Ah, Independence Day approaches, yet these players deserve to have their freedom claimed off the waiver wire in the name of Fantasy Baseball success….
A.J. Reed, 1B/DH, Astros: Making his long-expected debut last Saturday, Reed drove in a run and scored twice, yet enters the weekend hitless in his first 18 plate appearances. The early slump may have caused some owners to pause, yet don’t be among that group of sheep. Owned in 19 percent of polled leagues, Reed will eventually display his best traits: power and the ability to get on base, the latter of which the Astros have lacked at first base this season (.304 OBP). Though built like a defensive tackle, the 6’4”, 275-pounder also sputtered in Triple-A earlier in the season and earned a trip to the disabled list before finding his stride.
A minor league career slash line of 311/.399/.509 is proof positive Reed can handle business at the plate. Grab him while he still floats under the radar and wait patiently before his mammoth power from the left side gives the Astros a needed jolt in their pursuit of a second straight AL Wild Card berth.
Lonnie Chisenhall, OF, Indians: While pitching has been the capstone to the Tribe’s current 12-game win streak, Chisenhall’s bat is also a key factor. The former top prospect came alive in June, swinging .302/.344/.535 with an .879 OPS to give the Indians much-needed stability in right field. Chisenhall entered Thursday with three homers and nine RBIs over the past week, which has seen his ownership rise to 12.5 percent in polled leagues. While he won’t maintain his current power spike, Chisenhall’s increas
ed line drive rate (25.9 percent, compared to last season’s 19.5 percent) and ability to spray the ball to all fields makes him a solid choice in deeper leagues, especially those that use OBP as a category.
Jose Reyes, SS (3B?)/Mets: If your moral compass guides you to avoid Reyes for his off-field issues, I understand. There’s a time and place for that subject. This column is neither. Reyes should be up by next week with the franchise he played for from 2003-11 and is expected to replace Wilmer Flores at the hot corner. For those scoring at home, please keep in mind that Reyes has never played third in a major league game, but with the Mets ranked 29th in runs scored, they’d give former Mets standouts Howard Johnson and Dave Magadan ABs if they could. Speed remains Reyes’ calling card, as he entered this season having swiped at least 24 bases in five of the last six years. His walk rates have declined, yet my guess is the Mets will give Reyes the chance to hit in the seventh spot, where they have a paltry .234/.306/.338 slash line. He’s owned in 13 percent of polled leagues, which makes him an enticing option for deep league skippers in need of steals.
Daniel Mengden, P, Athletics: Don’t be drawn in by Mengden’s 1-3 record. You try winning with the 1.3 runs per game of support he’s had to endure over his last three starts. Part of the haul that sent Scott Kazmir to the Astros last summer, Mengden has a 1.17 WHIP and strikes out 9.1 batters per nine frames and — oh, yes — sports a mustache that resembles either former A’s closer and Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers or an enforcer for Nucky Thompson on the classic HBO series Boardwalk Empire. Not only is his ‘stache a throwback, Mengden’s pitching motion looks like something the late Mel Allen would have enjoyed describing on an episode of This Week in Baseball (kids, This Week in Baseball was…well, the best damn show of all-time. The closing theme is some of the best music for a sports show).
Mengden appears up to stay, which is why his ownership is hovering near 20 percent in polled leagues. The strikeout rate is real, which is why I’d suggest grabbing him. The wins may be few in number, yet you have to like Mengden’s quirky style and the fact each of his first four starts have been of the quality variety.
Max Kepler, OF, Twins: Der große deutsche beginnt, den Ball zu Slug. Translated, it means the big German is starting to slug the ball, which he began to do so last month. The Twins are in a dead sprint with the Braves for the first pick of the 2017 draft, forcing them to let their top prospects sink or swim. While Byron Buxton continues to sputter, Kepler hit three homers and knocked in 15 RBIs in June, closing the month with at least one extra base hit in three of his last four games. His presence in right field will likely force Miguel Sano back to third base once he returns next week, and while he continues to progress, Kepler’s power will also do the same. I’m not telling dynasty/keeper leaguers anything they don’t already know, but with Kepler available in nearly nine percent of polled mixed leagues, deeper league owners would be wise to grab him. Along with Buxton and a healthy Sano, I like Kepler’s chances for a solid second half breakout.
Bud Norris, P, Dodgers: News of Clayton Kershaw’s trip to the DL sent a deep Dodger blue chill down the spins at Chavez Ravine, which prompted the quick deal that sends the well-traveled Norris from the depths of the NL East cellar to the thick of a playoff chase. One of the few highlights of a miserable June for the Bravos, Norris racked up a 2.08 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP in 30.1 innings of work that also included 29 strikeouts. His ownership should continue to climb from the 8.5 percent it resides in polled leagues, especially considering that he has a career 3.10 ERA and a respectable 7.8 K/9 in six appearances at Dodger Stadium.
Jose Peraza, 2B/SS/OF, Reds: Like the Twins, the Reds are in “Might as well play our youngsters” mode, which leads to Peraza, who has done an impression of Billy Hamilton over the past week or so. Yes, a Billy Hamilton impersonation, starts in center, speed (three straight games of at least one swipe) and dirt-poor on base skills (.281 OBP) included. Sigh. He’s more of an NL-only target (three percent ownership at this point), yet an intriguing one which could see more action if words like “patience,” “restraint” and “quit swinging at every damn thing” would appear more frequently in his mind as he steps to the plate.
Aaron Judge, OF, Yankees: Equal time requires we dig deep for an AL-only player, so let’s close out with Judge, who is crushing the ball in Triple-A while waiting for a star to fall in the Yanks’ outfield. Owned in just three percent of polled mixed leagues, Judge has an .843 OPS at Scranton Wikes-Barre, the product of 16 homers, 47 ribbies and a .268/.355/.488 slash line. He’ll come up at some point, yet deeper leaguers with a roster spot to spare could stash him off and patiently await the moment the Yankees’ endless parade of corner OF/DH types finally taps dry.