Fantasy Baseball Waiver Wire: Zach Eflin, Santiago Espinal, Josh Rojas (2022)
This week, the waiver wire is flush with intriguing corner and middle infield options, but it is severely lacking in the starting pitcher department. That’s an interesting development considering how dominant pitching has been across MLB this year. With a 1.267 league-wide WHIP, MLB pitchers are currently on pace to allow the fewest baserunners since 1972.
Maybe it’s just a blip on the radar, but there are a number of plausible explanations for this discrepancy. One is the emergence of shutdown middle relievers and the decline of workhorse starters. Another is that teams are increasingly shuffling through pitchers at the back-end of their rotations, relying heavily on spot starts and bullpen games. The gap between the haves and have-nots also seems to be widening. While contending teams are loaded with aces, a number of non-contending teams seem content to stick with below-average arms just because they can eat innings.
It’s also possible that fantasy managers are devoting more roster spots to pitchers than they did in the past, although that would require further research. Starting pitcher has traditionally been seen as one of the least scarce positions, but perhaps that is changing.
Note: Rostered rates are from Yahoo leagues as of Friday.
FAABulous Four: Top Waiver Targets
Zach Eflin (SP – PHI): 26% Rostered
With starting pitching as hard to come by as it is right now, Eflin stands out as a player who should be rostered in much more than a quarter of Yahoo leagues. I don’t typically get excited about pitchers with a sub-8.00 K/9 rate, but Eflin is a proven arm who can round out the back end of a fantasy rotation.
Eflin has posted a sub-4.20 ERA every year since 2019, and his WHIP has steadily declined each season. While a low walk rate has always helped his cause, he’s also been doing a very good job of inducing weak contact this season. He’s gotten particularly great results with his curveball, which he is throwing much more often this year. While his 3.76 ERA is quite solid, his 2.75 expected ERA is over a run lower and 13th-best in baseball, according to Statcast.
Zach Eflin, 93mph Sinker and 78mph Curveball, Overlay pic.twitter.com/V2ax820ELU
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 22, 2022
Santiago Espinal (2B/3B – TOR): 46% Rostered
For a while, Espinal looked like one of the best cheap ways to get a stake in the Blue Jays’ explosive offense. Now, he just looks like one of Toronto’s better hitters, period. The 27-year-old isn’t standing out in any particular area, but with a .290 average, five homers, three steals, and decent run production, he is emerging as a steady five-category contributor. His .303 expected batting average and low 16.8 percent strikeout rate suggest he can continue to be a particularly useful source of batting average. He’s been swinging an especially hot bat over the last week and makes for a fine plug-and-play option, at the very least.
Santiago Espinal – Toronto Blue Jays (5) pic.twitter.com/x4mxDNuLED
— MLB HR Videos (@MLBHRVideos) June 7, 2022
Josh Rojas (2B/3B/SS/OF – ARI): 39% Rostered
Fair warning: I am going to hype Rojas relentlessly until his roster percentage gets over 50 percent. He’s missed some time this year, but when he’s been on the field, he’s been excellent. He’s hitting .284 and is currently producing at a pace that would net 90+ runs, 20-25 HRs, 15-20 SBs, and 75+ RBIs over a full season. All while hitting second in the batting order and eligible at four different positions. What’s not to like?
Rojas rakes. pic.twitter.com/IQjHVRBNAc
— Arizona Diamondbacks (@Dbacks) June 9, 2022
Ramon Laureano (OF – OAK): 33% Rostered
Laureano has only hit one home run in 29 games since returning from an 80-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs, but it would be overly simplistic to conclude that he can’t hit for power without PEDs. His 89.9 mph average exit velocity is actually the highest of his career, and his launch angle is not drastically different, so double-digit home runs could still be in reach. Meanwhile, he’s been striking out less, recently put together a 12-game hitting streak, and is still capable of stealing 15-20 bases over a full season. Barring a trade, his run production numbers won’t be great in Oakland, but at least he’s hitting out of one of the top four spots in the lineup every night.
Priority Pickups – <40% Rostered
Vinnie Pasquantino (1B – KC): 13% Rostered
To be honest, I’m significantly more excited about Pasquantino than I am about any of this week’s top adds, but I am going to resist featuring him as a headliner until he actually gets the call to Kansas City. That probably should have happened several weeks ago, given how much Carlos Santana has struggled and how good the 24-year-old Pasquantino has been at Triple-A. But the Royals are reportedly holding out some misguided hope that they can build a trade market for Santana’s services.
Regardless, Pasquantino should be in Kansas City sooner than later, so he is well worth stashing if you need a boost at first base. Few minor leaguers appear as ready to hit the ground running as Pasquantino, who is hitting .290 with 16 HRs and 57 RBIs for the Omaha Storm Chasers. Those numbers bear a striking resemblance to his production at the lower levels of the minors, and most impressive of all, he’s managed to walk nearly as much as he’s struck out every step of the way. It is very rare to find a power hitter in today’s game who has such a strong plate approach.
— Royals Farm Report (@RoyalsFarm) June 9, 2022
Gabriel Moreno (C – TOR): 18% Rostered
Moreno would be higher up this list if he stood a better chance of regular playing time. As it stands, he is expected to play roughly three times per week while Danny Jansen is sidelined. Given how good Jansen and waiver wire column favorite Alejandro Kirk have been, Moreno will need to perform at a high level to remain with Toronto once Jansen returns.
Still, Moreno is one of the best catcher prospects to show up in MLB in some time. Baseball America’s number five overall prospect, Moreno, has hit .324 with a homer and three steals in 36 games at Triple-A after hitting .373 with eight homers and a steal in 32 games at Double-A last year. The lack of power so far this season is a little disappointing, but like Kirk, Moreno has demonstrated an elite hit tool and still possesses plenty of power potential.
Blue Jays are calling up No. 1 prospect Gabriel Moreno, per @KeeganMatheson
The catcher ranks as a MLB’s No. 4 overall prospect and has been consistent in Triple-A this season:
.324 AVG, 8 2B, HR, 23 RBI, 3 SB
— Farm To Fame (@FarmToFame_) June 9, 2022
Ezequiel Duran (2B/SS – TEX): 14% Rostered
Duran, who was acquired last summer in the Joey Gallo trade, has seen his prospect stock rise rapidly this year due to his production at Double-A Frisco, where he hit .317 with seven homers and seven steals in 45 games. Now with the Rangers, he should get an opportunity to play regularly at third base. Duran has shown an enticing blend of power and speed going back to his days in the Yankees’ farm system, but the question is whether he can make consistent-enough contact after striking out in the minors at a fairly high clip prior to this season. It’s worth finding out.
Jesus Sanchez (OF – MIA): 25% Rostered
The 24-year-old Sanchez got off to a great start in April before enduring a brutal May in which he hit just .158. We’re only 10 days into June, but it looks like Sanchez has gotten back on track, hitting .348 with three homers over his last six games. Sanchez possesses 70-grade power and has hit 22 home runs through his first 124 Major League games. His .235 batting average may not improve much unless he cuts down on his strikeout rate, but he can at least be a solid source of HRs and RBIs going forward.
Nathaniel Lowe (1B – TEX): 24% Rostered
Lowe is another hitter who looked to be on the verge of a breakthrough in April, only to scuffle in May. Like Sanchez, he’s also seemingly rediscovered his stroke here in June, hitting .333 with three homers in eight games to open the month. Lowe posted a solid .264/75/18/72/8 line in 2021, and while the eight stolen bases look like a fluke, there is still plenty of time left in 2022 for him to match or improve upon the rest of those numbers.
Garrett Cooper (1B/OF – MIA): 40% Rostered
You can be forgiven if you aren’t jumping out of your shoes to add Cooper, a 31-year-old who has never topped 15 HRs or 50 RBIs in a season. But Cooper’s lack of counting stats is largely a function of limited playing time and injuries, and one area he’s always done well is batting average, as demonstrated by his .289 career mark. It’s not a huge stretch to think he could hit .290 with 20-25 HRs over a full season, and his run production numbers could also be solid while batting second for a Marlins offense that ranks in the top half of the league in runs scored. Cooper is hitting .469 over the last two weeks, so you could at least ride out the hot streak and see how long it lasts.
Jo Adell (OF – LAA): 17% Rostered
There is no sugar-coating it, things have not gone smoothly for Adell in his transition to the Majors Leagues. But let’s remember, this former prized prospect turned 23 just two months ago. Adell hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire in Triple-A like he did last year, but he is 5-for-15 since rejoining the Halos this week. With Taylor Ward potentially returning from the IL as soon as Tuesday, there is no guarantee Adell remains in the Bigs for long. But if he can continue to swing a hot bat, perhaps he can steal a starting job from Brandon Marsh, who has scuffled badly at the plate after a strong start.
Paul Sewald (RP – SEA): 39% Rostered
Diego Castillo (RP – SEA): 23% Rostered
Colin Poche (RP – TB): 19% Rostered
Jason Adam (RP – TB): 14% Rostered
If you’re on the hunt for some saves with solid accompanying ratios, the Mariners and Rays both have a couple widely-available options. Just don’t expect any of them to emerge as full-time closers.
In Seattle, manager Scott Servais has been alternating between Sewald and Castillo in the ninth inning, with each reliever picking up two saves since the start of June. Sewald’s strikeout rate is way down from last season, but he currently has a 2.11 ERA and 0.80 WHIP, so it’s not exactly hurting him. Conversely, Castillo has an ugly 5.57 ERA and 1.43 WHIP despite an excellent strikeout rate, but the bloated ratios are likely just small sample statistical noise. His xFIP and xERA are both in the low-3.00s.
With Andrew Kittredge on the injured list, Rays manager Kevin Cash has been turning to Poche and Adam to close out games recently. Both pitchers have a 16.8 percent strikeout rate, so they are worth rostering even if other relievers like Ryan Thompson and Brooks Raley continue to also factor into the saves equation.
Deep League Targets – <10% Rostered
Luis Garcia (2B/SS – WAS): 7% Rostered
Garcia may not be as hyped a prospect as some other names on this list, but he was raking in Triple-A, hitting .314 with eight homers, 39 runs, and 32 RBIs in 42 games. That has carried over nicely to Washington so far. Through eight games with the Nats, he’s hitting an even .300 with a homer. While Garcia may not be a true .300 hitter, he’s got the potential to hit .270+ with 20+ home runs at the Major League level.
Jose Miranda (1B/3B – MIN): 7% Rostered
Miranda got some love in this column when he was called up in early May, but like many rookies, he got off to an ice-cold start. He’s been showing signs of life lately, however. He has multiple hits in seven of his last 13 games and is hitting .378 with three homers over that span. Miranda mashed his way to a .344 batting average and 30 home runs in 127 games between Double-A and Triple-A last year, so his ceiling is still quite high.
1st 3-hit night of Jose Miranda’s career.
— Minnesota Twins (@Twins) June 9, 2022
Bryson Stott (2B/3B – PHI): 8% Rostered
Stott is yet another highly-regarded prospect who fell flat on his face initially but is now starting to heat up. Are you sensing a theme here? After a brief demotion to Triple-A in late April, Stott’s struggles vs. Major League pitching continued through the end of May. He’s come alive in seven games since June 1, however, hitting .346 with 10 runs, three homers, 9 RBIs, and a steal. He had a productive year in the minors last season in 112 games across three levels.
Jon Berti (2B/3B/OF – MIA): 8% Rostered
Berti is probably not a player you’ll want to roster for the entire season, but he can be useful in spurts, especially if you have the need for speed. The 32-year-old utilityman has accumulated 44 steals over 230 career games and is currently hitting .282, although that number is likely to come down to the .250 range. He’s also eligible at three different positions, which helps make him a useful bench bat in daily lineup leagues.
Jake Burger (3B – CHW): 3% Rostered
Someday, I’d like to write an entire article about Burger just so I can put “Burger Time” in the headline. But for today, I’ll settle for talking about him here. A former first round pick, Burger has evolved into a fairly one-dimensional power hitter, but that’s ok. He’s already delivered seven home runs this season in just 34 games and has been thrust into a near-everyday role with Eloy Jimenez sidelined. Burger hit .274 with 18 homers in 82 games at Triple-A last season and is fully capable of producing at a 25+ HR pace as long as he’s in the lineup.
Matt Strahm (RP – BOS): 7% Rostered
The Red Sox have not been one of the most fruitful teams to go to for saves this season, but they’re bound to start generating more chances if they keep winning games like they have over the past month. Although just about every reliever in Boston’s bullpen has been utilized at some point, it’s Strahm who has the last two saves, which came on back-to-back nights in Anaheim. The 30-year-old left-hander’s 3.78 ERA is just ok, but his ratios all point to a pitcher who is throwing much better than his ERA indicates.
Alright, that’s 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 going to ROSrankings.com. I’m also always happy to talk about anything fantasy-related on Twitter @andrew_seifter.
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