If you have been reading our fantasy content since the beginning of the year, you have noticed articles focused on AL- and NL-only leagues, because we know many of BP’s loyal readers participate in these old school, deep-league formats. Nick Shlain and I began The Only League Landscape series back in January giving our weekly summaries at each position, as well as detailed player analysis, hoping to provide the grizzled veterans of these formats advice to prepare for their auctions/drafts.
Now that the season has begun (hallelujah!), we felt it was important to continue to provide in-season fantasy information to those who participate in -only leagues, and, as such, we will be bringing this article to you every Friday, offering up players who may not have relevance in mixed leagues, but could provide value in only formats. Ben Carsley had the courage to tackle this article for 25 weeks last year, and he has my devout admiration for writing weekly about the likes of Reed Johnson, Seth Maness, and Chris Capuano, and providing compelling reasons why they were worth rostering in deeper leagues. I certainly have some big shoes to fill taking this series over this year from Ben, but I am looking forward to writing this weekly piece over the course of the 2015 season.
The format will be a little different this year, transferring the focus from deeper mixed leagues to deeper “only” leagues, and singling out players from both the junior and senior circuits who might offer value for those looking for an edge in their leagues. So again, if your fantasy dilemma is whether or not to pick up Billy Butler as an injury replacement or snag Trevor Bauer for a two-start week, this might not be the article for you. The weekly premise here will be to take a look at some -only league assets who are flying under the radar. You have been forewarned.
Now that the ground rules have been set, let’s dive in with the first weekly installment.
Kevin Cash will go with Guyer as his leadoff hitter against LHP this season, and the news this week of the injury to John Jaso could lead to additional time for Guyer in the DH spot. Guyer’s fantasy-salient asset is his speed, and he already swiped a base in his first game this week. Guyer has shown himself to be a high-percentage base-stealer in his professional career (82.6 percent success rate over 161 SB attempts in the minors and 7-for-8 in his brief major-league career), so he could rack up 12-15 steals this year even in limited time.
After a nice spring, the Rule 5 pick made the Rangers’ Opening Day roster, and with his speed, immediately becomes of interest in AL-only leagues. Considering the LF situation in Texas, it’s not inconceivable that the speedy DeShields could occasionally work his way into the lineup if Ryan Rua and Jake Smolinki get off to slow starts. He should definitely find himself in pinch-running situations, and after recording 206 stolen bases the past three seasons in the minors, DeShields makes for an interesting speculative play.
Cody Ross, OF, Oakland A’s
Picked up by the A’s after being released earlier in the week by the Diamondbacks, Ross should see his share of AB against LHP (.294/.360/.557 slash line over 1,109 PA) and time in LF while Coco Crisp is sidelined for the next two months. In deep AL-only leagues, Ross could offer some value for a team looking for a little pop.
Mark Canha, 1B, Oakland A’s
I made mention of Canha in Monday’s Free Agent Watch article. The Rule 5 pick made a splash this spring by hitting six home runs and made the A’s Opening Day roster. His major-league debut came on Wednesday night and the former Marlins farmhand went 3-for-5 with a pair of doubles and four RBI against the Rangers. At-bats will be hard to come by with Ike Davis and Bill Butler ahead of him, but he does have some pop (.303/.384/.505 in Triple-A last season) and performances like Wednesday’s could earn him some additional opportunities.
Allan Dykstra, 1B, Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays called up Dykstra from Triple-A when James Loney was placed on the DL with an oblique injury, and immediately inserted him into their lineup at 1B. Dykstra is a big fella with a big swing, and swatted 37 home runs the past two years between Double-A and Triple-A while with the Mets organization. Oblique injuries can sometimes linger, so Dykstra could be a cheap power source while Loney is on the shelf.
When your fastball reaches triple digits, people take notice. Despite never pitching above Double-A, Kela made the Rangers staff out of spring and impressed with an average fastball velocity of 97 MPH. Neftali Feliz has a firm hold on the closer role in Texas, but Kela could be an important component in the back end of the Rangers bullpen. The young flamethrower was already brought into a high-leverage situation in his major-league debut this week, and picked up his first career hold. Even if Kela does not see many save opportunities, he could produce enough strikeouts to offer value in 5×5 formats.
Not much upside, and won’t offer help from a strikeout perspective, but Wojciechowski is not a bad flier to see what he can do. He battled injuries last year which hurt his overall Triple-A numbers, but is healthy to begin this year. Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh have quietly emerged as serviceable fantasy arms for the Astros, so a roll of the dice on Wojciechowski wouldn’t be the worst gamble.
Miguel Castro/Roberto Osuna, RP, Toronto Blue Jays
Castro and Osuna are both 20 years old, and their futures with the Blue Jays could be as a starters, but in the present they are live arms in a Toronto ‘pen that is in need of a strong right-handed presence. I caught a few Blue Jays games this spring and liked what I saw from Castro. He is only 20 years old, but he throws hard and has nice movement on the fastball. Despite not pitching above A-ball, Osuna was called upon Wednesday night in the bottom of the eighth inning with the bases loaded, one out, and the Jays trailing by one; he struck out Alex Rodriguez and got Stephen Drew to fly out to limit the damage— not a bad major-league debut. While I like both of these pitchers in long term, they might provide value in their current roles in a Blue Jays bullpen that could be in a state of flux this season.
Boesch settles in as the Reds fourth outfielder and has enough pop to offer some value in deep NL-only formats even in a reserve role. He is an injury away from regular AB, so he is not a bad replacement if you need a fill-in for your outfield.
Jeff Francouer, OF, Philadelphia Phillies
I wrote about Francouer in Monday’s Free Agent Watch article. There is not much to get excited about, but based on the current outfield situation in Philadelphia, he does have the opportunity to see some playing time in the early going. He did smack a three-run bomb this week against Rick Porcello, which was his first long ball since 2013. I was in need of an outfielder in both the NL-only CBS Analyst League and one of my home NL-only leagues and put claims on Francouer in both. I was outbid in CBS but did get him in my home league, and the HR this week was nice.
Andrew Lambo, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
Lambo’s success in the high minors has yet to translate to the majors, but the Pirates are still holding out hope for their 2013 Minor League Player of the Year. While he did make the big league opening day roster, finding playing time in the Pirates outfield will not be easy for Lambo. However, Marte has missed time due to injury the past two seasons and Polanco struggles in the second half last year saw him lose playing time to Travis Snider and a demotion to Triple-A. Like Boesch, Lambo is an injury away from regular playing time and his power is legit.
We know Barmes is what he is, but he is getting regular AB for the Padres to begin the season (albeit because of his defense), and that has value in NL-only leagues. If you are in need of a MI to plug a dead spot, Barmes will work in a pinch.
Lyles racked up a quality start in his first outing of the year limiting the Brewers to just five hits and two runs over six innings. Lyles has become a ground ball pitcher, which is a plus considering the ball park he pitches in and the Gold Glove-caliber infield behind him. He won’t accumulate many strikeouts (career 6.2 K/9), but he’s not a bad streaming option when he is away from Coors (3.93 ERA/1.282 WHIP on the road last year).
I have to admit I was surprised to see A.J. Ramos still available in the NL Tout Wars free agent list this week. Sure, he walks too many, but owns a career 9.9 K/9, and for those who do make contact have little success (.164 BAA last year). He earned $10 in 63 IP last year NL-only 5×5, and should have a home in NL-only formats.
Tyler Matzek, SP, Colorado Rockies
The second Colorado pitcher to make the list this week. Yes, even in the deepest of NL-Only leagues you will still find many Rockies hurlers on the waiver wire, looking for a fantasy home. Like his rotation-mate, Jorge De la Rosa, Matzek pitched better at Coors last year than on the road, posting a 3.61 ERA and 1.261 WHIP over his eight home starts. He was waiver wire gold for fantasy owners last September (I was one) as he picked up a couple of wins that month while putting up a 1.69 ERA and striking out a batter an inning over his four starts. Like Lyles, he won’t be much help in the strikeout category, but did a pretty good job of keeping the ball in the park last season. His FIP last year was 3.78, so don’t be afraid to take a shot on this former first-round pick.
Heston has never been much of a prospect, but did put up decent stats in the PCL a season ago. Following a strong spring, he was called up for a spot start against the Diamondbacks this week. It looked like his nerves got the better of him in the first inning as a HBP and his throwing error led to an unearned run, but he settled down from there and worked six solid innings for his first big-league win. With the uncertainty surrounding Matt Cain and Jake Peavy’s recent injuries, Tim Hudson’s advanced age, and Tim Lincecum’s documented struggles, Heston just might find himself playing a more prominent role in the Giants rotation. His next scheduled start is Monday in the Giants home opener versus the Rockies, and if all goes well, he could be someone to target.
He’s pitching in middle relief right now, but do not be surprised to see him penciled into the Mets starting rotation sooner than later. Montero should be next in line for a rotation spot should Dillon Gee get off to a poor start, sustain an injury or is dealt. He struggled with his control for the first time in his career last season, so that could be the outlier. Montero’s ceiling is limited but his last three starts of 2014 show what he is capable of.
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