12-team mixed leagues (must be available in at least 50 percent of CBS, ESPN, or Yahoo leagues)
Shin-Soo Choo (OF)—Rangers
Available: 36% CBS, 66% ESPN, 68% Yahoo
There’s an inherent chasing-stats phenomenon associated with every potential waiver-wire acquisition. Here’s an oversimplification: just because a free-agent hitter has put themselves on the fantasy radar with a recent hot streak, does not mean they will continue to produce at anything close to that level once you pick them up. Chris Taylor, Whit Merrifield and Tim Beckham are the exceptions—and not the rule—with free-agent hitters. With that important caveat out of the way, it’s getting difficult to ignore what Choo is doing in Texas, juxtaposed by the fact that he’s available in more than half of ESPN and Yahoo fantasy leagues.
There are legitimate health concerns, but with four weeks left in the season, they don’t matter as much. Besides, he’s managed to avoid the disabled list entirely this year. The 35-year-old is hitting .290/.382/.420 with five home runs and four steals in 188 plate appearances since the All-Star break. After hitting 12 homers in the first half, his power production has certainly tapered off, but he’s offset that by raising his batting average nearly forty points. The most encouraging sign for Choo, and a clear signal that he is feeling healthy, is the return of his speed. That component of his profile accounted for a massive chunk of his fantasy appeal during his prime years in Ohio from 2009-2013. Despite his advanced age and lengthy injury history, he’s swiped 11 bases in 14 attempts this season. To put that number in context, Choo had recorded just 13 steals in the past three seasons combined.
At this stage of his career, Choo clearly lacks the superstar upside of someone like Byron Buxton or Rhys Hoskins, who both were profiled in this space a week ago. However, we now have a much better idea of Choo’s realistic floor (barring injury) over the final month. If he stays healthy, he’s an on-base machine vs. right-handed pitching, which makes him an even more valuable asset in leagues that allow daily lineup changes.
Scott Schebler (OF)—Reds
Available: 49% CBS, 73% ESPN, 71% Yahoo
— MLB (@MLB) August 30, 2017
This is one of those rare instances where the ownership percentage of a 26-year-old outfielder in the midst of a real breakout campaign was adversely impacted by injury, not a dip in performance. Savvy fantasy owners who stashed Schebler despite his recent disabled-list stint certainly have reaped the rewards over the past two weeks. Since returning Aug. 18, Schebler is slashing .353/.425/.765 with three homers in just 40 plate appearances, and is up to 26 dingers on the season. The league-wide home-run surge has forced us to alter our performance benchmarks (30 is the new 20) going forward, and that change clearly limits the upside of a “power-only” slugger like Schebler. The batting-average volatility and lack of double-digit stolen bases may keep him from ascending to the fantasy elite, but that doesn’t mean he should still be out there in three-quarters of fantasy leagues. He’s a viable mixed league-starting outfielder with plenty of pop and counting stats to get fantasy managers through to the home stretch. –George Bissell
Luke Weaver (SP)—Cardinals
Available: 20% CBS, 52% ESPN, 48% Yahoo
Are you looking for a starter who has dominated in the minor leagues, racking up prodigious strikeout numbers, low DRAs, and now owns a guaranteed spot in the big-league rotation? Leave it to Weaver. The 24-year-old righty has dazzled across his past four starts, fanning 33 batters in 24 innings while surrendering only six free passes. With veteran Mike Leake headed to the Pacific Northwest, Weaver will take over his rotation spot on a more permanent basis, giving the Cardinals (and fantasy owners) considerably more upside.
Despite strong minor-league numbers, Weaver had his share of detractors, due mainly to his lack of a reliable breaking pitch. Thus far this season, the 24-year-old has incorporated a curveball into his pitch mix, throwing the bender a little over 10 percent of the time. He isn’t getting a ton of whiffs with it, but he’s producing a 67 percent ground-ball rate with the curve, which is impressive. Weaver’s 87.7 percent strand rate almost certainly will come back to earth, but even with a little regression, the righty could maintain an era in the 3.00’s with an above-average swinging-strike rate and enough talent around him to put him in line for a handful of wins.
Jack Flaherty (SP)—Cardinals
Available: 83% CBS, 94% ESPN, 87% Yahoo
The 21-year-old former first-round pick has acquitted himself well on his trip up the minor-league ladder. After beginning the season in Double-A, the California native will make his big-league debut at San Francisco on Friday night. Flaherty made quick work of Triple-A hitters, tossing 85 1/3 innings, averaging nearly a strikeout per inning with a 2.74 ERA. Another hallmark of Flaherty’s repertoire has been his pinpoint accuracy, as the righty has never walked more than three batters per nine innings at any minor-league stop.
The health of Adam Wainwright probably will play a larger role in Flaherty’s rest-of-season job security, as it’s more likely that fellow Red Bird righty Luke Weaver (see, uh, directly above) will man the spot in the rotation vacated by departing Mike Leake. Even with the uncertainty moving forward, now is the time to pounce on Flaherty, as the rookie has shown skills that could make him an impact starter for the stretch run. He’s widely available for the moment, but if he puts together a strong performance against the Giants, you may miss your window to acquire him for the home stretch. –Mark Barry
15-team mixed leagues (must be available in at least 75 percent of CBS, ESPN, or Yahoo leagues)
Luis Valbuena (1B/3B)—Angels
Available: 96% CBS, 96% ESPN, 97% Yahoo
There always has been some trepidation within the fantasy community regarding Valbuena. Simply put, he’s a formidable righty-masher with serious playing-time concerns, and there is enough depth at the corners fantasy-wise that he’s just not worth a roster spot in shallow formats. That’s totally fair. However, in deeper formats, especially those that allow daily lineup changes, he’s an incredibly valuable asset. As BP’s managing editor Bret Sayre tweeted earlier this week, Valbuena has been on a tear since the start of August. If you can pick your spots, he’s primed for a big final month hitting behind Mike Trout, the ghost of Albert Pujols, Kole Calhoun, C.J. Cron, and the newly acquired Justin Upton, as the Angels make a serious playoff push.
Wilmer Difo (2B/SS)—Nationals
Available: 83% CBS, 92% ESPN, 90% Yahoo
Difo said Dusty greeted him with "What's up Willie Mays?!?" after his basket catch. Difo didn't know what he was referring to.
In Difo’s defense, he was born in 1992, and Mays retired back in 1973. That’s beside the point. What really matters from a fantasy context is that the Nationals have made it a priority to keep his bat in the lineup, using him at second base and in right field, after starting shortstop Trea Turner came off the disabled list this week. The 25-year-old is hitting .323/.354/.471 with four homers and six steals in 168 plate appearances since the All-Star break. He’s still striking out nearly a quarter of the time, and won’t sustain a .400 BABIP forever, but a middle infielder producing for one of the best offenses in baseball deserves some love in deep mixers. He’s carved out an everyday role in Washington with his recent surge at the dish and is certainly someone to keep an eye on for the future as well. –George Bissell
Andrew Heaney (SP)—Angels
Available: 77% CBS, 93% ESPN, 90% Yahoo
It’s always hard to project guys coming back from Tommy John surgery. It’s a little like herding cats while blindfolded. Heaney has made three starts now, and there are real reasons to be excited about his progress. The southpaw is throwing harder than ever before, touching 96 mph with his sinker, and has racked up 19 punch outs in 16 innings, including a 10-strikeout (with 19 swinging strikes) performance in his most recent outing against the A’s. That’s big.
It hasn’t been all rainbows and puppy dogs for the former first-round pick. Heaney has a fairly bloated 5.62 ERA, thanks in large part to serving up eight homers in his 16 innings. That’s a lot. Hilariously, every single run that Heaney has surrendered this season has come via the long ball. I will go out on a limb and predict that his 44 percent HR/FB rate is a tad unsustainable and should trend downward. If Heaney can find a way to keep the ball in the yard, we could see him pitch much closer to his 3.61 DRA, and that is definitely more palatable in fantasy.
Miguel Gonzalez (SP)—Rangers
Available: 71% CBS, 86% ESPN, 84% Yahoo
I think it’s safe to say that 2017 is a strange time for many, many reasons. Rather than getting into them all, let’s just focus on one in particular: Miguel Gonzalez is on pretty good run. I realize that he’s Miguel Gonzalez, and I would typically rather kick it with Daenerys and Drogon while wearing kerosene soaked jeans than roll with the 33-year-old righty in my fantasy lineup. Where was I? Right… over the past five starts, Gonzalez has thrown at least six innings each time, and has tallied 28 strikeouts to only 10 walks in 34 frames. Before being traded by the White Sox, he was slated to get two starts this week. Make no mistake, Gonzalez isn’t an upside play, but it could be a cheap way to ride the hot streak of mediocrity before he turns back into a pumpkin. –Mark Barry
The Deep League Specials (must be available in at least 90 percent of CBS, ESPN, or Yahoo leagues)
Alex Verdugo (OF)—Dodgers
Available: 89% CBS, 99% ESPN, 98% Yahoo
Dave Roberts on how the Dodgers plan to use Alex Verdugo: "We're going to play him." Word.
— Andy McCullough (@McCulloughTimes) August 31, 2017
It’s all about the hit tool, baby. In addition to slugging arguably the strangest home run in baseball history, the 21-year-old outfielder slashed a robust .314/.389/.436 with 37 extra-base hits (six home runs) and nine steals over 117 games at Triple-A Oklahoma City. There are zero questions about his hit tool. He’s a lifetime .305/.362/.438 hitter over 421 minor-league games. While he’s a virtual lock to hit for a plus batting average, there are some legitimate questions about his realistic power upside. Those are long-term concerns and are far-less relevant over the next few weeks. Thanks to a massive lead in the NL West, the Dodgers have the luxury of turning most of the starts in center field over to Verdugo (and his rocket arm) for the final month. If he’s in the lineup every day, he can be a difference maker for fantasy owners in deeper leagues during the stretch run. The time to invest in re-draft formats is right now. –George Bissell
Sal Romano (SP)—Reds
Available: 89% CBS, 97% ESPN, 98% Yahoo
OK, it’s getting a late in the season and it’s possible that I’m getting a little delirious, but Romano has been kind of good recently. Let’s get weird. In his past three starts, the 23-year-old has tossed 20 innings with a 2.70 ERA. “Wait, that’s an extremely small and cherry-picked sample size,” you might say. Well, you’re right. However, it does correspond with an uptick in changeup usage for the righty. Before his Aug. 13 start against the Brewers, Romano was a primarily two-pitch pitcher, throwing a fastball/slider combination around 97 percent of the time. In his past three outings, he has thrown a changeup in almost 14 percent of his offerings. Make no mistake, it’s not a great pitch, but it seems to be enough to help his slider play up, en route to a .385 slugging percentage and 75 percent ground-ball rate against the bender.
I get it. It’s hard to depend on a guy like Romano down the stretch when you’re making a run at a championship. That said, if matchups hold, he’ll get four starts away from the bandbox that is Great American Ball Park against the likes of the Mets, Cardinals, Brewers, and Cubs. That’s definitely not a murderer’s row of opponents. At the cost of “nothing,” Romano could be an interesting piece for the remainder of the season. –Mark Barry
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