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Thread: Fantasy Baseball News 2018

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  1. #26  
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    Karablog: Is Verlander a top-five pitcher? Which five pitchers are poised to join top 10 in 2018?
    Eric Karabell
    ESPN INSIDER


    It has become obvious that
    Houston Astros
    right-hander
    Justin Verlander
    really, really likes pitching for this franchise. Verlander mowed down the
    Los Angeles Angels
    on Wednesday night for a five-hit shutout. Through 15 starts for the Astros, including late last season after the trade from the
    Detroit Tigers
    , he boasts a ridiculous 1.05 ERA, 0.71 WHIP and K rate of 11 per nine innings, and according to trusted colleague Tristan H. Cockcroft, Verlander has never had a stretch quite like this in his 15-year career. Verlander is 35, but he has never looked better.


    Verlander rose to the No. 2 option on the ESPN Player Rater, behind only Boston Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts and a shade ahead of Washington Nationals right-hander Max Scherzer, precocious Atlanta Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies and, of course, the best of the best, Angels outfielder Mike Trout, who was hitless in four at-bats against Verlander on Wednesday. The question seems worth posing then: What more does Verlander, who was not exactly Matt Moore, Chris Tillman or Bartolo Colon -- wait, he is actually good again -- prior to this stretch of historic excellence, need to do to permeate the hallowed top tier of starting pitchers?

    Well, I still view the Big Four of Scherzer, Cleveland Indians right-hander Corey Kluber, Boston Red Sox lefty Chris Sale and injured Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw as their own separate group, with Verlander among several that are knocking on the proverbial door. The longer Kershaw is on the mend and off the mound the more likely it will become, for me, a Big Three. Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg is close, along with Kluber's teammate Carlos Carrasco, Verlander's pal Gerrit Cole and a pair of New York Mets right-handers. I cannot give a clear answer to what it will take for Verlander or anyone else to move up even more. It is mostly feel, and I feel like Verlander is right there, perhaps in the No. 5 slot, ready to pounce to top-tier territory if Kershaw is out another month.

    Verlander certainly seems rejuvenated as he misses more bats, cuts down on the walks, induces more ground balls and forces far less hard contact than what we call normal. We really do not need to study his BABIP and strand rate for proof his ERA is likely to double soon, because nobody ends up with a 1.05 ERA, but Verlander's FIP is 2.20 and his xFIP is 3.51. There is a part of me that believes Verlander is thriving to this degree because he is happy competing for a contender that will participate in meaningful October action, an organization that makes smart decisions to aid its players, whether it is with usage, lineups, positioning, whatever. Perhaps Verlander wins the AL Cy Young award again and finishes up a top-5 starting pitcher. I would not be at all surprised.

    Regardless, it seems rather boring to project which pitchers we already view as top-10 options will push their way into the top four, so here are pitchers I think can legitimately make their way into the top 10. While each is universally rostered, they are not generally in any top-10 discussion for this season and perhaps beyond.

    Charlie Morton, Houston Astros: Yep, the Astros are really, really good. The only knock I see against this revitalized version of journeyman Morton is his history of injury, but we continue to evaluate Kershaw as a fantasy star with fewer starts than most stars. Morton is not Kershaw, of course, but look at these numbers! If he and colleague Lance McCullers Jr. actually make 30 starts, the Astros might never lose. Dare to dream, but if Morton can turn his career around statistically, perhaps he can stay on the field more than in the past as well.

    James Paxton, Seattle Mariners: As with Morton, I think the only legitimate question is about health. Paxton has yet to top 136 big league innings in a season, but he is a major strikeout lefty and still improving. Realize Paxton is holding right-handed hitters to a .163 batting average and .492 OPS. Lefties are curiously hitting .424 with a 1.270 OPS. Which of those numbers is most likely to change? When Paxton starts dominating lefties we will see more flirtations with no-hitters.

    Aaron Nola, Philadelphia Phillies: He will need to keep his ERA and WHIP low because he will not be whiffing more than a hitter per inning in totality, but his groundball tendencies tell us that is possible. Some balancing of the BABIP and strand rate are coming for him as well. All the Phillies starters are outperforming expectations -- and permitting excellent soft contact rates -- and we cannot ignore the organization's analytical tendencies playing a key role.

    Trevor Bauer, Cleveland Indians: Social media seems to be giving him more angst than opposing hitters. Bauer breezed through the Tigers on Wednesday for 10 strikeouts over eight shutout innings and there are no red flags here. His 2.59 ERA is adding up. I say it finishes on the good side of 3.00, with a strikeout per frame.

    Rick Porcello, Boston Red Sox: Laugh if you must because of last season and his most recent performances, but Porcello's 3.28 ERA actually looks a bit unlucky. He has outperformed the metrics. If anyone limits the walks and the home runs, and is durable, which Porcello certainly is, good things can happen. I do not see another 22 wins pending, but the other stats from his award-winning 2016 campaign can.

    Wednesday recap

    Box scores

    Highlights


    Justin Smoak, 1B, Toronto Blue Jays: 2-for-5, HR, 3 RBI

    Michael Brantley, OF, Cleveland Indians: 3-for-5, HR, 2 RBI

    Cesar Hernandez, 2B, Philadelphia Phillies: 2-for-5, HR, 2 R

    J.A. Happ, SP, Toronto Blue Jays: 6 2/3 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 9 K

    Nick Pivetta, SP, Philadelphia Phillies: 7 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 11 K

    Lowlights

    Mark Trumbo, OF, Baltimore Orioles: 0-for-4, 4 K

    Joey Gallo, 1B, Texas Rangers: 0-for-4, 3 K

    Matt Koch, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks: 4 1/3 IP, 9 H, 8 ER, 1 BB, 0 K

    Zack Wheeler, SP, New York Mets: 4 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, 3 BB, 7 K

    Walker Buehler, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers: 5 IP, 7 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 7 K

    Wednesday takeaways

    Chris Sale's first 10 starts in 2017: 73 innings.
    First 10 starts in 2018: 63 innings.
    Which is what the new Red Sox staff intended to do -- hold him back early to keep him fresher for the second half.

    - Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) May 17, 2018

    • Sale investors could not have liked seeing their ace removed after five innings on Wednesday night, but he did throw 102 pitches and frankly, I had no issue with his removal. Sale walked four Oakland Athletics and lacked command. Marcus Semien homered off him in the fifth inning on a pitch that did not go where I think Sale intended. Yes, Sale has thrown fewer innings this season but he remains the No. 6 starting pitcher on the Player Rater. Do not complain.

    • Big Bartolo Colon earned many laughs for a play Wednesday in which his belly was given credit for stopping a ground ball and aiding an out. Colon acknowledged this after the game, to everyone's glee. Still, I cannot possibly recommend Colon for fantasy purposes, even though he boasts a 2.82 ERA and 0.84 WHIP through seven starts and 51 innings for the Texas Rangers. Yes, I have rostered Colon in a few recent seasons in deep leagues, and somehow he gets away with throwing slow fastballs and getting outs, but sometimes things turn quickly. Plus, he does not miss bats. The lack of strikeouts is a concern. This ERA is not legit; his FIP is 4.53. I hate to be negative, but it will not be a belly full of laughs when the ERA jumps two runs.

    • Boston Red Sox catcher/utility Blake Swihart is in the news because he is not playing enough and wants a trade elsewhere. OK, so this stuff happens, but generally with more established veterans. Swihart is 26 and a career .260 hitter. He is hitting .138 in 32 PA. I think there is something there for deep-league fantasy relevance if he gets moved to, say, the Minnesota Twins, who will be sans catcher Jason Castro the rest of the season, but let us not go overboard. Swihart can switch hit and draw a walk, but does not project to hit for power. I do not think mixed leaguers need to stash him or quickly add him if a trade occurs.

    San Francisco Giants first baseman Brandon Belt has homered on three straight days, each at home. Wow! It is like watching a young Willie McCovey! Sorry, while I would add Belt in mixed leagues because even as a 20-homer guy he is helpful -- and he still has never reached 20 homers in a season -- but this nice 2018 has not convinced me yet that he will be a top-10 first baseman. It is not like he was bashing road home runs in recent seasons. This is only somewhat about his challenging home ballpark.

    • Now it appears the Seattle Mariners will move Dee Gordon back to second base in the absence of an actual big league second baseman on the 40-man roster that is not suspended. Do not expect tangible statistical change in Gordon at the plate, though the upgrade defensively in center field -- and it does not matter who the Mariners choose there, because it is an upgrade -- could aid the pitchers, notably non-strikeout options like Mike Leake. Guillermo Heredia lacks power and speed to aid fantasy managers. There is no enticing outfield prospect ready for promotion. Little changes here for fantasy.

    Injuries of note:

    Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Starling Marte has an oblique injury and does not want the team to place him on the DL, but c'mon, this seems inevitable. Or, Marte will play through it, struggle to hit and make things worse. I want to be optimistic, but take a week off, Starling, everyone seems to be doing it. Marte has played well so far, hitting for average and providing five-category goodness. I, for one, would prefer a week off and a return to health so he can keep doing it as opposed to aggravating the malady and wrecking his numbers. By the way, over-discussed prospect Austin Meadows has one home run at Triple-A Indianapolis in 131 plate appearances. Stop discussing Meadows for fantasy, even if he gets the call.

    Milwaukee Brewers first baseman/outfielder Ryan Braun claims he is headed to the DL with back tightness. Braun, as with New York Mets slugger Yoenis Cespedes, has been a frequent visitor to the sidelines in recent seasons, but hey, when they are active, they always hit! Anyone else frustrated by this behavior? Braun should be fine in a few weeks and he will always hit, but the good days are over. The Brewers have their outfield in place without him anyway, and Domingo Santana, who so many dumped in early April, homered Wednesday. Good times are pending.

    Closing time

    Phillies manager Gabe Kapler angered all the Edubray Ramos investors out there by removing the right-hander one out from a save, but you know what, managers should not manage for the save rule in the first place! Ramos, as predicted here, is not long for many saves. Kapler brought in deposed closer Hector Neris for the final out and nobody earned the "save." Good for Kapler. I think the two options here are several Phillies start getting occasional saves, or Neris returns to getting them all.

    W2W4

    • Look, there went another home run! Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Chris Archer is back on the mound with his 5.64 ERA, for a road outing at Messrs. Trout and Ohtani. Archer has permitted "only" nine home runs, far from the league lead -- Josh Tomlin is on pace to permit 58 of them! -- but I do not think Archer is going to get that ERA below 4 pitching the way he is. Perhaps he needs a change of scenery, like to L.A.! Anyway, I have concerns.

    • Atlanta Braves lefty Ozzie Albies gets another lefty hurler to feast on, as the Chicago Cubs send Jon Lester to the bump. Albies is a great DFS play with his 1.283 OPS against lefties, which is actually seventh among hitters with 25 PAs against lefties. (Check out Christian Villanueva!). The Braves are legit. I am curious how rookie Michael Soroka performs because one or two more rough outings and he heads back to Triple-A, and I do not want to see that.

     

  2. #27  
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    Top fantasy baseball free agents by position
    Eric Karabell
    ESPN INSIDER

    Fantasy baseball managers should regularly check the waiver wire, as perhaps a player is lurking who will soon perform well and add depth to your team, and it will offer you the shot to make a trade for another need. Patience is a virtue, but we often see even the most veteran of managers cutting reliable players too soon after 30 at-bats or several starts. That really should not happen, but we know it does!

    The purpose of this weekly blog is to identify undervalued players who could potentially be available in your league(s), so without further ado, let us get to it!


    Players rostered in more than half of ESPN's standard leagues are not eligible for inclusion on this list.

    Catcher:

    Tucker Barnhart, Cincinnati Reds (17.6 percent rostered): His strong plate discipline adds value for points formats and OBP ones, and the Devin Mesoraco trade makes it easier for Barnhart to secure playing time. Barnhart is an elite defender, and with his on-base skills could turn into J.T. Realmuto. It is a safe batting average and perhaps he hits 10 homers. By the way, I am marginally interested in Mesoraco now as well. If he can simply stay healthy, we know he can hit.

    Nick Hundley, San Francisco Giants (3.8 percent): The issue is he just does not play enough because Buster Posey is there. Posey has played first base only four times. Hundley can hit a bit but he would frustrate those who need more at-bats.

    Blake Swihart, Boston Red Sox (0.3 percent): He wants a trade way outta town and perhaps he gets it soon to a needy team, but I would have a tough time stashing Swihart in any ESPN standard league in which only one catcher is needed. It is not like this is a future Posey or Gary Sanchez. Perhaps Barnhart.

    Others: James McCann, Detroit Tigers; Martin Maldonado, Los Angeles Angels; Tyler Flowers, Atlanta Braves; Manny Pina, Milwaukee BrewersCorner infield:

    C.J. Cron, Tampa Bay Rays (43.2 percent): It is hardly his first time appearing in this space, but he has really taken to batting second in the lineup and has homered three times in the past week. It likely will not last, and I still prefer Minnesota Twins option Logan Morrison because he has proved -- and as recently as last season -- that he can hit a ton of home runs. Cron can be useful.

    Mark Reynolds, Washington Nationals (8.3 percent): He homered twice in his first game after being promoted thanks to the Ryan Zimmerman DL stint, but Zimmerman should not be out for long. Reynolds hit 30 home runs in 2017 and one could argue he is a better option than the current Zimmerman, but I doubt the Nationals agree. Still, one never knows for sure.

    Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays (18.6 percent): There is little doubt the Hall of Famer's son can rake. I just do not think it is reasonable to expect the Blue Jays to call him up to the majors straight from Double-A anytime soon. Perhaps if Josh Donaldson suffered a long-term injury we would see it, but I am skeptical. Still, for some people just the chance of a Guerrero promotion is enough. Teams do strange things. Guerrero could be called up tomorrow ... or not until 2019. I mean that.

    Others: Logan Morrison, Minnesota Twins; Danny Valencia, Baltimore Orioles; Colin Moran, Pittsburgh Pirates; Brian Anderson, Miami Marlins; John Hicks, Detroit Tigers; Jedd Gyorko, St. Louis Cardinals

    Middle infield:

    Niko Goodrum, Detroit Tigers (7.7 percent): This is hardly some top prospect emerging, but a journeyman type who reached double digits in home runs and steals at Triple-A last season, and the Tigers have many at-bats to give. It does not mean Goodrum is a special player. He just has opportunity.


    Brandon Crawford, San Francisco Giants (20.9 percent): The veteran has certainly hit well in the past few weeks, and he averaged 15 home runs over the past three seasons. Playing time is not an issue. He hits left-handed pitching well enough. Crawford is not an exciting pickup, but useful.

    Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox (10.2 percent): His appeal will rise expeditiously as soon as the organization announces he is a mere days away from returning to the Red Sox, and that could be really soon. Pedroia is not the player he once was, but even last season he hit for average and scored runs from the No. 2 lineup spot. I doubt we see four months of unbridled health, but when he plays, he should hit.

    Others: Yolmer Sanchez, Chicago White Sox; Daniel Descalso, Arizona Diamondbacks; Matt Duffy, Tampa Bay Rays; Jonathan Villar, Milwaukee Brewers

    Outfield:

    Franmil Reyes, San Diego Padres (18.6 percent): He has been in the big leagues for just a few days but a monster stretch of power in Triple-A got him the promotion, and the Padres are obviously intrigued. So are fantasy managers, who have been a bit too excited. Hitting in the Pacific Coast League is not like the majors, but if your last outfielder is not doing much, take a chance. There will be, perhaps mistakenly, plenty of chances to re-acquire the likes of Domingo Santana, Steven Souza Jr. and Dexter Fowler. I would stick with the veterans, personally.

    Rajai Davis, Cleveland Indians (0.8 percent): He is not, for baseball purposes, young, but Davis has stolen many, many bases in his career and the skills have not left him. Davis boasts eight steals in a mere 82 PA. The Indians should not play him regularly, but he has led off the past two games and if that continues, Davis could return to 30 steals. Do you have anyone on your roster likely to steal 30 bases?

    Adam Duvall, Cincinnati Reds (44.7 percent): Let him represent, for this week, any number of proven veterans who are currently available in more ESPN leagues than they are rostered. Duvall clubbed 31 home runs last season and 33 the year prior. He has eight blasts this season, and two in the past three games. We know what he is and it is likely better than what the unknown Reyes, who has not failed yet, will do.

    Clint Frazier, New York Yankees (4.4 percent): I actually expect Frazier to end up back in Triple-A soon, but the Yankees could give him some chances in the outfield at the expense of struggling Aaron Hicks and if it goes well, who knows. Frazier gives me a Steven Souza Jr. vibe, as he can provide power and stolen bases from the right side, but will also swing and miss more than we would prefer. Still, Souza is underrated and again, if you add Frazier and it does not work out, there are so many veterans out there to get, minimizing the risk.

    Others: Jon Jay and Alex Gordon, Kansas City Royals; Denard Span and Mallex Smith, Tampa Bay Rays; Manuel Margot, San Diego Padres; Mark Trumbo, Baltimore Orioles; Albert Almora Jr., Chicago Cubs

    Starting pitcher:

    Andrew Heaney, Los Angeles Angels (13.4 percent): He worked his way back from Tommy John surgery late last season and so far in 2018 the left-hander has thrived. Heaney misses bats and gives a Sean Manaea vibe. One of them is out there in more than 85 percent of leagues, though.

    Nick Pivetta, Philadelphia Phillies (32.1 percent): It is not his first time on this list, as the strikeout right-hander continues to impress. I do not view him as a spot starter anymore. He should be far more popular. His colleague Vince Velasquez is trending in that direction as well.

    Chad Kuhl, Pittsburgh Pirates (22.5 percent): There does not appear to be major upside for this right-hander, nor his colleague Nick Kingham, who should start this weekend, but they are mid-rotation options. Kuhl has thrown quality starts in four of five chances, and with K's.

    Jack Flaherty, St. Louis Cardinals (20.3 percent): A repeat option from last week because I feel strongly this can be the best rookie hurler in the NL this season.

    Others: Caleb Smith, Miami Marlins; Jake Odorizzi and Kyle Gibson, Minnesota Twins; Zach Eflin, Philadelphia Phillies; Kyle Freeland, Colorado Rockies; Jaime Barria, Los Angeles Angels; Freddy Peralta, Milwaukee Brewers

    Relief pitcher:

    Shane Greene, Detroit Tigers (40.6 percent): A repeat customer in this space, Greene is not elite, but there is nobody else earning saves in this bullpen. He can surpass 25 saves, even if it is a tad ugly, just like the guy who appears leading the "others" section literally every week.

    Jim Johnson, Los Angeles Angels (3.9 percent): Fellow right-hander Justin Anderson is also an option for manager Mike Scioscia, but when in doubt, go with experience. Johnson could win and lose the closer role several times in 2018!

    Amir Garrett, Cincinnati Reds (4.2 percent): This week's strikeout setup man with little chance of future saves, Garrett really is thriving and he is being used for more than one inning. Wild as a starting pitcher, Garrett has eight strikeouts in his past two appearances. I think right-hander Jared Hughes would take over for saves if Raisel Iglesias gets traded elsewhere. Other setup men with K potential to look at include Boston's Joe Kelly, Pittsburgh's Richard Rodriguez and Washington's Ryan Madson.

    Others: Fernando Rodney, Minnesota Twins (Emphatically yes, he will continue appear in this space every week until he gets to 50 percent rostered!); Brad Ziegler, Miami Marlins, Tyler Clippard, Toronto Blue Jays
     

  3. #28  
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    Who is the early-season fantasy MVP?
    Eric Karabell
    ESPN INSIDER



    It is probably safe to say most of us expected Atlanta Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies to be an important fantasy option, but nobody expected these numbers, and we would all like to re-draft with him going in the first three rounds. Albies enters the eighth weekend of the 2018 MLB season one home run off the major league lead and fourth overall on the ESPN Fantasy Player Rater, and all this from a 15th-round selection in ESPN ADP. Hey, Mookie Betts is awesome, but he was the No. 5 overall pick. Mike Trout is obviously awesome. Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer are as well, but nobody has provided fantasy managers the value Albies has and thus, with roughly a quarter of the season complete, he is an easy call at this point for fantasy.

    The diminutive Albies was supposed to derive statistical value with stolen bases and runs scored, and he is doing that, plus a lot more. The original ESPN Fantasy projections called for a .270 batting average with 10 home runs, 29 stolen bases and 86 runs scored. Those looked reasonable to me! One could certainly argue Albies should have been more popular in drafts, but nobody expected this much power. Albies hit six home runs in his 244 plate appearances with the Braves last season after launching nine blasts in 97 games for Triple-A Gwinnett. That in itself was surprising since Albies hit 15 home runs during four minor league seasons and 1,744 plate appearances. I thought he would build up to the high-teens in home runs in a year or two. Instead, he has 13 home runs and a pace for 50 on May 18. He is 5-foot-8. Betts is maybe an inch taller. Height does not seem to matter anymore.

    Normally we would call the stunning emergence of power this 21-year-old switch-hitter has supplied unsustainable because, well, he had never shown skill like this, but I cannot do that. He is doing it now and the underlying numbers do not scream fluke. Sure, I would like to see Albies take a few more walks -- I would like 90 percent of hitters to do this, really -- but I do not see a major stretch of strikeouts approaching, either. Albies makes plenty of contact. I always worry a bit when a switch-hitter boasts stats so unbalanced with his work against right-handers -- the majority of pitchers -- clearly the weaker side, but a .783 OPS while hitting left-handed is not exactly awful. Albies is destroying lefties with a 1.283 OPS. That should not continue, and nor will the power pace, but a total of 25 home runs, 20 stolen bases and well past 100 runs -- he has 40 in 42 games! -- should keep Albies a top-20 hitter at the least, even if the batting average drops.

    Albies is the lone top-10 option on the current Player Rater not chosen in the first seven rounds of ADP, on average, so this is quite the easy call on early fantasy MVP. Who else makes my top 5? Glad you asked! Enjoy your weekend!

    Shohei Ohtani, SP/DH, Los Angeles Angels: The pitching numbers feel about right with my expectations, even if he has been a bit all or nothing. Ohtani is missing plenty of bats, but lacks the volume of other top-20 -- heck, even top-50 -- starters. There are 122 pitchers with more innings so far. That is a problem, of course, but then again, hitting 150 innings was always a big concern. On pitching stats alone Ohtani is barely a top-50 hurler so far. Offensively, though, he looks terrific and surprising, with his .977 OPS and six home runs, and he is two players in one. According to the Rater, Ohtani has actually been more valuable in fantasy as a hitter, but adding the pitching and hitting he has been more valuable, if utilized for all his goodness, than Freddie Freeman, Chris Sale and all but 15 players. Ohtani was a 12th-round ADP choice. It is impossible to quantify the actual value and, to be clear, this process I am using is all subjective anyway to find MVPs, but Ohtani has been worth it and, frankly, must-see TV.

    Ender Inciarte, OF, Atlanta Braves: Here comes a second Atlanta hitter and surprisingly it is the one that lost his leadoff spot to Albies and is providing fantasy value in only one category. However, that one category matters a lot. Inciarte has turned into Billy Hamilton at this point. He leads the majors in stolen bases with 18, which is a pace for 69. Inciarte stole 22 bases in 2017. Like Forrest Gump, he just feels like running, and we applaud his efforts. Inciarte was a top-100 pick, ever so barely, and his stolen bases are currently the most valuable individual statistic in fantasy so stop worrying about where he hits in the lineup.

    Mookie Betts, OF, Boston Red Sox: While value is nice, sometimes we must recognize when even the first-round selections are doing something truly special. Betts leads the No. 2 option on the Rater, Verlander, by a ton. In fact, the difference in how much more valuable Betts has been than Verlander roughly matches the difference in Verlander versus players just outside the top 25. Betts is on pace for 48 home runs, 103 RBIs, 41 stolen bases, 169 runs scored -- that one is unbelievable! -- and is hitting .364. I suspect fantasy historian Tristan H. Cockcroft would have a hard time finding any season more valuable than that!

    Javier Baez, 2B/SS, Chicago Cubs: He was chosen in the same round as Ohtani and ranks 21st on the Player Rater, on pace for 41 home runs and 20 stolen bases. Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt was probably the closest to those numbers in 2017, as he hit 36 home runs and stole 18 bases. Trout ended up at 33 and 22. I do not think Baez will hit 41 home runs, and the fact it has been more than 100 plate appearances since his last walk is frightening, but he should provide great value this season even if he settles in around 30 home runs and 15 steals, while offering dual middle infield eligibility. As for Goldschmidt, well, let us just say we wanted to head into the weekend on a positive note, but if we decide a blog entry on the non-MVP choices (LVP!) makes sense, his name will be prominently mentioned. His investors know.

    Sean Manaea, SP, Oakland Athletics: Let him represent the pitchers that were chosen late in drafts or, in his case, not at all. Manaea is 23rd on the Rater and eighth among starting pitchers, a shade ahead of Arizona lefty Patrick Corbin, Houston right-hander Charlie Morton and a myriad of others that have outshone so many early-round choices. It seems to me that Manaea, Corbin and Morton can keep this going, too. Kudos to future Hall of Famer Verlander, cementing his case this season, but he was a fourth-round choice. Extreme value, as always, is critical.

    Thursday recap


    Box scores

    Highlights:

    Khris Davis, OF, Oakland Athletics: 4-for-4, HR, 3 R

    Justin Turner, 3B, Los Angeles Dodgers: 3-for-4, 5 RBIs

    Mookie Betts, OF, Boston Red Sox: 3-for-4, 2 R, 3 SB

    Kenta Maeda, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers: 7 2/3 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 7 K

    David Price, SP, Boston Red Sox: 9 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 8 K

    Lowlights:

    Andrew McCutchen, OF, San Francisco Giants: 0-for-5, 4 K

    Josh Donaldson, 3B, Toronto Blue Jays: 0-for-4, 3 K

    Kevin Gausman, SP, Baltimore Orioles: 4 2/3 IP, 8 H, 6 ER, 2 BB, 6 K

    Aaron Sanchez, SP, Toronto Blue Jays: 4 IP, 5 H, 4 ER, 4 BB, 8 K

    Caleb Smith, SP, Miami Marlins: 3 IP, 2 H, 3 ER, 4 BB, 4 K

    Thursday takeaways:

    Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Chris Archer entered his Thursday night outing in Anaheim with a frightening 5.64 ERA and 1.41 WHIP, along with a strikeout rate unlike his past few seasons. Fantasy managers seemed ready to move on. Then on Thursday, Archer pitched well, tossing 6 2/3 shutout frames, albeit with four walks. Is Archer back? Well, it seems like a wise time for fantasy managers -- and perhaps the Rays as well -- to see what is out there in return before he starts again next Wednesday at home against the Red Sox. His value might not be higher for a while. Then again, Archer is a proven top-20 pitcher and I believe a trade to a contender would improve his numbers. Look what it did last season for Verlander. I rank Archer just outside my top-20 hurlers, and expect an ERA in the 4 range from here on out, but with more strikeouts than most. I might be in the minority on this one.

    • As for Red Sox lefty David Price, who likely faces Archer his next time out, I suppose a similar deal applies. The value is high today, but might not be in a week and the difference here is injury. Price is clearly pitching through arm woes, but expecting him to pitch for all six months seems foolhardy. He went the distance on Wednesday and we know there is upside, but I cannot count on 20 more starts. I cannot count on 10 more. Man, despite Manny Machado leading the sport in home runs the Orioles are such a mess. I am starting to view the Orioles like I do the Marlins. Think about that one.

    • The Dodgers announcers seemed to think having Turner back in the lineup changes everything and the team is about to go on a major roll and win a ton of games. I can see that possibility, since the team is not this bad, but a weekend slate in Washington -- weather permitting -- is a bit different than a few games in Miami. We know Turner can hit and his presence likely does -- I can't believe I believe this -- ease things for others like Cody Bellinger. What outfielder Yasiel Puig has been doing of late is more intriguing to me. He has homered in three of four games, albeit against Marlins and Reds pitching. Still, he hit 28 blasts last season. For those with struggling fantasy offenses, acquiring slow starters like Puig is a wise strategy.

    • As we head into the weekend we see veteran first basemen Brandon Belt and C.J. Cron among the hottest hitters in the game, and among the most added. Hey, go for it! Belt has belted homers in four consecutive games and Cron has done so in three straight. Neither four-lettered player has hit as many as 20 home runs in a big league season before, and for legitimate reasons by the way, but that does not mean they cannot do so in 2018. They can. Ride the hot streaks until someone better comes along, but I do not believe this is like Logan Morrison and Justin Smoak from last season. I do not see more than 25 homers coming for Belt or Cron, whether it is home ballpark or plate discipline or durability or whatever reason suits you.

    Injuries of note:

    • Looks like Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Starling Marte, as expected by some, is going to need a DL stint for his strained oblique and prospect Austin Meadows is getting his long-awaited call to the majors. It must be a wonderful, joyous time for Meadows and his family. I feel like we have been discussing him for years. Not to be pessimistic, but I see this as a rather brief promotion for the kid, who has been hitting a bunch of singles and making contact at Triple-A Indianapolis, but not much else. This is not Albies! Keep Marte rostered in all formats. He likely returns by next weekend. That is the thing about the 10-day DL; you might find yourself leaving most options active in weekly formats. I do. I do not want to miss anything.

    • Perhaps similarly, do not get too excited about the Rays promoting infielder Christian Arroyo. There is a need at shortstop and third base, in the short term, but Arroyo, who had a few singles in Archer's win on Thursday, was hitting .200 with one home run at Triple-A Durham. He was also 0-for-2 on stolen base attempts and has not really supplied much more than batting average through the minors. I just do not see a valuable fantasy asset here for short or long term. The Rays expect Matt Duffy back from his hamstring issue any day now, but all he provides is a hollow batting average.

    Closing time:

    • Four different Chicago White Sox right-handers have combined for eight saves after Nate Jones finished off the Thursday win. My advice: Ignore White Sox pitchers. The team is 11-29. I would rather rely on Shane Greene, Hector Neris and Fernando Rodney. The club to watch this weekend is the Angels after Jim Johnson, presumably in the closing picture with Keynan Middleton done until next summer, saw his ERA implode on Thursday. I think Justin Anderson gets the call over Johnson and Blake Parker. Also, why is Cardinals rookie Jordan Hicks in the majors with his 14 walks versus eight strikeouts? He is 21 and skipped Double- and Triple-A! I do not get it.

    W2W4:



    • The Dodgers-Nationals series should be an interesting one for a myriad of reasons. I want to see the lineups, for starters. Where does Bryce Harper hit for Washington? What about Puig for the Dodgers? Does Matt Adams face the lefties or does he sit for Mark Reynolds? Rich Hill is on the schedule to pitch Saturday and we do not know if that is a good or bad thing. One could have presumed the main directions Hill's season could take would be good pitching or no pitching at all. His ERA is 6.20. I also want to watch closer Kenley Jansen, um, a bit closer. He struck out a trio of Marlins Thursday, but still does not look like the 2017 version at all. I am not buying low there.

    • Meanwhile, expected AL playoff teams meet in Houston and there will be many strikeouts to enjoy with Morton, Corey Kluber, Mike Clevinger and Lance McCullers Jr. among the expected hurlers. McCullers faces Carlos Carrasco on Sunday Night Baseball. One would think the important Indians and Astros starting pitchers are taken in all leagues at this point, so watch hitters like Michael Brantley, Marwin Gonzalez and even Rajai Davis. Look how valuable Inciarte is solely due to the stolen bases. Davis is playing regularly now as the center fielder.
     

  4. #29  
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    Why Juan Soto could be here to stay
    Tommy Rancel
    ESPN INSIDER

    We all knew Juan Soto would one day get here. He received $1.5 million from the Washington Nationals as a teenager in the summer of 2015. He tore the cover off the ball the next year at the lowest levels of the minors. He was doing the same at the A-ball level last season before a myriad of injuries limited him to just 32 games. Despite the inexperience, he was ranked 42nd on Keith Law's preseason list. Once again, we knew Soto was coming. But nobody knew he would be here before Memorial Day 2018.

    Soto started 2018 with the Nationals' full-season affiliate in Hagerstown. He hit .373 with a 1.300 OPS before he was promoted to Advanced-A Potomac after just 16 games. That might seem aggressive, but considering he spent some time with Hagerstown in 2017 and missed most of the season, it was a reasonable move at the time. Even had he started the season with Potomac, he was still far away enough from the majors that he did not factor into my preseason thoughts.

    The light bulb started to come on after he hit .371 with a 1.256 OPS for the Advanced-A affiliate and he was bumped up once again, this time to Double-A Harrisburg. Considering the rise of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., it was not a far-fetched idea that the two of them should spend the summer of 2018 battling for the spotlight of the Eastern League. Then the Nationals really flipped the script and promoted Soto to the majors after just eight games.

    The promotion of Soto is directly linked to injury. Had the Nationals had Adam Eaton, Howie Kendrick and Brian Goodwin still available, there would be no need for Soto. Rafael Bautista and another all-world prospect, Victor Robles, would have been ahead of Soto on the call sheet as well, but they too are out with significant injuries. The Nationals are in the business of winning, so instead of calling on a veteran or more advanced prospect in terms of experience, Mike Rizzo went for the most talented option.

    Soto, as you can see from his numbers, is a hitter. He is a career .362/.434/.609 batter. That's tremendous. It also equates to about a year's worth of professional plate appearances (512). Numbers aside, Soto has always been projected an an offense-first prospect. He is an average runner on his best days and is limited to a corner outfield position defensively.

    It is the bat that catches everyone's attention. He has solid bat speed and a refined approach at the plate. Even if he does not time his swing perfectly, he can foul off pitches with the best of them and stay alive in the at-bat. He has plus power, which has showed not only in batting practice but in actual games. Soto has 15 home runs in 40 games this year -- including an opposite-field shot for his first major league hit on Monday -- with an additional 14 extra-base hits tacked on. Hitters will hit. Soto's advanced approach should help him hit even sooner.



    Another thing we know is that the Nationals are not burning valuable service time for Soto to sit on the bench. Eaton should be back around the All-Star break, but even then Soto may be here for good. The bat and power are enough to make him a fantasy dynamo even without steals or a premium position.

    Soto has the ability to impact four categories: AVG, HR, R, RBI. Hitting in the same lineup as Bryce Harper, he should score runs and have opportunities to drive them in as well. Speaking of Harper, with his future in Washington in limbo, Soto may be seen as an heir apparent in right field. It should also be noted that Soto might be the team's best chance to win now.
     

  5. #30  
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    Karablog: How does Ronald Acuna Jr.'s injury affect his fantasy value?
    Eric Karabell
    ESPN INSIDER
    There was plenty of fantasy relevant baseball news over the long holiday weekend, but it is likely safe to say Atlanta Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. hurting his knee is more important than displaced Boston Red Sox designated hitter Hanley Ramirez and a curious May trade among 1977 expansion teams resulting in a closer becoming a setup man. Acuna's ugly and scary follow-through after running past first base in Sunday's contest in Boston looked rough and the Braves and fantasy managers likely braced themselves for a lengthy absence.

    Instead, the leading contender for top NL rookie honors was apparently running on Monday morning and begging to play that very day. The Braves protected their valuable 20-year-old asset with a wise 10-day disabled list stint, but let us just say things could have been far worse. It is possible, perhaps even likely, that Acuna will return to the Atlanta lineup late next week whereas when he landed awkwardly and his left knee buckled inward on his infield single it was reasonable to expect catastrophic injury, or perhaps an absence timetable much like Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper from last season.

    Baseball fans appear to have lucked out, though. Meanwhile, through his first 29 games Acuna might not appear to be a future star and thus his name has already showed up on the ESPN Fantasy most dropped list, which is indeed foolish, but try to be patient here, and not only with the brief absence. Acuna, like most rookies -- check out the disappointing Mike Trout when he debuted -- is not statistically awesome just yet, but he continues to show signs of stardom. Acuna boasts power and speed -- and plenty of both -- and the immediate results are not a proper harbinger of the fun that is to come.

    Put simply, this player is 20 years old and he is batting second and holding his own in the lineup for a contending team. Acuna hardly looks overwhelmed. Watch him regularly and one can see him making the adjustments. The strikeout rate does not concern me. His pitch recognition looks fine to me. His speed is excellent and it should result in him producing a higher-than-normal BABIP. We could use fewer ground balls and more line drives, of course, but give him time. And as for the injury, perhaps his team advisers will caution him to take it easy on the bases upon his return, but he's 20. Did you listen to anyone when you were 20?

    The Braves moved center fielder Ender Inciarte back to the leadoff spot and dropped second baseman Ozzie Albies to No. 2, which was the lineup pre-Acuna, and it still works. Inciarte leads the majors in stolen bases and can draw a walk, and while he has not hit left-handed pitching this season, he was neutral in prior seasons. Most teams do not possess so many options to hit atop the lineup. Like many of the DL stints we have seen this third of a season, this is not a big deal. It could have been, but those in weekly formats have to wait a week.

    The Braves can fill in toward the bottom of the lineup with outfielders Preston Tucker and Dustin Peterson, a lefty-righty platoon that those in daily formats should use to their advantage. Tucker has hit for power in the minors and enjoyed his pre-Acuna playing time this April, until it ended. It usually does.

    While there are enticing outfielders sitting on free agency in many ESPN leagues, do not part with Acuna for the likes of Austin Meadows and Tyler O'Neill. I think in a month, when Meadows has ceased hitting way above his head and he and O'Neill are each back in Triple-A thanks to a numbers game of crowded outfielders, you will clearly want Acuna. Brandon Nimmo is a nice player, but nice does not provide big stats. Gorkys Hernandez has hit six home runs, a season after he hit nary a one, and I will leave him in free agency as well. Acuna might not fly past 20 home runs or 20 steals this season, but what happened this weekend is just a minor setback.

    Monday recap

    Box scores

    Highlights:

    Andrew Benintendi, OF, Boston Red Sox: 3-for-5, HR, 4 RBI

    Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Chicago Cubs: 3-for-4, HR, 3 RBI

    Christian Yelich, OF, Milwaukee Brewers: 2-for-4, HR, 2 SB, 3 R

    Trevor Cahill, SP, Oakland Athletics: 8 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 6 K

    Gio Gonzalez, SP, Washington Nationals: 7 2/3 IP, 6 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K

    Lowlights:

    Dansby Swanson, SS, Atlanta Braves: 0-for-8, 4 K

    Chris Taylor, SS/OF, Los Angeles Dodgers: 0-for-4, 4 K

    Tyler Skaggs, SP, Los Angeles Angels: 5 IP, 6 H, 5 ER, 3 BB, 5 K

    Aaron Sanchez, SP, Toronto Blue Jays: 5 IP, 9 H, 7 ER, 1 BB, 4 K

    Luke Weaver, SP, St. Louis Cardinals: 4 IP, 5 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 3 K

    Monday takeaways:

    Justin Verlander's 1.08 ERA this season is the 2nd-best by an AL pitcher through their first 11 starts over the last 20 seasons, trailing only Pedro Martínez in 2000...
    Pedro went on to win the Cy Young that season....
    H/T @EliasSports
    Watch Astros at Yankees at 1 ET on @espn pic.twitter.com/CY8tih5RcA
    - ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 28, 2018

    • Verlander went on to allow one run over 6 2/3 innings at Yankee Stadium and his ERA shot up from 1.08 to 1.11. Wow. Still incredible and while we try to avoid overreaction whenever possible, this all looks legitimate. The Los Angeles Dodgers plan to welcome back lefty Clayton Kershaw to the mound on Thursday from his DL stint. Would you trade Kershaw right now for Verlander? The case is quite easy to make. Verlander's BABIP against is a bit depressed and I still think his ERA from here on out will be more like 2.50, but ... is Kershaw going to be better? And will Kershaw avoid missed time the final four months?

    • As for the sudden fall of Red Sox DH Hanley Ramirez, it really is not that sudden. Yes, he surprised us by earning the No. 3 lineup spot for early April and actually providing numbers in that time, but Ramirez, 34, is hitting .163 in May. Perhaps he was a bit unlucky, but his April BABIP was .392. He was fortunate there. In ESPN standard formats, or even those a bit deeper, I am not sure it matters where Ramirez lands. He just is not good anymore. He adds nothing defensively. He cannot drive baseballs, especially against right-handed pitching. Move on. The Red Sox are. Mitch Moreland probably cannot keep hitting like this for long, and I do not view him as a top-10 first baseman, but he is worth rostering. I still think New York Yankees first baseman Greg Bird should be better.

    • I have seen Toronto Blue Jays slugging prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. several times for Double-A New Hampshire this season, and there is little question his bat is ready for the majors. However, he is probably not a third baseman, so the fact that incumbent Josh Donaldson is struggling both to hit and stay healthy has little bearing here. I do think as the Blue Jays continue to fall out of the wild card race that designated hitter Kendrys Morales is in real danger of going the way of Hanley Ramirez to paid unemployment, but again, that does not mean Toronto would promote a 19-year-old to the majors and skip Triple-A. Plus, it is rare a team makes an athletic rookie their designated hitter right away. I think Guerrero moves to the outfield, but the Blue Jays are acting like they have ample time. I would not recommend fantasy managers ignore Guerrero's immense offensive upside, so go ahead and stash him, but I do not think we see him until September, at least.

    Injuries of note:

    Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Rhys Hoskins somehow managed to foul a Kenley Jansen heater off his mouth late Monday night, and he left the game. Pedro Florimon finished the at-bat and predictably struck out, though Hoskins is the one charged with it. Those are the rules! Of bigger concern than Hoskins' cut lip, which might cost him a day or two, is his terrible May. He is hitting .151 this month with many strikeouts and meager power. We know he can hit for power and show plate discipline, and watching him regularly it feels like the adjustments he is making will work. Perhaps Hoskins does not hit .275 with 35 homers ... but do not give up on him.

    Houston Astros catcher Brian McCann heads to the DL with a sore knee, which is hardly surprising for a 34-year-old backstop, and there is little case to make to keep him around in ESPN standard formats. McCann is the No. 13 rostered catcher, but I would take a long look at Atlanta's tandem of Kurt Suzuki and Tyler Flowers. Yeah, so they are platooning, but does that matter? Each homered on Monday. Each served as the DH for road interleague games. They hit. Suzuki hit a believable .283 with 19 home runs in 276 at-bats last season and is doing this again! I also like Devin Mesoraco and John Ryan Murphy asserting themselves with more playing time of late.

    Closing time:

    • More on this in Tuesday's separate Closer Report blog entry, but the Tampa Bay Rays moved right-hander Alex Colome and outfielder Denard Span to the needy Seattle Mariners for a pair of pitchers not likely to contribute to fantasy rosters anytime soon. Colome led the AL with 47 saves last season. He is clearly next in line should something happen to Edwin Diaz, but we like Diaz. The question is who closes for the Rays? Hmmm.

    W2W4:



    • Pirates right-hander Nick Kingham is on the schedule to face the Cubs at home, replacing injured Ivan Nova, but fantasy managers might be a bit too excited about this. Kingham profiles as a big leaguer, but with an ERA in the mid-3 range. He is not likely to register a strikeout per inning. He is OK, but this is not a great matchup. I think it is more interesting to watch Meadows, who is hitting .417 -- with a .405 OBP! -- through 10 games and 37 PA, with a 94 percent contact rate and nary a walk. Meadows showed no power in the minors. Perhaps the new baseball in the majors gets the credit. I think it is possible Meadows pushes aside struggling Gregory Polanco, but it is premature. I would move on from Polanco in standard leagues, by the way.

    • Red Sox right-hander Rick Porcello was great in April, and not so much since then. In fact, only one of his past four outings has been a quality start. He has walked eight in that span. The Rays lit him up last week for eight hits and six runs (four earned) over 3 2/3 innings. Yeah, I am concerned. We have to be. Porcello has shown two extremes the past two full seasons. Can we get some consistency? He starts Tuesday against the Blue Jays, a team hitting .226 this month. Donaldson is clearly compromised. Porcello should thrive.
     

  6. #31  
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    Closer report: Who will get saves for the Tampa Bay Rays?
    Eric Karabell
    ESPN INSIDER

    The reason I was not the least bit disappointed by the
    Tampa Bay Rays
    trading closer
    Alex Colome
    to the
    Seattle Mariners
    this past weekend was due to believing the right-hander, who led the majors with 47 saves last season, was a prime candidate to lose the role in 2018. I had not invested. After all, Colome was nowhere near the relief leaders in ERA, WHIP or strikeout rate last season or this, and the main reason he was able to save 47 games in a league-leading 53 chances was due to his offensively compromised team playing so many close games. Colome was not a particularly good pitcher last season, nor is he this time around.


    Still, as long as saves remain a fantasy category in most every league, they matter and fantasy managers look for the providers. It remains possible Colome, who earned a 0.7 Wins Above Replacement in 2017 -- more than 200 pitchers were better -- finds his way back to saves if overworked Mariners right-hander Edwin Diaz either struggles with performance or health, but I would have doubts about Colome nevertheless. It is indeed rare for top-end relief pitchers to repeat excellent performance annually. Colome is average. Diaz is having an excellent season but let us be real about the saves: his team is giving him the most chances and he is thriving, but I am a bit concerned with his pace for 86 innings pitched.

    The Rays roster a right-handed reliever with extensive closing experience, but since Sergio Romo has been plying recent trade as an unconventional starting pitcher, I do not see why Rays manager Kevin Cash would alter things just because Colome is elsewhere. Romo has seen mixed success in his new, controversial role, and this has to be a franchise that would not value experience - nor should they - for the ninth-inning. They wisely moved Colome before he got really expensive. The Rays have to know Jose Alvarado, Chaz Roe and others are more than capable of "saving" games. I cannot fathom why more managers do not understand this.

    My guess is that Roe and Alvarado, on the account of their lofty holds totals proving the late-inning trust Cash has for them, are going to be mixed and matched for the ninth inning, as they should. That is not the answer fantasy managers desire, but the new reality is not every real-life manager thinks alike. I like this. Lefty Jonny Venters saved Monday's 13-inning win, striking out the lone hitter he faced, so perhaps that can continue. By the way, Cash is hardly afraid to let his starters-turned-relievers like Ryan Yarbrough and Anthony Banda, go five-plus innings to finish games. Anything is possible, and it is possible this team will not have many save chances, too.

    I would avoid the Tampa Bay bullpen when looking for saves, at least at this point. It seems unlikely to me that any one hurler is going to become the organization's next Colome in 2018, because having one pitcher - and not necessarily your best one - confined to one role, and not a versatile one, makes little sense. The Rays know this. Rogue Philadelphia Phillies manager Gabe Kapler might go to right-hander Hector Neris most of the time moving forward, but he has options. Rookie Seranthony Dominguez is fabulous, and better, and being deployed for critical outs. They might come in the ninth inning, and they might not. Regardless, move on from Colome in standard mixed leagues. The value is gone. Alvarado and Roe boast more value.

    Other reliever thoughts

    Dominguez has appeared in 10 games since his hasty promotion -- he barely pitched in Double-A and Triple-A this season -- and five years ago he would be in line for 40 saves. He is that good. However, Kapler calls on him for the opposition's top hitters, and that has come in the seventh or eighth inning lately. Dominguez has one save. He already boasts six holds, one off the team lead. He has thrown 11 2/3 innings, allowing two singles and nary a free pass. He is dominant, and I believe worth adding even in standard leagues ... but do not count on saves.

    Those rostering Pittsburgh Pirates left-hander Felipe Vazquez had to be overly concerned when he left Sunday's game prematurely, and after struggling, with forearm tightness and finger numbness. That is not normal. On Monday, Vazquez reported that all was somehow well and he could pitch Tuesday. Give me a break. This is not likely to end well. Vazquez was fantastic in 2017 but again, most relievers struggle to perform at a high level year after year. He has blown his past three save chances and all his numbers are trending in the wrong direction. I think Edgar Santana is next in line, but Michael Feliz, the former Astro, is the one to watch should he ever learn consistent control of the strike zone.

    Ken Giles just is not right. I cannot explain it and perhaps manager A.J. Hinch has the same predicament. Giles could not locate his fastball on Sunday and the Indians teed off for three hits. He retired nobody. Giles looked better on Monday but again, he lacks strikeout stuff. Velocity is down, but this strikeout rate is below ordinary. Incredibly, Giles has yet to walk a hitter this season. That is the only reason he still gets saves. If I had invested in Giles anywhere I would try to get another top-15 closer in a trade, fast. Chris Devenski seems days away from major fantasy value and take note of his usage. His role has adjusted to a conventional one-inning role.

    It is becoming clear to me that Daniel Winkler has a decent opportunity at Atlanta Braves saves this season. I just see flaws in Arodys Vizcaino and A.J. Minter.

    Cincinnati Reds right-hander Raisel Iglesias should return to closing games when activated from the DL, and that could occur any day now, but what the organization really should do is trade him to the highest bidder late in July. What do the Reds need with a 28-year-old closer? Jared Hughes is pitching way over his head so far, and has registered a strikeout in only one of his past eight appearances, so investing there seems silly. Watch veteran David Hernandez end up with saves.

    Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Kenley Jansen last permitted a run or a walk on May 2. Move on, nothing to worry about here.

    Toronto Blue Jays right-hander Ryan Tepera has graduated to the closer role and while there is not much upside there, he could keep the job for a while and be a top-20 closer, so do not totally ignore him.

     

  7. #32  
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    Top fantasy baseball free agents by position
    ESPN INSIDER

    ESPN's most added/dropped list shows the constant churning of free-agent talent to ESPN fantasy teams -- and some of the moves actually make sense. OK, so perhaps that is a bit mean, but the purpose of this weekly blog entry is to feature players available in more than half of ESPN's standard leagues who warrant that first or second look for a potential pickup in a standard format. If the player is rostered in more than 50 percent of leagues, it does not mean you cannot still add them, but we must ignore them in this space (this week that would be Alex Reyes, Mitch Moreland and many others). Here we go!

    Catcher:

    Devin Mesoraco, New York Mets (12.8 percent rostered): We should all take care of bodies and lust for health. Mesoraco used to be one of the top catchers in the sport, as he smashed 25 home runs in 2014! Then he battled injury for three years and became the backup to defensive-minded Tucker Barnhart. Mesoraco is a Met now, and unlike many of his unfortunate colleagues, has remained healthy. He has hit six home runs in his 91 at-bats, two in the past week. Invest while it continues.

    Max Stassi, Houston Astros (4.5 percent): Another DL stint for Brian McCann opens the door for Stassi to play regularly. His .303 batting average figures to dip rather quickly, but he has some power and the lure of playing time.

    John Ryan Murphy, Arizona Diamondbacks (1 percent): The backup has homered in three of his past four games and batted cleanup in the most recent one. The club says he will get more playing time. No, the power surge probably will not continue, but enjoy it while it is here.

    Others: Blake Swihart, Boston Red Sox; Martin Maldonado, Los Angeles Angels; Kurt Suzuki and Tyler Flowers, Atlanta Braves; Francisco Pena, St. Louis Cardinals

    Corner infield:

    Jeimer Candelario, Detroit Tigers (28.2 percent): The young switch-hitter is back from the disabled list and back in a top lineup spot as well. Candelario has 20-homer pop and strong plate discipline. He should be rostered in many more leagues.

    Greg Bird, New York Yankees (45.2 percent): Health might always be an issue, but he has homered in his first week of big league action this season and we know that can continue. The lineup is great. The home ballpark appears perfect for Bird's swing. There is major upside here.

    Mark Reynolds, Washington Nationals (22.9 percent): A weekly entry in this space, Reynolds has mashed six home runs in his first 13 games with his new team, after smashing 30 blasts last season for the Rockies. The power has always been legit, and now Reynolds does not strike out nearly as much. Put simply, he might be better than Ryan Zimmerman, who should get his job back when healthy but ... let us not assume it happens anytime soon.

    Others: Ronald Guzman, Texas Rangers; Yonder Alonso, Cleveland Indians; Brian Anderson, Miami Marlins; John Hicks, Detroit Tigers; Jedd Gyorko, St. Louis Cardinals; Max Muncy, Los Angeles Dodgers

    Middle infield:

    Josh Harrison, Pittsburgh Pirates (47.7 percent): An established player who reached double digits in home runs and stolen bases last season and often leads off, Harrison is vastly underrated based on this roster percentage.

    Ben Zobrist, Chicago Cubs (25.2 percent): A better option in leagues that value walks and on-base percentage, Zobrist appears on his way to double-digit home runs plus a decent batting average and runs total. Long gone are the days of stolen bases, but he is 37. This version still helps.

    Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox (26.1 percent): Another older player looking to return to past glory, Pedroia has played in three games but also missed as many as the Red Sox show caution. Perhaps Pedroia will not play a regular role, since the Red Sox boast depth, and time will tell about his lineup position as well, but he is, after all, a career .300 hitter.

    Others: Jose Rondon, Chicago White Sox; Amed Rosario, New York Mets; Johan Camargo, Atlanta Braves; Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Texas Rangers; Jose Pirela, San Diego Padres

    Outfield:

    Brandon Nimmo, New York Mets (28.8 percent): Few questioned his contact skills or ability to lead off, but now Nimmo is playing regularly and contributing in home runs and stolen bases. It is unlikely that we will find Nimmo aiding fantasy teams in more than batting average and runs scored long term, but hey, at least he is getting his chance.

    Gorkys Hernandez, San Francisco Giants (19 percent): It is a bit hard to fathom how a 30-year-old journeyman who hit nary a home run in 348 plate appearances last season suddenly has mashed six home runs in 129 PA this year, but Hernandez is getting a long look in the leadoff spot and players do make adjustments. Just be prepared to move on if the Giants stop deploying him regularly or the numbers cease.

    Ben Gamel, Seattle Mariners (1.3 percent): Playing time is hardly assured, but Gamel is hitting .343 with three stolen bases in the past week. There is no reason to believe Gamel will keep stealing bases, but he is a nice platoon option and will play if he keeps hitting.

    Others: Jon Jay, Kansas City Royals; Mallex Smith, Tampa Bay Rays; Mark Trumbo, Baltimore Orioles; Albert Almora Jr., Chicago Cubs; Tony Kemp, Houston Astros

    Starting pitcher:

    Caleb Smith, Miami Marlins (33.3 percent): Yes, he is a Marlin, and that means he does not figure to pile on the wins, but Smith is top 20 in strikeouts and showing no decline there of late. His ERA and FIP nearly match, so I think we should stop viewing this surprising lefty as a big surprise. It looks legit.

    Joe Musgrove, Pittsburgh Pirates (24.8 percent): I always liked this right-hander when he was emerging as an Astros minor leaguer, but the results were not quite there upon promotion to the majors. He gets another chance in Pittsburgh, and through two outings all looks great. He went seven innings in each and allowed one run. I think his ERA settles into the 3.50 range at best, but still, that is something.

    Trevor Cahill, Oakland Athletics (29.1 percent): We have to be at least a bit skeptical about this veteran suddenly thriving, but look at the strikeouts. I mean, Charlie Morton changed, why cannot Cahill? He has not allowed a run in three of his past seven starts. Let us not blindly presume this cannot continue.

    Marco Gonzales, Seattle Mariners (20.3 percent): I still do not truly believe this pitch-to-contact lefty can keep pitching to this level indefinitely, but he is not walking anyone and his FIP is better than his ERA. Plus, he is missing some bats. He isn't Ty Blach.

    Others: Andrew Heaney, Los Angeles Angels; Shane Bieber, Cleveland Indians; German Marquez, Colorado Rockies; Brent Suter, Milwaukee Brewers; Vince Velasquez, Philadelphia Phillies

    Relief pitcher:

    Jose Alvarado, Tampa Bay Rays (14 percent): Two other pitchers have earned saves since Alex Colome was dealt to the Mariners (Sergio Romo, Jonny Venters), but I still believe this lefty will emerge for consistent chances. Romo has experience, but I find it odd the Rays would consider that over Alvarado's upside and ability to retire hitters from both sides of the plate.

    Fernando Rodney, Minnesota Twins (48.9 percent): This might be the last time the veteran qualifies for this space, which on one hand could be viewed as sad, though I will not shed a sideways-hatted tear. Then again, Rodney should have been rostered on so many more teams for two months! He allowed a run earlier this week, and it was his first run permitted in more than a month. He boasts saves in each of his past eight appearances. It is not always pretty, but the saves are always there. Just add him already, so I can find someone else underrated to complain about.

    Others: Joe Kelly, Boston Red Sox; Ryan Tepera, Toronto Blue Jays; Seranthony Dominguez, Philadelphia Phillies
     

  8. #33  
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    What to do with Rhys Hoskins
    Eric Karabell
    ESPN INSIDER

    Fantasy managers rarely like waiting around for hitters headed to the disabled list who are coming off a month in which they hit an uninspiring .161 with a .551 OPS, unless they are certifiable stars of the game. It has become tough to decipher what Philadelphia Phillies first baseman/outfielder Rhys Hoskins is, however. Last season, as he continued his push through the minors, he smashed 18 home runs in a 50-game stretch. That was a star performance. This month he has looked terrible. Now Hoskins heads to the disabled list with a fractured jaw suffered when he fouled a Kenley Jansen pitch off his face on Monday. Will you wait for Hoskins? Should you?

    It would take a lot for me to recklessly part with someone who was the No. 48 selection in ESPN average live drafts this spring, though that assumes the DL stint is not a lengthy one. We do not have the timetable for Hoskins's absence as of yet, though it could be announced today. Hoskins admits he was not feeling great pain when he slashed a pinch-hit double on Tuesday, the day after the injury, but a Wednesday CT scan showed the minor fracture. Surgery is a possibility. Chicago Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward suffered a similar injury a few years ago and he returned to active play in less than a month. I am hopeful Hoskins plays for the Phillies in June.

    Hoskins, 25, has 102 games and 428 plate appearances to his big league credit, and with extreme highs and lows, he has made it tough to project him forward. Using data by month is dangerous, due to arbitrary start and endpoints, but here are Hoskins's four major league months so far. You decide.

    August 2017: 11 HR, 25 RBI, .304/402/.747, .241 BABIP, 92 PA

    September 2017 7 HR, 23 RBI, .220/.392/.505, .241 BABIP, 120 PA

    March/April 2018: 4 HR, 19 RBI, .303/.457/.528, .404 BABIP, 116 PA

    May 2018: 2 HR, 9 RBI, .161/.253/.299, .222 BABIP, 100 PA


    Here is what I think we know; Hoskins boasts excellent plate discipline, enough to know how to draw walks and what to wisely swing at, though his most recent stretch shows way too many attempts to attack non-strikes. He has abandoned his approach a bit. Hoskins has better-than-average power, but the 40-plus home runs many predicted were perhaps too much. He is currently on pace for 18 blasts. While he has attempted five stolen bases this season, he is not the least bit fast, but still, we have seen fluctuation in his BABIP, with three "unlucky" months out of four. That tells us little. Inconsistency is, frankly, not a good thing with athletes, either when trying to watch and enjoy them or predict future trends. Even if Hoskins is merely a .246 hitter, as his career mark suggests, his 24 home runs project out to near 40. The Phillies and fantasy managers would obviously take that.

    The problem is, and the reason why Hoskins was deemed a top-50 player in drafts, we did not see that this month, and now we do not know when we will see the injured player again. The reason to keep Hoskins rostered in all formats is not that he was a top-50 player in drafts. That is risky business to start with. The reason is for half his brief big league career he has proven himself to be worthy of the lofty designation, and we all want to believe when he finds consistency that player will be extremely valuable.

    I watch Hoskins play every day and while I love the plate discipline and No. 2 lineup spot, plus the dual eligibility and eagerness to attempt the occasional stolen base despite a clear lack of speed, he is simply not the player that homered nearly every day upon his call-up. He should be able to contribute more than 30 home runs annually and keep his batting average above .250. Perhaps the September slump last season was fatigue-related, but more likely pitchers figured out they should stop challenging him with fastballs over the plate. Hoskins adjusted early this season, but did not hit baseballs hard or drive them with vigor. It is temporarily concerning that Hoskins's hard-hit percentage, according to Fangraphs.com, is not among the top 100. Nine players have drawn more walks than Hoskins this season, and only three have done so since he debuted last August. Twelve have more home runs in that span, but I think we have to view that category differently as pitchers clearly did not approach Hoskins correctly when he first arrived. Still, the power is there. We cannot disregard it. Despite the rough May, Hoskins should be a constant among the OBP leaders for years to come, and there is plenty of power here. Since his debut, he has statistically looked like Khris Davis and Justin Upton -- with more OBP. Those are, I believe, top-50 players. They are more consistent, however, and have showed off for years, and that is what bothers me. Do not give up on Hoskins finding consistency. We just have to wait a month or so for him to resume trying.

    Wednesday recap


    Box scores

    Highlights:

    Matt Kemp, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers: 2-for-4, HR, 4 RBI

    Jorge Soler, OF, Kansas City Royals: 4-for-5, HR, 2 RBI

    Johnny Field, OF, Tampa Bay Rays: 2-for-4, HR, SB, 2 RBI

    Max Scherzer, SP, Washington Nationals: 8 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 12 K

    Nathan Eovaldi, SP, Tampa Bay Rays: 6 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 K

    Lowlights:

    Carlos Correa, SS, Houston Astros: 0-for-4, 3 K

    Tyler Austin, 1B, New York Yankees: 0-for-4, 4 K

    Reynaldo Lopez, SP, Chicago White Sox: 2 2/3 IP, 8 H, 7 ER, 1 BB, 2 K

    Jon Gray, SP, Colorado Rockies: 3 1/3 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 3 BB, 5 K

    Fernando Romero, SP, Minnesota Twins: 1 2/3 IP, 9 H, 8 ER, 1 BB, 1 K

    Wednesday takeaways:

    Eovaldi has dealt with a pair of Tommy John surgeries and I admit to having only tepid interest in him because unlike so many other injury prone fellows, he never tempted us with a high strikeout rate despite premium velocity. It is awesome that he is back and we should hate when athletes are consistently derailed by injury and root for them hard, but the fact Eovaldi permitted nary a hit in his season debut has not altered my thinking on him. If he shows us several weeks of strong pitching, with his splitter continuing to dazzle and fooling hitters into many strikeouts, then I might take a chance, but he is 28, his arm has been through more than most and well, I think we have reason for skepticism.

    • Everyone is and should be far more interested in St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Alex Reyes, a former top prospect that also made his season debut Wednesday. This was an interesting outing, to say the least. Reyes induced a pair of first-inning strikeouts, which we love. In the next three innings, he did not strike anyone out and his fastball velocity dropped each inning. The Cardinals noticed. There was a fourth-inning mound visit and then Reyes threw one of his hardest pitches to get out of the inning, though the Brewers barreled up several balls that went right to fielders. Reyes tossed four scoreless. Including the minors he has yet to allow a run in 27 innings in 2018. While there was concern about injury -- when velocity is inconsistent, that tends to be the case -- I expect Reyes to make his next start, but watch him closely. There is top-20 pitcher upside ... but no guarantee he can stay healthy.

    • Watching Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Ross Stripling closely it is clear there is great talent here and he should stick in the rotation for as long as he shows it. Striping flummoxed Phillies hitters for nine whiffs over seven innings, allowing only a Nick Williams home run. Kenta Maeda went predictably to the disabled list and even with Clayton Kershaw returning Thursday I see no impediment for Stripling, who was great in a middle relief role and now is 3-1 over six starts with a 2.18 ERA and tons of whiffs. It looks legit.

    • Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp homered again, his seventh so far, and while the batting average is a total mirage and his luck on balls in play will change, the power is not. The opportunities for knocking in runs will not change, either. Kemp seems on his way to a 25-homer, 100-RBI campaign. Who cares if he steals bases or makes Pat Burrell look like a Gold Glover?

    Paul Goldschmidt finally hit a home run in a home game and we all rejoice. Look, I think Goldschmidt is going to hit for the final four months as we thought he would before the season. I cannot tell you why he has struggled, but it sure is not the humidor. Other Diamondbacks are hitting fine at home. Invest in Goldschmidt. He will figure this out.

    • And finally there is Angels right-hander Shohei Ohtani, who scared many with reduced velocity and command in the first inning against the Tigers and then ... allowed nothing. Ohtani was held to five innings thanks to the rain and over his four May outings produced a 2.16 ERA. This is an ace and the only thing making me question top-20 status among fantasy starters is the workload. It simply will not be there.

    Injuries of note:

    • Minnesota Twins outfielder Byron Buxton is back on the shelf with more toe problems, and I think it is fair to move on in a 10-team format. This feels like it could be a lost season. Buxton was a top-100 option on draft day, teasing us with potential for 20 homers and 40 steals -- oh my, he is Eric Davis! -- but even with his amazing center field defense I wonder if the Twins push him to play. Billy Hamilton plays awesome defense too, but the Reds have tired of the bat. Buxton should be great offensively. He showed it in stretches last season, but in a shallow league, I understand moving on.

    Closing time:

    New York Mets right-hander Jeurys Familia was summoned for the eighth inning with a lead Wednesday, facing the top Braves hitters, and he did the job. Robert Gsellman pitched the ninth and earned the save. Good for Mickey Callaway. I mean it. If the rookie manager believes Familia is his best relief option, and most of us would agree, then deploy him against the top hitters. Who cares who gets the save? This is not about finances and just rewards. That noted, I doubt this continues. The player might whine. Or the agent. Or the front office.

    The Marlins are not good and perhaps submariner Brad Ziegler keeps getting save chances because the organization believes he is more likely to fetch a top prospect back in a trade that way, but it is so ridiculous. Other teams realize Ziegler is not a closer. Perhaps Kyle Barraclough will struggle too, but I doubt it. Give Barraclough a shot!

    W2W4:

    • Clayton Kershaw comes back from the latest DL stint and should have little issue controlling a struggling Phillies lineup, though perhaps he is limited on pitch count. Then again, what if Kershaw struggles? Or leaves early with injury? The window to trade this recognized top ace could drastically alter depending on initial performance. Oh, and Aaron Nola is pretty good as well.

    • Cleveland unveils right-hander Shane Bieber against Minnesota and if he pitches well, he should stick in the rotation. Bieber made 10 starts and threw 65⅓ innings across two minor league levels this season, and he fanned 61 hitters, while issuing three walks. That is like a first inning for Tyler Chatwood! Three walks! Bieber can miss bats, though.
     

  9. #34  
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    Karablog: Catching up with fantasy catchers
    Eric Karabell
    ESPN INSIDER

    Houston Astros catcher Evan Gattis is not really a catcher anymore, but for our purposes in the fantasy baseball world, he certainly is, and as long as he is hitting home runs, we are fans. Gattis became the third catcher-eligible player to reach double-digit home runs this season -- 63 players overall have done so -- when he took declining Texas Rangers lefty Cole Hamels deep in the fourth inning of Thursday's 5-2 win. Gattis has pushed his way into the top 10 on the season Player Rater among catchers with his recent play, as all but one of his home runs have come in the past four weeks. Not bad, especially for this position, even if Gattis does not really play the position.

    OK, so those coveting Gattis in 2019 drafts will have to settle for designated hitter status, as was the case in 2016 after he failed to don the tools of ignorance for any games during the 2015 season. Gattis has played catcher twice this season, so the fact that starting catcher Brian McCann is coming off the disabled list this weekend has no bearing on his value. Gattis' real job is slugging, and while fantasy managers tired of waiting for that aspect of his game to shine in April, he has delivered since then, as he is the No. 16 hitter on the 30-day Player Rater. Looking at the statistics Gattis has provided this season, one might think they are hardly influential. He is hitting .234 and his home runs are just about it for production, but at catcher it is enough.

    While New York Yankees slugger Gary Sanchez and Kansas City Royals backstop Salvador Perez were the first catchers to hit 10 home runs this season and remain top-five options -- more pointedly, the former is clearly first and the latter fourth or fifth -- the position certainly is not producing much value. I recall selecting Pittsburgh Pirates veteran Francisco Cervelli in an offline, deep-league, multi-catcher draft a few seasons ago and a friend laughed at me and questioned my credentials. "He has no power," the friend said. I knew that but thought a safe batting average was worth it. Cervelli now is providing power and batting average. His Thursday homer was his career-best ninth, and he leads all catchers on the Rater.


    What I find interesting -- I appear to find myriad banal things interesting, I guess -- is that a mere 10 catchers are rostered in more than 43 percent of ESPN standard leagues, in which only one catcher is needed. I cannot recall seeing this level of agreement among fantasy managers before. There are 10 players and that's it. Oh, Kurt Suzuki and Mike Zunino also appear in the 40s and then comes another dropoff. We tend to recommend streaming at this position, which lacks valuable depth, but few appear to be doing that currently. With Yadier Molina healthy and Gattis hitting, this is everyone's top 10, plus two more deserving ones, and that is it!

    Things are unlikely to remain this constant, of course. Gattis is probably the first of the trusted catchers to go, should he hit like he did in April (.581 OPS, one home run) or for much of 2017, when he slipped from a very appealing 32 home runs to an unacceptable 12. I do not mind that the Astros have decided Gattis is no longer a catcher, as long as they give him chances to hit. That was a concern last season when he barely batted 300 times, but baseball's No. 3 scoring team seems to like his production in the Nos. 6 and 7 lineup spots, and really, that makes sense. Fantasy managers like it as well and can enjoy catcher production for another four months. After that, things will change, Cervelli might have changed, someone will be hurt and we will probably go back to a handful of safe options and then streamers.

    Thursday recap

    Box scores

    Highlights:

    Joc Pederson, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers: 3-for-5, 2 HR, 3 RBI

    Mitch Haniger, OF, Seattle Mariners: 2-for-3, HR, 3 RBI

    Jesse Winker, OF, Cincinnati Reds: 3-for-3, HR, 2 RBI

    Jose Berrios, SP, Minnesota Twins: 9 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 10 K

    Miles Mikolas, SP, St. Louis Cardinals: 7 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 5 K


    Lowlights:

    JaCoby Jones, OF, Detroit Tigers: 0-for-5, 4 KIan Happ, 2B/OF, Chicago Cubs: 0-for-3, 3 KTyler Chatwood, SP, Chicago Cubs: 4 2/3 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 7 BB, 6 KJalen Beeks, SP, Boston Red Sox: 4 IP, 7 H, 6 ER, 3 BB, 4 KBrad Brach, RP, Baltimore Orioles: 1/3 IP, 3 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 0 KThursday takeaways:

    Despite walking seven in 4 2/3 innings on Thursday, Tyler Chatwood is taking steps in the right direction, the Cubs believe. Joe Maddon says his delivery looks better, while catcher Chris Gimenez says his stuff was "a little more crisp, a little more sharp." At least Maddon, and then Chatwood, admitted the results don't look pretty -- though they believe there is progress. Here is Chatwood after the game: "It's a step in the right direction even though it didn't look like it." https://t.co/9YU4DVnkML
    - Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) June 7, 2018

    • I have no issue admitting I was a Chatwood fan back in March, and I know I was not alone. Chatwood left the Rockies for the Cubs, and with intriguing stuff and a new home park to perform in, it seemed enough to create a legit sleeper. However, Chatwood was simply dangerous on Thursday. Not only did he throw a mere 58 of 107 pitches for a confirmed strike and walk seven to extend his lead in free passes to a startling 17 over everyone else (on pace for 146 walks!), he hit a batter, sent several missiles over the heads of batters and threw half a dozen pitches (fastballs and cutters, mainly) past beleaguered catcher Gimenez and to the wall. Chatwood was fortunate to permit only one run. Look at his WHIP, not his ERA. All that noted, however, while it seemed like the right-hander had no idea where the thrown baseballs were going, there is obvious strikeout potential. I wonder if the Cubs can continue letting him start every five days, though, since he is not going deep into games. Just do not forget about this guy when he finds command, because we have seen him perform well. It might be like his opposing hurler Thursday; Phillies right-hander Nick Pivetta had a walks (and therefore WHIP) problem last season. Now he does not.

    • The Tampa Bay Rays debuted prospect Jake Bauers at first base, hitting sixth, and while it was a quiet performance, the pending release of infielder Brad Miller is a strong sign that the Rays intend to keep Bauers in the majors. That is a good thing. We cannot know if Bauers will hit for average or power right away, thus making him worth a look in shallow fantasy leagues -- he is eligible at outfield only, but upon his 10th game at first base, he will add that as well -- but his is a name to watch for sure. This club has one player with more than seven home runs (C.J. Cron), and even if it is only doubles power, Bauers is instantly one of the top hitters here.

    • Cardinals right-hander Mikolas won his seventh game in eight decisions and lowered his ERA to 2.27, seventh in baseball among qualifiers, and his WHIP is ninth. Mikolas is hardly piling on the strikeouts, and he still feels like more of a 3.50 ERA option to me, but this continues to look legit. Mikolas left MLB for a few seasons to hone his craft and thrive in Japan, and his success with the Cardinals will certainly coax fantasy managers to invest in the next player with a similar career path, which is naturally a bad way to judge things. Every player is different. I wish I had Mikolas over Chatwood.

    • It is a shame that Boston lefty Beeks got such a rude introduction to the big leagues, as the Tigers scored five in the first inning on the way to a 7-2 win. Beeks might have been nervous. He might be really good. One would assume he gets another chance, and while I cannot say he is someone to keep rostered -- he went up to 12 percent rostered quickly -- this one bad inning really tells us little, so it's odd when people say or write "he is not good enough." Andrew Heaney had a similarly bad opening inning two starts ago against these same Tigers, and then in his next one (against the Royals), he tossed a one-hitter. Do not let first impressions be your only impression. I do like a Tigers lineup with Jeimer Candelario back in it, though he should hit higher in the order. Miguel Cabrera takes his walks, which is nice. I am a bit surprised Cabrera is not the regular DH -- just let Victor Martinez go already -- and Christin Stewart should be about a month away from promotion.

    Injuries of note:

    Atlanta Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. could be about a week away from returning to the majors after suffering a scary-looking knee injury. Those who saw the video had to think Acuna would miss considerably more than a few weeks.

    • Remember when the Red Sox claimed Mookie Betts would not need a DL stint for his abdominal strain? Good times. Betts will take batting practice Friday and could return from the DL this weekend or need a rehab stint. Regardless, this also seems like a quick return.

    Closing time:

    • Thursday was not the prettiest day for relievers, as Wade Davis and Brach blew saves, while Kenley Jansen, Ken Giles, Alex Colome and Amir Garrett allowed runs. Nothing really changed here, of course, except in Baltimore, where Brach is simply holding down the ninth inning until lefty Zach Britton returns, perhaps as soon as next week. As for who saves Orioles games this weekend, perhaps it is Mychal Givens over Brach, but this club has the fewest wins in the sport. Jansen permitted a run for the second time in three outings, but I think I speak for all when I say he gets a pass because Cervelli hits homers off all, mocking the sport. With Giles, it probably has no bearing on the next save chance, but then again, he still does not look right.

    W2W4:

    • We watch the injury situations for Astros shortstop Carlos Correa and Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner, and Betts could play Friday or not until next Friday. Correa has right side discomfort, which sounds exactly like the Betts issue, so do not be surprised if there is a DL stint coming. Turner and his sore wrist are clearly a problem, so much so that he was a defensive replacement on Thursday but could not hit.

    Among the starting pitchers you can watch on ESPN+ this weekend are Justin Verlander, Kevin Gausman, Aaron Sanchez and Sean Manaea, and they seem to have little in common! Verlander is the No. 1 pitcher on the Player Rater, off to a historic start. Gausman can be great or awful at any time, but even that has fantasy value. Just wait until he starts pitching well and those stats are not on your team! Sanchez has no command of his pitches, kind of the AL version of Chatwood. Manaea was great in April, not so much since. We crave consistency, fellows! So frustrating.

    • Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN features aces Luis Severino and Noah Syndergaard, as the Yankees and Mets finish their seemingly one-sided series. The Mets have scored six runs in June. Six runs! The Dodgers have scored 55. The Mets are hitting .140 this month. I do not like their chances against Severino, who makes a strong case to be a top-five pitcher.
     

  10. #35  
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    Paul Goldschmidt returns to form
    Eric Karabell
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    Just as nobody enjoys getting injured, nobody really wants to talk about injuries either, and this past weekend was a rough one for several big-name pitchers and prospects. Rough, rough weekend. However, instead of starting a new week dissecting myriad negatives, let us focus on a positive! Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, a consensus top-10 fantasy option that began the week as arguably the biggest disappointment in the game, had a terrific week, easily topping the Player Rater for that span.

    Goldschmidt went 16-for-25 in six road games at San Francisco and Colorado, producing four home runs, six doubles, one triple, 11 runs batted in and 10 runs scored. He raised his season batting average 46 points to a more respectable .254 mark and brought renewed hope to fantasy managers seeking pitching replacements. Goldschmidt is hitting .333 and slugging .706 in road games ... and now with the Diamondbacks headed home to face the Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Mets this week, he needs to hit in Chase Field as well. I like Goldschmidt in the No. 2 lineup spot against right-handed pitching (and third against lefties); he is hitting .395 with a 1.360 OPS and five home runs in the No. 2 spot. I do not think it is a coincidence. This is a new hot spot for top hitters these days.

    I am rather optimistic that Goldschmidt will continue to perform like the player who finished the 2017 season No. 9 on the Player Rater, fourth among hitters. For whatever reason, he could not hit fastballs the first two months, but he did it last week. Goldschmidt has a long track record of five-category productivity, and as bad as his first nine weeks were, his excellent Week 10 has him back on pace for 30 home runs and 109 runs scored. The runs batted in should come, and he has already done nice work on the batting average. Will Goldschmidt steal bases? It is a rather important differentiator for him and what separates him from other corner infielders, but give him time. Goldschmidt's top career months for stolen bases are June and August.

    Arizona's introduction of a humidor was supposed to curtail offensive production, of course, but it still does not explain what has happened to Goldschmidt. The Diamondbacks are hitting a lowly .221 with a .691 OPS at Chase Field, way down from last season, and Goldschmidt has played a large role in that. Injured outfielder A.J. Pollock is hitting .306 with a 1.009 OPS at home, while fellow outfielder David Peralta has hardly struggled, with six of his homers coming at home and a .809 OPS, right in line with his road stats. Daniel Descalso has hit much better at home this season. Catcher John Ryan Murphy has not struggled there. Yes, the humidor is a factor, but Goldschmidt's numbers do not make sense. He was struggling everywhere until this past week. He's better than this.

    Frankly, one cannot compare last season's Diamondbacks home/road splits to 2018 because outfielder J.D. Martinez was a ridiculous offensive player last season (he hit .373 with 16 home runs in 29 starts at Chase Field last season!), and the team never really replaced him. Oh wait, they just did with Jon Jay! It is not the same. Yes, the humidor matters. Right-hander Zack Greinke is feasting in home games. It hardly explains why some hitters have hit just fine at home. Goldschmidt figured to see his production drop some, but not like this. I think he will continue to hit this week, and if a Goldschmidt fantasy manager wants to sell high after his monster week, I would buy this top-20 -- not necessarily top-10 -- player.

    Sunday recap

    Box scores

    Highlights:

    Curtis Granderson, OF, Toronto Blue Jays: 4-for-5, HR, 6 RBI

    Brandon Crawford, SS, San Francisco Giants: 4-for-4, HR, 2 RBI

    Yuli Gurriel, 1B, Houston Astros: 4-for-5, HR, 2 RBI

    Seth Lugo, SP/RP, New York Mets: 6 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 8 K

    Clayton Richard, SP, San Diego Padres: 7 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 5 K

    Lowlights:

    Jesus Aguilar, 1B, Milwaukee Brewers: 0-for-4, 4 K

    Khris Davis, OF, Oakland Athletics: 0-for-4, 4 K

    Alex Cobb, SP, Baltimore Orioles: 3 2/3 IP, 11 H, 9 ER, 1 BB, 5 K

    Sean Newcomb, SP, Atlanta Braves: 5 1/3 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, 2 BB, 6 K

    Carlos Martinez, SP, St. Louis Cardinals: 3 2/3 IP, 4 H, 5 ER, 7 BB, 5 K

    Sunday takeaways:

    Brandon Crawford went 4-4 Sunday (3-3 vs. Max Scherzer) and is now batting .439 since the start of May
    Crawford hit .189 in March and April this season pic.twitter.com/rbQrlOly8l
    - ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 10, 2018

    • Guess what percentage of leagues Brandon Crawford is rostered in. I will wait. Crawford was awful the first month, and fantasy managers, predictably, avoided him. These days he is performing as if he is the best player in the game and ... he remains available in 30 percent of ESPN standard leagues. Like most every player, Crawford was never as bad as his first month or as great as his recent one, but fantasy managers should try to time it so they get the good numbers and move on when they become average. Crawford hit .253 with 14 home runs last season. He is a career .258 hitter but locked in today. Enjoy it and then in a few weeks find the next fellow on the upswing.

    • Cardinals right-hander Carlos Martinez is worrying a lot of people after he walked seven in Sunday's game, bringing his two-game total since coming off the disabled list to 12 free passes in 7 2/3 innings. Who does he think he is, Tyler Chatwood? Martinez also is not throwing with the same velocity as before the lat strain, admitting that he is afraid of re-injury. That seems like no way to pitch for success. One would assume the Cardinals plan to discuss matters with Martinez, a sure top-20 starter when he is right, before he faces the Cubs this weekend. Do not be surprised by another DL stint.

    • The Mets beat the Yankees on Sunday Night Baseball and then announced first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who is not a good player by any definition but also not the worst on the club, was being released and prospect Dominic Smith would get the promotion, presumably to handle first base on a regular basis. Smith, 22, is hitting .260 at hitter-friendly Las Vegas with a mere two home runs, which is certainly disconcerting, but then again, there is a better baseball for hitting in the majors. Perhaps Smith hits like Ozzie Albies for a month. I will avoid Smith in leagues; he just does not seem ready to be a major offensive contributor, especially at first base. I would prefer Tampa Bay's Jake Bauers and Minnesota's Logan Morrison, for perspective.


    • To make room for Bauers, the Rays gave up on infielder Brad Miller, hitter of 30 home runs in 2016 but with only 14 in fewer plate appearances since then. Miller is not having that awful of a season, and he can play second base. The Brewers acquired him over the weekend and sent him to Triple-A Colorado Springs, but if Jonathan Villar does not hit, then Miller will get a chance and could be a nice power source at, um, Miller Park. It was not named for him. My point is, do not simply disregard Miller in deeper formats. He has power, he can draw a walk and he could matter.

    Injuries of note:

    • OK, where do we begin? We start with Los Angeles Angels pitcher/hitter Shohei Ohtani, who went from having a blister to likely needing Tommy John surgery. Yep, it escalated quickly. Hey, if you don't know by now that big league teams are hardly forthcoming about injuries, you must be gullible. Ohtani came to America with an existing elbow tear and now it is worse. The Angels plan to re-evaluate his progress in a few weeks, and even if he cannot pitch, the organization could allow him to hit and simply push the impending surgery to November. Even if Ohtani has the surgery today, he would likely miss the 2019 season. It is a shame, because few players are more intriguing, but elbows just were not built for throwing baseballs like this on a consistent basis.

    • The issue for Washington Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg is his throwing shoulder and not his elbow. The organization does not seem particularly worried about shoulder inflammation, and truth be told, it is rather common. I think Strasburg returns to the mound this month and becomes a decent buy-low option if his fantasy investor panics.

    New York Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka injured both hamstrings on the bases in an NL park, resurrecting the angry discussion about a universal DH. Pitchers are so bad at hitting at this point, I agree. Just go to the DH for both leagues. The Yankees claim Tanaka might return before the All-Star break, which seems like a long time to wait, but that is their call. Fantasy managers should keep him rostered, of course. Really, keep Strasburg, Ohtani and Tanaka all rostered, and in that order, until we get more clarity.

    • Even the minor leaguers were not spared from injury. Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. should miss a month with a knee injury, which I think actually adds some clarity for eager fantasy managers. Guerrero was not getting promoted to the majors before the All-Star break anyway. This clinches it. I doubt he gets a big league at-bat this season, so fortify your bench with someone actually in the majors. The Philadelphia Phillies shelved right-hander Sixto Sanchez with elbow inflammation, but for now call it precautionary. He remains an elite dynasty option too.

    Closing time:

    • St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Jordan Hicks earned his first career save and struck out three hitters in the process. That is the more important take, I believe. Hicks routinely tops 100 MPH but has not piled on the strikeouts. That seems to be changing. Bud Norris is not long for the closer role if Hicks, who has eight strikeouts in four June innings, keeps this up.




    • San Diego Padres right-hander Kirby Yates is absolutely in a timeshare with lefty Brad Hand, which makes a lot of sense, but few teams are doing this. Add Yates. I think Hand still earns more saves, but if the Padres get 20 saves the rest of the season, Yates could have more than a third of them.

    W2W4:

    Boston Red Sox knuckleballer Steven Wright gets an ideal matchup with the struggling Baltimore Orioles on ESPN+. Wright boasts a superficially low ERA of 1.57 -- his FIP is 3.72 -- and we all know knuckleballers sometimes struggle when they should not. Still, with near-automatic out Chris Davis and so many underachieving Orioles hitters, Wright seems like a decent bet for six strong innings Monday. We also await positive words on injured outfielder Mookie Betts. He should return to action this week.

    • It continues to be an odd all-or-nothing season for Chicago Cubs lefty Jose Quintana, but this will be his third meeting with the Brewers, and in the first two he permitted nary a run. The Brewers will soon get Eric Thames back in the lineup, either at the expense of Ryan Braun or Jesus Aguilar, and it will be interesting to see who loses playing time. Braun had a big weekend in Philadelphia, but he was hitting .229 entering the weekend. He does not come recommended in fantasy.

     

  11. #36  
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    Big league expectations for Rays prospect Jake Bauers
    Tommy Rancel
    ESPN INSIDER



    Despite their 30-35 record, the Tampa Bay Rays have been an intriguing team for their willingness (perhaps out of necessity due to injury) to think outside the box. We have all heard and seen their experiment with bullpen days and "openers." The jury is still out on that experiment, but fantasy wise, it is more interesting that impactful.

    On the other hand, fantasy managers should have been paying attention to the Rays recently for a more traditional reason: calling up prospects. The team briefly called up top prospect Willy Adames last month. He homered in his first game off Chris Sale, but his initial stay was short. However, Adames was recalled on Monday. With super-two and service time deadlines behind us, he is likely to stay a bit longer this time. You can read more about his outlook here.

    A few days before the Adames' recall, the Rays dumped veteran Brad Miller and handed the primary first base job to another prospect, Jake Bauers. Acquired as part of the multi-team, multi-player trade headlined by Wil Myers a few years back, Bauers has steadily climbed the prospect ranks. He entered the season at No. 39 on my list, but that was more about opportunity than skill.

    Speaking of skill, Bauers is atypical for a first base prospect. He is listed at 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, but a solid lower half gives the impression of a slugger. Don't get me wrong, he definitely has pop. He smashed his first career home run on Monday; a laser off the bat at 99 mph that traveled at a 23 degree angle. Bauers also collected 45 extra-base hits last season in Triple-A. That said, power is not his top tool. It is actually the ability to hit overall that has carried him to the majors.



    Bauers has a smooth, easy swing from the left side. He is a career .276 hitter in the minors with a .361 on-base percentage. Those seem like very good benchmarks for him as a full-timer in the majors. He is just 22-years-old, but his feel for the zone is much more refined than his age. He should walk somewhere between 10 and 13 percent of the time, which will keep his OBP healthy even if he goes into a bit of a slump at the plate. He is not immune to striking out, though that should never become an epidemic.

    Despite the unspectacular profile, Bauers projects to be a very productive player with a high floor and opportunity to hit. At a minimum, he should hold the strong side of a first base platoon with a chance to take the everyday job, as C.J. Cron can still get at-bats as the designated hitter. Bauers can also play corner outfield. Even if he does it just a handful of times, that could mean position flexibility depending on your league's settings.

    Looking at current production, there are only seven qualified first basemen hitting better than .260 on the season. Bauers could be a sneaky performer in that category at a position that is typically a drag on average. He is available in more than 90 percent of leagues. If you need help in average, run producing categories, and even sneak a few steals (he swiped 20 last season), Bauers is worth the look, especially at his current price tag.
     

  12. #37  
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    Which players will thrive in Brewers' crowded outfield/first base situation?
    Eric Karabell
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    While I think we would all admit we did not think Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Domingo Santana was going to repeat his astounding 2017 season, when he homered 30 times and finished ahead of Cody Bellinger, Andrew Benintendi and Freddie Freeman on the Player Rater, along with every Brewer except their closer, we did not expect this. Santana is a bench player these days, and not a particularly good one, on pace for seven home runs. While it is true that inconsistent playing time thanks to offseason additions has played a role, the fact is Santana has not hit when given chances.

    Still rostered in nearly 30 percent of ESPN standard leagues, it sure looks like Santana's 2018 season is not going to aid many fantasy managers, and those who annoyingly say "I told you so" could not have imagined things would get this bad. After all, Santana is on pace for nearly 500 plate appearances, which shows he does play. He just has not played well. By most every measure and especially fantasy value, Santana was better than Ryan Braun last season, and when the Brewers added outfielders Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain it seemed like Braun would handle first base, eliminating opportunity for Eric Thames and Jesus Aguilar.

    Well, Thames was activated from the disabled list Monday and did not appear in the 7-2, 11-inning loss to the rival Chicago Cubs, but I think he should play Tuesday when right-handed walk machine Tyler Chatwood takes the hill. After all, Thames is a patient left-handed hitter with a .351 on-base percentage this season, and that is 44 points better than Braun, who really is no longer a standout offensive player. Thames is excellent when facing right-handed pitching. I think Milwaukee's best lineup against right-handers features both Braun and Santana on the bench, and fantasy managers should get ahead of this possibility.

    OK, so I was wrong about Santana. I thought the ESPN Fantasy projections of 25 home runs, 77 RBIs and 12 steals still made him a top-100 player. It is just not happening and unless he earns a merciful trade to one of many teams in need of outfield aid, fantasy managers in 10- and 12-team formats should move on. Braun could be next, though, in terms of sinking fantasy relevance. Yes, he homered twice in Saturday's game and knocked in five, but he loves hitting at Citizens Bank Park; he is a .406 hitter there in 155 plate appearances, with 13 home runs and 41 RBIs in 34 games. Braun looked great this weekend, with two hits in each game and a diving catch as well. He looked like a Gold Glover again on Monday. But at the plate, his bat looks slow and the numbers bear this out.

    Braun, who last participated in more than 140 games in a season back in 2012, has been in decline ever since. He is hitting .246 with a .281 OBP against right-handed pitching this season, with seven walks versus 37 strikeouts. This continues a trend from last season when Braun managed only seven home runs in 264 second-half plate appearances, though he disguised it with decent plate discipline and the occasional stolen base. Braun is still doing this, and his contract -- unlike Santana's -- pretty much mandates playing time and makes him impossible to trade, but Thames is more valuable. He was last season and has been in 2018, using Wins Above Replacement, despite less than half the playing time.

    Then it comes down to Braun versus Aguilar, the hefty, late-blooming first baseman with legit 30-home run potential. Aguilar hit an opposite-field laser over the right-field wall for a weekend homer in Philadelphia, and he also had a four-strikeout game, but he draws his walks and the power is more legit than what Braun is providing. Plus, Aguilar slugs nicely against all pitching and against all fastballs. Braun is certainly struggling in those departments, the predictable result from aging and durability issues. None of these players -- Braun, Aguilar, Thames -- is Keith Hernandez defensively at first base, but Braun has seemed particularly disinterested in trying.

    Here is what should happen: The Brewers should platoon Braun and Thames in left field, and with right-handers set to face them in 12 of the next 13 games, perhaps it will actually happen. Santana should still get chances and perhaps he can figure out what is missing from last season, or another team will trade the Brewers a starting pitcher for his services. Santana has not been good this season and yet ... one week ago he boasted a better OPS than Braun.

    Either way, Santana and Thames topped Braun on last season's Player Rater, and while I have unfortunately given up on the former doing so again, the latter sure can. Which one of the three players is available in your league?

    Monday recap

    Box scores

    Highlights

    Nelson Cruz, DH, Seattle Mariners: 2-for-3, 2 HR, 3 RBIs

    Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels: 2-for-3, 2 HR, 2 RBIs

    Jose Martinez, 1B/OF, St. Louis Cardinals: 3-for-4, HR, 2 RBIs

    Carlos Carrasco, SP, Cleveland Indians: 7 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 11 K

    Dylan Bundy, SP, Baltimore Orioles: 8 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 K

    Lowlights
    Jonathan Schoop, 2B, Baltimore Orioles: 0-for-6, 1 K

    Mitch Moreland, 1B, Boston Red Sox: 0-for-5, 3 K

    Andrew Heaney, SP, Los Angeles Angels: 3 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, 1 BB, 2 K

    Madison Bumgarner, SP, San Francisco Giants: 5 1/3 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 3 K

    Matt Albers, RP, Milwaukee Brewers: 2/3 IP, 3 H, 5 ER, 1 BB, 0 K

    Monday takeaways

    Bundy went on to pitch eight shutout innings but got no support, as the Orioles lost in 12 innings. It should be noted how well Bundy has pitched since he failed to retire any Kansas City Royals on May 8, when the seven runs he permitted spiked his ERA to 5.31. In six outings since then, Bundy has averaged more than seven innings, allowed 10 runs for a 2.09 ERA and fanned 47 hitters. Yes, Bundy had a bad stretch culminating in that Royals disaster, but he has been awesome since then. Pitchers have bad performances and on occasion they stretch for a few outings. And yes, I was not recommending Bundy a month ago, but I did say on the Fantasy Focus Baseball podcast it was a mistake to dump him. His return to prominence is a good lesson for us all. Bundy is a proven pitcher now. Perhaps he will struggle again, and wins might be tough to come by on this horrible club, but he was good last year and his overall numbers are better in 2018.

    • Bundy's teammate Schoop looks lost at the plate and despite a solo home run on Sunday, there really are no signs of a good season. Schoop hit 57 home runs the past two seasons, which is still great for this era because he plays second base. He has overcome shoddy plate discipline before, and his six walks in 199 plate appearances ... still is not as low a walk rate as in his first few seasons. Schoop has not been unlucky. He is hitting .190 against right-handed pitching. Like many of his teammates, he looks disillusioned, perhaps by the nightly losing. I cannot call Schoop a top-100 player anymore.

    • The Red Sox welcomed outfielder Mookie Betts back from injury and he assumed leadoff duties, hitting a single in five plate appearances. Betts was out with an abdominal strain, and while I would not worry about him long term, I would not utilize him in DFS quite yet, either. Give Betts a few days. Shortstop Xander Bogaerts moved to the No. 5 lineup spot. Even when second baseman Dustin Pedroia returns from his knee woes, I doubt he pushes his way into the top of this lineup. Andrew Benintendi is just so good at getting on base.

    • The Tampa Bay Rays called up shortstop Willy Adames, and he hit a two-run single and drew a walk as the No. 6 hitter. Adames is intriguing, even for shallow leagues, for he has shown a nice mix of power and speed, though he will likely not hit for high average. For all we know the Rays will not keep him in the big leagues when Daniel Robertson returns from his hamstring injury.

    • The Cleveland Indians called up catcher Francisco Mejia, presumably because backup catcher Roberto Perez is out with a bruised hand. Mejia, eligible in most fantasy leagues solely at designated hitter -- don't complain, that is what he did last season for the Indians -- has hit terribly at Triple-A Columbus (.604 OPS) and likely heads right back there in a matter of days. Mejia's future is likely not at catcher, a blow for those that invested in dynasty formats. I still think he will hit, and he is only 22, so be patient, but he is not likely to make any impact this season.

    Injuries of note

    • No, Orioles shortstop/third baseman Manny Machado was not traded. His absence from the lineup was due to an illness, we are told, and he could play on Tuesday. In addition, the Orioles activated closer Zach Britton from the DL, but more on that in Tuesday's Closer Report.

    Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Josh Harrison left his game prematurely with shoulder blade discomfort and has been labeled day-to-day. Harrison is an underrated fantasy option who homered and stole a base in Sunday's game, and he hits for average. Sean Rodriguez, who hit .167 in 2017 and is hitting .162 this season, replaced him, and that is not good news.

    Closing time

    • The Rays took a four-run lead into the ninth inning of their win over Toronto, so we cannot say for certain if right-hander Sergio Romo -- he is a starter! He is a closer! -- would have been called upon for the save, but I am close to certain it would have occurred. There is no current Rays pitcher with more than one save in the aftermath of the Alex Colome trade, and it looks like no one Rays pitcher is going to get the saves, either. I still think lefty Jose Alvarado could be the AL version of Felipe Vazquez -- with a bit less velocity -- but fantasy managers should move on.

    W2W4

    Take a good look at Atlanta Braves right-hander Mike Foltynewicz as he faces the beleaguered New York Mets on ESPN. Foltynewicz is 17th in baseball in strikeouts, but nobody ahead of him has more walks. He is tied for 12th there. The ERA and WHIP look great and this breakout campaign looks real, as Foltynewicz is throwing harder than ever before and even going deeper into games of late. The Mets, of course, are a mess. Dominic Smith figures to handle first base, but with this club one never knows. It could be Jay Bruce. And Michael Conforto could be back in the minors. I am not investing in Conforto, who is clearly not 100 percent healthy after major shoulder surgery. Wait 'til next year.

    • Among the lesser-rostered starting pitchers to pay attention to on Tuesday include Jaime Barria, Clay Buchholz, Daniel Mengden and Jon Gray. Barria has been on the Triple-A shuttle all season and pitched well, and with Shohei Ohtani likely done pitching this season, the right-hander should stick around and shine. Buchholz has performed very well, and perhaps I should not be so dismissive of him staying healthy. Mengden has a great moustache. He does not throw hard, and in his most recent outing he permitted four home runs. He had allowed six in his previous 12 starts. Something has to give. As for Gray, blame Coors Field all you want, but his road ERA is 4.73. The strikeouts are nice, but Jeff Samardzija never had an ERA of 5.66, folks.
     

  13. #38  
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    Juan Soto, Gleyber Torres lead impressive rookie class
    Eric Karabell
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    The top baseball rookies for this season were supposed to be Los Angeles Angels pitcher/hitter Shohei Ohtani in the American League and Atlanta Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. in the National League, and while they have impressed to differing degrees, injuries have unfortunately gotten in the way. We have also seen quality performances from, among others, Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Walker Buehler, St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Jack Flaherty and San Diego Padres third baseman Christian Villanueva. No rookies, however, are performing to the level of the pair of youngsters that combined for three home runs at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday night.

    Washington Nationals outfielder Juan Soto is 19. Think about that for a moment. It seemed pretty unlikely that he would make his big league debut this season, but he hit .362 with 14 home runs at three minor league levels and when the big league club dealt with injuries, including to presumed top prospect Victor Robles, Soto got the desperation call. He homered twice on Tuesday, an opposite-field smash against right-hander Sonny Gray and yet another blast -- and this one went far -- against a left-hander. Soto bats left-handed, and four of his five big league home runs have come off same-sided pitching. He also has 12 walks versus 11 strikeouts overall. This is incredible.

    New York Yankees second baseman Gleyber Torres was far more likely to debut in the majors this season, but the big league club did create quite the competition with its offseason moves. It seems oh-so silly today that someone like Brandon Drury would block Torres, who did not hit for power in the minors but already has 12 blasts, including Tuesday's, over his first 44 games for the Yankees. Torres does not have the plate discipline of Soto although his walk rate at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season was double his current mark, so we know he has it in him. The power is unexpected, but we keep reminding people it is a different baseball in the majors, so it is tougher to project ahead. If a player can simply hit, then he can develop power.

    Fantasy managers do not need me to recommend Soto or Torres at this point. The former remains available in more than 20 percent of ESPN standard leagues, but that issue figures to look different soon after his Tuesday performance and the increasing likelihood he is safe for playing time. Torres is at 90 percent rostered. Neither is going to lose playing time anytime soon, so investing even in redraft formats makes perfect sense. I do not see the power stopping, either. Soto clearly knows the strike zone, and while we knew he had power, few lefty-hitting youngsters look so adept against left-handed pitching. The Nationals cannot and will not play Michael Taylor over Soto. That is crazy. With Acuna recovering from a knee problem, Soto is the clear leader for top NL rookie honors.

    Torres, 21, is on pace for 31 home runs and again, while this seems stunning because he managed to hit only 24 over five minor league seasons, knowing how analytically inclined all teams have become and with the change in baseballs, we should learn from this. Torres has hit all the home runs while batting ninth, too! OK, so Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Jake Bauers did not hit for notable power in the minors. Um, so what? Add him to your teams and watch him hit for power in the majors. Not only are the baseballs different, but for many of these players the approach changes as well. They made adjustments quicker. I advised fantasy managers in the past few months that I do not know if Soto and Torres will be superstars, but if you have a bench spot, use it on them over boring veterans with little upside.

    With pitchers like Buehler, Flaherty, Los Angeles Angels right-hander Jaime Barria, Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander Nick Kingham and myriad more, it is different. The new baseballs do not favor them, for one, and neither does the way teams deploy their valuable arms. Buehler is currently on the DL, but the Dodgers had little intention of giving him 25 starts this season. Barria is only a rotation lock now that Ohtani is on the shelf. Teams promote starting pitchers for spot outings and then demote them, as we saw with Cleveland Indians right-hander Shane Bieber. Perhaps he returns soon, perhaps not. There is a difference in skills and upside with Buehler and Bieber, of course, but the overriding point is I do not feel compelled to add every rookie starting pitcher. Teams do not offer the same opportunities for them, at least initially, and let us be clear that the injury risk is always greater with a pitcher.

    Soto and Torres are great examples of top prospects who, to differing levels, did not seem like they would be close to this fantasy relevant in 2018. I did not think we would see Soto at all, not at age 19, and now he looks like a young Ken Griffey Jr. Torres came advertised as a slick shortstop with strong bat skills and developing power. Well, the power came quickly. Bauers is up and looking good so far and the Angels called up infielder David Fletcher, a fast-rising contact hitter who tripled among his three hits in his big league debut on Tuesday. Contact hitters in the minors are hitting for power in the majors!

    Perhaps at some point this season we shall see Chicago White Sox outfielder Eloy Jimenez, San Diego Padres third baseman Fernando Tatis Jr., Cincinnati Reds infielder Nick Senzel and many others. They might hit like Soto, or take their sweet time like Philadelphia Phillies infielder Scott Kingery, but it is worth the risk just in case. Make room for the rookie hitters, because minor league power performance is starting to mean less and less. Opportunity -- and different baseballs -- is everything.

    Wednesday recap


    Box scores

    Highlights:

    Evan Gattis, C, Houston Astros: 2-for-3, 2 HR, 5 RBI

    • Juan Soto, OF, Washington Nationals: 2-for-3, 2 HR, 4 RBI

    Khris Davis, OF, Oakland Athletics: 3-for-4, 2 HR, 3 R

    Jhoulys Chacin, SP, Milwaukee Brewers: 6 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 7 K

    Trevor Bauer, SP, Cleveland Indians: 7 2/3 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 12 K

    Lowlights:

    • Scott Kingery, 2B/SS/3B, Philadelphia Phillies: 0-for-4, 4 K

    Willy Adames, SS, Tampa Bay Rays: 0-for-4, 3 K

    Nick Pivetta, SP, Philadelphia Phillies: 5 IP, 8 H, 6 ER, 3 BB, 5 K

    Zack Greinke, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks: 4 2/3 IP, 5 H, 5 ER, 4 BB, 7 K

    Paul Blackburn, SP, Oakland Athletics: 1 1/3 IP, 8 H, 8 ER, 2 BB, 0 K

    Tuesday takeaways:

    Jacob deGrom has an 0.87 ERA (6 ER in 62.1 IP) in his last 10 starts. The Mets are just 2-8 in those 10 games.
    deGrom has 7 starts this season where his team lost despite him allowing 1 or zero runs. Per @EliasSports, that's tied for the most such starts in a season since 1893. pic.twitter.com/TlwigfD40B
    - ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 14, 2018

    • The New York Mets are a mess, but deGrom has certainly done his job. Fantasy managers should be targeting the right-hander, not avoiding him or trying to trade him. Sure, every season a pitcher or two performs well but fails to pile on the wins, and it is usually for a bad club. It happens. I recall the Cole Hamels season that was arguably his best, with a 2.46 ERA over 30 starts, and he won nine of them. This situation is odd, though, because Mets are apologizing to him about the lack of run support. I would bet it improves. My goal in investing in starting pitchers is to get great innings and loads of strikeouts. I rarely consider wins because wins are unpredictable. Miles Mikolas might win 20. Rick Porcello might do it again. And Trevor Bauer might win 10 times.

    • Atlanta Braves rookie right-hander Mike Soroka took a no-hitter into the seventh inning against a terrible offense, but was on a pitch count, so the fact he quickly permitted a base hit was not such a bad thing. Soroka certainly does not look overwhelmed at the major league level. I cannot guarantee he is a regular member of the rotation because the Braves want to be cautious, but this looks like a potential top-30 fantasy starter in 2019.

    • Houston Astros catcher Evan Gattis has vaulted to the top of the Player Rater with his recent stretch of power, and no catcher has more home runs, even BABIP-saddled Gary Sanchez, who has sat out a few games to aid his swing. Gattis is a top-5 fantasy catcher these days, safe for at-bats if he hits. The catchers to stream appear to be John Ryan Murphy of the Diamondbacks, Tigers first baseman John Hicks and I still like Houston's Max Stassi.

    Injuries of note:

    • Angels right-hander Garrett Richards left his outing in Seattle with hamstring tightness, so while it was not a dreaded arm issue -- and with him there have been issues -- it is relatively minor. The Angels could give him a DL stint to protect himself, but if you like Richards, stick with him.

    • Diamondbacks lefty Robbie Ray begins a minor league rehab assignment Thursday and looks readily available in ESPN standard leagues. Ray struck out 218 hitters in each of the past two seasons, and his injury is not to his arm, but his oblique. This can be a top-15 starter the final three months. Invest now.

    Closing time:

    • Pittsburgh Pirates lefty Felipe Vazquez saved the win over Arizona, but needed 36 pitches, and a mere 20 were strikes. He walked three and allowed two singles, scoring two. Vazquez is throwing hard, but control is a mess and he dealt with forearm discomfort recently. Edgar Santana seems like the reasonable handcuff.

    W2W4:

    • Remember when David Price and Felix Hernandez were fantasy aces, piling on the wins and strikeouts and carrying fantasy managers to titles? Ah, good times. I think Price still has a shot to do this, and despite reduced velocity, he has actually been rather consistent this season. Personally, I would try to sell high while you can. There is obvious injury risk here, more than most. This Red Sox-Mariners series should be a good one.
     

  14. #39  
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    Top fantasy baseball free agents by position
    Eric Karabell

    ESPN's most added/dropped list shows the constant churning of free-agent talent to ESPN fantasy teams, and some of the moves actually make sense. The purpose of this weekly blog entry is to feature players available in more than half of ESPN's standard leagues who warrant that first or second look for a potential pickup in a standard format. If the player is rostered in more than 50 percent of leagues, it does not mean you cannot still add him, but we must ignore those players in this space (this week that is Max Muncy, Eduardo Rodriguez and many others). Here we go:

    Catcher:

    John Hicks, Detroit Tigers (8.7 percent rostered): The team's starting first baseman with Miguel Cabrera on the shelf, Hicks retains his catcher eligibility and should contribute more runs, and perhaps runs batted in, than normal catchers, especially the streamers. His current batting average is a bit BABIP-fueled, and there is not big power here, but opportunity is.

    Tom Murphy, Colorado Rockies (1.7 percent): The big catching sleeper in 2017 drafts barely played because of injury, but he got a sudden promotion earlier this week and has hit. Then he gets to play at Coors Field half the time. The Rockies are going with three catchers, so if Murphy does not hit right away, he is gone, but he should hit.

    Others: John Ryan Murphy, Arizona Diamondbacks; Max Stassi, Houston Astros; Christian Vazquez, Boston Red Sox; Erik Kratz, Milwaukee Brewers

    Corner infield:

    Yuli Gurriel, Houston Astros (31.6 percent): A repeat nominee from last week, Gurriel is a strong helper in batting average and has been knocking in runs. The power has not arrived. Still, there is security in relying on him in this lineup.

    Ryon Healy, Seattle Mariners (27.5 percent): He homered in each of the three games he played against the Angels (four in total), and after a long slump, he seems back on track to flirt with 30 home runs. Healy does not walk much or post an attractive on-base percentage, but 30 homers, sure, I can see it.

    Danny Valencia, Baltimore Orioles (1.7 percent): Well, this journeyman has shown power in the past, mainly in a platoon role, and has hit better than .300 for the past month handling third base. Not much upside here, but could he approach 20 home runs? Sure.

    Dominic Smith, New York Mets (1.4 percent): Few players on this beleaguered team have hit much lately, but Smith gets the call and presumably the opportunity to prove himself with Adrian Gonzalez getting cut. Do not judge Smith on his lack of minor league power. It is a different baseball in the majors.Others:

    Jeimer Candelario, Detroit Tigers;

    Derek Dietrich, Miami Marlins;

    Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco Giants;

    Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels


    Middle infield:

    Ketel Marte, Arizona Diamondbacks (20.9 percent): Curiously unproductive for the first two months, Marte is not likely to hit for much power or steal more than 15 bases in a season, but he has good plate discipline and a pair of three-RBI games in the past week. There is modest upside here.

    Willy Adames, Tampa Bay Rays (7.3 percent): There is more upside here, as Adames has potential to reach double-digits for home runs and stolen bases this season, if he can remain in the lineup. The Rays might not keep him around once Daniel Robertson comes off the DL. Teammate Matt Duffy, who is hitting for average and scoring runs, might be a safer short-term bet.

    Cory Spangenberg, San Diego Padres (1.5 percent): The veteran is not doing much for batting average, but six home runs and five stolen bases in limited duty tends to make a mark. Spangenberg is the reason Christian Villanueva has seen less playing time of late.

    Others:

    David Fletcher, Los Angeles Angels;

    Josh Harrison, Pittsburgh Pirates; Jose Iglesias,

    Detroit Tigers; Jurickson Profar, Texas Rangers;

    Alen Hanson, San Francisco Giants;

    Ehire Adrianza, Minnesota Twins


    Outfield:

    Joc Pederson, Los Angeles Dodgers (40.2 percent): With seven home runs in June, Pederson has become popular again. We always knew he had power, but when he was a prospect, he was a five-category provider. Now it is merely home runs. Still, he hits right-handed pitching and will play.Jake Bauers, Tampa Bay Rays (9.8 percent): Up a bit in popularity from last week, Bauers and his sweet swing have been hitting second in the lineup, and I think there is untapped power potential. Do not look at his minor league power numbers. Bauers adds first base eligibility at game No. 10 there.

    Scott Schebler, Cincinnati Reds (22.9 percent): A reasonable lefty hitter who hit a surprising 30 home runs last season but barely got noticed, Schebler has raised his batting average to .284, and the playing time has not gone away. He looks better than Adam Duvall, at least.Leonys Martin, Detroit Tigers (35.2 percent): A leadoff hitter on pace for 90 runs scored and 21 home runs, Martin has stolen four bases in the past week. He really could be a 20/20 option.

    Others: Jesse Winker, Cincinnati Reds;

    Jason Heyward, Chicago Cubs;

    Teoscar Hernandez, Toronto Blue Jays;

    Michael Taylor, Washington Nationals
    Starting pitcher:

    Steven Wright, Boston Red Sox (37.8 percent): When knuckleballers are good, it can last for months, if not years. When it goes badly, run away. Wright will not keep this fancy 1.21 ERA for long, but especially when he faces better competition than the Orioles and Tigers, but he does pitch for a good team.

    Michael Soroka, Atlanta Braves (24.3 percent): He returned from the DL to no-hit the lowly Mets over six innings on Wednesday. The Braves will be cautious with him, which could mean shorter outings and more trips to the minors, but there is much upside here.

    Dylan Covey, Chicago White Sox (11.9 percent): It is not a good team he works for, but the right-hander just beat the Indians and Red Sox in succession, striking out 12 over 13 solid innings. He is a two-start option for next week.

    Jhoulys Chacin, Milwaukee Brewers (30 percent): The journeyman is certainly not a hard thrower, but he has accumulated 19 strikeouts in his past three outings, each of them victories. He is a two-start option for next week as well.Others: Zach Eflin, Philadelphia Phillies; Jaime Barria, Los Angeles Angels;

    Clayton Richard, San Diego Padres;

    Lance Lynn, Minnesota Twins;

    Mike Leake, Seattle Mariners;

    Seth Lugo, New York Mets

    Relief pitcher:

    Hector Rondon, Houston Astros (21 percent): The right-hander has closing experience with the Cubs, and now he is in the picture along with Ken Giles and other Astros. The Astros probably want Giles handling the role, but Rondon could get to double-digit saves just by pitching effectively.

    Sergio Romo, Tampa Bay Rays (1.7 percent): He might start that day's game or finish it, but Romo appears to be first choice for saves when available. Lefty Jose Alvarado remains in a setup role.

    Robert Gsellman, New York Mets (13.5 percent): He is getting the save chances, which are few and far between on this club, with Jeurys Familia injured, and while Familia could return soon, he is not safe.

    Jordan Hicks
    , St. Louis Cardinals (11.8 percent): The rookie right-hander is probably better than closer Bud Norris right now, and it is showing in his recent strikeout numbers, so be patient.


    Others: Zach Britton, Baltimore Orioles;

    Joakim Soria, Chicago White Sox;

    Edgar Santana and Kyle Crick, Pittsburgh Pirates
     

  15. #40  
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    Will demotion spark Miguel Sano's bat?
    Eric Karabell
    ESPN INSIDER



    Minnesota Twins third baseman Miguel Sano is obviously slumping, as a slugger with his talent level should not be batting .203 and headed to High-A Fort Myers to, as Twins manager Paul Molitor told reporters, "get him down there and give him an opportunity to get things back on track."

    That seems fair, of course, since Sano has homered only twice in the past month, and through 37 games and 163 plate appearances has struck out 40 percent of the time. That simply will not work.


    Sano was a topic of discussion on Thursday's Fantasy Focus Baseball podcast, and I actually compared him to Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco, who performed so well in his rookie season, but has not made adjustments since then and the team has reduced him to a platoon with J.P. Crawford. Sano was great that same half-2015 season, as he hit 18 home runs in 80 games with a .915 OPS. He looked like a 40-homer option, more so than Franco.

    There is a difference in how the Twins and Phillies have handled their 25-year-old Dominican third basemen: Franco has become irrelevant and buried. The Phillies would give him away at this point. Sano is not. The fact that Sano is not headed to Triple-A Rochester is a positive statement, in fact. Sano has really struggled in June (.162 batting average). This is likely to be a short trip to West Florida to work on his swing with extra attention from instructors, away from attention and reporters, and perhaps to get his conditioning under control. He does not look particularly good, in several ways. Bottom line is I actually like this move. It shows me the Twins are far from giving up on Sano.


    In fact, from a fantasy standpoint, I think this is decent time to acquire Sano, and it should not be nearly as difficult to do so. After all, Sano is going to the minor leagues, so people will panic and give up on him without seeing the situation for what it really is. It might be a week before Sano returns, might be a month, until the All-Star break. He is rostered in 72.5 percent of ESPN standard leagues, which is telling since Sano was the No. 70 selection in ESPN average live drafts, and he was that for a reason.


    His investors need to wait longer for a player of this caliber. I expected, perhaps foolishly in retrospect, something like 35 home runs this season and hopefully more than 135 games. Sano has yet to reach either figure in this, his third full season, but I still think it is coming in time.


    So is it a matter of motivation? Have the skills slipped? I cannot admit to recommending Sano on Thursday's podcast but I would not cut him, either. The K rate is a problem, but he can surely lower it and if he can remain healthy, he still should be hitting many, many home runs. Sano hit 53 home runs over the past two seasons, each time with fewer than 500 plate appearances. There is elite power here, as Sano is strong, has quick wrists and once upon a time drew a nice percentage of walks.


    He can be much better than this version, and much better than Franco, who, I think it is fair to say at this point, is not likely to be fantasy relevant anytime soon. Sano could be before the month ends. Keep that in mind when you disregard him.


    The Twins, incidentally, will get concussed first baseman Joe Mauer back from the disabled list this weekend, which is good for their lineup because he gets on base, but does not mean much for fantasy. I am interested to see Molitor's lineup, though, since left fielder Eddie Rosario has handled the No. 2 spot nicely, posting a .947 OPS over 84 plate appearances there. Perhaps he just moves down in the order.


    Sano had not been hitting in the middle of the order anyway. Eduardo Escobar can handle third base or shortstop, and Jorge Polanco is getting close to a return after his 80-game suspension, though I think Sano is back before him. Ehire Adrianza, who homered and stole a base Tuesday, could see more playing time, for those in AL-only formats.


    Thursday recap

    Box scores


    Highlights:


    David Peralta, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks: 2-for-3, 2 HR


    Rhys Hoskins, 1B/OF, Philadelphia Phillies: 3-for-5, HR, 3 RBI


    Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians: 2-for-5, HR, SB


    Anibal Sanchez, SP, Atlanta Braves: 7 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 6 K


    Mike Clevinger, SP, Cleveland Indians: 7 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 11 K


    Lowlights:


    C.J. Cron, 1B, Tampa Bay Rays: 0-for-4, 4 K


    Matt Davidson, 3B, Chicago White Sox: 0-for-4, 3 K


    German Marquez, SP, Colorado Rockies: 6 IP, 7 H, 6 ER, 2 BB, 8 K


    Blake Snell, SP, Tampa Bay Rays: 5 IP, 5 H, 4 ER, 4 BB, 8 K


    Frankie Montas, SP, Oakland Athletics: 5 1/3 IP, 11 H, 5 ER, 4 BB, 1 K


    Thursday takeaways:


    • Things continue to go quite poorly for the New York Mets, although they got solo home runs from Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo and Amed Rosario in Thursday's 6-3 defeat in Arizona. You cannot convince me that Conforto's left shoulder -- the one surgically repaired last September -- is fine. Oh, he can still swat the occasional home run and the plate discipline remains, but I do not see his 2018 season getting better. He needs a healthy offseason. Watch out in 2019! Nimmo continues to bat third for a major league team, which is incredible, but he keeps pulling baseballs over the right field fence and is two homers off the club lead, with a mere 191 PA. Rosario looks a year or two away from fantasy relevance, There is little power here, shown in his metrics, and someone really needs to tell him to take a few more walks. This is not working, but he is 22. I just do not see much of a fantasy contributor here, even in the future.


    • On the other side of town, New York Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez returned to the lineup after a few days off and drew a pair of walks, but his batting average slumped to .188. I am telling you, with confidence, that Sanchez is going to hit at least .250 the rest of the season, and with power. The .195 BABIP does not have to rise -- things do not have to even out -- but it should. You are running out of time to get Sanchez for less than market value. He remains my top fantasy catcher. The Yankees got another home run from rookie second baseman Gleyber Torres, his first out of the No. 9 lineup spot. Fantasy managers whine about his lineup spot, but enough. The guy is hitting homers every other day. Aaron Hicks homered as well and we know from last season he can be a vibrant player, so keep an eye on his progress.


    • The Cleveland Indians dumped underachieving outfielder Melky Cabrera, after he managed a .536 OPS in 17 games, not exactly a large sample size, but then again, he is a liability defensively as well. The Indians did Cabrera a favor in signing him in the first place. Greg Allen has been handling center field, and Bradley Zimmer can soon help him, while Brandon Guyer comes off the DL to platoon with Lonnie Chisenhall in right field. Michael Brantley handles left field for as long as his body cooperates and speedy Rajai Davis might see a few more chances to use the speed. Cabrera probably is not the last unproductive veteran to get released in the majors, by the way.


    Injuries of note:


    San Francisco Giants third baseman Evan Longoria broke his left hand Thursday and figures to miss at least a month, perhaps returning in late-July. Longoria is rostered in 63 percent of ESPN standard leagues but unlike Sano, there is ample reason to move on. Longoria is the No. 23 third baseman on the Player Rater, better than Sano, but less-than-ordinary with his .247 batting average and 10 home runs. Sano can do better, of course. The Giants can utilize Pablo Sandoval at third base, though speedy Alen Hanson, who came off the bench Thursday to contribute three hits, two of them doubles, is clearly more intriguing. Yes, Sandoval has actually hit right-handed pitching quite well, though in a small sample size. Hanson can provide five-category aid.


    Closing time:


    • Six actual closers registered saves on Thursday, and the seventh went to San Francisco Giants setup man Sam Dyson, who got the final out of the 16th inning in Miami as dozens watched in awe. Dyson is second on the team in holds to lefty Tony Watson, who was summoned earlier in the game, but right-hander Mark Melancon was not used, and did not pitch the day before. Hunter Strickland blew the save, mainly thanks to Joe Panik dropping a popup, and we are not saying Strickland will lose the closer role soon, but perhaps it is premature to assume Melancon is next.


    W2W4:


    • It always seems to be interesting when the Giants and Dodgers meet. Lefty Madison Bumgarner is on the schedule to pitch on Saturday in his third outing of his delayed season. The first two performances seemed ordinary, as he struck out six hitters in 11 1/3 innings, permitting six runs. Bumgarner has seen the Dodgers many times, and the current version, like those of past seasons, is more prolific against right-handed pitching. In other Giants news, in addition to a new third baseman, first baseman Brandon Belt could return from his appendectomy, which is great news because his OPS ranks eighth in baseball, and he seems on track for a career year in power. Belt is available in a quarter of ESPN leagues.


    • The Colorado Rockies head to Texas for interleague play, which means someone who normally does not start games is going to get that chance. It would be nice if rookie Ryan McMahon is that player, since he hit his first big league home run on Thursday and would, in my opinion, be more productive than outfielder Carlos Gonzalez if given an opportunity. It is always nice when pitchers do not have to bat. Enough already. Right-hander Jon Gray, who is top 20 in strikeouts but lugging around a 5.68 ERA and 1.49 WHIP -- nobody with more strikeouts has an ERA higher than 3.90 -- gets the Sunday start. I have little interest, but one of these days, Gray really should improve in run prevention, regardless of venue. It is tough to accrue so many strikeouts and not be valuable.

    • Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN features Jose Quintana and the Chicago Cubs at the St. Louis Cardinals and Jack Flaherty. Quintana has had an uneven season, as he piles on the strikeouts but lacks consistency from outing to outing and has the highest walk rate of his reliable career. This might not be the best time to rely on him. Flaherty looks like a future top-20 starter to me, a strikeout option emerging as a rookie, and Cubs hitters Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber and Javier Baez have struggled the past several weeks.
     

  16. #41  
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    What can be learned from Xander Bogaerts' bounce-back season
    Eric Karabell
    ESPN INSIDER

    A baseball player can have one strong season and one rough one and fantasy managers seem conditioned to assume the worst, that the good season was the unlikely one. This form of recency bias happens all the time, but can lead to misevaluation. Such is the case with Boston Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts, hitter of home runs in three of the four weekend games at Seattle.

    Bogaerts smacked 21 home runs in 2016. Fantasy managers loved him. Last season he hit only 10. We know a hand injury played a role but for so many people that was irrelevant. This is how quickly the value of a fantasy building block alters.

    Bogaerts, 25, spent much of this season in the No. 5 lineup spot, right after slugging outfielder J.D. Martinez, but now he might be moving up to third, the spot he was in Sunday when he hammered a Chasen Bradford slider over the left-center field fence to salt away a 9-3 win in the battle of playoff-bound clubs.


    Bogaerts also homered off right-hander Felix Hernandez and lefty James Paxton in the series, and his 12 home runs puts him on pace for a career-best 27. All this comes after Bogaerts saw his fly ball rate plummet to barely 30 percent last season. He is healthy, hitting baseballs hard and in the air again.


    Fantasy managers made Bogaerts a seventh-round choice in ESPN ADP, quite a drop from a year earlier, because they tend to overreact and believe only the most recent data on a player, and yes, Bogaerts was not special in 2017. His Player Rater rank at shortstop was 16th, after barely edging out Orlando Arcia and Tim Beckham.


    Lineup position can be important and Bogaerts ended up in the No. 6 spot quite a bit, and taking a large measure of blame for the Red Sox ranking last in the American League in home runs. They are currently second in baseball with 104. The presence of Martinez and rejuvenation of Mookie Betts is key, but Bogaerts looks like the 2016 version again.


    In fact, Bogaerts is showing signs of greater growth and not just from a weekend in Seattle. He is swinging at many more pitches in the strike zone, nearly 62 percent, according to Fangraphs/Baseball Info Solutions, and that is up from 53 percent a season ago when Bogaerts seemed passive. When he did swing the bat he made hard contact, but 49 percent of the time it was a ground ball.


    That was nearly as rough as 2015, when he posted a 52.9 percent ground ball rate. It is difficult to hit home runs that way. Bogaerts looks healthy, which is key, and the perception that he cannot provide power is gone. Now we hope for annual consistency and this will again be a top-50 fantasy option.


    The Red Sox remain led by Betts, Martinez and second-year outfielder Andrew Benintendi, looking like a top-20 player with his pace for 27 homers, 27 stolen bases and 113 runs scored, while Bogaerts was not the only infielder to statistically enjoy his weekend.


    Slumping first baseman Mitch Moreland, switched with Bogaerts in the lineup, singled in a pair of runs in his second at-bat. Third baseman Rafael Devers followed him with a three-run home run, and stroked multiple hits in three of the games. Devers also stole bases in the first two games of the series, though that is likely by circumstance, not a harbinger of Billy Hamilton-like exploits to come. As for second baseman Dustin Pedroia, back on the DL with more knee problems, I am assuming he will not be a major contributor this season.


    Sunday recap

    Box scores

    Highlights:

    Randal Grichuk, OF, Toronto Blue Jays: 3-for-3, 2 HR, 4 RBI, SB

    Eric Thames, 1B/OF, Milwaukee Brewers: 2-for-4, 2 HR, 4 RBI, SB

    Michael Taylor, OF, Washington Nationals: 3-for-4, 2 RBI, 4 SB

    Julio Teheran, SP, Atlanta Braves: 6 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 11 K

    Andrew Heaney, SP, Los Angeles Angels: 8 IP, 3 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 8 K

    Lowlights:

    Joey Gallo, 1B/3B/OF, Texas Rangers: 0-for-4, 4 K

    Hunter Renfroe, OF, San Diego Padres: 0-for-4, 4 K

    Chase Anderson, SP, Milwaukee Brewers: 5 1/3 IP, 5 H, 6 ER, 2 BB, 5 K

    Joe Musgrove, SP/RP, Pittsburgh Pirates: 4 1/3 IP, 8 H, 6 ER, 1 BB, 6 K

    Wade Davis, RP, Colorado Rockies: 1/3 IP, 2 H, 4 ER, 4 BB, 0 K

    Sunday takeaways:

    The Rockies spent $106 million between Wade Davis, Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw this offseason. Colorado's bullpen has a collective 5.49 ERA, 2nd-worst in MLB.
    The trio mentioned above has a 5.75 ERA this season.
    - ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 17, 2018
    • Hmm, is that good? It seems quite bad. We know it is not easy to pitch for the Rockies, not only for home games in the thin air of Denver but also in the adjustments needed for the road games. Sunday's brutal loss happened in the heart of Texas, when Davis threw a mere 15 of his 38 pitches for strikes and a rookie catcher named Jose Trevino, who skipped Triple-A and just became a father last week, sent the home fans home happy with a two-run single to win it. Davis entered play with a 3.29 ERA and 1.10 WHIP, so it seems a bit crazy for fantasy managers to panic on a fellow with 20 saves. Davis had issued four walks over the past month. His walk rate jumped last season with the Cubs but he remained effective and, with cautious usage, healthy. I was never a fan of Davis' fantasy value, so I would not necessarily buy low here, but he should surpass 35 saves. Adam Ottavino, a potential All-Star now off the DL, is next in line over McGee and Shaw.

    • Atlanta's Teheran left his outing after 95 pitches due to a hamstring cramp, but with that many pitches he was not finishing off a no-hitter anyway. The right-hander, who came off the DL for the outing after a minor thumb injury, brought his ERA to the good side of 4, but there are concerns. For one, he is not cracking 90 MPH with his fastball this season, so while his K rate is up a bit -- thanks to overwhelming the Padres on Sunday -- it is tough to be confidence statistically. I would prefer teammate Mike Foltynewicz, who went on the DL with triceps tightness, but should start later this week.

    • Kudos to Washington's Taylor for running wild on Toronto catcher Russell Martin and taking over the big league lead in stolen bases, with one more than teammate Trea Turner. Taylor stole 17 bases in 118 games last season, and entered Sunday with that many steals. While fantasy managers question the playing time, because Bryce Harper, Adam Eaton and Juan Soto are better hitters, there are health questions for several, so Taylor keeps playing. Frankly, with his plate discipline and anchor of a batting average, we would prefer some days off.

    Injuries of note:

    Cleveland Indians right-hander Carlos Carrasco hit the DL Sunday with the word "forearm" as the reason, but it might not be what you think. A Joe Mauer line drive struck Carrasco on Saturday and this does not appear to be grounds for a long absence. Carrasco's ERA is a bit bloated, and Sunday's abbreviated outing did not help, but everything looks good in his stat line. Go get him. Rookie right-hander Shane Bieber started Sunday and acquitted himself well; Bieber is going to give up a lot of hits, but his command is so pristine, he can still excel and miss bats.

    Chicago Cubs infielder Javier Baez, No. 20 on the Player Rater, left his Sunday game after a Jack Flaherty pitch struck his elbow. The team does not seem too worried and I would leave Baez active in weekly formats this week.

    Closing time:

    • Colorado's Davis was not alone in struggling Sunday. Arizona Diamondbacks right-hander Brad Boxberger and Philadelphia Phillies right-hander Hector Neris made it a trifecta of closers permitting four earned runs, rare indeed for closers. Perhaps Neris is not Philly's closer, but Seranthony Dominguez was his setup man in Saturday's win, so who knows. Neris permitted no-doubt home runs to Eric Thames and Jesus Aguilar, each of whom is deserving of fantasy attention at the same or a better level than scuffling Ryan Braun. I think Dominguez is the lone Phillies reliever that must be rostered. As for Boxberger, who permitted home runs to New York Mets Brandon Nimmo - he is unstoppable! - and Asdrubal Cabrera, there is no indication he is in danger of losing the role. Setup man Archie Bradley leads the big leagues with 19 holds. I presume he remains in the role.

    W2W4:

    The Mets enter Monday 28th in runs scored, ahead of just the Marlins and Orioles, but a series at Coors Field should help things. Right-hander Jacob deGrom offers his MLB-leading 1.55 ERA, but it has not led to many victories because of the mess around him. I would personally leave the big league leader in ERA active for a game in any stadium, but reasonable minds can differ. There will not be many chances to recommend Mets hitters other than the fantastic Nimmo, but facing lefty Tyler Anderson in Denver is one of them. Check it out on ESPN+.

    • ESPN TV features Arizona's Zack Greinke and the Angels' Jaime Barria, and the rookie has the better ERA by more than a run. Greinke was roughed up at Colorado 10 days ago, which tends to happen, but followed up with a worse performance in Pittsburgh, which is not normal. Greinke walked four Pirates. That is a trend to watch, though not likely to continue. The home run rate could continue, though. This remains a top-20 pitcher, but with rough road numbers.
     

  17. #42  
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    Closer report: How Kelvin Herrera trade alters bullpens for Nationals, Royals
    Eric Karabell
    ESPN INSIDER

    Washington Nationals
    left-hander
    Sean Doolittle
    enters Tuesday as fantasy's No. 3 closer on the
    Player Rater
    , with 18 saves, a minuscule ERA and WHIP, and ridiculous strikeout-to-walk rate. He is not losing the ninth-inning role to anyone this week, let alone former
    Kansas City Royals
    right-hander
    Kelvin Herrera
    , acquired Monday night for three rather ordinary prospects.


    It is smart of the Nationals, especially in light of recent struggles by prime setup man Ryan Madson, to seek aid, and the last-place Royals certainly have little need for an established closer. Trading Herrera while his ERA and WHIP are outstanding but not quite in line with his recent seasons of performance is smart as well. Good move by the Nationals and Royals, but for Herrera's fantasy value, well, it is not so good.

    Oh sure, injury is always a possibility and with the way Madson has pitched of late, Herrera likely moves into the enviable position of top setup man on a contending team. Doolittle certainly has struggled to stay healthy over the years. He is 31, and last topped 52 big league innings in 2014. Herrera thus becomes an interesting handcuff for those in deep mixed formats, and certainly worth an addition in NL-only formats. I just do not expect more than a few saves.

    This is similar to last month when the Tampa Bay Rays decided they were running out of reasonable time to trade closer Alex Colome, who led the sport with 47 saves last season but was able to do so via circumstance. Colome was not particularly great, with his 3.24 ERA and substandard -- for this era -- strikeout rate. Well, that is Herrera's plight. He is average, despite a solid start to this season. His ERA last year was 4.25, and he deserved all of it. Colome lost all fantasy value, except in case Seattle Mariners closer Edwin Diaz falters, and Herrera follows him to mostly fantasy irrelevance.

    Someone on the Royals, however, has to pitch the ninth innings with small leads and, unless I am missing something, it figures to be right-hander Kevin McCarthy, since he has generally pitched the eighth inning of late, or Brandon Maurer, because he has experience. McCarthy boasts five holds -- each in the past three weeks -- tying for the overall team lead with Brad Keller, currently a starter, and Tim Hill, a lefty one-out type of little consequence. Maurer just came back from Triple-A Omaha a few days ago. He pitched Sunday and did not retire either of the two hitters he faced, with Carlos Correa hitting a long home run. His ERA is 13.50.

    As a result, it would probably make more sense that the save chances go to McCarthy, whose lowly strikeout rate of 5.6 per nine innings inspires little faith, but manager Ned Yost could elects to go with Maurer, saver of 35 career games. Still, do not expect either pitcher to be great and if choosing between one of them and, for example, Rays apparent fill-in closer Sergio Romo, who also moonlights as a starter on occasion, I go with Romo. These pitchers do not crack my top-30 relief pitchers.

    OK, so that makes two American League teams that have parted with clear-cut closers and this could be a harbinger of more. After all, only six AL teams have more wins than losses. It would not be surprising if Baltimore Orioles lefty Zach Britton, Detroit Tigers right-hander Shane Greene, Minnesota Twins right-hander Fernando Rodney, Chicago White Sox right-hander Joakim Soria, Oakland Athletics right-hander Blake Treinen, Texas Rangers right-hander Keone Kela and even Tampa's Romo get sent packing to the NL, where more teams are contending. These pitchers could become setup men, too, and that would have obvious fantasy repercussions.

    Here are other thoughts about relief pitchers:

    We should not presume it is merely AL closers potentially on the move. San Diego Padres lefty Brad Hand would sure look good in any of the AL contender bullpens. It is also a mystery that the Cincinnati Reds still employ right-hander Raisel Iglesias, when they can lose 100 games without him. Miami Marlins Kyle Barraclough and Brad Ziegler would also probably enjoy pitching in meaningful September games.

    Chicago's Soria boasts saves in his past six appearances, and he last permitted a run on May 18. Soria could be a seventh-inning guy on another team any day now, but is worth adding until that occurs. By the way, most of these closers will stay put. Soria could save 30 games. He is the most added closer in ESPN standard leagues for good reason.

    I think it is reasonable to expect Houston right-handers Hector Rondon and Ken Giles to split saves until at least the All-Star break. Something to note: despite their lofty record, the Astros are not top 10 in save opportunities. Some teams that score many runs are like that. Only three clubs had fewer save opportunities than the 2016 champion Cubs.

    Toronto Blue Jays right-hander Ryan Tepera is not getting many save chances, but he is pitching well enough to keep the closer role, so in that way he is similar to Romo and, I guess, McCarthy. I would take Tepera first, though. I do not think suspended Roberto Osuna is going to get the chance to pitch again this season.

    Philadelphia Phillies right-hander Hector Neris, a perfectly reasonable setup man and closer the past two seasons, saved Saturday's win at Milwaukee. On Sunday, he permitted two home runs and ended up demoted to Triple-A Lehigh Valley by Monday. Things change fast in the major leagues! I would say Neris is not going to get big league save chances anytime soon, but I do not believe that. Seranthony Dominguez is unlikely to assume the traditional ninth-inning role. Victor Arano tried to save Monday's win, but Neris should fix whatever is wrong with his split-fingered fastball and get back to the team in July. For now, Dominguez is the lone Phillies reliever to roster in standard formats, but Arano and Edubray Ramos are intriguing as well.

    It was a good story for a few weeks, but Washington right-hander Justin Miller, a 31-year-old journeyman striking everyone out and preventing runs, has now allowed runs in consecutive games. Don't run away yet, but get ready to do so.

    I am no particular fan of the fantasy value for Colorado Rockies right-hander Wade Davis, but Sunday's blowup does not mean he is on the way out as closer. The winning hit, after a slew of walks, was a soft-hit blooper that simply found outfield grass.
     

  18. #43  
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    The return of Elvis Andrus
    Eric Karabell
    ESPN INSIDER

    Every baseball player that finished in the top 20 of last season's final Player Rater is rostered in more than 75 percent of ESPN standard leagues this season except for one. He is a veteran that gleaned fantasy value for years thanks to stolen bases, durability and playing shortstop, and then he finally turned into a surprise power hitter in 2017, joining eight others in the 20-homer, 20-steal club. On Monday night, this player returned to the Texas Rangers lineup after missing two months with a fractured elbow.

    Welcome back, Elvis Andrus.

    It is not the least bit surprising that impatient fantasy managers moved on from Andrus, who was hitting .327 with a pair of home runs after two weeks of the season. Two months is a long time. A Keynan Middleton pitch struck his elbow and changed everything, but now a 20/20 player has returned. Andrus is not readily available, but I was able to add him in a few leagues. A sixth-round choice in ESPN ADP, I guess I was a bit surprised I could still do that, but now we move on. Andrus hit in the No. 2 lineup spot on Monday, and he contributed a pair of walks and a run scored in the 6-3 win at Kansas City.

    Andrus investors do not need reminders that he belongs on active rosters right away, but I do think it is important to remind fantasy managers what he achieved last season, and how he could clearly do so again. For years, I viewed Andrus as overrated in a statistical sense compared to draft day interest, because he was providing no power, a helpful batting average but short of .300, and inconsistent stolen base totals. Andrus stole 30 bases in each of his first three seasons, then topped that mark once in the next six years, despite pristine health. Jurickson Profar was supposed to push him aside, ironically. Last season Andrus added the power to his game, becoming a five-category talent. He still is this player, and can be a building block these final three-plus months.

    This is where Profar comes into play, because the Rangers have a decision to make with his double play partner, and at least for one night, they made the right decision. Profar has two-thirds of his plate appearances this season in the Nos. 3-4-5 slots, so manager Jeff Banister obviously trusts him, and Profar has exceeded expectations, it is fair to say. Again, he did not seem to have power, but he has 8 home runs and 31 extra-base hits in 67 games. To think that Profar, finally emerging as a reliable player after years of injuries and underwhelming performance, gets reduced to bench duties while overrated second baseman Rougned Odor continues to struggle, contracts aside, makes little sense.

    Profar pushed Odor aside in Monday's lineup, but we do not know the plan moving ahead. It is not a good time to invest in Odor. His .601 OPS is a problem we saw coming when the Rangers foolishly signed him long-term. Still only 24 -- Profar is actually a year older! -- Odor followed up his 33-homer breakout of 2016 with 30 home runs, but a 67-point drop in batting average thanks to awful plate discipline catching up to him. Pitchers adjusted, he did not. Odor simply wanted to hit home runs, and he aided fantasy managers with mid-teens stolen bases. Well, this season, the walk rate is finally up and reasonable, but it has replaced power. That is no good, either. Profar only recently passed Odor in being rostered in ESPN leagues. The Rangers really need to find a way to play both of them, and if so, then fantasy managers want Profar. He can be the second most valuable Rangers infielder, after the healthy 20/20 guy.

    Monday recap

    Box scores

    Highlights:

    Brandon Nimmo, OF, New York Mets: 4-for-6, 2 HR, 4 RBI

    Yadier Molina, C, St. Louis Cardinals: 3-for-4, HR, 2 R

    Jason Kipnis, 2B, Cleveland Indians: 3-for-4, HR, 2 RBI

    Trevor Williams, SP, Pittsburgh Pirates: 7 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 K

    Nick Pivetta, SP, Philadelphia Phillies: 7 1/3 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 13 K

    Lowlights:

    Joey Gallo, 1B/3B/OF, Texas Rangers: 0-for-4, 3 K

    Tom Murphy, C, Colorado Rockies: 0-for-3, 3 K

    Jaime Barria, SP, Los Angeles Angels: 4 IP, 6 H, 6 ER, 1 BB, 5 K

    Miles Mikolas, SP, St. Louis Cardinals: 5 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 3 K

    Jeff Hoffman, RP, Colorado Rockies: 1/3 IP, 2 H, 5 ER, 3 BB, 0 K

    Monday takeaways:

    Jacob deGrom now has a 1.16 ERA in his last 12 starts, 3 of which the Mets have won.
    Per @EliasSports deGrom's 1.16 ERA is the lowest in a 12-start span in which his team won 3 or fewer games since earned runs were tracked officially (since 1912 in NL, 1913 in AL) pic.twitter.com/9aoHY1Wu72
    - ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 19, 2018
    • I would not have sat New York Mets right-hander Jacob deGrom at Coors Field, and it is a good thing. He tossed eight innings of two-run ball, only one of them earned, to earn his fifth win. People make it seem like deGrom never wins. OK, so five wins is not 10 like Max Scherzer or Luis Severino, but they do not have an ERA as low as 1.51, either. The Mets finally scored runs for deGrom, as Brandon Nimmo led off the game with an inside-the-park home run after his blast hit the center field wall and bounced awry. Later he hit a more conventional one. Michael Conforto had three hits. Wilmer Flores and Devin Mesoraco homered. Maybe the Mets can keep on scoring for Jason Vargas on Tuesday; he has two wins in eight starts, albeit with a 7.39 ERA. Time for the Rockies to score many runs.

    • Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout was finally caught stealing on his 14th attempt. Hey, as Trout ages everyone should hope he has 14 steal attempts in June every season. I was half-hoping Trout would challenge Chase Utley, who holds the mark for most steals in a season without being caught, at 23. In other Angels outfield news, Kole Calhoun and his incomprehensible .145 batting average (and .179 slugging percentage!) returned from the DL with a different batting stance, more crouched and with lower hands. Calhoun singled twice. He used to be an underrated fantasy option and it would not be stunning if he mattered again, for those in deeper leagues.

    New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Hicks homered for the second consecutive day and as Brett Gardner deals with a knee injury and a slump this could be important for fantasy managers. Hicks has been leading off and last season he produced 15 home runs and 10 stolen bases. He is well on his way to topping each of those numbers. Do not worry about Jacoby Ellsbury returning to the team and pushing for playing time with Hicks or Gardner.

    Injuries of note:

    • Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Nick Williams was hit in the nose by a Matt Carpenter double that ricocheted off the right field wall, and he left the game. Williams competes for playing time with Aaron Altherr, and could need a DL stint. He is not rostered in many leagues, thanks to a low batting average and inconsistent playing time. If he would learn how to draw a walk and hit left-handed pitching, things would improve.

    • New York Mets outfielder Jay Bruce was scratched before game time with hip soreness, which is exactly what his investors did not want to see for a Coors Field contest. Bruce has been a steady power source for a decade, but now he cannot hit for power or average. This is looking like a lost season. Oh well, at least the Mets employ Jose Bautista. They will be just fine. In other Mets injury news, Yoenis Cespedes and his sore hip are not ready for baseball activities. At this point I do not expect to see Cespedes until after the All-Star break.

    Closing time:

    • More on the relief pitchers in Tuesday's Closer Report, but late Monday night San Francisco Giants right-hander Hunter Strickland blew the save to the Miami Marlins, his fourth of the season. Lefty Tony Watson relieved Strickland. Mark Melancon earned holds in three of his past four outings, though it is unlikely he will be used anytime soon on consecutive days. Strickland probably gets another chance, but if he struggles, Watson and Melancon come into play for saves.

    W2W4:

    We have a day game added to the original slate, as the Cubs and Dodgers could not play through weather on Monday night, so they will play two -- weather permitting -- on Tuesday. Dodgers lefty Rich Hill is on the schedule to come off the DL and face Mike Montgomery, and the range of outcomes for Hill is quite vast. Avoiding blisters is his biggest problem. I would not activate him for this one. He could leave after facing one batter for all we know. Meanwhile, Cubs right-hander Tyler Chatwood probably issued a walk in his sleep. It would be nice if he could find his control Tuesday, because there is upside. That 1.75 WHIP, however, is atrocious.

    Atlanta Braves rookie right-hander Michael Soroka makes his fifth big league start. Of the first four, two were excellent and two were not good at all. He is 20, so this should not come as much surprise, but still, it makes it tough to project and rely on him, regardless of opponent. The Braves hitters should at least enjoy Blue Jays lefty Jaime Garcia, who has not won since mid-April.
     

  19. #44  
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    The intriguing potential of A's prospect James Kaprielian
    Tommy Rancel
    ESPN INSIDER

    Typically this space is reserved for a player that is on the cusp of a promotion to the major leagues or one that has just received that life-changing call. The player I want to talk about today has never pitched above the A-ball level. In fact, he has not thrown a pitch in any game in over a year. He is nowhere near close to a call up because he just started playing catch about a week ago. That said, James Kaprielian may be my favorite prospect in baseball.

    There is a difference between favorite and best. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is the best prospect in baseball and is a ton of fun to watch. He is a superstar in the making. As much as I enjoy hearing the crack of his bat and the excitement of a walk-off home run in his home town, I am a sucker for a well-pitched ball game. It is an added bonus when the pitcher not only knows how to pitch, but also has awe-inspiring stuff to go with it.

    Kaprielian is a two-time draftee. He was taken in the 40th round by the Seattle Mariners in 2012. He did not sign and went on to star for the UCLA Bruins before being drafted 16th overall by the New York Yankees in 2015. Since then it has been a struggle to stay on the field.

    After being invited to big-league camp in the spring of 2016, Kaprielian got off to a quick start in Tampa. He struck out 22 batters and walked only three in 18 innings before a flexor tendon strain in his right elbow wiped out the rest of his regular season. He returned in the fall, pitching 27 innings in the Arizona Fall League where he continued to pitch well, striking out 26 batters with eight walks even though his ERA was slightly elevated.

    Despite the lost time due to injury, and the relative inexperience as a professional, there was talk of Kaprielian making the Yankees out of camp in the spring of 2017. If not right out of spring training, he was to be on the short list of arms to help the big league club at some point in the season. Alas, he made just one appearance in March and underwent Tommy John surgery in April. Nevertheless, an injured Kaprielian was still a key piece of the trade that brought Sonny Gray to the Yankees from the Oakland Athletics at the trade deadline just months after his surgery.

    Once again, there was a lot of excitement this spring about Kaprielian pitching in the majors sooner than later. This time, the A's and their fans had visions of Kaprielian pitching alongside top prospect A.J. Puk as a potential 1-2 punch at the head of the rotation. Unfortunately, Puk suffered a similar fate to Kaprielian, undergoing Tommy John surgery before the season even started. Meanwhile, Kaprielian himself, was sidelined once more; this time with shoulder discomfort.

    We do not know how Kaprielian's story will end, but a new chapter is beginning. Just last week, the talented right-hander began throwing once again. Obviously, the team will be diligent in their progression, but there is a good chance he takes the mound in a minor league town near you sooner than later. Because of his age (24) and missed time, the A's may very well decide to increase his competition quicker than usual while also being very cautious with his workload.

    A healthy Kaprielian has top of the rotation potential. After throwing in the low-90s in college, he saw a velocity spike with the Yankees. He was routinely 95-98 mph with the fastball. He coupled a hard slider with a plus off-speed pitch behind it, mixing in a workable curveball as well. He had control with an understanding of how and when to use his pitches with the ability to manipulate location. In spite of the good news about his return to the field, it remains very unlikely that he holds any value -- real or fantasy -- in 2018. However, as the calendar shifts to 2019, it will be another spring opportunity for Kaprielian to finally break through and hopefully break out soon there after.
     

  20. #45  
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    Matt Carpenter and Cardinals getting calibrated
    Eric Karabell
    ESPN INSIDER

    As one of the preeminent walkers in the majors, St. Louis Cardinals infielder Matt Carpenter serves a special role for those in fantasy points leagues, as well as those favoring the walks category or on-base percentage. In roto leagues, however, Carpenter's value is a bit more debatable. After all, this is not a player who tends to hit for a high batting average, and his power is more of the moderate variety for this era. On top of that, while his infield versatility is nice -- he can play at first, second and third -- it's not like the old days when it was tough to find middle-infield options. Carpenter scores runs and tends to be more valuable to the Cardinals than he is to roto fantasy managers.

    Then again, Carpenter was not so valuable to anyone four weeks ago when his batting average was a dismal .140 and manager Mike Matheny decided to give him a few days off to find his swing and approach. Fantasy managers tend to give up on guys hitting just .140 -- even proven options like Carpenter. I thought that was a great time to add him to my bench and did so on a few teams. Carpenter has repaid that faith by hitting .300 since then. His game-winning, ninth-inning home run off "untouchable" Philadelphia Phillies right-hander Seranthony Dominguez on Tuesday was his 12th blast of the season, with nine coming in the past 30 days.

    Carpenter might not look statistically like Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto, who does hit for average, but these two left-handed hitters have something other than walks in common. These guys rarely swing at pitches outside the strike zone. Carpenter's rates a month ago actually showed a player that had just been really unlucky. He was hitting baseballs hard, but apparently right at defenders. He was drawing walks and swinging at the right pitches, too. It seemed like it was just going to be a matter of time before Carpenter turned his season around. I did not expect the power surge, though. Carpenter has homered in four of the past five games, and he's well on his way to topping the 23 home runs he had last season.

    The Cardinals have disappointed offensively this season, but both Carpenter and outfielder Marcell Ozuna have turned things around. Injured shortstop Paul DeJong should start a minor-league rehab assignment relatively soon, and could return to the team before the end of the month. Tommy Pham and Jose Martinez are potential All-Stars, and catcher Yadier Molina is showing few signs of slowing down. Perhaps Dexter Fowler, a proven hitter, can find his swing as well. It seems like few pundits are giving the Cardinals much of a chance to win the NL Central, but this offense is showing its upside again.

    Tuesday recap

    Box scores

    Highlights:


    Lowlights:


    Tuesday takeaways:

    • Aaron Judge, of course, was supposed to come up to the majors and hit many home runs. Gleyber Torres was not. In fact, Torres -- as we keep reminding everyone -- hit just 24 home runs across five minor league seasons. He is going to hit more than 24 home runs as a big-league rookie, and perhaps many more than that. Torres, needing a few more at-bats to qualify for the batting title, would be close to the top 10 in isolated power -- which is stunning, but also something that absolutely can continue. He looks terrific. If this continues, the Yankees might move him around in the lineup a bit, out of the No. 9 spot. Remember, it was supposed to be Brandon Drury and Neil Walker playing second base. Drury, who has been out with migraines since the first week of April, is going to play first base at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, so there is little danger of Torres losing playing time.



    • Dodgers left-hander Rich Hill came off the DL and tossed six shutout innings at Wrigley Field, allowing three singles and two walks while fanning six Cubs. It was easily Hill's best outing since his first one on April 1. The performance gives fantasy managers hope that -- if he can avoid the blisters -- Hill can act like a top-20 starting pitcher. Remember, Hill posted a 3.01 ERA over 31 starts for the Dodgers in 2016-17. He can indeed be valuable, but did enter Tuesday with a 6.20 ERA and 1.74 WHIP. Perhaps he really has figured out how to stay on the mound every fifth day.



    • The Nationals altered their lineup and bumped leadoff hitter Trea Turner to the No. 6 spot, which seems rather odd since he has been getting on base and is arguably the best stolen-base threat in the National League (since Billy Hamilton rarely reaches first). Turner responded with a four-hit game and his eighth home run. Turner has yet to play 100 games in a season, but barring another injury he should hit more than 15 blasts and steal 40 bases. Nobody achieved that in 2017, and only Jonathan Villar and Eduardo Nunez did so in 2016. Turner is special. I would bat him first or second with Adam Eaton in the mix. On Tuesday, it was Eaton and Juan Soto at the top, followed by Anthony Rendon, the struggling Bryce Harper, and Daniel Murphy. If Harper keeps struggling, he might find himself batting sixth. Turner investors should not panic. He remains a first-round talent.


    Injuries of note:

    • San Francisco Giants right-hander Hunter Strickland blew the save on Monday night against Miami and then managed to mess things up even worse, as he punched a wall and broke his hand. Strickland is likely out until August, so someone else will have to earn the saves. Manager Bruce Bochy did not mention the most experienced closer in the bullpen, Mark Melancon, but did note that lefty Tony Watson and right-hander Sam Dyson -- each with experience -- will factor in. I would add Dyson first. He is actually having a decent season. Strickland waited a while to be a closer but this might be it for his save total for 2018.


    • Washington first baseman/outfielder Matt Adams looked so good in May, hitting nine home runs with 22 runs batted in. I really thought he might continue playing regularly, but that was before Juan Soto earned a promotion and played like an immediate star. Ryan Zimmerman was hurt at the time, and things have not changed there. Adams is actually hitting .350 in June, but his playing time has fizzled and now he is on the DL with a broken finger. Look for Daniel Murphy to handle first base and Wilmer Difo to handle the keystone. As for Zimmerman, there is no timetable on his return from a back/oblique injury.


    • Phillies infielder J.P. Crawford suffered a broken left hand when hit by a pitch on Tuesday and will miss at least a month. That pushes embattled third baseman Maikel Franco back into the picture. Scott Kingery will continue to handle shortstop. Franco had a huge game on Sunday but, overall, this has been a rough season for him. It seems unlikely he will develop some plate discipline anytime soon or become relevant in 10-team fantasy leagues of any format. However, he probably did not enjoy his recent time on the bench. Sometimes that can be a great motivator.

    Closing time:

    • Cubs right-hander Brandon Morrow was deemed unavailable for Tuesday's save chance with back tightness, so lefty Justin Wilson filled in and lost the game. Morrow has pitched only once in the past 12 days, and is on pace for fewer than 50 innings this season. This was the concern with Morrow this past winter. He has not pitched 50 innings in a season since 2013. Perhaps this is no big deal, but I sure would not be trading for Morrow. Setup man Carl Edwards Jr. could return from the DL soon, but if there is a save chance Wednesday, I would expect Pedro Strop to get the ball. Strop tossed two scoreless innings to set up Wilson on Tuesday.


    • Minnesota Twins manager Paul Molitor announced that setup man Addison Reed would be removed from that role to pitch earlier in games. That could be significant should closer Fernando Rodney suddenly struggle. Rodney is having a nice season, actually. Reed, a popular handcuff pick in drafts, has permitted six home runs in 33 1/3 innings and, in his most recent outing, the Tigers got five hits and four runs off him. Right-hander Trevor Hildenberger is allowing too many home runs himself, but he did close in the minors and likely inherits top setup duties, in case it matters. I do not think it will. Rodney will save 35 games.

    W2W4:

    • The first big league outing for Yankees rookie right-hander Jonathan Loaisiga went fairly well, as he fanned six Rays over five shutout innings. The only bummer was the four walks. Loaisiga is a shorter, command right-hander who earns strikeouts but rarely issues walks. Expect a good outing even against the Mariners. You do not want to rely on Felix Hernandez, however.
    • It is a daily mystery which Phillies will be in the lineup and which relievers will be used in important roles, but the fellow to watch on Wednesday is right-hander Jake Arrieta. He is coming off three rough outings with a total of 18 runs allowed (13 earned) over 14 2/3 innings. Arrieta boasts one of the worst strikeout rates in the majors, which is a big problem for fantasy managers. That was something that could be overlooked when his ERA was a cool 2.66. Now it sits at 3.33, and potentially could rise even higher.


    • The Rays and Astros meet on ESPN+ and this will be the second game back from the DL for center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, who led off in Tuesday's game and will likely do so again versus Charlie Morton. Kiermaier is fantastic defensively, but not doing a whole lot at the plate. He is obviously better than his .152 batting average, though, as he hit .276 with 15 home runs and 16 steals a year ago. In other words, it is a wise time to get this player before everyone figures out he is underrated in fantasy.
     

  21. #46  
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    Time to sell high on Astros pitchers?
    Eric Karabell
    ESPN INSIDER


    Fantasy managers spend so much time complaining about Houston Astros pseudo-closer Ken Giles that they might be overlooking just how spectacular the team's rotation has been; it's on pace for record performance. We know Justin Verlander is simply awesome, the No. 1 pitcher on the Player Rater and someone who has reinvented himself at 35 years old, but it does not end there. Astros starting pitchers boast a 2.91 ERA, nearly half a run better than any other team. It is not just Verlander; Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers Jr. are also thriving, and the Astros boast four of the top 27 starters on the ESPN Player Rater.


    Fantasy managers have become keen to this, of course, as all five Astros starters -- including disappointing lefty Dallas Keuchel -- are rostered in at least 94 percent of standard leagues, which is unprecedented as best I can tell, and since Giles has not secured the role as closer, several Astros relievers warrant interest as well. Wednesday's star was Morton, permitting an unearned run over six innings to beat the Tampa Bay Rays, while three relievers finished up. Can Morton actually win 20 games with a sub-3 ERA? Let us delve into the Astros pitchers for fantasy purposes.

    While Verlander is obviously enjoying the best statistical season, Cole and Morton have him beat on xFIP, which is a statistic that analysts use to gauge what a pitcher's run prevention should be based on factors he can control. Verlander is fantastic but it seems unlikely he can keep his ERA on the good side of 2 for much longer. Cole (2.59) and Morton (2.74), however, boast numbers a bit more realistic. This does not mean Verlander is someone fantasy managers should try to trade as soon as possible, but they should have realistic expectations. Statistics do not have to normalize, but a 1.60 ERA and 0.78 WHIP is just ridiculous. Cole and Morton, by most measures, have pitched just as well, if not better.

    If we were discussing Astros pitchers from a Stock Watch point of view, Verlander would fit the sell side, but he would likely be the only one. I love what Cole and Morton are doing. Cole's problem with last season's Pittsburgh Pirates was his home-run rate, but like his colleagues he has been relying a bit less on the fastball and keeping hitters off-balance with his curveball. The rise in Cole's walk rate is a tad disturbing, as he issued five free passes on Monday against the Rays, but otherwise he was dominant. The team's bullpen depth is so great -- and likely to improve with a trade, perhaps for a lefty -- that inherited runners have not been an issue. Houston's bullpen is third in ERA, but is second-to-last innings. The unit is not overachieving. Morton admits he is just trying to strike everyone out and it is working. Just, please, stay healthy.

    Keuchel, scheduled to open the Friday home series with the Kansas City Royals, has become a concern for fantasy managers, as his ERA, WHIP and K rate have gone in directions we do not prefer, and do not match his level of being universally rostered. He is an Astro and won a Cy Young award, so he gets benefit of the doubt. Keuchel's most recent outing featured six innings of two-run ball against the Royals, unearned runs, and just his fourth win in 15 starts. The lefty is rostered in many leagues for someone 90th among starters on the Player Rater, worse than Derek Holland, Ryan Yarbrough and Zach Eflin. For now, keep Keuchel rostered, for even if a 3.75 ERA is what he is, he will win games. The Royals do not hit, and there is not an awesome offense on Keuchel's schedule for another month.

    As for the bullpen, Giles is rostered in 71 percent of leagues, right-hander Hector Rondon is at 25 percent. Over the past 30 days, however, Giles has a 5.59 ERA and three saves. Rondon has a 0.79 ERA and four saves. I want to say Rondon deserves more fantasy attention, but I think what manager A.J. Hinch will do is continue to utilize each pitcher for ninth-inning work. I think Chris Devenski and Brad Peacock are setup men, not likely to earn save chances. It is a bit of a shame that Devenski has become a more traditional one-inning pitcher, when his past few seasons showed he is capable of so much more. Collin McHugh is one of the more valuable long relievers, with a big K rate and a realistic chance to win games, though it has not happened so far.

    One more name to watch among Astros arms is 20-year-old right-hander Forrest Whitley, a large 6-7, 240-pound man with major strikeout potential. He served a 50-game suspension for violating the minor league drug program, and he has made three starts for Triple-A Corpus Christi so far, each a four-inning shutout stint. He has allowed five hits and three walks, with 18 strikeouts. Whitley might not become a great fantasy option this season, but a promotion in August seems imminent, and the innings should be good. He is a future star for dynasty formats. The Astros and Colorado Rockies have somehow managed to need only the minimum five starters all season, but those streaks are going to end. Whitley could be the AL version of Los Angeles Dodgers rookie Walker Buehler.

    Wednesday recap


    Box scores

    Highlights:



    Lowlights:



    Wednesday takeaways:

    The Philadelphia Phillies have managed to stay above .500 despite a rough bullpen and defense thanks to the hitting exploits of Odubel Herrera and Rhys Hoskins. Herrera was in a brutal slump, hitting .155 over a 21-game stretch with three walks and 26 strikeouts, but he adjusted his leg kick and his patience level and looks like a different player. Herrera is not likely to draw a ton of walks, but he knows strikes from balls, and which pitches he can drive. The big problem with his fantasy value are the lack of stolen bases, but he is closing in on a career high for power and has been a consistent batting average provider, even if he is inconsistent along the way, driving head-to-head managers mad.

    • Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Ross Stripling saw his streak of consecutive victories stopped by the Cubs, but it was another strong outing. Stripling is the No. 1 pitcher on the Player Rater for the past 30 days, and has struck out six or more hitters in eight consecutive starts, which is incredible. It all looks legit to me. If the Stripling manager in your league thinks Wednesday's loss -- still a quality start -- is a harbinger of struggles, go get him. Stripling has become a top-40 starting pitcher.

    • Cubs infielder Javier Baez hit two doubles and a triple and stole a base in the 4-0 win. Baez is hitting .266 despite a 4.1 percent walk rate, but for him this works. He is aggressive, and clearly not bothered much by his plunking by a pitch on the elbow a few days ago. Mookie Betts is the only player in baseball with more home runs and steals than Baez. He is emerging as a top-30 fantasy option. Now, if only we could get Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo going.

    • Padres rookie lefty Joey Lucchesi did not fare well in his first outing off the DL for a hip strain, and he is scheduled to make two starts next week. Should fantasy managers depend on a 25-year-old who skipped Triple-A? Lucchesi is a rather soft-tossing lefty who did miss bats the first two months, but probably relied on his ballpark for his surprising numbers. I am going to pass.

    Injuries of note:

    San Francisco Giants infielder Alen Hanson suffered a left knee contusion and might need a day or two off, which is a shame because he looks like a dynamic offensive player, much to our surprise. Hanson has the chance to play a lot at third base if he is healthy and he hits. He is hitting .314 with pop.

    • Occasional Dodgers leadoff man Chris Taylor left Wednesday's game with a hamstring injury, but claims he will play this weekend against the Mets. Taylor has not followed up his breakout 2017 with similar success, but scores a lot of runs and offers middle infield eligibility.

    Closing time:

    • Just mere hours after Sam Dyson was anointed San Francisco Giants closer, he nearly coughed up a ninth-inning lead and had to be rescued by Reyes Moronta, who earned his first save. There was again no sign of Mark Melancon. Tony Watson pitched the seventh inning. I think Dyson is still the closer, despite the rough outing that featured four walks and only two outs, and Watson is going to share opportunities. I think Melancon has to come into play soon. I think I would cut Hunter Strickland, who might not get the closing role back when healthy.

    Brandon Morrow hit the DL with a back injury suffered by taking his pants off. I will reserve further comment on that one, but this should not be a long DL stint. Carl Edwards Jr. would close if healthy, but he is not. Pedro Strop should get more save chances than Steve Cishek in the interim. Be careful out there, folks, even with daily tasks.

    W2W4:

    • St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Carlos Martinez has walked 18 hitters in three outings since coming off the DL, and his fastball velocity is down. Martinez had a lat injury, not a malady directly related to his elbow or shoulder, so this is odd, and many eyes will be on him against the Brewers on Thursday. One assumes Martinez will find his control and return to top-20 starter status.

    • The slumping Nationals offense gets to see Baltimore Orioles right-hander Kevin Gausman in a beltway battle. Gausman, quite infuriatingly, has permitted 95 hits in 82 1/3 innings. He is so much better than that, but alas, inconsistency is a theme with him. Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy have combined for 11 hits in 88 at-bats this month. You cannot give up on these guys, but it would be nice to see some good swings against Gausman.
     

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