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The Watchlist: Riley Greene, JP Feyereisen, Michael King, Tanner Houck (2022 Fantasy Baseball)

by Ben Rosener
Jun 17, 2022
J.P. Feyereisen Mariners

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.

Riley Greene (OF – DET)

One of the game’s elite prospects, Greene missed the start of the season due to a fractured right foot sustained on a foul ball in Spring Training.

Ranked by FanGraphs as the sport’s sixth-best prospect, behind only Adley Rutschman, Bobby Witt Jr., Julio Rodriguez, and teammate Spencer Torkelson, Greene is currently with Detroit’s Triple-A affiliate.

The 21-year-old is currently batting .281 with a .349 on-base percentage, a home run, and three stolen bases in 63 Triple-A plate appearances. And while minor league numbers shouldn’t be read into too much, Greene seems ready to make his Major League debut soon.

Now is the time to trade for him or add him from waivers or free agency. Not only does he have exciting upside at the plate – FanGraphs grades his future hit, game power, and raw power tools all at a 60 on the 20-80 scale – but he could step into a significant role with the Tigers.

Greene would’ve started for Detroit regardless of how the lineup was performing, but with Detroit struggling to score runs, the outfielder could quickly work his way into a permanent place near the top of the order.

Detroit primarily utilized Robbie Grossman as the team’s leadoff hitter earlier in the season. Still, due to Grossman’s struggles, as well as a stint on the injured list, A.J. Hinch has deployed a variety of different leadoff batters. In June, three other Tigers besides Grossman have hit first. Two of those three, Harold Castro and Willi Castro, are among the six different Tigers who’ve logged at least 20 plate appearances hitting second this season.

In short, the top of the lineup is in flux. And while this isn’t akin to Greene stepping in to bat leadoff for the Dodgers, a spot at the top of the order would provide plenty more opportunities regarding plate appearances, RBI, and runs scored.

J.P. Feyereisen (RP – SEA)

Before landing on the injured list due to a shoulder injury, Feyereisen was excellent for the Rays, striking out 25 batters in 24.1 innings, compared to just seven hits and five walks allowed. He was sporting a 1.70 FIP and 33.5% whiff rate.

And oh yeah, he’d yet to give up a run.

And while a shoulder injury sounds ominous for a pitcher, it certainly seems like it could’ve been worse, all things considered. The Tampa Bay Times’ Marc Topkin tweeted the following on June 4:

“#Rays Cash said MRI on Feyereisen showed a bone bruise, which Cash said is better than anything with the moving parts in the shoulder.”

Whenever Feyereisen returns, he’ll be returning to a very different bullpen with closer Andrew Kittridge out for the year due to needing Tommy John surgery. Earlier in the season during a separate injured list stint by Kittridge, four different relievers registered saves, one of which was Feyereisen.

Admittedly, Colin Poche had the most saves of that group with three. Still, Feyereisen has been the team’s best reliever this season, and it’s not hard to imagine him stepping into a similar role to the one Kittridge stepped into last season once Diego Castillo was traded.

The veteran was still the Rays’ top high-leverage option and threw before the ninth inning at times, but still logged more saves than any other Tampa Bay reliever during the second half.

At worst, Feyereisen is an intriguing saves+holds league stash while he’s on the injured list and potentially easy to acquire via trade, given his current injured status. But at best, he could emerge as the saves leader on a pennant-chasing team. Because it’s the Rays, the saves total for their top ninth-inning option might not be as high as other teams’ primary closers. Still, it’s hard to overlook Feyereisen’s fantasy upside when adding potential save work into the mix with his effectiveness.

Michael King (RP – NYY)

King is hardly an unknown name at this point, and he currently paces all relievers in fWAR (1.4). He has developed into a useful fantasy relief option despite not regularly pitching in the ninth inning, primarily due to his early-season success as a multi-inning relief option for Yankees manager Aaron Boone to deploy.

In 34.1 innings out of New York’s bullpen so far, King has pitched to a 2.62 ERA and a 1.91 FIP while striking out 46 batters and walking just eight hitters. He ranks in the 97th percentile in strikeout rate and the 99th percentile in whiff rate. He’s also sporting a curveball (26.9% usage rate) with an eye-popping 50% whiff rate.

In short, he’s very good at throwing a baseball.

But that didn’t translate to widespread fantasy acclaim and success for significant stretches of the season. Now, however, things could be changing.

With Aroldis Chapman on the injured list, which is to say nothing of his struggles before landing on the injured list, Clay Holmes has taken over as the closer in New York. With Chad Green and Jonathan Loaisiga also on the injured list, the Yankees were running short on setup options.

Without the aforementioned trio healthy, King has shifted to more of a single-inning role in building a bridge to Holmes.

In his first 12 appearances of the season, the right-hander threw two innings or more on eight different occasions. King hasn’t topped the two-inning mark in his last eight appearances. In fact, he’s thrown an inning or less in six of those eight appearances.

Holmes might not relinquish his grasp on the closer’s role soon. He’s given up just six hits and a walk in his last 12.1 innings, recording nine saves in the process. But if he suddenly struggles or is injured, King would seem to be the next in line for closing opportunities for a Yankees ballclub that entered play Thursday with the league’s best win total (46), winning percentage (.742), and joint-most saves (24).

Tanner Houck (RP – BOS)

Saves on any team are worth chasing in fantasy baseball, even on teams mired at the bottom of the standings. For a while, that was the Red Sox, a team that started the season slowly with a 10-19 record through May 8, thanks in part due to some uneven performances from the bullpen.

Through May 8, late-inning options Matt Barnes, Hansel Robles, and Jake Diekman all had negative fWARs, and each had a FIP above 4.80. To that point in the season, only three teams had fewer saves than the Red Sox.

Things are much different now.

After that start, Boston has gone 24-11 to vault themselves five games over .500, entering play on Thursday. They still rank in the bottom third of the league in saves, but there’s stability now at the back end of the bullpen with Matt Strahm, Houck, and John Schreiber taking over as the primary save options.

This still might be something of a committee as all three of Strahm, Houck and Schreiber have at least one save this year. But keep an eye on Houck, who may be starting to separate himself as the closer.

The 25-year-old has saves in each of his last two outings, both of which were the Red Sox’s last two save opportunities. And the slider, which was key in his success in 2021, is back to its usual effectiveness.

Tanner Houck’s slider in 2022: 38.1% usage rate, 36.7% whiff rate, 34.4% hard-hit rate, .170 batting average, .239 wOBA, .264 slugging percentage, .215 xBA, .275 xSLG, .260 xwOBA

Of course, Boston could reverse course and decide they want Houck to function primarily as a high-leverage reliever and work in situations that aren’t always in the ninth inning – Strahm did have the Red Sox’ two previous saves – but the upside here is significant, especially with Boston back above .500 again.

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