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Kelenic Comeback

Jarred Kelenic

Jarred Kelenic

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The All-Star break is over, and baseball resumes with just a one-game slate on Thursday. Back to the grind! Whether you’re fighting your way up the standings or protecting a lead for first place, there’s plenty of work left to do. And remember, it’s not too late to make a push. As we get closer to the opening of training camps, more folks will shift their focus to football. There are plenty of ways to take advantage, whether it’s buying low and selling high or picking up the right players. As we’ll see with the names in this week’s column, fantasy managers can get caught up with first impressions and let talented players slip through the waiver wire.

Jarred Kelenic is just one example of a talented hitter widely available after managers likely soured on him following his first stint in the majors. Kelenic is expected to join the Mariners for the start of their series against the Angels on Friday. The 21-year-old struggled in his first stint with Seattle, posting a .096 batting average over 92 plate appearances. His .109 BABIP was incredibly unlucky, and that likely snowballed into a 28.3 percent strikeout rate. Since his demotion, Kelenic has been lights out, hitting seven homers with four steals over 114 plate appearances. The top prospect was pretty much universally drafted but is now available in 58 percent of Yahoo leagues. Kelenic could be a five-category stud the rest of the way. Make sure he’s helping your team and not the competition. [[ad:athena]]

Mixed Leagues

(Players rostered in under 50 percent of Yahoo leagues)

Note: Percentages are from the evening of Wednesday, July 14

Jarren Duran OF, Red Sox (Yahoo: 32 percent rostered)

Duran will be joining the Red Sox for Thursday’s game against the Yankees, the only game of the day as the second half of baseball kicks off. The 24-year-old outfielder will be making his highly anticipated major league debut after posting an excellent .270/.365/.561 triple-slash with 15 home runs and 12 steals over 219 plate appearances in Triple-A Worcester. Once known as just a speedster, Duran made a swing change before the 2021 season that helped him tap into some power. He performed well in spring training, hitting three homers and stealing two bases while hitting .340 in 47 at-bats. The performance put him on the radar as a prime stash candidate during draft season. The potential for that five-category production makes Duran a must-add. The only real question is how the 23.7 percent strikeout rate will translate to the majors, but his power/speed combo is worth a flier.

Andrew Vaughn 1B/OF, White Sox (Yahoo: 31 percent rostered)

Fantasy managers had high hopes for Vaughn coming into his rookie season, making him one of the first prospects off the board in fantasy drafts. Perhaps it was the sporadic playing time or playing a new position, but Vaughn got off to a slow start to the season. He hit just .233 with four homers over his first 154 plate appearances through May. Since the calendar flipped to June, the 23-year-old has found his stride, slashing .278/.314/.509 with six homers and seven doubles. Vaughn has posted excellent quality of contact metrics as well, with an 11.8 percent barrel rate and 50 percent hard-hit rate, both well above league-average. Many fantasy managers may have soured on Vaughn, dropping him after the slow start. He’s worth an add in most mixed leagues, given his power potential and lineup context.

Tarik Skubal SP, Tigers (Yahoo: 44 percent rostered)

Skubal is another rookie that didn’t get off to the best start. He’s been impressive over the last two-plus months. The 24-year-old left-hander had a 6.14 ERA over 22 innings in April. The problem was his splitter, which had allowed a .333 batting average and a .917 slugging percentage. Skubal ditched the pitch and went to his changeup. The switch has worked wonders. Since his first start in May, he has posted a 3.78 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, and 87 strikeouts over 66 2/3 innings. Skubal’s strikeout rate improved from 17.3 percent to 30.6 percent. Going to the changeup and mixing in a sinker has helped Skubal keep the ball out of the air, lowering his flyball percentage from 58.6 percent in April to 38.7 percent since May. One of the better young starting pitching talents in the league, Skubal should be rostered in all mixed leagues.

Heath Hembree RP, Reds (Yahoo: 43 percent rostered)

The Reds’ closing situation has been a tumultuous one, to say the least. We’ve been wondering who the closer is in Cincinnati since the beginning of the season. Right now, it appears to be Hembree, who’s recorded five saves for the Reds in July. He’s been inconsistent but better of late, posting a 3.75 ERA over the last 30 days, a full run lower than his 4.80 ERA on the year. Hembree has excelled in getting strikeouts with a career-high 42.1 percent strikeout rate. And you can live with a 9.9 percent walk rate from a reliever. His xERA of 2.83 says he’s been unlucky. Any team in need of saves should be making space to add Hembree.

J.D. Davis 3B, Mets (Yahoo: 44 percent rostered)

Davis appears ready to rejoin the Mets after he landed on the injured list with a hand sprain in early May. He was hitting .390 with two home runs across 48 plate appearances before the injury. Albeit, the average came with a .583 BABIP and a 31.3 percent strikeout rate. He’s been performing well in his rehab stint, slashing .316/.469/.737 with four home runs over just 38 at-bats at Triple-A Syracuse. The 28-year-old has hit well for New York since joining the Mets in 2019 with a .295/.377/.491 slash line and 30 homers over 730 plate appearances. Jonathan Villar will likely lose playing time as he’s been at the hot corner in Davis’ absence. Neither are defensive stalwarts, so Davis should play enough to make an impact in most mixed leagues.

Luis Urias 2B/3B/SS, Brewers (Yahoo: 37 percent rostered)

Urias is finally looking like the player Milwaukee was hoping to get when they made the trade that sent Trent Grisham to San Diego. The 24-year-old destroyed Triple-A in 2019, hitting 19 homers across 339 plate appearances. He’s just never been able to tap into that game power at the major league level until recently. Urias has an excellent month of June with a .284 batting average and five homers. The problem has always been a high ground ball rate. He’s appeared to make some adjustments this season, raising his average launch angle to a career-high 14.1 degrees. The added loft has helped him increase his barrel rate to a respectable 9.4 percent. Urias has also led off for Milwaukee in each of the last 14 contests. The multi-positional eligibility helps. You can do worse for a bench bat in shallower leagues or a middle infielder in 15-teamers.

Ranger Suarez RP, Phillies (Yahoo: 36 percent rostered)

The Phillies might have just found their closer in Suarez. The 25-year-old left-hander had pitched excellent all season, starting in a multi-inning relief role before moving into high-leverage situations. Suarez has a minuscule 0.77 ERA, 0.74 WHIP, and 35 strikeouts over 35 innings of work. A strikeout per inning is incredible, considering he’s also generated a 65.1 percent ground ball rate. He’s just one of five pitchers with at least a 25 percent strikeout rate and 60 percent ground ball rate. Suarez has two saves in July, and he might be in the ninth inning to stay.

Alex Kirilloff 1B/OF, Twins (Yahoo: 32 percent rostered)

Another 2021 rookie. Like many of the others, Kirilloff got off to a slow start, hitting .167 over 30 plate appearances in April. Since then, he’s slashed .282/.335/.459 with six homers, ten doubles, and a triple over 185 plate appearances. Kirilloff hasn’t appeared overmatched, with a 22.2 percent strikeout rate. And his batted ball data is off the charts. The 23-year-old has posted an impressive 13.1 percent barrel rate. His xBA of .300 and xSLG of .565 suggest the results haven’t matched just how well he has made contact with the ball. Kirilloff could be in line for a big second half.

Nico Hoerner 2B/3B/SS, Cubs (Yahoo: 17 percent rostered)

Hoerner has hit an impressive .330/.389/.412 over 108 plate appearances with eight doubles and three steals for the Cubs this season. The 24-year-old suffered a hamstring strain in late May and made his return on July 4. After going 0-for-4 in his return, he hit safely in his last five games, including two multi-hit outings. Hoerner makes a ton of contact (89 percent zone contact), doesn’t strike out (13 percent strikeout rate), and hits the ball hard all over the field (38.1 percent hard-hit rate). The knock on Hoerner is that he still doesn’t get much lift as he’s yet to hit a home run this season. But he’s a decent play for batting average and speed on a team that should be moving some players that would open up full playing time.

Tyler Stephenson C, Reds (Yahoo: 21 percent rostered)

Stephenson debuted in 2020 as one of the better offensive catching prospects and hit .294 in an eight-game cup of coffee. He’s shared playing time at catcher this season with Tucker Barnhart but has made the most of his opportunities, posting a solid .282/.381/.426 triple-slash with five homers over 226 plate appearances. The 24-year-old backstop has plenty of raw power but has yet to really tap into that in games. Instead, he’s shown an excellent ability to make contact, striking out just 18.1 percent of the time while posting an 11.1 percent walk rate. Stephenson has even filled in at first base for 16 games. Given the catching landscape after the first handful of players, Stephenson would make a solid addition in most mixed leagues for teams in need of help at the position.

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Deeper Dandies

(Players rostered in under 10 percent of Yahoo leagues)

Jesus Sanchez OF, Marlins (Yahoo: 6 percent rostered)

The physical tools have put Sanchez on the fantasy radar for years now. Questions about his ability to make contact tempered expectations. This season, he’s shown drastic improvements, breaking out to a .349 batting average and nine homers in Triple-A. Those numbers earned Sanchez a promotion to the big leagues, where he’s held his own over just 89 plate appearances, hitting .265 with three homers. He ended the first half of the season on a high note, going 8-for-20 with three extra-base hits, including a homer, over his last six games. He’s still striking out at a high rate, so the batting average will likely be low, but -- at least in deeper leagues -- it might be worth seeing how he settles in going into the second half of the season.

Harold Ramirez OF, Cleveland (Yahoo: 4 percent rostered)

Not great at anything, but solid at everything. That’s what Ramirez has been since his season debut for Cleveland on May 3, posting a .280/.325/.457 triple-slash with six homers and two steals over 200 plate appearances. But you know what? That works in deeper leagues. In some cases, I’ve struggled to roster a decent fifth outfielder due to injuries. Someone like Ramirez has been a low-key plug-and-play kind of guy that won’t hurt you anywhere. His 14.5 percent strikeout rate is impressive, as is his 48.7 percent hard-hit rate and 114.5 mile-per-hour max exit velocity. If he could just get that 4.4 degree launch angle up.

Weekend Warriors

Patrick Sandoval SP, Angels (Yahoo: 26 percent rostered)

With teams resetting their starting rotations following the All-Star break, you’ll be hard-pressed to find some decent streamers. Luckily, Patrick Sandoval is still widely available and is more than just a streamer at this point. Sandoval has been a big part of the Angels’ turnaround. The 24-year-old left-hander has posted a 3.70 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, and 59 strikeouts over 56 innings. He features one of the most devastating changeups in the league. The pitch has induced a 53.7 percent whiff rate. He’s in line for a matchup against the Mariners over the weekend. He took a tough-luck loss against Seattle in his last start, going seven innings with two runs allowed and six strikeouts. Sandoval had similar results in his previous start against the Mariners, striking out ten batters over six innings in a loss after allowing just two runs. Maybe the third time is the charm to get that victory.

AL Only

Ramon Urias 2B/SS, Orioles (Yahoo: 1 percent rostered)

Urias has been starting at shortstop with Freddy Galvis on the injured list. He’s taken advantage of the opportunity with five multi-hit games over his last seven contests in July. On the year, Urias is slashing a respectable .284/.354/.451 with four homers over 113 plate appearances. If he can sustain an 11.8 percent barrel rate, that’s certainly going to play in Camden Yards over the summer. Even when Galvis comes back, the team is currently starting Kelvin Gutierrez at second base. Urias should get the at-bats.

NL Only

David Bednar RP, Pirates (Yahoo: 1 percent rostered)

Richard Rodriguez is likely to be moved to a contender ahead of the trade deadline. Someone is going to have to close in Pittsburgh. Bednar appears to be next in line for the job. The 26-year-old right-hander has been impressive this season, posting a 3.09 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, and 42 strikeouts over 35 innings.