SI's Michael Beller explains why Jhonny Peralta is an underrated pickup option at shortstop as he nears his return with the Cardinals.
The Cardinals had precious few options when Jhonny Peralta suffered a torn thumb ligament on his glove hand in spring training, and none of them seemed good. They went out and signed Ruben Tejada two weeks before the season started, but he suffered a strained quad the final day of March that forced him to start the season on the DL. The Cardinals’ Opening Day shortstop was second baseman Jedd Gyorko. It was clear, at least then, that the Cardinals were desperately counting down the days until Peralta’s return.
In the team’s second game of the year, Aledmys Diaz got his first start at shortstop. He went 1 for 3 in a nondescript performance. He didn’t appear in another game until that weekend, when he hit a solo homer in a pinch-hitting appearance in a win over the Braves. He started the next day and went 2 for 5 with a triple, two walks and an RBI. Diaz and the Cardinals essentially haven’t looked back.
Two months into the season, Diaz is one of the greatest surprises in the majors, and is on the short list of early candidates for NL Rookie of the Year. The 25-year-old is hitting .331/.361/.558 with six homers, 15 doubles and 24 RBI. Diaz has hit his way to the No. 2 spot in the Cardinals order, and it’s clear that he’s not going to lose his starting spot any time soon.
“But wait,” you say. “I thought this was a waiver wire column. Diaz is already owned in all competitive leagues. Have you lost your mind?” Thank you for your concern, but I have full control over my mental faculties. I’m not talking about adding Diaz. I’m talking about adding Peralta.
Diaz is, of course, locked into a spot in the Cardinals everyday lineup. No team could afford to willingly bench the sort of bat Diaz has provided this season. At the same time, he isn’t exactly conjuring up memories of Ozzie Smith in the field. The 34-year-old Peralta doesn’t have the range he once did, but he still has a pair of the surest hands in the game. If Peralta gets to a grounder, he’s going to make the play. The Cardinals could use some of that defensive stability at shortstop.
The odd man out appears to be Kolten Wong, he of the .243/.331/.318 slash line. Peralta may get a day off here and there when he first returns (and on Sunday the Cardinals said his return will be slightly delayed after he cut his thumb), but sooner than later Mike Matheny will have him at short every single day. When that happens, Diaz will slide to second and Wong will have a seat on the bench.
Let’s get back to the actual subject of this waiver wire recommendation. Peralta spent the weekend rehabbing at Double-A Springfield, signaling that an activation from the DL should be right around the corner. He was a top-10 shortstop in 2014 and ’15, and the only reason he wasn’t in ’13 was because of injuries that robbed him of 55 games. Over the last three seasons, he has slashed .278/.341/.435 with a average of 16 homers, 31 doubles and 67 RBI per season, and that includes the time he missed three years ago. That could be music to some owners’ ears.
The shortstop pool is deeper this season than it has been in a long time. Xander Bogaerts, Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor have already turned into stars. Manny Machado now carries shortstop eligibility. Trevor Story and Diaz burst onto the fantasy scene this year, while Ian Desmond and Jean Segura are enjoying bounceback campaigns. Add in Corey Seager, Jonathan Villar, Brandon Crawford and Addison Russell, and it becomes clear that most owners aren’t hurting too bad at the position. Still, Peralta is a good bet to be a top-10 shortstop from this point forward. He should be grabbed immediately in nearly all formats, and push a 100% ownership rate in leagues with a middle infield starting position.
Devon Travis, 2B, Blue Jays
Travis was the focus of last week’s waiver wire column when he had just come off the DL. He has five hits, including a double, in his first 17 at-bats, and four strikeouts against zero walks. We’re not necessarily concerned with his production right off the bat, especially with his shoulder appearing fully healthy. Travis hit .304/.361/.498 with eight homers in 239 plate appearances with the Blue Jays last season, and manager John Gibbons said he’d move to the top of the order when he starts hitting. Leading off for Toronto’s potent offense would give Travis top-five upside at the position.
Leonys Martin, OF, Mariners
We may have jinxed Martin with our in-depth breakdown of the changes he has made to turn into a completely different hitter this season given that he hit the DL with a hamstring injury a few hours after that column was published. Still, he’s not expected to be on the DL longer than the minimum two weeks, and you’ll be happy to have him once he’s back. Martin is one of just three players with at least eight homers and steals. The other two are Jose Altuve and Mookie Betts. We know the speed is real, and it looks like the power is, as well.
Rajai Davis, OF, Indians
Davis has always been a productive fantasy player in a part-time role. He’s one of those guys that everyone has owned for a week or two in a season, or picked up for a weekend hunting for steals. He now has something with Cleveland he has rarely had in his career, and that’s an everyday gig. Davis is unlikely to help much in your rate categories, but he already has 11 steals and five homers. There’s enough to like with respect to counting stats to make Davis an attractive fantasy commodity.
Eduardo Nunez, 3B/SS, Twins
It’s impossible to figure out why Nunez is still available in about six of every 10 leagues. The 28-year-old is hitting .333/.363/.510 with five homers, nine doubles, eight steals, 20 RBI and 20 runs. He’s one of five players to reach all of those thresholds, with Carlos Correa joining the power/speed combo guys we talked about earlier in our Martin suggestion. He gives you eligibility at third base and shortstop, which means he can cover four positions in leagues with corner and middle infield starters.
Matt Adams, 1B, Cardinals
For at least the time being, Adams is healthy, and he finally resembles the hitter he was in 2013. Through 110 plate appearances, Adams is slashing .327/.382/.574 with six homers, seven doubles and 23 RBI. Adams burned fantasy owners both of the last two seasons, but last year he was beset by injuries, and in 2014 he still hit a respectable .288/.321/.457. The power is legit, and Adams is in the middle of the St. Louis lineup every day. Get in while you can.
Matt Wisler, SP, Braves
Wisler isn’t going to get you many wins, and he doesn’t have a ton of strikeout upside. There’s plenty of room, however, on a fantasy roster in basically every league for a starting pitcher with a 3.08 ERA, 3.77 FIP and 1.03 WHIP in 61 1/3 innings. The lack of strikeouts keeps his value low enough that he’s not a must-own pitcher in shallower leagues, but those of you in leagues with at least 14—and potentially 12—teams should take a look at him.
Danny Duffy, SP, Royals
Duffy’s transitioning back to the Kansas City rotation, making three starts after appearing 16 times as a reliever this season. He was having his best start of the year over the weekend against the White Sox, shutting them out for five innings while fanning a batter per frame. He fell apart in the sixth, allowing three singles and two homers in the inning before being removed, but there was enough good to be encouraged. Duffy’s worth adding in all leagues with at least 14 teams.
Jameson Taillon, SP, Pirates
Tyler Glasnow, SP, Pirates
Blake Snell, SP, Rays
Taillon was excellent in his last trip to the mound, shutting out Colorado Springs (Rockies) for six innings, fanning eight batters and allowing five hits. Glasnow, meanwhile, wasn’t quite as good in a win over Pawtucket (Red Sox), surrendering two runs on five hits and three walks in six innings. He struck out six batters in the outing, giving him 69 in 56 innings this season. We’re going to see both in Pittsburgh before long, making them pitchers worth stashing right now. We’ve already seen Snell in the show for a spot start this year, one in which he shut down the Yankees, limiting them to one run on two hits with six strikeouts in five innings. The Rays sent Snell back to Triple-A Durham, but it’s likely that he, too, isn’t long for the minors. Taillon and Glasnow are both higher-priority adds, but Snell is another pitcher worth stashing if you miss out on the Pittsburgh righties.
Hector Neris, RP, Phillies
Will Harris, RP, Astros
David Phelps, RP, Marlins
Kelvin Herrera, RP, Royals
Darren O’Day, RP, Orioles
Ryan Butcher, RP, Padres
Nate Jones, RP, White Sox
These pitchers all fall in the same category of high-usage, high-strikeout, low-rate relievers. None of them close, but they still provide a lot of value, even in leagues that don’t use holds. They’re listed here from highest to lowest priority.