Mallex Smith is providing one of the lone bright spots in Tampa this season.
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  • Finding the best players for your fantasy team on the waiver wire, featuring Mallex Smith, Jedd Gyorko and more.
By Michael Beller
April 21, 2018

It’s going to be an ugly baseball season in Tampa. The Rays are 6-14 thus far, already 11 games behind the Red Sox in the AL East. They were one of many teams that entered this season without plausible hope to make the postseason, and they could be the first mathematically eliminated, as well. There’s just not going to be much to cheer for in Tampa this season. That’s not being flippant, it’s being realistic.

With that in mind, let’s all take a moment to celebrate Mallex Smith.

Smith has been one of the lone bright spots for the Rays this April, hitting .364/.417/.491 in 61 plate appearances. The soon-to-be 25-year-old has five extra-base hits—three doubles and two triples—and three steals. He has walked five times compared with eight strikeouts. In short, he’s doing almost everything a team would want to see from a potential leadoff man of the future.

Of course, Smith isn’t leading off just yet. He has spent nearly the entire season in the bottom-third of the order, and that’s unfortunate for his fantasy value. Still, he’s producing down there, and could easily hit his way into the top of the order. With Kevin Kiermaier on the DL for the foreseeable future, Smith is going to get a long leash from manager Kevin Cash. First of all, he’s now the best active defensive outfielder on the team. Secondly, the Rays are already playing for 2019 and beyond. Smith can be a key part of their next competitive team, so it only makes sense to see as much of him as possible this year.

All that doesn’t even take into account that he has been one of the team’s few productive hitters this season. The Rays rank 21st in runs, 28th in slugging, 22nd in wOBA and 22nd in weighted runs created plus. Smith, however, is one of the few Rays bucking all those trends. He leads the team in batting average, OBP, slugging percentage, wOBA (.399) and weighted runs created plus (156), all with a team-low 13.1% strikeout rate. Forget about seeing what Smith could be for future Rays teams, he’s one of the only reasons to tune into the team this season.

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Smith is going to play mostly every day. At the very least, that should result in another 30 to 35 stolen bases this season. If the hit tool he showed at the Triple-A level with the Braves and Rays is starting to translate, it could also lead to plus rates. Now’s the time to take a chance on him.

With that, let’s get to the rest of the Waiver Wire.

Jedd Gyorko, 1B/2B/3B, Cardinals

Gyorko returned from the DL earlier this week, and is 2-for-4 with three walks in the two games he has started. The Cardinals are mostly set across the infield with Jose Martinez, Matt Carpenter and Paul DeJong, but second base has been an issue. Kolten Wong has logged the most time there, hitting .146/.286/.146. Greg Garcia has been a decent option, but he’s better suited as a part-time player. Gyorko has been productive during his time in St. Louis, hitting .258/.324/.483 with 50 homers, 30 doubles and 126 RBI over the last two seasons. Given Wong’s struggles, Gyorko should establish himself as a regular in short order, likely at third base with Carpenter moving over to second.

Eugenio Suarez, 3B, Reds

Suarez started taking ground balls earlier this week, and likely isn’t too far from swinging a bat. He’s going to be on the DL for at least a few more weeks because of his fractured thumb, but his timetable suggests he’ll be able to return in mid-to-late May. He’s too good to be on waiver wires, but if a roster crunch forced him there in your league he’s a great player to grab and stash until he returns.

Shin-soo Choo, OF, Rangers

I’ve given up waiting for the day when Choo is no longer underrated. He’s just going to play out his MLB days as one of the most overlooked players in the league. He’s doing his thing again this year, belting five homers, driving in nine runs and scoring 13 more in his first 90 plate appearances. He’s hitting just .238 with a .311 OBP, but that is completely out of character for him. He has a career 12% walk rate, and has never had an OBP worse than .340 over a full season. Those on-base skills will show up, as they always do, sooner rather than later.

Michael Brantley, OF, Indians

If you can stomach Brantley as a part-time player, he can offer your team value. Given his injury history and the depth in Cleveland’s outfield, he’s not going to be an everyday player. Terry Francona has been picking his spots well, and that has resulted in Brantley slashing .351/.385/.514 with one homer and three doubles in 39 plate appearances. He has even stolen a base, suggesting that his legs are underneath him enough to make him an occasional threat on the bases. Again, he’s not a good fit for every fantasy team or format, but if you don’t need him in your lineup every day, he can be a cheap source of across-the-board production.

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Teoscar Hernandez, OF, Blue Jays

Hernandez is back with the big league club, and if the early returns are any indication, he isn’t going anywhere. He’s 10-for-27 with a pair of homers and three doubles in 30 plate appearances, forcing his way onto the lineup card most days. Remember, he impressed in his brief stint in the majors last year, hitting .261/.305/.602 with eight homers, six doubles and 20 RBI in 95 plate appearances. Strikeouts were an issue, and indeed he has already fanned seven times this year. And yet, the Blue Jays cannot ignore what he has done when he has made contact, going back to last season. If Hernandez has a spot in their lineup mostly every day, he, too, should have a spot on a fantasy roster in all but the shallowest of leagues.

Max Kepler, OF, Twins

Kepler is swinging a hot bat for the Twins, slashing .289/.396/.622 with four homers in 53 plate appearances this year. He flashed that power with 19 homers in 568 trips to the plate last season, and it appears he’s growing into more of it in his age-25 campaign. He’s unlikely to hit his way to the top of Minnesota’s lineup, which is a bit of a drag on his fantasy value, but he should be out there on close to an everyday basis. It seems the outfield position gets deeper and deeper every year, meaning the barrier to entry is low in most fantasy leagues. Kepler, however, has showed us enough in terms of both previous production and future potential to be a priority add this week.

Scott Schebler, OF, Reds

The Reds activated Schebler from the DL on Friday, though he did not play in that game. He belted 30 homers in 531 plate appearances last year, and already had one in his first three games this season before going on the DL. He’s one of the few, and possibly the only, sources of legitimate 30-homer power that you can get for free at this point of the season.

Vince Velasquez, SP, Phillies

Ignore the rate stats—which, for the record, aren’t terrible—for a second. Velasquez has whiffed 24 batters and owns a 26.1% strikeout rate in 21 1/3 innings this season. That would be exciting enough if it came out of nowhere, but we know that he has this ability. It was just two years ago that he racked up 152 strikeouts and notched a 27.6% strikeout rate in 131 innings. Had he thrown enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, that strikeout rate would have had him sandwiched in between Robbie Ray and Madison Bumgarner for sixth in the majors. We know he can miss bats, and his 2017 season was complicated by a finger injury that ultimately required surgery and limited him to 72 innings. Your opportunity for snagging him dwindles by the day.

Mike Foltynewicz, SP, Braves

Foltynewicz is off to a great start this season, pitching to a 2.53 ERA, 3.29 FIP and 1.27 WHIP in 21 1/3 innings. The 26 strikeouts, however, are most encouraging. Foltynewicz has never been a huge strikeout guy, with a 20.7% career strikeout rate. That number increased from year one to year two, and year two to year three, and remained flat last season. This year, it’s up to 28.9%. Foltynewicz is throwing his slider and changeup more often this season and, not surprisingly, those two are responsible for his highest whiff rates. The slider has been particularly effective, registering a 16.4% whiff rate. This could be the sign of a real change in Foltynewicz, which makes him a worthy bet in all fantasy leagues.

Reynaldo Lopez, SP, White Sox

I’m going to keep beating the drum for Lopez until he catches on in a majority of leagues. He spun another gem in his last start, allowing two runs in six innings while striking out 10 in what was ultimately an 8-1 loss for the White Sox. Lopez now has 21 strikeouts in 19 innings this year, surrendering all of three runs and eight hits. The 11 walks are a concern, but a minor one, at least from a fantasy perspective, for a 24-year-old with his stuff. Lopez needs to be on a team in every competitive fantasy league.

Trevor Cahill, SP, A’s

One day after Lopez struck out 10 A’s in Oakland, Cahill made his 2018 debut on the same mound. He was excellent in the start, tossing seven shutout innings while striking out eight White Sox, allowing five hits and two walks. Cahill’s signing flew under the radar this offseason, but he was effective in 11 starts with the Padres last year, amassing a 3.69 ERA, 3.40 FIP and 1.34 WHIP with 72 strikeouts in 61 innings. Tack on his A’s debut to what he did with the Padres, and Cahill is on a semi-extended run that clearly makes him worth a shot in nearly all fantasy leagues.

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Sean Newcomb, SP, Braves

Newcomb turned in a quality start on Friday, allowing two earned runs on six hits and three walks in six innings. He struck out five and ultimately took a no-decision in a 5-3 Braves loss to the Mets. Newcomb’s strikeout upside lessens the sting of the occasional growing pains, and, as we’ve seen this season, there’s no shame in holding the Mets to two runs in six innings. He’s up to 27 strikeouts in 21 2/3 innings and a strikeout rate of 28.4% on the season.

Luiz Gohara, SP, Braves

Gohara, the No. 23 prospect in baseball according to Baseball America, began a rehab assignment for an ankle injury earlier this week. He allowed five runs, though just one was earned, in 3 1/3 innings at Double-A Mississippi. He didn’t do himself any favors with three walks and five hits, but a handful of those came after an error kept him on the mound when the inning should have ended. He’ll make a few more rehab starts before joining the Atlanta rotation sometime in May. Gohara split his time across three levels last year, with the most time spent at Double-A where he had a a 2.60 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 60 strikeouts in 52 innings.

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