Closing Time: Eric Thames becoming Fantasy Baseball force

Roto Arcade
Eric Thames is on a home-run barrage
Eric Thames is on a home-run barrage

I’m reluctant to open this column with a player who’s at or around universal ownership. The goal in this space is to be actionable; it’s too late to add Eric Thames for free. That said, Thames’s sizzling bat has forced his way into our discussion. There’s value in examining where the story might be headed.

Thames’s first two weeks back in American baseball have been a smash. He’s clocked six home runs in his last five games, drawn five walks overall. A .405/.479/.1.000 slash leaps off the page. He’s added first-base eligibility to the outfield tag. His Monday homer (along with three hits, three runs) sparked the Brewers to an upset over the Cubs.

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Two of his taters have come against left-handed pitching. Six of the seven homers have come on the road, but we know Miller Park is a giveaway for lefty power. He’s using the whole ballpark. Thames is locked into the No. 2 spot in the lineup right now, in front of Ryan Braun (who’s also off to a strong start).

Everyone has a different reference point when it comes to fast starts. For every Trevor Story that proved legit, there’s a Chris Shelton mirage to keep us grounded. Some scribes will hide behind the “time will tell” shield of meaninglessness, but the sharps who win strong leagues generally aren’t “wait for proof” guys.

Obviously Thames’s ridiculous numbers in the KBO are hard to calibrate. And he wasn’t much of a hitter in his first run at MLB baseball (.250/.296/.431 over about a full season), though that was 5-6 years ago. But I’m inclined to believe Thames is more fact than fluke.

The rules of signature significance likely apply to six homers in five games, Thames enjoys a plus park and batting slot, and there’s a chance he’ll start running a bit — hard to do that now when so many balls are clearing the fence. I never believe in having untouchables in fantasy, but I’m calling Thames a “hold” for now, unless you really feel good about the offer. If the trade doesn’t demand a yes, I’d stick with the status quo.

• There’s been a lot of talk about the Rangers bullpen, maybe too much talk. But in the effort of completeness, let’s clean up their latest news.

Struggling reliever Sam Dyson (hand) landed on the 10-day disabled list Monday, which saves Jeff Banister from himself. No one wants to see Dyson pitch in high-leverage situations right now. Matt Bush gets the first shot to close in Dyson’s absence; maybe Bush could run away with the job. There’s a cast of thousands, jostling for position: Jeremy Jeffress (previous closing experience), Jose Leclerc (an earlier rogue save), Tony Barnette, and Keone Kela (promoted with Dyson hurt).

Bush is long gone in the competitive save-chasing leagues. But in pools where you can wait for the photo to develop, he might be available (47 percent). Like any new stopper, the first chance or two will be critical.

• I don’t have any Chris Devenski shares, which breaks my heart. I could add him in a few head-to-head pools where a non-closing reliever isn’t particularly valuable. In my roto leagues, he’s long gone, hard to find. Those seven-strikeout appearances catch someone’s attention.

Devenski had another wipeout appearance in Monday’s win over the Angels — two clean innings, four strikeouts. His full-season line reads like a misprint: 11 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 21 K. A nasty 0.82 ERA and 0.45 WHIP. His bouncy delivery puts a bounce in your step.

Although Devenski received five spot starts in his rookie season last year, he really got cooking when asked to relieve: 1.61 ERA, 0.81 WHIP. Perhaps the Astros will give Devenski another starting chance later in the year, and he could be considered for later-inning work if needed. But given how dominant he’s been in his current, multiple-inning lockdown role, this is probably a case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Enjoy the ride.

Jharel Cotton had a favorable schedule in his first two starts, but a weekend rainout didn’t do him any favors. Not only did it force him a day out of his routine, but it brought the Rangers into the mix, the top scoring team through two weeks.

Cotton labored into the sixth Monday, allowing five runs. He walked four, struck out three. Most of his trends through three starts are pointing in the wrong direction — his walk rate is sky-high; he’s allowing too many line drives; the ground-ball tilt is dropping. He’s also getting less chase strikes and less swinging strikes than a year ago.

Obviously it’s silly to panic about any pitcher through three starts, provided we don’t have concern of injury. Cotton’s velocity is up a speck this year, partially explained by the change in pitch measurement. Improved sharpness and command will go a long way to getting Cotton straightened out.

My lack of shares in Cotton is related to my distrust of pitchers under six feet. Avoiding them is not a firm mandate, but it’s usually an easier game for taller pitchers; less effort for velocity, a shorter distance to negotiate.

Cotton faces the Mariner and Angels for his next two starts.

Mitch Moreland didn’t do anything special in Boston’s win over Tampa, the old Patriots Day special. He had a walk and two strikeouts among four plate appearances. But I’m surprised a .333/.429/.583 push hasn’t gained more attention; this is a loaded offense, one you want a stake in. Moreland is unclaimed in 83 percent of Yahoo leagues.

Lance Lynn looks like one of the comeback players of the year. He was terrific against Pittsburgh (7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 5 K). Kolten Wong (homer), Randal Grichuk (steal), Seung-Hwan Oh (save); welcome to the season.

Michael Brantley looked sharp in the Detroit series, and things continued Monday — a homer and a walk in a 3-1 victory over Minnesota. He’s such a professional hitter when right, someone who handles all kinds of pitching. It’s scary to think how good this Cleveland offense could be.

The Twins mercifully gave Byron Buxton the day off (he made a late pinch-running appearance). Meanwhile, let’s appreciate what Robbie Grossman is up to. The outfielder and occasional DH reached base three times Monday, pushing his slash up to .344/.512/.531. Obviously he’s not going to keep anything close to that, but he did bat .280 last year, with an .386 OBP, in 99 games. He’s capable of hitting 15-20 homers in a full season.

I’ve added or considered Grossman in a few deeper leagues, especially in OBP formats. He’s ready to go in 98 percent of Yahoo leagues.

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