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Nothing has turned out the way it was supposed to for Jon Gray after he was the third overall pick in the 2013 amateur draft. Selected one spot after Kris Bryant, Gray was expected to be just as good just as quickly as the Cubs third baseman. Instead command issues in Triple-A kept him in the minors longer than expected, and they carried right over to his nine-start debut season with the Rockies last year. At just 24 years old, there were already concerns that Gray would never turn into a pitcher worthy of being the third overall pick in any year’s draft.
Gray began this season on the DL with an abdominal strain, making two rehab starts with High-A Modesto before rejoining Colorado’s rotation. He made his first start of the season on Friday against the Dodgers at Coors Field, and while he gave up five runs in five innings, that was not the most important development. Gray fanned 10 batters, showing the dominant stuff that made him such a high pick three years ago. His fastball, which was always his calling card, averaged 95.8 mph and reached into the upper-90s. He got eight empty swings on 25 sliders, good for a 32% whiff rate.
What’s more, Gray really settled down once he got beyond a rocky start. After the first four batters of the game, the Dodgers led 3-0 on the strength of homers by Corey Seager and Adrian Gonzalez. He surrendered four more hits and two more runs the rest of the way, with both of those coming in his final inning. Immediately before allowing three consecutive singles in the fifth that resulted in those two runs, he stuck out seven of nine batters.
Any pitcher who strikes out 10 batters in a start, much less in five innings, should catch the eye of the entire fantasy community. When it’s a pitcher with Gray’s pedigree, you should stop what you’re doing and check if he’s available in your league. Gray doesn’t yet deserve our full trust. Even if you add him, you won’t want to use him in every start, and should always think twice about activating him when he’s at Coors. Still, Gray showed signs in that first start that he’s finally beginning to break through in the majors. If that’s the case, he’ll be a profitable pitcher in all fantasy formats this year.
Jarrod Dyson, OF, Royals (Mixed: $6, AL-only: $12)
The Royals activated Dyson from the disabled list last week after he missed the start of the year with an oblique injury. He promptly got five hits and stole two bases in his first five games. Dyson has been a key contributor to Kansas City’s back-to-back AL pennant-winning teams, but he has never been a regular in the lineup. That changes this season, with Dyson holding down the regular right field gig. He’s going to hit at the bottom of the order, but that’s really the only knock against him. He has a ton of speed and will be unleashed on the bases. His plate appearances might be limited, but he’ll still score plenty of runs with the top of the order coming up behind him. Over the last four years, Dyson has swiped 126 bags with the benefit of just 1,084 plate appearances. That’s one steal in ever 8.6 trips to the plate. He could easily steal 50 bases playing every day.
Drew Pomeranz, SP, Padres (Mixed: $5, NL-only: Owned)
Pomeranz is clearly enjoying life back in the National League. In his first three starts with the Padres, covering 17 2/3 innings, the 27-year-old righty has allowed four earned runs on 11 hits, striking out 25 and walking nine. His velocity is actually down from where it was last year, which is usually a troubling sign. Pomeranz has made it work thanks in large part to a greater reliance on his curveball. He’s throwing it a bit more than 37% of the time and getting a whiff rate of 18.1%. On top of that, hitters have swung at and missed his fastball more than 17% of the time, so even though it’s coming in at about 91 mph, it still has plenty of movement. Even when he was pitching mostly as a reliever the last few seasons, he was striking out just shy of a batter per inning. There’s more than enough evidence to buy into Pomeranz as a breakout starter this season.
Yasmani Grandal, C, Dodgers (Mixed $5, NL-only: Owned)
Grandal missed the first few weeks of the season with a forearm strain, which is the only reason he’s so widely available in fantasy leagues. He has played nine games since coming off the DL, and is 8-for-21 with four doubles, four RBI and an excellent 7 to 1 walk-to-strikeout ratio. Grandal boasts a .536 OBP through 28 plate appearances, and that number alone should open eyes across the fantasy community. Grandal has always been willing to take a walk, posting a .353 OBP last year despite a .234 batting average. He also has 31 homers over the last two seasons. Given his plate discipline, pop and role in Los Angeles, there’s no doubt that he’ll be a top-12 catcher.
Jake Lamb, 3B, Diamondbacks (Mixed: $5, NL-only: Owned)
Lamb is off to a strong start this year, though that is nothing new for him. He had a great April in 2015, but a foot injury limited him to 390 plate appearances and torpedoed his production when he was on the field. He’s showing us what he can do when he’s fully healthy, hitting .290/.366/.532 with two homers, seven doubles, 10 RBI and eight walks in 71 trips to the plate. We all know how great it is to be a Diamondback, because of both the lineup around you and the ballpark you get to call home. Lamb hits in the middle of that lineup and is flashing more power than he did last year. A return to health looks good on the 25-year-old. He’s going to be a fantasy factor all season.
Chris Carter, 1B, Brewers (Mixed: $5, NL-only: Owned)
Last week, we said the following of Carter in this very space:
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.
Since then, Carter is 7-for-23 with two homers, three doubles and eight RBI. His slash line for the season sits at a cool .281/.353/.667, and yet he still can’t seem to get a bite in too many fantasy leagues. Looking for cheap power? There’s nowhere cheaper to find it than the waiver wire. Acquiring Carter will only cost you the worst player on your roster, and he is going to hit at least 25 more homers the rest of the season.
Odubel Herrera, OF, Phillies (Mixed: $6, NL-only: Owned)
I knew I’d be including Herrera in this week’s Waiver Wire for a few days. Still, when I typed his name into the inimitable Baseball Reference, I was taken aback by one stat. I was so surprised, in fact, that I checked a few other sources to make sure it was right. When the number checked out, I became stunned that Herrera is so widely available. That number? Herrera leads the majors with 17 walks this season. Other players in the top five include Jose Bautista (16), Chris Davis (15) and Paul Goldschmidt (15). Herrera talked about how improved plate discipline was a goal of his in spring training, and that has certainly come to fruition. It’s entirely possible for Herrera to post an OBP in the high-.300s with upwards of 30 steals. There’s room for someone like that on a roster in all fantasy formats.
Anthony DeSclafani, SP, Reds (Mixed: $2, NL-only: $7)
DeSclafani, who is on the DL with an oblique strain, made his first rehab start of the year on Saturday. He allowed three runs on five hits and a walk in four innings, but, as is always the case with a pitcher on a rehab assignment, the results didn’t much matter. DeSclafani did not report any issues with the oblique during or after the start, keeping him on track to rejoin the Cincinnati rotation in early May. He turned in a fantasy-relevant season as a 25-year-old last year, posting a 4.05 ERA, 3.67 FIP, 1.35 WHIP and 151 strikeouts in 184 2/3 innings. DeSclafani isn’t going to be the missing piece of the puzzle for any fantasy team, but there’s a place for him in all but the shallowest of leagues.
Jose Berrios, SP, Twins (Mixed: $4, AL-only: Owned)
Tyler Glasnow, SP, Pirates (Mixed: $3, NL-only: $8)
Lucas Giolito, SP, Nationals (Mixed: $2, NL-only: $6)
Let’s check in on this season’s Great Triumvirate of pitching prospects, which we will do every week in this space until further notice. Berrios made his third start of the season last Thursday, going seven shutout innings and surrendering just two hits while striking out seven and walking one. He’s now 2-0 with a 1.06 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and 20 strikeouts in 17 innings. Glasnow also took the ball for the third time of the year on Thursday, and the results for him weren’t quite as good. Louisville (Reds) touched him up for four runs on six hits and three walks in five innings. His ERA climbed to 3.60 from 1.80, and his WHIP now sits at 1.27. Don’t forget, however, about the 19 strikeouts he has racked up in 15 innings. Giolito, who, remember, is still in Double-A, made his third start Friday, allowing two runs on five hits and four walks in four innings. It was easily his worst start of the season, and came just one day before Tanner Roark struck out a career-high 15 batters in a win over the Twins. It’s only a matter of time before we see Berrios. Glasnow and Giolito should be up this season, too, though their respective timetables are a lot harder to figure.
Caleb Cotham, RP, Reds (Mixed: $1, NL-only: $3)
Tony Cingrani, RP, Reds (Mixed: $1, NL-only: $2)
The Reds bullpen is a complete mess, even after Bryan Price mercifully removed J.J. Hoover from ninth-inning duty. Keeping Hoover in the closer’s chair was not an option after he gave up two more runs and his third homer of the year in an eventual win over Colorado last Tuesday. Cingrani and Cotham figure to get save chances in the future, but Price has said the team will go with a committee approach in the ninth, and neither has inspired much confidence. Cingrani has always had command issues, which first forced him out of the rotation and continue to undermine his electric stuff. Cotham has allowed 15 baserunners while striking out just six batters in 9 2/3 innings this season. As bad as that is, he has been more effective than Cingrani. This is a situation you only want to approach if you’re desperate for saves.