Every Monday from now until the end of the season, we will take a look at players with less than 10% 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.
Lots of AL players this week (sorry NL-only players) and quite a few hitters, as most of the good starting pitching has been scooped up thanks to injuries and ineffectiveness among the top 50 or so starting pitchers.
Still, there are a few gems in here for those of you in deeper leagues.
Brandon Crawford, SS, SF (4% Owned)
It’s been a few years since Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford was fantasy-relevant, and his season line so far in 2019 (.218/.297/.271) doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence. However, it’s worth noting that since May 3, Crawford is slashing a tidy .310/.394/.483 with three extra-base hits and a 12.1% walk rate.
Crawford’s advanced numbers aren’t exceptionally pretty, although xStats does peg him for a .240 average, which is 22 points higher than he is actually hitting.
I’m OK adding him in very deep leagues while he’s hot at the plate, although I don’t think it’ll last too long.
J.P. Crawford, SS, SEA (2% Owned)
The Mariners suffered a handful of injuries around the infield, leading to them calling up former Phillies shortstop J.P. Crawford. Crawford was crushing the ball at Triple-A, slashing .319/.420/.457 with three home runs and three steals.
Crawford has been starting at shortstop in place of Tim Beckham, who has moved around the infield to supplant the injured Dee Gordon and Dylan Moore. Gordon is expected to be back in short order, which could send Crawford back to the minors.
However, on the off chance that Crawford sticks with the big club, he is worth a gamble thanks to his strong start to the season and his rare combination of power/speed.
If he does get sent back down, expect him to be back up in short order, as Seattle will likely try to deal Gordon, Beckham and possibly Ryon Healy this summer, which should open up a spot for Crawford full-time—especially if he keeps crushing the ball at Triple-A.
Danny Duffy, SP, KC (5% Owned)
Danny Duffy has made three starts this season, throwing a quality start in two of them while tossing five innings of two-run ball in the other. His 3.06 ERA is very solid, although his 1.36 WHIP and 4.57 FIP paint an uglier picture, thanks to a high walk rate (3.57 BB/9) and an abnormally high 85.3% strand rate.
Still, Duffy has done an excellent job of limiting hard contact this season, and although he’s bound to see some regression, he’s not a terrible option in deeper formats—particularly those that count quality starts over wins.
Felix Pena, SP, LAA (5% Owned)
The Angels are trying out the Rays’ opener strategy this season, and right-hander Felix Pena has been their guinea pig. He started in his first four appearances of the season, and while he didn’t do too bad (4.15 ERA, 7.27 K/9), he never made it past the fifth inning, crushing his fantasy value as he wasn’t earning wins or quality starts.
The Angels started using him as a long reliever however, and his numbers have skyrocketed. In three appearances as a reliever, Pena has a 2.20 ERA and a masterful 20:0 K/BB ratio—which you don’t need me to tell you is pretty damn good.
He punctuated this with one of the most impressive relief outings of all-time, seven shutout innings against the Tigers with seven strikeouts, three hits, and no walks.
For those in need of an innings-eating reliever who is capable of earning wins and striking out plenty of hitters, Pena is your guy. He’s not worth a look in quality start leagues—obviously—but he can provide a lot for the ratios and for those in K/9 formats.
With baseball gravitating toward the opener strategy, players such as Pena may be solid resources in deeper formats going forward.
Albert Pujols, 1B, LAA (9% Owned)
The Machine is by no means the player he used to be, although there are some signs of life from the 38-year-0ld slugger this season. For starters, his 8.5% walk rate is his highest since 2013, and his 12.7% strikeout rate is his lowest in the past two years.
He is only slashing .224/.296/.464, but he does have eight home runs—including four in the month of May. Plus, his xSlash line is a considerably better .267/.322/.519, thanks to a 45.2% hard-hit rate and an 89.7 mph average exit velocity.
Playing time is definitely a concern now that Shohei Ohtani is back, but in deeper leagues with daily lineup changes, I’d take a shot on Albert Pujols and the noticeable changes in his profile so far this season.
Charlie Tilson, OF, CWS (1% Owned)
White Sox center fielder Charlie Tilson is fast. Really, really fast. He’s not much of a hitter however, hitting .264 with two steals in 41 games last season while boasting an incredibly bad 16.9% hard-hit rate—although his 8.3% walk rate was passable.
He started 2019 at Triple-A and torched the ball, slashing .333/.396/.475 with three steals in 25 games, earning the call to the big leagues. He hasn’t slowed down in his first week in the show either, slashing .360/.407/.440 with three steals in just six big league games.
Tilson won’t hit .360 all season, but his 47.1% hard-hit rate and .318 xBA are good signs that he has made some tangible changes to his approach at the plate. He still draws a fair amount of walks, and although he has virtually no power, he could be a cheap source of steals and runs while boosting the batting average. I’d be happy to have that in 14-plus-team leagues.
Gio Urshela, 3B/SS, NYY (10% Owned)
The Yankees have suffered more injuries than a mud-soaked, post-dinner Thanksgiving football game between an out-of-shape family that takes things a little too competitively. (Seriously, it can get ugly.)
Having said that, the injuries have given New York a chance to see some fringier players in action, and one of them has really shined. Gio Urshela is slashing a cool .341/.396/.505 with two home runs, nine doubles, and 15 RBI.
His 5.9% walk rate isn’t great, but his 15.9% strikeout rate is solid, even after he struck out four times on Sunday.
Plus, xStats love what he’s been doing. He currently boasts a xSlash line of .341/.395/.499—which is not only freakishly similar to his actual line but his .341 xBA is in the top 1% of the entire league. Basically, this dude is crushing the ball, and his combination of launch angle and exit velocity is ideal going forward.
Of course, playing time won’t be around forever, and Urshela’s previous career numbers don’t exactly point to this lasting. Still, with xStats on his side and a small park in New York, I’d feel more confident running with him than many of the other infielders who are currently riding a hot streak. His might actually last.
(Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)