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Digger Deeper: AL-Only Waiver Wire Report for Week 18

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 for 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. Now, onto the AL version of the Island of Misfit Fantasy Toys. Note, all FAAB recommendations are based on a $1000 budget.

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C - Jake Rogers (C, DET)

1% owned, FAAB $8

One of the top defensive catching prospects in the game, Rogers was part of the return from Justin Verlander’s move to Houston. Most, if not all, of the prospect hype is tied to the glove, as Rogers might grade out as a true 70 or 80 defender. The question will be the hit tool, but for now, the fact that he is getting a debut will give owners some security on playing time. When he gets the starting nod, this is the perfect backstop for the young pitching core that Detroit is developing as well. A great framer with an excellent arm, expect Rogers to be in the conversation for the Gold Glove from the start.

Still, defense only helps with playing time, and Rogers will need to do more to make an impact on fantasy rosters. After starting the year off hot at the plate, with a .302 batting line and five homers, he did slow after a promotion to Toledo. The batting line dropped to .223, but he did hit nine homers and score 29 runs. In terms of fantasy value, Rogers will be a batting average sink but could flash the power to allow a .230 line to play in a catcher slot. The future backstop in Detroit, Rogers will be a sleeper in 2020 drafts, but can also add some value the rest of this season.

1B - Ji-Man Choi (1B, TB)

2% owned, FAAB $11

While Choi might be a trade deadline casualty, the production has been enough to warrant interest in fantasy leagues. Even with Jesus Aguilar, it does not seem that Choi will be off this team. At the very least, he will return, if he can survive a DFA, when roster expand. To date, a .260 batting line with 10 homers is the best of the options at first that can be had on most waiver wires. While Jesus Aguilar is a clear upgrade, even if he leaves town, Choi would interest teams like Baltimore, Seattle, Detroit, or Chicago who would love to add a designated hitter.

For production the rest of the way, a .252 xBA seems to project some regression. Still, the decline will be within the margin of error and will not affect roto scoring all that much. While his Hard Hit% is down a tick this year, Choi has also cut three points off his K rate. A steady hitter without much variance in his value, Choi will be what he has always been in fantasy leagues. If he is playing in Tampa, expect the production to stay the same, and with a move, there might be more playing time for fantasy owners to factor onto their rosters.

2B - Austin Nola (1B/2B, SEA)

1% owned, FAAB $17

Entering the year as a catcher, Nola seems to have lost that eligibility, at least in Yahoo leagues. Still, the bat has been enough to justify playing him elsewhere on the diamond. Through 31 games, Nola is slashing .333/.387/.580 with three homers and 11 runs scored. The questions that limited the upside as he progressed through the minors was the bat. Boasting a .252 career minor league batting line, Nola has only begun to play up over the past few years. For fantasy owners, Nola has been a great value in terms of relative value at catcher, but will find it harder to stand out at second.

The good news is that Seattle has stuck with him since his debut. Recently, Nola has also begun to play more often, with seven starts in the past seven games. Playing mostly at second, he also seems to be getting more time at first. All of this is good for owners looking at playing time. When he does play, Nola tends to bat seventh or eight, but with the homer potential on this team, he will still score his share of runs. A floor pick, while he is playing Nola will be a smart, cheap addition to most teams.

3B - Cheslor Cuthbert (1B/3B, KC)

1% owned, FAAB $7

A favorite of this list in recent weeks, Cuthbert has been playing well above what was expected entering the year. To date, Cuthbert had a career .254 batting line in the Majors. Without much in terms of support, he offered an empty batting average that was right at replacement level. This year, the batting line has jumped to .288. The downside has been the counting numbers, with only six homers and one steal in 51 games. And yet, the rate stats have been there with a .325 OBP and .429 SLG to date. This means some positive value at the plate, but he stills lacks a real carrying stat.

Moving forward, Cuthbert seems to have the inside track to start at third the rest of the way. While the future starter at the spot will offer more power, Cuthbert has been an excellent stopgap until that option arrives. With a .251 xBA, the numbers expect him to keep on the current pace. Still, with a growing Hard Hit%, and an 88 exit velocity, the power should arrive. If not, the batting line will keep him on fantasy rosters as an anchor in the category.

SS - J.P. Crawford (SS, SEA)

3% owned, FAAB $12

The former top prospect in baseball has been a disappointment to date. Through his first 72 games with the Phillies, Crawford batted .214 with three homers and three steals. Known mostly as a plate skills hitter, Crawford only walked 9% of the time with his original club. Compared to a 27 K%, the skills never translated for dynasty owners who held onto the stock. This year, while not the breakout year that some expected, the rate numbers are much better. With a .255/.336/.430 slash, Crawford can be rostered again.

The fundamental change has been an improved walk rate and declining K rate, or outcomes that are more in line with his tool grades. Ironically, Crawford is seeing fewer pitches per plate appearance this year. While a drop from 4.6 to 4.1 is not steep, a more aggressive approach is working for the young fielder. With the glove to hold down the position, as long as he can hit .250, there is a starting role for Crawford the rest of the way.

OF - Brandon Dixon (1B/OF, DET)

1% owned, FAAB $19

Dixon returns to the list, this time in the outfield, as opposed to his usual first base spot. Boasting a .256/.292/.475 slash with 14 homers and four steals, Dixon has emerged as a regular for the rebuilding Tigers. While all of this comes in one season, and his only other season in the Bigs was a disappointment as he batted .184 for the Reds. Still, Dixon does have a track record from the minors to bet on moving forward. With a .259 career line in the minors, Dixon also hit 68 homers in 584 total games. Never a top prospect, he has been a solid bat who is starting to show the upside that scouts might have missed.

The difference this year is all tied to the launch angle. His exit velocity is the exact same as last year’s 89 mark, but the launch angle is up to 17 degrees from 10. This means that he is still hitting the ball hard, but when it is in the air more often, there has been more impact with the bat. The different approach has allowed him to maintain a 30 K% rate from his previous years as well, but this time with the production for owners to ignore the red flags. While there is a definite ceiling with the K rate, the fact that Dixon has changed his approach seems to be working. Dixon fits best as an OF3, but can be an excellent corner option as well.

OF - Victor Reyes (OF, DET)

0% owned, FAAB $3

The second Tiger to make the outfield section of this list, Reyes offers another toolsy player who has never made the transition to the Bigs. For example, in 100 games last year for Detroit, Reyes only managed to hit .222 with one homer. After not making the team out of spring training, Reyes has been stuck at Triple-A most of this year. In Toledo, he is slashing .304/.334/.481 with 10 homers and 10 steals. With the new ball, there is a reason to think the power surge can be maintained, especially with an improved batting line.

The downside to Reyes has been a .238 batting line in 18 games with the Tigers this year. Still, the .247 xBA is encouraging, and increased walk rate in the small sample also looks positive. The main difference seems to be in terms of his plate approach. In 2018, Reyes saw 3.73 pitches per plate appearance. This year, that number is up 4.16. With more patience has come better contact, a simple equation that can add some stability to Reyes's offensive output. Like Dixon, the team has no reason not to play Reyes, and with the hot summer at Triple-A, there are reasons to expect modest returns.

OF - Austin Hays (OF, BAL)

0% owned, FAAB $7

Entering the year as the sixth-best prospect in the Baltimore system, Hays has spent most of the year at Triple-A. Through 29 games, Hays has slashed .248/.295/.479 with five homers. While the batting numbers are down enough to question the abilities, when he is already on the 40-man, Hays is a clear September call-up. At the very least, the team has to decide if he has a role with the team.

The reasons to look past the .248 batting average is a .268 line at Double-A, and extended time on the Injured List. All of this means that Hays might not be clicking at the plate, but the skills and opportunity are still there to be an impact. Not only does Camden offer a good run environment, and a decent place to boost doubles power, Hays would be set in the middle of the team. All upside on this play and owners are hoping for a good month; there is not much else to warrant passing up a lottery ticket.

SP - Homer Bailey (SP, OAK)

10% owned, FAAB $22

While 10% is higher than average for the list, this is as low as owners should be willing to go even if they are in desperate need of an arm. With the power environment and the shifting of talent at the deadline, owners should be even less willing to take risks in the American League at this point. Enter, Homer Bailey, who admittedly has not been the pinnacle of success and stability over his career. Drafted and developed by the Reds, Bailey was added to the Royals after being released by the Dodgers this winter. After a move at the deadline to Oakland, Baily might be the best starter on this team.

The main reason to add Bailey is his stuff, and more specifically, his K output. Looking to all starters with at least 90 Ks this year, no player is owned in fewer leagues than Bailey. While the 5.33 ERA is not appealing, owners should look to the games since the deal for the best frame of reference. Since the trade, Bailey has pitched three times, with one dud, and two gems. The dud game versus the Astros in which he allowed nine earned runs in two innings. In the other two starts, he allowed two runs in six-plus innings. For owners needing an arm with counting number upside, Bailey is the answer. Just do not start him against the Astros.

RP - Tyler Alexander (RP, DET)

1% owned, FAAB $16

This might as well be a Tigers special with most of the roster making the list this week. A former second-round pick in the 2015 amateur draft, Alexander seems to be getting a real look in the Tiger rotation. Mixing in four pitches, Alexander relies on the mixture to keep hitters off balance. While his command does not raise any red flags, when the fastball tops out at 93, the tools are needed to keep him in games. Alexander is a starter for now, but he is listed as a reliever here based on eligibility and projected role with arms returning to the Tiger rotation.

In his three starts so far, Alexander has held opposing hitters to a .242 xBA and has a 14:2 K:BB line. The issues have been tied to the long ball, with two homers being a crucial part of his seven earned runs over 16.1 innings of work. Still, with a 1.10 WHIP so far, and a career 1.30 line from the minors, owners have to like the overall package. Hard to find wins on this team, but the ratios, and hopefully ERA support, should make this an easy start based on matchups.

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