New talent, new blood

With the major league baseball season nearing the halfway point, many fantasy baseball managers are feeling discouraged as they fall in the standings. You may be one of them. What you need right now is an injection of new talent. If you find yourself in that boat, consider three rookies who have been called up in the last few days. All three are rostered in fewer than half of fantasy leagues. 

One caveat here about this threesome of talented young players is that two of them have already seen time in the majors before their most recent call-up. Riley Greene, the highest-ranked prospect of the trio, offers both power and speed. The Detroit outfielder made his major league debut on Saturday, going 2-for-3 with a pair of runs scored. On Sunday, he went 0-for-2 but walked twice. 

In an earlier column I wrote about drafting Oneil Cruz in The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational. Then he got off to a slow start in Triple-A this year, and it looked like he wouldn’t be called up anytime soon by Pittsburgh. He was barely hitting .200 in May and was also injured, so I dropped him because I needed the space on my bench for all of my injured players (there are no IL spots in TGFBI). Then things changed quickly.

Cruz slashed .279/.379/.527, with eight home runs and four steals in his last 34 games before being called up Monday by the Pirates. The 23-year-old shortstop electrified the fantasy baseball world with a strong run at Double-A last season, followed with six games at Triple-A and two games with the Pirates. He hit .466, with six home runs in those eight games in Triple-A and the majors and people took notice.

The third player, Alex Kirilloff had already gotten 244 at-bats in the majors between this year and last before he was recalled by the Twins on Friday. He was hitting below the Mendoza line when he was sent down last month, but he hit nine long balls and had 25 RBI at Triple-A. He’s gone 2-for-10 since he rejoined the Twins lineup. In spite some skepticism, I picked him up in my TGFBI league.  

There’s also C.J. Abrams, who hasn’t actually arrived yet but is reportedly on his way. The 21-year-old shortstop looked like a deer in the headlights in 55 at-bats earlier this year but got hot at Triple-A. He was pulled from the lineup at Triple-A El Paso on Sunday and could be joining the Padres soon depending on the severity of Manny Machado’s ankle injury. Stay tuned on that one. 

The four above-mentioned players aren’t the only ones out there. Before I go on, let me take a moment to brag. Playing in a 15-team league, I have been scrambling for more than a month to find players on the waiver wire to help my team. Here are the three players I picked up with a modest expenditure of FAAB money on May 22nd – Jeffrey Springs, Brendan Donovan and Seth Brown.

Springs was another one of those Tampa Bay project pitchers. He was DFA’d by the Red Sox last February after a poor 2020, but the Rays traded for the left-handed reliever. After numerous appearances from the bullpen, he earned the trust of Kevin Cash. He started in the pen again in 2022 but was moved into the starting rotation last month and has flourished. 

Springs has three effective pitchers which has resulted in three wins and an impressive 1.45 ERA. He also has a 0.91 WHIP and 50 strikeouts. The biggest improvement was in his changeup, which he now throws 36.6% of the time. Statcast has graded it as a top-20 overall pitch in terms of run value, giving him a three-pitch selection that he is locating better than he ever has during his pro career.

The Rays hurler is now rostered in 72 percent of Yahoo leagues and 58 percent of ESPN leagues. If he’s still out there, grab him immediately and don’t forget to thank me. If he’s rostered by someone else in your league, offer a trade. You could trade a player like Charlie Blackmon or Trent Grisham for him – especially if you play in a league with five starting outfielder positions to fill.  

Speaking of outfielders, I love Donovan. The versatile Cardinals rookie has made an impact with his bat, but he’s also eligible at two infield positions. Hitting near the top of a St. Louis lineup that includes Tommy Edman, Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado and fellow rookie Nolan Gorman, Donovan has gone 14-for-25 (.560) in his last six games, with seven runs and seven RBI.

This is the kind of production that has forced manager Oli Marmol to find a place for Donovan in the lineup. The 25-year-old has a .338/.447/.466 slash line with one home run, two steals, 20 RBI, 22 runs and 13 doubles in 159 plate appearances. With a roster percentage at 52 percent in Yahoo leagues and 33 percent in ESPN leagues, you might be able to jump on the Donovan train today.

I wrote a column on Donovan and the other Cardinals rookies on May 24th, but I want to circle back on Juan Yepez. Yepez, eligible in both the outfield and at least one infield position, got the one thing he desperately needed Monday when Tyler O’Neill went on the IL – a clear path to playing time He’s slashing .285/.340/.477, with six home runs, 18 runs scored and 16 RBI in just 130 at bats.

If you play in a deeper league, consider adding Seth Brown. He’s rostered in only 5 percent of Yahoo and ESPN leagues. A poor man’s Joey Gallo, Brown is also eligible in the outfield and at first base in most leagues, and is on pace to hit 25 home runs for Oakland.   Brown, 29, was finally given an extended look at the big-league level in 2021, hitting 20 bombs in only 307 plate appearances.

Outside of going deep at a solid 14.1 AB/HR clip, the 29-year-old’s output has been underwhelming. He’s struck out 29% of the time while posting a disappointing 7.5% walk rate on route to slashing .202/.269/.404. There are some reasons to be optimistic about his offensive upside, however. His .230 BABIP in 2021 is a case for positive regression in his batting average.  

On the subject of deeper leagues, I picked up Cubs lefthander Justin Steele two weeks ago on my TGFBI team for $1 of FAAB. Steele, 26, made his major-league debut in 2021 as a reliever. His 23.8 K% was promising for a rookie, but the 10.9 BB% was troubling. Since he had worked as a starter throughout his minor-league career, it wasn’t a shock when he was moved into the starting rotation.

Steele became a popular streamer after striking out 19 batters in two consecutive starts against Arizona, but he quickly fell from grace in a nightmare outing at Cincinnati on May 26th. Since that time, he’s been much better, even picking up his second win of the season Saturday at home against the Braves. He’s widely available in every league and has a juicy matchup at Pittsburgh on Thursday.

Another widely available player that I’m happy to have added with a low FAAB expenditure was rookie catcher Gabriel Moreno. The 22-year-old backstop was one of the top breakout prospects in the minors in 2021, and it was no surprise when he was called up by Toronto recently. In his first five games, the Blue Jays rookie has hit .421. He hasn’t shown much power yet, but it’s early.

Toronto has indicated that Moreno is their catcher of the future, and he could continue to get playing time – even when Danny Jansen returns from the IL. It was supposed to be Jansen and Alejandro Kirk behind the plate this year before Jansen got injured and Moreno got the call. Moreno has also played the infield in the minors, and it’s possible he could get some playing time there.

I don’t talk as much about Statcast metrics as much as other fantasy writers because I am also looking at other factors like team context, playing time and track record. However, this tool developed to analyze and predict player is useful in finding players who have been unlucky and could be worth adding from the waiver wire. One such player for me was Patrick Wisdom of the Cubs.

Wisdom, 29 got a chance to show what he could do last season and there was a propensity to hit home runs and strike out. When he makes contact, he has the traits to generate home runs. He hits the ball in the air (31.4 GB%) and hits the ball hard (92nd percentile maxEV). He has 12 home runs so far in 2022, and statcast data indicates he deserves more. He’s available in about 50 percent of leagues.  

In the list below, I’ve identified three first basemen who have been unlucky, according to Statcast metrics. While there are many statistics to consider, hitting the ball hard is a near the top of my list. All of these players on this list are hitting the ball hard and experiencing outcomes that are worse than expected. And all of them are available in more than half of fantasy leagues.

ROWDY TELLEZ, 1B, MILWAUKEE

Tellez’s roster percentage dropped below 50 percent in both Yahoo and ESPN leagues since he’s been struggling through a power outage, going almost three weeks without a home run. He does have 33.8% career chase rate. Still, Tellez for the season has an 88th percentile barrel rate and a 72nd percentile hard-hit rate. He hits in the middle of the order for the Brewers in a great hitter’s park.

CHRISTIAN WALKER, 1B, DIAMONDBACKS

Walker homered twice on Sunday and has 18 for the season. But he’s rostered in less than 40 percent of Yahoo and ESPN leagues. Okay, the .201 average is a drag, but Walker ranks third in batting-average bad luck — Statcast suggests he should be batting .278. And while a .469 slugging percentage is no embarrassment, the expected number shoots up to .621.

CHRISTIAN BETHANCOURT, C/1B, ATHLETICS

Athletics first baseman Christian Bethancourt got off to a slow start this season after four years away from the majors, but he has emerged as a top power hitter in recent weeks. His exit velocity has always put him in the top 20 percent of big-league hitters, but a swing adjustment in late May enabled his exit velocities to surge to an elite level. He’s also eligible at catcher.

Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, writes about baseball and football. You can follow Thomas on Twitter @ThomasLSeltzer1.

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