Jarren Duran is improving



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It’s almost time for the 38th Home Run Derby in major-league history. And right after that, the 2022 All-Star Game. This first half of the season has been filled with pleasant surprises, unexpected disappointments, and engrossing developments. Beyond that, an innumerable amount of early rounds players have dealt with injuries – hurting fantasy rosters everywhere. Injuries are part of the game, but thanks to the waiver wire, they don’t have to ruin your championship chances.

In this week’s points league waiver wire article, I dove into six players who could be of service to your points league rosters. There are a handful of veteran options this week, a couple of youngsters, and surprisingly, no starting pitchers. Starting pitching is king in most points leagues, but the bats are getting most of the love this week. Let’s get into it.

Points League Options

(Players rostered in under 50 percent of ESPN leagues)

Paul Sewald RP, Mariners (27 percent rostered)

Paul Sewald has converted eight straight save opportunities dating back to June 3rd. He now has double-digit saves in back-to-back campaigns for the first time in his MLB career. Before 2021 (147 ⅓ innings), he had a 5.50 ERA (3.97 SIERA), a 1.36 WHIP, and a 151/51 K/BB (15.6 percent K-BB). He was maxing out at 92 mph on his four-seam fastball while throwing a slider and occasionally mixing in a changeup. It’s not hard to understand why he was struggling with consistency. Then in 2021, his fastball looked like a new and improved offering.

The pitch’s average velocity and revolutions per minute were up, and as a result, his fastball became a legitimate putaway pitch. Furthermore, he ditched his changeup and started to use just his fastball and slider. Since the beginning of 2021 (97 innings), he has a 2.88 ERA (2.50 SIERA), a 0.92 WHIP, and a 141/31 K/BB (28.5 percent K-BB). It’s clear that his improved fastball has helped him reach another level. Command will never be much of an issue for Sewald, so as long as his fastball continues to spin at a high rate while averaging around 92.5 mph, Sewald will be an effective relief pitcher. He’s a rock-solid pickup in points leagues.

Nico Hoerner SS, Cubs (23 percent rostered)

Power’s never been a big part of Nico Hoerner’s game, as he hit just three home runs over his first 335 big-league at-bats. But to start 2022 (252 at-bats), he’s already launched five home runs. So, is the 25-year-old shortstop’s game power truly improving, or do his advanced metrics tell a different story? Well, I’m happy to report that it looks like Hoerner is starting to tap into his pull-side power potential.

As a prospect, his tendency to spray the ball to all fields without focusing on hitting for power kept his future home run projections low. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this approach, but it does cap one’s home-run upside. Now, it seems like Hoerner has been intentionally pulling more fly balls to start the season, as evidenced by his career-best 25.3 percent fly-ball rate on pulled batted balls. That’s still a low rate in and of itself, but it’s a notable improvement for Hoerner.

If he can continue to improve his fly-ball rate on his pulled batted ball events, more home runs should start flying out of the ballpark for the contact specialist. Beyond all this, we can’t forget that Hoerner is very fast. His average sprint speed has never been below the 89th percentile, so he should be an annual double-digit stolen base threat until further notice. To sum it all up, we know that Hoerner has an above-average hit tool and great speed, but now he’s hitting more pull-side fly balls, which has led to more pull-side home runs. I don’t see him as a future 20-stolen base, 20-home run player, but he unquestionably has the upside to hit .300 with double-digit home runs and stolen bases in any given season.

Jarren Duran OF, Red Sox (17 percent rostered)

If you picked up Jarren Duran in 2021 expecting a breakout, you were probably fairly disappointed by his lack of production and failure to lock down an everyday role. That was his first taste of MLB action, so expectations should’ve been tempered. But some fantasy players don’t care about developmental periods, they just want production immediately. It’s rare to witness a prospect thrive in their rookie season; not everyone can be Julio Rodríguez. In Duran’s case, it looks like all he needed was a little more experience to find his footing at the MLB level.

Through 96 plate appearances, the 25-year-old speedster is slashing .281/.333/.449/ with a home run and five stolen bases. This isn’t just a lucky stretch. He’s been making more contact, swinging at strikes less, chasing less, and striking out less. Yes, it’s a small sample size, but plate discipline metrics provide us with a glimpse of how a hitter is seeing the ball in the early stages of their career. His long-term power upside is a huge question mark, so his speed, hit tool, and plate approach will have to carry him to kick off his career. Even though he’s a work in progress, he should have fantasy relevancy in points leagues for the rest of the season and beyond.

Harold Ramirez DH/OF, Rays (12 percent rostered)

Harold Ramirez feels like a breakout waiting to happen – one tweak away from reaching another level. In 2021, he finished with a .268 batting average, seven home runs, and three stolen bases over 339 at-bats. Behind those surface stats lies a very interesting profile. Ramirez is an ultra-aggressive hitter who possesses plus bat speed and a knack for putting the bat on the ball at a high rate. In addition, through 1,054 career plate appearances, he has a 4.6 percent walk rate and a 17.3 percent strikeout rate. He’ll never be a high-walk guy because of his aggressive approach, and his ability to limit strikeouts speaks to his pitch-recognition skills.

Furthermore, he knows how to hit the ball hard (40.7 percent hard-hit rate over 811 career batted ball events). His maximum exit velocity marks are always high and it’s evident that he has some untapped raw pop in his bat. Unfortunately, his tendency to hit too many ground balls might mean that that untapped power will remain untapped. The good news is, Ramirez doesn’t have to club home runs at a high rate to be worth a roster spot in points leagues. His ability to hit for average, steal a handful of bags (75th percentile sprint speed), chip in some home runs, and limit strikeouts gives him a reliable floor in fantasy.

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Deep Points League Options

(Players rostered in under 10 percent of ESPN leagues)

Aaron Hicks OF, Yankees (9 percent rostered)

The longtime outfielder is showing the world that he still has plenty left in the tank. He’s slugged three home runs over his last five games. He also has 10 hits and two stolen bases to start July (26 at-bats). Hicks has been stealing bases his entire career, but it’s rather impressive to see him at nine stolen bases through 75 games in his age-32 season (64th percentile sprint speed).

Beyond that, he’s still drawing walks at a high-rate while showcasing a profile that’s geared towards pulling home runs. Staying on the field has been a true obstacle for Hicks, but he appears fully healthy and his production at the plate supports that assumption. The veteran could finish the season with 15 home runs, 15 stolen bases, and a batting average in the .220-.260 range. And at the end of the day, it never hurts to ride the hot hand. He’s well worth an add in deep points leagues.

Matt Carpenter DH, Yankees (5 percent rostered)

What year is it? Matt Carpenter was signed by the Yankees on May 26th to add a little more depth to a talented squad. Little did we know that he would be forcing this Yankees team to give him more opportunities because of his production at the plate. Over 64 at-bats, he’s batting .344 with 10 pulled home runs. What’s more, he’s seen time at designated hitter, first base, third base, left field, and right field – a good indication that the Yankees want his bat in the lineup as often as possible. Now, surface stats are surface stats. So do his advanced metrics match what he’s been doing at the plate? Yes and no.

His 26° average launch angle, 19 percent barrel rate, 60 percent fly-ball rate, and 59.5 percent pull rate support the home runs, but that’s not the profile of a .328 hitter. That batting average is going to fall soon, but as long as he stays healthy and in the lineup on a semi-regular basis, he should keep going yard. He’s a great plug-and-play option if you need immediate and free production in deep points leagues.