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12-Team Mixed Leagues

Brandon Drury, 2B/3B/OF, Arizona Diamondbacks (Ownership: 58 percent CBS, 36 percent ESPN, 51 percent Yahoo!)

The 23-year-old Drury has found his way into the Arizona starting lineup in 10 of the team’s last 11 games, getting the starting nod at a variety of positions (2B, 3B, LF, RF), and has capitalized on the opportunity, smashing four home runs in his last eight games. Drury is hitting .306/.326/.588 on the year in 89 plate appearances, with most of his damage coming in the last two weeks, as he only started 10 of Arizona’s first 19 games. Drury’s plate discipline (just two walks against 17 strikeouts) has been a concern in the early going, but he looks to have found a place somewhere in Chip Hale’s lineup on a regular basis now that Socrates Brito has been dispatched to Triple-A Reno, and if he’s playing every day, he can make an impact in mixed leagues. Drury is already up to 14th at third base on ESPN’s Player Rater, he’s hitting the ball with plenty of authority, and he’s capable of providing 18-20 home runs with an average in the .270-.280 range in 2016 if he keeps finding his way into the lineup on a regular basis.

Nick Castellanos, 3B, Detroit Tigers (Ownership: 73 percent CBS, 62 percent ESPN, 66 percent Yahoo!)

Castellanos, who turned 24 just about two months ago, looks to be putting things together after teasing fantasy owners in each of his first two full big league seasons. The Tigers third sacker’s batting line sits at a sparkling .383/.390/.628 in 26 games. Castellanos hit for a .135 ISO while swatting 11 home runs in 148 games in his rookie season of 2014, and he bumped that number to .164 with 15 home runs in 154 games in 2015. After clubbing five home runs in his first 100 plate appearances of 2016, his isolated power number currently sits at .245, which places him in the top five among third basemen in the early going. While Castellanos’ .449 BABIP will undoubtedly creep back towards his career .334 mark as the season progresses, and he’ll certainly need to improve his walk rate of three percent, the early returns on his improved contact rates are encouraging. His line-drive rate is up from 23.3 percent in 2015 to 31.4 percent his year, and Castellanos’ ground-ball rate has dropped from 36.2 percent in 2015 to 25.7 percent in 2016. Castellanos’ 22 RBI are second to only Nolan Arenado among third basemen and he should continue to receive a boatload of RBI opportunities hitting sixth in a loaded Tigers order. –J.J. Jansons

Drew Pomeranz, SP, San Diego Padres (Available in 58% of ESPN.com leagues)

I’ll spare everyone by taking an extended sabbatical on the Rich Hill soliloquies for the next few weeks. In the meantime, let’s zero in on another curveball specialist who has certainly benefitted from a change in scenery, his strikeout rate rising exponentially as a result. The 27-year-old southpaw has made four starts in every season dating back to 2011, but had never struck out more than a batter per inning, until now. Pomeranz’ command remains lackluster (4.0 BB/9), but it’s been more than offset by a massive uptick in strikeouts (11.2 K/9). Through five starts, he owns a sparkling 2.48 ERA with a 1.14 WHIP.

On the surface, the driving force behind the former Ole Miss product’s scorching hot start appears to be a renewed emphasis on throwing his knuckle curve, an 80 mph butterfly, which has limited opponents to a paltry .261 slugging percentage. Per BP’s PITCHf/x leaderboards, the pitch is generating a staggeringly-high 44 percent whiffs-per-swing rate, which puts it right alongside Jose Fernandez deadly hook as the premier swing-and-miss curve in the NL this year.

It’s difficult to envision Pomeranz thriving long-term without a quality third pitch, but the omnipresent allure of PECTO Park and the fact that his curveball is doing enough damage to make up for a lack of secondary offerings will make him mixed league relevant for the immediate future. By cFIP, a predictive pitching metric, Pomeranz (75 cFIP) boasts the sixth-best mark of any starter this season. It’s time to start taking him seriously in shallow formats.

Tanner Roark, SP, Washington Nationals (Available in 45% of ESPN.com leagues)

The career-high 15-strikeout performance against Minnesota two weeks ago was clearly an aberration, but since that outing, Roark turned in a pair of seven-inning no decisions against Philadelphia and Kansas City. In six starts to open up the season, the 29-year-old right-hander owns a 2.35 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in 38 1/3 innings of work.

In addition to an uptick in his groundball rate (55 percent up from 49 percent a year ago) Roark has allowed just one home run (0.2 HR/9) in 2016. Last season he coughed up a staggering 17 in just 111 innings (1.4 HR/9). If the sinkerballer can continue to keep the ball in the park, he’s primed to hold down his rotation spot permanently and post the best rate stats of his career. –George Bissell

15-Team Mixed Leagues

Derek Dietrich, 2B/3B/OF, Miami Marlins (Ownership: 24 percent CBS, 14 percent ESPN, 31 percent Yahoo!)

With Dee Gordon’s suspension knocking him out of commission for the better part of the next three months, the left-handed hitting Dietrich and the right-handed-hitting Miguel Rojas appear to be the two main beneficiaries on Don Mattingly’s lineup card. Dietrich’s good work to start 2016 (.319/.429/.596 in 56 plate appearances) is a continuation of the quietly solid production he provided in part-time duty last year, hitting for an .802 OPS in 289 plate appearances that included 10 home runs. Dietrich’s OPS in 2015 placed him 13th among third basemen that received 250 or more plate appearances, and his .200 isolated power put him 11th among the same grouping. He didn’t get much love over the winter despite his underrated production, as it was difficult to envision Dietrich receiving more playing time in 2016 with the Fish keeping their outfield of Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich, and Giancarlo Stanton together with Martin Prado and Dee Gordon occupying third base and second base, respectively. Prior to Gordon’s suspension, Dietrich started four of the team’s seven games at third base on their road trip against the Giants and Dodgers, and after the suspension he’s found his way into the starting lineup in five of the last six games, getting three starts at second base and one at first. He’s taken advantage of the regular playing time, knocking in seven runs and going 9-for-30 with three walks over the team’s last 10 games. Dietrich should be in the lineup somewhere against righties (at a minimum) for the rest of the season, and his positional flexibility should be very beneficial in deeper leagues.

Mark Reynolds, 1B/3B, Colorado Rockies (Ownership: 8 percent CBS, 5 percent ESPN, 4 percent Yahoo!)

Thought to be part of a first-base platoon in Colorado with Ben Paulsen, Reynolds has found his name in Walt Weiss’ starting lineup in each of the team’s last three games against three right-handers (Andrew Cashner, Cesar Vargas. and Matt Cain last evening). Reynolds is off to a hot start (.319/.390/.514) overall in his first 82 plate appearances as a Rockie, and while not surprisingly he’s done quality work at Coors Field (.375/.444/.625) in 36 plate appearances, he’s also hit for a .913 OPS on the road to this point in the season. If Reynolds is playing every day—or at least enough to get 400 or more plate appearances, as he has in each full-season of his career—he should be able to club 20 or more home runs (which he’s done in every full-season season of his career other than 2015) and Coors should give him a nice boost on his .231 career batting average. Reynolds looks like a cheap power option for owners looking for a CI option in deeper leagues and he should provide nice value, even if only deployed at home—particularly if he continues to see more time against right-handers as the season goes on. –J.J. Jansons

A.J. Griffin, SP, Texas Rangers (Available in 64% of ESPN.com leagues)

A healthy dose of skepticism is warranted anytime a starting pitcher who has missed each of the previous two seasons due to Tommy John surgery and a series of setbacks bursts onto the fantasy radar. However, after silencing the Blue Jays explosive offense, limiting them to one run on three hits over six innings while striking out nine, Griffin has now turned four quality starts in five outings, along with a 2.32 ERA and 1.00 WHIP, to begin the 2016 campaign. That matters in deeper mixed leagues where quality back-end fantasy starters are worth their weight in gold.

With a fastball that is barely touching 89 mph in terms of average velocity, Griffin doesn’t offer much in terms of strikeout upside (7.5 K/9 in 31 innings this season), but both his changeup and curveball have generated plenty of whiffs in scattered starts so far. A flyball pitcher in Texas is not typically a recipe for fantasy success, but on the road, in the right ballpark, Griffin can be a useful spot starter in 15-team formats moving forward.

Matt Moore, SP, Tampa Bay Rays (Available in 55% of ESPN.com leagues)

Sure, he got blasted in his previous start, surrendering seven earned runs on eight hits in just 4 1/3 innings against the Dodgers. He may also be skipped in the rotation this weekend against the Angels. Still, Moore’s overall body of work through six starts is impressive. This is your opportunity to grab him if for some reason he’s on your leagues wavier wire or finds his way there over the next few days.

Limiting free passes has seemingly always been Moore’s biggest bugaboo. This season, he’s corrected that issue, posting the lowest walk rate (2.5 BB/9) of his entire major-league career. Additionally, the 26-year-old southpaw is striking out over a batter per inning (9.2 K/9) for the first time since he burst onto the scene as a rookie five years ago. Masked by a layer of ugly surface stats (1-3, 4.95 ERA) the underlying numbers are seemingly a harbinger of a lefty on the verge of taking a huge step forward as the season progresses. –George Bissell

AL-ONLY LEAGUES

Erasmo Ramirez, RP, Tampa Bay Rays (Available in 84% of ESPN.com leagues)

Wins are unpredictable, especially for relievers, but The Eraser has already racked up five in just 12 appearances (one start) this season. While his rather pedestrian strikeout rate (6.8 K/9) has remained intact, he’s walked just two batters (0.8 BB/9) in 24 innings while posting a superb 56 percent groundball rate. If those two trends continue, he’s poised to become one of the most valuable non-closing relievers in AL-only formats this season. –George Bissell

Tommy La Stella, 2B/3B, Chicago Cubs

La Stella was slated primarily for a pinch-hitting role at the beginning of the season, but Kyle Schwarber’s injury has given Kris Bryant—and likely Javier Baez as the season progresses—more time in the outfield, which has provided La Stella with an opportunity to make starts in five of the Cubs’ last six contests. La Stella’s moved his batting average from .250 to .341 over the last 10 games and is getting on-base at a .413 clip in 46 plate appearances on the year. La Stella won’t provide any pop, but the lifetime .320 minor-league hitter can provide help in the batting average and on-base categories, and hitting anywhere in the Cubs lineup should provide a bundle of runs scored and RBI opportunities. –J.J. Jansons

Other NL-only free agents of interest: Brett Wallace, 3B, San Diego and Mac Williamson, OF, San Francisco

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tcfatone
5/06
Surprised Danny Santana isn't getting more attention. Seem committed to him in leadoff spot, eligible at OF and SS
jansonsjj
5/06
You mean the same Danny Santana that I recommended picking up last week? http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=29064 He's still not getting enough love though, with five steals in 13 games, but his OBP (currently at .288) will likely dictate just how committed to the leadoff spot the Twins are to him.