Five months in the books and we officially have just one more to go. The baseball season is a grind. Those who have fallen out of the race have likely turned their attention to other matters, like maybe preparing for their fantasy football draft. By the way, get the Rotoworld Fantasy Football Draft Guide. It’s fantastic. But if you are still reading this column, that probably means that you have a chance to win your league(s). Or at least you want to remain competitive and finish as strong as possible. Good on you for that.
This column will change a little bit over the final month of the season, as I’m going to be more focused on the matchups for starting pitchers over just recommending a pitcher for their skills in general. And as we move to the final week or two, I’ll try to break my recommendations for position players into specific scoring categories. Oh, and of course, we’ll also have the annual “Waiver Wired Awards” for the final week of the season, so keep an eye out for that. Good luck in the home stretch.
Shelby Miller SP, Diamondbacks (Yahoo: 23 percent owned)
Save for a two-run first inning, Miller looked good in his return to the majors Wednesday against the Giants. The 25-year-old allowed six hits over his six innings of work while walking just one batter and striking out six. He threw 67 out of his 97 pitches for strikes. This comes after he put up a 3.91 ERA and 55/10 K/BB ratio in 50 2/3 innings over eight starts during his time with Triple-A Reno. I understand that it’s difficult to trust someone who had a 7.14 ERA in 14 starts prior to his demotion back in July, but we know he’s better than what he has shown. Maybe not 3.02 ERA good given his situation in a hitter-friendly home ballpark, but certainly better. I’m more willing to give him a try over Rays right-hander Alex Cobb, who will make his return from Tommy John surgery on Friday against the Blue Jays. I’m obviously intrigued by Cobb given his track record, but I think I’ll be more willing to invest next spring.
Yulieski Gurriel 3B, Astros (Yahoo: 19 percent owned)
The wait was a bit longer than originally anticipated, but Gurriel has looked pretty comfortable at the plate since making his long-awaited major league debut on August 21. The 32-year-old is hitting .318 (7-for-22) with a pair of doubles and two RBI through his first eight games. I’m not going to go overboard with the small sample, but I’m encouraged that he has only struck out twice so far. The Astros eased Gurriel into things as the designated hitter, partially due to a minor hamstring issue, but he made his first start at third base on Monday before playing left field on Wednesday. The at-bats should be there as long as he hits and given his impressive reputation from Cuba, I think he will.
Asdrubal Cabrera SS, Mets (Yahoo: 18 percent owned)
Perhaps inspired by the new Frank Ocean album, the bleach-blonde Cabrera has been red-hot since returning from the disabled list earlier this month, hitting .405 (17-for-42) with four homers, four doubles, and 11 RBI over 12 games. He now has 17 home runs for the year, his most since his first All-Star campaign back in 2011 with the Indians. Cabrera tweaked his knee again over the weekend in a collision at first base and will have to play through the pain during the final month of the season, so there’s a chance it could take a toll on his production, but I like his pop from a middle infield spot in most formats.
Javier Baez 2B/3B/SS, Cubs (Yahoo: 36 percent owned)
After an impressive showing at the plate in July, Baez just finished up a rough August where he batted just .220/.253/.341 with 24 strikeouts and two walks over 87 plate appearances. There’s still work to be done here, but the playing time has been fairly steady recently between second base and the hot corner. Even with the rough August, he has reached double-digits in homers and steals for the year. Baez is in a great lineup and qualifies at three positions, which is advantageous for fantasy owners trying to maximize their roster late in the year. There are flaws here, but I think he should be owned in most formats.
C.J. Cron 1B, Angels (Yahoo: 20 percent owned)
Cron showed encouraging signs at the plate before going down with a broken left hand in July and he has picked off from where he left off since making his return late last month, batting .364 with three homers and 10 RBI over 11 games. The 26-year-old quietly (at least by his ownership percentage) owns a .290/.339/.498 batting line over 88 games this season to go along with 14 homers and 60 RBI. There’s still not a lot of patience here, but he has cut down on his strikeout rate and is swinging at fewer pitches outside of the strike zone than he has done in the past. Cron has found a home in the middle of the Angels’ lineup in recent days, which is obviously a good place to be. He’s a solid corner infielder option in most formats.
Jedd Gyorko 1B/2B/3B/SS, Cardinals (Yahoo: 41 percent owned)
If somebody asks me whether Gyorko homered today I’m just going to say yes because there’s a pretty good chance I’ll be correct. The 27-year-old has socked 17 homers in 171 plate appearances over 42 games during the second half. Only the Twins’ Brian Dozier has more (18) during that timespan, though he has had 37 more plate appearances. Gyorko has a homer for every 12.9 at-bats for the season, which ties him with teammate Brandon Moss for second among all MLB hitters with at least 300 plate appearances. Only MLB home run leader Mark Trumbo (12.8) ranks higher. No, he probably won’t continue at this pace, but he’s been hitting second in the Cardinals’ lineup recently and qualifies at every infield position. Like I said with Baez above and in previous weeks in this space, having multi-position eligible players is a nice advantage at this point in the season.
Scott Schebler OF, Reds (Yahoo: 13 percent owned)
The Reds have some interesting pieces right now, even though I’m not sure how they’ll all fit. We’ve at least seen a lot of Jose Peraza recently with Zack Cozart banged up, but I'm interested to see how much playing time will be there for the recently-acquired Dilson Herrera with Brandon Phillips swinging the bat well. Speaking of swinging the bat well, Schebler is hitting .339 (20-for-59) with five homers, two doubles, and 13 RBI over his last 16 games. There’s a lot of swing-and-miss in him, so I’m not optimistic from a batting average perspective, but he could be a sneaky source of pop over the final month.
Yoan Moncada 2B, Red Sox (Yahoo: 33 percent owned)
Happy Yoan Moncada Day! My colleague Drew Silva went over his arrival in this morning’s Daily Dose, so you really don’t need me to tell you to take a flier on him if he’s still out there in your league. I’m not convinced he’s going to have immediate success in the majors like Andrew Benintendi, as his strikeout rate was at 30.7 percent in Double-A, but he has legitimate five-category stud ability and Red Sox manager John Farrell indicated on Wednesday that he sees using the 21-year-old as more than a pinch-runner or bench player down the stretch. Anything is possible in a small sample and it’s not like the Red Sox have been getting much out of Travis Shaw and Aaron Hill at third base. There’s opportunity here.
Yes, I’m digging into the Angels’ bullpen to try to figure out who might get save chances. I realize this is probably a futile pursuit. Fernando Salas was already an uninspiring choice at closer with Huston Street and Cam Bedrosian sidelined, but his trade to the Mets brings even more uncertainty to this situation. Best known for being included in the Johan Santana deal, Guerra has posted a 2.72 ERA and 30/3 K/BB ratio over 43 innings this season. He looks deserving of a bigger responsibility, but Ramirez has been handling eighth-inning duties of late despite the overall numbers not being all that exciting. So yeah, saves are saves. Do your thing. Speculate where you can.
Ivan Nova SP/RP, Pirates (Yahoo: 24 percent owned)
I recommended Nova in this space last week before he went out and spun six innings of one-run ball against the Brewers. He left that start with left hamstring discomfort, but fortunately it won’t cost him a turn in Pittsburgh’s rotation, as he lines up for another promising matchup against the Brewers on Saturday, this time at home. The 29-year-old has been great since being acquired from the Yankees at the trade deadline last month, posting a 2.87 ERA and 22/1 K/BB ratio in 31 1/3 innings over five starts. I’m putting him under streamers because I really like the matchup again, but it’s probably time for him to be owned in most formats.
Julio Urias SP, Dodgers (Yahoo: 44 percent owned)
I’m pretty sure Urias was supposed to be making his final start of the season about six times now. Perhaps he’d already be in the bullpen for good if the Dodgers’ rotation wasn’t held together with scotch tape. Anyway, I’m glad Urias continues to get chances, as he has allowed just one run with 14 strikeouts and two walks in 12 innings over his last two starts. The 20-year-old now owns a 3.71 ERA with 70 strikeouts in 63 innings through 12 starts and two relief appearances in the majors, which is pretty impressive under the circumstances. Friday’s start against the Padres could be his final one this season, but you couldn’t ask for a much better matchup.
Alex Reyes SP/RP, Cardinals (Yahoo: 34 percent owned)
Reyes was originally called up to pitch out of the bullpen, but he moved into the rotation with Mike Leake sidelined due to shingles and allowed one run over 4 2/3 innings last Saturday against the Athletics in his first major league start. The efficiency wasn’t quite there, as the 22-year-old walked four batters and was at 89 pitches when he was pulled in the fifth inning. He has averaged 4.4 BB/9 in the minors, so the control and command can be inconsistent, but the stuff is out of this world. I think he needs to be owned everywhere as long as he has a rotation spot and Friday’s matchup against the Reds has considerable appeal.
JaCoby Jones SS, Tigers (Yahoo: 1 percent owned)
Acquired from the Pirates in the Joakim Soria deal last summer, Jones has impressed over his first two games in the majors by notching back-to-back two-hit games. This includes three doubles and two RBI. The 24-year-old started at third base in his first game on Tuesday before playing center field on Wednesday. With Cameron Maybin banged up and Nick Castellanos likely out for another couple of weeks with a broken hand, there’s opportunity in this lineup. Strikeouts have been a big issue for him in the minors, so I don’t see much batting average upside here, but he’s capable of delivering some speed and pop.
Jharel Cotton RP, Athletics (Yahoo: 0 percent owned)
I mentioned Cotton after the A’s acquired him from the Dodgers in the Rich Hill/Josh Reddick a month ago and I’ll do it again now that September call-ups are upon us. Nothing is official yet, but the 24-year-old right-hander is a logical candidate for a promotion. He has posted an excellent 3.31 ERA and 30/4 K/BB ratio in 32 2/3 innings over five starts during his time with Triple-A Nashville. Known for his excellent changeup, he has averaged 10.1 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9 in the minors. The A’s will likely want to get a look at him as they plan for 2017. It helps that he’s already on the 40-man roster.
Randall Delgado RP, Diamondbacks (Yahoo: 1 percent owned)
Daniel Hudson held on for the save on Wednesday against the Giants, but it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing, as he hit a batter and gave up a run-scoring single along the way. He blow his first save chance last Friday against the Reds, so he’s not exactly on solid ground in this situation. Delgado is the logical alternative here, though he has a mediocre 4.29 ERA and 59/30 K/BB ratio in 65 innings. Left-handed batters have crushed him all year. Still, I’d assume he’d be next in line if Hudson stumbles.
Kelly Johnson 1B/2B/3B/OF, Mets (Yahoo: 1 percent owned)
Johnson really struggled with the Braves earlier this season, but he has turned his season around in a big way since making his return to the Mets in June, hitting .289 with eight homers and 20 RBI in just 150 plate appearances. The 34-year-old has provided some big hits off the bench, but he should have some more starts in his future now that Neil Walker is done for the season due to a back injury. Wilmer Flores will also be in the mix, but he has done most of his production against lefties. With his multi-position eligibility, I could even see Johnson having some value in deeper mixed leagues.