The hottest pickup in fantasy leagues this week has been Marlins first baseman Jesus Aguilar, and for good reason. He’s socked five homers over his last six games while driving in 11 runs. This includes two homers in a return trip to Milwaukee this week. He’s currently tied with Rangers first baseman Nate Lowe for the MLB lead with 22 RBI. The key to his recent surge? Giving up arugula.
Behold, the best quote of the young 2021 MLB season:
BIG NEWS: Jesus Aguilar said he's done with arugula.
"After 60 at-bats without a home run, I'm back to arepas and all those things from Venezuela."#Marlins
— Jordan McPherson (@J_McPherson1126) April 25, 2021
It’s unfair to expect Aguilar to return to those lofty power numbers he posted with the Brewers during his All-Star campaign in 2018 (35 HR, 105 RBI), but that’s actually just fine. Because he’s a different hitter now and a more sustainable one too. He’s struck out in just 17.1 percent of his plate appearances dating back to the start of last season compared to 22 percent in 2019 and 25.3 percent in 2018. His zone contact rate has also improved since his days with the Brewers. The patience has always been good — look at his impressive 13/13 K/BB ratio so far this year — but the increased contact rate gives him a solid floor in the batting average department. And with the uptick in fly balls this year, maybe he’ll surprise in the power department after all.
Aguilar just hopped over the 50-percent threshold in Yahoo leagues and makes for a perfectly respectable corner-infielder or even a starting first baseman in deeper formats. Let him serve as an inspiration to us all.
Have specific questions about your roster? Ask @djshort on Twitter.
(Players rostered in under 50 percent of Yahoo leagues)
Note: Percentages are from the morning of Thursday, April 29th
Jakob Junis SP, Royals (Yahoo: 18 percent rostered)
Junis had a 4.78 career ERA coming into the year and only threw 25 1/3 innings in 2020 while missing some time with COVID-19 and back spasms, so it’s safe to say that he was an afterthought with fantasy managers this spring. Heck, he began the year out of the bullpen for Kansas City, but he’s looked like a different pitcher so far. Through 23 1/3 innings (four starts and two relief appearances), he’s posted a 3.47 ERA with 27 strikeouts and seven walks. The big key has been the introduction of a cutter. There appears to be some confusion with pitch identification in relation to his slider, but either way he’s seeing a healthy increase in swinging strikes. With the Indians coming up next Monday, he’s well worth the pickup to see how this progresses.
Kolten Wong 2B, Brewers (Yahoo: 35 percent rostered)
Wong has been red-hot since returning from an oblique strain, going 11-for-21 (.524) with two homers, three doubles, and five runs scored. He’s been a spark plug out of the leadoff spot for a Brewers’ lineup which is missing some key pieces. Wong’s batting average has been all over the place during his career, but he doesn’t strike out much and always gets on base at a respectable clip. While he wasn’t much help in mixed leagues last year, he had 11 homers and 24 stolen bases in 148 games in 2019. And now he plays half of his games in a much better park for offense than he’s been accustomed to over the years. This one could stick.
Giovanny Gallegos RP, Cardinals (Yahoo: 43 percent rostered)
Cardinals manager Mike Shildt surprised many by tapping Alex Reyes as the team’s closer to begin the year and the hard-throwing right-hander has already reeled off six saves while not allowing a single run through 10 1/3 innings. He’s healthy and drawing praise from his teammates, but with the impressive surface stats come warning signs. Reyes has walked 10 of the 47 batters he’s faced and leads the league with four wild pitches. It’s only a matter of time before the command gets him into trouble. Jordan Hicks’ control hasn’t been much better in his first year back (nine walks, three wild pitches in 8 1/3 innings), so Gallegos remains the best long-term bet in this bullpen. He’s off to a great start and can provide value even if he’s not getting saves.
Nate Pearson SP, Blue Jays (Yahoo: 41 percent rostered)
Back-to-back injury stashes here, but let’s start with the one who is likely to show up first. Pearson suffered a Grade 1 strain of his right groin in early March, but he’s been throwing in games at the Blue Jays’ alternate training site. The promising young right-hander got stretched out to 51 pitches last Saturday and is expected to pitch in another game on Thursday. He appears on track to join the Blue Jays’ rotation in early May, so it’s time to start thinking ahead here. With his electric fastball, the potential is too good to pass up even with the recent injury questions and a likely workload cap.
Framber Valdez SP, Astros (Yahoo: 48 percent rostered)
The wait will be longer for Valdez, but it should be worth it. The southpaw suffered a fractured left ring finger in early March, but he was able to avoid surgery and Astros pitching coach Brent Strom said Wednesday that he’s “way ahead of schedule” in his recovery. He’s actually been cleared to face live hitters, so his progression is well underway. He’ll obviously need to be put through a spring training-like buildup, so it’s probably unfair to expect to see him before early June, but that shouldn’t stop you from considering a stash. Valdez was the Astros’ best pitcher last year, posting a 3.57 ERA and 76/16 K/BB ratio over 70 2/3 regular season innings before a brilliant showing during the postseason. Valdez was looking like a potential top-30 fantasy starter prior to the injury, so get on board now.
Evan Longoria 3B, Giants (Yahoo: 30 percent rostered)
Buster Posey has turned back the clock so far this year, but don’t overlook what his teammate has been doing. Longoria has been a force for the 16-9 Giants, batting .311/.417/.590 with four homers, 12 RBI, and 13 runs scored over 21 games. The 35-year-old recently missed three days with a tight hamstring, but he returned to the lineup this week. It’s been a while since Longo has been on the radar in mixed leagues, but his StatCast numbers are totally backing up what he’s doing. Among players with a minimum of 25 batted ball events, he ranks third in hard-hit percentage behind only Giancarlo Stanton and Byron Buxton. Looking at average exit velocity for fly balls and line drives, he’s fourth behind Stanton, Juan Soto, and Buxton. You get the point. He’s making a lot of hard contact and being rewarded for it. He actually trended up in these areas last year, but we didn’t see it in his actual numbers. You worry about the health, but he’s well worth picking up in most leagues as long as he’s hitting like this.
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Pavin Smith 1B/OF, Diamondbacks (Yahoo: 10 percent rostered)
Smith has cooled down over the past couple of days, but I’ve still been impressed by what I’ve seen so far this season. Among his 59 batted ball events, 31 of them have registered at least 95 mph. Going by hard-hit percentage, he ranks 15th among players with at least 50 batted ball events. Going further, his hard-hit percentage per swing is second to only Manny Machado. Of course, it doesn’t mean much if a lot of that contact is coming on the ground, but fortunately that’s not the case for Smith. He ranks 23rd (again, among hitters with at least 50 batted ball events) in average exit velocity separated strictly for line drives and fly balls. Smith is making lots of contact — especially in the zone — and has hit either first or second in Arizona’s lineup in nine straight games. With Kole Calhoun injured again, Smith’s playing time should be secure for now.
Domingo German SP, Yankees (Yahoo: 33 percent rostered)
German returned to the majors with a strong outing against the Indians last week, but he was even better Wednesday against the Orioles, allowing just three hits and one walk over seven scoreless innings. It was the first time in his career that he completed seven innings without allowing a run. German struck out six batters and induced 32 CSW (called strikes plus whiffs) in his 92 pitches. He got whiffs on all four of his pitches and averaged nearly 94 mph on his fastball, so it was an encouraging outing all around. Some fantasy managers cut bait with German after some initial struggles and a demotion to the alternate site, but he’s worth a look in mixed leagues once again.
Jon Berti 2B/3B/SS/OF, Marlins (Yahoo: 15 percent rostered)
I already liked Berti as a pickup after Brian Anderson went down with an oblique strain, but Jazz Chisholm’s unfortunate hamstring only reinforces that notion. The 31-year-old is no stranger to mixed league rosters, mostly on account of his stolen base potential. With his elite sprint speed, he went 26-for-31 in stolen base attempts over just 112 games between 2019-2020. And he wasn’t a complete zero elsewhere, posting a .362 on-base percentage while also popping eight homers. Berti has been ice-cold to begin the 2021 campaign, but don’t hold that against him. Qualifying at four different positions is just a bonus here.
Kyle Higashioka C, Yankees (Yahoo: 13 percent rostered)
Let’s not get carried away here, but Yankees manager Aaron Boone said Tuesday that Higashioka has earned more in the way of playing time. In fantasy terms, this probably has greater ramifications on Gary Sanchez’s value, but Higashioka should be on the radar in two-catcher formats at this point. The 31-year-old has already slugged four homers this season with the Statcast numbers backing up the quality of contact. He’s mostly known for his abilities behind the plate, but as Lindsey Adler of The Athletic notes, Yankees hitting coach Marcus Thames has tried to impress upon him that he should see himself as a contributor on the offensive side as well. Higashioka is clearly a student of hitting, as he has called Ted Williams’ “The Science of Hitting” his hitting bible when he was in high school. He wouldn’t be the first catcher to develop later on in his career. With this lineup and home ballpark, he’s well worth a flier in this situation.
(Players rostered in under 10 percent of Yahoo leagues)
Willie Calhoun OF, Rangers (Yahoo: 4 percent rostered)
Calhoun has fallen out of favor in fantasy circles, but it’s time to give him another shot. After getting a late start on the season due to a groin injury, the 26-year-old has hit safely in nine out of 10 games. That has resulted in a .306 batting average (11-for-36), though he’s only hit one homer with a .764 OPS so far. Still, the Rangers have been using him out of the leadoff spot against right-handers in recent days. He’s always made a good amount of contact, but the question is where the power will settle. Adding him in five-outfielder formats sounds about right.
Tyler O’Neill OF, Cardinals (Yahoo: 6 percent rostered)
The same goes for O’Neill, who has popped three homers in his last four games after a recent stint on the injured list with a groin injury. O’Neill is sort of the opposite of Calhoun, as he boasts massive power potential along with major contact issues. He has a 17/1 K/BB ratio in 48 plate appearances this season and has struck out in 34.1 percent of his plate appearances in the majors. Still, when he actually makes contact, he hits the ball very hard and very far. He’s capable of hitting a few homers over the course of a week. He’s a very solid defender, so the Cardinals are willing to live with the flawed approach.
David Peterson SP, Mets (Yahoo: 11 percent rostered)
So far this season, Peterson has had two bad starts and two good ones. The range of outcomes is wide going into Sunday’s start against the Phillies, but Peterson should be respectable on most days. He’s already given up four homers this season after allowing just five of them during his entire rookie season in 2020, but don’t expect that to stick. He’s greatly increased his ground ball rate this year (56.9 percent, up from 44.4 percent as a rookie) by leaning into his sinker usage and largely abandoning his four-seamer. He’s spoken about increased feel for his changeup, a pitch which has yet to result in a bit so far. It will be fascinating to see how he continues to evolve, but I like him against a Phillies’ lineup who have some health questions.
Jon Gray SP, Rockies (Yahoo: 42 percent rostered)
Gray has been a nice surprise to start the season, posting a 2.54 ERA through five starts while allowing three earned runs or fewer in all of them. He has completed six innings in each of his last two starts and three out of his last four. There’s obvious reason to be skeptical here, as he’s walked 13 batters in 28 1/3 innings while benefitting from a .208 BABIP and a strand rate of 85.8 percent. His velocity hasn’t come all the way back either, but he’s upped the usage of his nasty slider and is getting a huge number of whiffs on the pitch. He’s also been keeping the ball on the ground and limiting hard contact. He comes recommended against a banged up Diamondbacks club on Friday.
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Joely Rodriguez RP, Rangers (Yahoo: 1 percent rostered)
The back-end of the Rangers’ bullpen hasn’t worked out like anybody thought back in the spring. Jonathan Hernandez was the name we were all excited about, with Jose Leclerc as the old standby. Of course, both pitchers ended up needing season-ending Tommy John surgery around the start of the season. Rodriguez dealt with an injury situation of his own to begin the year, as he reported to camp with a sprained ankle, but he rejoined the Rangers’ bullpen a couple of weeks ago and has struck out six out of the 15 batters he’s faced without issuing a walk. After what the southpaw did during his first stint with the Rangers last year (2.13 ERA with 17 strikeouts and five walks in 12 2/3 innings), he’s worth watching in the late innings here.
Jarren Duran OF, Red Sox (Yahoo:
By this time, Mariners outfielder Sam Haggerty (Yahoo: 4 percent rostered) is probably gone in single-league formats, but he’s a must-pickup if not. Dylan Moore’s struggles have opened up an opportunity there. Also make sure that Duran, a top prospect outfielder with the Red Sox, is safely tucked away on AL-only rosters. It’s doubtful a call-up is imminent, as he’s never played in Triple-A and the Red Sox surely want to see how he performs, but Franchy Cordero has been horrible enough to think the switch could be flipped in the not too distant future. Listed at 6-foot-2 and 212 pounds, the lefty-hitting Duran brings some serious wheels and contact ability, and more power should follow in time. He’s been mentioned as a possible long-term leadoff hitter for Boston. Track his progress in all fantasy formats.
Mike Tauchman OF, Giants (Yahoo: 1 percent rostered)
My initial read of Tauchman being traded to the Giants is that nobody would really benefit from a fantasy perspective, but Mike Yastremski’s oblique injury could change things. Maybe Tauchman will never be able to duplicate the power he showed with the Yankees in 2018, but it’s well worth finding out the answer. He possesses good speed and his ability to play all three outfield positions should help his chances of drawing starts.
Ka’ai Tom OF, Pirates (Yahoo: 0 percent rostered)
Another outfielder changing teams here, as the Pirates recently claim Tom off waivers from the Athletics while casting names like Anthony Alford and Dustin Fowler aside. Selected from the Indians’ in last year’s Rule 5 draft, Tom is a much better fit with a rebuilding team who can show some patience as he makes the adjustment to the majors. The 26-year-old has struggled so far, but he’s always produced in the minors while rating well in quality of contact. He’s only 5-foot-9, which is why his success might have been overlooked or discounted. He’s a fun flier for the Pittsburgh and NL-only managers alike.