Sunday May 22nd, 2016

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The Blue Jays mashed their way to the ALCS last year on the strength of the league’s best offense. With MVP Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion leading the way, the Blue Jays led the majors with a .344 wOBA and  891 runs scored. There was a larger runs gap between the Blue Jays and second-place Yankees (127 runs) than the Yankees and 26th-place Reds. No offense could approach Toronto’s last year.

It has been a dramatic reversal of fortune this season. The Blue Jays are 20th in wOBA (.312) and tied for 17th in runs (168). The team certainly couldn’t plan for Encarnacion falling to a .241/.311/.451 slash, or Bautista’s slugging percentage dipping to .458. Neck spasms have played a part in Russell Martin’s production falling off a cliff, another unforeseen downturn.

Some of the holes in Toronto’s lineup, however, were predictable. The most obvious was at second base, where Ryan Goins and Darwin Barney have combined for a .212/.256/.294 slash line and a .245 wOBA that is 29th in the league, ahead of only Padres second basemen. As good as both Goins and Barney are with the glove, it’s clear the Blue Jays need more offense out of the second base position. The good news is there are reinforcements on the way, for both them and fantasy owners.

Fantasy
Jackie Bradley Jr.’s adjusted swing playing a huge role in hitting streak

Devon Travis, who had his 2015 season cut short and has been on the DL all of this season because of shoulder injury that required surgery, began a rehab assignment last week. He spent four games with High-A Dunedin, racking up five hits, including two doubles, in 16 plate appearances. He moved onto the last step Thursday before rejoining the Blue Jays, starting a rehab stint with Triple A Buffalo. In two games with the Bison, Travis is 3-for-9.

Travis was a big part of the Blue Jays offense in the first half last year before he first hit the DL with what was termed at the time as shoulder inflammation. He ended up missing 100 games because of the injury, but he was great when he was on the field. In 238 plate appearances, Travis hit .304/.361/.498 with eight homers, 18 doubles and 35 RBI. He started out as the team’s No. 9 hitter, but he ultimately hit his way to the top of the lineup.

• ​Hitting report: Carlos Gomez’s struggles may be here to stay

Whether or not he would be back at the top of the order this season isn’t of immediate concern. Michael Saunders is doing an excellent job as the team’s leadoff man, and it’s hard to imagine John Gibbons moving him out of that spot. Gibbons did say when Travis was making his way toward the start of his rehab assignment that Goins would remain the team’s primary starter, but that’s a lot easier to say weeks before you have to act on it.

In reality, it’s hard to imagine the Blue Jays keeping Travis’s bat on the bench when they so clearly need the help, both at second base specifically, and in their lineup generally. You don’t have much more time to stash him on your bench as he makes his way back to the majors. If you wait for the team to activate Travis before you add him, you’ll likely be too late.

Michael Saunders, OF, Blue Jays

Travis isn’t the only top-of-the-order Blue Jay of note. It has become impossible to explain why Saunders remains so available across the fantasy landscape. It must have something to do with the fact that he plays the deepest position, but he’s at the top, not bottom, of that pool. Saunders is hitting .315/.379/.562 with eight homers, 15 RBI and 22 runs, hitting mostly at the top of Toronto’s order. His injury history shouldn’t bother you when he’s healthy and the cost of acquiring him is only the worst player on your roster. Go get him now.

Kevin Gausman, SP, Orioles

Fantasy
Pitching report: When starters run dry, consider non-closer relievers

​Gausman is another player whose low ownership rate is hard to understand. Life in the AL East is tough on a pitcher, but Gausman is a former top prospect with an elite pedigree we’ve been waiting to see reach this level for a while. Now that he seems to be here, he’s more deserving of trust than the average pitcher who throws the ball this well over a six-start sample. Gausman has a 2.70 ERA, 3.31 FIP, 1.12 WHIP and 30 strikeouts in 36 2/3 innings. No matter your format, that’s a player you can use, especially when you consider that Gausman has had this ability within him since the Orioles made him the fourth overall pick in the 2012 amateur draft.

Nate Karns, SP, Mariners

Karns was the focus of our attention last week. We don’t need to give him that full spotlight again, but he remains available in about seven of every 10 leagues. Remember what we said about him a week ago. This is a pitcher who has fanned exactly one batter per inning over his last 193 frames. With that large a sample, we can be sure it isn’t a fluke. When it’s accompanied by a 3.59 ERA, 3.96 FIP and 1.28 WHIP, it becomes even more attractive. Karns is going to be a major plus in your league’s strikeout category, no matter what it is, while, at the very least, not hurting your rates. That’s the description of someone whose ownership rate should be double what it is.

• BELLER: Mets’ Matt Harvey still valuable despite middle-inning struggles

Trea Turner, 2B, Nationals

Turner’s days in the minors are undoubtedly numbered. The 22-year-old is hitting .321/.386/.474 with three homers and 15 steals at Triple-A Syracuse. Turner only has eligibility at second base for the time being, but when he gets the call from Washington he’ll be playing shortstop, as he has with Syracuse As good as Danny Espinosa is with the glove, the Nationals can’t keep putting his .203/.308/.293 bat in the lineup. Washington is in desperate need of another consistent hitter to join Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy. Turner is fully capable of providing that bat. We should see him in the bigs sometime in June, making him a great player to stash now.

Cameron Maybin, OF, Tigers

MLB
Amid hitting streak, red-hot Bradley Jr. shows new hitting approach

​Maybin returned from the DL last week and immediately started hitting for the Tigers. In his first five games, he went 11-for-17 with a homer, two RBI, five runs and four steals. It’s pretty safe to say he’s fully healthy, and he should be in Detroit’s lineup mostly every day. We know what Maybin is at this stage of his career, and while he’s not going to be the guy who makes or breaks your team, he brings a solid power and speed combination. There’s room for Maybin on a roster in nearly all leagues with at least 12 teams, and he should be owned across the board in leagues that go deeper than that.

Jhonny Peralta, SS, Cardinals

Peralta began a rehab assignment with Low A Peoria this weekend, a sign that he’s getting close to joining the Cardinals. Peralta tore a ligament in his thumb in spring training, opening a hole in the St. Louis lineup that Aledmys Diaz has filled quite adeptly. That explains why Peralta will play third, in addition to short, during his rehab assignment. No matter where he is on the field, it’s safe to say that Peralta will be out there every day once he makes it through his rehab.  Peralta has been a top-10 shortstop both of the last two seasons, and hit a combined .278/.341/.435 with an average of 16 homers, 31 doubles and 67 RBI from 2013 through 2015. That’s a useful player in all formats, especially if he adds third base eligibility.

Trayce Thompson, OF, Dodgers

Fantasy
Dexter Fowler’s patience at the plate paying dividends for fantasy owners

Thompson has used his pop to bully his way into a more consistent role in the Dodgers lineup. He has six homers and 14 RBI in his last 13 games, pushing his slash line to .281/.347/.573. Thompson has started six straight games for the Dodgers, and Dave Roberts doesn’t exactly have the luxury of forcing a bat like Thompson’s to the bench on a regular basis. For now, Thompson is only a recommended add in deeper leagues, but he could turn into a player for owners in all formats in the not-too-distant future.

Mallex Smith, OF, Braves

Smith is a target for owners in deep leagues, showing enough counting-stat ability to make him attractive in those formats. The 23-year-old has three homers and six steals in 110 plate appearances, though those numbers have been a bit offset by a .240/.280/.420 slash line. Smith was never much of a power hitter in the minors, but he does project as a 30-base stealer in the majors. He should play every day for the Braves, given that he’s one of the few guys on the roster who could actually be a key piece when they’re ready to compete again for a playoff spot. That opportunity combined with the power and speed he has displayed make him a solid add in leagues with at least 14 teams.

Tyler Glasnow, SP, Pirates

Jameson Taillon, SP, Pirates

It won’t be long now before both Glasnow and Taillon are in the majors. Glasnow allowed one run on four hits with five strikeouts in six innings in a win over Colorado Springs (Rockies) his last time out. Taillon was even better in his most recent trip to the mound, fanning eight batters over six shutout innings in a win over that same Colorado Springs team. The word out of Pittsburgh is that Taillon would likely be the first to get the call, but with Jeff Locke, Jon Niese and, to a lesser extent, Juan Nicasio struggling, both of Pittsburgh’s elite pitching prospects should be with the team sooner rather than later.

Erasmo Ramirez, SP/RP, Rays

Darren O’Day, RP, Orioles

David Phelps, RP, Mariners

Seung-hwan Oh, RP, Cardinals

All of these high-volume, high-strikeout relievers should be owned in far more leagues, as we explained in last week’s Pitching Report. Relievers who get as much work, while striking out as many batters, as these four do can effectively replace a starting pitcher, especially in deeper leagues. Pairing a few of them together can come close to duplicating the numbers of a top-30 starting pitcher, without the wins.

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