12-Team Mixed Leagues (Must be available in at least 50 percent of ESPN, Yahoo, and CBS leagues)
Available: ESPN (55%), Yahoo (60%), CBS (20%)
The subject of many offseason discussions between Mike Gianella and myself on the Flags Fly Forever podcast, it’s shocking that Cabrera is available in over half of ESPN and Yahoo leagues, but less than a quarter of CBS leagues, right now. Consider this a last call for fantasy owners in shallow mixed leagues. The 31-year-old was criminally underrated in terms of average draft position (274th overall in NFBC leagues) this spring, despite eclipsing the 20-home run plateau for the first time since 2011, and hitting .280/.336/.474 over 568 plate appearances.
Sandy Leon—Red Sox
Available: ESPN (50%), Yahoo (46%) CBS (25%)
With stalwarts Buster Posey and Gary Sanchez hitting the disabled list earlier this week, Leon’s ownership rates have spiked across the board as their respective owners scramble for a capable replacement. The 28-year-old has proven to be an extremely streaky hitter throughout his Red Sox tenure. He has experienced extended stretches on polar-opposite ends of the spectrum. He’s hit like Johnny Bench for weeks and looked as if he couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat. Fortunately, Leon appears to be locked in at the dish to open up the season, hitting .348 with a home run and five RBI over his past six starts. There will be extreme peaks and valleys in his performance, but he’s a capable stopgap solution for the next few weeks.
Available: ESPN (60%), Yahoo (61%), CBS (44%)
I’m going to go out of my way here to give Bret Sayre a lot of credit for touting Zimmerman in the offseason. While the 32- year-old veteran’s batted ball exit velocities were solid last season, he looked pretty cooked by the end of the year, hitting just .218/.272/.370 in 467 plate appearances. Through nine games this season, he’s hitting .382/.417/.735 with three home runs. He’s even stolen a base. There’s going to be a lot of talk about Zimmerman changing his launch angle and reviving his career over the next few months, but the fact that he’s completely healthy right now might have more to do with his renewed production than anything else.
Available: ESPN (50%), Yahoo (46%), CBS (25%)
I’m extremely hesitant to take the plunge and fully invest in the 24-year-old southpaw after just two major-league starts. Unfortunately, time is not a luxury afforded to fantasy owners. Garrett isn’t going to last on mixed league waiver wires for very long, especially if he continues to pitch like this. So, the time to grab him is right now. He’s shut down the Cardinals and Pirates on the road in his first two outings, allowing just two earned runs on seven hits while striking out nine and walking just two batters over 12 2/3 innings. I’m extremely skeptical of his long-term outlook given the long history of sub-par minor-league strikeout rates and an unforgiving home park, but it’s getting harder to dismiss his stellar performances as complete outliers. If you’re willing to roll the dice, this could be your last opportunity.
Available: ESPN (50%), Yahoo (46%), CBS (25%)
The 29-year-old right-hander out-dueled Max Scherzer in his latest start, spinning seven shutout innings, allowing just four hits, while striking out seven Nationals. Not only did he silence one of the hottest offenses in baseball, but he did it on the road as well. On the heels of a dominant outing against the Reds in his season debut, allowing just one run over eight innings with six strikeouts, Leake has put himself squarely on the radar as a viable option in shallow mixed leagues. What you see is what you get. After seven seasons of data, it’s abundantly clear that there is zero upside lurking, especially in the strikeout department. However, he’s a stable veteran who can solidify the back-end of a fantasy rotation. Leake has worked at least six innings while allowing three runs or less in eight of his past 11 starts dating back to August. In a world of increased volatility and random variance, consistent mediocrity can be fantasy gold.
15-Team Mixed Leagues (Must be available in at least 75 percent of ESPN, Yahoo, or CBS leagues)
Available: ESPN (90%), Yahoo (89%), CBS (60%)
It was widely anticipated that Gallo would be heading back to Triple-A once Adrian Beltre returned from a hamstring injury this past weekend. However, the 38-year-old veteran suffered a setback in his recovery and could be sidelined for a few more weeks. Gallo is still striking out a ton, but he’s managed to hit for power in his brief stint at third base, and may have already done enough already to carve out a role on the major-league roster going forward (even when Beltre returns). If Gallo is going to be given a legitimate everyday opportunity, which now seems more likely than it did two weeks ago, he needs to owned in deeper mixed leagues.
Available: ESPN (80%), Yahoo (75%), CBS (53%)
The 32-year-old veteran is hitting just .152 with a pair of stolen bases through his first nine games with the Mariners. That’s just not sexy. But, with Jean Segura going on the disabled list due to a hamstring injury, Dyson is slated to lead off in his absence, and becomes a much more enticing fantasy proposition. He’s stolen at least 26 bases in each of the past five seasons despite never receiving more than 350 plate appearances in any of those years. If you’re desperate for steals in a deeper format, there’s a chance that he’s still out there.
Available: ESPN (89%), Yahoo (92%), CBS (90%)
The 34-year-old southpaw shut out the Athletics over 7 2/3 innings, allowing just four hits and one walk while striking out eight, to pick up his second victory of the season Thursday night. Despite possessing a fastball that sits in the mid-80’s, he’s generating plenty of swings-and-misses and ground balls with his changeup. He certainly fits the “smoke and mirrors” archetype to a tee, but the Royals are still a superb defensive team and Kauffman Stadium remains one of the friendliest home environments for any pitcher. After missing nearly the entire 2016 campaign, Vargas has turned in a pair of dynamic starts to begin the season and is worthy of consideration in deeper formats as a back-end rotation anchor.
Available: ESPN (78%), Yahoo (60%), CBS (73%)
April 5: 4.0 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 7 K
How much more do you need to see? I’ve spent countless hours on the Flags Fly Forever podcast with my colleague Jeff Quinton discussing the “Miller/Betances Theory.” Simply put, it’s a theory based loosely on the hypothesis that elite non-closers (ideally those utilized in a multi-inning role) tend to be undervalued by the vast majority of fantasy owners. It’s difficult to quantify the value of a relief pitcher whose primary contributions are in ERA and WHIP (without consulting a valuation spreadsheet), therefore they tend to be underrated and marginalized. Devenski is a prime example of this phenomenon. The 26-year-old posted a 2.16 ERA and 0.91 WHIP along with 104 strikeouts in 108 1/3 innings, earning $16 in standard mixed leagues last season. That was just $1 less than Cole Hamels returned. There’s an obvious ceiling to Devenski’s fantasy value due to a lack of innings compared to starting pitchers, but there’s no other relief pitcher doing this right now.
Available: ESPN (92%), Yahoo (92%), CBS (92%)
April 10: 3.0 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K
He’s not quite in the same stratosphere as Devenski in terns of his actual role, but he’s getting really close. A converted starter, Lorenzen has turned into a legitimate multi-inning weapon for the Reds bullpen over the past year. If he gets to 100 innings (which appears extremely likely), he has a chance to be one of the most-valuable non-closing relievers in fantasy baseball this season.
Available: ESPN (99%), Yahoo (100%), CBS (77%)
The 24-year-old left-hander allowed three runs (two earned), with five hits and a pair of walks while striking out seven over 4 2/3 innings in his major-league debut vs. Tampa Bay earlier this week. While I won’t go as far as Bernie Pleskoff did comparing Montgomery to Chris Sale last month, the South Carolina product’s minor-league numbers are unassailable at this point. In 25 starts between Double-A and Triple-A a season ago, he posted a 2.13 ERA with 134 strikeouts and just 45 walks in 139 1/3 innings. The fact that he still has options, and the Yankees have plenty of alternatives for their fifth-starter spot, make me a bit hesitant to put him in this space, I believe in the talent and I’m willing to take a risk in deeper mixed leagues.
AL/NL-only Leagues (Must be available in at least 95 percent of ESPN, Yahoo, or CBS leagues)
Marco Hernandez—Red Sox
Available: ESPN (99%), Yahoo (100%), CBS (99%)
Just trust me on this one. Go listen to this week’s Flags Fly Forever podcast. I firmly believe that Hernandez is Boston’s best utility infielder and has a realistic shot to stick on the roster all season. I want to believe.
Available: ESPN (99%), Yahoo (99%), CBS (90%)
This is purely a matchup gut call. Don’t @ me on Twitter. I know it’s going to blow up on me. I can see it coming a mile away.