After catching our breath during the All-Star break, we need to return to the grind of fantasy baseball today. And the lull in action gave us a great chance to assess the waiver wire without players constantly being added or removed.
This week’s list of potential gems includes many youngsters who could take off in the second half and a few veterans who have been better than expected this year.
Andrew Vaughn (1B/OF, 32 percent rostered)
A popular late-round sleeper during draft season, Vaughn got off to a nondescript start and quickly became waiver-wire fodder in most mixed leagues. But the elite prospect has found his footing in July (1.051 OPS), reducing his strikeout rate and reminding everyone why the White Sox were so aggressive in promoting him to the Majors.
Alex Kirilloff (1B/OF, 32 percent)
Kirilloff has been steady but unspectacular during his debut season, hitting .278 or better in each of the past three months but logging mediocre power numbers. However, his expected statistics on Statcast are eye-popping, as he ranks among the top-10 players in baseball in both xBA (.316) and xSLG (.599). There is a significant chance that Kirilloff takes a major step forward in the second half.
Bobby Bradley (1B, 14 percent)
If you’re looking for pure power, Bradley is your guy. The first baseman strikes out often and won’t help your batting average, but he has homered 10 times in 104 at-bats, and his immediate power success fits the profile he displayed in the Minors. The lack of depth at first base this season makes Bradley even more appealing.
Cesar Hernandez (2B, 21 percent)
After a dismal April (.527 OPS), Hernandez has taken his power game to new levels by homering 14 times across 61 games since May 1. The 31-year-old has already matched his career-high in long balls, and he could threaten the 30-homer plateau by maintaining his current pace. Additionally, Hernandez’s .226 batting average has been the result of poor batted-ball luck, and he owns a respectable .258 xBA via Statcast. On pace to score more than 90 runs, Hernandez might be the most underrated player on this list.
Nico Hoerner (2B/3B/SS, 17 percent)
The Cubs seem set for a rebuild, which is great news for Hoerner. The 24-year-old missed part of this season with a hamstring injury, but he was excellent during Spring Training and has hit .330 with strong plate discipline in 108 at-bats thus far. A coveted prospect, Hoerner is the type of player who will be promoted by the Cubs during the second half, and his multi-position eligibility makes him easy to fit into fantasy lineups.
Evan Longoria (3B, 24 percent)
Longoria got off to a great start this season, hitting .280 with nine homers in 161 at-bats before landing on the IL with a shoulder injury. In fact, if he can keep up his current pace, his .892 OPS will be the second-highest mark of his 14-year career. Longoria is expected to return in the coming days, at which time he will reclaim his spot in the heart of a lineup that has been among the best in baseball.
Jarred Kelenic (OF, 43 percent)
I have mentioned Kelenic more than once in this space, and this may be your last chance to pick him up. The elite prospect may have flopped in his Major League debut, but he has been crushing opposing pitchers in Triple-A and is set to return to Seattle’s lineup immediately following the All-Star break. Kelenic has the diverse skill set that fantasy managers look for, as he is capable of providing homers and steals. I’m expecting him to have great success this summer.
Triston McKenzie (SP, 35 percent)
After being a late-round boom-or-bust pick during draft season, McKenzie trended heavily in the bust direction (6.38 ERA) before being optioned to Triple-A on June 13. The youngster returned with a vengeance on July 9, striking out nine across seven shutout innings and reminding fantasy managers of the prospect who posted a 3.24 ERA and 0.90 WHIP in 33.1 innings last season. I expect McKenzie to be rostered in most leagues by the end of July.
Zach Thompson (SP/RP, 38 percent)
Thompson is one of this season’s most unlikely breakout candidates, thriving in the Marlins rotation (2.25 ERA, 1.00 WHIP) after having little success in the Minors. Miami has been a great source of starting pitching in recent years, and the rookie should be added in most leagues until he gives us a reason to doubt him. Additionally, fantasy managers should trend towards hurlers in the lower-scoring National League.
Alex Cobb (SP, 22 percent)
Cobb has been better this year than is indicated by his 4.23 ERA. The right-hander has had bad luck (.326 BABIP) on his groundball-heavy approach, and he becomes a much more appealing fantasy option when we recognize his 2.70 FIP. Also, his 10.1 K/9 rate is by far the best of his career. Cobb won’t take your team to a title, but he can be a steady presence at the back end of a mixed-league rotation.
Ranger Suarez (RP, 37 percent)
Suarez is on the verge of locking down the Phillies' ninth-inning gig, although he may share save chances by virtue of often pitching multiple innings. But no matter how manager Joe Girardi deploys the 25-year-old, there is no doubting Suarez will have a major role. Since June 5, the right-hander has collected four wins, 23 strikeouts, and two saves.
Paul Sewald (RP, 20 percent)
Sewald has been Seattle’s best reliever this season, posting a 1.40 ERA (1.12 FIP), a 0.94 WHIP, and a 15.4 K/9 rate. And like Suarez, Sewald’s success has led to a versatile role that includes regularly pitching in key situations. The right-hander has collected five wins and two saves this year, and he should add to both totals in the coming weeks.