Just because you play fantasy baseball doesn’t mean you have to ignore reality. That has never been more relevant than this year, with MLB trying to conduct a season in the middle of the worst pandemic in more than a century. These players are putting the health of themselves and the people around them on the line in order to pull it off. It has been a rocky ride so far and who knows if we’ll make it to the end, but this season has shined a light on these athletes as people and our tendency to take this whole enterprise for granted. It’s all so much more tenuous than we thought.
Wednesday was a historic day in sports, with the NBA postponing all three of their playoff games after the Milwaukee Bucks decided not to take the court for their Game 5 matchup against the Orlando Magic in response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake. Multiple MLB teams followed suit, with the Reds/Brewers, Mariners/Padres, and Giants/Dodgers not playing. We’re going to see more teams sit out on Thursday in protest. Something like this would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. Heck, maybe just a year ago. But one thing we’ve learned this year is that sports can no longer be consumed without recognizing a player’s humanity and voice. And that’s a good thing.
What we’re doing in this space is just a game. It’s not life or death. It’s a luxury to write something like this and spend time doing it. This year has been more challenging than any of us could have ever anticipated, but I hope we can continue to have fun doing this while also not losing sight of reality.
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, August 27th
Ian Anderson SP, Braves (Yahoo: 27 percent rostered)
Anderson is a prime example of why it’s so difficult to read into these roster percentages this season. It’s usually difficult this time of the year because fantasy players who are out of contention begin to drop off or focus on fantasy football. Maybe there’s some of that here, but we also don’t know who drafted a team back in March and either forgot about it or ignored it. Either way, Anderson needs to be rostered in all competitive leagues after his brilliant MLB debut against the Yankees on Wednesday. The 22-year-old right-hander didn’t give up a hit until the sixth inning — a solo homer to Luke Voit — and ended up striking out six while walking a pair. Throwing a mid-90s fastball and a nasty changeup, he induced 12 swinging strikes and 17 called strikes in his 90 pitches. Control was an issue at times for him in the minors, so it’s not always going to come as easy as it did on Wednesday, but he’s exciting.
Willy Adames SS, Rays (Yahoo: 19 percent rostered)
Coming off posting 10 homers with an .807 OPS in 67 games during the second half last year, Adames has kept it going in this abbreviated season by slashing .287/.374/.521 with three homers, 10 RBI, and 19 runs scored over 30 games. He began year entrenched in the lower part of the Rays’ batting order, but he’s received a chance in the cleanup spot and the No. 5 spot in recent days. There’s clearly some good fortune at play here. He’s sporting a .421 BABIP with a strikeout rate of 31.8 percent, so the batting average is going to come down, but he’s being more selective than he’s been in the past and making lots of hard contact when he does swing. There’s also some speed to his game, so he’s well worth considering as a middle infielder option in mixed leagues.
Ryan Mountcastle SS, Orioles (Yahoo: 12 percent rostered)
Mountcastle has been a topic of conversation in this column for over a year now, so it was nice to finally see him get the call-up late last week. Long overdue, really. The 23-year-old has hit safely in four of the five games he’s played so far. He served as the DH in one of those games, but look for him to be the primary left fielder for the foreseeable future even if he’s still learning the position on the job. It’s unlikely Mountcastle is going to be a big on-base guy, but the power is legitimate and he has a great home ballpark as the backdrop. He’s a deeper league target for now, but that could change in a hurry.
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Kole Calhoun OF, Diamondbacks (Yahoo: 33 percent rostered)
Calhoun busted out for a career-high 33 homers last season with the Angels and he hasn’t missed a beat with his new team, slugging eight homers through his first 30 games. His average launch angle is higher than it has ever been, so he’s really leaning into this power approach. It’s working for him so far, as he’s in the 79th percentile as far as barrel percentage, per Baseball Savant. There are some obvious sacrifices you have to make to roster Calhoun, as he’s hit just .229 dating back to 2017, but he also offers good on-base ability out of the leadoff spot and beats up on right-handed pitching. There’s a spot for him in mixed leagues.
Alec Bohm 3B, Phillies (Yahoo: 23 percent rostered)
With all of the recent call-ups, it’s a been surprising that Bohm hasn’t gained more momentum. That figures to change soon. While Bohm has swatted just one home run so far, he’s slashing .317/.417/.463 with more walks (seven) than strikeouts (six) through 48 plate appearances. It’s not often we see that sort of plate control with a player just coming up from the minors. It’s impressive. He’s also making oodles of hard contact. Bohm can flat-out hit. And with his 6-foot-5 frame, it’s easy to imagine more power coming soon enough. Get used to seeing him on mixed league rosters for a long time to come.
Tony Gonsolin SP, Dodgers (Yahoo: 27 percent rostered)
I included Gonsolin among my starters to watch/monitor last week and he’s now a must-add with the news of Walker Buehler hitting the injured list with a blister. Gonsolin threw 99 pitches in an intrasquad game on Monday, so he won’t be available to start again until Saturday against the Rangers. Regardless, the results speak for themselves. The 26-year-old holds a 2.14 ERA across his first 54 2/3 innings in the majors and his velocity has been on the uptick in the times we’ve seen him this year. He didn’t deserve to be sent down after his last start, so pick him up and hope for the best. There could be staying power in mixed leagues depending on how things shake out.
Kolten Wong 2B, Cardinals (Yahoo: 33 percent rostered)
With the prolonged down time during the Cardinals’ COVID-19 outbreak, Wong is exactly the sort of player who could slip through the cracks in fantasy leagues. Make sure that doesn’t happen. While he hasn’t exactly been tearing it up so far, remember that he batted .285/.361/.423 with 11 home runs and 24 steals over 148 games last season. The on-base skills have always been there and he’s pretty much locked into the leadoff spot for St. Louis. Here’s hoping he picks up the pace on the stolen base front. If that happens, he’s going to be a useful middle infielder play in mixed leagues once again.
Yandy Diaz 1B/3B, Rays (Yahoo: 32 percent rostered)
Remember the excitement over Diaz last year? He finally embraced launching the ball and put up 14 homers in 79 games after hitting just one homer over his previous 88 games in the majors. This year, he’s carving out a new identity. Diaz is being more selective than ever before while seeing his fly ball rate (per FanGraphs) tumble from 32 percent all the way to 12.9. He’s almost exclusively putting the ball on the ground. Ben Clemens of FanGraphs wrote a really fascinating piece about Diaz’s approach, as he’s having a lot of success poking ground balls to the opposite field to counter the way he’s being pitched. Perhaps we’ll see more power if pitchers change their approach again, but Diaz is finding a way to carve out relevancy even without it. Only six players (Charlie Blackmon, Anthony Rendon, Michael Conforto, Kyle Lewis, Bryce Harper, and Paul Goldschmidt) have outpaced his .427 OBP so far this season. He’s established himself as the primary No. 3 hitter in the Rays’ lineup.
Sixto Sanchez SP, Marlins (Yahoo: 34 percent rostered)
Sanchez is pitching Thursday night against the Mets, so this might not be actionable depending on the set-up of your league. This recommendation also has the chance of blowing up in my face in short order, but Sanchez was impressive enough in his MLB debut against the Nationals last Saturday that he’s worth rostering regardless of outcome. Hitting 100 mph on four occasions, the 22-year-old allowed three runs on three hits (including two homers) over five innings while striking out four and walking none. He induced eight swinging strikes in his 66 pitches. It’s worth noting that his velocity dipped as the outing moved along, so it’s possible he was just really juiced up early on and ran out of gas. It will be interesting to see what the Marlins do when Caleb Smith and Jose Urena are cleared to return, but Sanchez is too talented to leave on the wire.
Brandon Belt 1B/OF, Giants (Yahoo: 11 percent rostered)
I honestly thought we were done discussing Belt as a consideration in mixed leagues. After all, he posted a career-worst 97 OPS+ last season while batting just .234/.339/.403 with 17 homers in 156 games. A couple of weeks ago, I wouldn’t have hesitated on that stance. He was hitting .128 as recently as August 15. However, he’s been so hot recently that it can’t be ignored. Belt is 16-for-28 (.571) with four homers, four doubles, four walks, 10 RBI, and eight runs scored over his last nine games. This includes a two-homer game in a thrilling extra-inning win over the Dodgers on Tuesday night. Belt reached base safely in 11 straight plate appearances at one point. Sure, you can chalk some of this up to small sample craziness, but Belt is spraying line drives all over the field while sitting among the game’s best in terms of hard-hit percentage and barrel percentage. It’s intriguing. Belt is at least worth a short-term add in mixers, especially with a visit to Colorado coming up next week. Feel free to reevaluate after that. This season really is just about piecing it all together in fantasy leagues.
Aaron Judge made his way back from the injured list on Wednesday and could apparently be headed right back on it. The Yankees’ slugger was forced to exit in the sixth inning in the second game of Wednesday’s doubleheader against the Braves due to tightness in his right calf, which obviously isn’t a great sign. The outlook for Frazier and Andujar appeared a bit uncertain with Judge back in the fold, but obviously there will be more opportunities if he needs to miss more time. Frazier would be the priority here, but it would be no surprise to see Andujar swing himself into the good graces of fantasy players. After going 2-for-22 (.091) through his first nine games with the Yankees this season, Andujar went 2-for-3 with a run scored in Game 2 of Wednesday’s doubleheader.
Michael Pineda SP, Twins (Yahoo: 4 percent rostered)
Hey, remember him? Pineda received a 60-game suspension last year after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs, but he’ll be eligible to return next Monday and the expectation is that he’ll slide right back into the Twins’ rotation. He’s been preparing at the Twins’ alternate training site, and has reportedly been clocked in the 94 mph range during his most recent tune-up outing in St. Paul. Pineda is what he is in fantasy leagues. He has never quite lived up to the peripherals, but fantasy players can generally expect excellent control with a good number of strikeouts and some home runs to go along with it. The 31-year-old was a useful backend mixed league starter last season with a 4.01 ERA and 140/28 K/BB ratio over 146 innings with Minnesota. With the Twins’ offense backing him up, he has a decent chance to help out the rest of the way.
Tyler Anderson SP, Giants (Yahoo: 5 percent rostered) at Diamondbacks
Jordan Montgomery SP, Yankees (Yahoo: 24 percent rostered) vs. Mets
Justin Dunn SP, Mariners (Yahoo: 2 percent rostered) at Angels
And Because We Have To, Here Are Some Relievers
Emilio Pagan RP, Padres (Yahoo: 49 percent rostered)
Jordan Romano RP, Blue Jays (Yahoo: 47 percent rostered)
Diego Castillo RP, Rays (Yahoo: 20 percent rostered)
Jose Cisnero RP, Tigers (Yahoo: 3 percent rostered)
Richard Rodriguez RP, Pirates (Yahoo: 14 percent rostered)
It’s next man up in the Padres’ bullpen, as Pagan is the clear favorite for saves with Drew Pomeranz and Kirby Yates both sidelined. Romano is sharing the closer job with the Blue Jays these days, but he’s certainly more exciting than Anthony Bass. Castillo became the 10th pitcher with the Rays to notch a save this season — the Rays have 21 wins, mind you — so good luck figuring out this bullpen. Cisnero is probably the odds-on favorite now that Joe Jimenez has pitched his way out of the closer role. Rodriguez is essentially the last man standing in the Pirates’ bullpen now that Keona Kela is headed back on the injured list.
It’s sort of hard to remember at this point that Mullins had some momentum in fantasy leagues going into last season. Of course, it didn’t work out at all. He went just 6-for-64 (.094) in 74 plate appearances and didn’t appear in the majors again after April 21. Expectations were understandably low when he broke camp with the team this year, but he’s hitting .351 (13-for-37) with one homer, two steals, and four runs scored over his last 10 games. The O’s have used him out of the leadoff spot in each of his last three starts. He has some serious wheels, so give him a shot if you need outfield help. It’s unclear where the acquisition of Taijuan Walker leaves the rest of the Blue Jays’ rotation. What we do know is that Nate Pearson, Matt Shoemaker, and Trent Thornton aren’t likely to pitch anytime soon. Merryweather is probably more exciting from a fantasy perspective, but Kay is a bit more stretched out at this point.
Jose Garcia SS, Reds (Yahoo: 3 percent rostered)
Ke’Bryan Hayes 3B, Pirates (Yahoo: 2 percent rostered)
Some prospect love here. Garcia is already up with the Reds and seemingly taking over the starting shortstop job from Freddy Galvis. It’s an aggressive move considering he’s never played above High-A, but he’s one of the biggest risers among prospects over the past year. The 21-year-old posted a .779 OPS with eight homers and 15 steals over 104 games last season and really raised his profile with an amazing showing during spring training. It’s not crazy to think he could be mixed league relevant soon. As for Hayes, he’s still waiting for his opportunity. And there’s no sure thing it will happen this year. The Pirates called up Will Craig on Thursday with Colin Moran (concussion) going on the injured list, but there’s no question that Hayes is more interesting in fantasy leagues. The power hasn’t really shown up yet, but he makes contact and plays elite defense at third base, which should give him some extra leash as he adjusts to the majors. Hopefully the Pirates do right by their fans and give Hayes a shot soon.