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We’ve made it. The All-Star break is here. The 2022 Home Run Derby will take place on Monday, July 18th at Dodger Stadium. And on Tuesday, baseball fans everywhere will tune in to watch the 92nd All-Star Game in MLB history. This break will provide fantasy managers with some time to assess where their team is at and what they need to do to remain in contention.
Keep your feet on the gas, my friends. Continue to sift through the waiver wire and target players who could help your championship chances. In this week’s column, I dove into six players who could be of use to your fantasy rosters. Let’s get into it.
Points League Options
(Players rostered in under 50 percent of ESPN leagues)
Frank Schwindel 1B/DH, Cubs (47 percent rostered)
The late-blooming first baseman came out of nowhere to slug 14 home runs and bat .326 over 242 at-bats in 2021. But I guess it wasn’t a total surprise to those who were aware of his minor-league production. As a minor leaguer, Schwindel slashed .285/.319/.478 with 136 home runs across 3,486 plate appearances. Given his ability to make contact at a high rate, limit strikeouts, and hit for power, it is a bit surprising that he spent so much time in the minors. Nonetheless, he’s found a temporary home with the Cubs, and he makes for a solid corner infield option in points leagues.
He’s slashing .242/.287/.390 with eight home runs over his first 236 at-bats of 2022. He clearly overachieved in 2021, but he’s still capable of hitting for power while posting a solid batting average. His 37.4 percent hard-hit rate and 6.5 percent barrel rate over 401 career batted ball events tells us that he’s not a guy who tears the cover off the ball. However, his tendency to pull airborne batted balls at a modest rate supports his power upside. If he can remain healthy for the rest of the season, he should challenge 20 home runs. He’s not the most exciting pickup, but he’s far from useless.
Nick Lodolo SP, Reds (10 percent rostered)
Nick Lodolo entered the season as the top prospect in the Reds’ minor league system. The 24-year-old southpaw is armed with a mid-90s sinker, a “sweeper”, and a changeup. His 6-foot-6, 202-pound frame doesn’t raise any workload concerns, and he’s looked like a mid-rotation arm in the making for some time now. But on top of all this, Lodolo’s command might be his biggest strength.
Command is crucial for any major-league pitcher, so when a young pitcher is displaying strong command skills in the early stages of their professional career, it’s easy to become giddy about their future projections. In Lodolo’s case, he possesses top-end control and command skills. He’s not afraid to attack the strike zone, and he understands how to strategically locate and sequence his offerings.
Over the first six starts of his MLB career, Lodolo has a poor 5.81 ERA (3.38 SIERA), 1.78 WHIP, and 38/12 K/BB (29 percent strikeout rate). His SIERA shows us that he’s been a tad bit unlucky in the run prevention department. Moreover, his 29 percent strikeout rate is backed by his ability to generate whiffs on all of his offerings. He missed a couple of months due to a back injury, but he’s now healthy and ready to help your fantasy rosters. He’s well worth a pickup wherever he’s available.
Leody Taveras OF, Rangers (15 percent rostered)
To say that Leody Taveras was a disappointment in 2020-2021 might be an understatement. Across 319 plate appearances, he slashed .188/.249/.321 with seven home runs, 18 stolen bases (18-for-19), a 7.2 percent walk rate, and a discouraging 32.3 percent strikeout rate. The stolen bases stand out, but his inability to make quality contact against breaking and off-speed pitches held him back. But to start 2022, he’s been a different player.
He’s batting .341 with three home runs and five steals over the first 82 at-bats of the season. What’s more, his strikeout rate is down to 25.6 percent, his hard-hit rate has improved, and he’s been making considerably more contact. I believe that all these improvements are the result of his more refined approach against breaking and off-speed pitches. He’s whiffing less against them, making harder contact, and making more contact in general. Now, he’s only at 86 plate appearances, so he could very well revert back to the 2020-2021 version of himself as his sample size increases. But if these improvements stick, Taveras will have plenty of appeal in points leagues for the rest of the season and beyond.
Max Meyer SP, Marlins (17 percent rostered)
Max Meyer might just be the most popular pitching prospect in baseball. I’m not saying he’s the best (he could be), but the baseball world simply can’t get enough of the 23-year-old right-hander – and for good reason. Meyer is armed with plus command of his mid-90s four-seam fastball, devastating slider, and above-average changeup. He understands how to successfully sequence his pitches, he has a very repeatable delivery, and all in all, he projects as a future frontline starter.
Meyer was drafted third overall in the 2020 MLB Draft by the Miami Marlins. Over 172 minor-league innings – pitching mainly in Double-A and Triple-A – he earned a 2.77 ERA (3.24 FIP) and a 199/61 K/BB (19.9 percent K-BB). The Marlins decided to call him up on July 15th, and on the 16th, he made his MLB debut against the Phillies. The results weren’t ideal, as he gave up five earned runs (two home runs) over 5 ⅓ innings, but there’s literally zero reason to be concerned.
The Phillies are one of the best teams in baseball against right-handed pitchers, so Meyer excelling in his first taste of MLB action was a big ask. On top of that, Meyer made his plus-plus slider his most-used offering, and the pitch generated seven whiffs on 17 swings (41 percent whiff rate). More than likely, Meyer will have a couple more rough starts if he sticks in the Marlins’ rotation for the remainder of the season. But that doesn’t mean he can’t significantly boost your championship chances. The dynamic rookie is a must-add.
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Deep Points League Options
(Players rostered in under 10 percent of ESPN leagues)
Esteury Ruiz OF, Padres (9 percent rostered)
Esteury Ruiz’s best tool is his game-breaking speed. In 484 career minor-league games, Ruiz stole 218 bases on 272 attempts (80.1 percent steal rate). And before his July 12th call-up to the majors, Ruiz was running wild on the basepaths, as he swiped 60 bags on 69 attempts in 77 games. All things considered, the 23-year-old outfielder has the potential to be one of the best base stealers in major league baseball. However, if he wants to be a regular in a major-league lineup, he must learn how to make more quality contact. Fortunately for him and the Padres, Ruiz looked like a much-improved player prior to his call-up.
Playing in Double-A and Triple-A, Ruiz was making more hard contact, striking out less, and walking more. Needless to say, if he starts to hit for more power and average, he could become a strong fantasy asset in points leagues. With Jurickson Profar back, he might have a hard time finding everyday at-bats, but he does have the tools to help your deep points league rosters if you’re willing to take a chance on him.
Nolan Jones OF, Guardians (9 percent rostered)
Talk about making a grand entrance. Nolan Jones had seven hits – including three extra-base hits – over the first 16 at-bats of his big-league career. Right away, Jones was showing us that he has the potential to be a rock-solid producer at the plate. The 24-year-old outfielder possesses an average hit tool, immense raw power, well above-average pitch recognition skills, and a strong understanding of his strike zone. He won’t be a factor on the basepaths, but his ability to get on base at a high rate (.399 on-base percentage over 1,968 minor-league plate appearances) and hit for power will drive his fantasy value in points leagues.
He’s been playing exclusively in right field for the Guardians to kick off his career, and it looks like Jones will be a regular in their lineup for the rest of the season. Furthermore, 13 of his first 18 batted ball events have been hard hits – a testament to his natural raw power. I believe that Jones will be a 30-home run hitter someday. No, he won’t reach that mark this season, but he does have the upside to help deep points league rosters everywhere moving forward.