The upper echelon of the standard 5x5 leaderboard at first base is rather predictable as we head into the final week of May. Paul Goldschmidt is at the top, followed by Freddie Freeman and Joey Votto. The next three spots, however, are occupied by unlikely candidates: Eric Thames, Mark Reynolds and Ryan Zimmerman. After them, it gets chalky again, with Kris Bryant (first-base eligible in most fantasy formats), Daniel Murphy (ditto Bryant) and Matt Carpenter.
Rounding out the top 10 is an even greater surprise than Thames (he had a good amount of hype in the fantasy world after his exploits in Korea), Reynolds (a natural fit for Coors Field) and Zimmerman (a fantasy darling in the past). Logan Morrison is the 10th-ranked fantasy first baseman at the close of the eighth week of the season, ahead of Anthony Rizzo, Chris Davis and Wil Myers. It’s time for the fantasy community to give him some respect.
To be clear, when we say “standard 5x5 fantasy leagues” we’re talking about leagues that use OBP, not batting average. Morrison’s value is much different in batting average leagues, where his walks do him no good. Of course, if you’re still playing in a league that uses batting average over OBP in 2017, you have greater problems than figuring out Morrison’s value. Get with the times.
Anyway, Morrison is healthy and has an everyday spot in his team’s lineup for just the third time in his eight-year career. He has been a consistent force in the middle of Tampa Bay’s lineup, slashing .247/.341/.544 with 13 homers and 34 RBI in 185 plate appearances. He’s whiffing more than ever, with a 23.8% strikeout rate, but he’s able to counteract some of that with his 12.4% walk rate. Again, OBP leaguers are going to love a guy who’s likely to walk in more than one of every 10 trips to the plate.
This was the player many assumed Morrison would have become years ago. In his first full year in the majors, 2011, he looked capable of becoming another version of Adam Dunn. He racked up 525 plate appearances in 123 games that year, hitting .247/.330/.468 with 23 homers, 54 walks, 25 doubles, 72 RBI and 99 strikeouts. By comparison, Dunn slashed .249/.400/.454 with 26 homers, 128 walks, 28 doubles, 71 RBI and 170 strikeouts in 676 plate appearances in his first full season. Even if Morrison wasn’t likely to become the on-base machine Dunn already was early in his career, the parallels between the two players were obvious.
Injuries and inconsistency beset Morrison’s career, but for the first time since that 2011 season, he can say that he’s back on that Dunn-lite trajectory. He has been much better against left-handed pitching, slashing .250/.324/.469 against southpaws this year, and absolutely mashes when he has the platoon advantage. Combining homers with walks is one of the surest formulas for fantasy relevance in this day and age, and Morrison is proving himself a capable mixologist. He deserves a longer look than he’s getting in fantasy leagues.
Nick Castellanos, 3B, Tigers
Castellanos is fourth in the majors with a 48.8% hard-hit rate. The three players ahead of him are Miguel Sano, Paul Goldschmidt and Tim Beckham. Other players in the top 10 include Michael Conforto, Khris Davis and Corey Seager. Somehow, though, Castellanos is hitting .220/.294/.379 with just four homers. That is a total fluke for a player hitting the ball as consistently hard as he is. It’s only a matter of time before that turns around.
Yoan Moncada, 2B/3B, White Sox
Moncada created a bit of a stir when he visited Chicago earlier this week, but it turned out it was just to visit a hand specialist for his injured thumb. He came off the 7-day DL a few days later and picked up where he left off. He’s now slashing .324/.398/.493 with six homers, four doubles, 15 RBI and 10 steals on the year. With the injury scare behind him, he should be in the majors sooner rather than later. If you’re in a league that allows you to stash minor leaguers before they get promoted, now is the time to grab baseball’s top prospect.
Ian Happ, 2B/OF, Cubs
Happ is officially in Chicago for good, and that means his ownership rate must be sent skyward. The 22-year-old has started almost every game since getting the call, and remains a fixture in the lineup even after Jason Heyward’s return from the DL. He’s 11-for-41 with two homers, four doubles and seven walks against 16 strikeouts in 48 plate appearances. That translates to a .268/.375/.561 slash line. The fact that Joe Maddon has been immediately comfortable with him in centerfield suggests that he will get plenty of playing time the rest of the season, at the expense of Jon Jay and Albert Almora, and possibly Heyward, too. Happ can be a true difference maker in all fantasy leagues.
Logan Forsythe, 2B, Dodgers
Forsythe’s stay on the DL reached annoyingly long territory, but he returned on Tuesday after spending more than a month on the shelf. He’s 1-for-12 in 14 plate appearances since making his return, but don’t get too hung up on the immediate results. If you held onto him or grabbed him before he came back, he is set to reward you for your loyalty. Forsythe will be the Dodgers' regular third baseman while Justin Turner is on the DL, with Chris Taylor and Chase Utley handling second. In nearly all fantasy formats, Forsythe should get enough starts at third in Turner’s absence to qualify at the position for the rest of the season.
Devon Travis, 2B, Blue Jays
Travis has been one of the hottest hitters in baseball over the last two weeks. In that time, covering 10 games, he’s 20-for-43 with three homers and nine doubles in 43 plate appearances. All told for the month of May, he’s slashing .372/.383/.679 with three homers and 15 doubles. This is a far cry from the player who slogged through April hitting .130/.193/.195. Given what Travis was able to do across the first 163 games of his career spread over 2015 and 2016 (.301/.342/.469), the fantasy community should trust that his May performance—not his April one—is the truer version of who he is.
Brandon Phillips, 2B, Braves
Our third straight second baseman proves that there is help available at the position for those who need it. Phillips is filling up the box score in his first season with the Braves, racking up three homers, seven steals, 21 runs and 15 RBI to accompany a .307/.358/.433 slash line. That’s a true five-category player that you can still scoop up at the low price of the worst player on your roster. We haven’t seen these on-base skills from Phillips since 2011, but he has had a batting average better than .290 in both of the last two seasons. A .290/.340/.430 line with 12 homers, 20 steals, 80 runs and 60 RBI is well within reach.
Justin Bour, 1B, Marlins
Bour is quite similar to Morrison, though he could be more palatable for owners stuck in the batting average dark ages. He’s hitting .285/.363/.570 with 13 homers and 33 RBI on the season, essentially remaining on the trajectory he has set the last two years. He hit .262/.321/.479 with 23 homers and 73 RBI in 446 plate appearances in 2015, and then slashed .264/.349/.475 with 15 jacks and 51 RBI in 321 trips to the plate last year. Injuries are clearly a concern, but if he can stay on the field, he could easily hit 25-plus homers and drive in 80-plus runs with acceptable rates.
Domingo Santana, OF, Brewers
Ryan Braun and Keon Broxton are locked into their starting spots in Milwaukee’s outfield. If and when the team promotes top prospect Lewis Brinson, Santana could be out of a job. Hernan Perez can play the infield, so he should be safe, but Santana might be out of luck. Still, there’s no telling when Milwaukee will call up Brinson, and Santana is putting the bow on an excellent month of May. He’s hitting .329/.424/.411 with one homer, three doubles and 10 RBI in the month, raising his season-long slash line to .264/.367/.438. So long as Brinson is in the minors, Santana is a relevant player in all fantasy formats.
Tyson Ross, SP, Rangers
Ross made his first rehab start with Triple-A Round Rock earlier this week, allowing two hits in five scoreless innings. The Rangers initially planned for him to make two or three rehab starts, but now there’s talk of him joining the team’s rotation next weekend when the team hosts the Astros. No matter what, though, his return to a major league mound is not far away. Stashing a player on your DL always makes sense if you have the space to do so. It makes even more sense when the player you’re stashing struck out 9.4 batters per nine innings across 391 2/3 frames in 2014 and 2015 combined.
Dan Straily, SP, Marlins
Something really seems to have clicked for Straily this season. The veteran righty has a 3.83 ERA, 4.20 FIP, 1.07 WHIP and 54 strikeouts in 54 innings. Those aren’t world-beating numbers, but they’re certainly good enough to make him worthy of being a backend starter in all fantasy formats. He has hinted at this sort of strikeout ability in the past, so it’s not a total shock to see him fanning a batter per inning. Any pitcher who can maintain that rate deserves a look in all fantasy leagues, so long as he can keep his rates respectable.
As always, we will keep a list at the bottom of our weekly waiver wire column of relief pitchers who are not closers, but can still be fantasy assets because of their strikeout rate, ERA and WHIP. The relievers are listed in order of fantasy value.
Carl Edwards, RP, Cubs
Hector Neris, RP, Phillies
Kyle Barraclough, RP, Marlins
Adam Ottavino, RP, Rockies
David Phelps, RP, Marlins