Let’s just get this out of the way from the jump: It’s strange to write this column this season. Any thought of baseball being some distraction from COVID-19 is a fallacy. It’s in our faces every day, from the empty stands to the players and coaches wearing masks, and oh yeah, teams being completely shut down for the time being. Maybe that’s a good thing. We can’t let our guard down if we want to beat this thing.
The position of fantasy baseball “expert” has always been an uncomfortable one. I don’t agree with that tag and never have, but especially this year. We’re dealing with the smallest of samples where one or two bad starts can completely throw everything off. The rosters are deeper, pitchers aren’t pitching deep into games yet, and we’ve already seen a number of prominent names get hurt. And that's not even touching on how COVID-19 could impact rosters as the season moves along. This season might not be sustainable.
The big thing for me this year is the accept the unpredictability of everything. There’s always a randomness to baseball anyway. It would be pretty boring if we knew everything, after all. So try to have fun with it while also recognizing that each player we talk about here is a real person who is putting themselves at risk for our enjoyment.
And with that out of the way, let’s crack open the first Waiver Wired of the 2020 MLB season.
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(Players rostered in under 50 percent of Yahoo leagues)
Note: Percentages are from the morning of Thursday, July 30th
Garrett Richards SP, Padres (Yahoo: 39 percent rostered)
A preseason favorite of mine, Richards allowed just one hit over five innings with six strikeouts and three walks in his season debut Sunday against the Diamondbacks. He induced 11 swinging strikes in his 73 pitches. Now two years removed from Tommy John surgery, Richards is throwing his standard mid-90s fastball, nasty slider, and curveball. Control has never been his strong point, but he’s usually been quite good when healthy. And he looks the part right now with a team who appears to be on the rise. I don’t expect Richards to stay under the 50-percent mark for long.
Ian Happ 2B/3B/OF, Cubs (Yahoo: 47 percent rostered)
Happ was another one of those players I discussed a lot way back during the original spring training and his outlook has only improved with the addition of the DH spot, as it clears up any potential worries about playing time. He’s been the primary center fielder so far while hitting ninth, seventh, and fifth in the early going. I’m really not going to pay any attention to batting average at this point, but it’s certainly nice to see that he’s already collected two homers and a double in 21 plate appearances. Happ cut down on his strikeouts during his time in the majors last year while collecting 11 homers in 156 plate appearances, really putting himself back on the fantasy map. Multi-position eligible players are usually a staple of my strategy, but that’s especially the case this year, with so much up in the air from day-to-day.
Dylan Carlson OF, Cardinals (Yahoo: 22 percent rostered)
We’ve reached the point where teams can call up prospects without giving up an extra year of team control, so it’s probably just a matter of time before Carlson is conveniently ready for the big leagues. We all know the deal. It is what it is, at least until the next collective bargaining agreement. God help us all. Carlson is good enough to be patrolling left field for the Cardinals right now. A consensus top-20 prospect coming into the year, the 21-year-old switch-hitter exploded for a .292/.372/.542 batting line with 26 homers and 20 steals over 26 games between Double- and Triple-A last year. Across the board ability is pretty much my jam. Our own Christopher Crawford recently ranked Carlson as his No. 4 fantasy prospect. Get in on this before it’s too late.
Jordan Montgomery SP, Yankees (Yahoo: 23 percent rostered)
Montgomery wasn’t on the Yankees’ Opening Day roster, but that was just a technicality, as the club wanted to carry an extra reliever to start the season. The southpaw is slated to make his season debut against the Red Sox on Friday, which isn’t the easiest of matchups, but Boston’s pitching is so bad that maybe he’d walk away with a win even if he has an uneven outing. Montgomery missed most of last season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, but was pretty respectable leading up to that, posting a 3.84 ERA through his first 35 starts in the majors while calling Yankee Stadium and the AL East home. I’m even more interested in him now that he’s shown an uptick in velocity. I consider him as a fifth or sixth starter on a mixed league staff right now, but he’s one of those pitchers who has moved up in my mind now that NL pitchers have to deal with the DH all the time.
Trent Grisham OF, Padres (Yahoo: 24 percent rostered)
Grisham’s major league tenure with the Brewers was a brief one and it ended in the worst possible way during the playoffs last year, but he’s in a pretty good spot following his trade to the Padres. The 23-year-old has batted second in four straight games — surrounded by Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado, and Tommy Pham — and that should continue against right-handed starters. He’s expected to hit ninth against most southpaws. Still, there’s the potential for some interesting counting stats here. Grisham batted .231/.328/.410 over 183 plate appearances as a rookie last year, but the approach was promising and he’s done a good job not chasing pitches so far this year. He’s already walked seven times in just 26 plate appearances. Under normal circumstances, my hot take prediction would be double-digit homers and steals with 100 runs scored. Just if you needed the extra content in order to make your move.
Cesar Hernandez 2B, Indians (Yahoo: 46 percent rostered)
I’m also into the lineup situation with Hernandez, as he’s serving as the primary leadoff man for Cleveland while Francisco Lindor slides into the cleanup spot. Hernandez was notably more aggressive last season, with his on-base percentage slipping from .356 to .333, but perhaps he can shift his approach back into the table-setter role. He mostly hit sixth or seventh with the Phillies last year. The 30-year-old only swiped nine bases last year, but the volume at the top of the lineup should lead to more activity on the bases. He’s never struck out at an excessive rate, so he still has the ingredients to be a useful five-category contributor, whether at second base or a middle infield spot.
Colin Moran 2B/3B, Pirates (Yahoo: 32 percent rostered)
Small sample size theatre, I know, but isn’t this whole season a small sample? The fact is that a hot streak can ride you to a championship this year, so you need to be aggressive, at least within reason. Are you picking up Moran in a 10-team league? No. Are you dropping Miguel Sano or even Kevin Newman for him? Probably not. But Moran has been interesting before in fantasy leagues and he’s hitting absolutely everything hard so far. The Pirates’ lineup isn’t great, but he’s been the primary cleanup hitter of late while seeing time between first base, third base, and the DH spot. A fun plug-and-play option in deeper leagues. No harm, no foul if he cools down.
Daulton Varsho C, Diamondbacks (Yahoo: 1 percent rostered)
A late addition to this week’s column, Varsho is reportedly getting the call up to the majors on Thursday. The son of former major league player Gary Varsho, the 24-year-old makes for an exciting fantasy prospect. While he’s primarily caught in the minors, he has uncommon speed for the position which resulted in 21 steals in 108 games in Double-A last year. He also smacked 18 homers, so there’s some pop in his bat from the left side. He struck out just 13.9 percent of the time in 2019, an encouraging sign about his ability to post a useful batting average. That speed has enabled him to play multiple spots in the field, including center field. Odds are he’s going to be used all over the place by Arizona, but that catcher-eligibility is why you’ll want him in fantasy leagues. This should be fun.
Spencer Turnbull SP, Tigers (Yahoo: 13 percent rostered)
Turnbull led the American League with 17 losses for the Tigers last year and the outlook doesn’t appear more promising in regard to run support this year, but he remains a pitcher to watch in mixed leagues. The 27-year-old issued four walks over five innings in his season debut against the Reds on Sunday, but he also gave up just one run on three hits while striking out eight. With some added spin on his four-seamer, he racked up 17 swinging strikes in his 87 pitches. You have my attention, sir. Maybe there is hope with this team, especially with Casey Mize and Matt Manning not far off.
Sam Hilliard OF, Rockies (Yahoo: 21 percent rostered)
My Rotoworld Baseball Podcast co-host (subscribe today, by the way), Drew Silva has been all about Hilliard for quite some time. And for good reason after the numbers he put up in the minors. In 126 games with Triple-A Albuquerque last year, he collected 35 home runs and 22 steals. He then went deep seven times in just 87 plate appearances during his first test against major league pitching. The concern here is his ability to make contact. He whiffed 29.3 percent of the time in Triple-A last year and he’s struck out nine times in just 15 plate appearances with the Rockies so far this year. He’s not going to last as a regular if that continues, but I’m less concerned about playing time now with the addition of the DH spot. This is a good time to give him a shot, as the Rockies will play their next seven games at Coors Field. Maybe give Daniel Murphy (Yahoo: 45 percent rostered) a shot in shallow leagues, especially if you have players on the Marlins, Nationals, or Phillies.
And Because We Have To, Here Are Some Relievers:
I’m grouping these guys together, because who the heck knows anymore? If you need saves, do what you have to do right now. Bass’ role would seem to be the most secure since Ken Giles is looking at a lengthy absence with his forearm strain. Drake has already notched two saves this year, matching his total from all of last year, but expect the backend of the Rays’ bullpen to remain fluid. Nick Anderson is still immensely talented and Diego Castillo is just getting back into the mix. Burdi earned his first big league save on Tuesday against the Brewers and there should be more chances in the days ahead with Kyle Crick (shoulder/lat) sidelined and Keone Kela still out following a positive COVID-19 diagnosis. Burdi missed most of last season after undergoing surgery to neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome, but his stuff still looks electric. The Pirates are a bad team and they’ll surely try to take it easy with him, but he’s still worth a look depending on your situation. Even if Kela is back soon, a couple of weeks is a long time in a season like this one. Again, take the saves where you can and be flexible moving forward.
Bradley Zimmer OF, Indians (Yahoo: 1 percent rostered)
We haven’t heard this name in a while. Zimmer was a highly-touted prospect at one point, but things didn’t pan out so well for him as a rookie and he appeared in just 43 major league games between 2018-2019 due to shoulder problems. However, he’s healthy now and has been featured prominently in the Indians’ lineup through the first week. The 27-year-old has reworked his swing and still offers good speed and defense in the outfield, so it’s worth a shot to see if he can finally establish himself after all of the setbacks.
Brandon Bielak SP, Astros (Yahoo: 0 percent rostered)
Losing Justin Verlander is one of those things that suddenly throws the Astros’ World Series aspirations into question, but Bielak at least pitched well in his MLB debut on Monday against the Mariners, allowing two runs — one earned — over 3 1/3 innings. Middle relievers have plenty of value so far in this shortened season as it is, but Bielak could be asked to join the rotation at some point soon. The 24-year-old compiled a 4.22 ERA and 119/50 K/BB ratio over 121 2/3 innings between Double- and Triple-A last year and likely profiles as a back-end starter if all goes well, but he could still be a useful arm with this lineup supporting him.
Josh Staumont RP, Royals (Yahoo: 0 percent rostered)
I wanted to include Tigers reliever Gregory Soto (Yahoo: 2 percent rostered), as he’s looked absolutely electric so far, but I ultimately decided to look a little bit deeper with Staumont. He also has been bringing the heat in the early part of the season while allowing a homer through three innings with five strikeouts and two walks. The 26-year-old topped out around 99 mph last season, but he’s already reached 100 mph on multiple occasions this season, with a max of 101 mph. If he can improve his control even a little bit, he could be a monster. Teammate Kris Bubic is sort of a no-brainer add this week, but it’s unclear how long these prospects with stick around once Brad Keller and Jakob Junis return.
Shaun Anderson SP/RP, Giants (Yahoo: 1 percent rostered)
Please consider adding the likes of Daniel Ponce de Leon (Yahoo: 3 percent rostered) or Austin Gomber (Yahoo: 0 percent rostered) if they are still available now that Miles Mikolas (forearm) is done for the year, but Anderson is a pitcher who has caught my eye in recent days. He got a long look as a starter with the Giants last season, but his stuff looks pretty darn exciting out of the bullpen. Granted, the results have been mixed so far this season, but he’s whiffed five out of the 12 batters he’s faced while really leaning on his slider. There’s real chance we could see him in the closer role before all is said and done.
Nick Markakis OF, Braves (Yahoo: 5 percent rostered)
Okay, so this one is sort of cheating, but odds are Markakis is going to generate a lot of the FAAB interest in NL-only waivers this week. The 36-year-old had a change of heart in recent days after originally opting out of playing this season due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The upside is limited here, but Markakis has always been a strong bet for batting average and odds are he’s going to see plenty of at-bats against right-handed pitching, at least when he’s game-ready. Matt Adams will presumably get the biggest downgrade here as the Braves mix and match with their lineup.