The Watchlist: Christian Bethancourt, Brian Serven, Nick Lodolo, Tanner Scott (Fantasy Baseball)
This is “The Watchlist.”
“The Watchlist” is a weekly column designed to help you monitor and pick up players in the coming weeks. Whether waiver wire or trade targets, these are the players you’ll want to add now before becoming the hot waiver commodity or trade target in a week or two.
Using underlying and advanced metrics, “The Watchlist” will help you get ahead of the competition in your league and reap the rewards later from your pickups.
The players could be anyone from a prospect in an ideal situation close to the Majors, a reliever in a saves+holds league, or even a starter doing well with misleading surface-level stats like ERA.
They might even be hitters with quality underlying stats. Or they could be none of those types of players and a different kind of player entirely. The point is that they’ll help you find success in your fantasy league while staying ahead of the curve of your league mates.
The payoff might not be immediate, but they should eventually provide significant value, more often than not.
These are some of those players for this week.
Though that could be changing to a degree thanks to Christian Bethancourt.
The obvious caveat to get out of the away at the top is that the A’s catcher and first baseman is only batting .245 with a .285 on-base percentage, though he does have four home runs and four stolen bases this season. But, if you’re in a slightly deeper league or simply have the bench space and want to take a flier on a potential fantasy difference-maker, Bethancourt is the player for you.
Getting consistent playing time for the first time since 2016 with the Padres, the 30-year-old is taking full advantage of it with plenty of loud contact.
Entering play Thursday, Bethancourt was in the 88th percentile or higher in hard-hit rate (88th), xwOBA (88th), xBA (88th), max exit velocity (92nd), barrel rate (93rd) and xSLG (96th). In fact, where the barrels are concerned, just five players — Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Mike Trout, Joc Pederson and Yordan Alvarez — have a higher barrel rate than Bethancourt among qualified hitters. That elite contact hasn’t translated to his fantasy scoring, but it’s likely to at some point at this rate.
Some of the reason the catcher’s production is down relative to his quality contact might be down to his home stadium.
Three of Bethancourt’s four home runs have come on the road, and he’s batting .319 away from Oakland while batting just .169 in home games. With that in mind, a mid-season trade could certainly have a positive impact where the veteran’s fantasy value is concerned. Still, as long as he keeps making loud contact, he’s someone to consider as a versatile fantasy bench cog.
Furthermore, the veteran brings even more to the table with his stolen base upside. Only J.T. Realmuto has more steals among catchers this season, and at this rate, it would surprise no one if Bethancourt logged double-digit steals this season.
If that’s the case, he’s plenty valuable to a fantasy team, especially with his eligibility at catcher and first base in Yahoo leagues.
Another player, another catcher with Serven, who has burst onto the scene with a highly-productive start for Colorado, hitting.295 with a .358 on-base percentage and three home runs in his first 67 plate appearances this season.
He isn’t connecting on as many barrels as Bethancourt, or rather his barrel rate (4.3%) isn’t in the same ballpark at the moment. Still, he’s connected on three home runs in just 67 plate appearances and gets to play his home games at Coors Field.
That’s the CliffsNotes version with Serven, but there’s more to it than that.
The backstop has always logged relatively low strikeout rates in the minors, making a fair amount of contact along the way. His highest strikeout rate at a minor league stop was 22.1% in 2019 at Double-A in 276 plate appearances and again at 22.1% in an identical 276 plate appearances at Triple-A last season.
That has carried over to the Majors this season, as the 27-year-old has a 20.9% strikeout rate so far. It’s an incredibly small sample size, but with Elias Diaz batting .216 with a .269 on-base percentage and a 56 wRC+, Serven could theoretically step into a more consistent role as long as he stays reasonably productive.
He’s probably only fantasy-relevant in deeper leagues as of right now, but hitters making regular contact in a regular role at Coors Field tends to work out well for fantasy purposes — even if the power numbers aren’t gaudy.
One of baseball’s best pitching prospects, Lodolo made his Major League debut earlier this season, working to a 5.52 ERA in three starts spanning 14.2 innings.
He’s since been on the injured list (IL) due to a back injury but is getting close to a return to the Majors. Close enough that fantasy managers should pick him up now as a stash candidate. The Cincinnati Enquirer’s Bobby Nightengale tweeted on Tuesday that the 24-year-old “could make his final rehab start this week at Triple-A.”
That’s welcome news for both the Reds and fantasy managers. After a rough first outing in which he gave up seven hits, five earned runs, three walks and a pair of home runs in four innings — to go along with four strikeouts — Lodolo settled in over his next two outings.
He scattered 11 hits over 10.2 combined frames against the Padres and Cardinals while giving up four total earned runs and only one home run. But, crucially, he struck out 15 batters during those two starts while giving up just two walks.
It’s an admittedly small sample size, but Lodolo’s high upside makes him worth the addition. And while his home ballpark in Cincinnati certainly isn’t ideal, the left-hander’s sinker-fronted arsenal should help in that regard.
The 24-year-old has thrown the pitch 59.3% of the time in the Majors, and it’s been effective with a -3 run value so far.
Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray have both found success pitching in Cincinnati with similar sinker-prominent pitch mixes. Lodolo could easily be the next starter to follow in their footsteps in that regard.
And while prospect rankings aren’t always an indicator of fantasy success, it is worth noting just how highly regarded Lodolo is. The seventh-overall pick in the 2019 draft ranks as FanGaphs’ 53rd best prospect, checking in ahead of the likes of Nolan Gorman, Steven Kwan, Max Meyer and MacKenzie Gore. He has exciting upside and should continue to make good on that upside once he returns from the injured list. So add him now before your league mates do.
The Marlins bullpen hasn’t exactly been a predictable group this season.
At times, it seemed like Anthony Bender‘s ascension to the top of the bullpen hierarchy was complete. At other times, it seemed like Dylan Floro might reenter the saves mix. Then there’s Cole Sulser, who had eight saves for Baltimore last season and had a pair for the Marlins this season. Louis Head also logged a save.
Now, things look a bit more settled, and it’s none of those relievers who are logging saves for Don Mattingly and company.
It’s Tanner Scott.
Scott has a save in five of his last 10 appearances, and there’s a chance he’s probably been picked up in your league.
Still, he’s an ideal trade target to pursue at the moment as the manager in your league who added Scott might find the reliever’s walk rate unideal. The 27-year-old’s 13.4% walk rate is in the sixth percentile league-wide and certainly not what you want to see from a closer.
That said, the upside here is too obvious, especially considering the additional strikeout help the reliever can provide.
Scott has made 27 appearances entering play on Thursday. All have been an inning or less. In 14 of those 17 appearances, the reliever has struck out at least two batters. His 35.3% strikeout rate is in the 98th percentile among pitchers. Among relievers with at least 20 innings pitched, only Edwin Diaz, Devin Williams, Josh Hader and Alex Lange have a higher whiff rate (39%).
That strikeout rate certainly helps offset the walks, both from a real-life baseball standpoint and a fantasy standpoint.
Since the beginning of June, Scott has thrown 8.2 innings.
His walks per nine innings rate during that span (4.15) is slightly lower than his 2022 walks per nine innings rate (5.33), but it’s the other metrics in that span that are the eye-catching ones.
Tanner Scott In June:
8.2 IP, 35 batters faced, 15 K, 4 BB, 3.12 ERA, 2.56 FIP, 16.4 SwStr%, 15.58 K/9, 4.15 BB/9, 1.04 HR/9
It’s certainly a small sample size, but if Scott keeps pitching like this, he has top-10 fantasy closer upside, even with the walks.
Now’s the time to try and make a trade for him, considering how difficult it is to find closers with that type of fantasy ceiling. Given Scott’s walk numbers, it’s possible you’ll be able to acquire him for a reasonable return. That last bit is especially crucial here. Don’t put all your trade chip eggs in one basket here, but given the walks, you might be able to acquire Scott as part of a deal for a useful but not an essential player on your roster.
However, if he pitches like this for the next few weeks, he’ll be entrenched as Miami’s closer moving forward. There’s a chance he already is, but trade for him now before the small sample size isn’t so small anymore.
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