Perhaps you only play in one fantasy baseball league, and due to injuries and other issues your team has been out of contention since late May. Or maybe you are sailing along in first place without much threat of competition because everyone else in your league has checked out and turned their attention to mock fantasy football drafts. But if you are in a situation where a handful of counting stats could make the difference between a money finish and just being an also-ran, this is definitely not the time to give up or let your attention wander. In fact, because other owners may have thrown in the towel or are preoccupied with the impending football season, summer vacations, and who knows what else, small improvements to your team could have more impact than ever. And with the recent flurry of MLB trades combined with plenty of untimely injuries, this is the time of year when some seemingly random guys are suddenly getting a chance at regular playing time.
Here are a handful of players who are owned in 25% or fewer of leagues, per CBS Sports (ownership percentage noted, and most of these numbers are slowly but steadily rising). Each of them could potentially bring some nice stats to the table over the coming weeks. They may even provide a surprising amount of help to those in deeper leagues; don’t forget, stolen bases, home runs, and saves count the same whether they come from a 24%-owned player or a 89%-owned player.
Alex Dickerson (25% owned). Jon Jay doesn't look like he's coming off the DL anytime soon, and Melvin Upton and Matt Kemp have been shipped out of San Diego. Meanwhile, the Padres front office has suggested that neither of their hot-hitting outfield prospects, Hunter Renfroe and Manuel Margot, will be called up before September. Dickerson is getting a chance to prove he belongs in the major leagues and is acquitting himself quite nicely so far. In 34 games he’s hitting .284 and has six home runs and two stolen bases. He missed a couple of games over the weekend with a bruised hip he sustained making a catch in the outfield, but appears to be over that issue, as he was back in the lineup Tuesday, batting fifth in the Padres lineup. At 26, he may not be a kid, but he’s definitely motivated to show what he can do with an everyday job and could be a decent piece to a fantasy team puzzle if he continues to produce over the next eight weeks or so.
Aaron Altherr (24% owned). The Phillies probably aren’t going to score eight runs against Madison Bumgarner, two off Will Smith, and three off Sergio Romo (like they did Tuesday) again any time soon, but they suddenly have a pretty impressive little core group of hitters going for them. If Maikel Franco, Cesar Hernandez, Cameron Rupp, and Tommy Joseph can all get hot and stay hot at the same time, the Phillies could finish 2016 on a truly optimistic note. Altherr missed over half the season with a torn tendon in his left wrist, but is back and should be playing pretty much every day, firmly ensconced as the Phillies number two hitter. In five games, he’s hitting .333 and already has two home runs, eight RBI, and two stolen bases. Obviously this is an unsustainable pace, but when Altherr came up last season he was projected as a 20/20 guy – personally, I have room in just about any fantasy lineup for a player that I know is capable of hitting a bomb and stealing a base in the same game (as Altherr did Tuesday).
Tyler Thornburg (23% owned yesterday, up to 25% today). After the Brewers traded Jeremy Jeffress and Will Smith, manager Craig Counsell was not ready to publicly anoint a new closer. It was no secret, however, that Thornburg was the guy in line for the job, and sure enough he was brought into the ninth inning of Tuesday’s game against the Padres with the Brewers up 3-2. He pitched a perfect inning with two strikeouts for his third save of the season and there doesn’t seem to be any question about who will be getting save opportunities for the Brewers for the rest of the year. Best of all, they will not be empty saves, as his numbers are stellar on the year: 2.27 ERA/0.96 WHIP with an impressive 61 strikeouts in 43 2/3 innings.
Travis Jankowski (12% owned). As with Dickerson, the Padres clearly want to give Jankowski an everyday look in the outfield. In the last few weeks, he’s looked pretty darn good. His 2016 average sits at an ugly .236, but in the minors in 2015 he had great on-base numbers: .316 BA/.395 OBP in 282 at bats at AA, plus a .392 BA/.464 OBP in 97 additional at bats at AAA. On Monday, he reached base five times. But the main thing you’d be looking at Jankowski for are his steals: he suddenly has 21 this year in 161 at bats. If a handful of stolen bases could make a difference in your league, he could be the guy to turn to.
Scott Schebler (4% owned). Schebler is clearly a flyer in even the deepest leagues, but it looks like he will be close to an everyday player for the Reds for the rest of the season in the wake of the Jay Bruce trade. It seems like years ago that he opened 2016 in the strong side of a platoon with Adam Duvall – we all know how that turned out. While Schebler hasn’t shown any real sign that he’s capable of hitting major league pitching, it sounds like his early-season demotion was very humbling for him and he put up some huge numbers in AAA in an attempt to work his way back to the majors, hitting .311 (.370 OBP) with 13 home runs in 74 games. In the absence of proven skill at the major league level, I always like a guy who is as motivated as can be to succeed. Yesterday, I picked Schebler up in an NL-only league where he was basically replacing the roster spot which was gut-wrenchingly vacated by Trevor Story, I got him in my lineup a few minutes before the deadline, and then watched him get three hits inlcuding a walk-off three-run homerun. Okay, this may not occur every day, but so far, so good…