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The Cubs have plenty of ways to cover Kyle Schwarber’s injury, and they just got another back over the weekend when Javier Baez returned from the DL. There’s no doubt, however, that the best-case scenario for the Cubs includes Jorge Soler slugging his way into a regular role as the team’s left fielder.
Soler has started seven of the eight games the team has played since losing Schwarber, going 7-for-23 with two homers, four RBI, three walks and four strikeouts. Also of note is that Soler has scored six runs in those eight games in this powerful Cubs offense. Any avenue of investment you can find in the Cubs is a good one, and Soler is one of the few left on a good amount of waiver wires.
Months after the Cubs drafted Schwarber, Soler looked like he was going to be the masher who they stuck in a corner outfield position. In 97 plate appearances with the Cubs at the end of 2014, Soler racked up 26 hits, including five homers and eight doubles. He drove in 20 runs, walked six times, and appeared to be on his way to being an impact bat in the middle of the order. He dealt with injury and uneven performance in his first full season with the team, slashing .262/.324/.399 in 404 plate appearances last season. Soler was slated for a platoon role with the Cubs this year, until Schwarber’s season-ending knee injury forced the deepest team in the majors to tap into its reserves.
Soler is a bit more than 50%-owned, so he doesn’t quite qualify for this week’s waiver wire adds, but his ownership rate is low enough that we must highlight his candidacy. He’ll frequently be lifted for a late-inning defensive replacement in games the Cubs are winning; that has happened in five of the seven games he has started since the team lost Schwarber. That will cost him a handful of plate appearances over the course of the season, but it won’t matter if he’s achieving the potential he first showed with the Cubs back in 2014. Even with Baez back, the Cubs want Soler to prove to them that he should be starting every day. If he does that, he’ll be a worthy starter in all fantasy formats.
Chris Carter, 1B, Brewers (Mixed: $6, NL-only: Owned)
Carter is off to a great start with the Brewers, hitting .300/.389/.733 with three homers and seven RBI in 40 plate appearances. He plays every day and hits in the middle of the order. Coming into this season, he averaged 34 homers per 162 games in his career. So long Carter stays healthy, there’s no way he falls short of 30 home runs this year. The batting average and OBP won’t stay anywhere near their current levels, but if he remains neutral in his rates, he’s going to be a profitable player. He’s still widely available, which is hard to explain, but good news for the active fantasy owner.
Wilson Ramos, C, Nationals (Mixed: $3, NL-only: Owned)
Has the oft-discussed Ramos breakout finally arrived? If you’ve been playing fantasy baseball since 2011, chances are you’ve bought into the idea that Ramos was on the verge of becoming the next great offensive catcher in baseball. Since then, he has played 100 games in a season just twice, and has put up largely subpar numbers when he has been healthy. You might be hesitant to buy in again, but Ramos is hitting the way so many in the fantasy community believed he could for since that big rookie year of 2011. He’s 14-for-36 with a homer, three doubles and five RBI in eight games. If you need help at the always shaky catcher position, take a look at Ramos.
Joe Mauer, 1B, Twins (Mixed: $5, AL-only: Owned)
Mauer hasn’t hit .300 over a full season since 2013. We’ve seen only two weeks of the 2016 campaign, but Mauer has the look of a player getting back to that threshold. He’s 14-for-39 with six walks against just four strikeouts, putting up a .359/.447/.513 slash line through 11 games. Mauer only gives you eligibility at first base at this stage of his career, but remember that he’s just a few years removed from a .324/.404/.476 season. That’s plenty useful at any position.
Brandon Finnegan, SP, Reds (Mixed: $6, NL-only: Owned)
Finnegan opened some eyes when he struck out nine batters in a win over the Phillies in his first start of the season. He really got everyone’s attention when he held the Cubs hitless for 6 2/3 innings in what was eventually a Cincinnati loss. All told, the 23-year-old lefty has fanned 14 batters in 12 2/3 innings this year, allowing just four runs on four hits. The six walks are slightly concerning, but we can look the other way, especially since five of them were against the Cubs. Finnegan, the centerpiece of the Johnny Cueto deal last July, has secured himself a spot in the Cincinnati rotation. After his first two starts, he should be in a fantasy rotation in nearly all leagues, as well.
Jerad Eickhoff, SP, Phillies (Mixed: $5, NL-only: Owned)
Through two starts, Eickhoff has looked like a pitcher capable of building off his 2015 debut. He has been on the mound for 12 innings, allowing two earned runs on nine hits, striking out 12 and walking just two. Even when we account for one of those starts coming against the hapless Padres, Eickhoff has impressed this season. The strikeout upside is for real. Eickhoff fanned 49 batters in 51 innings with the Phillies last year, and that was after whiffing 93 in 101 2/3 frames at Triple-A Round Rock. That alone makes him worth grabbing in all fantasy formats. The fact that he’ll regularly get to face NL East offenses isn’t a bad cherry on top of his waiver wire case.
Jose Berrios, SP, Twins (Mixed: $3, AL-only: $10)
Tyler Glasnow, SP, Pirates (Mixed: $3, NL-only: $10)
Lucas Giolito, SP, Nationals (Mixed: $3, NL-only: $8)
This triumvirate of prospects will appear in this space until we see their ownership rates climb to levels where it’s clear that they’re on rosters in all leagues where they’re eligible. Berrios figures to get the call first, especially since there’s no one really blocking him in the Minnesota rotation, but all will almost certainly be up at some point this summer. All three will also be immediately relevant in all fantasy leagues the moment they get the call, but you don’t want to wait for that promotion to happen before adding them to your roster. At that point, it will likely be too late. Berrios… Glasnow whiffed six in five innings in his first start, allowing one run on three hits. Giolito is still at the Double-A level, but has looked good, fanning four batters and surrendering just one hit in four innings. All are worth adding, in the order listed above.
Kevin Jepsen, RP, Twins (Mixed: $8, AL-only: $13)
Trevor May, RP, Twins (Mixed: $0, AL-only: $2)
Jepsen has received first crack at the closer’s job in Minnesota since Glen Perkins hit the DL, converting both of his opportunities. In his two games in the closer’s chair, Jepsen hasn’t allowed a run or a hit, striking out two batters and issuing a pair of free passes. He has been an effective middle reliever and setup man for most of his career, but has never hasn’t had a real shot at being a full-time closer, save for a brief time with the Twins last year. May is looming, and might be the more talented pitcher, but Jepsen can firm his grip on the job with a few more strong outings at the start of his ninth-inning tenure.
Javier Baez, 2B/3B/SS, Cubs (Mixed: $3, NL-only: $6)
Baez returned from a thumb injury over the weekend, making his 2016 debut on Saturday. He played second base and went 2-for-4 with a double and a run scored. He did strike out two times, so that old bugaboo is still part of his game, but he’s going to get plenty of at-bats with Kyle Schwarber out for the season. Joe Maddon loves using Tommy La Stella against lefties to get some of his regulars a rest, but Baez’s defensive versatility is going to turn him into a favorite of his manager’s, similar to the way Ben Zobrist was able to work his way into Maddon’s heart when the two were together in Tampa. His unlimited power at the plate is what makes him intriguing in fantasy leagues.
Ryan Madson, RP, A’s (Mixed $5, AL-only: $9)
Bob Melvin seems to get it. Rather than locking nominal closer Sean Doolittle into a ninth-inning role, he has used him in high-leverage situations, regardless of when they happen. That has opened the door for Madson to vulture a three saves this season, the most recent of which came on Saturday. Even without the saves, Madson is valuable thanks to his strikeout upside and generally reliable rates. Over the last three seasons, Madson has a 2.34 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 184 strikeouts in 177 innings.
Darren O’Day, RP, Orioles (Mixed: $4, AL-only: $9)
Anyone who’s interested in Madson should also take a look at O’Day. The Orioles setup man isn’t likely to get many save chances without an injury to Zach Britton, but he is one of the best non-closer relievers in the majors. Dating back to 2009, O’Day has been a lockdown setup man, posting a 2.07 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 402 strikeouts in 400 1/3 innings. O’Day hasn’t had a WHIP higher than 1.00 without injury being a factor since that 2009 campaign, which was his first year in the league. His fantastic rates and strikeout ability make him a worthwhile addition in all formats.
Matt Moore, SP, Rays (Mixed: $4, AL-only: Owned)
It was just three years ago that Moore was an All-Star and in the top 10 in Cy Young voting. In 2013, Moore went 17-4 with a 3.29 ERA, 3.95 FIP, 1.30 WHIP and 143 strikeouts in 150 1/3 innings that season and, at 24 years old, appeared to be on the verge of becoming a frontline starter. Including this year, he has made all of 16 starts since, due to Tommy John surgery. Moore’s injury history is the only reason he wasn’t more widely drafted, and it could have to do with why he’s been so lightly added, despite a couple of good outings this year. In two starts covering 12 innings, Moore has allowed four runs on 10 hits, fanning 11 and walking three. Even if he doesn’t get back to where he was in 2013, he’s a solid back-of-the-rotation pitcher in all fantasy formats.