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MIXED LEAGUE HITTERS

12-Team Mixed Leagues

David Freese, 3B, Pittsburgh Pirates
There was some uncertainty around Freese—when would Kang be back, how would he handle the hitter-unfriendly confines of PNC Park, is he any good, etc.—heading into the season. That uncertainty was reflected in his ADP and ownership rate. Freese, though, has swung from a younger-ish, overrated fantasy baseball player to a boring, older fantasy baseball player. The information that us as fantasy baseball participants should have been paying attention to is (i) that Freese is coming off of a 14-home-run campaign in an injury-limited, 470-plate-appearance 2015 season in which he played half his games in a pitchers’ park (Angel Stadium of Anaheim) and (ii) that he is now batting third in the Pirates’ newly optimized lineup.

But what is going to happen when Kang comes back? First, this is a 12-team-league recommendation, so let us worry about it when we need to worry about. Secondly, given the positional flexibility of Kang and John Jaso’s injury risk, there might be ample playing time even when Kang returns. If not, we will happily take a productive 100 at-bats and move onto the next player from the free-agent pool when the time comes.

Desmond Jennings, OF, Tampa Bay Rays
When we (the fantasy baseball community) think of Desmond Jennings, we think of disappointment. We think about how Jennings’s potential teased us and how that potential was never realized. We might even think that Jennings is bad at baseball. That said, it was only two seasons ago that Jennings hit 10 home runs and stole 15 bases. He is, as of this moment, healthy and regularly batting fifth for the Rays. He has already stolen a base this season and recorded an infield hit; both indications that Jennings’ legs are underneath him for the time being. This is all to say that if I had a need at OF or UT in a 12 team league, I would be happy to play Jennings as long as he remains healthy.

15-Team Mixed Leagues

Seth Smith, OF, Seattle Mariners
Smith, another boring player, will be in the lineup versus right-handed pitchers, the situation where he is most prolific, this season. He’s not an exciting player by any means, but Smith is a nice player to be able to start when the week’s slate is mostly against right-handed pitchers (or if lineups are set daily). He is not a player anyone imagines plugging into their fantasy lineup heading into the season, but that is probably why he is largely available. If we need a temporary plug or just need a player to fill out the bottom of our roster, we could do much worse than Smith.

Jake Lamb, 3B, Arizona Diamondbacks
While a lot of this week’s free agent pick-up articles will focus on Chris Owings and Socrates Brito in regards to replacing the injured A.J. Pollock, there are advantages to be gained for other players in the lineup who will now be asked to bat higher in the order. As of today, Owings has gotten two starts in the two-hole, with Brito and Nick Ahmed each getting a single start in that spot. I do not think those three are particularly good hitters, or at least good enough to warrant the second most at-bats of all Diamondbacks hitters (note: I understand that what I think does not matter as far as roster moves are concerned); thus, I think there is a good chance that Lamb gets the majority of at-bats in this spot against righties. He is not off to a great spot and thus should be somewhat available. —Jeffrey Quinton

MIXED LEAGUE PITCHERS

12-Team Mixed Leagues

Aaron Sanchez, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays
Fantasy leagues are abuzz with the emergence of Juan Nicasio this spring; however, Sanchez had a brilliant outing this past week, in which he struck out eight and walked no one in seven one-run innings. That’s a touch better than what Nicasio offered in his debut for the Pirates. Sanchez has the prospect pedigree, the velocity bump from a year ago, and a 15.4 percent swinging-strike rate after his first start. Between the two, I prefer the Blue Jays’ hurler, and it’s not too close.

Walks have always haunted the 6-foot-4 fireballer; however, the early returns in 2016 have been sublime. He only walked three batters in 20 spring innings and didn’t walk anyone in his first regular-season start. If he can pound the strike zone and continue to use his changeup (something he did over 16 percent of the time on Tuesday), he’s a potential must-own in fantasy leagues. There’s a downside, yes, but few pitchers who have a 40-percent-or-under ownership rate have his kind of upside and already have a rotation spot in hand.

Alex Colome, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays
Looking for a closer on the waiver wire? Colome will get the closing opportunities in Tampa while Brad Boxberger is on the disabled list, but he’s someone who could steal the job outright if Boxberger displays the same command issues that have plagued him throughout his professional career.

Colome was pumping 95-96 mph from the right side in his 2016 debut and had a 2.66 ERA as a reliever a year ago. He even struck out 27 percent of the batters he faced out of the bullpen in 2015, which means he offers the strikeouts that are perennially underrated in fantasy closers. Boxberger is coming off a 4.63 DRA and has an 11.3 percent career walk rate. Colome is only owned in 18.9 percent of ESPN leagues and could be a mid-tier closer by the end of the season.

15-Team Mixed Leagues

Martin Perez, LHP, Texas Rangers
I wrote about Perez on Monday and gave him a “buy” recommendation, which naturally means he should feature in this space with only 2.7 percent ownership in ESPN leagues. He surrendered a pair of runs in his 2016 debut and showed that his velocity rebound is sustainable from a year ago. The question is whether the southpaw can post a high enough strikeout rate to be relevant in mixed leagues. He only struck out three in six innings, which doesn’t allay any of the preseason fears, but he didn’t feature his changeup much. That’s his best swing-and-miss offering and quite possibly his best-overall pitch. In that way, it’s hard to glean too much, but I remain hopeful.

Mat Latos, RHP, Chicago White Sox
Latos is about to get a bump in ownership. He’s only rostered in 1.9 percent of ESPN leagues; however, he has the name recognition and a strong opening-week start working in his favor. Even his ostensibly disastrous 2015 campaign wasn’t as bad as his 4.95 ERA would otherwise make it seem. His 4.53 DRA indicates he deserved a bit better, and his 3.72 FIP from last year is even a bit more glass-half-full about his performance.

It would’ve been nice to see his velocity remain steady from 2015. His average four-seam velocity on Thursday was 90.4 mph, which is markedly down from 92.45 mph a season ago. Even though it’s April, that’s a red flag for someone who has dealt with injuries and velocity decline. Only striking out a pair is also a concern. Still, there’s a lot of track record here, and he deserves the benefit of the doubt more than other flash-in-the-pans. —J.P. Breen

AL-ONLY LEAGUES

Erasmo Ramirez, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays
While a being relegated to the bullpen and posting a less-than-stellar 3.75 ERA in 2015 has made Ramirez widely available, that does not speak to the opportunity he has this year to be a viable fantasy contributor. Ramirez posted a stellar 1.13 WHIP last season, and while the ERA will fluctuate because of his tendency to give up home runs, he drastically improved his groundball rate in 2015, which gives him a chance to improve in 2016. More importantly, it sounds as if he will be heading back to the rotation once Brad Boxberger returns. Grabbing him now not only allows us to secure the future production, but we can also enjoy good ratios from the bullpen—his first outing featured two shutout innings with two strikeouts and one base runner (a single) allowed. —Jeff Quinton

NL-ONLY LEAGUES

Ramon Flores, OF, Milwaukee Brewers
Flores will handle the strong side of the platoon in center field for the Brewers and hasn’t gotten much attention in NL-only leagues thus far. He’s a career .275/.363/.405 hitter and should have an opportunity to work through the big-league growing pains on a rebuilding team in Milwaukee. It’s not flashy—he could flirt with double digits in homers or stolen bases, if everything breaks right—but he’s going to get playing time with the Brewers and should carry a batting average that won’t kill NL-only owners. The 24-year-old is even more valuable in OBP leagues, too. —J.P. Breen

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ErikBFlom
4/08
Nick Castellanos or David Freese? I wish this was a hypothetical question, but it is not.
jimmyb1799
4/08
Castellanos for me.
ErikBFlom
4/11
Thanks!
Sean99
4/08
I watched Perez pitch. His changeup is too hard. About 84-85. More of a foul ball pitch than a swing and miss. Good sinking fastball. He's OK, backend with starts where the worm burners find all the defenders and he goes deep into games.
jimmyb1799
4/08
He gets a 7-9 mph differential between his fastball and changeup. That's fine. I also addressed the swing-and-miss portion of his changeup in the article to which I linked.
Sean99
4/08
Everything was 83-91. Seems like a guy who used to throw harder and it made his change play up. Nothing special about the pitch. Straight and on the hard side. I see teams stacking RH bats against him. Ground ball hunter who could reside at the back of a rotation.
jimmyb1799
4/08
I watched him pitched as well on Tuesday and, yes, he has been a back-end ground-ball pitcher. That wasn't really the point of the argument, though. Also, he was throwing harder than 91 mph, as his fastball averaged 92-93 mph (depending on the velocity sites you wish to trust).