Happy Opening Day, everyone. Welcome to the first edition of Waiver Wired for the 2019 MLB season. I’ll be here every Thursday throughout the season to uncover potential bargains and breakouts on the waiver wire in your league. This is my 10th season doing this column, but I feel I still have plenty left in the tank.
If you are joining us for the first time, the way this weekly column works is that I identify players in mixed formats who are rostered in under 50 percent of Yahoo leagues. It’s the best way to help a wide variety of people, ranging from those in shallow formats to deeper competitive leagues. This is somewhat of a dress rehearsal for the long season ahead, so I’m focusing strictly on mixed leagues for this first week, but I’ll also include recommendations for AL-only and NL-only formats from next week forward. No matter what format you play in, hopefully you’ll be able to find something here.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been champing at the bit to make some roster tweaks with most injured list moves becoming official on Thursday morning. So why wait any longer? Let’s do this.
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(All players rostered in under 50 percent of Yahoo leagues)
Ramon Laureano OF, Athletics (Yahoo: 42 percent rostered)
In our spring training wrap-up episode of the Rotoworld Baseball Podcast (which you should listen to if you haven’t already), my co-host Drew Silva asked me one player with an ADP (average draft position) outside the top-200 who will deliver top-100 value this season. My first impulse was to say Garrett Hampson with the Rockies, but there are still questions about playing time with Ryan McMahon in the fold. I ultimately pivoted to Laureano, who put up some big numbers with the Athletics’ Triple-A affiliate last year before hitting .288/.358/.474 with five homers, 19 RBI, seven steals, and 27 runs scored over his first 48 games in the majors. He struck out in 28.4 percent of his plate appearances, so maybe the batting average won’t stick, but he has some serious wheels and his excellent defense should give him some leash. Likely to hit leadoff for Oakland, Laureano is a threat to pop 20 homers and steal 30 bases while scoring a bunch of runs.
Joe Musgrove SP, Pirates (Yahoo: 45 percent rostered)
There was some excitement about Musgrove last spring after coming over to the National League in the Gerrit Cole deal, but he didn’t end up making his season debut until late May due to a shoulder injury. The 26-year-old showed the ingredients for a breakout after that, posting a 4.06 ERA and 100/23 K/BB ratio in 115 1/3 innings over 19 starts before going down with an abdominal wall injury in September. Musgrove has always had excellent control and command and his slider and changeup induce enough whiffs to suggest there could be more strikeout upside here. He’s been one of my favorite late-round targets in drafts this spring.
Wilmer Flores 1B/2B/3B, Diamondbacks (Yahoo: 14 percent rostered)
Flores is apparently going to be the primary second baseman for the Diamondbacks this season? As someone who has watched his whole career with the Mets, that doesn’t sound like the best plan, but all that matters for fantasy owners is that he’s in line for regular at-bats. Perhaps he eventually sees more time at first base and the D-Backs shuffle things around with Jake Lamb and Eduardo Escobar. Either way, I think Flores has some sneaky potential. While he’s been known as a lefty-masher in his career, he was actually very productive against right-handed pitching last year. Flores makes plenty of contact and could hit 20-plus homers as a regular. With eligibility at three different positions, he’s a nice plug-and-play option.
Jung Ho Kang 3B, Pirates (Yahoo: 28 percent rostered)
Despite not really playing over the past two years due to legal issues related to drunk driving in his native South Korea, Kang isn’t sneaking up on fantasy owners right now. After all, he led all MLB players with seven home runs during spring training. But it’s still worth remembering that he amassed 36 homers and an .838 OPS in 229 games between 2015-2016. The Pirates certainly haven’t forgotten, as they are trusting him to be their regular third baseman to begin the year. He’s a question mark after such a long layoff, but worth a look on the chances he recaptures his past production.
Brad Peacock RP Astros (Yahoo: 44 percent rostered)
The back-end of the Astros’ rotation is very much subject to change. Josh James was the trendy name among fantasy owners coming into the spring before he went down with a quad injury in the early days of camp. His absence ultimately opened the door for Peacock’s return to the starting rotation. The 31-year-old pitched exclusively out of the bullpen last year (while posting a 3.46 ERA with 96 strikeouts in 65 innings), but he thrived out of the rotation in 2017 with a 3.22 ERA and 135 strikeouts in 111 2/3 innings over 21 starts. He’s in a great situation for short-term value at the very least. And who knows, maybe he keeps the job for a while. Just keep in mind that James is still in the pipeline, and so are Framber Valdez and Forrest Whitley. Heck, Dallas Keuchel’s return can’t be ruled out either.
Austin Barnes C/2B, Dodgers (Yahoo: 13 percent rostered)
In case you haven’t noticed, catcher is pretty brutal right now. I have joked a couple times this winter that I would play in a no-catcher league, but it actually makes sense the more I think about it. Losing Salvador Perez to Tommy John surgery definitely hurts, but there’s at least some reason for optimism that some impact players will emerge this year. I’m particularly excited about Danny Jansen with the Blue Jays and Francisco Mejia with the Padres, but Barnes should probably be on this list too. With Yasmani Grandal now in Milwaukee, Barnes should have the edge over Russell Martin as far as catching duties in Los Angeles. His approach fell apart last year, but he’s showed the ability to hit for average and get on base while providing a little bit of pop and speed. The bar is pretty low at catcher right now, but I think he’s an excellent rebound candidate.
Jorge Soler OF, Royals (Yahoo: 21 percent rostered)
Speaking of rebound candidates, Soler is also on my list. He was very productive with the Royals last season, putting up a .265/.354/.466 batting line with nine homers over 61 games before going down with a fractured toe in June. He suffered a setback late in the year and was unable to rejoin the Royals down the stretch. We obviously don’t want to make too much out of spring training numbers, but I’m still encouraged by how well he has swung the bat. And we know he’ll be in line for regular playing time on a bad Royals team. If he can just stay healthy, there’s mixed league value here. Just to put my money where my mouth is, I’ve selected him in my Tout Wars Mixed Draft league and the BP Kings Scoresheet league.
Corbin Burnes RP, Brewers (Yahoo: 11 percent rostered)
One of the cool things going on around the game right now is that there are so many young and interesting starting pitchers getting opportunities. And this goes beyond the likes of the Padres’ Chris Paddack and Matt Strahm, who are already rostered in more than 50 percent of Yahoo leagues. I don’t have nearly enough room in this column to recommend everyone I like — hopefully more next week — but Burnes stands out as someone who has a chance to break through this year. With a mid-90s fastball and a nasty slider, he put up a 2.61 ERA and 35/11 K/BB ratio over 38 relief innings as a rookie last year. With one of the league’s best offenses behind him, I’m excited to see where this goes.
Jeff McNeil 2B, Mets (Yahoo: 17 percent rostered)
With Todd Frazier and Jed Lowrie on the injured list — get used to saying that, please — to begin the year, top prospect Pete Alonso will begin the year as the Mets’ primary first baseman. However, the injuries also open the door for McNeil to have a regular role, at least for a little while. While he had some doubters upon his promotion to the majors last year, the soon-to-be 27-year-old hit .329 with three homers, 19 RBI, seven steals, and 35 runs scored over 63 games. He didn’t display much patience, but he was the fifth-most difficult player to strike out among players with at least 200 plate appearances. Consider him a short-term option for now, but things could change if he gets off to a hot start and/or the injuries to Frazier or Lowrie linger.
Ryan Pressly RP, Astros (Yahoo: 22 percent rostered)
I could wade into the unsavory closer situations around the league, but what fun is that? Let’s give that some time to play out. Instead I want to focus on someone who probably isn’t going to close games, but should be valuable in mixed leagues anyway. Pressly took things to another level after being acquired from the Twins last year, posting a stingy 0.77 ERA and 32/3 K/BB ratio over 23 1/3 innings. The big key was upping the use of his elite spin-rate curveball while cutting back on his fastball usage. When the Astros want one of your pitchers, it’s saying something. Pressly was a pretty good reliever even before joining the Astros, but he could move into relief-ace territory in 2019. With starting pitchers throwing fewer innings and so many unsettled closer situations, there’s room for pitchers like Pressly on most fantasy rosters.
Ketel Marte 2B/SS, Diamondbacks (Yahoo: 19 percent rostered)
The Steven Souza injury is a bummer for a wide variety of reasons. I was really hoping he’d get a chance to make up for his injury-plagued first season in Arizona, but now he’s facing a very serious knee surgery and who knows what to expect from him moving forward. In his absence, Adam Jones will slide over to right field while Marte will get a chance to be the primary center fielder. That was the plan before Jones was brought into the fold and I found the possibility pretty intriguing. Marte isn’t the kind of guy who will dominate a particular format, but he showed an uptick in power last season and should hit high in Arizona’s order. He also makes a good amount of contact, so there could be some batting average upside as well. After getting off to a slow start last year, the 25-year-old quietly hit .285 with an .877 OPS over the final four months. Adding outfield eligibility is another feather in his cap.
Shopping at the five-and-dime:
(Players rostered in under 10 percent of Yahoo leagues)
Adam Frazier 2B/OF, Pirates (Yahoo: 6 percent rostered)
Another favorite of mine in drafts this spring, Frazier is slated to serve as the Pirates’ primary second baseman and leadoff man this season. While I don’t see him as the sort of breakout guy who could crack the top-100 in value by the end of the year, he should be a steady contributor and compiler if things continue as planned. The 27-year-old is a .280/.345/.422 hitter in the majors, so he should hit for average and get on base, putting him in position to score a bunch of runs. He reached a career-best 10 homers in 352 plate appearances last year after making a swing adjustment. The multi-position eligibility helps and he’s not a zero in the speed department either. He’s a bargain right now.
Justin Bour 1B, Angels (Yahoo: 9 percent rostered)
Who knows how the at-bats will shake out once Shohei Ohtani makes his return from Tommy John surgery, but now is the time to have Bour on your squad while he sees regular at-bats in the Angels’ lineup. The 30-year-old dropped off last year — mostly because he lost all the progress he made against left-handed pitching — but he still ended up with 20 homers overall and posted an .819 OPS against right-handed pitching. With Justin Upton out, he should have a cozy spot in the Angels’ lineup initially. And Angels Stadium is at least more friendly to left-handed batters than it has been in the past. Some cheap pop if you were short in that area on draft day.