One of the hottest adds in Yahoo leagues over the past day or so has been Cardinals right-hander Joe Kelly. Sidelined for nearly three months with a severe hamstring strain, he's slated to make his return Friday night against the slumping Brewers. I can certainly understand the enthusiasm for him, as he was off to a great start prior to the injury and owns a 2.83 ERA over 34 career starts in the majors. That's pretty darn impressive.
There's value in limiting home runs, which Kelly does very well, but the fantasy upside is a bit limited since he's only averaged 5.3 K/9 as a starter. His walk rate as a starter is also above the league average. Sure, there's an opening in the Cardinals' rotation right now with Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia hurt, but things could get a little complicated if the team acquires a pitcher like Jake Peavy, which has been rumored in recent days. Kelly or Carlos Martinez could be headed back to the bullpen in the case. And there might not be room for either of them if Wacha eventually returns. I'm getting way ahead of myself, of course, but it's worth thinking about. There's matchup appeal here as long as Kelly sticks, but don't focus too much on the ERA. Unless his velocity begins to translate to strikeouts, it could fluctuate.
While we're on the subject of starting pitchers from the National League Central, in this week's Buy, Sell, or Hold video, I mention one who somehow continues to fly under the radar in fantasy leagues despite some pretty impressive numbers. Check it out below.
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Mike Leake SP, Reds (Yahoo: 46 percent owned)
Yes, Leake is already gone in most competitive leagues, but how much more does he have to do in order to be close to universally-owned? The 26-year-old right-hander allowed two runs over seven innings in Monday's win over the Cubs and now has a 3.42 ERA and 95/24 K/BB ratio in 121 innings across 18 starts this season. With a slight uptick in velocity, he's currently sporting the best strikeout and walk rates of his career. Meanwhile, his ground ball rate (53 percent) is also a career-best. Granted, he makes half of his starts in the hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park, which has been problematic before, but he's capable of being a top-50 starter the rest of the way if he can maintain the K-spike.
Wilson Ramos C, Nationals (Yahoo: 46 percent owned)
Ramos' power has been slow to come around since hamate bone surgery, but perhaps he's about to take off. The 26-year-old backstop is currently riding a career-best 12-game hitting streak and has two homers in 10 games since returning from his hamstring injury. Even with the stops and starts in his season, he's batting .295/.345/.426 over 142 plate appearances, which is plenty productive. I had him pegged for a full-fledged breakout this spring and I'm still confident we'll see more thump from him as the season moves along. Let's all cross our fingers for him to stay healthy for once.
Mike Moustakas 3B, Royals (Yahoo: 19 percent owned)
Is Moustakas fixed? I'll be honest when I say that I don't have the slightest idea. But he's hitting .277 (23-for-83) with six home runs and 17 RBI over his last 25 games. The power has been nice to see, of course, but so has his 10/8 K/BB ratio over 93 plate appearances. I'll take some progress anywhere I can get it. I wouldn't count on much from him on the batting average front -- we're talking about a .237 career hitter after all -- but he's worth a shot if you need some pop out of a corner infield spot.
Dexter Fowler OF, Astros (Yahoo: 38 percent owned)
Fowler landed on the disabled list late last month with a right intercostal strain, but he has made progress following a platelet-rich plasma injection and could return as soon as he's eligible on Saturday. There were fears that his production would suffer leaving Coors Field behind, but you wouldn't know it by what he's done this season, as the 28-year-old is batting .270/.377/.396 with 21 extra-base hits (including six homers), 24 RBI, six stolen bases, and 43 runs scored over 76 games. His .774 OPS is pretty close to the .787 mark he has put up for his career. He remains a useful five-category contributor.
Kolten Wong 2B, Cardinals (Yahoo: 11 percent owned)
Wong was a preseason sleeper in many leagues and he finally appears primed to deliver on that promise. The 23-year-old has found his power stroke since returning from a shoulder bruise by going deep three times in four games. This includes a walk-off blast on Tuesday night. While Wong still owns an underwhelming .218/.272/.319 batting line in the majors, the Hawaii native was a .305 hitter in the minors and had 56 stolen bases over 298 games. He's already shown that speed at the major league level by going 13-for-14 in stolen base attempts. If you need a middle infielder option, the window to buy low is closing quickly.
Chase Headley 3B, Padres (Yahoo: 34 percent owned)
Headley's walk year has been a nightmare so far. In addition to being banged up with calf and back injuries, the 30-year-old is batting just .225/.300/.341 over 277 plate appearances. Still, if you are desperate for a corner infielder, I'd be willing to take a chance on him. It's worth noting that he has a career-best 25 percent line drive rate, so expect better luck on the BABIP front if he can keep it up. For what it's worth, he has recently gone back to the grip on the bat which he used during his breakout 2012 campaign. Teams like the Blue Jays and Yankees have been mentioned as possible landing spots for him leading up to the July 31 non-waver trade deadline, so there could be better days ahead for him in the second half.
Dillon Gee SP, Mets (Yahoo: 32 percent owned)
Gee was excellent in his return from the disabled list Wednesday, allowing just one run over seven-plus innings against the Braves. Not bad for a guy who missed two months with a lat strain. The 28-year-old now owns a 2.56 ERA through nine starts this season and a 2.78 ERA over the past calendar year. Only seven pitchers (min. 150 innings pitched) have been better during that time. Yes, Gee isn't a big source of strikeouts, but most fantasy owners should be able to find a place for him on their roster. He has earned it.
Shopping at the five-and-dime:
(Players owned in under 10 percent of Yahoo leagues)
Justin Ruggiano OF, Cubs (Yahoo: 7 percent owned)
Ruggiano has been on fire of late, hitting a cool .408 (20-for-49) with two homers, six doubles, nine RBI, and six runs scored over 13 games. While his production predictably dropped off last year, he remained relevant due to his power-speed combo. The 32-year-old hasn't run much this season, likely due to a hamstring issue, but he stole 29 bases between 2012-2013 and it's fair to expect him to be more active as he gets further removed from the injury. His recent success at the plate is a bit double-edged for fantasy owners, as he's making himself more attractive for a potential trade, which could ultimately put him in a platoon or part-time role. Still, he's a fine short-term option if you need outfield help in deeper leagues.
Brad Boxberger RP, Rays (Yahoo: 5 percent owned)
Assuming Jake McGee is already owned in your league, Boxberger is a pretty solid fallback option in Tampa Bay's bullpen. The 26-year-old has quietly put together a fantastic season, compiling a 2.52 ERA and 52/12 K/BB ratio in 35 2/3 innings. Relying mostly on his four-seamer and a changeup, he has struck out 38.5 percent of the batters he has faced this season, which is ninth among pitchers with at least 20 innings pitched. That's higher than the likes of Kenley Jansen and Koji Uehara. Boxberger makes for a sneaky addition if you are trying to maximize your innings. And with no set closer for the Rays, he should get a few more save opportunities as the season moves along.
Ken Giles RP, Phillies (Yahoo: 2 percent owned)
Jonathan Papelbon hasn't been shy about his willingness to be traded to a contender, so while the Phillies would likely have to pick up some of his remaining contract in order to find a fit, it's time to think about a potential replacement for the closer role if a deal goes down. Giles is quickly vaulting to the top of the list. The hard-throwing 23-year-old has allowed just one run over his first 12 2/3 major league innings to go along with a 17/3 K/BB ratio. Featuring a potent fastball/slider combo, he has struck out 37.8 percent of the batters he has faced so far. Control was an issue for him in the minors, but he averaged 12.1 K/9. Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg has already begun using him in a set-up capacity in recent days, so feel free to speculate if you are scrounging for saves.
Jacob deGrom SP, Mets (Yahoo: 8 percent owned)
Coming into this year, all Mets fans heard about was Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero, but the unheralded deGrom is making the biggest impact at the major league level right now. After tying a career-high 11 strikeouts Monday against the Braves, the 26-year-old right-hander now has a 3.38 ERA and 64 strikeouts over 66 2/3 innings over his first 11 major league starts. He has the stuff to back it up, with a mid-90s fastball, an excellent changeup, a slider, and a curveball. His arrow is definitely on the rise.
Jimmy Nelson SP, Brewers (Yahoo: 5 percent owned)
The results for Marco Estrada have been better over his past three starts, but with 27 home runs allowed in just 107 innings this season, his days in the Brewers' starting rotation could be coming to an end. The Brewers have a deserving replacement if they decide to make a change, as Nelson owns a 1.46 ERA in Triple-A this season to go along with an impressive 114/32 K/BB ratio over 111 innings. He's currently riding a 22-inning scoreless streak. Recently ranked as the No. 38 prospect in the game on Baseball America's midseason list, the 25-year-old right-hander features a low-to-mid 90s fastball and a power slider. Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said Tuesday that they have had "a lot of discussions" about calling him up, so I wouldn't be surprised to see him join the rotation shortly after the All-Star break. Those in 10- and 12-team leagues can likely wait and see, but now is the time to stash in deeper formats and keeper leagues.
UPDATE: It turns out that Nelson could be called up to start Saturday. Even more reason to pick him up.
Andy Dirks OF, Tigers (Yahoo: 1 percent owned)
I was going to mention Yankees prospect Rob Refsnyder here, but since he's not in the Yahoo player pool yet, we'll move on to Dirks. The 28-year-old was originally expected to be the Tigers' primary left fielder this session, but he underwent back surgery in March and was finally cleared for a minor league rehab assignment earlier this week. My guess is that the Tigers will utilize most or all of the 20-day rehab window, as there's no rush to bring him back with J.D. Martinez and Rajai Davis healthy and productive. Playing time could get complicated upon his return, but sometimes these situations sort themselves out. Dirks has been useful before in deeper mixed leagues, so he's worth a DL stash if you have the roster flexibility.
Nolan Reimold OF, Blue Jays (Yahoo: 0 percent owned)
Reimold was designated for assignment by the Orioles last week, but he has landed in a pretty good situation with the Blue Jays. The oft-injured 30-year-old is 4-for-11 with three doubles and three RBI over his first three games with his new club and he should play a significant role in the short-term with both Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind sidelined. Reimold's stock has faded in a big way after a pair of neck surgeries, but he has shown some power/speed potential in the past. There's some upside here if he's finally healthy.
Grady Sizemore OF, Phillies (Yahoo: 4 percent owned)
The Grady Sizemore experiment didn't work out in Boston, but we should soon see him surface in Philadelphia. The 31-year-old has hit .289 (13-for-45) with a home run and a double over 10 games with Triple-A Lehigh Valley while making starts at all three outfield positions. Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg envisions giving him a few starts a week, likely at the expense of Domonic Brown and Ben Revere. A potential trade of Marlon Byrd could be another avenue for playing time. Sizemore batted just .216 with two homers and a .612 OPS in 205 plate appearances before the Red Sox cut ties with him, so maybe there isn't much to get excited about anymore, but the opportunity for playing time should be there.
Brett Anderson SP, Rockies (Yahoo: 1 percent owned)
Sidelined since mid-April with a broken left index finger, Anderson has allowed one run in 9 1/3 innings with a 8/2 K/BB ratio over his first two minor league rehab starts with Triple-A Colorado Springs. The 26-year-old southpaw could be cleared to rejoin the Rockies' rotation on Sunday against the Twins in Minnesota. I have pretty much given up on the idea of him staying healthy at this point, so don't count on much here, but you could do worse with a roll of the dice for the second half.