Well….we’re roughly three weeks into the regular season and whether your team is off to a hot start (hello Brandon Lowe) – or stumbling out of the gate in the early going – we are here to help.
If you read the first edition of Deep League Risers and Fallers by my colleague Sam Lutz, you may have been able to astutely grab the scorching hot Anthony DeSclafani (0.63 WHIP!) and get a leg up on the competition in your league while enjoying Disco Fever.
Every week we are going to check in and try to identify a handful of players, especially in deeper leagues, we think can bolster your team’s standing moving forward, as well as fading a handful of players who likely belong on (or should remain on) the waiver wire.
While your draft or auction obviously is a paramount step in the team-building process, championships are often won with the work done around the edges throughout the season – the waiver wire pickups, stashing players, the buying and the selling, and especially in-season trades. These types of moves will be the focus here.
Note: There are many different league shapes and sizes. We’ll primarily be discussing players that were roughly ranked outside the Top 200 during draft season last month and/or are currently rostered in less than 50% of Yahoo! leagues at the time (at least for the players we are bullish on.)
For instance, my initial write-up was set to include Arizona 3B Josh Rojas, who is off to a sizzling start this season (.356 AVG, .867 OPS). Rojas has speed (23 steals last season) and is hitting atop the Diamondbacks’ improved lineup (either first or second) this season, making him worthy of a roster spot in all standard leagues (which is why he’s now rostered in 53% of Yahoo! leagues as one of the week’s most-added players and won’t be included in the list below.) Another player worth mentioning is Baltimore’s Austin Hays, who has recently cleared the 50% threshold as well and warrants consideration in many leagues.
The same can be said for the Rays’ right-hander Zach Eflin – also 53% rostered – who is currently on the injured list with lower back tightness but is expected to return to the rotation this weekend. The 29-year-old has gotten off to a nice start this season (2-0, 3.27 ERA, 1.18 WHIP) after being signed as a free agent by Tampa Bay (3 years, $40 million) this offseason. Far be it from me to question this organization’s eye for talent these days, nor their ability to develop players – especially pitchers. Who am I to doubt that they know what they are doing, having just tied the MLB record for the best start to a season (13-0) in history before dropping a pair of games to the formidable Blue Jays over the weekend? If Eflin is good enough for Tampa, he’s good enough for me.
Make sure Rojas and Eflin are rostered in your leagues.
Now let’s get to the rest.
Chas McCormick, OF, Houston Astros
Chas McCormick needs to be rostered in more than 33% of fantasy leagues, period. After leaving Friday’s game with some blurred vision symptoms, McCormick reportedly passed all tests appropriately and should return to the lineup within the next few days. The 27-year-old center fielder warrants immediate consideration in the majority of fantasy leagues. With the Jeremy Pena-at-leadoff experiment being deemed a failure, McCormick was inserted into the leadoff spot for Houston last week, and that matters a lot in fantasy baseball. Hitting in front of Alex Bregman, Yordan Álvarez, José Abreu, and Kyle Tucker is a good thing for counting stats. McCormick offers speed (already has four stolen bases) and is slashing a respectable .275/.383/.500. Since being inserted atop the lineup, McCormick recorded a hit in five straight games, and scored a run in four of those prior to leaving Friday’s game early. McCormick’s value is tied directly to his wheels and batting leadoff for a strong offense, the latter of which will fade away once José Altuve returns later this season. But for the time being, McCormick should be added for any teams in need of runs and speed.
Update 4/19: McCormick was unexpectedly placed on the 10-day IL, retroactive to 4/15, with lower back tightness on Tuesday, unrelated to the blurred vision symptoms from over the weekend. He’s expected to return to the lineup next week. Plan accordingly.
Adalberto Mondesi, SS, Boston Red Sox
What if I told you that you could add Jorge Mateo for free right now? The Orioles’ 27-year-old speedster (75% rostered) has taken the fantasy baseball world by storm this month after a scorching hot start at the plate (.366 AVG, three homers, 1.063 OPS) while ranking amongst the league-leaders in stolen bases (eight.) No one expects the career .229 hitter to continue producing like this offensively, but if Mateo can simply be a respectable hitter for the rest of the season, his stolen base upside makes him fantasy relevant in virtually all leagues – even hitting at the bottom of the Orioles’ lineup.
Mateo career stats: 274 games, .232 AVG, .667 OPS, 53 stolen bases
Mondesi career stats: 358 games, .244 AVG, .687 OPS, 133 stolen bases
Mondesi, meanwhile, also 27 and also a shortstop, is on the 60-day IL currently as he works his way back from a torn ACL last season. However, he’s already begun doing workouts on the field with the team, which is certainly encouraging. The switch-hitter will likely make his Red Sox debut in June, and could see regular playing time at 2B or SS for Boston. If you can stash Mondesi on your IL for the time being, he could make a sizable contribution over the final four months of the season. And if he doesn’t pan out, he didn’t cost you anything.
Mitch Keller, SP, Pittsburgh Pirates
The 27-year-old right-hander has a much better opportunity in fantasy leagues that don’t utilize wins, as pitching for the lowly Pirates is likely not going to lead to many marks in the win column this season. Otherwise, there is a lot to like about Keller’s performance in the early going. He’s notched a quality start in three consecutive outings, and there weren’t any layups in that group either (Red Sox, Astros, Cardinals.) He’s struck out 25 batters in 23.2 innings. And while he possesses a lukewarm 3.80 ERA, his HardHit% and average exit velocity rank amongst the best in the league thus far. He has a favorable upcoming matchup at home against the Reds this week, making him worthy of a roster spot to see if this recent trend continues. And if he continues to pitch well, he could become a nice trade chip for Pittsburgh this summer, with the potential to land with a contender.
Reynaldo Lopez, RP, Chicago White Sox
I feel a bit icky for recommending a player who currently holds a 7.36 ERA and 1.91 WHIP, but here we are. Many might fade Lopez after the way he has started the season, but I’m going to zag here. Saves are hard to find. And until Liam Hendriks (non-Hodgkins lymphoma) returns – and he remains without a timetable to return – the backend of the White Sox’ bullpen remains a bit unsettled. Enter Lopez, who thus far is the only White Sox reliever to register a save this season (he has two). The former starter-converted-reliever posted a stellar 2.76 ERA and 0.95 WHIP last season, and has showcased his velocity this season, consistently hitting 100 mph on the radar gun. Despite a hiccup against the Orioles on Friday, in which he served up a three-run double to Adley Rutschman with two outs and the bases loaded in the seventh inning, Lopez has otherwise pitched clean innings in his other outings in the past week with multiple strikeouts in each, including a dominant four-out save with three punch-outs against the Twins last Monday. Lopez pitched the top of the ninth inning at home in a tie game against the Orioles on Saturday, a spot usually reserved for the team’s closer, so he still appears to be at the front of the line for saves.
Update 4/19: Lopez secured another four-out save on Tuesday against the Phillies, striking out three of the four batters he faced. It was his third save of the season.
Harrison Bader, OF, New York Yankees
The 28-year-old Bader was acquired by the Yankees at the trade deadline last season in exchange for SP Jordan Montgomery. And while his 14 regular season games in pinstripes were a dud, it was his performance in the postseason that captured everyone’s attention when Bader homered five times in nine games while hitting .333 with a sensational 1.262 OPS. Bader is currently on the IL with an oblique strain, but he figures to re-join the team by the end of the month. The Yankees need all the help they can get in the outfield, as they have been deploying a mash unit of Aaron Hicks, Franchy Cordero, and Oswaldo Cabrera, so the former Gold Glove winner Bader should see all the playing time he can handle once healthy. Bader isn’t going to win anyone their fantasy league, but he offers speed with some pop and could certainly carve out some fantasy value in hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium after spending his entire career in pitcher-friendly Busch Stadium.
Germán Márquez, SP, Colorado Rockies
I wanted to include a quick note on Márquez here, as a veteran pitcher who makes no sense on a 5-11 Rockies team that is going nowhere fast. The veteran right-hander is currently on the injured list with a mild forearm strain and will likely be on the shelf for a few more weeks. The good news is this should make him very inexpensive (or virtually free) to acquire in deeper fantasy leagues. The 28-year-old has a proven track record, and pitched reasonably well in his first three outings this season. In the likely event that Márquez gets traded this summer, his fantasy value would likely increase dramatically with a move out to a contender – and away from Coors Field – assuming he returns with a clean bill of health moving forward.
Corey Seager, SS, Texas Rangers
Okay, I’m cheating – obviously Seager doesn’t apply to this “deep league sleeper” conversation. I just wanted to mention that if you are in a spot where you can acquire Seager at a discount (due to his recent hamstring injury), he would be at the top of my “buy low” list. More than any other player in baseball, the 28-year-old shortstop was poised to have a huge year this season with the rule changes in baseball banning infield shifts. And after a scorching hot spring, Seager was raking at the plate (.359 AVG, 1.007 OPS) at the time that he went down with an injury earlier this week rounding first base on a double. Seager will be out for approximately a month. Maybe a little longer than that. But if you are in a spot to acquire Seager in your league, it will likely pay off big over the course of the remainder of the season. Additionally, I’d also love to see the 2% of Yahoo! leagues in which Seager is not rostered and see what kind of shenanigans are going on in those leagues.
Trayce Thompson, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
This is a quick one – just want to be sure that no one is asleep at the wheel. In case anyone is fooled by Thompson’s current top-75 overall ranking this season, keep in mind that virtually all of that value came in his first game, when he homered three times and drove in eight runs. Thompson has only started in three of the Dodgers’ past 11 games, confirming that the playing time simply won’t be there for Klay’s brother to provide consistent fantasy value for the time being.
Noah Syndergaard, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers
If you can somehow parlay Syndergaard’s quality start against the Cubs on Friday night into a “sell high” scenario, do it quickly. He’s notched two such quality starts already through three turns in the rotation. With that said, it’s hard to justify a guy with a 5.63 ERA as a “sell high” candidate, but the name brand carries weight too. The 30-year-old no longer possesses the elite velocity that made him a household name in New York, and the rest of his repertoire simply leaves a lot to be desired. The Cubs’ offense ain’t the ’27 Yankees, as they allowed Syndergaard to rack up nine strikeouts on Friday, after totaling just eight in his first two starts combined. The right-hander’s K/9 rate has been tumbling the wrong direction over the past few seasons, an ominous sign for sure. I do not trust Thor over the remainder of the season, as evidenced by him getting blown up in his second start against Arizona. Let someone else pay for the name on the back of the jersey, because the numbers on your fantasy squad won’t look nice.
José Berríos, SP, Toronto Blue Jays
By several different measures, José Berríos was perhaps the worst starting pitcher in baseball last season, and he currently holds a 7.98 ERA and 1.50 WHIP through three starts this season. Much like Syndergaard, if you roster Berríos in your league, I would try immediately to trade him away on the heels of his best performance of the season on Friday, when he limited Tampa Bay to one run over five innings. His Statcast profile remains as blue as a Smurf, highlighted by his HardHit%, which remains among the worst in the league. The 28-year-old still carries name value after proving to be a solid starter from 2017-2021, but the new hitter-friendly dimensions in Toronto this season surely won’t be doing him any favors either. Berríos has a tough matchup on tap next week at Houston – I would try to trade him away before then.
Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B, Pittsburgh Pirates
Hayes appears to be a known commodity at this point in his fourth season. After posting a paltry sub-.700 OPS in both 2021 and 2022, Hayes entered Sunday with a hard-to-fathom .546 OPS. He’s simply not a very good hitter at this point in his career, not to mention that the Pirates’ offense isn’t exactly lighting up the box score on a nightly basis either. Speed is virtually the only reason that Hayes warrants being rostered at this point (20 steals last season), but I would much prefer the upside of someone like Yoan Moncada (currently on the IL) at this point over Hayes.
Javier Báez, SS, Detroit Tigers
I was out on Báez before his manager was out on him, benching him for a base-running blunder after losing track of outs in an inning earlier this week. Now I’m even further out. The 30-year-old signed a six-year, $140 million contract with the Tigers in 2021 (gulp) and simply has not lived up to his end of the bargain. Báez is currently hitting .159 – .159! – with a .450 OPS. Yikes. Last year, he hit .238 with a .671 OPS while striking out 147 times. The former first-round pick has not been the player with the Tigers that he was with the Cubs, and I don’t foresee things changing anytime soon.
Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)
I don’t understand why fantasy owners have ever had any interest in Bader. He is a good CF.
McCormick is nothing more than a 4th OF. Hes a very good piece for an MLB team, but not your fantasy team. Brantley is due back soon and makes a better stash. Altuve is not that far off either which takes away that leadoff appeal. Leadoff appeal is not a real thing either as it eats RBIs. I think that all just points to him being a streamer more than a real asset. Steals and a few weeks of starts are always on waivers.
It feels like SB are still being valued like it is 2020. This is the era of immobile catchers.. I mean elite framers.