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.
Lorenzo Cain, OF, Kansas City Royals
While he’s never been a huge name in fantasy circles, Cain has always had more potential than he’s shown thus far in his career. And at 28 years old, he’s running out of time to show that he can make good on some of that promise. This year has been a nice first step in that direction. In 95 plate appearances, Cain is hitting .314 with a homer and five steals—and while that won’t shoot you up the leaderboards on its own, it’s quite the help from a player who was certainly not drafted in shallower mixed leagues. The biggest thing for Cain so far this year has been an increase in contact. Over his major league career, he has a strikeout rate north of 20 percent, but that sits at 16.8 percent thus far in 2014. It’s still too soon to tell whether it’s just noise or if there’s some signal in there, but either way, it’s a good start. —Bret Sayre
Comparable Player: Austin Jackson
Dellin Betances, RHP, New York Yankees
The numbers are just mind-boggling right now. Through 26 innings this season, Betances has 45 strikeouts versus just nine walks with a 1.73 ERA and 0.88 WHIP. Yes, he’s likely not going to get saves this season, but it doesn’t matter at all. Betances is on pace for a whopping 162 strikeouts this season, which would put him tied for third all time among reliever seasons. It puts him ahead of the most impressive short burst reliever season we’ve seen in the fantasy age, which was Brad Lidge’s 2004 when he struck out 157 batters in 94 2/3 innings with a 1.90 ERA. Those strikeouts can’t be overstated—he has more than Jordan Zimmermann, Scott Kazmir, Chris Archer, and Shelby Miller. Betances is a must-own in all leagues that have any sort of start or innings limit, and a worthy add in any other format. —Bret Sayre
Comparable Player: 2004 Brad Lidge
Rickie Weeks, 2B, Milwaukee Brewers
Although Weeks is somewhat miscast as a platoon player based on his splits, this is exactly how the Brewers are using him right now: as the right-handed compliment to Scooter Gennett at the keystone. Weeks is swinging a hot bat of late while Gennett is ice cold, so it would be tempting to think that the Brewers might start giving Weeks more at bats. However, Milwaukee seems committed to their plan, so Weeks is more of a stash in deeper mixed than a must start. Weeks might be worth starting over weaker everyday options like Jonathan Schoop or Eric Sogard, but in general the best course of action is to leave Weeks on your bench and hope that the Brewers start giving him more at bats over Gennett in the near future. —Mike Gianella
Comparable Player: Kelly Johnson
I don’t have the mental energy to continue with this conceit but, yes, I realize Bedard hasn’t magically turned back the clock. What he has done is rattle off a five-start streak of 28 innings with three earned runs allowed. Bedard has adapted to his diminished velocity by relying more heavily on a cutter, and the results have been tremendous. He isn’t going to keep up this level of performance, but if he keeps throwing the cutter effectively, he might able to defy his xFIP and put up an ERA somewhere between 3.60 and 4.00. Those numbers make him borderline in deep mixed, but there is something to be said for riding the hot hand here until Bedard lets you down. —Mike Gianella
Comparable Player: Ryan Dempster, pre-retirement.
Kyle Blanks, 1B/OF, Oakland Athletics
A trade over the past week has given AL-only players a little more firepower in the form of the huge potential slugger. There are always questions about Blanks’ health and his contact ability when he’s on the field, but the Athletics are one of the few teams out that who could use him in a disciplined approach that could be a boom to deep league squads. How they use him is still to be determined, as his career .236/.335/.396 line against left-handed pitching is not as good as someone you’d like to be the short side of a platoon. However, with the A’s clicking on all cylinders and apparently able to swindle value out of players further in the trash pile than Blanks, I wouldn’t rule out eking a few dollars of value out of the big guy. —Bret Sayre
Comparable Player: Nate Freiman
Chase Whitley, RHP, New York Yankees
The collective fantasy reaction to Whitley’s call up this past weekend was along the lines of “who?” as Whitley was only a minor blip on the radar of most scouts entering 2014. The experts had Whitley pegged as a future reliever, a guy who would be better suited coming in at some point in the sixth or seventh, not a big time arm. However, when the Yankees had a need, they called on Whitley to make a spot start against the Mets. Whitley responded well. The Yankees could demote Whitley once Michael Pineda is healthy, but after Masahiro Tanaka and Hideki Kuroda, the New York rotation is riddled with uncertainty. All we know right now is that Whitley might not be making another start but it is not hard to see a scenario where Whitley sticks. His stuff isn’t overwhelming, but he stands out from other former relief prospects because he possesses three pitches he can throw for strikes, as opposed to the one or two pitches most relievers have. Whitley is worthy of an AL-only speculative play at a minimum.
Comparable Player: Preston Claiborne
Gregor Blanco, OF, San Francisco Giants
With Angel Pagan nicked up and Michael Morse manning first base while Brandon Belt recovers from his own injury, Blanco has gotten some playing time of late and could see more than expected over the next four to six weeks. And while no one will confuse him with being a good hitter, his .148 average is the result of some rather unfortunate BABIP luck. He won’t hit for any power, and he likely won’t accumulate many counting stats, even while in there, but he can steal 5-7 bases in the next month and a half even in limited playing time. That’s enough to make him a target in NL-only formats in the short-term.
Comparable Player: A very bad Denard Span
"It's not as easy for him as it was last year. He still has the big fastball, but it's not as big as it was last year and he doesn't seem to trust his off-speed stuff. It wouldn't surprise me if he's back in a setup role when Jason Motte returns."
This quote from the Baseball Prospectus’ “What The Scouts Are Saying” series is about Trevor Rosenthal, and is why Motte is a must own in NL-only and perhaps even worth a modest investment in deeper mixed leagues. In NL-only leagues where you can pick up injured pitchers, chances are excellent Motte is already owned. However, some leagues do not allow claims on players on the DL, which means there is a good chance Motte is available. It seems more likely that Motte will remain in a set up role for the foreseeable future, but at a minimum grab Motte in an NL-only and monitor Rosenthal to see if his struggles are a blip on the radar or something potentially serious. —Mike Gianella
Comparable Player: J.J. Putz