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We’re about a month into the 2022 MLB season, but it feels like baseball has been back for months now. Veterans who are typically reliable fantasy contributors have been slumping, overachieving waiver wire pickups are fueling false hope, and overreactions are plentiful. A lot of the established veterans who are slumping will likely get going in time. But for those who don’t – for whatever reason – you’ll need a backup plan, and that’s where the waiver wire comes in.
Recently, we’ve seen several young players get the call to the majors and succeed immediately. There are also highly-touted prospects who are on the verge of their MLB debuts. Seemingly, organizations are ready to see what some of their young players can do at the major league level, and as fantasy players, we need to be ready to pick them up before the next guy does. In this week’s points league waiver wire piece, I’ll once again be highlighting a handful of players who could help your points league rosters.
Points League Options
(Players rostered in under 50 percent of ESPN leagues)
George Kirby SP, Mariners (11 percent rostered)
If I were to imagine what an ideal pitching prospect would look like, they’d have a physique that wouldn’t evoke workload concerns, pinpoint command and control skills, and four or more plus pitches. Luckily, I don’t have to imagine this, because George Kirby exists. Armed with a mid-to-high 90s four-seam fastball, a slider, a curveball, a changeup, and plus command, Kirby is easily one of the best pitching prospects in baseball. And in his MLB debut, he showed us why.
Facing off against the Rays – a team that had the 11th best on-base plus slugging percentage against right-handed pitchers coming into Sunday’s game – Kirby hurled six shutout innings, allowed four hits, and struck out seven. His fastball generated 13 of his 15 whiffs (37 percent whiff rate overall) and he finished with a 68 percent strike rate. He did allow some loud contact as a result of his heavy fastball usage (59% usage rate) and where he was locating his fastball, but because of his strong command, he won’t be the type of pitcher who consistently misses their spots as a major leaguer.
Furthermore, as his major league sample size grows, we’ll start to see him utilize his secondaries more. Remember when Alek Manoah was called up last year? Or when Zac Gallen got the call in 2019? Kirby could have a similar impact in 2022. Stop reading this and go pick him up before it’s too late.
The second best prospect in baseball according to MLB Pipeline, Adley Rutschman is finally healthy and almost ready to make his long-awaited MLB debut. The second that he was drafted first overall in the 2019 MLB Draft by the Baltimore Orioles, he became the future of the organization. The switch-hitting catcher is an outstanding defender, possesses well above-average raw power, has an elite hit tool, and has a superb approach at the plate. Across 736 career minor league plate appearances, Rutschman has a .285/.392/.489 slash line with 27 home runs, a 14.1 percent walk rate, and a 16 percent strikeout rate.
There was a possibility of him opening up the season with the big league club, but a mid-March tricep strain forced the Orioles to shut him down. Fortunately, he’s now healthy and playing in Triple-A for the first time in his professional career. There’s a reason why he’s already 27 percent rostered, folks. Whenever he’s officially called up to the majors, he could be the most popular waiver wire pickup of the season. If he’s still available in your league, go get him right now. He has the upside to be the perennial number one catcher in fantasy in time.
After playing in the Cuban National Series in the early stages of his baseball career, Yadiel Hernandez defected to the United States in 2016 and in September 2016, the Nationals signed him to a minor league contract. He made his minor league debut at 29-years-old and over 1,524 career plate appearances, he slashed .300/.383/.506 with 68 home runs, a 11.8 percent walk rate, and a 19 percent strikeout rate. Almost half of those home runs came in 2019, when he hit 33 home runs over 439 at-bats. He had a moderately productive 289-plate appearance sample size in 2021, but he’s been on fire to begin the 2022 season.
He’s slashing .365/.392/.541 with two home runs and a steal through 79 plate appearances. He’s been making contact at a career-high rate and his quality of contact metrics are up across the board. This is a very small sample size, but we know that Hernandez has always been able to hit for average and he hit 33 home runs in 2019 for a reason. He’s been seeing the majority of his playing time in left field and at this rate, he’ll comfortably set a career-high in plate appearances this season. He’s not the most flashy pickup, but you could do much worse if you need outfield help.
Josh Winder SP, Twins (13 percent rostered)
Having strong command as a prospect is the key to at least getting a tryout in a major league rotation. A lot of young arms possess above-average command, but below-average stuff or other issues result in these pitchers being nothing more than backend starters or relief pitchers long-term. If I had to bet, I’d say that Josh Winder will be, at worst, a backend major league starter in time. He’s armed with a mid-90s four-seam fastball, a slider, a changeup, and a curveball. He knows how to command all of his offerings, but the movement profiles on his secondaries aren’t too impressive.
Nonetheless, through two career starts (12 innings), Winder has yet to allow an earned run and he has a 15/1 K/BB. Bailey Ober is on the injured list and Dylan Bundy tested positive for COVID-19 recently, so there’s room for Winder to remain in the rotation for the time being. If he continues to perform well, he might force the Twins’ hand regardless of who’s healthy and who’s not. Getting a free pitching upgrade off the waiver wire in points leagues is like stumbling onto a pot of gold. Okay, it’s not exactly the same thing, but you get my point. Don’t overlook Winder if you see him out there.
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Deep Points League Options
(Players rostered in under 10 percent of ESPN leagues)
Dane Dunning SP, Rangers (6 percent rostered)
It’s all about command and inducing ground balls for Dane Dunning. They’re his biggest strengths and the keys to his future success as a major league starter. His low-spin sinker sits in the low-90s and he throws a slider, a changeup, a cutter, a curveball, and very rarely, a four-seam fastball. Through 37 career starts (177 ⅔ innings), he has a 4.31 ERA (4.05 SIERA), a 175/64 K/BB (14.5 percent K-BB), and a 51.8 percent ground ball rate. Aside from the high ground ball rate, he’s had a rather mediocre start to his MLB career. However, there’s still time for him to improve.
Through his first five starts of 2022 (26 innings), he has yet to allow more than three earned runs in a start. In addition, he had the longest start of his career on April 30th – a strong 7 ⅔ innings effort against the Braves. His newly-founded cutter has more horizontal movement this year and it’s been arguably his best pitch. He’s only thrown 37 of them, but four of his 26 strikeouts have come on his cutter, it has a 38.5 percent whiff rate, and he’s been attacking his glove side with the pitch. If can continue to effectively utilize his cutter, while commanding the rest of his offerings, he could be worth a roster spot in deep points leagues for the rest of the season. Pitching is king in most points leagues; don’t brush off potentially free – albeit unexciting – value.
Josh Naylor 1B/OF, Guardians (9 percent rostered)
When Josh Naylor was selected 12th overall by the Miami Marlins in the 2015 MLB Draft, his best tool was his impressive raw power. He never had a true power breakout as a minor leaguer given his tendency to hit ground balls at a high rate, but he still showcased the ability to hit in-game home runs. Over 1,762 career at-bats, he hit 50 home runs. And 27 of those 50 home runs came in 2018-2019 (724 at-bats). His overall plate approach and hit tool aren’t too shabby either. Across 1,958 career minor league plate appearances, he slashed .287/.352/.438 with an 8.6 percent walk rate and a 14.2 percent strikeout rate.
He made his MLB debut in 2019, but he has yet to reach 300 plate appearances or hit double digit home runs. Injuries and the lack of an everyday role are to blame, but he looks primed to set a career-high in both plate appearances and home runs in 2022. He’s been receiving regular playing time at first base, right field, and designated hitter to begin the season and through 67 plate appearances, he’s slashing .317/.343/.460 with two home runs. He’s still hitting too many ground balls (50 percent ground ball rate), but with experience, he’ll be able to learn how to improve his game power at the major league level. I strongly believe that he’ll have a 20+ home run campaign before he leaves this game. I’m not confident that we’ll see it this season, but Naylor is still well worth a roster spot in deep points leagues.