Every Monday from now until the end of the season, we will take a look at players with less than 15% ownership (Yahoo!) who should be on your radar in deep leagues. The majority of fantasy baseball leagues are mixed leagues with 10 to 12 teams, though we know many of you play in 18- to 20-team leagues and/or AL- or NL-only formats. This column is for you all.
I got some feedback this past week that most or all of the players that I wrote about were owned in deeper formats. I want this to actually be helpful to people who play in those leagues, so I’m trying to scale it back to 10% or lower and write about more players.
That said, this week’s column happens to focus a lot on veteran players who are performing well but are likely getting ignored because they haven’t been all that good recently. There are a handful of young, hidden gems in there as well, but this post is primarily for those looking for a veteran stopgap in deeper leagues.
Kole Calhoun, OF, LAA (6% Owned)
Kole Calhoun had a weird, weird year last year. For the first about half the season, he was one of the worst big league regulars in all of baseball. A hot summer led to a disappointing September, and he finished with an ugly .208/.283/.369 line. However, he also had 19 home runs and a career-high six stolen bases, so it wasn’t all bad.
Still, that left him on the waiver wire to start the year in basically all fantasy formats. And although his .202 batting average and career-high 25.6% strikeout rate will make most fans go, “Here we go again,” it is worth noting that he already has seven home runs with a 49.2% hard-hit rate, a 14.1% barrel rate and a 90.5 mph exit velocity — which are all career highs.
Calhoun doesn’t face a ton of competition for at-bats in Los Angeles, and he frequently hits atop the order in front of some guy named Mike Trout. I’d be happy to have him on my team while he is hitting the stuffing out of the ball — especially in OBP leagues where that .210 batting average isn’t quite as killer.
Anthony DeSclafani, SP, CIN (4% Owned)
The man they call Tony Disco has been a bit of an anomaly through five starts this season. He sits at 1-1 with a 4.26 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and 28 strikeouts in 25.1 innings — numbers that make him worth a look in deeper leagues but aren’t exactly jaw dropping.
His past two starts raised some eyebrows, however, after he combined to give up just one earned run in 12 innings with a 12:4 K/BB ratio on the road against two decent offenses in San Diego and St. Louis.
Anthony Desclafani has a really nice slider, although he didn’t use it all that much against St. Louis, which makes his successful start a bit more … suspicious. I still can’t ignore a guy with his strikeout potential who threw two gems in his past two starts, but I’m not racing to pick him up anywhere outside of 14-plus-team leagues. With just a 4% owned rate, however, there’s a chance he’s out there for someone to grab.
Hunter Pence, OF, TEX (1% Owned)
Remember our talk earlier about this week’s column focusing on aging veterans? Yeah. Hunter Pence is with the Rangers now ICYMI, and after Sunday, he is slashing a blistering .321/.351/.547 with three home runs, 13 RBI and a steal. His 5.3% walk rate is below his career average, but what’s really encouraging is his 15.4% strikeout rate, which would be a career-low for the 36-year-old.
Pence isn’t playing every day, although his recent performance could help him find his way into the lineup more often going forward. And while I don’t expect him to hit .321 all season, I do think he’s a fantastic bench bat to own in deeper leagues that allow daily lineup changes so that you can play him on days he starts and watch him and his goofy swing go to work.
This won’t last forever, but why not ride it out?
Luis Rengifo, SS, LAA (1% Owned)
Here’s an unheralded young rookie for those of you who come here for that reason. Luis Rengifo was called up earlier in the week to help fill in an injury-depleted Angels infield. And while his Triple-A numbers to begin the year (.240/.284/.387) aren’t exactly great, he does have a history of success in the minor leagues — not to mention speed to burn.
So far in just 16 plate appearances, Rengifo is hitting .231 with a double, a run scored and an RBI — while boasting a pair of walks. You’re picking him up for his stolen base potential though after the infielder swiped 41 bases across three levels in 2018.
If manager Brad Ausmus lets Rengifo run and he can carve out playing time over David Fletcher and the scorching hot Tommy La Stella, then we’re looking at a nice fantasy piece. That’s a lot of ifs, but that’s also why he is still available in 99% of leagues. If you have room for a flyer and want some steals, Rengifo is your guy.
Eric Sogard, 2B/SS, TOR (6% Owned)
Now, back to your regularly scheduled old veteran programming. Did you know that Eric Sogard, the face of the MLB, is back in the big leagues? Did you also know that through just 47 plate appearances, he’s tied his career-high in home runs with three? And that he’s slashing .415/.478/.732(!) with a 221 wRC+?
You don’t need me to tell you that those numbers are not sustainable (I hope). However, it’s always fun to ride out a player on a hot streak, and right now, Sogard is the leadoff man for a Blue Jays lineup that has a fair amount of oomph. He’ll probably slide into a reserve role once Freddy Galvis is back, but for now, in deeper formats, why not ride this thing out? Hell, it’s working for La Stella.
Rowdy Tellez, 1B/DH, TOR (5% Owned)
Rowdy Tellez has become a full-time starter for the Blue Jays, alternating between first base and designated hitter. He hits right in the middle of the lineup, a lineup that was bolstered by the call-up of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. He also boasts a ton of pop, as evidenced by his five home runs and his ridiculous 93.1 mph average exit velocity, among the top marks in the league.
His .233/.305/.479 is nothing to write home about, but it is encouraging that his walk rate has more than doubled this season, even if he is striking out nearly 30% of the time.
I see Tellez as a cheap source of 25 home runs and 80 RBI, with a meh batting average that would be buoyed in OBP formats now that his plate discipline has improved. He’s not a breakout superstar, but he’s the kind of quiet, consistent slugger who does well on the bench in 14-plus-team leagues and can even be useful in 12-teamers too.
Spencer Turnbull, SP, DET (5% Owned)
Death. Taxes. Andy writing about Spencer Turnbull. As the president, vice president, treasurer and secretary of the Spencer Turnbull hype train committee, it is my duty to let you know that through five starts, Turnbull now boasts a 2.77 ERA with 26 strikeouts in 26 innings pitched.
He has yet to give up more than three earned runs in a single start, which cannot be said for most of the starting pitchers in the top 50. That’s right: Turnbull has given up four or more earned runs fewer times than Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander, Trevor Bauer, Noah Syndergaard, Jameson Taillon, etc. etc.
I’m going to stop myself here because I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out a few of the downsides, lest I convince you all to pick him up in eight- and 10-teamers.
For starters, Turnbull’s peripherals include a 3.75 FIP and a 4.46 SIERA, so it’s not like his ERA is exactly bulletproof. His last start against Boston saw him pitch his way out of jams on multiple occasions — which is a great trait for a pitcher to have but not one that will hold up long-term.
And while Boston should be the type of offense for a rookie pitcher to finally cut his teeth against, they really aren’t. And now we are looking at a pitcher with good strikeout numbers and a solid ERA, backed up by ugly peripherals, who has faced these teams: Toronto, Kansas City, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Boston. (Are they still going to let me run the hype train?)
Point is — Turnbull deserves to be owned in more leagues than he is. He’s gotten a lot of strikeouts and has feasted on some poor teams, while avoiding any major blowups. His stuff is nasty, and his control is solid, giving him the tools to succeed at the big league level.
However, he has received a fair amount of good luck, has faced some poor-hitting teams, and struggles to go deep into games. So what I’m saying is, buy in deeper leagues, stream in shallower leagues against bad teams, but don’t count on him for wins or quality starts. Just enjoy the strikeouts and ERA, while keeping your fingers crossed that his inevitable blowup hasn’t arrived yet.
(Photo by Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportswire)