September 8, 2017
Free Agent Watch
12-team mixed leagues (must be available in at least 50 percent of CBS, ESPN, or Yahoo leagues)
Kevin Kiermaier (OF)—Rays
Available: 46% CBS, 58% ESPN, 64% Yahoo
Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) September 3, 2017
The 27-year-old outfielder was featured in this space two weeks ago, yet his ownership numbers are still hovering around the 50 percent range, despite a run of elite production since coming off the disabled list Aug. 18. In 18 games since that date, “The Outlaw” is hitting .360/.395/.613 with nine multi-hit efforts, 10 extra-base knocks (four home runs), 16 runs scored, 14 RBIs and three stolen bases in just 81 plate appearances. He’s traded a bit of contact to get to the increased power, now just one dinger shy of his previous career-high (12) set last season, but it’s a welcome tradeoff for fantasy owners. Firmly entrenched at the top of the Rays lineup, he’s been insanely hot, and needs to be owned in all mixed leagues moving forward. If you’re searching for a Billy Hamilton replacement, Kiermaier is the perfect solution in shallow formats where he’s somehow still available. Sometimes the fantasy advice is simple. This is one of those times. Don’t overthink it.
Nicholas Castellanos (3B)—Tigers
Available: 39% CBS, 61% ESPN, 60% Yahoo
No matter how much he mashes over the final month, the vast majority of fantasy owners will view Castellanos 2017 campaign as a profound disappointment. There were some promising signs coming into the regular season, but he hit just .209/.283/.353 with only four home runs in the first two months. Yuck. He’s been much better in the second half. Unfortunately, it came too late because Tigers tore down their formidable lineup, shipping J.D. Martinez and Justin Upton off to wild-card contenders, had already begun. With those key cogs out of the picture, Castellanos has stepped up into heart of the lineup. He hasn’t walked in over a month, but he’s hitting .337 with 13 extra-base hits (four homers) in 103 plate appearances since Aug. 9. He’s not a savior, but we liked him as a potential breakout candidate six months ago, and now he’s motivated and likely playing to keep his job heading into next season. He’s hitting enough to warrant a pickup in deeper mixed leagues. –George Bissell
Lucas Giolito (SP)—White Sox
Available: 37% CBS, 61% ESPN, 57% Yahoo
Have you ever been really excited for a movie only to have that flame dimmed by underwhelming reviews? Then you see the movie and it’s fine, but then you watch it again and it finally lives up to your expectations? Let’s call it the Prometheus Effect. Anyway, along those same lines, Giolito is finally starting to get some big league shine after several frustrating seasons as a top prospect. In his most recent outing against the Rays, the 23-year-old fanned 10 batters (with 18 swinging strikes) to only one walk in seven innings of work. Most metrics would classify that as objectively good.
Part of Giolito’s early success can be tied to an increased reliance on his changeup. While the pitch had been used previously in his arsenal to some success, the righty threw a changeup in around 30 percent of his offerings against the Rays, getting whiffs around 29 percent of the time. That’s a monster number. If he can continue to develop the changeup as a pitch that can keep lefties on their toes, and accompany his big fastball and super-hammer curve, Giolito might finally cash in on some of the sheen he possessed as one of the more exciting prospects in the game. Looking ahead, Giolito will enjoy some favorable matchups down the stretch, facing the hapless Giants offense on Friday night, in addition to a pair of matchups against the spiraling Royals down the road. Invest.
Available: 33% CBS, 63% ESPN, 60% Yahoo
When Lamet was called up by the Padres to make his big league debut on May 25, it was met with a resounding yawn from the fantasy community. After some early flashes of potential and expected struggles, Lamet has made his presence felt in the second half, tossing 57 innings with a 3.16 ERA while holding batters to a paltry line of .183/.301/.285. There are also strikeouts, lots of strikeouts. Since his call up, Lamet has fanned 29.7 percent of the batters he has faced, fourth best in the National League behind only Max Scherzer, Rich Hill and Jimmy Nelson. He still walks a few too many guys, and probably needs to find a reliable third pitch to throw to lefties (he’s recently been having some success with his sinker), but Lamet’s progress in his rookie season has been super intriguing. The Padres have been tinkering with a six-man rotation, so it’s tough to pinpoint exactly his remaining schedule, but he could see the Rockies and Diamondbacks at Petco Park (much more palatable), with a potential Giants matchup to close out the season. –Mark Barry
15-team mixed leagues (must be available in at least 75 percent of CBS, ESPN, or Yahoo leagues)
Matt Olson (1B/3B)—Athletics
Available: 79% CBS, 81% ESPN, 78% Yahoo
The 23-year-old first baseman has taken the sting out of the late-season Yonder Alonso trade for Athletics fans by swatting seven home runs in the last nine games. He’s done nearly all of the damage against right-handed pitching, but this power (38 home runs between Triple-A and MLB this season) isn’t a fluke. It’s very real, and fully supported by underlying batted-ball data. According to Baseball Savant’s database, Olson’s 91.3 mph average exit velocity ranks 10th out of 470 major-league hitters with at least 40 batted balls.
Since being recalled Aug. 8, he’s hitting .298/.344/.690 with 11 homers. There are some concerning variables in his profile that limit his fantasy appeal. He’s striking out nearly a quarter of his plate appearances, hasn’t shown an ability to hit southpaws at the big-league level, and offers nothing on the base paths. However, in deeper formats he will continue to have plenty of value if he’s playing every day against right-handed pitching. The time to invest is right now. Don’t wait.
Brandon Guyer (OF)—Indians
Available: 99% CBS, 99% ESPN, 100% Yahoo
My affinity for the lefty-masher has been well documented within the electronic pages of Baseball Prospectus. The importance of every September at-bat cannot be understated, which is why I’m recommending Guyer for deep mixers. While he hasn’t exactly hit for a ton of power against southpaws, he still owns a .257/.342/.371 line with seven extra-base hits in just 121 plate appearances this season. We know he can do major damage in the right matchup and I love the upcoming schedule for Guyer. He’s guaranteed a couple of cracks against lackluster lefty Wade Miley on Friday night, and the rest of the Orioles rotation is in limbo this weekend. Next week, he gets the putrid Detroit Tigers pitching staff.
Let’s be honest: Guyer isn’t a huge difference-maker, and I wouldn’t be recommending him if it were mid-April. With long-term upside no longer a factor with only a few weeks left in the season, he’s worth a roster spot because he’s going to get plenty of opportunities against bad left-handed arms over the next week. If you’re in a deeper format that allows daily lineup changes, he’s going to be useful. I’m willing to roll the dice. –George Bissell
Robert Stephenson (SP)—Reds
Available: 63% CBS, 88% ESPN, 89% Yahoo
In 1886, Robert Louis Stevenson penned the classic novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. A mere 131 years later, we’re seeing the real-life version of the tale play out before our eyes, coincidentally, with Reds’ rookie Robert Stephenson. As a reliever, Stephenson closely resembled Hyde, producing a monstrous 7.43 ERA in 26 2/3 innings of work, allowing batters a robust line of .297/.398/.578 (for context, Kris Bryant hit .292/.385/.554 last season and won the MVP). Since shifting to the rotation, the 24-year-old has showed a mild-mannered temperament, making seven starts with a 3.38 ERA and striking out over a batter per inning.
The swinging-strike rate over 12 percent is beautiful. The walk rate, however, is not. Stephenson has issued 26 free passes in his 38 innings as a starter, or 6.2 per nine innings. There isn’t really any way to put a bow on that one. It’s bad. That being said, Stephenson has managed to limit the damage caused by his charitable nature, having only given up more than three runs in a start once this season. His next two starts are penciled in to come against the banged-up Mets (how’s that for an understatement?) and the Pirates, neither of which are known for patience. Lucky for Jekyll.
Reynaldo Lopez (SP)—White Sox
Available: 61% CBS, 92% ESPN, 90% Yahoo
The 23-year-old has impressed in two starts since coming off the disabled list, most notably limiting the streaking Indians to only one run in six innings. Perhaps more importantly, he significantly scaled back on the walks, issuing only three free passes in his past two outings. Lopez has the electric stuff you like to see from a young starter, with a fastball that he can run up to 99 mph, leading to a swinging-strike rate around 12 percent. There are still some growing pains for the 23-year-old, as he’s still a little homer prone, and he’s tinkering a bit with his pitch mix, emphasizing a changeup (which gets around 17 percent whiffs) over his curveball. The projected rest of season schedule (including two starts this week) for Lopez looks mighty promising, though, with starts against the Royals, Tigers, and potentially the Angels. –Mark Barry
The Deep League Specials (must be available in at least 90 percent of CBS, ESPN, or Yahoo leagues)
Dillon Peters (SP)—Marlins
Available: 80% CBS, 100% ESPN, 93% Yahoo
Miami Marlins (@Marlins) September 2, 2017
The 25-year-old dominated the Southern League all summer, posting a 1.97 ERA with 40 strikeouts and just 11 walks over 45 2/3 innings in nine starts at Double-A Jacksonville, and has made the jump to the big leagues look easy, tossing a pair of quality starts against the Phillies and Nationals. His raw stuff isn’t overpowering, but he keeps opposing hitters off balance with a deceptive three-pitch mix, stellar control and a ground-ball heavy approach. There isn’t tremendous upside, but the floor is pretty high, and the Marlins will give him plenty of starts over the final few weeks. With a rematch against the Phillies (and Nick Pivetta) on tap for next week, he’s an excellent streamer in deep mixers. I really like this kid. –George Bissell
Brandon Woodruff (SP)—Brewers
Available: 74% CBS, 94% ESPN, 94% Yahoo
If you like guys with super-low ERAs, Woodruff is your man. In his four starts with the big club, Woodruff has tossed 23 2/3 innings with a 1.52 ERA. Sure, that’s not going to be the norm moving forward, as he’s running a .250 BABIP and stranding 90 percent of base runners, but we might as well enjoy this while it lasts. In his past two starts, Woodruff has lived at the bottom of the zone with his changeup and slider, which has led to more success inducing ground balls (63 percent). While the sample is awfully small, more grounders definitely would help ease the eventual regression for which Woodruff is bound. Whether such regression comes this week is another story, as the rookie is slated to get two starts against the Pirates and Marlins, with neither offense really striking fear into opponents’ hearts (well, other than Stanton, you get it). Additionally, unlike some of the other available options, the Brewers are pretty good and still in the hunt, giving Woodruff a solid chance at picking up a few wins down the stretch. –Mark Barry
George Bissell is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @GeorgeBissell