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 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).
Kevin Gausman, Baltimore Orioles
“In most years, Gausman's 3.57 ERA would be enough to advertise on its own, but in 2014, it was barely above league average, and he didn't have a ton of peripheral value, which probably explains why he's unowned in the vast majority of leagues despite a ton of prospect hype. Still, there's a lot to like here, and it's based mostly on pedigree and raw ability more than it is borne out in the numbers.
Those numbers aren't bad though, as Gausman recorded an 18 percent strikeout rate and just about a league average walk rate. Gausman has shown the ability to miss bats all the way up the chain, including in his 47 2/3-inning stint last season, so I'm confident that he can push that strikeout rate up to league average (20 percent), if not higher. As with before, it will be his confidence in the slider that portends any significant gains, as his elite fastball velocity and plus-plus cambio already play at the major-league level. A third offering that he can sequence in (he used the slider around seven percent) will be useful in turning over the lineup more frequently. None of this is news, really, but Gausman remains one of the better bets to take a large leap forward next season, and if he's available as a stash, he's well worth it.” —Craig Goldstein
Jesse Hahn, San Diego Padres
"The basic principle at play here is that if you find a Padre starter with a strong whiff rate and some upside you jump on him at first opportunity. Despite just 160 minor league innings under his belt Hahn was extremely impressive in his Padre debut this season. Both his four-seam and changeup generated elite ground-ball and plus swinging-strike rates, while his curve also produced slightly positive value. The end result was a Padre pitcher with a groundball rate over 50 percent and a swinging-strike rate over 10 percent. Even without adjusting for his home park context that right there is a top-of-the-rotation profile. He threw about 115 innings this year in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery, so it's unlikely the Padres let him go more than 150 or so next season. But for roto formats in particular, those have the potential to be 150 very good innings, and in longer-term keeper formats, he makes for a strong play." —Wilson Karaman
Jonathon Niese, New York Mets
“Picking Niese here isn't about upside; it's about value. The 27-year-old has pitched to a 3.50 ERA in 182 1/3 innings this season, striking out 134 batters with a 1.29 WHIP and grabbing nine wins, yet he is owned in just 13.2 percent of ESPN leagues. His stats don't leap off the page at you, especially in the context of today's pitcher-friendly game, but Niese is predictable, won't burn you and won't cost you much in terms of salary or draft slot next season. His shoulder problems are concerning, yes, and I'm less keen on owning him in dynasty leagues. But even if Niese won't give you 200 innings next year, he's likely to give you at least 150 with an ERA between 3.50-4.00, 125-plus strikeouts and anywhere from 8-12 wins on a decent Mets team. If your league doesn't have a strict innings cap and you need BOTR help, Niese is a nice, boring play more likely to pay modest dividends than some other high-variance options.” —Ben Carsley
Drew Pomeranz, Oakland Athletics
“It is usually hard to fly under the radar when you post a 2.35 ERA for a playoff contender, but 69 innings and a fractured right hand will do that for you. Entering 2014, Pomeranz was considered an intriguing sleeper candidate by many, and despite the low number of innings nothing has changed in this regard for the unheralded left-hander. Pomeranz’s stuff isn’t electrifying, but mixes his two-seam and four-seam fastballs well with a curveball that does enough to keep hitters off balance. The park helps, and having a full year of Pomeranz outside of Coors Field in 2015 should do wonders to his value. Even if he doesn’t put up a sub-3.00 ERA, a 3.50 ERA with a solid strikeout rate is well within the realm of possibility. Free agency and arbitration will leave some openings in the A’s rotation once again, and there is a good chance that Pomeranz will be one of the pitchers to step into the void next year.” —Mike Gianella
Hector Santiago, Los Angeles Angels
“The Newark, New Jersey, native was one of the players I highlighted at the beginning of the season as one of my favorite endgame targets in medium-sized mixed leagues, but those who drafted him are very unlikely to be the same owners who benefited from the good part of his season. From the day he returned to the rotation on June 10 to the end of August, Santiago had a 2.45 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and 63 strikeouts in 69 2/3 innings, but it was hidden between a disastrous first two months and disappointing September. In all, it serves to diminish his perceived value, even with a sub-4.00 ERA on the season—which is why he’s owned in only 14 percent of Yahoo leagues, and half that number in ESPN formats. The Angels will once again be a strong team with a good offense and favorable home park in 2015, and Santiago’s fluky win total (five) is a big reason he fell outside the top 125 starters this year (then again, that’s also not an impressive result to target). The upside with the 26-year-old fly-ball specialist will never be high due to his inflated walk rates, but I still like him as a back-end starter in 14-16-team mixed leagues going forward. His turnaround this season should keep him on the inside track towards making the 2015 rotation without much incident.
Taijuan Walker, Seattle Mariners
“The 22-year-old hurler entered the 2014 season with endless hype surrounding him. He was the 8th-ranked prospect in all of baseball, and after holding his own in Triple-A a year ago, it appeared he was poised to make the jump to The Show. Unfortunately, injuries pumped the brakes on those lofty expectations. Still, he remains a potential all-around fantasy contributor, offering above-average production in strikeouts, wins, ERA, and WHIP. It will be interesting to see what Walker does with his cutter next year, as he didn’t throw it much down the stretch, though an uptick in changeup usage is encouraging for his overall development. The shoulder injury slowed down his big-league timetable, but shrewd fantasy owners may be able to take advantage while the majority of people have forgotten about the 6-foot-4 right-hander. Tai Walker has the raw stuff to be a legitimate no. 2 starter and enjoys the benefits of playing in Safeco. Grab him while you can.” –J.P. Breen
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