Last week's column was chock full of pitching options, but this week I’m mostly focused on position players. In the wake of the stunning Dee Gordon PED suspension, I tried to look for a couple of middle infield options and speedsters to help fill the void. We have one about to come off the disabled list, who I mentioned in the video below. For the record, I was planning on including Brandon Drury this week, but he’s now owned in 51 percent of Yahoo leagues, so he’s just above my cut-off for the purposes of this column. The hot-hitting 23-year-old has played his way into consideration in standard formats.
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Jonathan Villar SS/3B, Brewers (Yahoo: 34 percent owned)
I mentioned Villar in the very first Waiver Wired of the season and I’m happy to see that he is providing some nice value in mixed leagues right now. After getting off to a bit of a slow start in the speed front, the 25-year-old has stolen six bases in his last seven games and seven in his last 10. He’s also getting on base quite a bit and has found himself in the second spot in the order in recent days. Top prospect Orlando Arcia will likely take over shortstop later this summer, but Villar could eventually see some time at third base. There’s 30-plus steal upside here if he can stay in the lineup.
A.J. Reed 1B, Astros (Yahoo: 16 percent owned)
Now that Tyler White has slowed down significantly, the speculation turns to when Reed will get called up. After batting .340 with 34 homers and a 1.022 OPS between High-A and Double-A last year, the 22-year-old owns a .244/.353/.512 batting line with six homers through his first 23 games with Triple-A Fresno this season. Not exactly setting the world on fire, mostly because his production against lefties has lagged, but he’s still showing patience and power. The Astros are off to a really disappointing start and have gotten next to nothing out of the likes of Luis Valbuena, Marwin Gonzalez, and Evan Gattis, so I don’t think Reed’s time is far off. He’s one of the better prospect stashes out there.
Nick Hundley C, Rockies (Yahoo: 24 percent owned)
Fantasy conversation is sometimes prone to hyperbole, but the catcher position is flat-out awful right now. Kyle Schwarber, Travis d’Arnaud, and Devin Mesoraco are all injured while Matt Wieters and Russell Martin have gotten off to disappointing starts. Blake Swihart was a guy many were hoping would take the next step this year, but he’s currently learning to play the outfield in Triple-A. Woof, it’s rough out there. This leaves many us scrambling for reliable options behind the plate, but Hundley is capable of helping in most formats. The 32-year-old hit .301 with 10 homers and an .807 OPS last season and is off to a solid start so far this season, though it was briefly interrupted by a stint on the 7-day concussion disabled list. He’s a must-start next week during a six-game homestand at Coors Field. He had a .956 OPS at home last season.
Ender Inciarte OF, Braves (Yahoo: 42 percent owned)
The Braves acquired Inciarte in the Shelby Miller deal with the idea of using him as their regular center fielder and leadoff man, but he lasted just three games before going down with a hamstring injury. The good news is that he began a minor league rehab assignment on Wednesday and could be activated this weekend. Adding a legitimate major leaguer to the Braves’ lineup is a big deal. You are mostly targeting him for speed (he stole 21 bases last season), but he also batted .303/.338/.408 last season and even hit six homers. I worry about the run scoring potential in his lineup, but he’s capable of helping in most formats.
Chris Tillman SP, Orioles (Yahoo: 39 percent owned)
Believe me, I’m surprised to see Tillman here too. I have basically ignored him as a fantasy option over the past couple of seasons, as the peripherals just weren’t backing up what he was doing. Suddenly, they are. Through six starts, the 28-year-old owns a 2.81 ERA and 33/12 K/BB ratio in 32 innings. There’s something tangible behind his success, as his velocity is up a tick and he has changed his pitch mix somewhat, relying less on his fastball and more on his cutter. What we’re seeing is a huge jump in swinging strike rate. It will be interesting to see if he can maintain it, especially with a thin margin for error at Camden Yards, but I think he’s worth speculating on right now.
Jonathan Schoop 2B, Orioles (Yahoo: 21 percent owned)
Schoop was another guy I mentioned in the first Waiver Wired of the season and I’m not cutting bait on him after a few so-so weeks. Oddly, he’s been a bit more selective and has improved his contact rate and strikeout rates in the process, but it hasn’t shown in his batting average. Not that I was counting on much help in batting average from him. It’s mostly about power. He’s in a great spot in Baltimore and hits plenty of fly balls to take advantage. He’s going to end up with 20-plus homers by the end of the year and you can’t say that about many middle-infielder types.
Ryan Zimmerman 1B, Nationals (Yahoo: 36 percent owned)
Could Zimmerman finally be getting on track? The 31-year-old is 7-for-14 (.500) with four doubles over the last three days and has raised his batting average from .219 to .264 in the process. There was reason to be optimistic about him even before the recent hot streak, as he was among the league leaders in exit velocity. It just wasn’t translating to results until now. I don’t expect the 31-year-old to stay healthy all season, but he’s a respectable corner infielder option in most mixed formats.
Nate Karns SP, Mariners (Yahoo: 12 percent owned)
Karns proved useful with the Rays last season by posting a 3.67 ERA in 147 innings prior to being shut down with a mild forearm strain in September. After being swapped to the Mariners over the winter, the 28-year-old owns a 3.81 ERA with 29/13 K/BB ratio in 28 1/3 innings over his first five starts this season. Still more walks and homers than you’d like to see, but he’s getting a good amount of whiffs and his velocity is up a tick from where it was last season. He’s relying more on his curveball and changeup in the early going, so he’s going with his strengths. Karns is someone you are likely going to have to pick your spots with, but I think there will be plenty of opportunities to use him with pitcher-friendly Safeco Field as the backdrop.
Shopping at the five-and-dime:
(Players owned in under 10 percent of Yahoo leagues)
Jesse Hahn SP, Athletics (Yahoo: 8 percent owned)
While Hahn was somewhat overshadowed by Sean Manaea’s call-up, he was great in his season debut Saturday against the Astros, allowing just three hits over 6 2/3 scoreless innings. He struck out four and walked two while inducing 13 grounders. Perhaps the most encouraging part was his velocity. According to Brooks Baseball, he averaged 96 mph with his sinker and topped out at 98 mph. That’s quite a jump from where he was last year. Health is always the big question with him, but the upside and home park make him worth grabbing in most formats. For the record, his next two starts project to be against the Orioles and Rays. My original projection had the Orioles and Red Sox, which I mentioned in the video above, so things are looking a little better for him in the short-term.
Derek Dietrich 3B/OF, Marlins (Yahoo: 3 percent owned)
Dee Gordon was hit with a shocking 80-game PED suspension last week and the multi-position eligible Dietrich stands to benefit. As I said in the video above, the 26-year-old quietly posted 10 homers with an .806 OPS last season and owns a .790 OPS against right-handers for his career. He’s already eligible between third base and the outfield and should soon add second base to the mix. It’s curious why he didn’t get more of a bump after news of Gordon’s suspension came down. He can help in a lot of leagues.
Danny Santana SS/OF, Twins (Yahoo: 5 percent owned)
If I filled out the lineup card for the Twins, Santana would not be the leadoff man. But I don’t. As a fantasy owner, I mostly care about opportunity. Santana has it right now. He’s getting the bulk of the playing time in center field right now and has made each of his last eight starts out of the leadoff spot. It’s probably not going to last. Santana never walks and he hit just .215/.241/.291 last season. But he has some speed and he’s multi-position eligible. As a short-term option in deeper leagues, I could see it.
Aaron Hicks OF, Yankees (Yahoo: 1 percent owned)
This is a deeper league option. We are going to see a lot of Carlos Beltran in the DH spot while Alex Rodriguez is on the disabled list with a hamstring injury, which means regular playing time for Hicks. I know, that doesn’t sound too exciting at the moment. Hicks is just 2-for-30 (.067) to begin the year, but I’m not going to make much out of sporadic playing time over the first month. He managed 11 home runs and 13 steals in 97 games with the Twins last season and will now find himself in a hitter-friendly ballpark. There are injury risks all over this lineup and Beltran could eventually be trade bait if the Yankees end up as sellers, so Hicks is capable of being relevant all year. It’s easy to forget that he’s just 26 years old. I still think there’s some nice upside here.
Ryan Flaherty 1B/2B/3B/SS/OF, Orioles (Yahoo: 0 percent owned)
J.J. Hardy is expected to miss 6-8 weeks with a left foot fracture, which throws the left side of the Orioles’ infield into question. Manny Machado has started back-to-back games at shortstop, so he appears very likely to keep shortstop-eligibility for 2017, which is awesome. Meanwhile, Flaherty has started back-to-back games at third base since returning from the minors. The 29-year-old has a .215 career batting average and a .283 on-base percentage, so I’m not expecting much here, but he has some pop and qualifies just about everywhere on the diamond. He’s a fine plug-and-play option.
Hyun Soo Kim OF, Orioles (Yahoo: 1 percent owned)
Yes, another Oriole. Hardy’s injury also has a potential impact on Kim, as Buck Showalter could play Mark Trumbo at first base and Chris Davis at third on some days. This would open up a spot in the outfield for Kim or Reimold. It’s worth noting that Joey Rickard is batting just .232 with a .581 OPS since the first week of the season. He’s not a lock to keep a starting spot if the struggles continue. After an awful spring which put his future with the Orioles in question, he has performed in extremely limited playing time by going 9-for-15 (.600) with a double, two walks, and two strikeouts. Maybe he’s worth a longer look?
Rene Rivera C, Mets (Yahoo: 0 percent owned)
Kevin Plawecki is expected to get the bulk of the starts behind the plate while Travis d’Arnaud is sidelined, but he’s hitting just .176/.333/.176 over 13 games so far this season and Mets manager Terry Collins has indicated that Rivera could find his way into more playing time. The 32-year-old was terrible with the Rays last season, but he had 11 homers with a .751 OPS in 2014. If you are in a two-catcher league, Rivera needs to be owned given the ugly state of the position right now.
Rio Ruiz 3B, Braves (Yahoo: 0 percent owned)
The Braves need offense in the worst way and it feels like just a matter of time before they shake things up. Part of that shakeup could include Ruiz, who was acquired from the Astros in the Evan Gattis deal. The 21-year-old has bounced back from a disappointing season in Double-A by batting .323/.402/.475 with two home runs through his first 27 games with Triple-A Gwinnett. How much of this is sustainable is open for debate. His strikeouts are way up and his BABIP is well over .400 right now. But the Braves are in rebuild-mode and it might not be long before they see what they have with him.