Last week's 5 biggest surprises: Do Rockies finally have a fantasy ace emerging?

·8 min read

You should never discount a player in fantasy baseball. How many times have you sworn off a player, only to see them break out on a different fantasy roster the following year? How many times did you finally give up on your favorite sleeper only to see them hit a year too late?

The same concept applies to players on bad teams. How many times have you declined to pick up a player because their team is bad? Fantasy managers should never have a dismissive attitude toward a strong performance.

Sometimes, you might just find a diamond in the rough.

Ranks are based on standard Yahoo fantasy leagues

Ryan Feltner, Colorado Rockies SP

Fantasy rank over the last seven days: 45

Season-long fantasy rank: 379

Colorado Rockies pitcher Ryan Feltner has basically everything going against him.

He plays for a bad team, pitches in the worst park in baseball for pitchers and wasn't a highly touted prospect. Yet, through three starts, Feltner looks like someone who should be on fantasy managers' radars.

Feltner has a 3.71 ERA with 20 strikeouts and 5 walks in 17 innings over his first three appearances in 2022. The sample is small, but impressive.

What, if anything, can we take away from it?

The first promising sign is Feltner's fastball velocity, which is up from 92.4 mph to 94.5 mph. Feltner only threw 6 1/3 innings in the majors in 2021, but fastball velocity stabilizes quickly.

Feltner's slider has been hit pretty hard thus far, which is a concern. It's dropping more this season, but that doesn't matter if hitters are teeing off. His curveball, however, might have taken a step forward. Feltner gained an inch of drop on the pitch and is using it more often as a put-away pitch.

One of the big concerns with Feltner in the minors was his poor control. He's not an elite strike thrower yet, but his 7.5 percent walk rate in the minors this season is a nice improvement.

Look, it's a small sample, and only one of Feltner's starts has come in Colorado. But he's showing enough that fantasy managers should at least monitor his progress. There are some promising signs here, even if Feltner's ceiling is limited in Colorado.

Alex Bregman, Houston Astros 3B

Fantasy rank over the last seven days: 628

Season-long fantasy rank: 208

It's been three seasons since Houston Astros' third baseman Alex Bregman finished second in the American League MVP voting. He's been a solid offensive player since then but hasn't come close to matching his 2018 and 2019 numbers.

This year has brought more of the same. Bregman's .230 batting average and .406 slugging percentage are the lowest of his career. His 125 wRC+ is still solid, which says a lot about the poor offensive environment around the league.

There's reason to believe Bregman will turn things around. His approach has not changed. Bregman's walk and strikeout rates are stable. He remains one of the most patient hitters in baseball and his command of the strike zone, as shown in his chase rates, is elite. His average exit velocity and hard-hit rate remain similar.

These are all signs that Bregman still has excellent skills at the plate.

Alex Bregman struggling in fantasy baseball.
Alex Bregman has been a disappointment in fantasy baseball thus far. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

An over-reliance on fly balls seems to be holding Bregman back in 2022. He's getting under a lot of pitches, resulting in an elevated fly-ball rate. That's not a great strategy considering the ball isn't traveling as far in 2022.

This is probably not intended. Bregman's career fly-ball rate is usually five percentage points lower. It's more likely that Bregman's mechanics are off at the plate, and it has resulted in him swinging under pitches. Considering the rest of Bregman's numbers look fine, he should get back to producing like a premier fantasy third baseman once he can make that swing adjustment at the plate.

Tyler Wells, Baltimore Orioles SP

Fantasy rank over the last seven days: 69

Season-long fantasy rank: 358

When you shut down the New York Yankees in Yankee Stadium and the Boston Red Sox in Fenway Park, you deserve at least some fantasy recognition. Baltimore Orioles pitcher Tyler Wells has performed admirably this season, posting a 3.71 ERA over 43 2/3 innings.

Wells, who is transitioning to starting after spending last season in the bullpen, is showing some encouraging signs. Batters aren't squaring him up as easily, as his barrel rate and hard-hit rate are lower. He's also compensated for losing fastball velocity by not relying on the pitch as much. Wells also displays elite command; his 4.0 percent walk rate would rank seventh in MLB if Wells had enough innings to qualify.

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Unfortunately, Wells also comes with one glaring weakness. His 15.9 percent strikeout rate ranks 93rd among starters in 2022. Nine starters have a worse strikeout rate. Oddly, five of them have a better ERA than Wells. Of that group, Zack Greinke has the highest roster rate in Yahoo leagues at 34 percent.

That type of skill set can still lead to fantasy value. Mark Buehrle and Brad Radke were rosterable in fantasy leagues back in the day based on their ability to throw a lot of innings and win a fair amount of games.

That said, Wells doesn't have the track record of an innings workhorse yet and he's not going to snag a lot of wins on the lowly Orioles. Like Buehrle and Radke, Wells is probably a better real-life pitcher than he is a fantasy asset. He might be a useful spot-starter in deeper leagues, but he hasn't shown enough to warrant a full-time spot on most fantasy teams.

Dansby Swanson, Atlanta Braves SS

Fantasy rank over the last seven days: 19

Season-long fantasy rank: 49

Take a quick glance at the numbers, and it looks like Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson has rediscovered the skills that led to his 2020 breakout. Swanson is hitting .269/.333/.439 through 49 games. Given the awful offensive environment, Swanson's 116 wRC+ is better than it was in 2020.

Expecting Swanson's current greatness to last the rest of the season, however, might be asking too much. Under the surface, there are some worrisome trends in Swanson's numbers.

Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson.
Dansby Swanson has fantasy value, but might be performing over his head right now. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Swanson's .367 BABIP is due for regression. Sure, there have been times in the past where Swanson has outperformed his BABIP, but his career figure sits at .308. There's nothing in his current numbers that suggest his elevated BABIP is earned. Swanson is making less contact on pitches in the strike zone and has a career high 14.7 percent swinging-strike rate. Both figures suggest Swanson's .269 batting average will drop quite a bit.

Swanson has value even if that happens. He's hit the ball fairly hard over his career, should provide a solid home run total and can swipe bags at a decent clip. He's a good player, but not a fantasy superstar. If you drafted Swanson late, or already have a better player at short, he would make for a nice trade candidate.

Teoscar Hernandez, Toronto Blue Jays OF

Fantasy rank over the last seven days: 531

Season-long fantasy rank: 946

Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Teoscar Hernandez missed nearly a month due to an oblique injury, so his poor numbers to start 2022 aren't fully on him. With that said, Hernandez hasn't inspired much confidence since returning from that injury. He's hitting .130, with 1 home run, in May.

Hernandez's 2021 breakout was the result of two things: Making better contact in the zone and getting his strikeout rate under control. Hernandez's in-zone contact number is down, but only slightly. He's mostly retained those gains from last season.

His strikeout rate is the bigger issue. It sits at 27.1 percent after he put up a career-best 24.9 strikeout rate last year. The culprit appears to be Hernandez's willingness to chase pitches out of the zone. He's swinging at those offerings a career-high 39.2 percent of the time, but contact with those pitches at a career-worst 48.8 percent.

Hernandez has never been a disciplined hitter, though things have never been this bad. Positive regression is probably coming based on that, but Hernandez was already walking a tight rope with his approach. Even a small decline in his abilities could lead to a disappointing year.

We don't have enough evidence to say that's what Hernandez is battling now, but his chase rate isn't encouraging.