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12-Team Mixed Leagues

Danny Valencia, 3B/OF, Oakland Athletics (Ownership: 63 percent CBS, 49 percent ESPN, 47 percent Yahoo!)

I know, I know, you’re thinking “way to go out on a limb and recommend the guy that’s hit six home runs in his last six games. Brilliant work.” This is not merely a recommendation, but a plea to pick up Valencia, and one that I’m comfortable including George as a part of. I mean, have you ever listened to the Flags Fly Forever podcast? Don’t make George further subject Mike Gianella to Valencia talk every week. Valencia should be owned in nearly every league, and yet he’s not even owned in half of ESPN and Yahoo! leagues to this point in the year. Valencia, despite landing on the disabled list at the end of May with a troublesome hamstring, is already up to 18th among third basemen on ESPN’s Player Rater and his solid work this season is a continuation of the outstanding work from 2015.

The table below is sorted by the top-five performers by OPS among third basemen over the last calendar year:

Production by Third Basemen Over Past Calendar Year,
Min. 300 PA (5/19/2015-5/18/2016)

Player

PA

OPS

ISO

Nolan Arenado

698

.929

.301

Josh Donaldson

719

.922

.278

Manny Machado

739

.901

.240

Danny Valencia

418

.901

.247

Daniel Murphy

544

.877

.197

Quite famously, the major knock on Valencia heading into last season was his inability to hit right-handed pitching, but he’s now done solid work against them in a 288 plate-appearance sample over the last calendar year, hitting for a .295 AVG against righties with 15 of his 24 home runs against them.

If you’re still not convinced, check out Valencia’s production against that of Manny Machado and Kris Bryant over the past calendar year:

Player

PA

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

RBI

SB

2016 tAV

Manny Machado

739

.296

.366

.535

40

95

15

.319

Kris Bryant

691

.273

.356

.489

29

101

12

.321

Danny Valencia

418

.299

.355

.546

24

72

1

.344

Aside from stolen bases, his numbers compare pretty favorably, albeit in roughly 300 less plate appearances. All indications are that Valencia will continue to play everyday, giving him a strong chance to finish inside the top-10 among third basemen, and he, like Bryant, could finish inside the top-30 among outfielders as well. —J.J. Jansons

Trevor Bauer, SP, Cleveland Indians (Available in 75% of ESPN.com leagues)

Back-to-back quality starts won’t erase the last four years of maddening inconsistency fantasy owners have experienced from Bauer, yet he’s made some legitimate changes to his repertoire, most notably dramatically overhauling his pitch usage. He’s leaning primarily on a sinker and cutter combination this season instead of a four-seam fastball, and he’s throwing his changeup more than in any previous year.

The early results have been intriguing. While Bauer’s control (3.6 BB/9) remains lackluster, the changes in his pitch selection have enabled 25-year-old right-hander to post the highest strikeout (9.6 K/9) and groundball (48 percent) rates of his major-league career this season. These are not insignificant developments, and their impact is reflected in BP’s advanced statistics. By cFIP, a predictive pitching metric, Bauer’s career-best mark (95) ranks among the top 50 starters in the majors this year.

He’s tamed the Twins and Astros floundering offenses in his last two starts and will face his first major test as a starter versus Boston, arguably the hottest offense in baseball right now, in Fenway Park tonight. Regardless of how he fares, Bauer is a worthwhile investment for fantasy owners in shallow formats given his strikeout potential alone.

Tyler Duffey, SP, Minnesota Twins (Available in 86% of ESPN.com leagues)

You came here expecting Drew Pomeranz or Rich Hill again, I know. Fortunately the vast majority of fantasy owners have finally taken notice of those two southpaws and I don’t have to keep touting them here every week. Duffey, a 25-year-old right-hander, has surrendered three runs or less in each of his four starts (1.85 ERA, 1.11 WHIP) since being recalled from Triple-A late last month. In addition to displaying pinpoint control (1.8 BB/9), he’s also struck out nearly a batter per inning (8.5 K/9). Clearly, the Twins are atrocious defensively, and he’s unlikely to rack up a ton of wins for prospective fantasy owners, but Duffey has pitched well enough to overcome those obstacles so far. He’s not only secured a permanent spot in the Minnesota rotation, but he also merits a pickup in mixed leagues where he’s still available. Duffey faces the Toronto Blue Jays in his next start tonight. —George Bissell

15-Team Mixed Leagues

Adam Duvall, OF, Cincinnati Reds (Ownership: 28 percent CBS, 17 percent ESPN, 17 percent Yahoo!)

Duvall has emerged from the roughly 74 candidates in Cincinnati prior to the year as the team’s primary option in left field to this point, getting the starting nod in 33 of the Reds first 41 games, including 16 of 17 contests this month. For a while now, I’ve been under the belief that all Duvall needed was an opportunity, and in his age-27 season, he’s finally getting his first opportunity for extended playing time at the big league level as the Reds rebuild.

Duvall’s 29 percent strikeout rate to this point is obviously less-than-ideal, but his calling card always has been his power, and after hitting 27 or more home runs in three of his five full seasons in the minors, he’s clubbed seven long balls in his first 126 plate appearances of the year in Cincinnati. Duvall, a .268 career hitter in the minors, will likely find his current .265 AVG dipping into the .240-.250 range as the season progresses, but the power is real and he’s in a home ballpark that plays to his strength. It looks as though Duvall’s third-base days are over, but he has made four appearances at first base this year, and a player who is capable of hitting for a .240-.250 AVG with the pop to hit 20-25 home runs will play nicely in a CI slot (once he attains eligibility there), or as an inexpensive OF3 or OF4 option.

Jose Ramirez, 2B/3B/SS/OF, Cleveland Indians (Ownership: 28 percent CBS, 17 percent ESPN, 17 percent Yahoo!)

Last month, I looked at Ramirez as an AL-only option, but his productivity to this point at a number of positions now earns him a recommendation in leagues of 15 or more teams. With Michael Brantley hitting the disabled list with more shoulder troubles, Ramirez should be the main beneficiary in left field; he’s started five of the team’s last eight games there in Brantley’s absence, and made two other starts (three appearances) at third base since Brantley last appeared in addition. Ramirez has hit for a nice .317/.372/.433 line in 114 plate appearances this season, but he’s only swiped two bases to this point (in four attempts) after stealing 25 between Triple-A Columbus and Cleveland last season. Ramirez’s positional flexibility makes him an intriguing deeper league play to begin with, and if he starts running, which is in his profile (101 SB in 335 career minor-league games), he’s certainly capable of establishing himself as a valuable MI option in leagues of all sizes. —J.J. Jansons

Matt Andriese, SP, Tampa Bay Rays (Available in 77% of ESPN.com leagues)

Fresh off a complete-game victory over Oakland in his last start, the 26-year-old right-hander has allowed just one run on six hits with eight strikeouts and three walks through two starts (16 innings) since being called up from Triple-A Durham two weeks ago. Andriese works quickly and deliberately on the mound, attacking opposing hitters by filling up the strike zone and pitching to contact, but he simply doesn’t possess the lofty strikeout upside to be a relevant commodity in shallow mixed leagues. In deeper formats, his stellar performance in the pitchers paradise that is “The Trop” over the past two seasons (3.06 ERA over 15 appearances, six starts) makes him a prime streaming candidate at home against weaker offenses going forward.

The one lingering concern that could impact Andriese directly is Tampa Bay’s tremendous pitching depth and the presence of a supremely talented prospect, southpaw Blake Snell, who remains on the precipice of a permanent promotion from Triple-A. There’s no guarantee Andriese remains a permanent fixture in the Rays rotation, but there’s no question about his talent. He’s shaping up to be a back-end of a fantasy rotation stalwart in deeper mixed leagues.

Julio Urias, SP/RP, Los Angeles Dodgers (Available in 88% of ESPN.com leagues)

The precocious 19-year-old extended his scoreless streak to 22 innings last weekend, and continues to own the lowest ERA (1.25) in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. He hasn’t given up an earned run since April 22nd. Through seven appearances (six starts) Urias has held opposing batters to a .171 average, while striking out 39 and issuing just eight free passes in 36 innings this season. Those eye-popping numbers would be insane in any minor-league context, much less an offensive-rich environment like the PCL.

The combination of Urias pure stuff and feel for pitching at such a young age is what separates him from every other pitching prospect in the game and it seems highly unlikely that the Dodgers can continue to suppress their generational talent for much longer, especially given the state of their bullpen. Due to workload restrictions (a cap likely around 100-120 innings), Urias is likely to begin his major-league career as a multi-inning reliever this summer, which has value in deeper mixed leagues. The time to stash Urias is right now. –George Bissell

AL-ONLY LEAGUES

Drew Stubbs, OF, Texas Rangers (Available in 99% of ESPN.com leagues)

Inked by Texas on the heels of Delino DeShields demotion earlier this month, Stubbs, (in tandem with Ryan Rua) has become the Rangers de facto option in the outfield against left-handed pitching. The 31-year-old has mashed southpaws to the tune of a .275/.349/.447 line over 923 career plate appearances. Not only does he possess some pop, but he’s also an adept base-stealer. In 56 plate appearances, he’s hit a pair of home runs while swiping seven bases this season. In AL-only leagues that allow for daily lineup changes, Stubbs is a valuable platoon option to own. —George Bissell

NL-ONLY Leagues

Kirk Nieuwenhuis, OF, Milwaukee Brewers

Nieuwenhuis smacked his second homer of the season on Wednesday afternoon off of right-hander Jason Hammel as part of a 2-for-4 day that upped his seasonal line to .278/.384/.456 in 94 plate appearances. Nieuwenhuis has only received six plate appearances against left-handed pitchers this year, but he’s made 12 starts this month against right-handed hurlers, and appears to have settled in as the strong side of the Brewers platoon in center field.

Nieuwenhuis does a little bit of everything to contribute to a fantasy squad, as he’s added three steals of value along with 12 runs scored and 14 RBI, all productive totals for a player with less than 100 plate appearances on the year. The former Met looks like he’ll get the lion’s share of at-bats in center ahead of fellow left-handed hitters Alex Presley and Ramon Flores in Milwaukee going forward. —J.J. Jansons