- Jason Heyward, Gregory Polanco and Jeremy Jeffress are some of the top players worth grabbing off the waiver wire this week.
Welcome back to Waive Hello, our weekly column on players you should be adding from the waiver wire.
Positional versatility is a huge weapon in the modern MLB. It’s always been true that players with a passable glove at multiple spots have always had more value than if they only played one position. But, in the sabermetric era, managers are more willing to use—and front offices are more aggressively targeting—that flexibility. Loading lineups is an arms race, and one of the best ways to do that is to target players with big bats and decent gloves at multiple positions on the diamond.
That helps explain how Chad Pinder has become a regular in the A’s lineup this season. He came into the year having logged at least 30 games in his career at four different positions: second base, shortstop, left field and right field. Throw in 13 games at third and nine in center field, and Pinder proved over the first three years of his career that he could make enough plays at every position to warrant finding a way to get his bat into the lineup.
That’s exactly what Bob Melvin has done this season, and it has paid off in a big way. Through Thursday, Pinder has started 11 of Oakland’s 17 games. He has drawn five starts in left field, two apiece at second base and third base, one in right, and one at first. The glove is never going to be his trademark at any of those positions, but the fact that he can play them all without undermining Oakland’s team defense is what makes it so easy to find a spot for his bat. And it’s the bat that not only forces Melvin to get him in the lineup, but has drawn the attention of the fantasy community.
Pinder is hitting .333/.353/.604 with three homers, three doubles and eight RBI in 51 plate appearances. He hit 28 homers in 642 plate appearances the previous two seasons, posting an 18.2% HR/FB ratio in the process. All that suggested that he could approach 30 homers in a single season with a regular job, and nothing he has done over the first couple weeks of the 2019 campaign has counteracted that suggestion.
We’ve seen Pinder take a tack early on that helped both Freddie Freeman and Javier Baez break out in recent seasons. He’s been ultra-aggressive on strikes, racking up an 84% swing rate on pitches in the zone. He’s always had a swing rate comfortably north of 50%, but his swing rate on pitches in the zone topped out at 74.5% last year. Given that he’s never had much of a walk rate in his profile, it’s imperative that he be as attack-conscious as possible against strikes.
If this were a slam-dunk case, Pinder wouldn’t be as widely available as he is in fantasy leagues. He has just one walk this season, and that reliance on positive batted-ball outcomes leaves him little room for error. What’s more, when Matt Olson returns from a broken hamate bone, the A’s will be adding another everyday player to the mix. Pinder hasn’t been getting much time at first base, but that does close an avenue to playing time. Mark Canha has drawn about half the starts for the A’s at first with Olson on the IL, and he could be a candidate to steal playing time in the outfield from Pinder when the regular first baseman returns.
Still, the early returns on Pinder are encouraging, and he should remain a regular in Oakland’s lineup when Olson returns. He’ll have another four weeks or so to prove that, making now the time to give him a tryout in fantasy leagues.
With that, let’s find out who else deserves a Waive Hello on the waiver wire this weekend.
All players have ownership rates of 40% or lower in at least two of Yahoo, ESPN or CBS leagues.
Jason Heyward, OF, Cubs
This isn’t merely about the fact that Heyward already has four homers in 45 plate appearances after hitting eight in 489 a year ago. It’s about everything else. He has seven walks against four strikeouts. His fly-ball rate is up to 46.9% after it was less than 35% in each of his first three years with the Cubs. His hard-hit rate is about eight percentage points better than it was last season. And with Ian Happ doing nothing to play his way back to the majors, Heyward should be in the Cubs' lineup almost every day.
Gregory Polanco, OF, Pirates
Polanco began a rehab assignment earlier this week, working his way back from a shoulder injury that cut short his 2018 season. The Polanco breakout that we’ve been waiting for started to happen last season, and he finished the year hitting .254/.340/.499 with 23 homers and 12 steals. Had he not been injured to start the year, he would’ve been drafted in 100% of leagues. He should be stashed in that same number of leagues where he isn’t already owned.
Kevin Kiermaier, OF, Rays
There’s always going to be an injury risk associated with Kiermaier, but so long as he’s on the field he’s going to play at a 20-20 pace, as a floor. He’s doing that again this season, hitting two homers and swiping a pair of bases in 44 plate appearances, while hitting .282/.341/.564. He hasn’t played more than 105 games since 2015, but he’s upright now and worth a shot in all but the shallowest of leagues.
Jeff McNeil, 2B/OF, Mets
McNeil is playing mostly every day for the Mets, drawing nine starts in the team’s 12 games. He’s hitting .353/.450/.471 in 40 plate appearances. McNeil has hit sixth in most of the games he has started, though he has drawn a few starts at the top of the order. No matter where he hits, his skill set is deep and diverse enough to make him a strong add in fantasy leagues of all shapes and sizes.
Adam Frazier, 2B/OF, Pirates
Frazier is playing and leading off every day, locking down second base for the Pirates. He’s slashing .310/.356/.492 with a homer, three doubles and two steals in 48 plate appearances, building on his 2018 season. Frazier racked up 352 plate appearances last season, hitting .277/.342/.456 with 10 homers and 23 doubles, proving that he could be a valuable everyday player. He has more utility in deeper formats, and shouldn’t be available in any leagues that start five outfielders and/or have a dedicated middle infield position.
Jorge Soler, OF, Royals
Everyone’s favorite post-hype breakout left the yard for the second straight game on Thursday, and now has three homers and 12 RBI in 51 plate appearances this season. Soler’s hitting .250/.294/.542, and it’s clear that Ned Yost is committed to him as his everyday cleanup man. He has multiple strikeouts in seven games this season, but the potential payoff here warrants making him a priority player on the wire this weekend.
Jeremy Jeffress, RP, Brewers
Jeffress has made a few rehab appearances at Triple-A San Antonio as he works his way back from a shoulder injury. He’s expected to be back with the Brewers early next week, and should be thrust right into a late-inning role. Josh Hader has been dominant as the team’s closer this season, but it’s no secret that Craig Counsell likes using him in high-leverage spots no matter when they occur, and is more than willing to use him for multiple innings. That could lead to Jeffress getting plenty of save opportunities. Even if he isn’t the dedicated closer, he’s the type of reliever who should be owned in most leagues because of his ability to rack up strikeouts with gaudy rates. Jeffress had a 1.29 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 89 strikeouts in 76 2/3 innings last year.
Michael Pineda, SP, Twins
Pineda allowed two runs on four hits and a walk in five innings in his second start of the year, striking out five. He missed all of 2018 because of Tommy John surgery but has looked as good as the Twins could have realistically hoped for through two starts. His velocity is understandably down, but his four-seamer is still averaging 92.3 mph, while his slider is at 84 mph. If Pineda can still win without overwhelming velocity, he’s going to be one of the steals of this offseason.
Trevor Richards, SP, Marlins
Richards shut down the Reds in his last trip to the mound, tossing six shutout innings while allowing just one hit. He did walk five batters but was able to work his way out of trouble thanks to seven strikeouts. He has 18 strikeouts and a 25% strikeout rate through 18 innings this season, thanks in large part to one of the best changeups in the game. Richards has induced 46 whiffs on the year, 26 of which have come on the change. The better news, though, is that he has gotten 18 empty swings with his fastball. That pitch sits in the low-90s and was always going to be the pitch that held him back. The fact that he has produced so much swing-and-miss with it this season is a sign that he’s doing an excellent job of changing speeds and keeping hitters off-balance.
Diego Castillo, RP, Rays
The Rays are going to use Castillo in high-leverage situations all season. Sometimes, that’ll mean he gets a save. Other times, it’ll mean he picks up a hold while getting five outs. He should vulture some wins, too. No matter what, he’s going to strike out a lot of batters and be a huge lift in the rate categories. He has yet to allow a run this season, surrendering just two hits and a walk while fanning seven batters in seven innings.
Ryan Pressly, RP, Astros
Pressly has picked up where he left off last season. He has pitched 5 2/3 innings this year, surrendering zero runs on three hits with seven strikeouts and nary a walk. He has one save, one win and two holds, showing off why relievers like him can be so valuable, even if they aren’t regular closers. Your league may not use holds, but Pressly should still be on a team in it. Might as well make it yours.
Merrill Kelly, SP, Diamondbacks
Kelly was electric in his last start, allowing one run in eight innings against the Red Sox, striking out nine and walking none. He did all that on just 94 pitches, and the only run he surrendered came on a solo homer by Mitch Moreland. That one outing makes him worth an add in deeper leagues, but there’s hope that he’ll have utility across the board this season. The 30-year-old followed the Miles Mikolas path, remaking himself on the other side of the world during a three-year stint in Korea. Kelly mixes a four-seamer, curve, cutter, changeup and two-seamer, finding an effective balance among the five offerings. Give him a shot unless your league is on the shallower side.
Caleb Smith, SP, Marlins
His honor struck out seven more batters in his second start of the season and now has 15 punchies in 11 innings. He fell victim to the long ball in that outing, allowing a two-run homer to Freddie Freeman and solo jack to Dansby Swanson, but there was still far more good than bad to take away. He got 12 more whiffs in the start and is up to 33 on the season with a whiff rate of 16.2%.
Tyson Ross, SP, Tigers
There’s a chance I may never quit this guy. Ross looked excellent in his last trip to the mound, allowing one run on seven hits in seven innings, and striking out eight in a win over the Royals. He’s going to have to figure out a way to live in the high-80s, but he can do that with a heavy reliance on his slider and cutter, two pitches that have always helped make him a ground-ball specialist. Indeed, he has a 58.1% ground-ball rate this season.