Each week we’ll look at a handful of different players who fantasy managers in deeper leagues should consider picking up. Many of these players will have the most value in larger leagues where waiver wire options aren’t as plentiful. Still, they could also occasionally be useful additions in other, more standard-sized leagues depending on your options at their position. This week it’s JJ Bleday, Jake Fraley, Ryan Noda, and Drew Smith who are worth your time as potential additions in deep leagues.
All roster percentages mentioned in this column are via Yahoo fantasy leagues as of Friday afternoon.
JJ Bleday – 7%
Selected with the fourth-overall pick in the 2019 draft, Bleday hasn’t quite made the early-career impact that fellow first-rounders Adley Rutschman, Bobby Witt, Nick Lodolo, Riley Greene, Corbin Carroll, Alek Manoah or George Kirby have.
Though, to this point, he’s only logged 272 plate appearances in the Majors, all of them coming since late last June.
Bleday made his Major League debut last season for the Miami Marlins and hit just .167 with a .277 on-base percentage, five home runs, and four stolen bases in 238 plate appearances for the National League East club.
An offseason trade for fellow former first-round pick AJ Puk has Bleday now with the Oakland Athletics. The outfielder has already appeared in nine games for the A’s, making an instant impact with a .344 average, a .382 on-base percentage, and three home runs in 34 plate appearances.
His new home ballpark won’t do him any favors, as Oakland Coliseum has the third-lowest overall park factor in the last three years and the lowest overall park factor this season, per Statcast. However, the two key things here with Bleday are his power potential and potential opportunity.
The outfielder has always displayed reasonable power production. He hit 20 home runs and added a .242 ISO in 367 Triple-A plate appearances last season, and connected on seven home runs in 119 Triple-A plate appearances this season. It’s not always the best or most accurate strategy to make assessments on players purely based on Triple-A or minor-league stats numbers, but Bleday’s power has graded out reasonably well with prospect evaluators as well. His current and future game power and raw power grades from FanGraphs were as follows when he graduated as a prospect:
That’s the power potential, but Bleday is also potentially settling into a regular role, or at least something closely resembling it, with Oakland. A regular role that includes plate appearances in the middle of the team’s lineup. It’s a small sample size, but the A’s have hit Bleday either fourth or fifth in all nine of his appearances so far.
Bleday looks like a solid bet to hit in the middle of the lineup moving forward considering the A’s aren’t exactly overflowing with above-average contributors at the plate. Brent Rooker and Ryan Noda (more on him in a bit) have performed well, but they’re the only qualified Oakland hitters with a wRC+ north of 100.
It is worth noting that the former first-round pick hasn’t started in any of Oakland’s last three games against left-handed starters. Though at this point it isn’t clear if that’s the A’s not wanting to expose him against tough left-handers or if the team wants to utilize him as a platoon bat.
Either way, Bleday looks locked into a regular role in the middle of the A’s lineup, and even if he doesn’t start every game against left-handed pitchers, he should still start more often than not while providing plenty of value for fantasy managers in deeper leagues.
Jake Fraley – 13%
A potential late-round steal in draft season due to a pathway to regular plate appearances in the middle of the Reds’ lineup, part of the appeal with Fraley – like Bleday – is that he regularly hits in the middle of his team’s lineup.
As of the beginning of play Friday, 96 of his 112 plate appearances this season had come either batting third, fourth, or fifth for the Reds. And while he’s not hitting the ball particularly hard on a regular basis, Fraley is getting on-base enough – with a 12.5% walk rate – and being productive when it counts to provide fantasy value so far.
Furthermore, the lack of hard contact is nothing new for Fraley. He’s managed just a 28.0% hard-hit rate in his career and has logged hard-hit rates below 34% in each of the last two seasons while staying reasonably productive in part thanks to some high walk rates. The outfielder has had a double-digit walk rate in each of the three seasons in which he’s logged at least 100 plate appearances.
He’s also chipped in with both home runs and stolen bases, which is especially crucial for fantasy managers. From the start of the 2021 season through the end of last year, Fraley had collected 21 home runs and 14 stolen bases in 512 combined plate appearances.
So far, the outfielder has added two home runs and three stolen bases in 112 plate appearances this season, hitting .250 with a .348 on-base percentage.
As long as he keeps hitting in the middle of the Reds’ lineup, he’ll be a quality fantasy option, especially considering – unlike Bleday – he plays in a decidedly hitter-friendly ballpark. Only Coors Field has a higher overall park factor in the last three seasons, per Statcast, than Great American Ball Park.
And while Fraley has struggled a bit at home so far, with a 75 wRC+ in 57 plate appearances, he did log a 130 wRC+ at home in 105 plate appearances during the 2022 campaign.
Ryan Noda – 4%
Noda is only batting .237 this season in 123 plate appearances, but it’s still a bit surprising that he’s only rostered in four percent of Yahoo leagues.
Overall, the first baseman is batting .237 with a .423 on-base percentage, three home runs, and a stolen base in 123 plate appearances while also adding 21 runs scored and 10 RBI for the A’s.
Once you get by the batting average and an admittedly not-ideal 32.5% strikeout rate, there’s plenty to like here fantasy-wise.
First and foremost, when Noda is making contact, it’s generally decidedly good contact. The 27-year-old rookie is sporting a .371 xwOBA and a .463 xwOBAcon so far, registering a 13.2% barrel rate in the process.
The hard-hit rate sits in the 64th percentile league-wide while the xwOBA and barrel rate rank in the 83rd and 81st percentile respectively.
Noda’s strikeouts are admittedly perhaps boosting those metrics just a bit due to less contact, but it’s hard to ignore what he’s doing when he does connect on pitches. Furthermore, this isn’t necessarily a case of Noda swinging at a ton of pitches outside the zone on his strikeouts either.
Because despite ranking in the eighth percentile in strikeout rate and the fifth percentile in whiff rate, Noda’s 15.1% chase rate actually sits in the 99th percentile league-wide.
Of course, with that being said, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he has the second-lowest zone contact rate in the league among qualified batters. Still, if he can even improve his in-zone contact rate by just a bit, it’ll improve his already promising fantasy upside.
And this is all without mentioning the stolen base potential.
Noda currently ranks in the 52nd percentile in terms of Statcast’s sprint speed metric. Furthermore, and perhaps most crucially, the first baseman swiped 20 bases in 135 games at Triple-A last season and has three seasons in the minors with at least 14 stolen bases. And while it’s perhaps unreasonable to expect the 27-year-old to steal 20 bases in the Majors this year, a first baseman who can get on base at a high rate while adding a quality barrel rate and a few stolen bases amounts to a must-add in most fantasy leagues.
And Ryan Noda is just that. He’s a must-add in fantasy leagues with 14 or more teams.
Drew Smith – 7%
Smith hasn’t exactly stepped into the ninth-inning mix with Edwin Diaz on the injured list, with all 11 of the New York Mets‘ saves so far going to either David Robertson or Adam Ottavino.
Still, the 29-year-old looks to be one of Buck Showalter’s most-trusted options so far in high-leverage situations. As of the beginning of play on Friday, he was tied with Robertson for the team lead in said high-leverage appearances among Mets relief pitchers.
All that high-leverage work, not to mention some decidedly effective displays on the mount, has played a part in Smith accumulating seven holds so far this season, the second-most on the team and tied for the third-most in the sport. His career-high for holds in a season was 14 last year and at this rate, the receiver looks well on his way to establishing a new personal best before the All-Star break.
In 14 innings overall this season, Smith has pitched to a 1.93 ERA and a 2.95 FIP, adding 19 strikeouts compared to just seven walks allowed. He’s been fantasy gold in saves+holds league so far and should continue to provide excellent value in those leagues, even when Brooks Raley, who leads New York in holds so far, returns from the injured list.
Graphic adapted by Aaron Polcare (@bearydoesgfx on Twitter)
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