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Don’t turn your back on Alex Cobb

Alex Cobb

Alex Cobb

Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen so much young talent getting their first taste of MLB action at the same time. Hunter Greene is pumping heat, Julio Rodriguez is leading the league in stolen bases, and Jeremy Pena’s been exceeding expectations. We’re being spoiled and I’m loving it. Now, we know that all these rookies who are performing well or showing promise had cheap price tags during the offseason. Clearly, they’re more expensive now, meaning that you should be trying to find the next cheap rookie who could make a serious impact.

In this week’s points league waiver wire piece, I touched on a handful of talented rookies who could help your points league rosters. Like with any rookie that you gamble on, they could end up struggling while you have them rostered. There’s risk, but because they’re free to acquire, the reward outweighs any risk that’s present when gambling on a rookie. Let’s get into it.

Points League Options

(Players rostered in under 50 percent of ESPN leagues)

Nolan Gorman 2B, Cardinals (21 percent rostered)

When Gorman was drafted 19th overall in the 2018 MLB Draft, his biggest strength was his light-tower power – and it didn’t take long before the average baseball fan realized this as well. Playing rookie ball in 2018, Gorman hit 11 home runs over 143 at-bats. In his career as a minor leaguer, he hit 72 home runs over 1,306 at-bats. There’s no denying that he will eventually hit for power at the major league level, but somewhat overly aggressive plate approach and average-to-below average approach against breaking pitches could hold him back to begin his major league career.

Playing in Triple-A before his May 19th call-up, he slashed .308/.367/.677 with 15 home runs over just 133 at-bats. However, his 34 percent strikeout rate highlighted his still shaky plate approach. Nonetheless, he’s now up with the big league club and through his first three career games, he’s 5-for-10 with two doubles. In addition, he’s been playing exclusively at second base. If he can figure out a way to continue to perform at a high level, he could be the Cardinals’ everyday second baseman for the rest of the season. He’s a worthwhile gamble in all points leagues given his free price tag and tantalizing raw power.

Alex Cobb SP, Giants (29 percent rostered)

Believe it or not, Alex Cobb had a 3.21 ERA (3.42 SIERA) over the first 498 ⅔ innings of his MLB career. His 20.8 percent strikeout rate over this time span was lackluster, but his 56.5 percent ground ball rate helped keep runs off the board. Sadly, in May 2015, Cobb was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery, ending his 2015 campaign. He returned in late 2016 and from that point on, he struggled with rediscovering his past success due to more injuries and a less effective splitter – his bread and butter pitch.

But to begin 2022, he’s been a different pitcher. To start, he’s been throwing his sinker harder than ever. His sinker never averaged more than 93 mph, but through his first 25 ⅔ innings of 2022, his sinker is averaging 94.5 mph and it’s topped out at a career-high 97 mph. On top of this, his splitter (173 thrown) has a career-best 27.5 percent K-BB. He’s been locating it almost perfectly and it’s clear that it’s been his best pitch. Moreover, he has a ridiculous 69.4 percent ground ball rate and a strong 27.4 percent hard-hit rate. Because of all these positive developments, you’d think that his surface numbers would be encouraging. Think again.

Through six starts, he has a 5.61 ERA. However, his 2.55 SIERA indicates that he’s been a bit unlucky. His 49.7 percent left on-base average and .394 batting average on balls in play are outlier marks and they should regress to the mean as his sample size grows. All things considered, Cobb makes for an ideal buy-low target and a borderline must-add in all points leagues. If he remains healthy, I can envision him having a fun summer.

Juan Yepez 1B/OF, Cardinals (21 percent rostered)

According to MLB Pipeline, Yepez was the Cardinals’ sixth best prospect coming into the 2022 season. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound slugger possesses useful defensive versatility, plus bat speed that helps support his above-average raw power, and ultimately, his performance at the plate will be the key to his success as a major league player. Over the first 1,311 at-bats of his minor league career, he hit 26 home runs. Then in 2021, with the help of the Cardinals’ coaching staff, Yepez made a swing adjustment. The results? More fly balls and more home runs.

Playing in Double-A and Triple-A in 2021, Yepez hit 27 home runs over 367 at-bats. More than that, he had a noticeably higher 46.3 percent fly-ball rate in Triple-A. This tendency to hit more fly balls carried into 2022, and before his early-May call-up, he was already at nine home runs over just 86 Triple-A at-bats. The mechanical adjustments that he made in 2021 have stuck with him and Yepez has been able to tap into more of his raw power as of late.

Through the first 73 plate appearances of his MLB career, Yepez is slashing .308/.384/.492 with three home runs. His plate discipline has been acceptable and his fly-ball rate is sitting at 45.8 percent. Additionally, his quality of contact metrics haven’t been overly impressive and he’s had a very pull-heavy approach (60.4 percent pull rate), so it’s possible that he’s been overachieving a bit. Still, Yepez should continue to see time in the outfield, at first base, and at designated hitter as the season progresses. I don’t see him finishing with a batting average above .300, but a double-digit home run finish is feasible.

Gary Sanchez C/DH, Twins (48 percent rostered)

At one point, many viewed Gary Sanchez as the next big thing at catcher – and rightfully so. From 2016-2017 (759 plate appearances), Sanchez slashed .284/.353/.567 with 53 home runs, a 8.4 percent walk rate, and a 23.5 percent strikeout rate. In the 2018 offseason, he was considered a borderline top-100 selection in most fantasy formats. However, ever since the beginning of 2018, Sanchez has struggled both defensively and offensively.

Over 1,563 plate appearances, Sanchez is slashing .203/.298/.444 with 89 home runs, a 10.4 percent walk rate, and a 28.2 percent strikeout rate. So, what went wrong? Most notably, he’s struggled to hit for average against breaking pitches. He’s always had too much swing and miss in his game and this harmful tendency has become more apparent as his sample size has grown.

To start 2022, he’s 25-for-112 (.223) with four home runs, a 5.6 percent walk rate, and a 29.6 percent strikeout rate. His approach against breaking pitches has remained poor and at this point in his career, it looks like he’ll always be a batter who has plenty of power upside, but struggles to hit for average. With all that being said, Sanchez still holds fantasy value as a slugger that you can start at catcher. His high strikeout rate isn’t ideal in points leagues, but if everything goes right, Sanchez could finish with a batting average around .250 and 20+ home runs. Not many catcher options possess more upside.

Deep Points League Options

(Players rostered in under 10 percent of ESPN leagues)

MJ Melendez C, Royals (9 percent rostered)

Every time I’m reminded of the fact that MJ Melendez hit 41 home runs over just 448 at-bats in 2021 – playing in Double-A and Triple-A – I try to imagine what his peak could look like as a major leaguer. He was drafted 52nd overall in the 2017 MLB Draft by the Kansas City Royals and over the first 1,089 plate appearances of his minor league career, he slashed .219/.308/.409 with 32 home runs, a 10.4 percent walk rate, and a worrisome 33.8 percent strikeout rate. Reportedly, he struggled with his timing and the mental aspect of catching up to pitches early on in his minor league career, leading to an annually high strikeout rate.

Then, in 2021, Melendez lowered his strikeout rate to 21.7 percent. And as I previously mentioned, he excelled at the plate in 2021. He reportedly worked on his mechanics during 2020 and the work that he put in seemingly helped fuel his 2021 improvements. Now, his long-term batting average ceiling remains a mystery, but there is serious power upside here. Over his first 36 career batted ball events, he has a 110.8 maximum exit velocity, 11.1 percent barrel rate (four barrels), and a 52.8 percent hard-hit rate. With Salvador Perez dealing with a thumb injury, Melendez could genuinely be one of the best catcher options in fantasy until further notice.

Jeffrey Springs SP/RP, Rays (3 percent rostered)

Before 2022, Jeffrey Springs was a serviceable middle relief option. He had a 4.73 ERA (3.88 SIERA) and a 26.8 percent strikeout rate over 129 ⅓ innings. The Rays’ starting pitching depth is being tested to begin the season, opening up the door for players like Springs to make their mark. He officially joined the rotation in early May following Josh Fleming’s demotion and through three starts (14 ⅓ innings), he has a 1.88 ERA (3.62 SIERA) and a 17 percent K-BB.

The 29-year-old southpaw’s arsenal features a low-90s four-seam fastball, a changeup, and a slider. With a 42.9 percent whiff rate and .173 weighted on-base average against (159 thrown), his changeup is his most effective offering. In addition, even though his fastball sits low-90s, he commands it well and it has slightly above-average spin. On top of that, his consistent release points and somewhat unique delivery help make his fastball a more successful offering than your typical low-90s four-seam fastball. All in all, Springs is a long-time reliever turned starter. If he continues to perform well, he could stick in the rotation even when the Rays are healthy. His rostership percentage is very low and you could do much worse if you’ve been searching for a dirt-cheap starting pitching option.