At this point of the season, every fantasy writer would like to take a mulligan on one tout from spring training. I present to you my mulligan, from our outfield primer.
Sleeper: Randal Grichuk, St. Louis Cardinals
“…there’s so much to like here, especially since he can and will play center field for this team. In other words, his power and glove guarantee that he’ll have an everyday spot in the lineup. It’s possible more natural power is on the way, and if he couples that with improved plate discipline, he could hit 30 home runs this season.”
Whoops. Grichuk was so bad during the first half that the Cardinals sent him back to Triple A Memphis for a couple weeks. So yeah, I’m going to take a mulligan on that Grichuk call. And you know what? I’m going to use it to tout Grichuk once again.
When he was sent down, Grichuk was hitting .206/.276/.392 with eight homers, 54 strikeouts and 18 walks in 225 plate appearances. While those are dreadful numbers in any context, Grichuk’s strikeout and walk rates moved dramatically in the right direction. Before his demotion, he cut his strikeout rate to 24% from last year’s 31.4%, while bumping his walk rate to 8% from 6.3%.
There’s no way to spin Grichuk’s first-half experience. At the same time, you can’t simply dismiss those strikeout and walk numbers. Whiffs were the one element of Grichuk’s game that really threatened to undo him coming into this season. He slashed those significantly, while maintaining largely the same batted-ball rates, most importantly keeping his fly-ball rate and hard-hit rates up at 43% and 34.8%, respectively. He may have struggled mightily in the first half, but those improvements provided a necessary silver lining.
Grichuk played 15 games at Memphis, hitting .283 (15-for-53) with five homers, three doubles and 15 RBI. That earned him a quick promotion back to the majors, where he has resembled the player who mashed alongside the premier power hitters in the game last season. The Cardinals recalled him to on July 5, and he is 7-for-17 with a homer in five games since making his return. It doesn’t erase what happened the first three months of the season but, coupled with those improved strikeout and walk rates, it’s a start.
The Cardinals have been looking for an answer in center field all season, largely because of Grichuk’s terrible first half. The best answer to their woes would be Grichuk turning into the player they thought he was going to be this year. He’ll have every opportunity to do so as the team attempts to run down the Cubs while staying very much in the thick of the NL Wild Card race. Grichuk is well worth a shot in all formats where he was cut loose.
Brandon McCarthy, SP, Dodgers
McCarthy made his second start on Saturday since returning from Tommy John surgery, allowing three runs on three hits in five innings in a win over the Padres. He fanned six batters and walked three, giving him 14 strikeouts against four walks in 10 innings this season. From 2011 through ‘14, McCarthy totaled a 3.81 ERA, 3.44 FIP, 1.25 WHIP and 447 strikeouts in 616 2/3 innings. He’s a great staff filler in all fantasy formats.
Hyun-jin Ryu, Dodgers
Ryu was the focus of last week’s Waiver Wire column with his return from shoulder surgery seemingly right around the corner. He made his 2016 debut last week, allowing six runs on eight hits in 4 2/3 innings in a loss to the Padres. The results weren’t ideal, but Ryu was able to throw all his pitches while maintaining his pre-surgery velocity. At this stage, both of those are more important than results. No matter your league size, Ryu is well worth giving a tryout over the next few weeks. In his first two major league seasons, he amassed a 3.17 ERA, 2.97 FIP and 1.20 WHIP with 293 strikeouts in 344 innings.
Bud Norris, SP, Dodgers
It’s Dodger rotation week here on the Waiver Wire, with Norris rounding out a trio of pitchers who have arrived, or resurfaced in Los Angeles over the last two weeks. Norris has made two starts for the Dodgers since coming over in a trade from Atlanta, allowing three runs while striking out 13 batters in 11 innings. All told, he has a 3.98 ERA, 3.75 FIP, 1.32 WHIP and 60 strikeouts in 70 1/3 innings this year. Couple that with his new offense and bullpen, and plenty of owners in leagues with at least 12 teams should be able to find a home for him.
Zack Cozart, SS, Reds
Cozart is enjoying the finest season of his career, even if his ownership rate doesn’t reflect that. The 30-year-old shortstop has 14 homers—one shy of his career high—to go with 38 RBI, 49 runs and a .264/.314/.482 slash line. His rate hurts his owners in OBP leagues, but it’s no worse than neutral in batting average leagues, and you can live with either one out of a shortstop who’s on pace for more than 25 homers. Cozart could find himself on the trade block over the next few weeks, and a new home could alter his fantasy value, but for now he’s one of the most underappreciated middle infield assets in the fantasy game.
Devon Travis, 2B, Blue Jays
Speaking of underappreciated fantasy assets, how is Travis still available in seven of every 10 leagues? Here are some second basemen with higher ownership rates than Travis: Starlin Castro, Matt Duffy, Brandon Phillips and Joe Panik. Travis shouldn’t be anywhere near their ownership-rate neighborhood, let alone living in the worst house in that neighborhood. Let’s correct this sooner rather than later.
Cameron Maybin, OF, Tigers
All Maybin has done in his first season with the Tigers is hit and wreak havoc on the bases, totaling a .335/.395/.409 slash line with nine steals and 32 runs in 196 plate appearances. The average isn’t going to last, but the speed sure will, and if Maybin can keep drawing walks at a 9% rate, he’s going to be on base enough to really make a difference in the steals and runs categories. There should be a spot for him on a roster in all but the shallowest of leagues.
Marcus Semien, SS, A’s
As we’ve said every time Semien has made it into the Waiver Wire, this doesn’t require much explanation. He’s a shortstop on pace for 35 homers and 84 RBI. The rates are ugly, but he could very well be the only shortstop to reach both of those marks. That alone makes him well worth owning in all formats.
Yangervis Solarte, 1B/2B/3B, Padres
Would you believe Solarte is hitting .302/.382/.527 in 191 plate appearances this season? I do this for a living, and I hardly believe it. The versatile Padres infielder also has eight homers, 14 doubles and 35 RBI, and nearly as many walks (20) as strikeouts (25). The average isn’t likely to last all season, but he can give you enough in three categories (rate, homers, RBI), while qualifying at three positions. That’s someone who deserves to be owned in most leagues with at least 12 teams. The Padres would almost certainly at least listen to trade offers for him, and one thing he has going for him in San Diego he might not with a contender is an everyday spot in the lineup. Beware that possibility over the next three weeks.
Brandon Maurer, RP, Padres
Brandon Kintzler, RP, Twins
Tony Cingrani, RP, Reds
Joakim Soria, RP, Royals
These four newly or semi-newly minted closers all deserve your attention. None is exactly safe in his ninth-inning role, albeit for different reasons. Soria is simply keeping the seat warm for Wade Davis, and could split the job with Kelvin Herrera. Cingrani has been terrible at times this season, and could be a placeholder until the Reds feel Raisel Iglesias is ready for a shot at the closer’s gig. Maurer and Kintzler are favorites to remain the closer for their respective teams, but both could be removed with one bad stretch. In addition, Kintzler will undoubtedly be involved in trade talks leading up to the deadline, and any team that acquires him would be doing so to put him in a setup, not closing, role. Still, all four are closers for now, and that gives them all plenty of short-term value in all fantasy formats.
Alex Bregman, SS, Astros
There’s no telling when the Astros will promote Bregman to the majors. The only people who have an idea of the answer to that question are GM Jeff Luhnow and A.J. Hinch, and even they might not be exactly sure as to when it will happen. What we all know, however, is that Bregman isn’t going to spend this entire season, or even this entire summer, in the minors. After terrorizing Double A pitchers in half a season at Corpus Christi, Bregman moved up to Triple A Fresno where he hasn’t stopped hitting. He’s 14-for-36 with five homers, three doubles and 14 RBI in eight games. He has played shortstop in all eight of those games, but chances are we’ll see him at third base for the Astros upon his promotion. If and when Bregman’s penciled in at third with Fresno, that will be a sure sign that his promotion is around the corner. Once he gets to Houston, he’ll be immediately relevant in all fantasy leagues.
Max Kepler, OF, Twins
Over the last 30 days, only six players who qualify as outfielders in fantasy leagues—Wil Myers, Kris Bryant, Mike Trout, Melvin Upton, Ian Desmond and Kendrys Morales—have been more valuable than Kepler in standard 5x5 leagues. The 23-year-old is hitting .268/.349/.592 with six homers, five doubles, 22 RBI and two steals in his last 20 games. Kepler’s going to play every day as one of the few players in Minnesota who can still be a key piece on the team when they’re once again relevant in the playoff discussion. That status, combined with his prospect profile and recent performance, makes him an intriguing addition in all formats.
Nate Jones, RP, White Sox
Kyle Barraclough, RP, Marlins
Tyler Thornburg, RP, Brewers
David Phelps, RP, Marlins
Jake Diekman, RP, Rangers
Hunter Strickland, RP, Giants
Brad Brach, RP, Orioles
Kelvin Herrera, RP, Royals
This is the latest group of non-closing relievers with rates and strikeout totals that are strong enough to carry fantasy value without picking up any saves. Jones and Thornburg could both be in line to get saves should their teams deal their current closers, but all eight listed above are worth your time.