Rodgers Emerging

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It’s starting to feel real in fantasy leagues, isn’t it? The playoffs are rapidly approaching in some leagues and in others you are scratching and clawing for whatever category edge you can find. The most important adjustment you can make in this time is to shed the logic you would normally have in March and April.

This isn’t the time to get too hung up on name recognition and how things would likely play out over the larger sample size. With six weeks to go in the season, you need to readjust your mindset and accept that some very weird things can happen. This is especially the case when there’s a large chasm between the dominant teams and the teams who are clearly playing out the string with young and inexperienced players. These are matchups to exploit, both from the hitting and pitching side. But we should also be more willing to take a chance on unheralded players who are getting opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t.

New Cubs first baseman Frank Schwindel is a great example of this, as he’s delivered a ridiculous .390/.429/.729 batting line with four home runs and 15 RBI through 17 games since being claimed off waivers from the Athletics. He’s logged an extra-base hit in seven straight games to tie a Cubs rookie record. Anthony who? Schwindel’s numbers in the minors have been consistently solid, but keep in mind that he’s a 29-year-old journeyman who had just 15 major league plate appearances to his name coming into this year. He’s also sporting a .368 BABIP at the moment and his xBA (.284) says he’s overperforming.

The reasons for skepticism are obvious, but again, fantasy managers are playing for today and not three months from now. This isn’t to say you are dropping a corner-infielder like Yoan Moncada or Josh Donaldson for Schwindel, but readjusting your mindset is an important factor in finishing the season strong.

Have specific questions about your roster? Ask @djshort on Twitter.

MIXED LEAGUES

(Players rostered in under 50 percent of Yahoo leagues)

Note: Percentages are from the morning of Thursday, August 19th

Brendan Rodgers 2B/SS, Rockies (Yahoo: 21 percent rostered)

Rodgers had a minor scare when he was hit in the right hand by a pitch earlier this month, but fortunately he was able to return to action last weekend and has hit safely in four out of five games since then. The 25-year-old has had an up-and-down rookie campaign, but he’s slashing .342/.381/.582 with 10 extra-base hits (including four homers), nine RBI, and 14 runs scored over his last 19 games. This stretch included a 16-game hitting streak. He’s the primary No. 2 hitter for the Rockies these days, which is obviously a good place to be. Yes, the Rockies are headed out on the road for a good while after this weekend, but Rodgers has actually been more productive away from Coors Field believe it or not. And the Rockies will face some mediocre pitching with the Cubs and Rangers, as well.

Connor Joe 1B/OF, Rockies (Yahoo: 14 percent rostered)

Fantasy managers have long known about Rodgers, but it was just a matter of him staying healthy and getting an opportunity. However, with Joe, it’s understandable if you have just learned about him recently. But he’s a heck of a story, even overcoming testicular cancer last year. The 29-year-old mashed in Triple-A to begin the year and has kept that going in the majors by hitting .286/.364/.481 with seven home runs and 25 RBI over 49 games. Yes, it’s a small sample, but he’s displayed a strong approach with a knack for barreling up baseballs. Perhaps most importantly, the playing time is there. In fact, he’s hit leadoff in each of his last nine starts. Give him a shot if you need outfield help in competitive leagues.

Jordan Montgomery SP, Yankees (Yahoo: 46 percent rostered)

The Yankees’ latest COVID-19 wave didn’t slow them down at all, but they were still thrilled to welcome Gerrit Cole and Montgomery back to the rotation this week. Montgomery, who missed more than two weeks, allowed three runs over 4 2/3 innings in his return in Tuesday’s doubleheader against the Red Sox. While that’s not the most attractive looking line in the boxscore, it was nice to see him rack up 17 whiffs in his 78 pitches, including nine on his changeup and six on his curveball. Montgomery has had a respectable season (3.77 ERA and 121/37 K/BB ratio in 119 1/3 innings) as a fifth or sixth starter on a mixed league staff, so pick him up in leagues where he was dropped.

Akil Baddoo OF, Tigers (Yahoo: 36 percent rostered)

Baddoo has been a huge and unexpected success story for the Tigers this season after coming over in the Rule 5 Draft last winter, but unfortunately he was involved in a scary outfield collision with teammate Derek Hill last week. Both players landed on the injured list — Hill with a left rib cage contusion and Baddoo with a concussion — but they were able to begin minor league rehab assignments on Wednesday. While Hill’s speed makes him relevant in deeper fantasy formats, Baddoo has been helpful in mixed leagues for a large chunk of the season, hitting .267/.333/.467 with 10 homers, 45 RBI, 14 steals, and 44 runs scored through 93 games. He’s been the primary leadoff hitter for Detroit since late June and should reclaim that spot once he’s deemed ready to return. That all-around impact makes him worth a stash.

David Price SP/RP, Dodgers (Yahoo: 45 percent rostered)

The big question is how deep Price will pitch into games. The veteran left-hander hasn’t been pushed much since sliding into the rotation last month, never throwing more than 74 pitches. He’s completed five innings just twice during this seven-start run. Still, he’s done a great job pounding the strike zone and minimizing damage. Price has a pair of very favorable home starts coming up, first with the struggling Mets on Sunday before the Rockies come to town next week. Hopefully he sticks around long enough to get a win or two.

Carson Kelly C, Diamondbacks (Yahoo: 23 percent rostered)

There’s a lot of attention on Daulton Varsho’s emergence this month, and rightfully so, but don’t forget about Kelly. His teammate returned from a lengthy absence with a fractured wrist at the end of July and has hit .268 with a .388 on-base percentage through 49 plate appearances since then. While he’s slowed down on the power front since his initial surge in April, the approach is solid and he’s holding down a regular spot in the middle of the Diamondbacks’ lineup. Kelly is back on track after a disappointing 2020 campaign. For those in deeper leagues (including two-catcher formats), it’s worth considering Rangers call-up Yohel Pozo after the crazy numbers he put up in Triple-A this year.

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Deeper Dandies

(Players rostered in under 10 percent of Yahoo leagues)

Yonny Hernandez 3B, Rangers (Yahoo: 1 percent rostered)

As noted above, Pozo is gaining some attention among fantasy managers, but Hernandez’s speed should also put him on the radar. The 23-year-old has three multi-hit games in his last four and is now batting .289 with a .349 on-base percentage through his first 11 games in the majors. He put up a 260/290 K/BB ratio in the minors, so his approach is a real strength. Sure enough, he’s struck out just three times in 43 plate appearances so far. There’s no power in his bat — he homered just four times through 460 games in the minors — but he swiped 154 bases and is already 3-for-3 so far since his call-up. With regular playing time at third base, he could be an interesting addition in deeper formats.

Carter Kieboom 3B/SS, Nationals (Yahoo: 6 percent rostered)

Let’s be honest: Seeing teams blow things up isn’t fun. Ideally, teams should be able to compete all the time. However, the silver lining is that some young players will get a chance to show what they can do. It has been a struggle for Kieboom so far in the majors, but he’s slashed .304/.375/.500 with three homers, 10 RBI, and eight runs scored through 16 games this month. His patience has always been a strength, but he’s increased his contact rate so far this month while picking up three barrels in 42 batted ball events. Keep in mind that he had just two barrels through 90 batted ball events in his career coming into this season. Kieboom didn’t post great numbers in the minors this year, so he still has a lot to prove, but we’re seeing some progress. The prospect pedigree is still there, so he’s an intriguing plug-and-play option.

Jake Meyers OF, Astros (Yahoo: 2 percent rostered)

When the Astros traded Myles Straw to the Indians at the trade deadline, it indicated the Astros’ faith in Chas McCormick, but also in the emergence of Meyers. Selected in the 13th round in 2017, Meyers wasn’t even a top-30 prospect for the team coming into the year, but he broke through in Triple-A by slashing .343/.408/.598 with 16 homers and 10 steals through 68 games. And now he’s hit .333/.400/.630 in his first 30 plate appearances in the majors, including a two-homer game against the Angels last weekend. He’s actually started the last three games in center field, so it will be interesting to see what happens when Kyle Tucker is ready to return from the COVID-19 injured list. He’s an interesting short-term option, at the very least, but there could be more here.

Drew Steckenrider RP, Mariners (Yahoo: 4 percent rostered)

When Diego Castillo was traded to the Mariners, I thought perhaps he was headed to a place where there would be more clarity about the closer situation. Apparently not. Castillo hasn’t notched a save since August 3 and has pitched in the seventh and eighth innings since then. Paul Sewald has one save since then and Steckenrider has three, hence how we’re going for the purposes of this week’s column. Besides, Sewald is already rostered in almost 30 percent of Yahoo leagues. Steckenrider holds a 126 ERA over 28 appearances dating back to early June and is displaying the best control of his career. He’s clearly earned a late-inning role here, so there’s no reason he should be available in competitive formats.

Bradley Zimmer OF, Indians (Yahoo: 2 percent rostered)

We mentioned Kieboom already, so why not another former top prospect in Zimmer? The 28-year-old has been sneaky useful for a while now, including a .289/.358/.485 batting line with five homers and six steals over his last 30 games. Better late than never? Zimmer was a first-round pick of the Indians way back in 2014 and produced a weak .224/.300/.349 batting line in the majors coming into this year, but shoulder problems have been the main culprit here. However, he’s healthy now and his speed is just as good as ever.

Weekend Warriors

Nestor Cortes SP, Yankees (Yahoo: 11 percent rostered)

How can you not love this guy? Cortes is quirky as all get out, but you know what? It’s working. The 26-year-old baffled the White Sox in his most recent start Monday, allowing just one run — a solo homer — over six innings while striking out seven and walking just one. He now holds a 2.55 ERA and 53/14 K/BB ratio over 49 1/3 innings (six starts and eight relief appearances) this season. With the Yankees rolling, he comes recommended against the Twins on Friday at home.

Eric Lauer SP, Brewers (Yahoo: 20 percent rostered)

Lauer was very good in his return from the COVID-19 injured list on Sunday against the Pirates, striking out six and walking none over four innings of one-run ball. He threw just 72 pitches, which was understandable after a couple of weeks away, but the workload should be more normal against the Nationals on Saturday. Yes, Juan Soto is still there, but otherwise there’s not much to fear with that lineup.

AL ONLY

Kevin Smith SS, Blue Jays (Yahoo: 1 percent rostered)

With George Springer (knee) hitting the injured list, not only did the Blue Jays call up Otto Lopez, but also Smith to provide cover across multiple positions. Ranked as the team’s No. 10 prospect by MLB Pipeline, the 25-year-old hit .286/.371/.576 with 19 home runs and 16 steals over 82 games in Triple-A this season. He’s shown serious power/speed ability throughout the minors and has made some strides in regard to making contact this year. He could get some decent run as the Blue Jays battle through some injuries.

Wilson Ramos C, Indians (Yahoo: 4 percent rostered)

Cut loose by the Tigers in June, Ramos was recently called up by the Indians when Roberto Perez went down with shoulder inflammation. The 34-year-old has been sharing playing time with Austin Hedges, but he’s swung the bat well when in the lineup, going 5-for-16 (.313) with two homers and five RBI through five games. It’s unclear when Perez will be ready, but Ramos could continue to be a solid stopgap.

NL ONLY

Jose Barrero SS, Reds (Yahoo: 3 percent rostered)

On talent alone, Barrero should be a mixed league recommendation, but we just can’t do that because of the questions about playing time. Formerly known as Jose Israel Garcia, Barrero changed his last name in May to honor his mother, Tania Barrero, who died of COVID-19 related symptoms in Cuba. The 23-year-old really struggled during his first opportunity in the majors last year, but it’s unfair to hold that against him. He was great between Double- and Triple-A this year (.303, 17 home runs, 15 stolen bases over 80 games between Double- and Triple-A) and remains a name to watch for the long-term.

Michael Hermosillo OF, Cubs (Yahoo: 0 percent rostered)

One side effect of all of the teardowns we’ve seen in recent weeks is that deserving players in Triple-A are getting opportunities. Hermosillo fits this to a tee, as he posted a .306/.446/.592 batting line with 10 homers and eight steals over 43 games before his call-up this week. It’s a dream situation for the 26-year-old, who grew up a Cubs fan. Even better, Hermosillo launched a monster home run in first start as part of Wednesday’s win over the Reds. He never did anything of note during his previous chances with the Angels, but hopefully we can see something here with semi-regular at-bats.