- Our weekly look at the best players available in fantasy baseball leagues highlights Royals outfielder Jorge Soler
Professional athletes have it pretty great, what with the whole getting paid a ton of money to do something they love and that has to be fun about 99% of the time. One notable downside is that they’re in one of the few, and perhaps only, lines of work where if you don’t figure it out by time you’re about 25 years old, you’re written off completely. The rest of us typically get a few shots to put things together through our 20s and into our 30s and 40s. Professional athletes don’t have that luxury.
Thankfully, Jorge Soler got a second chance from his second team. The 26-year-old is figuring it out this season.
Soler was once one of the brightest prospects of the Cubs’ rebuild that has resulted in a historic World Series and three straight trips to the NLCS. Soler missed out on the last of those, however. While he watched contemporaries like Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Addison Russell and Javier Baez become regulars with the Cubs, he could never quite catch on in an everyday role. Feeling the roster crunch, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer dealt Soler to Kansas City before the 2017 season. He slogged through an injury-riddled season with the Royals last year, limited to just 110 plate appearances. Entering his age-26 season, it was clear Soler was at a crossroads.
Soler took the right fork. He has been one of the hottest hitters in the league for the last three weeks, hitting .367/.493/.683 with four homers since April 17. That has his season slash line up to .309/.429/.526 with the four homers, nine doubles and 12 RBI in 119 plate appearances. The Soler breakout, hyped since his impressive late-season debut with the Cubs in 2014, has finally arrived.
Royals manager Ned Yost has taken notice. Soler spent most of April hitting fifth or sixth in the lineup, but Yost recently moved him into the 2-hole to better take advantage of his on-base skills. Since becoming the team’s No. 2 hitter, sandwiched between Whit Merrifield and Mike Moustakas, Soler has hit .318/.400/.727 with two homers in 25 plate appearances. It’s safe to say he’ll be hitting second for the foreseeable future.
Most pro athletes are written off if they can’t figure it out by their mid-20s. Fortunately, Soler wasn’t. The Royals are benefitting, and so, too, can savvy fantasy owners who act fast.
With that, let’s get to the rest of this week’s Waiver Wire.
Eduardo Escobar, 2B/3B/SS, Twins
Escobar is my favored replacement for Corey Seager, among shortstops likely to be available in a majority of leagues. He has filled in better than admirably for the suspended Jorge Polanco, hitting .316/.367/.643 with six homers and 14 doubles in 109 plate appearances. Polanco’s suspension will end toward the end of June, and at that point the Twins will have a decision to make. That’s a problem you can worry about in six weeks, and it’s no guarantee you’ll have to worry about it at all. If Escobar keeps hitting this well, the Twins will have to find a spot for him in the lineup.
Shin-soo Choo, OF, Rangers
Choo has been in our Waiver Wire column in both of the last two weeks. In those columns, we said that a player with his track record of plus on-base skills had to come around sooner rather than later. Since that last column, Choo is 6-for-23 with four walks in 28 plate appearances. He now owns a .252/.340/.427 slash line, to go along with five homers, eight doubles, 21 runs and 15 RBI. How he is still so available is a mystery.
Kurt Suzuki, C, Braves
Suzuki continues to swing the bat well, especially for a widely available fantasy catcher, going 5-for-14 since last week’s Waiver Wire column. He’s slashing .304/.374/.544 on the season while mostly hitting in the middle of Atlanta’s potent lineup. Tyler Flowers is back and will get his fair share of playing time, and that makes owning Suzuki a bit more challenging. Still, there’s something to be said for a catcher who can give you good rates over three or four games per week. Your counting stats may suffer compared with a catcher who plays every day, but there’s no guarantee of even that when looking at catchers on the fringes of fantasy starting lineups.
Jeimer Candelario, 3B, Tigers
Candelario is riding a six-game hitting streak, going 9-for-24 in that stretch. He hasn’t hit for much power during that streak, and that has resulted in his slugging percentage dipping to .516. Still, that just drives home how well he was hitting before the streak, and speaks to his viability as a fantasy starter in all formats. Don’t forget, he’s locked into the No. 2 spot in Detroit’s lineup, which translates into plate appearances, and run-scoring and RBI upside, even in the worst offenses in the league.
Max Kepler, OF, Twins
Just checking back in on one of the regulars in our Waiver Wire column. Kepler is 6-for-24 with two doubles, a triple and two walks in 26 plate appearances since last week’s column, and is now slashing .284/.348/.510 with four homers on the season. Should I take the fact that he’s so widely available as a hint that people don’t want him? No, clearly it’s the leagues in which he’s available that are wrong. Seriously, though. Go get Kepler.
Mallex Smith, OF, Rays
Smith, too, is one of our Waiver Wire regulars. Since last week’s column, Smith is 4-for-15 with a steal in 16 plate appearances. He’s not going to give you any meaningful power, but he can be a weapon in three of the standard fantasy categories, and a singular force in steals. Any speed-needy team should be prioritizing Smith this week.
David Dahl, OF, Rockies
Dahl was the focus of last week’s Waiver Wire column, based on the obvious upside he brought with the injuries that cost him the entire 2017 season in the rear-view mirror. At the same time, we noted the risks associated, given that the Colorado outfield would soon be crowded with Gerardo Parra (suspension) and Carlos Gonzalez (DL) both set to return to action. Well, those two are both back, and Dahl has still started three of the Rockies’ five games since Sunday. He has gone 3-for-13 with a homer in those starts, which should be enough to earn him more playing time. This will be a delicate dance for manager Walt Weiss, but it’s hard to look at this lineup and come away with the conclusion that Dahl isn’t one of its four or five best hitters. He needs to be in there.
Matt Adams, 1B/OF, Nationals
If Weiss needs any inspiration, he can look to what Davey Martinez is doing with Adams in D.C. Insofar as the defensively challenged Adams has a position, it would be first base. And yet, Ryan Zimmerman owns that spot for the Nationals. Adams spent most of April spelling Zimmerman against a tough righty and looming as a dangerous bat off the bench. When he proved himself too valuable for that role, Martinez started to find him at-bats in left field. The experiment is working, with Adams slashing .297/.416/.672 with seven homers and 17 RBI in 77 plate appearances. Between first and left, Adams should get enough playing time to be relevant in all fantasy formats.
Ryon Healy, 1B/3B, Mariners
Healy came off the DL last week after an ankle injury cost him most of April. He has been swinging a hot bat since his return, going 9-for-30 with four homers in 30 plate appearances. He has spent most of his time hitting in the bottom-third of the Mariners’ order, and while that may continue his power is too great to ignore. Remember, he hit 25 homers and 29 doubles in 605 plate appearances last year, and, at 26 years old, may still be finding more natural power. There’s a lot to like here, and he could eventually hit his way into the top half of Seattle’s order.
Jedd Gyorko, 1B/2B/3B, Cardinals
Gyorko got a couple days off this week but was back in the starting lineup on Friday, going 2-for-4 in the Cardinals’ win over the Cubs. He’s hitting .385/.514/.654 in 35 plate appearances this season. He should play mostly every day and provides plenty of value, even though he has been hitting in the bottom-third of the order. Remember, he hit .272/.341/.472 with 20 homers in 481 plate appearances last season.
Scott Schebler, OF, Reds
Schebler has swung the bat well since returning from the DL on April 20, carrying a .288/.344/.492 slash line into action on Saturday. Schebler has 30-homer potential, he should play mostly every day, and he may not kill your rates, especially with the lower acceptable threshold across the league in those categories. He’s worth a look in all but the shallowest fantasy formats.
Walker Buehler, SP, Dodgers
With Hyun-jin Ryu out until after the All-Star break because of a groin injury, Buehler is locked into the Dodgers rotation. He made his third start of the season on Friday, XXX RESULTS HERE. Buehler entered this season as one of the best prospects in baseball, ranked 13th by Baseball America and MLB.com, and 21st by Baseball Prospectus. With a four-seamer that sits at 97-98 mph, a two-seamer that’s just as lethal and a sharp, biting slider, Buehler has the stuff to be a top-of-the-rotation starter. He likely won’t reach those heights as a rookie, but he needs to be owned in all fantasy leagues. He could be a real difference maker now that he has a guaranteed spot in the rotation.
Sean Newcomb, SP, Braves
Newcomb showed in his last start how great he can be when he’s at his best, tossing seven shutout innings against the Mets, allowing just two hits and one walk while striking out eight. He’s still inconsistent, but there’s clearly a monster ceiling here. At the very least, his strikeout upside—he has fanned 42 batters in 34 2/3 innings this season—makes him worth owning in most formats. If he can harness the stuff he had against the Mets more often than not, he’s going to prove to be one of this year’s waiver wire gems.
Reynaldo Lopez, SP, White Sox
Lopez was a bit of a disappointment in his last outing, allowing five runs—four earned—on six hits and two walks in 6 2/3 innings against the Twins. Two passed balls by Omar Narvaez hurt him, but it’s not like they were entirely responsible for his lackluster outing. What’s most concerning is that he didn’t strike out a batter, and has just four whiffs total in his last three starts. He has done enough to this point to still be worth a look in deeper mixed leagues, but he may not have the season-long upside he flashed when he struck out 21 batters across his first 19 innings of the year.
Mike Soroka, SP, Braves
I wrote about Soroka in depth earlier this week after his MLB debut. He’ll take the ball for his second career start on Sunday, but there are no guarantees after that. Julio Teheran is back in the rotation, and Anibal Sanchez is likely to return in short order. With Sean Newcomb, Mike Foltynewicz and Brandon McCarthy also locked into the Braves rotation, there may be no room for Soroka right now. At the same time, he may simply be too good for the team to send back to Triple A Gwinnett. Even if he does head back to the minors, he’s worth grabbing and stashing for the time being. There is approximately a 0% chance that we’ve seen the last of Soroka in the majors this season.
Tyson Ross, SP, Padres
I can’t overstate how much it warms my heart to see Ross having a resurgent season. If you search the archives of this site for everything I’ve written about Ross, you’ll see I’ve been on the bandwagon going back to 2013. I had him as a sleeper that year and a breakout candidate in 2014. “Thoracic outlet syndrome? No big deal, Tyson’s got this,” I assured everyone, to my and their eventual dismay. But Ross is back in a big way this season, pitching to a 3.28 ERA, 2.85 FIP and 1.18 WHIP with 40 strikeouts in 35 2/3 innings. He’ll likely never recoup his pre-surgery velocity, but his four-seamer is sitting at 92 mph this year, and his slider is still filthy, racking up an 18% whiff rate. Get him while you still can.
Joe Musgrove, SP, Pirates
Musgrove, who is working his way back from a shoulder injury, will make his second rehab start on Sunday at Double A Altoona. He tossed three innings in his first rehab outing, allowing two runs on five hits. The results, however, mean nothing. He was able to throw all his pitches and reported no issues with the shoulder after the start. If all goes according to plan, he’ll be in the Pirates rotation in the next week or two. He was one of the key pieces in the Gerrit Cole deal for a reason, and was a popular sleeper pick during draft season before it was announced that he would start the year on the DL. He’s absolutely worth a flier at this point.