We’re just about one-fifth of the way through this 60-game MLB regular season and I’m resistant to make any declarative statements about what we’ve seen. Okay, fine. Jacob deGrom looks better than ever and Aaron Judge looks healthy. Does that work? But beyond that, it’s just too soon to have any degree of confidence about anything.
That’s part of what makes this season so whacky. Normally you’d prefer to sit back and wait for more proof, but we don’t have the benefit of a six-month season where the cream typically rises to the top. Instead someone like Andrew Benintendi looks droppable and Kyle Lewis looks like one of the game’s best great sluggers. Really, he might be. Our own Christopher Crawford certainly thinks so.
In truth, this is where I believe the casual fantasy player could have the advantage over someone like me. So much about baseball (and fantasy baseball) is playing with the long game in mind, but now we’re forced to navigate with a new road map. With this column, I guess you can call me your fantasy baseball cartographer.
Have specific questions about your roster? Ask @djshort on Twitter.
(Players rostered in under 50 percent of Yahoo leagues)
Editor's Note: Percentages are from the morning of Thursday, August 6
Howie Kendrick 1B/2B/3B, Nationals (Yahoo: 40 percent rostered)
Kendrick was one of those players whose arrow was pointing way up when it was announced that the NL was adopting the designated hitter for the season, but his momentum was stifled a bit due to a back issue kept him out of the lineup for a few days. However, he’s back to full health now and appears ready to take off. The 37-year-old enjoyed the best year of his career last season, posting a .344/.395/.572 batting line with 17 homers over 121 regular season games before a brilliant postseason run. He’s likely to split at-bats between first base and the DH spot, but he’s eligible at three different positions in Yahoo, so it’s frankly surprising he’s still out there in so many leagues.
Griffin Canning SP, Angels (Yahoo: 36 percent rostered)
We discussed some waiver wire targets among starting pitchers in the latest episode of the Rotoworld Baseball Podcast (which you should really listen to if you know what’s good for you), but Canning might be my favorite. There was some concern about the condition of the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow during spring training, but the shutdown was good for him, as he feels good now and put together a strong start against the Astros in his most recent outing. With Shohei Ohtani shut down from pitching, Canning has the stuff to be the Angels’ best starter the rest of the way. The 24-year-old posted a 4.58 ERA over 17 starts and one relief appearance as a rookie last year, so that doesn’t jump off the page at you, but he missed a lot of bats and has kept that going so far this season. He should be an add in all formats.
Brian Anderson 3B/OF, Marlins (Yahoo: 23 percent rostered)
It’s time to take a fresh look at the Marlins’ roster now that they are back in action following the recent COVID-19 outbreak in their clubhouse. Many fantasy players understandably moved on while the club missed more than a week, but there are a handful of interesting options to consider in mixed leagues. Anderson stands out above the rest. The 27-year-old took a nice step forward at the plate last year, batting .261/.342/.468 with 20 homers over 126 games. He continued to show good patience while increasing his launch angle and hard-hit percentage. The power was the part of his game that was keeping him away from mixed league-relevancy, but it appears that something has clicked here. As always, I’m a fan of the versatility as well.
Anthony DeSclafani SP, Reds (Yahoo: 35 percent rostered)
I generally view DeSclafani as a perfectly acceptable fifth or sixth starter in a mixed league, but he was forced to begin this shortened season on the injured list due to an oblique strain. Fortunately, he managed to make a quick recovery and proved his health with five scoreless frames in his season debut against the Tigers in Sunday’s doubleheader. Yes, it was the Tigers, but DeSclafani was plenty good last year as well, posting a 3.89 ERA and 167/49 K/BB ratio over 166 2/3 innings. As long as you can deal with the obvious home run risk, he’s a fine play in most formats.
Travis d’Arnaud C/1B, Braves (Yahoo: 39 percent rostered)
The Braves’ catching combo went down on Opening Day due to concern over possible COVID-19 exposure, but fortunately d’Arnaud and Tyler Flowers never tested positive and were able to return to action last week. Signed to a two-year, $16 million deal during the offseason, d’Arnaud has started out red-hot with seven hits in 19 at-bats (.368 average), including one homer, two doubles, and seven RBI through five games. This comes on the heels of him posting 16 homers with a .782 OPS over 92 games with the Rays last season. Health has always been a major issue for d’Arnaud, but he’s capable of being a lineup staple in single-catcher mixed leagues.
Nick Solak 2B/3B, Rangers (Yahoo: 19 percent rostered)
Solak hasn’t done much of note so far this season, but don’t let that bring you down. He’s making plenty of contact, but it’s only resulted in a .231 BABIP so far. The hits are bound to fall sooner or later. The 25-year-old mashed in Triple-A last year and impressed at the major league level after coming over from the Rays in July, batting .293/.393/.491 with five homers through 135 plate appearances. He hits the ball hard, has good patience, and there’s also some sneaky speed here. Solak has a bit of a roving role with the Rangers, most recently filling in at second base while Rougned Odor deals with an oblique issue, but the important thing is that he’s playing. Pick him up if someone dropped him due to the slow start.
John Means SP, Orioles (Yahoo: 15 percent rostered)
Means seemingly came out of nowhere last season to be the Orioles’ All-Star representative while putting up a 3.60 ERA and 121/38 K/BB ratio over 155 innings. Still, enthusiasm was lacking for him among fantasy players this spring and summer. And it makes sense, as advanced metrics didn’t back up what he did and he was going to have to navigate another year in a tough park and division while playing for one of the worst teams in the majors. So what is he doing in this column? Well, Means has picked up four MPH on his average fastball velocity in two starts since beginning the year on the injured list due to arm fatigue. Really. Four MPH. Apparently he accomplished this by throwing into a mattress during the COVID-19 shutdown. Whatever works. Means is on the bereavement list right now, but assuming he’s back soon he suddenly makes for an intriguing addition in most leagues.
Jon Berti 3B/SS/OF, Marlins (Yahoo: 13 percent rostered)
I mentioned Brian Anderson earlier, but Berti is another member of the Marlins to keep in mind, though for different reasons. It’s all — or mostly — about speed here. Berti was a surprise contributor with the Marlins last season, batting .273/.348/.406 with six homers, 24 RBI, 17 steals and 52 runs scored over 73 games. He entered this season in a super-utility role, but the landscape has changed in recent days, most notably because Isan Diaz has opted out of the season due to COVID-19 concerns. Berti’s wheels are no joke, as he swiped 270 bases over 811 minor league games and ranked among the game’s elite in regard to sprint speed last season. His track record as a hitter isn’t great, but take a shot depending on category need, especially while he’s hitting second in Miami’s lineup.
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Dominic Smith 1B/OF, Mets (Yahoo: 3 percent rostered)
Yoenis Cespedes opted out of the season due to COVID-19 concerns, though of course it unfolded in the most Mets’ way possible. Lost in the drama of all that is that the path is clear for Smith to see regular playing time in the Mets lineup moving forward. He deserves it after a breakthrough 2019 campaign where he slugged 11 homers with a .282/.355/.525 batting line over 197 plate appearances. The 25-year-old was more selective at the plate, chasing fewer bad pitches while improving his contact rate and hitting the ball harder in the process. It wasn’t too long ago that Smith (and not Pete Alonso) was considered “The First Baseman of the Future” in New York due to his combination of hitting prowess and defensive ability at first base. He’s likely to mostly be a DH this season, but dual eligibility between first base and the outfield helps his case in deeper mixed fantasy leagues.
Yusei Kikuchi SP, Mariners (Yahoo: 8 percent rostered)
In a similar vein to John Means, Kikuchi has shown increased velocity in the early part of the season. According to FanGraphs, his average fastball velocity checks in at 95.5 mph after registering at 92.5 mph last season. His slider/cutter has seen an even bigger increase compared to last season. His offseason work at Driveline Baseball is paying off. The southpaw was actually knocked around by the Astros in his season debut back on July 26, but he rebounded with nine strikeouts and one walk over six scoreless innings against the Athletics in his most recent start last weekend. He picked up 20 swinging strikes in his 89 pitches, looking like a completely different pitcher than we saw in his stateside debut last year. Color me intrigued. Kikuchi gets the Rockies next, but fortunately it’s in Seattle and not in Colorado. Let’s see if he can keep this going.
And Because We Have To, Here Are Some Relievers:
Ryan Helsley RP, Cardinals (Yahoo: 11 percent rostered)
Ryan Pressly RP, Astros (Yahoo: 44 percent rostered)
Rowan Wick RP, Cubs (Yahoo: 46 percent rostered)
Jairo Diaz RP, Rockies (Yahoo: 48 percent rostered)
One sign of personal growth is to accept the things you can’t control. That just about summarizes the closer situation in MLB right now. If you spend too much time thinking about it, you’ll almost certainly go mad. So just don’t. Do what you need to do in order to compete, but understand that nobody has the answers and things will continue to change. In other words, don’t be too hard on yourself. Randomness rules the day.
It’s probably last call on names like Pressly, Wick, and Diaz, but there’s still time to get out from on Helsley. With Kwang-Hyun Kim headed to the starting rotation, Helsley might be first in line for save chances. This possibility was raised during summer camp and Cardinals manager Mike Shildt named Helsley first when discussing his options on Wednesday. Armed with a high 90s fastball, nasty cutter, and a developing curveball, the 26-year-old has compiled a 2.75 ERA and 34/12 K/BB ratio through his first 39 1/3 regular season innings in the majors. Giovanny Gallegos (Yahoo: 63 percent rostered) is probably the biggest threat.