Hello and welcome to the first edition of our new weekly article: Deep League Risers and Fallers. It is no secret that the majority of fantasy baseball content is tailored toward standard 12-team mixed leagues. As such, it tends to focus on standard 5×5 categories and generally limits itself to discussions of players who are relevant in leagues that roster less than 300 players, including IL spots.
In this space, we care about everyone beyond that. Sure, some of these players will graduate to mixed-league relevance. We might even hit on a few future stars. But the main point is to help those of you in 16 or 20-team leagues. We want to focus on players that might be on the fringes of your 12-team league but could be huge contributors in your 16-team league with minor league rosters, or your 20-team league that drafts 500 players each spring.
I expect this article to be dynamic over the course of the season. Both because I will be sharing the writing duties with Lucas Spence, my colleague at Pitcher List, and because the criteria for “deep league players” is going to change over the course of the year. We are roughly 10 games into the season so far and don’t have a ton of data to pull from yet. So for this initial piece, ADP is a useful metric. That will not be the case very shortly though, and we will utilize other factors, such as percentage rostered, current add/drop trends, and reader feedback (be gentle). Alright, on to the risers and the fallers!
Bubba Thompson, OF, Texas Rangers
Bubba was treated as a late-round flier even in deep leagues, getting drafted around pick 500 in March (ADP data comes from NFC and I am only including March drafts). The much-anticipated increase in MLB stolen base totals thanks to a series of rule changes has come to fruition. With 196 stolen bases through the first week and a half, we are on pace to see about 50% more stolen bases than we did last year. But like I said, we saw this coming and drafted guys like Bubba late because we expected to need more stolen bases this year than ever before.
With 18 steals over just 181 major league plate appearances in 2023, Bubba Thompson was a guy lots of managers, including myself, were counting on to provide that extra speed. I personally liked him as a cheaper alternative to Jake McCarthy. However, even with Leody Tavares sidelined to start the year, Bubba has been riding the pine, starting none of the Rangers’ first eight games. He was given his first start of the year this past Sunday versus the Cubs at Wrigley and came through with a double and a triple, scoring twice and driving in two runs. The problem with that otherwise great performance is that Travis Jankowski, his chief rival in terms of retaining at least a backup job following Tavares’ return, also received his first start in the same game and played well, going 1-3 with a walk, two runs scored, one driven in and a stolen base.
So for now, I have cut my Bubba Thompson shares to the waiver wire. If he is having trouble breaking into the lineup already, he could very likely be sent down once Tavares returns. I will be keeping him on my watchlists though and fully expect him to appear in a “risers” segment later this season.
Edward Olivares, OF, Kansas City Royals.
Another outfielder with an ADP in the mid-400s I was pretty excited about entering this season. Olivares posted a decent .286/.333/.410 line over just 53 games last year while dealing with injuries. His 2021 AAA numbers—.313/.397/.559 with 15 dingers and 12 steals over just 292 plate appearances—show a potentially much more exciting player with 20/20 upside. And Olivares is off to a fine start this year with a .278/.350./500 triple slash with one home run, but zero stolen base attempts so far.
Olivares though is suffering from the same ailment as Bubba Thompson—lack of playing time. Olivares’ situation isn’t quite as dire, as he has started five games. In fact, Kansas City has seen fit to start Olivares every other game. The Royals have also scored 1 or fewer runs five times through their first ten games. Three of those lackluster performances have come in games that Olivares has not started. He would rank as the team’s best hitter so far if only he met the minimum requirements to qualify.
I am not cutting Olivares yet, because I believe the talent is there for a legitimate breakout in his age-27 season. He has never carried an inflated strikeout rate, and has averaged a robust 94.5 MPH exit velocity in his limited time this year. The KC offense has sputtered out of the gate and it doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to realize that starting your best outfielder more than 50% of the time could help. But, playing time can be the biggest hurdle to overcome sometimes and with his current share, Olivares is definitely on my early season fallers list.
Wil Myers 1B/OF Cincinnati Reds
Myers is the most expensive of the early-season fallers on this list, clocking in with an ADP of 234 in March. He is still rostered in roughly one-third of Yahoo leagues and has started all eight of the Reds’ games so far. Cincinnati has played five of those eight games at home in Great American Small Park, one of the best stadiums in the league at boosting offensive output, and Myers has slotted mostly in the third or fifth spot in the lineup. All of those things set Myers up for success early and he has responded with a .185/.333/.222 line. An on-base percentage higher than a slugging percentage is a rare sight, but Myers has already drawn 6 walks (which is an 18% bb rate) so far and has managed just one extra-base hit—a double.
Myers’ strikeout rate sits at just over 30%, which is in line with his career average and his BABIP comes in at .294, almost identical to the current league average of .291. His average exit velocity has looked fine at 92.9 MPH, but his launch angle is a ludicrous 31.1 degrees. This does not look like a case of early-season bad luck, it looks like a player striking out a lot and hitting pop-ups. Granted, Great American does turn pop-ups into dingers on occasion but I’m not loving what I see so far, and players who carried a similar draft price such as Oscar Colas, Garret Mitchell, and Brendan Donovan have moved well ahead of Myers in my ranks at this stage of the season.
Brice Turang, SS/2B, Milwaukee Brewers
This is supposed to be the more fun section, but my first selection makes me a little sad. Brice Turang earns his spot here thanks to a very big single game against the Mets, but also thanks to the middle infielder injury epidemic that has swept Major League Baseball. Gavin Lux, Trevor Story, Brendan Rodgers Royce Lewis, Adalberto Mondesi, Jose Altuve and, of course, Luis Urias were all injured before the season began. Tim Anderson just landed on the IL, Carlos Correa has missed a couple of games with back issues and Oneil Cruz fractured his ankle in what I, a Pirate fan, believe to be the worst event that has ever occurred on Easter Sunday.
Yes, most of Turang’s offensive output thus far came from a huge day against the Mets in which he scored twice, stole a base, and hit a grand slam. But Turang’s game is about defense, speed, and getting on base. In AAA last season, the lefty batter slugged 13 home runs but stole 34 bases in 36 attempts and carried a .360 on-base percentage. He has four walks and four strikeouts through the first full week of play which translates to 14.8% walk and strikeout rates. Through his first 27 plate appearances as a major leaguer, he sports a .407 on-base percentage.
Turang looks a like he could be a solid on-base machine with a very helpful number of steals, and he already qualifies at second base and shortstop in Yahoo standard formats. He could be both a useful player while waiting for the return of any of the players mentioned above, and should be a priority pickup for anyone who had to move Cruz to their IL this week.
Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
First, if you have a minute, take a gander at this video of McCutchen’s first at bat at PNC park this season. Careful though, someone starts chopping onions around the one-minute mark. I wrote glowingly about McCutchen in my final preseason article last month, and the early returns have been solid. He has batted third in every game while making four starts in the outfield and five at DH, which should help keep him healthy and fresh in his age 36 season.
McCutchen’s only racked up three runs and three RBI through ten games, but he has homered once and stolen two bases. The former MVP has a .333 batting average, and has been extremely helpful in obp leagues, having drawn eight walks to his five strikeouts. His exit velocity is a bit below MLB average right now, but his whiff rate ranks in the top fifth of hitters, and his walk and chase rates both rank in the top five percent. I don’t expect him to be super aggressive on the base paths, but Cutch still has wheels and could chip in 15-20 stolen bases.
Losing Oneil Cruz is going to hurt the Pirate offense, but the speedy Ji-Hwan Bae could thrive in the lead-off spot and Bryan Reynolds is still an excellent hitter in the two-hole. There will still be RBI opportunities and Cutch appears locked in to start the year. This is a similar situation to Albert Pujol’s return to St Louis last season: a fun ride with some real help for your team. McCutchen’s only rostered in 22% (that’s his jersey number!) of Yahoo leagues, and I have no qualms about plugging him until that doubles.
I Wish There Was a Disco Option
Anthony DeSclafani, SP, San Francisco Giants
There is! Tony Disco comes with a 93 MPH heater, a pristine walk rate, and one of the best nicknames in baseball. An ankle injury and surgery limited him to only five starts for the Giants in 2022 and he struggled to a 6.63 ERA and 2.00 WHIP over just 19 innings. DeSclafani is looking much healthier in the early going, shutting out the White Sox for six innings, and limiting the Royals to just one run over six and a third. That leaves him with a sparkling 0.73 ERA and 0.48 whip.
DeSclafani has limited average exit velocity to just 87.7 MPH, with a chase rate in the league’s top 20%. His strikeout rate is just outside the top third and his strikeout to walk ratio is 11/0 through his first two starts. Even his PLV looks impressive at 5.75, just ahead of Kodai Senga, Shane Bieber and Julio Urias. Tony was a cheap thrill at drafts with an APD of 550, but he’s been a trendy add after his hot start. He’s already rostered in over 50% of Yahoo leagues, and his next start is scheduled at Detroit. Don’t be a wallflower, get on the dance floor. Disco is back baby.
Urias was injured in the season’s 1st game, not before. Good stuff otherwise.
Great stuff, and I gotta give some love (and sympathy) to a fellow Buccos fan.