With very few consistencies in the great game of Fantasy Baseball, I found solace over the last few years at how deep the outfield position was compared to the rest of the diamond. It could have been a misconception of mine, but I remember if I was in need of outfield help, the waiver wire and I were good friends. Worrying was an emotion left for when one of my middle infielders went down and I had to consider whether I had the gall to look at Eric Aybar for 4-6 weeks.
Solely based on my perception alone, it seems that this outfield depth has faded slightly in 2016, and I would gamble most participants of five outfielder leagues feel the same. It hit me last night when J.D. Martinez landed on the DL with a fractured elbow. Adding to my misery, Jose Bautista meandered over to the DL earlier this afternoon. 'Make Baseball Fun Again' should be changed to 'Make Walls Soft Again' because I'm getting tired of losing my assets to inanimate objects.
While I'm not particularly excited about the outfield replacements I saw lingering in my various leagues, swallowing my pride, I scoped out a few guys that can provide owners with some moments of glory in the coming weeks.
The Caveman Leads the Way
Jayson Werth - It seemed like a phase, but Jayson Werth, his majestic hair/beard combo, and now his disregard for virgin ears are here to stay. While he won't light up the world with his 25 HR, 80 RBI pace, his stretch over the last week has made me a buyer. All his peripherals seem relatively stable and his jump in hard hit rate from 2015 makes me think this production over his last few games may be more of the norm for the rest of the season. I also love his positioning in the Nationals lineup. With his .348 average and 1.000 OPS so far in the month of June, there is little reason for Dusty Baker to demote him in order. If he continues to get on base at an optimistic .380-.400 rate, Bryce Harper will see more pitches to hit, and thus the counting stats for Werth should tick up as well. The cavemen cometh out of his May slump and I like what I see. (30% owned in ESPN, 31% owned in Yahoo).
Trayce Thompson - I mentioned a few weeks ago, and if you've been keeping up with my posts (shameless plug), you should have added him. I don't expect this pacing and value of his to slow down, especially with a decent hold on the three hole in the Dodger's lineup. He kind of profiles as a young, righty version of Jayson Werth and should be owned in your league - if he isn't, you know what to do. (41% owned ESPN, 40% owned Yahoo).
Jake Smolinski - He's a lefty masher with two home runs in his last four games. If you're in need of some cheap power I could see a move being made in deeper leagues. While he doesn't get a righty this weekend, he gets three of the softer hurlers in all of baseball (Matt Shoemaker, Tim Lincecum, and Jared Weaver), and that's about as good as you can get in my opinion. His long term value doesn't seem too promising, but with such a low ownership percentage that's no surprise. (.4% owned ESPN, 1% owned ESPN).
Nick Markakis - One of my favorite baseball analysts, Eno Sarris, was on MLB Network with Brian Kenny yesterday and mentioned some hitters with the biggest spike in hit speed from last year to this year at the ideal launch angle of 10-30 degrees (removing guys who are hitting hard ground balls). While Jake Lamb topped the list, I found it interesting that Nick Markakis was in the top five. While hard hit data is important for analysis it can sometimes be over emphasized and that I think applies to Markakis this year. Higher MPH off the bat, yet an average 50 points lower than 2015 and about as much power as Bartolo Colon (they actually both have one homer). He's really not too exciting and I'd leave him alone if he caught your eye on the waivers for the run he has been on over the last week. (18% owned ESPN. 11% owned Yahoo).
Robbie Grossman - I have to say I'm mildly surprised with the hype around Grossman, as I really don't see too much value. His last two years of AAA stats show that he isn't a .300 hitter and I'm often not too confident that players change their profile this quickly without any definitive alteration in approach or mechanics (think Paxton's velocity spike with his mechanic change, I was buying that last week). His HR/FB% most likely won't sustain, and he seems to me like what I expected Adam Duvall to fall back to after his torrid stretch. While I was wrong on Duvall, I'm a little more confident in saying leave Grossman alone for the time being, unless you're a fan of riding semi-hot bats. (20% owned ESPN, 7% owned).
Mallex Smith - I promise this will be the last time I mention two Braves in the same article, but Mallex is a different animal than Markakis. In a year where steals are hard to come by, I'm surprised that Mallex is still carrying a low ownership percentage. In his last six starts he has five steals, and seems to have put behind him his initial struggles nabbing bases. Much higher valuation in Roto leagues, but I think you can do a lot worse in a deep outfielder league. Jose Peraza and Billy Hamilton seemed to be the clear 'speed-or-bust' guys, but Mallex is creeping into the picture. (7% owned ESPN. 8% owned Yahoo).
Catcher Wasteland - I think my jokes about Posey last week woke him up, as he's 8 for his last 14, but don't worry cause 7 of those are singles! So there's still use for one of my favorite weekly catch-ups, the Catcher Wasteland.
Joining us on the journey this week is Wilson Contreras. While I understand the hype as he has good power (9 HR in 55 games) and doesn't strikeout much, playing time is a big concern. David Ross will catch Lester, and Montero will likely get a few starts even with his mediocre bat, which leaves Contreras for no more than ~2 starts per week. Catcher value often come from playing time, which is why guys like Yadier Molina and Jonathan Lucroy will remain at the top - they're everyday starters, Contreras is not. It might be tough to swallow, but unless there's news this changes around the All-Star break, I'm not adding him anywhere unless I have a huge bench.
Your alternatives? I would much rather have Travis d'Arnaud, who comes off the DL on Tuesday and is still under 25% owned or Nick Hundley who will be hitting in Coors and hasn't gotten into his groove yet. I'm glad to say Al Melchior of CBS Sports agrees.
10 Inches Above the Rest
Cody Reed - I know everybody is pretty much done with rookie arms unless they're of Taillon's level - see Snell, Manaea, Berrios, etc - but this Red's southpaw has a pretty good chance to stick in a terrible rotation. He was the big piece in the Johnny Cueto Deal and has outperformed the touted Robert Stephenson this year in AAA. Through 11 starts he has a K/9 just under 9, coupled with pretty good control for a 23 year old, he has a higher floor for the time being than the Blake Snells of the world. Pray for some run support and Reed could turn into a decent flyer - Shoutout to Mark Stormbo for rekindling my interest in him. (4% owned ESPN. 24% owned Yahoo).
Daniel Mengden - Another young arm to give you a heart attack? Why not?! I'm still on the fence with Mengden going forward, but his delivery is so funky that, like Eno Sarris said in his 'Sleeper and the Bust' podcast from this Thursday, major leaguers may take some time to hammer down their timing on him. Oddly enough, his jump from AA to AAA this year came with new found control, and maintaining of a crazy high strand rate (~90%). He had a really good start against Texas yesterday (6.1 IP, 7 K, 1 BB, 1 ER) and should get the Brewers at home early next week. I could see a few spot starts in his future, and in 14 teamers, a speculative add. (1% owned ESPN, 2% Yahoo).
Michael Pineda - His strikeout to walk ratio over his last three starts is 20 to 4. While I understand many owners have a grudge on him, I actually think he can be viable going forward and his peripherals agree with me. I will probably retract this endorsement if he struggles against the Twins tomorrow, but with another matchup coming against them at the end of next week, I think his ownership level may start to climb soon, and hopefully your button clicking is the reason why. (44% owned ESPN, 63% owned Yahoo).
Best of luck to all this weekend, if you panic last minute and need another opinion on a trade/pickup/etc, don't hesitate to tweet at me @LanceBrozdow.