- Breaking down the best players available in the standard fantasy baseball league.
The catcher position in fantasy baseball this season is the predictable mess it always proves to be. Only two catchers, Gary Sanchez and Yasmani Grandal, rank among the top-100 players in standard 5x5 leagues. None of the big three entering the season—Sanchez, Buster Posey and Willson Contreras—is fully living up to expectations. The No. 12 catcher, seemingly the last starter in 12-team leagues, is ranked 468th overall. The position is a wasteland, yet again.
Onto that scene steps Max Stassi, the 27-year-old newly anointed starting catcher for the Astros. With Brian McCann on the DL because of a knee issue, Stassi will get most of the starts behind the plate in Houston for the foreseeable future. He has racked up 102 plate appearances across 32 games, including 24 starts, hitting .293/.363/.543 with five homers, eight doubles and 17 RBI.
Stassi has spent parts of each of the last five seasons with the Astros, but this is first real go-round in the majors. He earned it by hitting .266/.383/.473 with 12 homers in 287 plate appearances at Triple A Fresno last season, breaking spring training with the big league club this year for the first time in his career. He split the catching duties roughly evenly with McCann the first two months of the year, with Evan Gattis slotting as the DH. Now, there’s nothing or no one standing in his way.
The only real drawback to Stassi as a fantasy player is that he’s going to hit in the bottom-third of the order. In Houston, however, that means hitting behind Carlos Correa, Marwin Gonzalez and Yuli Gurriel. There could be worse fates for a No. 7 hitter. Plus, you aren’t going to find many catchers hitting in the top-third or top-half of the order, especially on the waiver wire. Hitting seventh doesn’t differentiate Stassi from his brethren behind the dish.
The barrier to entry for a fantasy catcher is exceptionally low. We’re living in a world where John Hicks, Mike Zunino, Robinson Chirinos and Tucker Barnhart are legitimate fantasy starters. Stassi is a better bet than all of them, and many others, while McCann is on the DL, and he can stick on plenty of rosters even when the veteran backstop returns.
With that, let’s get to the rest of this week’s Waiver Wire.
Jonathan Villar, 2B/OF, Brewers
Villar has started 14 of Milwaukee’s 18 games since May 13, hitting .288/.345/.481 with two homers and two steals in that time. Even with Eric Sogard and Hernan Perez still in the mix, it seems that Villar has taken hold of the second base gig. The 2016 season will always be an extreme outlier, but he has an enviable power-speed combo and isn’t afraid of taking some walks.
Jorge Soler, OF, Royals
It appears the fantasy community soured on Soler after a rough May, during which he hit .259 with a .319 OBP, but still slugged .500. Cutting him loose was a mistake. First of all, Soler started realizing his potential this season, but he didn’t suddenly become Mike Trout. A prolonged slump was always going to arrive at some point. Plus, over the first 12 days of May, he slashed .383/.434/.702. It was just the second half of the month where he really struggled, but he broke out of those doldrums late in the month with three homers in his previous seven games. If Soler recently became a free agent in your league, consider yourself lucky.
Brandon Nimmo, OF, Mets
For the third straight year since reaching the World Series in 2015, nothing seems to be going right for the Mets. Nimmo is one of the few exceptions, and it’s time fantasy owners take notice. The 25-year-old is hitting .294/.436/.597 with seven homers, seven doubles, four triples, five steals and 14 RBI. He has turned himself into an everyday player, and that shouldn’t end when Yoenis Cespedes returns from the DL. What’s more, Nimmo led off for the better part of May, and is a good bet to remain there the rest of the season. There may not be a lot about the Mets top to bottom, but there’s plenty to like about Nimmo.
Eric Thames, 1B, Brewers
Thames continues to work his way back from thumb surgery that has had him on the DL since the end of April. The emergence of Jesus Aguilar could complicate matters, but that doesn’t change the fact that Thames is worth a stash for fantasy owners who have an open DL spot. When he returns, he’ll do so with a .250/.351/.625 slash line, and seven homers across 74 plate appearances.
Mallex Smith, OF, Rays
Smith is still doing his thing with little to no love from the fantasy community. The 25-year-old is hitting .275/.346/.363 with nine doubles and 11 steals in 192 plate appearances. You know how many other players in the majors have cleared all three of those batting average, OBP and steals thresholds? Six—Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Lorenzo Cain, Jean Segura, Whit Merrifield and Smith. Sure, you can make any number of groups with arbitrary stat thresholds, but it doesn’t take away from what Smith has done this year. There’s plenty of value in a player of his ilk.
Max Muncy, 1B/3B/OF, Dodgers
Muncy has been one of the surprise players keeping the Dodgers season afloat with stars Clayton Kershaw and Corey Seager on the DL. Muncy has been starting at first base, with Cody Bellinger moving to center. Joc Pederson has played his way out of a regular spot in the lineup, and with Chris Taylor locked in at shortstop due to Seager’s season-ending elbow injury, Muncy could very well stick in the lineup for the foreseeable future. On top of all that, Dave Roberts has been trusting him at the top of the order for the last two weeks, and Muncy isn’t giving him any reason to move him down any time soon.
Joe Musgrove, SP, Pirates
We’ve been beating the drum for Musgrove here at SI.com for at least a month, telling you to stash him on your DL. We hope you did so, because time is running out to add him, and you’re going to have quite a bit of competition for his services this week. Musgrove has been great in his first two starts of the season, beating the Cardinals and Cubs while pitching to a 0.64 ERA and 1.14 WHIP with 12 strikeouts in 14 innings. He had to navigate out of trouble more than a few times against the Cubs earlier this week, but he’s not the first, and won’t be the last, pitcher to allow one of the best offenses in baseball its fair share of baserunners. Musgrove has an electric arsenal, highlighted by four-seam and two-seam fastballs that both sit in the mid-90s, and an admirable cutter/slider combination. He should be owned in all fantasy formats.
Trevor Cahill, SP, A’s
Cahill turned in another strong start earlier this week, tossing eight shutout innings against the Rays. He struck out six, walked one and allowed four hits, taking a tough no-decision with his offense unable to give him any run support. Still, it was an excellent outing for the veteran, who is taking to the rotation quite well after spending most of the last three seasons as a reliever. He has a 2.25 ERA, 3.12 FIP, 0.89 WHIP and 41 strikeouts in 44 innings.
Junior Guerra, SP, Brewers
Guerra shut down the Cardinals in his last start, throwing six scoreless innings while striking out seven and surrendering just four hits. He lowered his ERA to 2.65 with the start, to go along with a 3.70 FIP and 1.12 WHIP. He has 51 strikeouts in 54 1/3 innings, and while his walk total is a bit high at 20, he hasn’t issued a free pass in either of his last two trips to the mound. Remember, Guerra turned in a quietly effective 2016 season before injuries ruined him last year. He threw 121 2/3 innings two years ago, totaling a 2.81 ERA, 3.70 FIP and 1.13 WHIP with 100 strikeouts. If he is that pitcher again, he’ll pay off in a big way in all fantasy formats.
Jordan Lyles, SP, Padres
Lyles bounced back earlier this week from a couple ugly outings in a row, allowing two runs on six hits in seven innigns while striking out seven in a win over the Marlins. Sure, it may have come against the worst offense in baseball, but it was encouraging to see Lyles get back to his winning ways. He now has a 3.65 ERA, 4.09 FIP, 1.14 WHIP and 47 strikeouts in 49 1/3 innings this season.
Vince Velasquez, SP, Phillies
Velasquez continued his anyone-but-the-Braves routine in his last start, allowing two runs on three hits and two walks in 5 2/3 innings, striking out six while taking a no-decision against the Dodgers. In seven starts against all teams that do not hail from Atlanta, Velasquez has a 2.45 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 46 strikeouts in 40 1/3 innings.
Mike Soroka, SP, Braves
Speaking of the Braves, they should be getting one of their prized arms back very soon. Soroka, on the DL with a shoulder injury, made his first rehab start on Friday with Low A Rome. He tossed 3 2/3 perfect innings, striking out three batters. The team has yet to decide whether Soroka will make another rehab start or rejoin the team after this one, but it's safe to say that he'll be back in the rotation in short order.