May 8, 2014
Free Agent Watch
Welcome back to our weekly walk through some of the players who may want to keep an extra eye on in your leagues. Mike and I will be tackling this topic on Thursdays again and focusing on a singular hitter and pitcher in four of the more popular formats: shallow mixed, deep mixed, NL-only and AL-only. These are certainly not the only players who are worth pickups, but it gives us a nice opportunity to write about players we have close tabs on in our leagues.
Chris Owings, SS, Arizona Diamondbacks
The early season returns on Owings were slightly different than his initial fantasy owners may have been expecting--though not in a bad way. During the first 22 games of the season, he was hitting .305 with four stolen bases, but had an isolated power of .073 (due to only five extra-base hits and no homers). This was a bit of a departure from the player who, not only posted double-digit homers in each of the last three seasons, but flanked it with extra-base hits to boot. Recently, that power has started to show a little more, as Owings has hits for extra bases, including his first homer, in the last week. With the ballpark likely to help him as the power flashes more and the strike zone control he's shown thus far, he's shaping up to be a better 2014 fantasy option than even some of his biggest prospect backers anticipated. He should be owned in all leagues that play a middle-infield spot. —Bret Sayre
Comparable Player: The good version of Starlin Castro
Roenis Elias, SP, Seattle Mariners
After spending the first few weeks of the season as a player whose name we really never properly learned how to pronounce, since it didn't figure to matter for very long, Elias has become one of the Mariners' best pitchers--and his stuff backs up the results. With a fastball that sits in the 92-94 MPH range and two secondary pitches (a change and a curve) that both get whiff rates of around 15 percent, this is not a flash in the pan. And on top of that, he's actually faced a reasonably tough schedule thus far with only two starts at home (against Texas and Los Angeles) and road starts against Oakland (twice), Miami (yes, that's a tough matchup because they don't lose at home) and in both Yankee Stadium and Rangers Ballpark. The Cuban left-hander is worth investing in across all leagues, as he's helping across the board—even his 37 strikeouts rank among the top 50 in baseball. His schedule even starts to get more favorable now, as his next three starts project to be home against Kansas City, at Minnesota, and then home against Houston. —Bret Sayre
Comparable Player: C.J. Wilson
Brandon Crawford, SS, San Francisco Giants
You might think you can do better than this in a 15- or 16-team mixed, but often if you lose a middle infielder to injury, someone like Crawford is as good as it gets. I doubt the early season power spike is real, but I’m more impressed by the improvement in Crawford’s walk rate and think that he can be a better all around player if this holds. 10-12 home runs with a .260 batting average might not be a stretch for 2014. If you’re carrying someone like Derek Jeter or Brian Roberts as your third middle infielder, it might be time to give Crawford a shot. —Mike Gianella
Comparable Player: Yunel Escobar
Kyle Gibson, RHP, Minnesota Twins
This is the time of year when we start to see enough stats on the ledger where we sometimes fall into the trap of looking at the first 30 games of the season to the exclusion of everything else. We do this at our own peril in some cases, and Gibson might be one of those cases. He’s off to a slow start in the strikeout department, but the overall package speaks to a potential no. 4 starter who could strike out 140-150 batters. This isn’t a great option in a deeper mixed league, but one you should monitor and spot start under the right circumstances. —Mike Gianella
Comparable Player: Mark Buehrle, when Gibson hits his ceiling
Jose Ramirez, 2B, Cleveland Indians
With Jason Kipnis on the shelf for the next three weeks or so, Ramirez gets the call and a decent amount of playing time for the Indians. The switch-hitter has a good minor league track record of making contact (he’s been below 10 percent in strikeouts at each stop in the minor leagues) and stealing bases (he had 38 swipes in 113 games at Double-A in 2013). He’s likely sharing time with Mike Aviles, but should see enough to get into your lineup. He hasn’t done much since arriving last week, but he could reasonably steal three or four bases before it’s time for Kipnis to come back—and score a few runs to boot. —Bret Sayre
Comparable Player: Jose Altuve with poorer counting stats
Robbie Ray, LHP, Detroit Tigers
Sometimes the best pickups aren’t for immediate use, but rather stashes for later. If you’re in leagues like mine, you can only pick up a guy like Ray when he’s on an active MLB roster. Ray is likely headed down to the minors when Anibal Sanchez returns next week, but Ray looks more polished than I thought he would, and will be the first guy the Tigers call if there is an injury. Ray’s velocity looks like it has returned to its low-90s level, and while the breaking stuff isn’t a finished product, he still has the potential to generate a lot of swings and misses. I like Ray long term, and believe he’ll be part of the Tigers rotation in 2015… or possibly sooner. —Mike Gianella
Comparable Player: Alex Wood
Kevin Frandsen, 1B/3B/OF, Washington Nationals
There are interesting only-league pickups and then are these. Frandsen is no one’s ideal fit for a roster, but with Tyler Moore being sent down to the minors to make room for the finally-debuting Doug Fister, Frandsen solidifies his path to playing time as a utility guy on a team that’s been hit hard by the injury bug. He’s gotten most of his playing time in left field thus far, and frankly hasn’t done much with it, but some runs and RBI without killing your batting average is good enough for the format. Being capable of playing at first base, second base (though not well), third base and outfield makes him more likely to stick as the Nationals’ stars return. —Bret Sayre
Comparable Player: Steve Lombardozzi
Tyler Lyons, LHP, St. Louis Cardinals
Lyons’s stuff looks fairly pedestrian (it would be generous to say his fastball is average), but he mixes in three other pitches (slider, curve, and change) fairly well and has managed to keep hitters off balance thus far. If you’re going to take a pitcher with non-spectacular stuff, taking one from a well-run organization like the Cardinals isn’t such a bad idea. Lyons isn’t going to continue striking out a batter per inning, but there’s a possibility that he keeps the fifth starter job for as long as Joe Kelly is out. It doesn’t seem like Carlos Martinez is in the team’s short plans for the rotation, which makes Lyons worth owning as long as he’s pitching every fifth day.
Comparable Player: David Phelps
Mike Gianella is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
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Bret Sayre is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
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You can contact Bret by clicking here