What follows are some guys I’ve added in one league or another, for one reason or another. For instance, J.T. Realmuto was my most drafted catcher, but Yasmani Grandal and Robinson Chirinos now start for most of my fake squads. You have to be malleable in this game, and these are a few guys I am depending on that I think deserve some attention. I tried to consider an underrated option and a low-owned option at each position. Or in some cases, both options are low-owned. Some of these owned percentages are rising fast (read: Eric Thames) so you should hop aboard the train before it fully departs. Happy Friday, everybody.
Yasmani Grandal, Los Angeles Dodgers (77% owned)
Catcher is a cesspool. When 35-year-old Yadier Molina is the second-best option at a position, we don’t need much to hang our proverbial hat on when considering a pickup—or when considering who could finish as an elite starter at a given position. For example, seven of the current top 12 options in the game are free agents in most leagues. None of those six players are over 19% owned in Yahoo leagues.
Grandal offers a past history of success (career .195 ISO) and a current hot streak to begin the year (.321/.406/.464). I was once afraid of Austin Barnes, but now I am petrified to leave Grandal on waivers for someone else to enjoy. Even with fewer plate appearances this year, Grandal should finish as a starting-caliber option in leagues of all sizes. I think his ownership should be higher than what it is, and when he socks another home run or two, it will be. Don’t miss out if he’s floating around on waivers in your league.
Robinson Chirinos, Texas Rangers (14% owned)
I’m staying the course with Chirinos. He has battled a sore left wrist due to applying an awkward tag on Matt Chapman about a week ago, but as that wrist gets healthier (and the weather gets warmer) Chirinos should reward his more patient owners. He was a favorite late-round flier from our group here at Fake Teams during the preseason, and it’s far too early for me to jump ship now.
Eric Thames, Milwaukee Brewers (69% owned)
Currently the No. 6 first baseman in the game, Thames leads the Brewers in home runs (5) despite being relegated to a part-time role thus far. Recent injuries to Christian Yelich (oblique) and Lorenzo Cain (quad) have conspired to open up more playing time, though—and I’m not sure how much longer Craig Counsell could have afforded to keep Thames’ power out of the lineup anyway. Milwaukee has 12 home runs total, good for 17th in the MLB. Thames is over 40% of that total. Just let the man play, okay? Fun fact: Thames’ ownership has jumped 19% on Yahoo over the last 24 hours. You better hurry.
Yonder Alonso, Cleveland Indians (37% owned)
Who will rise above the messy tier of Alonso, Brandon Belt, Logan Morrison, and Lucas Duda? You guys now know who I’m banking on. Alonso’s .186/.286/.349 start is icy cold, but he does have a pair of home runs already and his walk (12.2%) and strikeout (20.4%) numbers are right in line with what we saw from him last year. The .194 BABIP is bound to rise, especially with his 42.4% hard contact rate. I’d like to see a few less ground balls and a few more line drives, but it sure is early to be fretting over a batted ball profile (especially with that hard%). Alonso is still hitting fly balls 39.4% of the time, a shade below last year’s 43.2% rate when he joined the fly ball revolution. I think the home runs and batting average will come soon enough, and that Alonso’s fortunes will heat up much like the entire Indians offense should.
Jed Lowrie, Oakland Athletics (30% owned)
I just don’t get the lack of love for Jed Lowrie. The dude is raking again this year (.333/.390/.556) and already has three home runs to his credit. He won’t offer speed, but he will offer everything else if he remains healthy. Major shouts our Twitterless Joe Gentile for banging the drum for Lowrie loudly all offseason. I am totally bought in with the No. 6 overall guy at the keystone so far.
Derek Dietrich, Miami Marlins (23% owned)
We don’t even have to worry about ownership at this spot, as both options are barely owned. Dietrich is in a prime position in Miami due to a lack of quality MLB options around him. His power will suffer against left-handed pitching, but he is getting an epic opportunity atop the lineup, and all those plate appearances will turn into valuable counting statistics by season’s end. The positional flexibility is nice, too. Dietrich is nearly an entire bench unto himself.
Maikel Franco, Philadelphia Phillies (64% owned)
The No. 12 option at the hot corner, Franco seems as undervalued in fake circles as he is in real life. Scott Kingery was once thought to be a roadblock, but now it appears that J.P. Crawford may be the big loser if Kingery continues to siphon away at-bats from this infield. Good news, too, as Franco’s power hasn’t yet reached its peak and he has still socked 24+ home runs in each of the last two seasons. He is an undervalued corner infield bat in a young, improving offense. Gimme all that, please.
Eugenio Suarez, Cincinnati Reds (53%)
The Reds are going to miss the bat of Suarez while he’s on the shelf due to a fractured right thumb. He was hitting .297 with a pair of home runs at the time of his injury, after slashing .260/.367/.461 with 26 home runs in 2017. The timetable for his return is two to three weeks, and that’s the optimistic view. If you have the luxury of a DL spot, though, I think you have to hold him. Back-to-back 20+ home run seasons, youth/upside, tied to Joey Votto, hits in a great park...what’s not to like? I’m stashing and/or acquiring him everywhere I can.
Tim Anderson, Chicago White Sox (77% owned)
Anderson should be owned in your league, even if it’s a 10-teamer. The No. 2 shortstop in the game (behind my boy Didi!) has drawn four walks already in 12 games. Last year, Anderson managed only 13 walks in 146 games. He still parlayed his playing time into 17 home runs and 13 swipes, though. If he is actually going to have a league-average or above-average OBP this year, we should all get ready for a run at the coveted 20/20 season. Anderson has posted OBPs of .306 and .276 over his first two seasons, but is currently slashing .267/.327/.489 in 2018. I know 76% is a high mark for a waiver wire option, but some things just need to be stated. There aren’t nine better options at shortstop this year...how about that for clarity? That means he should be owned in all leagues.
Marcus Semien, Oakland Athletics (38% owned)
Semien is under-owned given the gig he has leading off for an underrated Oakland offense. He is basically Tim Anderson with a better OBP and longer track record of success. And he qualifies at a thin shortstop position. I’m not sure what the discrepancy is there, but if Semien is laying around on your wire I’d suggest you add him as a bench bat/depth play, even if you don’t need him currently. Semien has at least one hit in nine straight games, and it’s only a matter of time before we start to see some pop and some speed.
Mallex Smith, Tampa Bay Rays (17% owned)
He is 9-for-27 (.333) in limited duty with a pair of swipes already. With Brad Miller (groin) headed to the DL and Kevin Kiermaier (foot) banged up, the time to add the speedster is now. His 4-for-4 day with a pair of steals on Monday was a stark reminder of the upside he can offer in the speed department. In leagues of larger size (like my 15-team TGFBI squad) I am holding onto him and hoping the at-bats are there next week. There are worse investments, for sure.
Jose Pirela, San Diego Padres (10% owned)
I wasn’t quite sure how San Diego’s logjam in the outfield would work, otherwise I’d have punted a few more outfield spots with Pirela. As is, Hunter Renfroe isn’t seeing at-bats against right-handed pitching (he just comes in to bash lefties) while Pirela is playing against everyone. After hitting mostly first and third in the order last year, Pirela has mostly logged time in the two-hole or in the cleanup position. Long-term, his prime batting order spot is going to pay off in front of capable MLB regulars Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers. Pirela is an underrated back-end outfielder, as a full year’s worth of time means he should sock 20+ home runs and chip in a handful of steals (he had 4 swipes in half of a season last year).
Joey Lucchesi, San Diego Padres (32% owned)
It’s very strange to me that Lucchesi is more popular than Pivetta, who I feel like was touted far more in the offseason. Maybe I’m just too informed. Anyway, Lucchesi has a strong 16:4 K:BB ratio thus far, as well as a healthy 13.3% swinging strike rate. He’s mainly working with a two-pitch mix (fastball and changeup) so I like him a little less than Pivetta, who throws 4mph harder and has three pitches in his arsenal. That said, Lucchesi’s hot start is highlighted by a dominant outing at Coors (6.0 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 8 SO, 1 W) and that’s difficult to ignore when you are mining for upside. It helps to know that half of his games are in spacious Petco Park, too.
Nick Pivetta, Philadelphia Phillies (20% owned)
The obvious fact is that Pivetta has only started three games thus far. After an uninspiring 3:2 K:BB and only four innings against the epic Braves lineup, Pivetta has compiled a 16:0 K:BB and has a 2.70 ERA that is backed by a 2.33 xFIP. He has an above average 11.4% swinging strike rate, a bump up from last year’s 8.7% rate. So far, he’s thrown his fastball less and more of his curve, and I love the early returns for a guy with 94 mph heat. If you didn’t take a late-round shot on him and he’s available, I’d run to the wire and gobble him up right now.
Keynan Middleton, Los Angeles Angels (49% owned)
Middleton has already garnered a pair of saves this year as it appears that fickle manager Mike Scioscia has soured on former closer Blake Parker. The Angels are one of the most improved teams in the league this year (Ohtani!) and should provide their closer with ample opportunities to produce. You won’t be able to wait too much longer to acquire his services.
Matt Albers, Milwaukee Brewers (26% owned)
I’m still a believer. Albers has been the most steady reliever in this pen not named Josh Hader. A lot of relievers in this pen have issues with walks, but Albers has been the best in that department in recent memory. I still think he’ll grab the lion’s share of save opportunities while Corey Knebel is shelved.
That’s it for me today. I don’t know how helpful a list is, but I mainly wanted to shout-out some guys I’m banking on right now, and hopeful for as the season wears on. Let me know if you think I missed someone!