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.
As always, I welcome feedback. You can reach me on Twitter @BaseballATeam.
Prospects on the Verge
Let’s begin with a tip of the cap. Vladimir Guerrero is clowning minor league pitchers. Over the weekend, I half-jokingly said Juan Soto may overcome Guerrero as the top prospect. Since then, Vladito has 11 hits, two doubles and two home runs in 22 plate appearances. Shame on me for suggesting he could have competition. It’s painfully apparent that Guerrero is already a major league quality player. If the Blue Jays are serious about contending in an impossibly tough AL East, they ought to summon their best player ASAP. The only way I see it happening in the near-future is if they reach a long term extension. Only the Phillies have shown a willingness to spend aggressively on a minor league player.
Entering the 2018 season, Reyes was only on the radar in the deepest of dynasty leagues. After blasting 14 home runs in 154 Triple-A plate appearances, he definitely deserves more attention. Reyes showed strong plate discipline in the minors. His 11 percent swinging strike rate suggests he may struggle adjusting to major league pitching. The biggest challenge he faces is internal. For now, he’s sharing the outfield with Manuel Margot, Franchy Cordero, and Travis Jankowski. Soon, Hunter Renfroe and Wil Myers will return. Barring superb performance, Reyes looks like the odd man out.
Peralta’s debut was insane. He recorded 13 strikeouts in 5.2 innings. If you haven’t watched a clip of him pitching, I suggest you do. It’s an… interesting delivery. Kind of like a right-handed, more violent version of Rich Hill. Although he completely flummoxed the Rockies, Peralta doesn’t really project to be an immediately above average starter. He relies almost exclusively on a fastball and cutter. He mixed in a few decent curveballs too. The two heaters probably aren’t deceptive enough to carry him long term. Now is a fantastic time to sell high.
Low Ownership Starters
Tier 1Jordan Lyles Tyler Mahle Jack Flaherty Freddy Peralta
Tier 2Jaime Barria Brandon McCarthy
Pitchers are eligible for inclusion if they are under 35 percent owned.
A few housekeeping notes: Cahill is back after a brief stint on the disabled list. Rodriguez’s ownership spiked over the last week. I noticed I missed removing Kingham after he was demoted to the minors.
For the record, I was in on Lyles before he tossed a gem against the Rockies on Tuesday. Here’s proof. A change of approach has unlocked a new pitcher. He’s ownable in semi-deep leagues and streamable in shallow formats.
New command metrics love Mahle. It’s hard to tell he’s a command and control guy from his stat line because he’s willing to walk hitters rather than give in to them. He could be Kyle Hendricks-like with a worse park. That’s the upside.
Although I advised selling Peralta just a moment ago, that’s only because people massively overpay for shiny baubles. It shouldn’t hurt (too much) to use him until you find the right trade.
Emergent Late-Inning Relievers
The division-leading Braves have no margin for error if they want to remain 2018 contenders. While a combination of young star power, breakout starting pitching, and a surprise career year from Nick Markakis have fueled their early-season surge, the club needs more from its relievers. Thus far, they’ve gotten away with allowing a league-worst 5.14 BB/9 by clamping down on home runs. Something has to give.
Closer Arodys Vizcaino isn’t quite on the hot seat, but it’s certainly warmer than normal. He’s allowed runs in each of his last two outings including a blown save loss on Tuesday. Walks haven’t been a huge issue for him – at least not since his first four outings. The bigger issue is that he’s a fly ball pitcher who allows a little too much hard contact to profile as a closer. He’s also failed to reach 60 innings in every season since 2011. More importantly, there’s talk of sharing saves in Atlanta.
A.J. Minter entered the season as the heir apparent. While he’s shown some of the skills of a late inning reliever, he’s struggled to induce strikeouts (7.94 K/9). It’s a curious shortcoming since his 14.7 percent swinging strike rate is elite. Walks have been an obvious problem (6.35 BB/9).
Meanwhile, Winkler is already pitching like a premium closer. His combination of rising fastball, cutter, and slider has left hitters completely befuddled. He uses the three pitches craftily while avoiding free passes. To this point, he’s succeeded by allowing just 11.8 percent hard contact. Of pitchers with at least 10 innings, Winkler’s hard contact rate is the lowest by a huge margin. Likely, we’re looking at a blend of skill and luck. Generally speaking, around 20 percent hard contact is as low as pitchers can go. Even with impending regression, he still looks like a high value reliever.
The Phillies bullpen has performed similarly to the Braves even though the roster construction feels very different. While Atlanta’s relief corps isn’t very deep, Philadelphia has excessive depth. They’ve recently ousted Hector Neris from the ninth inning only to reinstall him for the final out today. It’s a confusing situation. A number of solid but unspectacular alternatives are available – Edubray Ramos, Tommy Hunter, Luis Garcia, and Victor Arano are a few of them. Fans of the Phillies are hoping rookie Seranthony Dominguez steps up instead.
Dominguez possesses size, 98 mph velocity, and a versatile slider. He was converted from the rotation to the bullpen this spring. The story and stuff are reminiscent of Edwin Diaz. He also surged to the majors upon transitioning from starting to relieving. Dominguez tossed a total of just 16.2 innings in the upper minors.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to the Phillies roster management. On the one hand, it’s unlikely we see Dominguez pitching the late-innings. Arano is returning from the disabled list any day now, and Dominguez is a candidate to be optioned. The alternatives are to option Mark Leiter or designate Drew Hutchison. Additionally, teams are usually cautious introducing prospects to challenging scenarios. Philadelphia is a little different in that they’re obviously trying to be aggressive. Like the Braves, they have no margin for error in the NL East. An exciting breakout closer may be exactly the shot in the arm they need to contend.
Catchers can be such a chore to find in certain formats. You want somebody inexpensive who can provide decent production when in the lineup. Mitch Garver may be your guy. He’s zero percent owned in Yahoo leagues. The Twins backup catcher is starting increasingly often due to an injury to Jason Castro. Although Garver isn’t the best defensive receiver, he has some offensive chops.
Last season at Triple-A, he popped 17 home runs in 372 plate appearances. All throughout his minor league career, he’s consistently posted solid plate discipline and a low swinging strike rate. The latter trait has carried over to the majors, but he’s still struggled with strikeouts.
To me, that says he needs to make a minor adjustment. He’s probably taking too many hittable pitches in an attempt to work the count. He has one of the lowest swing rates in the league. Pitchers are challenging him, and he’s not punishing them. The good news is that when he does swing, he has a power hitter’s profile with plenty of hard, pulled, fly ball contact.
This season, Garver is batting .254/.313/.424 in 64 plate appearances with a pair of home runs. If he manages to make an adjustment to be more aggressive, he should be able to slash his strikeout rate. Given the paucity of alternatives in Minnesota, nothing stands in his way.