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Projecting players for 2021 was already a difficult — nay, impossible — task coming off a shortened 2020 season. The samples were small and who knows what sort of impact a full 162-game season would have on pitchers. We still don’t really know what a six-month season will do to pitchers, but evaluating players has been even more difficult this year due to a change in the baseball and pitchers who have seemingly been able to gain even more of an advantage due to their use of sticky stuff on that altered baseball.
We’ve heard more conversation about spin rate in mainstream baseball discussion over the past week than we ever have, and not in a good way. Naturally, there’s been increased attention on particular pitchers from start-to-start. Such parsing can be rather exhausting and not all that fruitful, but with the increased scrutiny on these substances, you can tell yourself what you want to hear about Trevor Bauer or Gerrit Cole or anyone else.
Is there a way to take advantage of this in fantasy leagues? Maybe. Is there a panicked Bauer manager out there somewhere? Almost certainly. It’s something to consider. Given the state of the baseball, it’s hard to say how much of an impact there will be if pitchers cease using the extreme substances we’ve heard about. But with the weather warming up, I’m expecting something closer to equilibrium. Maybe that makes you aggressive in moving a pitcher you had questions about, especially with a lot more being asked of them as far as workload in comparison with last year. Again, this season has been very difficult to project, but this could be the approach to go with as the season moves along. Most relevant to fantasy waiver wires, it would be nice to have a more productive player pool on the hitter side of things. Here's to hoping.
Have specific questions about your roster? Ask @djshort on Twitter.
(Players rostered in under 50 percent of Yahoo leagues)
Note: Percentages are from the morning of Thursday, June 10th
Miguel Andujar 3B/OF, Yankees (Yahoo: 17 percent rostered)
Welcome back to fantasy relevancy, Mr. Andujar. After two years in the wilderness, the 26-year-old has been one of the Yankees’ better hitters in recent days, slugging five homers over his last eight games. After a bit of a slow start, he’s hitting .291 (23-for-79) over his last 22 games. That’s the good news. The bad news is that he has a 20/1 K/BB ratio during that time. He’s swinging at everything, but his zone contact rate is in some impressive company and he’s making plenty of hard contact, as well. Andujar’s at-bats should be safe for now and this remains a great situation for a hitter.
Jonathan India 2B/3B, Reds (Yahoo: 39 percent rostered)
Say hello to the Reds’ new leadoff man. The 24-year-old rookie faded after a red-hot start, but he’s turned things around in a big way of late, hitting .407 (11-for-27) with two homers, two doubles, four RBI, one steal, six walks, and seven runs scored over his last nine games. He’s hit leadoff in each of the last four games after the Reds gave Eugenio Suarez a chance there for some reason. India is a much better fit at the top, as he’s a good approach as a rookie. He actually has more walks (10) than strikeouts (9) over his last 15 games. India has some punch in his bat and also offers elite sprint speed, so the volume at the top of the Reds’ lineup is pretty intriguing.
Tucker Davidson SP, Braves (Yahoo: 16 percent rostered)
Alright, so Davidson shouldn’t have to worry about his place in the Braves’ rotation at this point. He’s been fantastic over his last two starts, firing 11 2/3 scoreless innings. His control was shaky against the Nationals last Thursday, but he was completely locked in against the Phillies on Wednesday night, allowing just four hits and one walk over six innings while striking out four batters and picking up 27 CSW (called strikes plus whiffs) in his 90 pitches. 10 of his 13 whiffs came on his slider, a pitch he worked on during his time at the Braves’ alternate training site last year. Davidson was already a pretty good pitching prospect, but his ceiling might be higher at this point. Just keep in mind that he gets the Red Sox next time out, which will obviously be quite the test.
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Dylan Moore 2B/3B/SS/OF, Mariners (Yahoo: 46 percent rostered)
Moore began a rehab assignment earlier this week as he makes his way back from a calf strain and should be back with the Mariners in the next couple of days, so make sure to stash now. Coming off his unexpected breakout in 2020, Moore has struggled on the whole this year, but he had an .824 OPS with four homers, 13 RBI, four steals, and eight runs scored in a 16-game span prior to hitting the injured list in mid-May. He hasn’t hit the ball as hard as last year and strikeouts cap the batting average upside, but the power/speed combo and multi-position eligibility should continue to make him relevant.
Brandon Belt 1B/OF, Giants (Yahoo: 22 percent rostered)
Coming off a brutal April, Belt turned things around to start last month before injuring his side on May 11. He tried to play his way through it initially before eventually going on the injured list, but he made his return on Tuesday and went 3-for-4 with a walk and three runs scored. It has been a bit strange to see a marked increase in strikeouts so far this year, but Belt is still showing the impressive gains in barrel percentage, hard-hit percentage, and average exit velocity that he did last year. That’s big as far as forecasting what he could provide throughout the summer.
Jake Odorizzi SP, Astros (Yahoo: 14 percent rostered)
After signing late in spring training, Odorizzi had a late start of the season before hitting the injured list with a right pronator muscle strain, but he’s earning his way back in our good graces. He’s pitched well in two out of his three starts since returning late last month, including six strikeouts while allowing three runs in five innings against a tough Red Sox lineup on Wednesday. His average fastball velocity has been up since returning — on par with his excellent 2019 — which is an encouraging sign about how he’s feeling. Odorizzi was hurt last year and it’s tough to make much out of his initial struggles given the unusual ramp-up, so it’s about time he gets more consideration in mixed leagues. This is a good time to get on board, as upcoming starts include the likes of the Rangers and Tigers. The White Sox are in the middle of those two outings, but let that dissuade you from the pickup.
(Players rostered in under 10 percent of Yahoo leagues)
Josh Sborz RP, Rangers (Yahoo: 1 percent rostered)
Ian Kennedy has been perhaps the biggest surprise among fantasy closers, picking up 12 saves with a 2.53 ERA and 25/7 K/BB ratio over 21 1/3 innings, but unfortunately he was forced to the injured list on Tuesday due to a right hamstring strain. The Rangers are a bad baseball team and they might very well go with a matchup approach in whatever save chances they do have, but Sborz might be at the front of any potential committee. It should be stated that he’s had a couple of bad appearances recently, but he misses bats with a strong three-pitch arsenal and has done a good job keeping the ball on the ground. He’s a name to watch for the duration of the season with Kennedy likely becoming a trade candidate before long.
Max Stassi C, Angels (Yahoo: 9 percent rostered)
Going back to the start of last season, Stassi holds a strong .297/.367/.565 batting line with 11 home runs and 28 RBI over 48 games. If that surprises you, you’re not alone. All we have are snippets over the past two seasons, but you can’t take away the fact that Stassi has made a ton of hard contact. He’s actually found his way to the middle of the Angels’ lineup in recent days. It’s not such a bad gig to be following names like Ohtani, Rendon, and Walsh in the order. Kurt Suzuki is still going to get some starts behind the dish, but Stassi is a fine option in two-catcher formats right now. He’s a good alternative if Eric Haase (Yahoo: 30 percent roster) has already been scooped up.
Billy McKinney OF, Mets (Yahoo: 1 percent rostered)
The Mets have been forced to get creative with their roster due to the ridiculous number of injuries they’ve been faced with in the past several weeks. Some of their moves have been misses, but McKinney has been a major win so far, as he’s put up a .275/.341/.700 batting line with eight extra-base hits (including four homers), 11 RBI, and eight runs scored through 44 plate appearances with New York. He had his biggest game yet Wednesday in Baltimore, putting together his second career multi-homer game. McKinney is a .230 career hitter, so don’t go crazy in mixed leagues, but he’s now amassed 25 homers in 176 games (555 plate appearances) in the majors. We’re dealing in small samples with his season until this point, but he has been more selective and has improved his contact rate in the process. With his penchant for putting the ball in the air, the power should continue to be there. Michael Conforto is still a ways off from returning, so there are worse plays in five-outfielder formats.
Ryan Yarbrough SP, Rays (Yahoo: 44 percent rostered)
Yarbrough threw the first complete game by a Rays pitcher in five years in his most recent outing, so what could he have in store for an encore? It’s unfair to expect anything close to that, but he’s certainly worth a spin against the Orioles on Friday. The 29-year-old had a bit of a shaky start to the season, but he’s pretty much looked like himself since the start of May, compiling a 3.03 ERA during that time. Nothing flashy here, but he has elite control and doesn’t give up much in the way of hard contact. He probably should be rostered in more than 50 percent of Yahoo leagues anyway.
Cole Irvin SP, Athletics (Yahoo: 21 percent rostered)
James Kaprielian SP, Athletics (Yahoo: 27 percent rostered)
Bunching Irvin and Kaprielian together here as the Athletics play a four-game series against the Royals at home, beginning on Thursday. Frankie Montas will pitch the series opener, but Irvin and Kaprielian pitch the next two and are recommended matchup plays. Irvin hit a bit of a wall recently, but he bounced back in Coors Field off all places in his last start, spinning six innings of one-run ball with five strikeouts. As for Kaprielian, he’s been very good in four out of his five starts, resulting in a 3.08 ERA with 28 strikeouts in 26 1/3 innings.
Logan Gilbert SP, Mariners (Yahoo: 24 percent rostered)
Gilbert didn’t quite meet expectations upon his call-up about a month ago, but he’s been much better of late, allowing three runs in 11 innings with a 12/5 K/BB ratio over his last two starts. He racked up a career-high 18 swinging strikes in his most recent start against the Angels on Sunday. The 24-year-old has given up a lot of hard contact on the whole — the average exit velocity against him checks in at 93.6 mph, which is bottom second-percentile — but he’s well worth a try against a light-hitting Indians team this weekend.
Riley Adams C, Blue Jays (Yahoo: 0 percent rostered)
The Blue Jays were already without Alejandro Kirk, but with Danny Jansen now on the injured list with a right hamstring strain, they called up Adams for his major league debut this week. The 24-year-old doesn’t get as much attention in prospect circles as fellow catcher Gabriel Moreno, but he’s interesting in his own right, having put up 27 homers through 270 minor league games. Hitting from the right side of the plate, the 6-foot-4, 246-pounder was slashing .250/.410/.600 with six homers through 19 games in Triple-A this year. Contact is an issue here, but he could provide a short-term boost in fantasy formats. It’s not like Danny Jansen has swung the bat well, so who knows, maybe Adams could carve out a role for himself here.
Dillon Thomas OF, Mariners (Yahoo: 0 percent rostered)
If you aren’t rooting for Thomas right now, you probably don’t have a pulse. Selected in the 4th round by the Rockies back in 2011, the 28-year-old has played 10 seasons in the minors before finally getting his first call-up this week. Thomas certainly earned it after delivering a .338/.459/.625 batting line with six homers and four steals over 25 games in Triple-A this year. This has really been a continuation of the pop and speed he showed with the Brewers’ Double-A affiliate in 2019. Jake Fraley is also worth watching in this situation, but there’s opportunity in the Mariners’ outfield with Jarred Kelenic in in the minors and Kyle Lewis injured. It looks like Jake Bauers could also get a chance here after being acquired from the Indians on Thursday.
Carter Kieboom 3B, Nationals (Yahoo: 2 percent rostered)
Kieboom has been a major disappointment in the majors until this point, but it might be time to take another look at him. While Starlin Castro and Josh Harrison have been mediocre at best this season, Kieboom is hitting .282/.451/.462 with two homers and more walks (nine) than strikeouts (five) over his past 11 games in Triple-A. Luis Garcia has also swung the bat well down there, so something will have to give here eventually.
Conner Menez RP, Giants (Yahoo: 1 percent rostered)
Menez has been lights-out in four long relief appearances since his call-up at the start of the month, picking up a win while tossing eight scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts and no walks. He’s thrown exactly two innings in each of his appearances and has allowed a grand total of two hits so far. Menez has pitched primarily as a starter in the minors, but he might have found his niche here. The southpaw relies heavily on his slider and has essentially eliminated his curveball so far this season. Whatever he’s doing, it’s working for him, and we could see him vulture some more wins if he keeps this multi-inning role.