If there’s anything we love more than baseball around here on the fantasy staff, it’s collaborating with each other. So, at the behest of myself, we’re going to be doing one final group series of the year to close out the last seven weeks of the season. For this series, we will each select one player who is below 25 percent owned in either ESPN or Yahoo! leagues and who could be someone to consider grabbing before the end of the season with an eye toward a keeper spot. Now, given the depth we’re dealing with here, these recommendations are not for owners who can keep five or seven players from season-to-season—it’s more for those of you who play in leagues where keepers take up more than half of your roster (and possibly more, in the case of some recommendations contained within).
Arismendy Alcantara, Chicago Cubs
“It's been a debut befitting a hyped 22-year-old prospect for Alcantara, which is to say he's struggled mightily to adjust to big-league stuff. His .213/.280/.346 line and .240 TAv have barely produced value in even the deepest of leagues to date. But none of this should be of any concern to managers with an eye on 2015 and beyond. The pedigree is still that of a perennial top-10 second baseman, and his double-digit pop and 30-plus-steal potential has already flashed in the majors despite his overall struggles. While there is a possibility that the Cubs' surplus of organizational depth could land him in the outfield it's all but certain he'll be in Chicago's starting lineup on Opening Day next spring, and he'll be there with 2B eligibility. He's one of the best flyers around for a Rendon-esque leap in value in his first full season and he makes for a strong end-game waiver claim or FAAB target if he's available in your keeper league.” —Wilson Karaman
Derek Dietrich, Miami Marlins
“After showing some pop in a 57-game stint last year, Derek Dietrich showed some improvements early on in 2014 with increases in all three triple-slash numbers up to .252/.349/.441 through May. He was sent down on June 3rd, but returned on June 22nd to post a .143/.250/.179 line in eight games before eventually succumbing to a right wrist injury that has sidelined him since. He has recently started a rehab assignment, the length of which is undetermined at this point, leaving us an indeterminate window to still acquire him for nothing (or next-to-nothing at the very most).
While both samples are small (just a total of 416 PA), it was nice to see Dietrich bump his walk rate up (from 4.7 percent to 7.1 percent) while his cutting into his strikeout rate (from 24 percent to 21 percent). That last eight-game stretch mauled his triple-slash gains, but I think it’s safe to say he has potential to greatly improve that .679 OPS from 2013 and even the .712 we’ve seen thus far in 2014.
I think he can be a 25-homer, .265-ish-hitting second baseman with his runs scored and driven in categories obviously dependent on the maturation of the up-and-coming Marlins. In today’s power-starved game, that is useful even if the batting average estimation is a bit aggressive. The 24-year old has hit at every level (his only stop south of an .800 OPS was his Low-A debut in the TB organization). What we’ve seen so far paces out to a .220 AVG, 96 runs, 21 homers, and 61 RBI over 162 games, and I think there’s more to come.” —Paul Sporer
Nick Franklin, Tampa Bay Rays
“Franklin is currently owned in zero percent of ESPN leagues, but looking ahead to the 2015 season, the 23-year-old second baseman could be a sneaky stash. Though he’s only hitting .200/.279/.345 with the Rays’ Triple-A squad, Franklin has a long history of raking in the minors. It’s largely been an issue of replicating that performance at the major-league level. I’m not suggesting the switch hitter will approach the .294/.392/.455 slash line that he compiled in Tacoma; however, he already showed that he could hit double-digit homers, as he clubbed 12 with the Mariners in just 412 plate appearances. If the Rays commit to Franklin in a Ben Zobrist-type role or at least give him regular at-bats—and they wouldn’t have traded Price for him if they didn’t plan to do so—he could be an insanely cheap source of double-digit homers at a middle-infield position. That’s valuable when he’s on nobody’s radar. Franklin has shown strikeout issues in the majors and hasn’t exactly run wild, so he doesn’t appear poised for a massive breakout, but the name of the game is value when looking to stash guys for the 2015 campaign. Getting a guy who should see regular playing time and has shown reasonable power is wonderful value. I also think there’s some upside with Franklin. I just wouldn’t bank on it. If he somehow provides 15-plus stolen bases and hits over .275, that’s nothing but gravy.” —J.P. Breen
Alex Guerrero, Los Angeles Dodgers
“A couple of things went wrong for Alex Guerrero in 2014 that significantly impacted his production. For starters, Dee Gordon has been pretty good and has stolen a lot of bases. Secondly, Guerrero was on the same team as Miguel Olivo; thus, he missed time due to plastic surgery to repair part of his bitten off ear. That’s just how it goes sometimes. That said, I am going to make the assumption that being the victim of an ear-biting does not make Guerrero more likely to face such an injury going forward. As far as playing time goes in 2015, I think there will be plenty of it available when considering the Dodgers’ projected infield (sans first base) is Gordon, Juan Uribe, and a question mark at shortstop. Playing time would be a good thing because Guerrero has been good with the bat in Triple-A, putting up eight doubles, three triples, and 11 home runs to go with a .308 batting average. The scouts say he can be a bit robotic at times, but the gamble seems to be worth the cost with Guerrero given his 15-20 homer, .270-plus batting average upside. “ —Jeff Quinton
Rougned Odor, Texas Rangers
“A 78 wRC+ isn't something you'll find someone endorsing often, but it's not often that there's 20-year old of Rougned Odor's skillset playing at the major league level. Coming into the season Odor ranked with Arismendy Alcantara atop the second base-prospect depth chart, and while they were joined by Mookie Betts midway through the season, all three saw their fair share of struggles in the big leagues.
Adjustments are the name of the game of course, and Odor has proven capable of making them in the past, giving hope that he can do so at present. The biggest threat to his 2015 value though, is the presence of Jurickson Profar, as his absence is what created Odor's role in 2014. While he doesn't strike out a ton (18.4 percent), he isn't walking enough—or at least not enough to support a .250s batting average. Odor though, has the hit tool to produce a better average, and another year of growth, of adding muscle should help him move towards that ceiling. He's got the power to get to double-digit homers, given a full season, and while he hasn't run in the majors, he stole 27 bases last season. As he becomes more comfortable in the majors, I would expect additional production in batting average, home runs and stolen bases. He should be able to contribute across the board if the playing time is there, and makes for a worthwhile stash heading into 2015.” —Craig Goldstein
Jurickson Profar, Texas Rangers
“When we say that a player has a ‘lost season,’ it generally is figurative, but Profar’s lost season is actually literal in that he did not play a single game due to a shoulder injury and subsequent re-aggravation. However, this is also the same player who will turn 22 years old during Spring Training next year and is staring down a starting job in Texas (with hopefully much healthier players around him). You’d expect his ownership to tumble in the near-term, but this still a potentially dynamic fantasy player, even as soon as next year (though I think 2016 may be more likely). Both the injury and the growing reputation he is getting of being a better real-life player than fantasy one are contributing to his down value. And while it’s not untrue that Profar projects as a more valuable in real life than fantasy, don’t let that fact get in the way of noticing Profar’s significant upside in our space. Ian Kinsler is hitting .280 with 11 homers and 12 steals, and is currently the fifth-most-valuable second baseman for fantasy in mixed leagues. Profar can do this and more. If he’s been left out with the trash in your keeper league (which would admittedly have to be relatively shallow), offer him a blanket and some water, and tell him everything is going to be okay.” —Bret Sayre
Josh Rutledge, Colorado Rockies
“I have railed against Rutledge in fantasy for the last year-and-a-half. In 2013, I pointed out that while his offensive potential was tantalizing, defense matters, and the Rockies weren’t going to play Rutledge if they weren’t satisfied with his work around the keystone. In 2014, while the Rutledge apologists pointed to his improved ISO and danced in the streets, this didn’t translate to home run power, which is what matters in Roto style leagues. I’d like to say that my overall impression of Rutledge has changed, but the reality is that he isn’t even running this year and his BB/SO rate has cratered and you can’t take full advantage of Coors if you don’t make contact. So why is he included here? The answer is opportunity. No one knows how this winter will play out, but it’s possible that the Rockies will try to swap Troy Tulowitzki out for prospects and do a complete teardown. If this happens, Rutledge is going to get an opportunity to play. Deficiencies aside, 600 plate appearances for Rutledge with half of those coming at Coors will do wonders for his value. Fifteen home runs with a .270 batting average isn’t an unrealistic ceiling if Rutledge starts. There are no guarantees, but second base is thin, and in a standard mixed league I’d rather stash someone with a high ceiling as opposed to a boring option like Alberto Callaspo who will be available in March anyway.” —Mike Gianella
Jonathan Schoop, Baltimore Orioles
“Schoop is owned in just 9.1 percent of ESPN leagues right now, which makes sense given his lackluster performance in 2014. Schoop’s hit just .220/.256/.361 in 336 PA, but he’s also a 22-year-old who’s spent the entire season in the majors. Schoop’s walk allergy is concerning, as is his modest line-drive rate. Yet despite all the negatives I just told you, Schoop is shaping up to be a poster boy for post-prospect fatigue for 2015 and beyond. His approach needs to improve, there’s no doubt about that, but Schoop is never going to be a 10 percent-walk-rate guy. Instead, I’m banking on his .259 BABIP jumping up a bit next year, and I think we’ll see him make more consistent hard contact with a year of MLB exposure under his belt. Schoop is now firmly entrenched as a second baseman, he has legit 18-20 homer power and he plays in a lineup that should allow him to score a ton of runs if he can get on base a bit more often. I don’t think he’ll finish as a top-10 second baseman next year, but if he finishes as a top-15 option I won’t be shocked. If you’re scouring your waiver wire for a buy-low 2B option for next year and you see Schoop … there it is. “ —Ben Carsley
Luis Valbuena, Chicago Cubs
“I’m advocating for Luis Valbuena here not because I think he’s on the verge of unforeseen star potential. He’s going to be a 29-year-old next year whose statistical profile is fairly well known. Rather, I’m advocating for Valbuena here because of what he does relatively well. Second base is a tough place to find any type of power production. Valbuena only has 10 this year, but they’re coupled with a good amount of doubles and another year with a double-digit walk rate. Valbuena’s understanding of the strike zone gives him a sizable boost in OBP leagues, and I think he’s an interesting play for 2015 as a decent bottom-of-the-barrel option at the keystone. I’m not expecting star production here, but the bat-flipping utility guy with eligibility at third and second who has some intriguing pop is a pretty intriguing play in my book.” —Mauricio Rubio
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