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Welcome to another edition of The Watch List, where I discuss one player at each position who is owned in less than 30 percent of polled leagues. Each of these players is worth keeping an eye on in all formats, but those of you in deeper leagues, 16-teams or more, should be less hesitant to pull the trigger on them.
This edition will be a lot different than The Watch List you have come to know and hopefully, love. While some of the players on here are owned in less than 30 percent of leagues, many of you will notice more prominent players that are likely owned in your league. I decided, since we are approaching the All-Star break and there won’t be many games to watch these players before next week’s edition, that I would give you some players to target in a trade. While many owners will use the All-Star break as a break from Fantasy, your homework should be to acquire some of these players on the cheap, and hope to reap the benefits in the second half. Let’s get started!
Catcher: John Jaso
Wait… you mean Jaso is still unowned despite his .583 average and .917 slugging percentage? It may only be five games but in all seriousness, Jaso does hold value for those in leagues that use OBP. His career OBP is .361; to put that into perspective, it would currently rank fifth among catchers with at least 100 plate appearances. Jaso will provide owners with a great OBP, 10-plus homeruns, and he won’t kill you in RBI or runs. Add in the fact that he can steal a base here or there and he holds real value in Roto formats that use two-catchers or AL-only leagues.
First Base: C.J. Cron
Since being recalled, Cron has slashed .440/.444/.760 with two homers, nine RBIs and five runs. The most encouraging part of this is his hard hit rate sits at 33.3 percent during this stretch, which is on par with last year’s rate of 34.3 percent. Last year, Cron his 11 home runs in just 79 games, displaying the ability to hit over 20 homers in a full season, if he could just put it all together. Cron has been known to be a streaky hitter, but I would not be surprised if he flirted with 10 more home runs the rest of the season. Owners should keep an eye on him while he’s scorching the ball.
Second Base: Neil Walker
Ah, the first player that you are likely saying is that there’s no way is he unowned in my league. Fantasy owners have coveted Walker for one key reason; he provides power at a position that lacks it. However, this season he only has six home runs despite a hard hit rate that’s nearly five percentage points higher than last year. His HR/FB rate of 7.1 percent is well below last year’s 13.9 percent. In fact, his HR/FB rate has been over 10 percent in each of the past three years. Due to this, his Isolated Power (ISO) has dropped to the lowest it has been since 2009. Walker has posted double-digit homers in the second half of each of the past two seasons, and I would not be surprised if he achieved that feat again this year. Fantasy owners should try to buy low on him, perhaps offering D.J. LeMahieu or Logan Forsythe, both of whom have posted more Fantasy points than Walker so far.
Third Base: Kelly Johnson
Kelly Johnson has provided enough numbers to be on Fantasy owners’ radars this year. He has hit .272 with eight home runs and 29 RBIs. Now, those numbers are not going to blow anyone away, but he can provide value at the corner infield position. Johnson provided some value from 2011 through 2013, when he hit at least 16 home runs in every season. The only issue was that he would have a batting average in the .220s. He is on that same HR pace this season, but with an average that’s nearly 50 percentage points higher. His stolen bases will never get back into the teens like it did during that stretch, but if he can steal even a handful of bases, he could have value in deeper Roto leagues. Fantasy owners should keep an eye on him, as he has homered in two of his last four games.
Shortstop: Ian Desmond
Coming into the season, I was extremely high on Desmond. And just as he does nearly 29 percent of the time, I whiffed. There is not much to like about Desmond currently; his BABIP has dropped to a career worst .283, his .127 ISO is the lowest he’s posted since 2011, and worst of all, his hard hit rate is at a career low and his line drive rate is the lowest it’s been since 2009. Add in the fact that he only has three stolen bases after four straight years of 21 or more steals. Yeah, I said there is not much to like. However, in years past, Desmond has hit for a higher average in the second half. It is a major leap of faith, but Desmond is too talented to falter like this all season long. I would recommend taking advantage of the Desmond owner, who is likely freaking out at this point, and offering someone like Brad Miller, Jean Segura, Brock Holt or even Alexei Ramirez for Desmond, and hope that Desmond turns it on in the second half.
Outfield: Matt Kemp
It has been quite a disappointing first half for Padres slugger Matt Kemp. After posting 25 homers last year, he has just seven so far, along with a .242 average. Kemp has posted a .302 BABIP and .120 ISO, both well below his career norms. Kemp has also seen his HR/FB rate drop seven percentage points below his career rate. However, it was just a year ago that everyone was writing Kemp off as a has-been. He then exploded to hit .309 with 17 homers in the second half. Playing well in the second half is nothing new for Kemp, so Fantasy owners should attempt to buy low on him and once again hope to catch lightning in a bottle. Owners should offer either Jay Bruce, Josh Reddick or Ben Revere; all have more Fantasy points on the year than Kemp.
Starting Pitcher: Carlos Carrasco
The reason to believe in Carrasco is all in the numbers. Want to hear it? Great, how much time do you have? Seriously, despite his 10-7 record and 4.17 ERA, Carrasco has been much better than advertised. He sports a 2.83 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) and 2.74 Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP). His FIP is the 16th best in the league and his xFIP is the seventh best. He sports a 10.21 K/9 and a low 1.95 BB/9. Take into consideration that last year he absolutely dominated in the second half, posting a 1.72 ERA, 1.98 FIP, 2.25 xFIP, and he held opponents to a .197 average. Market correction is going to take place, and Carrasco has the ceiling to be a Top-12 pitcher in the second half this season. His owner could be thinking last year’s second half was a fluke and looking to sell. I assure you that it was not, and you should look to add him in any league possible. Pitchers with more Fantasy points than Carrasco that I would look to move for him include Jeff Samardzija, Carlos Martinez, Shelby Miller, Francisco Liriano, A.J. Burnett, John Lackey, Trevor Bauer, Hector Santiago and Scott Kazmir.
Relief Pitcher: Joe Smith
Huston Street tweaked his right groin this week closing out the Colorado Rockies and will not pitch this weekend against the Seattle Mariners. It works out for Street, who will get extra rest with the All-Star break next week, but groin injuries have been known to linger. If it does and it forces Street to miss time, Joe Smith will be thrown into the closer role. Smith is not your ideal closer, as he only averages 7.93 K/9, but he limits baserunners and keeps the ball in the park; he hasn’t allowed a home run in 36.1 innings pitched. Smith will never blow Fantasy owners away, but saves are a vital category this time of the year, and if he can be picked up off the waiver wire and receive a handful of chances, he’s worth it. Do not be hesitant to throw down a couple of FAAB bucks on him.
Enjoy the All-Star Game and make sure to make some moves! If you have any questions make sure to follow me on Twitter, @MichaelFFlorio