The Cardinals still get credit for their Devil Magic brand of turning non-prospects into contributing and, sometimes, star-level players in the majors, but the Rays have carved out a niche for themselves in that space recently as well.
Nate Lowe is one of the latest players to benefit from the Rays Demon Sorcery. (Hey, it's a working title.) A 13th-round pick by the Rays in the 2016 MLB Draft, Lowe was a low-profile prospect who hit 11 homers in his first year-and-a-half in professional baseball. He had some on-base skills that might have translated to a James Loney-type hitter at the major league level, but he wasn't trending toward being a player featured on Waiver Wired, let alone receiving American League Player of the Week honors, as Lowe did last week.
It was a power breakout in 2018 that paved the way for his ascent to the majors. Lowe began the year at High-A but mashed his way to Double-A and eventually Triple-A, finishing with 27 homers, 102 RBI, 93 runs scored and a .330/.416/.568 line across all stops. This year, the 24-year-old continued to hit at Triple-A, knocking 12 homers in 68 games, and he had two brief cameos with the big club earlier this year before being promoted again in early July.
After that promotion, the slugging first baseman hit .345/.424/.897 with five homers and 10 RBI in his first eight games. That included back-to-back games with a homer against the Yankees before the All-Star break, and a two-homer game against the Orioles this past weekend.
As mentioned, the Rays' ability to produce productive hitters out of thin air -- not just by way of their farm system, but also through free agency and trades, with guys like Travis d'Arnaud and Yandy Diaz helping propel the team into a Wild Card spot in mid-July -- actually works against Lowe in some senses, as there are a lot of mouths to feed and manager Kevin Cash is not shy about creative lineup constructions. To that end, Lowe, after going 8-for-17 with three homers in the four-game series against the O's, was held out of the first two games of the Rays' series against the Yankees this week.
Lowe is a legitimate power hitter and has found his footing at the highest level, though, and he's only getting better. Rostered in just 31 percent of Yahoo leagues, now's the time, as Lil Jon urged, to get Lowe.
(Players rostered in under 50 percent of Yahoo leagues)
Percentages are from the morning of Thursday, July 18th
Homer Bailey, SP, Athletics (Yahoo: 17 percent rostered)
We're all prone to biases. To be human is to be subjective. So I'll admit, Bailey might not have landed on this list were he still a member of the Royals. But when an organization like the A's, which is still recognized as forward-thinking and, more importantly, has postseason aspirations, plucks Bailey from the Royals -- giving up a former first-round pick in the process -- it lends a small amount of legitimacy to the year he's had thus far. That year includes posting a 3.48 ERA in six June starts, including a stretch where he allowed a combined four earned runs over four starts. It's not just perception that makes the 33-year-old more interesting, though. A move to the Oakland Coliseum is a good one for any pitcher, and being on a more competitive team gives Bailey a chance to be more valuable for fantasy purposes. It's also worth noting that the A's bullpen is strong to the extent that they sent a non-closer reliever, Liam Hendriks, to the All-Star Game. The Royals ... not so much. Bailey's not a can't-miss guy and may be best reserved for deeper leagues and AL-only types, but he's suddenly relevant, something that was less true a week ago.
Tyler O'Neill, OF, Cardinals (Yahoo: 22 percent rostered)
Few players are hotter right now than the 24-year-old -- in terms of performance, that is, although I defy you to find a more chiseled ballplayer than Bro'Neill. The outfielder homered again Wednesday, his fourth homer in his last five games, and since being recalled on June 29 he's hitting .354 with those four homers, 10 RBI and nine runs scored. He's benefiting from being one of the only bright spots in a struggling Cardinals lineup at the moment, too, batting cleanup behind Paul Goldschmidt in Wednesday's contest. A toolbox of a player, O'Neill's biggest challenge will continue to be hitting for average and cutting down on the strikeouts. Through 34 games this year he's hit .314/.344/.547, which is good; he's also struck out in 36 of his 86 at-bats, which is less good. As those trends go so will O'Neill's playing time and, by extension, his fantasy value. It's hard to argue with what he's doing right now, though.
Dylan Cease, SP, White Sox (Yahoo: 27 percent rostered)
The story of both of Cease's starts to date has been similar: early struggles, better as the game goes on, decent-but-uninspiring final line that nods to both his upside and the fact that he's a 23-year-old rookie who's made two major league starts. Cease had trouble with the Royals on Tuesday but could have been out of the third inning without incident if it wasn't for a throwing error that led to a pair of unearned runs. In his final three innings, he gave up just two hits, but one was a liner that center fielder Charlie Tilson played into a double and the other was a single that right fielder Ryan Cordell played into a two-run, inside-the-park home run. There will be frustrating days for Cease as he navigates his first go-round in the majors, but his 13 strikeouts in 11 innings also reminds that there's serious potential here. There are some soft matchups in the American League Central and the right-hander should only get better as he gets more comfortable at the major league level, too. This buy-low window might not be open much longer.
Travis d'Arnaud, C/1B, Rays (Yahoo: 28 percent rostered)
D'Arnaud is not the first and won't be the last product of the #RaysDemonSorcery on this list, but he's arguably the most shocking. He's actually the product of two strong forces currently surging through Major League Baseball -- the Rays' ability to turn nothing into something, and the Mets' ability to turn something into nothing. After the Mets designated d'Arnaud for assignment in late April and the Rays acquired him from the Dodgers after five games, the Rays worked their magic and turned the backstop into a productive member of the lineup. That has included an assortment of lineup spots -- the only spot in the order at which he doesn't have an at-bat this year is cleanup, and he's got 36 at-bats from the leadoff spot -- and he's also gotten work at first base along with catcher. All nine of his home runs this year have come since the start of June, including a three-homer game earlier this week against the Yankees, and the 30-year-old is hitting .274/.333/.526 as a member of the Rays. Catcher is enough of a wasteland that d'Arnaud is worth a flier in mixed leagues.
Jose Peraza, 2B/SS/OF, Reds (Yahoo: 24 percent rostered)
Peraza was a bust until he wasn't, and then he wasn't until he was again. Now, after struggling for most of this season following a breakout 14-homer, 23-steal season in 2018, Peraza may be on the right track again. The 25-year-old showed signs of life in June, hitting .268/.306/.375, and he had eight hits including a homer in his first 21 at-bats this month. That's buoyed by one four-hit game in Colorado, but sometimes a game like that -- followed by a pinch-hit, two-run homer the next night, and an RBI double in the following game -- can be a spark for a hitter who we've seen is more talented than his results to that point. The fact that he's still not running, and when he does it's been a mixed bag -- he's got just five steals in nine attempts, and has just one successful steal since April 30 -- is curious and frustrating, but that could also be a product of not getting on base with any regularity. It's speculative, but we've seen what good Peraza can do in a fantasy context, which makes the gamble more intriguing.
Wil Myers, OF, Padres (Yahoo: 46 percent rostered)
This is not a propping up of a player because he's deserving of being propped up -- Myers has fallen out of favor in San Diego and his playing time is that of a guy worth forgetting in fantasy. This is a case of recognizing that Myers has been bad, but that something is likely going to have to give soon. Myers has been relegated to a bench role, literally, since Independence Day, not having made a start for the Friars since July 4. The Padres have their reasons, namely that Manuel Margot, Franmil Reyes and Hunter Renfroe are playing better and Josh Naylor is part of their youth movement. But with the trade deadline approaching, Renfroe is on the block, and Naylor hasn't impressed to the point that he's exempt from being demoted. In either of those scenarios the outfield picture gets less crowded, and there also exists the possiblity Myers, who's still owed a lot of money but who is still just 28 years old and has 12 homers and nine steals in 92 games, is appealing to a team looking to take a shot on a talented guy who's on the outs with his current club. Maybe none of that comes to fruition and Myers remains an overpaid pinch-hitter for the rest of the year. But if we're clear about the parameters -- that this would be a high-upside lottery ticket, and that nothing is guaranteed -- there are few players as talented as Myers floating around on the majority of waiver wires these days.
Scooter Gennett, 2B, Reds (Yahoo: 49 percent rostered)
Like Myers above, Gennett has failed to perform when given the opportunity. Unlike Myers, Gennett has barely been given the chance. After suffering a serious groin strain in spring training, Gennett was only activated on June 28 and has played in just 11 games to date. Sure, he hasn't performed in those 11 games, hitting just .156/.182/.188, but, like, it's been 11 games! Surely some of his low rostership is due to the fact he was dropped in leagues in late March and just hasn't been picked back up, but this is a guy who was a fifth- or sixth-round pick in drafts this spring. For good reason: he hit 27 homers with 97 RBI and 80 runs scored in 2017, and followed it up with a 23-homer, 92-RBI, 86-run 2018 season in which he hit .310 with an .847 OPS. Simply, the 29-year-old has proven that he's a top producer at the keystone, he just hasn't had a chance to round into form yet this summer. Give him a chance.
Jeff Samardzija, SP, Giants (Yahoo: 25 percent rostered)
Few might have been surprised when the Giants and Rockies combined for 21 runs in the first game of Monday's doubleheader at Coors Field. What likely was surprising was the fact that the Giants scored 19 of those runs, and that Samardzija was dominant in a game when German Marquez yielded 11 earned runs on his own. The Shark gave up a pair of solo homers, as pitchers are wont to do in Coors, but he allowed just two other hits and one walk while striking out nine on the afternoon. The win was his third in a row, and the third straight start in which he's allowed two runs or fewer. Overall, Samardzija is 7-7 with a 3.93 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 89/29 K/BB ratio in 105 1/3 innings of work across 19 starts. That doesn't stand out on the surface, but in the offensive age in which we're living, it's useful. It's not out of nowhere, either -- injuries limited the 34-year-old to just 10 disappointing starts last year, but it was just two years ago he struck out 205 batters in 207 2/3 innings. Go Shark fishing.
Adam Frazier, 2B/OF, Pirates (Yahoo: 17 percent rostered)
Recalling the Homer Bailey discussion, I am not without my biases with regards to Frazier. Coming into the year, the 27-year-old was poised to be the Pirates' everyday second baseman and leadoff hitter. With good on-base skills and enough pop and speed to be interesting, I and others were on Frazier as a sleeper to know. Fast forward to July 1, and Frazier was hitting a pedestrian .254/.311/.361 and had largely seen himself removed from the leadoff role. On that Monday, the Pirates hung 18 runs on the Cubs and Frazier set a franchise record with four doubles as part of a five-hit night. The following night he went 4-for-4 with a home run and three RBI. This month, Frazier is hitting .447 with a homer, a steal, seven RBI and 11 runs scored. He's back to regularly hitting leadoff for manager Clint Hurdle, and with the good stretch his overall line is up to .281/.333/.407. All the things that made him a buzz-worthy player this spring still apply, and now that he's seen the depths, he's even cheaper than he was then.
Shopping at the five-and-dime:
(Players rostered in under 10 percent of Yahoo leagues)
Bryse Wilson, SP, Braves (Yahoo: 3 percent rostered)
Life is hard enough for rookie pitchers, but the gauntlet through which Wilson has had to run in his first five major league appearances is far from fair. Wilson broke camp with the Braves and started the team's second game of the season, a loss at the Phillies in which he lasted just 3 1/3 innings. He was back up for a very brief stint in late April, tossing a scoreless inning against the Rockies, but since being recalled on June 27 he's faced the Cubs, Phillies and Brewers in his three starts. So the 21-year-old can be excused, partly, for the unsightly 6.75 ERA and 1.71 WHIP he carries at this moment. With Max Fried sidelined due to a blister, the Braves seem inclined to give Wilson at least one more start. Granted, that start appears likely to come Sunday against the Nationals on Sunday Night Baseball, not an easy feat, either, but there's more upside to Wilson's game than has been on display thus far. Streaming the right-hander against the Nats on Sunday is a toss up, but if he shows well he might earn another look, and another, and eventually could find himself a fixture in Atlanta.
Mike Brosseau, 2B/3B, Rays (Yahoo: 9 percent rostered)
Brosseau is your typical prospect story: not deemed good enough to be taken in a draft where more than 1,200 players are selected, he signed with the Rays in 2016 as an amateur free agent, hit at every stop, rocketed through the Rays system and is now a contributing member of their major league team. That's everyone's experience, right? The 25-year-old has taken the league by storm in his 14 games, batting .348/.375/.696 with four homers, 10 RBI and nine runs overall. It would be hard to believe he can find sustained success except for the fact that he has at every turn in his professional career. Why stop now? As detailed with d'Arnaud and Lowe, the problem with Rays position players is that they're so interchangeable that few can get enough of a foothold to be fantasy relevant. Brosseau has played virtually every day since his promotion, though, and he'll continue to get regular at-bats when he's hitting like this. Perhaps he's best left to a league with daily lineup moves, but he's turned some heads with his play thus far.
Bubba Starling, OF, Royals (Yahoo: 1 percent rostered)
Once upon a time, Starling was the guy prospect dreamers dreamed about. A first-rounder in the 2011 MLB Draft, Starling had the power and speed potential to be the next big dual threat. He was so anticipated that none of Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus and MLB.com had him ranked lower than No. 27 on their preseason top-100 prospects list, despite having never taken one professional at-bat. You can see, then, how things go south -- those professional at-bats do come, and he struggles to hit for average, and a mountain of potential becomes a molehill idling in the Royals' system. A change came this year, though, and the now-26-year-old prospect hit .310/.358/.448 at Triple-A Omaha with seven homers and nine steals in 72 games. It's not much, but it earned him a promotion, and given his pedigree and the fact that the Royals could use some good news -- fans were so energized by the promotion that the club saw a bump in ticket sales -- he should get plenty of at-bats in their outfield. What he does with them remains to be seen, but the dual-threat potential is still in there somewhere.
Nick Williams, OF, Phillies (Yahoo: 0 percent rostered)
Sometimes there needs to be an urgency to a situation to bring out the best in someone. That's at least the hope will Williams' latest return to the majors. The 25-year-old may be close to out of chances after he regressed in 2018 and hit .173/.221/.259 in 50 games to start the year before being demoted. Jay Bruce's trip to the injured list has given Williams a new shot, and while his issues hitting major league pitching are documented, one looking for hope might point to the .345/.403/.628 line he owned in 28 games at Triple-A prior to the promotion. It's also worth remembering that as recently as 2016 he was a fixture on top-100 prospect lists, so there's some post-hype appeal here. The window will be small -- the Phillies are in contention, so while Bruce may be sidelined a while with the right oblique strain, they will surely be monitoring Williams' performance and pondering whether they need to seek outside reinforcement with the trade deadline looming -- but if he can grab hold of the job he could offer mixed league value down the stretch.
Rogelio Armenteros, SP/RP, Astros (Yahoo: 0 percent rostered)
Armenteros is the latest arm the Astros have tapped to throw at the problem of, well, their throwing problem. With Brad Peacock still sidelined, the club has Armenteros on track for a start Sunday against the Rangers. The right-hander held the Angels to one unearned run in four innings of bulk relief Tuesday and has a 2.00 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in nine innings of work across three appearances this year. In the minors, the 25-year-old held a 5.05 ERA and 1.51 WHIP in 57 innings, but did strike out 63 batters at Triple-A. The Rangers can hit and there's nothing that says Armenteros' stay in the rotation will last beyond Sunday, but he's an interesting streamer option backed by a strong Astros club.
Ryan Borucki, SP, Blue Jays (Yahoo: 1 percent rostered)
Borucki had some interesting moments in the majors last year, posting a 3.87 ERA across 17 starts, but an elbow injury has kept him on the sidelines all season. That is likely to change in a few days when he'll make his season debut, either Sunday in Detroit or Monday against the Indians. The 25-year-old struck out 19 over four minor league rehab starts, owning a 3.00 ERA, and given his history -- he's got a 3.30 ERA and 8.4 K/9 across seven minor league seasons -- it's at least interesting to see how he fares in an embattled Jays rotation that has every reason to give him a long leash. That said, those willing to take a shot on the southpaw should be rooting for that debut to come Sunday against a light-hitting Tigers squad.
Dexter Fowler, OF, Cardinals (Yahoo: 2 percent rostered)
Reports of Fowler's death were greatly exaggerated after a miserable 2018 left him on the outs with many Cardinals fans and fantasy players. He's quietly put together a decent season in right field this year despite his detractors, batting .253/.352/.418 with 10 homers and four steals in 86 games. Perhaps more importantly, he's earned the trust of manager Mike Shildt and is locked in as an everyday player at the moment. The next step would be getting him into a more prime lineup spot -- he's batted in the bottom half of the order most of the year, but Fowler was not long ago one of the league's best leadoff hitters. With Matt Carpenter struggling, when he isn't injured, the Cardinals have a need for a guy who can get on base at the top of their lineup. Will Shildt pull the trigger? He hasn't yet, but the 33-year-old's .352 on-base percentage is the highest among the team's regulars. Such a move would only increase his value going forward.
Isan Diaz, 2B, Marlins (Yahoo: 2 percent rostered)
One of the top of the class in the Marlins' rebuilt farm system is Diaz, whom the team acquired from the Brewers in the Christian Yelich trade. After a pedestrian 2018 season in their system, the 23-year-old has exploded onto the fantasy radar this year by hitting .305/.396/.575 with 22 homers and five steals in 89 games at Triple-A. The only thing standing in his way at this point is veteran Starlin Castro, who's toiled at the keystone in Miami as the team goes through growing pains around him. With the trade deadline approaching and Castro showing some signs of life at the plate, it's possible they find a taker for him and begin the Diaz era. If not, they still might decide it's time to let the kid cut his teeth at the major league level. He's worth a flier for when that time does come, sooner or later.