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Deeper NL-Only Waiver Wire Sleepers for Week 4

Every week in baseball, a significant player will hit the disabled list, slip into a slump, or get traded out of a good spot. How fantasy owners adapt to these situations can make or break the season as a whole. One lousy add might not hurt the long-term standing of a team, but failing to take advantage of breakouts or impact bats before others sure can.

The primary challenge of playing in an NL or AL-only league is often the lack of options regarding adding and subtracting players when needed. In mixed leagues, the players on the waiver wire are usually starting for an NL-only staff. So then how does one wade through the names of players that even regular fantasy players have never heard of, and that often will not even start for their teams, to begin with? That is where this series comes in.

Instead of owners spending time digging the waiver wire of 0% owned players, this article will give owners a player at each position to fill the gap, or at the least, keep an eye on to add or stash. Not all of these players will replace that injury, but offer the best option off the scrap heap. Often the players advocated for here are long shots due to the nature of shallow leagues. No quick fixes, but some upside that could turn into much more. With that, onto the Island of Misfit Fantasy Toys.

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C - Elias Diaz (C, PIT)

1% owned

Diaz is returning to the Pirates after a spell on the injured list to start the year. Still one of the better offensive, reserve backstops in the game, Diaz will make up for his lack of playing time with steady production. Not only is he an add for now, but with the pending Francisco Cervelli deal at the deadline, if the Pirates drop out of contention, Diaz would be the primary option for the rest of the year. Even without a deal, Diaz should be getting at least 40% of the starts the rest of the way, making him a good target for teams in need of an option at catcher.

While all of his numbers date back to 2018, due to a lack of time healthy this year, there is a lot to be interested in for the rest of the year. First, in 82 games, Diaz posted a .286/.339/.452 slash complimented by 10 homers and 33 runs. Also interesting was a 40.4 Hard Hit%, allowing him to push the envelope in terms of power even with the pitcher’s park that is PNC. Diaz is a reliable catching option with upside due to team context and should be owned in most leagues.


1B - David Freese (1B/3B, LAD)

1% owned

Freese is one of those players that seemingly keeps hanging around and is still making his mark on fantasy teams. After signing a new deal to stay in Los Angeles this winter, this writer was surprised to see Freese make the club and saw him as a DFA with other pieces emerging for the Dodgers. And yet, here he is, and producing like the steady option that he has been over his career. Playing in 17 games so far, he has surprised with the rate of playing time and should be in line to keep up that pace moving forward.

The .241 batting average is not a selling point, but the 7:7 K:BB ratio sure is. Add in six runs in 29 plate appearances, and Freese is making up for his late-game time, with production, or taking advance of the stops that he is being put in. Freese is the type of play that takes advantage of the power hitting of the Dodgers, with his skills to get on base. This is the target for runs on the waiver wire at first this week based on the hitters around him so far this year.


2B - David Bote (2B/3B, CHC)

2% owned

One of the more unusual recipients of an offseason extension, Bote is seemingly going to be a key piece for the Cubs moving forward. While that will perhaps be in a bench and platoon role, the numbers so far show that he will be worth the roster spot. Bote will miss games this week due to the birth of his child, but, when back, will be right back into the team’s plans. Even more, with the lack of real depth for the Cubs in the upper minors, expect Bote to be a mainstay in Chicago this campaign.

What stands out this year is that Bote has dropped his exit velocity by six points, but has close to doubled the launch angle. The hard-hit rate is down, but the walks have tipped up. What this all means will be left to the rest of the year, but it looks, at least by the current data, that Bote is trying to push for a bit more power. This could be an issue for fantasy owners, who are adding Bote for the solid batting average floor, but if it pays off, with offer a new source of power. Even at his max, this is a 15 or more homer per season player, but with that also comes other counting stats. A reliable option right now at the MI, Bote might emerge as a second baseman on most fantasy teams moving forward. Even more, Bote lacks the prospect hype to necessitate a large FAAB bid, so this is the type of player to add on the cheap for solid production.


3B - Colin Moran (3B, PIT)

1% owned

Moran is always undervalued in fantasy leagues, and owners who are staying away are ignoring the batting average floor that is becoming even more important in roto leagues. While not posting the power numbers that many are expecting from third with the current hitting climate, Moran is all that much more important when the league-wide batting line is dropping. This year, in 33 plate appearances, Moran has a .273/.385/.516 slash line. Add in two homers, and nine RBI and the value is there to be seen.

And yet, the power might be starting to emerge, with a launch angle that has moved from 10.5 last year to 12.4 so far this campaign. Add in an extra three points in the exit velocity, and signs are pointing in the right direction for the Pirate third baseman. Even more, the XBA sits at .284, so owners can expect gains even in his carrying stat. Moran is the option on this list who could be on his way to an in-season break-out, and there is pressure with Ke'Bryan Hayes on his way up this year. At the very least, Moran is not the type of player who will hurt teams in roto categories, making him a key buy-low profile.


SS - Wilmer Difo (2B/SS/3B, WAS)

2% owned

Difo would have been the option at any of his batting positions, but he fits best at shortstop with the lack of other options in the National League at this point in the season. While always a bit underwhelming in terms of fantasy production, Difo has emerged as one of the vital utility options in Washington so far in his career. While he is no Trea Turner, since taking over for the star, Difo has begun to show the value that had him on many prospect lists.

The only downside right now is that he has moved up the line-up, from ninth to seventh, which could limit his offensive value. And yet, if Victor Robles is going to hit ninth, behind the pitcher, then Difo looks to be in line to get more chances with pitchers who do not want to pitch around him. This means either a rising OBP or more opportunities in general with better pitches to hit. While only posting a .237 batting average this year, the speed will allow him to score on long hits, or take third on a single from first. All of these little moves add up over the campaign, and boost what is admittedly a middling plate profile. Difo will offer quiet value but provides more than most with his positional eligibility.


OF - Steven Duggar (OF, SFG)

2% owned

In what is a tepid line-up for the Giants, Duggar will be given a chance to play all year in centerfield. The other bonus, in addition to the playing time, is that he will be hitting lead-off for the long term. In terms of fantasy value, Duggar needs these other factors to boost his value, as he will not be a typical outfielder who can carry a team with his bat. Even when the team, as a whole, is only scoring three runs a game, when those are not coming via the longball, Duggar will be the runner on base primed to score more often then not.

And yet, even with all the hedging, Duggar has been off to a good start with a .242/.276/.396 slash complimented by three homers and one steal. The unexpected output has been with the RBI total, as he has 11 to his name so far, after only 17 total in 41 games last year. The speed is the calling card, as Baseball Savant has him with a top 15% sprint speed, but he only stole five bases last year and has one to his name this year. Owners will trade the speed for the runs, as he is on pace to match last year’s number in 41 games with 20 total scored. For owners needing an outfielder, and who missed on Kevin Pillar, Duggar will be a safe pick to keep a bat in play most of the year.


OF - Melky Cabrera (OF, PIT)

3% owned

The “Melk Man” is off to a hot start to his time in Pittsburgh, and looks to have played his way into a set, starting role. Through 18 games he is slashing .316/.339/.421 with one homer and four RBI. Looking to his limited time with Cleveland last year, where he slashed .280/.335/.420, there is still some impact in that bat. While the power numbers will never get close to his 16 or so career average for homers, the batting average will be worth the add alone.

The other reason to buy-in on Cabrera this year, other than the hot start, is the 11.9 K%. This puts him in the top 15% of eligible batters, and while lower than career norms, is not shocking when looking to the 13.7% ceiling over the past five seasons. The one concern is that he has a flat zero barrel%, but again, not unusual for the career recently. This means that Cabrera is an add to project as an OF3 for the run production and batting line, and perhaps an option to fall into some additional pop. Even more, he is batting fifth, so all signs point to him being a critical bat on a sneaky competitive Pirates team.


OF - Bryan Reynolds (OF, PIT)

1% owned

The third Pirate on this list, Reynolds was one of the main pieces that the Andrew McCutchen deal brought back to Pittsburgh. While always one of the top prospects with the Giants, the fact that he can top a weak farm system was not a massive bonus for fantasy owners. And yet, with the call, and the staggering list of injuries to the Pirate outfield, Reynolds will get a chance to flaunt his stuff a bit sooner than expected. Four hits in his first two games are good signs, but as with any new player, keep expectations in check.

The key selling point for Reynolds is that he is yet to have a year below a .300 batting line, and has consistently pushed double-digit homers over a full year. This means that the batting profile should fit well with PNC Park, and there is not much power to be stifled with the move. If anything, expect the juiced ball to push the production up a tick. The other piece to like is that even without the homer power, he does rack up the doubles, with 62 in 278 career games in the minors. Slated to bat eight, this is a player to target, but who will also be an easy drop if he loses out to other players returning from the Injured List.


SP - Tyler Chatwood (SP, CHC)

2% owned

Chatwood is a player that I targeted coming into the year just based on how far his stock has dropped. Starting the year in the bullpen, Chatwood has an opportunity to return to the rotation on a full-time basis due to the Jon Lester injury and took full advantage in his first game back. No earned runs in six innings are suitable for any pitcher, but even more encouraging were the two walks. If he can keep his control in check, then Chatwood will be a crucial arm and will benefit from the run-scoring offense that is the Cubs.

Outside of the walks, Chatwood does give up a ton of hard contact. Last year, his first with the Cubs, he posted a 33.1 Hard Hit %, with a six Barrel%. All of this is not good for a pitcher who will need to stay in the zone, but if the control is there, and he can paint a bit more, all of this should drop. A speculative add for the upcoming weeks, but another strong start will cause the stock to shoot up. Add him while you can, but do not count on him for WHIP support. Ks and wins are probable, but make sure the roster is set to adapt to his unique needs, and red flags.


RP - Mark Melancon (RP, SFG)

1% owned

Melancon is no longer the closer in San Francisco and might be the highest paid middle relief arm in the Bigs. And yet, to start 2019, he looks to be back to the arm that the Giants thought they were signing. Through nine games and 10 innings, Melancon has yet to allow an earned run and is posting a flat one WHIP. With the homer suppression coming naturally from Oracle Park, if he can avoid the walks that plagued him over the last two years, there is an excellent ERA floor to buy into with this pitcher.

Even more, he is throwing more fastballs this campaign. Last year, it was his fourth most used pitch, and this year, he is throwing it in tandem with his curveball. The cutter is the best offering and tends to sit on the outside of the plate. The fastball is mainly being thrown down and in to righties, and this movement is allowing him to induce weak contact, setting up the curve down to hitters of both handedness. Melancon could work his way into being a trade piece, and even if not, adds to what looks to be a reliable back-end of the Giants pen.

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