12-team mixed leagues (must be available in at least 50 percent of ESPN, Yahoo, or CBS leagues)
Available: 58% ESPN, 44% Yahoo, 40% CBS
The 24-year-old slugger’s recent surge (.309/.367/.673 with six home runs in 60 plate appearances since May 24) has him on a trajectory to ascend into the upper echelon of fantasy outfielders, but only if he can sustain this level of production. We’ve seen flashes of potential from Santana over the past two years, but he’s never displayed this type of consistency before. He’s still striking out nearly 30 percent of the time during this recent hot streak, but that’s a relatively minor concern. The power (11 home runs already) is impressive. However, it’s his ability to steal the occasional base makes him an intriguing addition. Santana already has swiped a career-high six bases. That might not sound important, but there are only 14 major-league hitters who have stolen 10 or more bases. Given the league-wide steals scarcity, Santana’s power/speed combination becomes even more valuable. At the very least, he warrants a pickup in shallow formats if he’s still floating around on the waiver wire.
Available: 52% ESPN, 28% Yahoo, 25% CBS
It was relatively easy to be dismissive of Healy from a fantasy perspective coming into the year. He had never, in the minors, hit for the kind of power (13 home runs in 283 plate appearances) he displayed once he arrived in Oakland. With a plethora of young stalwarts headlining the hot-corner rankings, and a vast array of veterans to choose from in the middle rounds, it was difficult to envision the 25-year-old as a viable mixed-league option. Clearly, I was wrong. Healy already has slugged 13 home runs while hitting .279/.307/.523 with 25 runs scored and 34 RBI. There’s no stolen-base potential, he’s allergic to walks, and still possesses a great deal of batting-average risk, but Healy is hitting for enough power to be relevant. He’s struggled against right-handed pitching, but his numbers against southpaws (.392/.415/.784 in 53 plate appearances this season) are obscene.
Available: 55% ESPN, 38% Yahoo, 51% CBS
The 26-year-old has become a fixture in this space over the last two months. In addition to hitting .305/.395/.518 with seven home runs, 26 runs scored, 24 RBIs and four stolen bases in just 162 plate appearances, he’s also settled in as the Dodgers default option in the leadoff spot. Sure, he won’t sustain a .409 BABIP for very long, but he’s shown a propensity to consistently work deep counts, and drive the ball (27 percent line-drive rate) when he gets a pitch he can handle. There’s a lot to like here.
With Logan Forsythe mired in a wicked slump ever since coming off the disabled list, and Chase Utley ideally suited for a bench role, the door is cracked open enough that Taylor could slide over to the keystone once Joc Pederson returns from a concussion. At this point, I’m not sure how manager Dave Roberts could justify sitting him. His versatility gives the Dodgers plenty of options and avenues to everyday at-bats. Get him on your roster, even in shallow mixed leagues.
Available: 55% ESPN, 50% Yahoo, 42% CBS
What more do fantasy owners need to see? The 30-year-old catcher is hitting .322/.439/.635 with nine home runs, 18 runs scored and 25 RBIs in just 139 plate appearances this season. MLB.com’s Mike Petriello wrote earlier this week that Avila has experienced a 25.5 percent increase in “air balls” (batted balls with a 10 degree launch angle or higher) from 2016 to 2017. That’s the largest increase in baseball. Not only is he hitting the ball in the air more often, he’s hitting it harder too. According to Petriello, Avila has also experienced the largest increase (23.9 percent) in “air balls” with an exit velocity of 95-plus miles hour.
Avila isn’t actively campaigning for the role, but he could end up as the face of the “air-ball revolution” if he keeps this up. He might not be able to sustain this elite level of production, but there is nothing inherently fluky about his performance. There are legitimate concerns surrounding his health, especially given his injury history. The other issue is playing time. With first base and designated hitter clogged up, it could be difficult for the Tigers to play him behind the plate almost every day. Still, there’s no reason Avila should be out there on the waiver wire in this many leagues. It doesn’t make sense.
Available: 53% ESPN, 46% Yahoo, 22% CBS
I’m all in. The 28-year-old righty owns a career-best 3.57 DRA (3.45 ERA) through 12 starts (70 1/3 innings) this season. His strikeout rate has surged from 7.29 per-nine over his first 436 career innings (2013-2016) to just over a batter per-inning (9.1 K/9). He’s also slashed his walk rate to a superb 2.2 per-nine while keeping his solid ground ball rate (49 percent) intact. As Jeff Sullivan wrote at FanGraphs earlier this week, “By strikeouts and walks, Nelson right now looks basically the same as Dallas Keuchel and Johnny Cueto. A year ago, he was in the company of Doug Fister and Jered Weaver.”
It looks like Nelson has figured it out. Over his past three starts since May 28, he owns a 1.71 ERA with 27 strikeouts and just one walk in 21 innings. He should continue to roll with a matchup against the Cardinals, one of the worst offenses in baseball this season, on the road early next week. Invest with confidence.
Available: 55% ESPN, 59% Yahoo, 44% CBS
The 28-year-old southpaw was brilliant in his latest outing, allowing just one run on four hits while striking out nine, in a victory over the Rays last weekend. A rather ominous 4.58 DRA (5.01 DRA in 125 1/3 career innings) casts a significant shadow over his long-term outlook, especially from a run prevention standpoint. Another glaring concern are the 10 home runs (1/3 HR/9) he’s allowed in just 67 1/3 innings of work so far.
The risk those potential red flags pose is mitigated from a fantasy standpoint by a substantial increased Miranda’s strikeout rate, which has jumped from just under seven per-nine a year ago to just over eight per-nine this season. He’s also done an excellent job of limiting the free passes (3.2 BB/9). Simply put, there’s a lot to like in Miranda’s profile if he can keep the ball in the yard. That will be a challenge for him when he faces a much stiffer test against the Blue Jays right-handed power bats at home this weekend. He’s a viable mixed-league option, but there is some clear risk if the strikeouts evaporate.
Available: 66% ESPN, 48% Yahoo, 28% CBS
I’m calling a personal moratorium on Peacock in this space. If you’ve listened to the Flags Fly Forever podcast in recent weeks, you know how I feel. The 29-year-old righty has punched-out at least eight batters (29 total) in three consecutive starts since entering the Astros rotation on May 22. Relievers Corey Knebel and Chris Devenski are the only pitchers (minimum 30 innings pitched) with a higher strikeout rate than Peacock (13.50 K/9) this season. Even if we set aside the mammoth strikeout totals, there aren’t a ton of glaring weaknesses in his profile. He won’t sustain a 2.30 ERA. Nobody does that. However, a 3.38 DRA indicates that he isn’t way out over his skis performance-wise. This is real. With Joe Musgrove sidelined and Mike Fiers struggling, Peacock’s recent surge should cement his spot in the Houston rotation moving forward.
15-team mixed leagues (must be available in at least 75 percent of ESPN, Yahoo, or CBS leagues)
Available: 68% ESPN, 61% Yahoo, 56% CBS
We’re witnessing (pun intended) a prime example of the chasing stats phenomenon with Merrifield. You know about the hit streak, but very few fantasy owners were invested when it began last month. He’s talented enough to rip off another extended hot streak, but we’ve likely just experienced his most impressive stretch of the year. That doesn’t mean he can’t provide fantasy value going forward. The odds of that happening increased significantly this week, when he ascended to the leadoff spot in the Royals lineup, mercifully unseating a floundering Alcides Escobar. That move should enable him to provide a little more juice in the counting stats department. At a bare minimum, Merrifield’s realistic floor is a solid one-category contributor (batting average). Let’s be realistic. There isn’t huge upside here. Still, having a middle infielder on the roster that won’t be a batting average drag, especially in a deep mixer, is important.
Available: 73% ESPN, 69% Yahoo, 68% CBS
After a brutal first month (.189 with one home run in 81 plate appearances), the well-traveled 32-year-old veteran has turned it around in Seattle. Not only is he hitting .336/.389/.504 with four home runs, 19 runs scored and 24 RBIs in 131 plate appearances since May 2, but he’s done most of his damage against right-handed pitching. A prolific lefty-masher throughout his entire career, if he can get back to feasting on southpaws and hold the gains he’s made against righties, he has an outside chance at replicating the stellar numbers he put up in Oakland last year. He’s widely available, hitting in a prime spot in the order behind Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager, and it doesn’t look like the Mariners have any plans to call up Dan Vogelbach anytime soon to challenge him. The time to invest is right now.
Available: 96% ESPN, 94% Yahoo, 89% CBS
The Venezuelan native appears to have unseated Jose Reyes as the Mets everyday option at the hot corner. He’s always been a guy who makes a ton of contact, but he’s never hit above .267 at the major-league level. Per FanGraphs batted-ball data, Flores is making more hard contact (37.1 percent) right now than ever before (27.5 percent over the last four years). There haven’t been any radical changes to his batted ball profile, he’s simply hitting the ball harder this season. It’s showing up in his numbers. Not only is Flores hitting .317/.344/.488 with five home runs and one steal in 128 plate appearances, but he’s on pace to establish new career-highs in all three categories. There is a ton of depth at middle and corner infield right now, but it’s still surprising to see him available in so many leagues.
Available: 78% ESPN, 72% Yahoo, 64% CBS
I’m conflicted on Hoffman. On the heels of back-to-back stellar outings, the majority of fantasy owners are clearly buying into his immense upside. I don’t blame them one bit. They might be right. The strikeout potential is immense. However, I remain skeptical, simply because the 24-year-old faced both the Phillies and the Padres, two of the worst offenses in baseball, on the road. If he pitches well against the Cubs this weekend, then I’ll be the first one to order a Hoffman shirsey. I’m just not ready to declare him a potential fantasy superstar after two starts. We are going to learn a lot about Hoffman by watching him navigate a formidable offense in a tough hitter’s park. If he emerges unscathed, you won’t be able to pick him up or acquire him via trade.
AL/NL-only leagues (must be available in at least 95 percent of ESPN, Yahoo, or CBS leagues)
Available: % ESPN, 90% Yahoo, 88% CBS
With Matt Andriese being activated from the disabled list, Faria already has been sent back down to Triple-A Durham. However, the 23-year-old righty proved that his fastball/changeup combo could work at the highest level, firing 6 1/3 solid innings against the White Sox in his major-league debut. As I wrote in his call-up piece earlier this week, Faria is one of the most polished and underrated pitching prospects in fantasy baseball. There is some risk in the profile simply because his raw stuff isn’t overpowering, but he should rack up enough strikeouts to be an option in deep formats. He’s going to get another chance in Tampa Bay very soon and he should be on your radar.
Available: 96% ESPN, 97% Yahoo, 86% CBS
There are zero guarantees from a health standpoint with Lugo, who is pitching with a partially torn UCL. The sultan of spin rate will get the call for his 2017 debut against the Braves on Sunday. He’s set up for succees, pitching in the wake of a double-header the previous day. There isn’t a ton of predictive value in his minor-league performance, but it’s worth noting that he posted a 2.77 ERA with 15 strikeouts in 13 innings over a pair of Double-A rehab starts. He’s worth a speculative pickup in deeper formats and NL-only leagues.
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