewis (OF — SEA): 28% Rostered
Lewis’s career got off to a great start. He hit six homers in just 18 games during his Big League debut in 2019, and then finished as a top-40 fantasy hitter and took home AL Rookie of the Year honors in 2020. But meniscus knee surgery ended his 2021 campaign after just 36 games, and he’s only now getting back on the field for the M’s. When healthy, Lewis has shown the ability to hit .250-.260 with 25+ HRs and 5-10 steals, which is enough to make him a viable fantasy option even in 10- and 12-team leagues. He’s not yet playing the field, but the DH spot in Seattle appears to be all his at the moment.
Kiké Hernández (2B,OF — BOS): 27% Rostered
The Red Sox offense has finally awoken from it’s early-season slumber, and that means it’s time to turn our attention to Hernandez, Boston’s energetic table-setter. His limitations as a fantasy player are well-established at this point, namely that he doesn’t steal bases and is unlikely to hit above .250. However, Hernandez is the leadoff hitter for what should be a high-scoring offense, and he did hit 20 homers and score 84 runs in 134 games last year, his first in Beantown. He can help you out in those categories, which is enough to make him interesting if you’re scrambling for an option at second base. At the very least, he’s a solid plug-and-play while he’s running hot.
Frank Schwindel (1B — CHC): 25% Rostered
After spending the better part of a decade in the minors, Schwindel was one of the more inexplicable breakout players of 2021, hitting .342 with 13 HRs and 40 RBIs in 56 games for the Cubs after posting similarly impressive numbers earlier in the year for the A’s Triple-A affiliate. He got off to a brutal start this year but has made up for it in a hurry, piling up four homers and seven RBIs over his last six games. Schwindel will turn 30 years old this summer, but there’s reason to believe he can be a decent source of power and batting average the rest of the way.
Kevin Kiermaier (OF — TB): 15% Rostered
Kiermaier is a player who always seemed like he had 20-20 potential if things went right, but he never quite got there due to an assortment of injuries that have limited him to fewer than 130 games each year since 2015. Still, while he’s no longer likely to run quite as much and has never been much help in batting average, a 15-15 season doesn’t seem completely implausible if he can just stay healthy. He could also score his fair share of runs while leading off for a Rays team that currently ranks in the top half of the league in scoring. As with some other names on this list, you can at least ride the hot hand and move on when he cools off.
Darin Ruf (1B,OF — SF): 11% Rostered
The 35-year-old Ruf had the best years of his career in the Korean league, where he hit over .300 with 30+ HRs and 120+ RBIs in 2017 and 2018. But like many other surprising Giants performers, he wasn’t half bad for San Francisco last year, hitting .271 with 16 homers in 312 plate appearances. He hasn’t been nearly that productive this year, but has hit .302 with three HRs, 18 runs, and 14 RBIs in May, earning more regular playing time. It’s possible he’s already cooling off, but it won’t cost anything other than a temporary roster spot to find out.
Kole Calhoun (OF — TEX): 34% Rostered
After hitting 18-19 homers each year from 2016-2018, Calhoun went on a power binge over the 2019 and 2020 seasons, hitting a combined 49 balls over the fence in 205 games. Perhaps that was a product of the juiced ball in use back then, but there is still some power to be found here. He’s been on a complete tear of late, hitting .404 with six homers, 14 runs, and 11 RBIs over the last two weeks, so this is definitely another “hot hand” situation.
Deep League Targets – <10% Rostered
Christopher Morel (3B — CHC): 9% Rostered
While not a top-tier prospect, the 22-year-old Morel showed an intriguing blend of power and speed in the minors last season, hitting 18 homers and stealing 18 bases over 110 games between Double-A and Triple-A. But he also swung and missed a lot and proved to be something of a batting average liability. There is still some swing-and-miss to his game, but he’s managed to cut his strikeout rate substantially this year and put together some very nice five-category production. In 37 games between Double-A and Chicago, he’s hit .307 with nine homers and five steals. Morel has assumed the Cubs’ leadoff spot over the last three games, and he could quickly become a consideration in fantasy leagues of all sizes if he keeps up this level of production for much longer.
Cal Mitchell (OF — PIT): 3% Rostered
The 23-year old Mitchell got off to a great start in Triple-A this spring, hitting .306 with five homers, six steals, and 26 RBIs. That earned him a quick promotion to Pittsburgh, where he has at least one hit in all three games he’s played so far. Mitchell’s minor league numbers prior to this season didn’t jump off the page, but he consistently showed a bit of pop and speed, as well as a solid plate approach. The perennially-rebuilding Pirates have every reason to see what they have in him, so playing time shouldn’t be an issue.
Ken Giles (RP — SEA): 4% Rostered
It’s been a long road back for Giles, who last pitched in 2020, but the end is in sight. His return from Tommy John surgery was delayed by a sprained finger, but he’ll head out on a rehab assignment this weekend. Once he’s ready, the 31-year old former top reliever will return to a struggling bullpen that has no set closer.
Seattle signed Giles to a multi-year deal in February 2021 knowing he was not going to pitch that season, with an eye on him contributing this season. When we last saw him pitch a full season back in 2019, he put together a sparkling 1.87 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, and 14.09 K/9 rate. It’s doubtful that he’ll be immediately thrust into the closer role, but if any Mariners pitcher is going to run away with that job this season, it’s Giles.
Nick Martinez (SP — SD): 7% Rostered
After a mediocre stint with the Rangers from 2014 to 2017, Martinez spent the last four years in Japan. His first three seasons with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters were nothing to write home about, but he posted a strong 1.62 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in his final season there, parlaying it into a four-year $20 million deal with San Diego this offseason. Martinez’s rotation spot with the Padres looked to be in some jeopardy, but that’s no longer the case while Mike Clevinger is on the IL and the Padres are deploying a six-man rotation. Martinez has allowed two earned runs or fewer in six of his eight appearances this season, and is a decent deep league option for however long he holds onto a rotation spot.
Rich Hill (SP — BOS): 7% Rostered
I can never go too long without talking about old favorite Rich Hill, so consider this your Hill mention for May. At age 42, he’s no longer the caliber of pitcher he once was, but the man can still get the job done. Since April 23, Hill has a smooth 2.77 ERA and 1.04 WHIP over 26 innings, and while he only has one win, that could change now that Boston is finally scoring some runs. You could certainly do worse than streaming Hill against Baltimore on Memorial Day.
Alright, that does it for this week. If you like what you see here, you can get more of my thoughts on waiver wire pickups, buy-low/sell-high candidates, rest-of-season player values, and more by subscribing to the Rest of Season Rankings podcast and going to ROSrankings.com. I’m also always happy to talk about anything fantasy-related on Twitter @andrew_seifter.
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