The NFL preseason kicked off this week, which means one thing for those playing Fantasy Baseball, we are in the stretch run of the season. This is a time where many owners will start to shift their focus to the gridiron, and those teams that have fallen behind will pay less attention to their team. It also means players will likely go for less FAAB than earlier in the season. This is the prime time for a Fantasy owner to step up and win a championship, and we at RotoExperts are here to help.
In the Watch List, I look at players that have gone under the radar and show signs of heating up. They are all owned in under 30 percent of polled leagues, unless otherwise noted, and should be added to your scout list. Those in deeper leagues should be less hesitant to take a flier on these players. Now, let’s get started!
Who needs Josh Donaldson in Oakland when you have his former Blue Jay teammate, Danny Valencia? All kidding aside, Valencia has been swinging a hot stick in the seven games he has been an Oakland Athletic. In that stretch, he is slashing .333/.400/.778, with three homers and seven RBIs. Although he has a reputation as a lefty masher, he has actually fared better against righties this year. He hits for a slightly higher average against lefties (.306 compared to .298 against righties), but seven of his 10 homers have been against right-handed pitchers. He has received everyday playing time in Oakland and it has been paying off so far. Valencia could be a very solid option at corner or middle infield, and Fantasy owners should keep a close eye on him to see if this hot streak with the A’s is for real.
Valencia is not the only player benefitting from changing teams. The Indians acquired Abraham Almonte at the deadline, called him up to the big leagues last week and it has paid off so far. Almonte was one of my deep league sleepers last year, and it seemed to pay off at first, before Almonte fizzled out and stopped playing every day for the Mariners. Now in a much more friendly ballpark, Almonte has posted a very impressive first week with the Indians. It is a very small sample size, but in his five games, he is hitting .333 with two home runs, six RBIs, five runs and a stolen base. His .375 Isolated Power (ISO) is completely unsustainable, but his .375 BABIP might not drop as much as you’d think. Almonte always showed the ability to hit for a high BABIP, not uncommon with speedy hitters, and should be able to sustain a .330 BABIP going forward. He has also displayed the speed to steal 20-30 bases in a season, so do not be surprised if he swipes 8-10 down the stretch. As long as Almonte is receiving regular playing time, Fantasy owners in Roto formats should keep an eye on him.
The best part about this time of year is teams are willing to call up prospects and give them a cup of coffee. We got a glimpse of that this week as the Yankees called up first baseman, Greg Bird. Although Bird only has one season in the minors with double-digit home runs, scouts still rave about his raw power. He has the ability to hit .250 and be a future middle of the order hitter for the Yankees. The issue for Bird will be playing time, as Mark Teixeira currently blocks him, but if Tex was to go down or Bird works his way into a corner OF role, he could be a solid pickup. He is worth Fantasy owners keeping an eye on him. Of course, if the Yankees truly want to go all in and please Fantasy owners, they’d call up Aaron Judge, but it doesn’t look like that is happening relatively soon.
Staying with the Yankees, the rumor has been that they could call up catcher, Gary Sanchez in September. Sanchez has reemerged as of late as one of the Yankees top hitting prospects, hitting .326 with four homers and 21 RBIs in just 24 Triple-A games this year. The catcher could provide a jolt both to the Yankees lineup and Fantasy owners if given the opportunity. He likely will be called up to provide depth, backing up Brian McCann, but could work his way into the mix perhaps at DH. If he gets the call, Fantasy owners should keep a close eye on him and the playing time he receives.
Another big prospect that could receive a September call up is Javier Baez. Just speculating here, but if Baez is called up do not be surprised if he jumps into the mix at second base, as Joe Maddon loves to play the match up and Starlin Castro continues to struggle. Despite injuries limited his playing time this year, Baez continues to perform in Triple-A, hitting .288/.365/.522 with 11 home runs, 47 RBIs, 34 runs and 12 stolen bases. He is once again reminding everyone why they fell in love with him prior to last season, when he showed the potential to hit 20-plus homers and swipe 15 bags. The strikeouts would be an issue, but he has cut his strike out rate to the lowest it has been since he played in Single-A, while improving his walk rate, showing that he continues to mature as a hitter. If Baez is called up this September, owners should not hesitate to add him.
Speaking of youngsters, Raisel Iglesias, has really been getting the job done lately. He has posted three straight quality starts and only allowed more than three runs once in his last five outings. During that stretch he has a 3.56 ERA, with a 3.31 Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP). He has also increased his strikeouts, (10.09 K/9) and lowered his walks (2.37 BB/9) during that stretch. He has also maintained his 10.7 Swinging Strike rate (SwStr%) of an above average 10.7 percent during this stretch. Iglesias has all the tools to be a very dependable pitcher in Fantasy, he just lacked the consistency early on. If this stretch is any indication of what is to come in the final six-weeks of the season, then Fantasy owners may want to make the jump and add him right now.
Lastly, we have a new closer in Colorado and his name is Tommy Kahnle. The youngster has a great ability to miss bats, picking up 11.35 K/9, but does not come without blemishes. He currently sports a BB/9 rate of 5.83. It is dangerous to put that many runners on base in any ballpark, but when you factor in the Coors Field factor it is easy to see why Fantasy owners didn’t rush to add him. However, he has looked good in both his outings and can limit the damage of those free passes since he misses bats at an elite rate, evident by his 14.5 SwStr%. Before yesterday’s rough outing against the Mets in a non-save situation, Kahnle had posted 10 straight scoreless appearances. There is certainly some risk behind the youngster, but if you are in need of saves, he may be your best bet off waivers.
If you have any other questions make sure to follow me on Twitter, @MichaelFFlorio.