The Replacements: Are Ezequiel Duran, Jake McCarthy, and Willi Castro worth adding?

Sadly, injuries are a major part of fantasy baseball. Over the course of the long season, you're going to see some of your most important players miss time, and while we don't want to diminish the impact that has on the players as people, we also need to acknowledge that injuries create major opportunities for us to improve our teams and climb the standings.

Even if the players on our teams aren't hurt, injuries can create role changes and playing time opportunities that can improve our teams. Even if the players we can pick up will only hold their new roles for a few weeks, those stats we get will still count just the same at the end of the season, so we need to be keeping an eye on all injuries, even if they don't immediately present a player with a chance to hold "rest of season value." Remember that you need to consistently accrue stats, so don't turn your back on two weeks of good production just because it's only two weeks.

With that in mind, each week I'll cover the recent injuries to hitters and discuss the possible replacements that are vying to fill the new lineup spot. In doing so, I hope to provide a little more insight into which hitters could help your team and how much of your precious FAAB money you should spend to try and acquire them.

Injured Player: Josh Jung - 3B, Texas Rangers

Replacements: Ezequiel Duran 3B/SS/2B (8% rostered), Justin Foscue 1B/2B/3B (10% rostered), and Josh Smith 3B/SS/OF (3% rostered)

Josh Jung fractured his wrist and is estimated to be out for 8-10 weeks, which likely means something closer to 10-12 weeks. As a result, the Rangers will be looking to fill their starting 3B spot for three months. There is fantasy value to be gained if you can figure out who that is.

In the two games since Jung went down, Josh Smith started once at third base and once at shortstop when Corey Seager was given a day as the DH. With Smith at shortstop, Ezequiel Duran played 3B. That means that Foscue has sat both times since the Rangers called him up. That doesn't scream projecting a player to be a starter, so I'm confused as to why he's the most rostered of these three.

As a prospect, Foscue may be a better real-life player than a fantasy player. He has a 70-grade hit tool with an elite feeling for the strike zone. He hit .266/.394/.468 in 122 games at Triple-A with 18 home runs and 14 steals. However, he has 30-grade speed and had five career MiLB steals before last year, so I wouldn't expect steals to be part of his game. He also has just 45-grade raw power and will be hitting in a pitcher-friendly park in Texas. I would think of him as a Wilmer Flores type of player with slightly less power.

As a result, I'm more into Duran of these three. I can't see Josh Smith sticking in the lineup, and while Duran has no elite tools, he's pretty good at everything. He had a 9% barrel rate last year and enough power to hit double-digit home runs while also being able to chip in with some steals. He does strike out too much, so his batting average figures to be lower than the .276 mark he put up last year, but he will go on some hot stretches, which we also saw last year, and I expect him to get near full-time at-bats between 3B, SS, and perhaps some days in the OF.

Injured Player: Royce Lewis - 3B, Minnesota Twins

Replacements: Willi Castro 3B/SS/2B/OF (9% rostered), Kyle Farmer 2B/3B/SS (1% rostered), and Austin Martin 2B/SS/OF (1% rostered)

Much like with Josh Jung, Royce Lewis figures to be out for an extended period of time. The third baseman suffered a serious quad strain and will be rested for at least a month. That's a month of doing nothing before the Twins evaluate him and see where he's at in his recovery. At best, I think we're looking at two months without Lewis, which means there will be playing time to be had.

Austin Martin was called up to take his place on the roster, but he doesn't have a lot of experience at 3B and hasn't appeared at the position in any of the four games since Lewis has been on the IL. I think Martin is up strictly as bench depth.

It's been Willi Castro who has seen starts at third in four of the five games since Lewis has been out. In that fifth game, he played center field while Farmer played third. I think that tells us pretty clearly that Castro will be the regular third baseman while Lewis is sidelined, and this is a guy who hit .257/.339/.411 with 33 steals last year in 124 games as a 25-year-old. He struggled a bit in the middle of the season last year, but he responded by making better swing decisions and finished the season strong, hitting .313/.398/.550 over his final 23 games.

Willi Castro graph
Willi Castro graph

I love seeing a young hitter adjust back to pitchers and have success, and I also love players who have 30+ stolen base upside and are getting every day playing time. I think Castro needs to be added in more leagues.

Injured Player: Sean Murphy - C, Atlanta Braves

Replacements: Travis d'Arnaud (12% rostered)

Unlike the situations above, this one is pretty cut-and-dry. Sean Murphy has an oblique strain and while it's not expected to be overly serious, he should be sidelined for about three weeks, which creates some runway for d'Arnaud to get more playing time. D'Arnaud has been a solid MLB hitter for most of his career and should be a good fill-in for Murphy, especially in two-catcher formats.

He started the 2023 season hitting .275/.349/.496 with eight home runs and 23 RBI in his first 35 games. Then he got hurt. After coming back, he hit just .176/.226/.301 with a 25% strikeout rate. Now that he's fully healthy, I think he'll hit something closer to his career slash line of .250/.310/.416. With some modest power to go with that in an elite lineup, that's a pretty nice get at catcher.

Injured Player: Alek Thomas - OF, Arizona Diamondbacks

Replacements: Jake McCarthy OF (2% rostered) and Jorge Barrosa OF (0% rostered)

Alek Thomas suffered a hamstring strain, and I'm bummed because I was looking forward to seeing if his re-tooled swing allowed him to recapture some of his prospect hype.

In his stead, Jake McCarthy seems to be the most logical replacement. He started in right field in the first two games that Thomas was out but then sat on Wednesday as Jorge Barrosa played center field and Corbin Carroll moved to right field. That could be something we see happen against lefties since McCarthy is a left-handed hitter and Barrosa is a switch-hitter. Barrosa did hit .274/.394/.456 in 120 Triple-A games in 2023 with 13 home runs and 15 steals, but he has just a 35-grade hit tool and 55-grade speed, so I don't see him being a useful fantasy player in a short-side platoon.

McCarthy could be useful in deeper formats, but we need to acknowledge that he's not the hitter who hit .283/.342/.427 with 23 steals in 99 MLB games to end the 2022 season. McCarthy is far more of a .260-type hitter with slightly above-average power. He has the speed to be useful in deeper formats if you need some speed, but he'll hit at the bottom of the Arizona lineup, which will limit his counting stats, and should go back to the bench when Thomas is back in a couple of weeks. You can certainly pick him up off waivers for steals, but I wouldn't put in a huge bid.

Injured Player: Jason Heyward - OF Los Angeles Dodgers

Replacements: Chris Taylor 3B/SS/OF (7% rostered), Enrique Hernandez 1B/2B/3B/SS/OF (7% rostered) and Taylor Trammell OF (0% rostered)

Despite the Dodgers saying Jason Heyward's back was feeling better and that the MRI was clean, the veteran still went on the 10-day IL on Thursday. Now, it might not be a long stint on the injury list, but he was playing every day against right-handed pitching, so that does open up a spot in perhaps the best lineup in baseball, which is intriguing for fantasy purposes.

Since Heyward got hurt, his spot in left field was filled by Chris Taylor three times and Enrique Hernandez once; however, Hernandez's one start came against a left-handed pitcher when Heyward likely wouldn't have been in the lineup anyway. While that does make it seem like Taylor will be the main beneficiary here, Trammell wasn't claimed off waivers from Seattle until Tuesday and wasn't officially added to the Dodgers roster until after their Wednesday game.

Despite hitting right-handed Chris Taylor doesn't have any platoon splits and hit right-handed pitching better than left-handed pitching last year, so the Dodgers likely won't feel any need to have him only play against lefties.

chris taylor
chris taylor

Trammell is the only left-handed hitter in this group and was once a top-50 prospect, but he's now 26 years old and has had major issues in the big league with making consistent contact. The Dodgers did let Dinelson Lamet get a save, but it would be another level of "Heat Check" confidence to throw Trammell into the starting lineup and believe you could fix him that quickly.

Injured Player: Nick Senzel - 3B, Washington Nationals

Replacements: Trey Lipscomb 3B (5% rostered)

At this point, you've gotta feel bad for Senzel who broke his thumb fielding groundballs before Opening Day. He has never seemed able to shake the injury bug and now he'll be out for a couple of months with another broken bone. In his stead, the Nationals called up Trey Lipscomb and he's started every game since at 3B, so there doesn't seem to be a question of WHO will play while Senzel is out.

Lipscomb isn't a bad prospect, but he's also not an exciting one. He hit .284/.310/.438 in 80 games at Double-A last year as a 23-year-old with 10 home runs and four steals. Scouts have given him a 35-grade hit tool and 50-grade speed, but he's also never stolen more than 12 bases in a season. Lipscomb is a bit of a free swinger who makes a good amount of contact but also doesn't take many walks. I don't expect that profile to lead to much MLB value and he doesn't have the power and speed to make a difference in your roto categories, so I think he's best left on the wire outside of NL-only formats.

Also, I know Victor Robles is injured, but he had started just two games for Washington with the team playing Eddie Rosario against righties. As a result, I think you'll see Jacob Young take Robles' role of starting in center field against lefties, but that's just not a big enough role to really discuss in this article.