It takes a lot for us to hand over the focus of the Waiver Wire column to someone with four plate appearances in a season. Really, it requires a perfect storm. That player must have the pedigree of an elite prospect. He has to have forced his way to the majors through his play, not his reputation. His organization needs to have someone at his position in the majors who isn’t getting the job done. And, finally, it needs to make both competitive and, likely more importantly, future financial sense for the team to promote him to the show.
Those stars have aligned in Washington. The Nationals finally did the right thing by promoting Trea Turner from Triple A Syracuse on Friday.
Turner unquestionably has the pedigree. San Diego made him the 13th overall pick in the 2014 amateur draft after he starred for three years at North Carolina State. He quickly rose through the minor league ranks, with both the Padres and Nationals, and entered this season as the No. 9 prospect in the game, according to Baseball America.
Turner is undoubtedly forcing his way to the majors by virtue of his play. He earned a cup of coffee with the Nationals last year, hitting .225/.295/.325 in 44 plate appearances. We may never see him hit that poorly again. The 22-year-old (he turns 23 at the end of June) is slashing .314/.378/.479 in 218 plate appearances with Syracuse. He has three homers, 13 doubles, five triples and an impressive 9.6% walk rate, a jump of three percentage points from last season. Turner has swiped 16 bases without being caught once, flashing what might be his best skill. That he can get on base so consistently to take advantage of it makes him an ideal top-of-the-order hitter.
Turner’s organization certainly has someone at his position who isn’t getting the job done. Danny Espinosa brings a top-level glove to the most important spot on the field. He ranks fourth among shortstops in Fangraphs defensive rating, trailing only Brandon Crawford, Nick Ahmed and Freddy Galvis. In previous eras, elite defense would be enough for someone to hold onto a starting shortstop gig. That isn’t the case in 2016.
Espinosa is hitting .199/.292/.352 in 198 plate appearances this year. Outside of the occasional home run—he has left the yard eight times—he hasn’t provided the Washington offense with much of anything. His .277 wOBA is the 14th lowest among regulars, most of whom, like Espinosa, are on the field because of their defense. Fortunately for them, their organizations don’t have a player like Turner hitting everything in sight at the highest level of the minors just weeks shy of his 23rd birthday.
Clearly, it makes competitive sense for the Nationals to promote Turner. He wouldn’t just replace Espinosa in the lineup, but could also provide some much-needed production at the top of the order. Washington leadoff men, mostly Ben Revere and Michael Taylor, have the lowest collective wOBA in the majors. The team’s No. 2 hitters, almost entirely Anthony Rendon, are 17th in wOBA. Dusty Baker famously doesn’t trust young hitters, but he did hit Turner second in his first game of the season. How much that has to do with Ryan Zimmerman’s absence, while he is on the paternity list, remains to be seen, but if he sticks at the top of the order in front of Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy, he’s going to have enviable run-scoring upside.
Finally, it now also makes future financial sense for the Nationals to bring up Turner. Remember that cup of coffee he had last year that we referenced earlier? Thanks to that, had the Nationals promoted him before May 30, he would have racked up enough service time to become a free agent after the 2021 season. By keeping him in the minors until June, the Nationals have ensured team control through 2022.
Turner only provides eligibility at second base in most leagues, but he’ll soon pick up shortstop eligibility, meaning he can solve issues at two positions that can be real headaches for fantasy owners. He may not be just the cure for Washington’s shortstop woes, but your middle infield ones, as well.
Matt Shoemaker, SP, Angels
Shoemaker has completely turned around his season in his last three trips to the mound. In strong outings against the Orioles, Astros and Tigers, Shoemaker struck out a total of 31 batters while walking none in 22 2/3 innings. He has traded in his fastball for a splitter as his foundation pitch, and that seems to have made all the difference. Shoemaker was a chic sleeper pick last season after a strong ’14 campaign, but he struggled all year. He’s realizing that potential now.
Danny Duffy, SP, Royals
The Royals have been getting Duffy stretched out over the last month or so, extending him to 75 pitches in both of his last two starts. We’ll be focusing on Duffy in this week’s Pitching Report, so we don’t want to give too much of that away here. For purposes of the Waiver Wire, understand that Duffy brings strikeout-per-inning upside with, at the worst, neutral rates. He didn’t allow a run in his first 12 1/3 innings as a starter, and notched a quality start in his last outing, a win over the Rays.
Archie Bradley, SP, Diamondbacks
Have things clicked for Bradley? It certainly seems that way, judging by his last two starts. After dominating at Triple A Reno, posting a 1.99 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 47 strikeouts in 40 2/3 innings, Bradley rejoined the Arizona rotation in late May. He first impressed against the Padres, allowing three runs while striking out nine in 7 1/3 innings. A good outing against the hapless Padres, however, isn’t enough to make a pitcher a Waiver Wire target. Bradley turned himself into one in his next start by striking out 10 Cubs and allowing one run on four hits in six innings. He’s still just 23 years old and has all the promise that comes with being one of the best pitching prospects in the game. If he has figured things out, he’ll be a monster addition for any fantasy team.
Devon Travis, 2B, Blue Jays
We’ve covered Travis a lot in this space over the last few weeks, so there’s no reason to repeat all his charms. He hit his first homer of the season on Friday, and is now 8 for 34 with a steal in his 37 plate appearances. We know what Travis is, and when he starts hitting he’s going to move to the top of the Toronto order. He has the ceiling to be a top-five second baseman.
Leonys Martin, OF, Mariners
Martin’s expected to come off the DL when eligible next week. When he does, he’ll be resuming a breakout season in which he’s slashing .262/.339/.483 with nine homers and eight steals. Right before Martin went on the DL, we discussed why there’s plenty of reason to believe in his power surge this season, largely thanks to a refined swing and more aggressive approach. The speed has always been his calling card. Put the two together, and you have a cheap outfielder who could be one of the league’s few 20/20 players this season.
Denard Span, OF, Giants
Span is a bit more attractive in OBP leagues where his high walk rate is an asset, but he’s a guy who should still be able to find a home in most formats. He leads off for a San Francisco offense that may not draw any comparisons to the Red Sox or Cubs, but is still in the top half of the league in wOBA. He’s hitting .263 with a .358 OBP, seven steals and 25 runs in 249 plate appearances, basically following the script he has written for himself his entire career. There’s plenty of room for a guy who’s going to contribute significantly to runs, steals and OBP.
Rajai Davis, OF, Indians
Davis will be in Cleveland’s starting lineup every day, so long as Michael Brantley is on the DL with a shoulder injury. The 35-year-old is hitting .262/.333/.411 with five homers and 12 steals in 186 plate appearances. Davis’s modest power and elite speed has always made him a guy who’d be owned for a week here and a week there by multiple owners in various fantasy formats. Now that he has a line on an everyday job, at least for the time being, he can stick on rosters.
Nick Hundley, C, Rockies
Hundley returned from the concussion DL on Friday and promptly picked up three hits in his second game. Hundley has plenty of pop and a home in the Colorado offense. That’s enough to make anyone intriguing, but especially a catcher on this season’s landscape. Hundley hit .301/.339/.467 with 10 homers, 21 doubles and 47 RBI in 389 plate appearances last season. Unless you own Buster Posey, Jonathan Lucroy or Wilson Ramos, Hundley could be an easy upgrade at catcher.
Trayce Thompson, OF, Dodgers
The Dodgers’ outfield remains crowded, but Dave Roberts simply has to find room for Thompson’s bat. He hit two more homers late in the week, and is now up to nine bombs and a .571 slugging percentage on the season. In Saturday’s 4–0 win over the Braves, Thompson drew three walks, pushing his OBP to .353. The Dodgers cannot ignore a hitter with that sort of power and plate discipline, nor should they bench a guy who’s a key piece of their future. With more playing time almost certainly on the docket, Thompson is relevant in all fantasy formats.
Jameson Taillon, SP, Pirates
Tyler Glasnow, SP, Pirates
Now that we’ve turned the calendar to June, we should be getting very close to seeing one, if not both, of these prospects in the majors. Taillon tossed 6 1/3 strong innings in his last start, a no-decision against Toledo (Tigers). He allowed three runs on five hits, striking out seven while walking one. Glasnow threw five shutout, no-hit innings against Rochester (Twins) his last time out, though he did struggle with his command. He walked four batters in the start, and has now issued 29 walks in 61 innings this season, 16 of which have come in his last five starts and 28 frames. Spring training darling Juan Nicasio appears to be the odd man out when Taillon or Glasnow gets the call.
Hector Neris, RP, Phillies
Will Harris, RP, Astros
David Phelps, RP, Marlins
Kelvin Herrera, RP, Royals
Pedro Strop, RP, Cubs
Darren O’Day, RP, Orioles
Ryan Butcher, RP, Padres
Nate Jones, RP, White Sox
These pitchers are 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.