The start of the regular season is just one week away. Most leagues have either finished up their draft or will be doing so in the coming days. However, as we all know, the draft is just step one. We all look at our roster and envision greatness and fantasy glory after the draft, but we soon find that some members of this illustrious entourage are… (fill in your own colorful euphemism here). This is where step two begins – the waiver wire.
Some may think it is too early to start considering players on waivers. You just finished your draft, right? Why would you consider those available players on waivers – if they are so good somebody else would have drafted them… right? There is some logic to this. However, as I just stated, things don’t always work out as planned. Players don’t always live up to expectations. And, those players taken in the final rounds could have easily been those players on waivers if that dart had landed on a different spot on the board. Instead of waiting for that shoe to drop, be proactive, make a realistic assessment of your team, dig through the available players and do some comparisons. You just might find a few overlooked gems sitting in plain sight.
The following players are currently available in under 50% of Yahoo and ESPN leagues, but that could soon change once the season starts.
Shin-Soo Choo: With each passing year fantasy owners seem to be avoiding Choo more and more. He is now entering his age 35 season with underlying metrics pointing to regression. Last season Choo batted .261; an improvement over his injury riddled 2016 campaign but a dozen points below what he hit in 2015. While the average was off, the rest of his counting stats stayed solid. His runs (95), RBI (78), and home runs (22) were all in line with his previous healthy season in 2015, as was his walk rate, OBP (which dipped below .350 only once since his 2005 debut), and strikeouts. His fly ball rate did drop, but the ISO, hard hit rate and contact and swing rate remained static.
The knock on Choo is his age, durability, and somewhat average line. He has played in 149 games in two of the past three seasons so there is less of a health risk than some realize. His counting stats, while average, are more than adequate for a fourth outfielder. So far this spring he is 11 for 31 with three doubles, two homers, eight RBI, and a stolen base (he can still reach double-digits). There is little upside, but a .260/20/10 season with 160 plus runs and RBI can pay the bills.
Logan Morrison: There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical here: the 38 home runs after surpassing 20 only once in his career, a drop in contact below league average after sitting above 80% most of his career, a one year spike in ISO, fly ball and hard hit rate well above his career norm, and a strikeout rate which sate in the mid teams but was 22 and 25% in 2016 and 2017. The skepticism is warranted, but there is reason for optimism.
Morrison did all that in his age 29 season so he’s not exactly old, and he wouldn’t be the first person to breakout at a late age. The power was consistent from month to month – he did hit 10 home runs in may, but even cut in half that still gives him 33. While the strikeout rate did go up it is still in an acceptable range and well below some of the other all or nothing power surgers we’ve seen. Now 27 of his home runs were on the road so going from Tampa to Minnesota isn’t helpful. However, he does now have a better supporting cast so maybe he’ll get a better pitch selection. If you waited to fill your CI slot, have a second utility slot, or are weak at first base then why not roll with Morrison if he’s available?
Matt Kemp: Kemp put up an acceptable batting average in 2017, but that is all we can point to as a positive. His 19 home runs was unacceptable when combined with just 64 RBI and 47 runs scored. A look under the hood reveals one major flaw, but the rest of the inspection turned up clean. Walks, strikeouts, swing and contact rate, ISO, batting average, OBP – basically all the underlying metrics matched up with either his past few seasons or his career norm. The one thing that changed was the fly ball rate which dropped below 30% for the first time in his career. Combined with some nagging injuries and part of his demise can be explained.
Kemp is not going to hit 35 home runs like he did in 2016, but a health season can produce somewhere in the 25 range along with 160 runs and RBI. Like Choo above, more than acceptable numbers from a fourth outfielder. For those not paying attention to, or completely dismissing, spring training numbers, Kemp is 13 for 38 with two doubles, four home runs, eight RBI, and has solidified his role as the starting left fielder. He has impressed enough that management plans on giving him at bats vs both lefties and righties. Some of his best years were spent in a Dodgers uniform so maybe the homecoming combined with a little health is what the doctor ordered. For a waiver wire grab, why not gamble on his hot spring and see how far he can carry it.
Kole Calhoun: Judging by his ownership levels, not even a 10-foot drop in height for the right-field wall has encouraged many.Kole teased us with a 26 home run season in 2015 but has largely been a disappointment with a fluctuating average and inconsistent counting stats. At least he has been healthy, right? Can Kole, at age 30, be in store for a big year?
Things going in his favor so far are the addition of some much-needed offensive talent. Kinsler and Cozart are not big names, but they do provide an improvement. Justin Upton is not new to the team, but he was a late arrival last year and will now spend the season in Los Angeles. Then there is Shohel Ohtani, who is off to a rough start this spring but possesses the hitting skills necessary to be a major contributor. Just like with Morrison above, a better surrounding cast could lead to a better pitch selection.
The main reason to get excited is the right-field wall will be lowered from 18 feet to 8 feet. Was is this important for Calhoun? Well, all… and I do mean All, of his power is to right field.
Not only are all his home runs to right, but look at those doubles close to the wall. Doubles don’t always turn into home runs, but in this case they just might. We could be looking at a season close to 2015. The only question is will he hit closer to .250 or .270? So far he is 14 for 33 this spring with four extra base hits. The contact and plate discipline has been steady overall and the fly ball rate is good. An increase in hard hit rate like we saw in 2016 could provide that little extra needed.
Stephen Piscotty: Injuries and personal issues took Piscotty from a top-30 outfielder to barely a late round draft choice. People are quick to dismiss and even write off a player after a down year. Injuries are one thing, but when it comes to the mental health of a player; that’s something which doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. Piscotty is healthy now, has a new home in Oakland (close to his mother which should help the mental aspect), and appears to be ready to put 2017 behind him. Already this spring he is 10 for 33 with a double, triple, two homers, and a 2-1 K/BB ratio. In 2016 he hit 22 home runs with 80 plus in both runs and RBI. I see little reason to believe he can not at least match that. If you decide to wait on outfield when drafting, there are plenty of late options to gamble on. This is one of them.
Jose Martinez: Martinez draws some of the same skepticism as LoMo above. He arrived at 29 years of age and went on to produce 14 home runs with a .309 average over 272 at bats. Prior to his cup of coffee in 2016 he spent 10 years in the minors with the Orioles, White Sox, Braves and Royals before finding (hopefully) a home in St Louis. Martinez possesses solid plate skills defined by a career .295 minor league average, 8.02% walk rate, and 14.87% strikeout rate. What has held him back and kept him in the minors is the lack of power – 58 minor league home runs in over 3,000 at bats. Last year’s .210 ISO and 37% hard hit rate were out of character with the rest of his career – also like LoMo.
The Cardinals outfield consists of Yelich, Pham and Fowler, and Carpenter was moved to first base affectively blocking Martinez. A 12 for 41 spring with three home runs and 12 RBI may force the Cardinals to view him as more than a fourth outfielder and backup at first. A slump by Wong or Gyorko (both having a rough spring) could move Carpenter off first and give Martinez the opportunity and at bats needed to be fantasy worthy. Given the playing time issue this is more of a 15-team addition – for now, but that could quickly change.
Scott Schebler: I honestly didn’t plan on the waiver wire being full of outfielders; that’s just how things have worked out. Schebler belted 30 home runs last season, but a low batting average and lack of track record has many owners taking a wait and see approach. I’ll admit to being one of them, but power like this late in the draft or on waivers deserves attention. Unlike a number of 30 home run hitters last year, Schebler had a 23.5% strikeout rate – high, but nowhere near the Sano’s and Story’s of the league. His fly ball and hard hit approach should help him approach 30 home runs again – this is what was expected of him back with the Dodgers in 2014 and 2015. His .233 average should also come up with some better BABIP luck (.248) and an increase in line drives (16.2% – league average is closer to 20%). Even a .250 average, a more than realistic number, would increase his fantasy value.
This spring he is 17 for 33 with eight extra base hits. I know this average will not hold, but hot springs do have a tendency to carry over into April. If Schebler is available I would easily grab him and ride him through April, or at least until we start to see the average fall. He will still be useful once the average comes down, but a quick burst out of the gate can give you those few extra points needed in roto that could make all the difference come season’s end.
Ketel Marte: I’ll end things off with one of my favorite end-draft players, especially in leagues that use a MI slot. Marte was shipped to Arizona in the Jean Segura trade, and most assumed he would start the 2017 season as their primary shortstop. Unfortunately that did not happen, and Marte was shipped to Triple-A. He apparently wasn’t happy with this and decided to let his bat do the talking, batting .338 over 338 at bats with six homers and seven steals. An injury opened the door for him later in the season and he added another five home runs and six steals. The average was only .260, but he was close to a .300 hitter in the minors so we’ll chalk that up to the learning curve.
This year Marte has earned a starting role, going 12 for 29 with three extra base hits. He has the potential to steal between 15 to 20 bags. The walk rate continues to improve which could push him towards the top of the order. As for the power: His ISO and hard hit rate on fly balls are average, but his hard hit rate on ground balls and line drives is excellent. Last year we started to see a little more loft and an increase in fly balls. He’s a step away from becoming a 15/15 threat and that could easily happen as soon as this year. Marte is only 24 years old so there’s plenty of room for growth. I’m all in.
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