In searching for players who could take the next step forward this season, Padres outfielder Manuel Margot had all the makings of a logical candidate. He put together a solid rookie season, showing excellent speed and a rise in his fly ball rate during the second half. He also appeared locked in as the Padres’ leadoff man.
As a result, Margot was someone I found myself drafting regularly in the spring, sometimes reaching a bit early to get him. It hasn’t exactly worked out during the first half, as the 23-year-old struggled miserably over the first two months while also missing time with rib and wrist injuries. He was dropped in the lineup and even found himself on the bench some days. Fantasy owners did some dropping of their own during that time, but suddenly Margot has reminded us why he was considered a breakout pick.
After working hard to rework his mechanics at the plate, Margot has seen results this month with a .316/.388/.513 batting line to go along with 10 extra-base hits (including two homers), 10 RBI, and nine runs scored over 23 games. Reclaiming a spot near the top of the Padres’ order in recent days, he’s shown more patience while greatly improving his contact rate.
And when Margot is hitting the ball, he’s hitting it very hard. His average exit velocity is on the rise and he’s also seen a sudden increase in his launch angle. Oddly, he’s 0-for-4 in stolen base attempts this month and just 6-for-12 on the year. He was caught stealing seven times in 23 attempts last season. Maybe he needs more time for the instincts to catch up to the raw speed. Either way, Margot has done enough to warrant attention again in mixed leagues. As of Thursday, he was still available in nearly 70 percent of Yahoo leagues. There’s still time for him to take that leap forward this year.
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(Percentages are from the morning of Thursday, June 28)
Zack Wheeler SP, Mets (Yahoo: 12 percent owned)
On the surface, Wheeler’s season isn’t anything special. He’s got a 4.47 ERA and actually hasn’t won a start since way back on April 29. Still, I think there’s reason to be intrigued here. Wheeler is throwing harder than ever before, averaging 96.0 mph on his fastball this month while putting up a 3.26 ERA over six starts. He’s topped out around 99 mph in each of his last four starts. The velocity spike hasn’t translated to a huge uptick in whiffs, but he does have 23 strikeouts over his last three starts. Wheeler has only recently started seeing the benefits of a mechanical change introduced during spring training, so I’m interested to see where this story leads. It’s mostly nice to see him healthy again.
Matt Chapman 3B, Athletics (Yahoo: 36 percent owned)
Chapman has spent a couple of weeks on the DL with a lingering hand injury, but he received a second cortisone shot earlier this week and the hope is that he’ll be ready to swing a bat on Thursday. Barring any further discomfort, he’d likely go out on a brief minor league rehab assignment before rejoining the A’s lineup. Chapman had some ups and downs this year, but he has shown some progress with his approach by making more contact and chasing fewer pitches. We all know about the excellent defense and the thump in his bat, but he could be more than that.
This is pretty straightforward. Minter and Winkler are the logical pickups in fantasy leagues while Vizcaino is on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation. It might not be for very long. Vizcaino played catch on Tuesday and is scheduled to throw off a mound on Friday. If all goes well, he could return as soon as he’s eligible on Sunday. Still, it’s possible he’ll need some time to manage his shoulder moving forward, so Minter and Winkler could continue to have value beyond this stint. Obviously the dynamic changes a bit if the Braves make a trade for an established closer before July 31.
Ketel Marte 2B/3B, Diamondbacks (Yahoo: 32 percent owned)
A quick look at Marte’s season wouldn’t suggest that he’s worthy of a pickup, but he’s put together a heck of a month, batting .286/.337/.631 with 15 extra-base hits (including five home runs), 18 RBI, and 20 runs scored over 20 games. He’s making more contact than ever before while also hitting the ball harder than he ever has. He’s also hit the ball in the air more often this month, though we obviously need a bigger sample size. Still, there’s enough trending in the right direction to give him a try in mixed leagues. As always, the multi-position eligibility is a nice selling point.
Zach Eflin SP, Phillies (Yahoo: 36 percent owned)
The Phillies are hanging around as a threat in the NL East and Eflin’s emergence has been a big part of that, especially lately. The 24-year-old spun seven scoreless innings against the powerful Yankees on Wednesday night and now owns a 3.02 ERA and 57/14 K/BB ratio in 56 2/3 innings through 10 starts this season. He’s won each of his last five starts while posting a dominant 1.76 ERA and 26/8 K/BB ratio. He hasn’t walked more than two batters in a start since May 30. Eflin never missed bats like this during his previous stints in the majors, but he’s seen an uptick in velocity this season and his changeup is emerging as a real weapon. After Wednesday’s showing, he’s not going to be widely-available much longer.
Jonathan Loaisiga SP, Yankees (Yahoo: 25 percent owned)
I’d love to include some of the other interesting young pitchers around the game right now, namely Freddy Peralta and Shane Bieber, but they are both owned in more than 50 percent of Yahoo leagues at the moment. It’s not like you need my yep with those guys, anyway. Still, there’s a chance they could still be out there in shallow leagues, so be sure to take a quick scan of the waiver wire. Fortunately, Loaisiga is still available in a lot of leagues despite pitching in a high-profile situation. Perhaps that’s because his second MLB start was a bit of a dud, but he bounced back nicely on Monday by allowing just one hit with two walks and eight strikeouts over 5 1/3 scoreless innings against the Phillies. There’s a lot to like about Loaisiga in the long-term, as he throws hard with good command and gets a ton of whiffs on his curveball. He’s worth rostering until Masahiro Tanaka (hamstring) is ready to return.
Stephen Piscotty OF, Athletics (Yahoo: 16 percent owned)
After all that Piscotty and his family have been through, I can’t say strongly enough how great it is to see him thriving with the Athletics. He’s hitting .299/.389/.532 with four homers, six doubles, 14 RBI, and 14 runs scored this month. Now, there’s still a few days to go, but his .921 OPS in June is the highest OPS he’s had in any month since his rookie season in 2015. He was certainly on the mixed league radar back then, so I think it’s time to give him another look if you haven’t already.
Wily Peralta RP, Royals (Yahoo: 10 percent owned)
In last week’s column, I just couldn’t muster up much enthusiasm for the Royals’ closer situation. That hasn’t really changed, but Peralta has notched the last two saves for Kansas City (including one against his old buddies with the Brewers on Wednesday) after Timothy Hill secured the first one following the Kelvin Herrera deal. That’s enough for me to advocate a pickup. Peralta was just called up to the majors earlier this month after posting a 4.37 ERA with 21 walks over 35 innings in Triple-A. He also struck out 39 batters during that time while enjoying a boost in velocity out of the bullpen. Peralta would seem to have the most upside here, but I worry about his control proving problematic. That could open the door for Brandon Maurer and Kevin McCarthy to see some chances.
Kyle Tucker OF, Astros (Yahoo: 11 percent owned)
Tucker was ranked No. 1 in Christopher Crawford’s (2018-only) prospect rankings on Monday and he was also featured in the title and introduction to Matthew Pouliot’s Strike Zone column on Wednesday, so it’s only appropriate that we discuss him here as well. It’s unclear if a promotion is anything close to imminent, but Tucker is at least forcing the conversation with his recent tear at Triple-A Fresno. The 21-year-old is batting .471/.507/.750 with four home runs and seven doubles over his last 16 games. He’s now up to a .315/.382/.525 batting line on the year to go along with 12 homers and 13 steals over 72 games. Those in shallow formats can wait to see how things play out, but it wouldn’t hurt to stash in deeper formats on the chance that he gets the call soon.
Shopping at the five-and-dime:
(Players rostered in under 10 percent of Yahoo leagues)
Nick Kingham SP, Pirates (Yahoo: 7 percent owned)
There hasn’t been room for Kingham to stick in the Pirates’ rotation full-time, but that could change after Chad Kuhl was forced to exit Tuesday’s start against the Mets with right forearm discomfort. There hasn’t been a move yet, but it could make sense to think ahead on this situation. Kingham hasn’t been able to match his brilliant major league debut, but he’s been decent enough when called upon by the Pirates this season and continues to roll in Triple-A. I wasn’t thinking much of him coming into the year, but the development of his slider has legitimately put him on the map. Stash him away. .
Rajai Davis OF, Indians (Yahoo: 2 percent owned)
I didn’t think I’d mention Davis in Waiver Wired again, but he just keeps on finding opportunities to steal bases. The 37-year-old has swiped eight bases this month (second-most in the majors) and now has 16 steals on the year. He’s also hit a little better this month, but that’s not really why you’re picking him up at this stage in his career. He’s strictly a speed play for those in deeper formats and anything else you get is a bonus.
Jose Bautista 3B/OF, Mets (Yahoo: 6 percent owned)
Davis and Bautista in Waiver Wired in 2018? Yes, that’s where we are. However, I realize that our readers play a variety of formats where grabbing a speed-only option or a high OBP guy can matter. That’s where Bautista comes in. After it looked like his career could be following his release from the Braves, Bautista latched on with the Mets and has produced a .254/.438/.465 batting line over 33 games. While he doesn’t have enough at-bats to qualify, he actually has the highest walk percentage among players with at least 100 plate appearances this season. He’s playing regularly in the Mets’ lineup and has even collected two homers and three doubles over the past week. Bautista is pretty much a must-own in leagues which use on-base percentage, but he could have some short-term value even in leagues that don’t.
Brandon Phillips 2B, Red Sox (Yahoo: 1 percent owned)
David Fletcher was listed under my AL-only recommendations a couple of weeks back, but it makes sense to mention him again now that Zack Cozart is headed for season-ending surgery on his shoulder. Fletcher figures to share playing time with Luis Valbuena at the hot corner for now. Another interesting situation is with the Red Sox, as the club signed Phillips to a minor league contract on Wednesday. The team hasn’t made him any promises, but he’s a backup plan for second base in case Dustin Pedroia continues to have issues with his knee. He could cut into opportunities for Eduardo Nunez, who has been a big disappointment this year. Phillips, who turns 37 on Thursday, batted .285/.319/.416 with 11 homers and 14 steals over 141 games last year between the Braves and Angels.
Danny Jansen C, Blue Jays (Yahoo: 0 percent owned)
Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. understandably gets most of the attention on the topic of Blue Jays’ prospects, but Jansen also warrants watching and could be worth a stash with a look ahead to the second half. The 23-year-old wasn’t really on the prospect radar over his first four years in Toronto’s system, but he’s turned his career around since he started wearing glasses. Jansen hit .323/.400/.484 with 10 homers over 104 games between three levels last season and has backed that up by batting .299/.413/.474 with five homers over 57 games in Triple-A this year. Any timeline for a promotion is purely speculative, especially with Russell Martin and Luke Maile still around, but there’s no doubt that Jansen is the catcher of the future here. And given the poor state of the position from a fantasy perspective, he’s a reasonable enough stash for the second half in this sort of format.
David Bote 3B, Cubs (Yahoo: 0 percent owned)
Kris Bryant landed on the disabled list with a lingering shoulder issue, leading to Bote’s latest stint in the majors. The 25-year-old went 1-for-4 with a single and a strikeout while hitting out of the No. 7 spot on Wednesday against the Dodgers. Bote has experience all over the infield and outfield in the minors, but he’s mostly known for his bat. He was hitting .267/.347/.502 with 12 homers through 54 games in Triple-A this year. He’s a decent short-term play until Bryant feels closer to normal.
Sandy Alcantara RP, Marlins (Yahoo: 4 percent owned)
It was a bummer to see Caleb Smith go down with a Grade 3 strain of his left lat, something which will likely keep him sidelined for the remainder of the season, but his absence will create an opening for Alcantara in the Marlins’ rotation. Derek Jeter made the announcement Wednesday that the hard-throwing right-hander will make his first start Friday against the Mets in Miami. Acquired from the Cardinals in the Marcell Ozuna deal, the 22-year-old posted a 3.71 ERA and 64/34 K/BB ratio in 85 innings over 14 starts in Triple-A this year. His control has been shaky recently, so I’m reluctant to trust him in mixed leagues initially, even with the favorable matchup. He’s definitely interesting, though.