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Max Effort

Max Kepler

Max Kepler

Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

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(Players rostered in under 50 percent of Yahoo leagues)

Note: Percentages are from the morning of Thursday, April 28

Max Kepler OF, Twins (Yahoo: 17 percent rostered)

Just five days ago, Kepler was sitting on a .598 OPS with one home run. His OPS is now at .900 following three straight multi-hit games and three long balls, including a two-homer game on Wednesday. He’s also been hitting in the 4-6 range in the Twins’ lineup of late after often being stuck toward the bottom in the first week of the season. Kepler’s Statcast page is filled with a lot of red, as he’s sporting the best exit velocity and barrel rates of his career while maintaining his sublime plate discipline.

Alec Bohm 3B, Phillies (Yahoo: 43 percent rostered)

Bohm’s adventures at third base have been well documented, even helping to inspire some t-shirts with colorful language. But his defensive problems have somewhat masked the stellar start he’s gotten off to at the plate, with the 25-year-old hitting .333/385/.452 with a homer and 12 RBI. Bohm hit the ball hard during last year’s struggles, too, but this time there haven’t been strikeouts to come along with it, as he’s whiffing at just a 13.5 percent rate. More flyballs would be great, but I’ll bet on a guy who is hitting the ball hard and not striking out to find enough power. It’s silly that Bohm isn’t rostered in more leagues at this point.

Paul Blackburn SP, Athletics (Yahoo: 41 percent rostered)

The A’s have gotten off to a surprisingly solid start, and one big reason has been Blackburn, who is 3-0 with a 1.35 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and 18/2 K/BB ratio over 20 innings covering four starts. He’s done it against some good lineups, too, including versus the Giants on Wednesday when he shut them out for five frames. We’re talking about a 28-year-old without a great track record who hasn’t missed many bats in the past. Blackburn has fanned nearly a batter per inning in 2022, though, thanks in part to bumping up the usage of his curveball, which is generating whiffs at a 37 percent rate. He also has superb control. Blackburn at least looks like a streamer to me.

Clay Holmes RP, Yankees (Yahoo: 14 percent rostered)

I’m not sure what the Pirates were doing with Holmes, but the Yankees have certainly unlocked the reliever’s potential. Since donning the pinstripes, the 29-year-old has posted an absurd 1.43 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and 45/6 K/BB ratio over 37 2/3 innings. Holmes has pared his repertoire down to two pitches, and his sinker and slider have proved to be a deadly combination, with the sinker holding the opposition to just a .178 wOBA and the slider producing a 50 percent whiff rate. Holmes notched a save on Wednesday versus the Orioles and could be the guy to step into the closer role if something happens to Aroldis Chapman.

Lucas Sims RP, Reds (Yahoo: 25 percent rostered)

Sims hasn’t displayed the level of dominance Holmes has, but he’s been pretty good in his own right and has a clearer path to saves. The 27-year-old gave up a couple runs in his first appearance back from the injured list, but that didn’t stop Reds manager David Bell from turning to Sims for the save in his next outing, and he locked it down with a spotless frame. Walks and homers can be a problem, but Sims can overcome that if he’s able to come close to duplicating the 39 percent strikeout rate he had last year.

Gio Urshela 3B/SS, Twins (Yahoo: 35 percent rostered)

Urshela got off to just a 3-for-18 start with his new club, but since then he’s 11-for-31 at the plate while getting on base at a .432 clip. The power production hasn’t been there, but with a .442 xSLG which is nearly 100 points higher than his actual slugging percentage (.347), some good fortune could be coming his way. Urshela has also hit in the 3-6 range in the lineup in all of his starts for a Twins team which is riding a six-game winning streak.

Bruce Zimmermann SP, Orioles (Yahoo: 12 percent rostered)

The Orioles generally haven’t been a team to look to when you’re in the need for pitching help, especially when that pitcher has a lack of dynamic stuff like Zimmermann. However, Camden Yards is suddenly playing like a good place to pitch after the left field wall got moved in, and Zimmermann is unscored upon in two starts there this season (while also yielding just two earned runs in six frames in his lone road outing). Zimmermann was a pretty decent bat-misser in the minors even with his lack of velocity, and so far this year he’s throwing his changeup more and it’s produced a 40.5 percent whiff rate.

Nico Hoerner 2B/SS, Cubs (Yahoo: 24 percent rostered)

Hoerner was supposed to be sharing shortstop with Andrelton Simmons, if not ceded the job to him altogether, but Simmons has been out all season with a shoulder issue and recently had his rehab slowed due to renewed soreness. In other words, the shortstop job is Hoerner’s indefinitely, and so far he’s hit .316/.328/.439 with one home run and two stolen bases. Hoerner’s hard-hit rate has always underwhelmed and he’s a groundball hitting. However, the former first-round pick already has a career-high three barrels in 2022 and he’s an elite contact hitter, which has helped him to his current .344 xBA. Hoerner has been stuck at the bottom of the Cubs’ lineup, but with the struggled of Rafael Ortega, Nick Madrigal and Michael Hermosillo, it’s not hard to envision him moving up.

Deeper Dandies:

(Players rostered in under 10 percent of Yahoo leagues)

Odúbel Herrera OF, Phillies (Yahoo: 3 percent rostered)

Herrera began the season on the injured list with a strained oblique, but in five games since being activated he’s put up a robust 1.333 OPS while homering in each of his last two contests. He even hit leadoff on Wednesday with Jean Segura having a day off, and while the leadoff spot figures to still be Segura’s, Herrera is certainly making a case to be moved up in the order at least against right-handers. The center fielder has some power and a little speed and is in what should be a very good Phillies lineup.

Roansy Contreras SP, Pirates (Yahoo: 6 percent rostered)

Yes, Contreras was just optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis a week ago, but that could actually be a good thing for his fantasy outlook. The Pirates want to get the 22-year-old stretched out after he held a 3.52 ERA and 10/3 K/BB ratio over 7 2/3 innings in long relief for them. Contreras threw 57 pitches over 3 1/3 frames of one-run ball in his first start for Indy on Sunday, and he could conceivable stretch out to five innings in his next outing. The young righty has electric stuff and has also generally been a good strike-thrower. He could join the Pirates rotation before long.

LaMonte Wade 1B/OF, Giants (Yahoo: 4 percent rostered)

Wade has yet to make his season debut after suffering a knee injury late in spring training. He’s begun a rehab assignment, though, and his activation could come any day now, perhaps as a replacement for Joc Pederson (groin). Wade was one of the many pleasant surprises on the Giants last season, as they picked him up off the scrap heap and watched him post a .808 OPS with 18 home runs and six stolen bases over 381 plate appearances. The 28-year-old could slide right into Pederson’s spot atop the batting order against righties, and he offers some positional flexibility, as well.

Weekend Warriors:

Taijuan Walker SP, Mets (Yahoo: 22 percent rostered)

Walker made it just two innings into his first start of the season before being sent to the injured list with shoulder bursitis. However, after a successful 64-pitch, four-inning simulated game on Monday, the right-hander will rejoin the Mets’ rotation on Saturday against the Phillies. Walker also had some issues with his surgically-repaired right knee late in spring training, so there is some injury risk here and he’s also not totally stretched out yet. That said, Walker was excellent in the first half for the Mets last season before struggling after the break, and it sounds like the knee probably had a lot to do with that. As long as he’s healthy, he should be rostered.

Daniel Lynch SP, Royals (Yahoo: 4 percent rostered)

Lynch was pretty underwhelming last season in his first taste of the big leagues and had home run problems in his first start this year. However, the former first-round pick is unscored upon in his last two outings, which includes start on Tuesday against the White Sox when he fanned seven while allowing just two hits over six innings. The left-hander boasts a 16/4 K/BB ratio over 16 innings this season. Lynch’s matchup this weekend versus the Yankees isn’t an easy one, but the former top prospect is definitely trending in the right direction.

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Ryne Stanek RP, Astros (Yahoo: 2 percent rostered)

The feeling had been that Ryan Pressly (knee) would be back by now, but manager Dusty Baker revealed Wednesday that the closer is not quite ready. I had figured Hector Neris would be first in line to pick up saves while Pressly was out, but it was Stanek to close things out Wednesday against the Rangers after Neris had pitched the eighth inning. This doesn’t look to be a long-term play with Pressly probably returning before long and Neris also possibly still in the mix for saves, but Stanek should certainly be rostered in AL-only formats.

Richie Palacios 2B, Guardians (Yahoo: 0 percent rostered)

Steven Kwan has been one of the better stories in baseball in the first month, but he hasn’t played since Sunday because of a hamstring issue. It’s been Palacios filling in in left field for Kwan in both games versus righties, and the 24-year-old has picked up three hits in his first seven major league at-bats. Palacios has hit .309/.402/.485 in 162 games in the minors and last year between Double- and Triple-A went 20-for-23 in stolen base attempts. Kwan should hopefully return soon, but Palacios might stick around with his ability to play all three outfield spots as well as second base.


Ryan Helsley RP, Cardinals (Yahoo: 6 percent rostered)

Helsley’s results coming into this season have never matched his stuff, but a lackluster 4.56 ERA last year can be blamed at least in part due to elbow and knee woes. The reliever had surgery on his knee and his elbow has healed and with health has come an early-season breakout. In 6 1/3 innings this season, Helsley has allowed just one hit, no walks and no runs while striking out 12. The only player to produce a higher swinging strike rate than Helsley’s 26.5 percent mark has been Enyel De Los Santos, who has thrown only three innings. Giovanny Gallegos looks to have a clear hold on the Cards’ closer job, but Helsley might be next in line.

Yadiel Hernandez OF, Nationals (Yahoo: 1 percent rostered)

The Nationals have received next-to-nothing production out of Lane Thomas and Victor Robles to this point, but at least Hernandez is doing his best to not make Juan Soto shoulder the entire load for the outfield. In 44 plate appearances Hernandez is batting .317/.341/.463 with a home run, three doubles and seven RBI. He’s taken over the left field job and fifth spot in the lineup against righties. Hernandez didn’t play in the minors until 29 after defecting from Cuba and is now 34, but he was very productive at Triple-A and held his own in the majors last year, as well.