Welcome to The Fringes, a column designed to help you identify valuable players on the outskirts – or fringes - of the fantasy baseball scene. We’ll cover low ownership starters, pitchers with favorable upcoming matchups, prospects on the verge, bench guys with the talent to be more, emergent multi-inning relievers and/or closers, and other opportunists.
Any new column is going to experience a little trial and error. As always, I welcome feedback. You can reach me on Twitter @BaseballATeam.
Prospects on the Verge
The Athletics have promoted Fowler in place of injured starting pitcher Trevor Cahill. Fowler has an impressive knack for making contact, although his aggressive approach could open the door for exploitable flaws. The best case scenario for hitters of this profile is something like Adam Jones. It’s more typical to see these types settle into a fourth outfielder role. Fowler has flashed 20 home run and 20 steal ability in the minors. Given the right opportunity in Oakland, he could fill up the fantasy stat sheet. There’s considerable risk and reward.
The Phillies are working to acclimate Quinn to playing right field. The club currently has Rhys Hoskins in left field and Odubel Herrera in center field. Aaron Altherr starts most nights in right. Although his seasonal stats look bad, Altherr has hit well since mid-April. Still, his job isn’t unassailable. Meanwhile, Nick Williams could probably benefit from everyday work at Triple-A.
Quinn has one of the highest ceilings in a loaded Phillies farm system. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to talk about him without bringing up his long history of injuries. He has 80-grade speed with enough pop and contact skills to perform like a poor man’s Trea Turner. So much of his development time has been lost to injury. Although he’s nearly 25, not once has he managed 400 plate appearances in a season. Therefore, a part time role in conjunction with Altherr seems sensible.
The Braves are surprise contenders this year thanks to an influx of quality youngsters. They’ll need to be bold to maintain their momentum in the NL East. Speaking of momentum, third baseman Austin Riley rode a hot streak all the way to Triple-A. The righty exhibits plus power mixed with slowly improving contact skills. It’s safer to expect a September call up. However, if the club is fed up with the Jose Bautista experiment, they may turn to Riley for a quick jolt. Although he’s getting better at making contact, his minor league swinging strike rate is still quite high (12.1 percent at Double-A). A 30 percent strikeout rate is possible if not probable.
Low Ownership Starters
Pitchers are eligible for inclusion if they are under 35 percent owned.
Cahill looked fantastic through his first four starts. Alas, he’s been sent to the disabled list with elbow impingement. Hot prospects Soroka and Romero were snapped up by waiver hawks as was Newcomb.
As a reminder, I only consider pitchers under 35 percent owned for this section. Eduardo Rodriguez and Nick Pivetta have shifted back onto viewfinder. In ERod’s case, a couple shaky outings and a matchup against the Yankees has spoiled interest. As I’ve always warned, you’ll get a strikeout per inning with wildly random results. Pivetta’s command has declined over his last two starts. I’m still using him without reservation against the Giants tonight. Zach Eflin jumps onto the list courtesy of increased velocity and slider usage. You never know who’s going to take a step forward.
The tiers represent two types of waiver asset. The first group has breakout potential or some other favorable quality. The second cluster is a collection of veteran volume arms. Sometimes they’ll have a good matchup or catch a wave of consistent starts.
Favorable Upcoming Matchups
Ian Kennedy at Baltimore
Caleb Smith vs. Atlanta
Walker Buehler vs. Cincinnati
Miles Mikolas at San Diego
Thursday includes quite a few streamable gems. I continue to maintain that Mikolas should be outright owned in virtually all formats. He’s opposed by a strikeout prone Padres offense at a pitcher friendly park.
Smith has become a popular sleeper due to a number of intriguing peripherals. He still needs a substantial breakout to become more than a streamer at home. Fortunately, he plays at Marlins Stadium tomorrow.
I’m waiting for Kennedy to have his version of the four home run shellacking Dylan Bundy experienced on Tuesday. A visit to tiny Camden Yards could be the day. That said, the Orioles are a beatable opponent. They’re strikeout prone, rarely win, and will start a terrible pitcher. Kennedy should receive run support.
With Clayton Kershaw sidelined, Buehler is locked into the Dodgers rotation for the foreseeable future. Although he’s one of the top pitching prospects in baseball and has a tasty 1.13 ERA with 10.69 K/9, his actual swinging strike rate of 7.3 percent raises red flags. That’s the kind of whiff rate you’d usually associate with Brent Suter or Kyle Hendricks. There’s a method to the madness. Buehler is a little like a right-handed, hard-throwing Dallas Keuchel. He has a pitch-to-contact bowling ball sinker and only seeks the strikeout once ahead in the count.
Brandon McCarthy at Miami
Luke Weaver at San Diego
McCarthy is a solid backend fantasy starter and streamer. He’s borderline ownable in 12 team and deeper formats. The Marlins have literally the worst offense by most metrics. There’s never been a better time to try McCarthy.
Weaver is the next pitcher to pick upon the Padres. They’re strikeout prone, and he’s capable of recording a strikeout per inning. His current 5.60 ERA has made him available in some leagues despite otherwise positive peripherals.
Alex Cobb vs Tampa
Zach Eflin vs New York (NL)
Mike Soroka at Miami
You can and should use Soroka for the same reasons as McCarthy – the Marlins are bad. Their home park is large. It doesn’t hurt that Soroka is one of the better command and control pitching prospects in the league.
I’d be very careful using either Eflin or Cobb. Eflin could be worthy of a stash just in case his new velocity and pitch usage leads to sustainably decent results. As for Cobb, he appeared to dust off a plus split-change in his latest outing. If true, it could be the key to a rebound from his currently terrible numbers. The Rays are a neutral opponent.
Last week’s spotlight player, Daniel Castro, hasn’t distinguished himself. In 16 plate appearances, he has three hits, no walks, and no strikeouts. He’s mostly hit weak grounders. This is consistent with the scouting report, although there was always a chance he’d hit with more authority. Now DJ LeMahieu is back from the disabled list, relegating Castro to a bench role.
Entering the 2017, Travis Jankowski looked like a valuable sleeper for stolen bases. Injuries and poor performance ruined those hopeful expectations. Meanwhile, highly regarded prospects like Hunter Renfroe, Manual Margot, and others leapfrogged him on the depth chart. Jankowski was consigned to Triple-A to start the 2018 season.
A fiery start to his Triple-A season and a bevy of injuries to his competition opened the door for a second try. Now Jankowski is batting leadoff for the Padres most days. He’s batting .346/.414/.500 in 29 plate appearances with two stolen bases. A .450 BABIP has helped to fuel his unsustainable success. Jankowski has a classic fourth outfielder profile. He lacks power and mostly hits the ball on the ground. He’s a disciplined batter, verging on passivity at times. The result a high walk and strikeout rate. He would probably be closer to a starting quality player if he swung more often.
The meaty bite of regression will take a chunk out of his numbers. We should expect about a .245/.320/.320 batting line with plenty of speed. So long as he’s batting leadoff, he’s useful in 12-team and deeper formats. Eventually, the Padres outfield will be back to full strength and Jankowski will return to a support role. In fact, Renfroe is expected to begin a rehab stint soon.