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Digging Deeper: NL-Only Waiver 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 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. Note: all FAAB bids assume a $1000 budget.

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C - Victor Caratini (C/1B, CHC)

1% owned, FAAB $9

With the recent addition of Martin Maldonado, there were some owners concerned that Caratini would see a drop in his playing time. Also, Wilson Contreras has returned from a knock quicker than expected, and there has not been much extra playing time for Caratini. The good news is that with Joe Maddon, fantasy owners can expect to see everyone get some time in the game. With reports that Maldanado might be on the move again, or that Caratini might be involved in a deal of his own, the situation is intriguing for fantasy owners.

Through 47 games, the corner bat has slashed .274/.354/.465 with five homers and 16 runs scored. Any player in this line-up will get a boost to their counting numbers, Cartini included, making him a target on that fact alone. While it does not appear that he will even be a starting option for the team, with Contreras being one of the best in the game, a trade would open up playing time on any depth chart. If that occurs, he looks to a first baseman with some catching options, as the glove behind the plate is average right now. While not playing right now, Caratini offers the best value on the wire this week.


1B - Lewin Diaz (1B, MIA)

0% owned, FAAB $5

Acquired by the Marlins in return for Sergio Romo, Diaz looks set to start his career in the system at Double-A. Still, with his hot start to the year, and the lack of other options for Miami, expect Diaz to be up in September at the latest. To date, he posted a .302/.341/.587 slash with six homers in 33 games. An excellent bat-to-ball hitter, Diaz is a great fit for the modern game, with a high OBP line and sub-19 K% for his career. A good buy-low return on an aging reliever, Diaz is one of the first prospects that the Marlins have added where owners can expect some stock growth.

The question will be the power numbers. While Diaz has shown some pop in his pro career, there are questions on getting to the 30-homer line needed to stay at first in today’s game. To date, 107 career doubles show that he can play in the gaps, and this might be the source of some new power as he matures and hit faster offerings. If Neil Walker is out there, he is the best option for playing time now, but for owners willing to take a shot for an impact September, look to Diaz. Also, with the new ball at Triple-A and above adding to power lines, late-emerging power is a skill that owners can afford to gamble on.


2B - Ben Zobrist (2B/OF, CHC)

2% owned, FAAB $3

While he is not back with the team yet, and there are still questions on whether he plays this year at all, Zobrist has been on the safer fantasy options in recent memory. Even if he is only back for a short time, Zobrist has value in this locker room and will be playing to make up for the lost time. All of that makes this an easy upside pick, without even knowing what he will do when he returns. A clubhouse leader with something to prove, anecdotally, Zobrist is a starting-caliber player without a team in fantasy right now.

On the production side, Zobrist’s value comes from his ability to score runs. Only playing in 26 games before his absence from the team, Zobrist did manage to score 12 runs over that time. Even more, when consistently in the top 10% of the league in the category, Zobrist has the skills to make up for playing time. While he will not come close to matching career numbers, and will not again, he can offer 20 runs in a month with the right situation. Worth a dart if he returns for all formats and scoring formats.


3B - Tommy Edman (2B/3B/SS, STL)

2% owned, FAAB $13

Emerging as both the starting option at third and the lead-off hitter for this team, Edman needs to be owned in more than 2% of total leagues. While his rate stats do raise some concerns, with a .261/.299/.441 slash so far. The value has come from the four homers and steals, with 18 runs scored. For a full-season that would put Edman on a 16/16 pace with 80 runs scored, and make him a top-1o round selection.

While he is posting a league-average exit velocity, Edman does have a 13.9 launch angle so far. Add in a top 5% of the league sprint speed, and there is extra-base value in those legs. While his xBA is .257, meaning that owners cannot expect much improvement in the line the rest of the way, his current value demonstrates the floor the rest of the way. With the Cardinals planning to push for the playoffs, expect Edman to continue to be a vital cog in the machine.


SS - Donovan Solano (2B/SS, SFG)

1% owned, FAAB $11

As the surging Giants continue to play the best ball in the league, fringe players will begin to add even more value. While there is some risk that minor deadline upgrades might push these players back to the minors, the cost, at this FAAB price, is worth it for owners. Solano offers a compelling case in that at 31; he is not a young prospect fighting for time on a rebuilding team. In fact, he came to San Francisco after playing in Miami from 2012-2016 and then jumping between systems in the middle-levels of the minor leagues.

Set in a platoon with Joe Panik, Solano will get three games a week, with the chance to play at second as well. Through 45 games in the Bay, Solano is slashing .336/.370/.456 with two homers and 15 runs scored. Even without much of a track record, the extended numbers like him to keep producing. With a .330 xBA and .470 xSLG, Solano might get even better. While there is a cap on playing time, there does not seem to be a more consistent hitter at short on the wire.


OF - Phillip Ervin (OF, CIN)

2% owned, FAAB $7

For regular readers of this list, there is a clear bias towards park factor with some of the selections. When owners are looking for a short-term return on a cheap wire add, these type of factors matter more than they should. Enter Irvin and Great American park in Cincinnati. The Reds’ home park has played at the 11th best offensive park in the game, 10th in homers, and 4th in walks. This means that owners can push up the base value, even with a player, such as Irving, who has definite downsides in terms of his skills.

Still, Ervin has played much better than expected with a .357/.426/.595 slash so far. Add in two homers with three steals, and in 41 games, Ervin has played like a starter. While the numbers will not keep at their current pace, with a .255 xBA, Ervin owners can at least count of regular value. The counting numbers are the rub for regular fantasy time, and while there is a track record in the minors, no so during his time with the Reds. Still, expect the park to push up the power, and with an 8.5 BB%, expect the OBP to keep up even if the average falls. Not much upside moving forward, but a floor for the time being in a great park.


OF - Tim Locastro (OF, AZ)

0% owned, FAAB $4

Locastro has been a bit of a fantasy darling on Twitter these past few weeks for the speed upside. Since then, he has dropped to being unowned in almost all leagues. Still, with nine steals in 58 games, the speed has been there for fantasy owners. While not the 40 pace that many expected, owners seemed to have jumped off too quickly. When he is also slashing .254/.362/.333 with 23 runs scored, the profile has added more than just one category value. This means that while not a pure rabbit, the batting line might offer more than others with this type of speed.

While he only played twice in the past week, Locastro does seem set in the short side of a platoon with David Peralta. With the latter also potentially moving at the deadline, there is an outside chance Locastro is a starter before the week it out. While the .241 xBA is not great, owners can also bet on a career-low 14% K rate, demonstrating the plate skills. Expect the batting line to drop, but the speed and RBI value to make him an OF4 in NL-only formats.


OF - Lane Thomas (OF, STL)

0% owned, FAAB $14

With the recent demotion of Harrison Bader, Thomas takes over the bench-outfield role for the Cardinals. Entering the year as the ninth-ranked prospect in the Cardinal’s system, Thomas was never thought of much in fantasy circles for the lack of an impact tool. While he does have good speed and can play in center without any question, the hit tool is at best a 50. With an in-game power grade that might touch eight or more a year, the value comes from steals and some batting floor.

A career .252 hitter, Thomas has improved as he has matured, but the ceiling is clear. At Triple-A, Thomas was batting .268, and with last year’s .275 mark, owners can expect much of the same. Still, for a team in need of a center fielder, and willing to move on to another speed option with a questionable hit tool, Thomas is a natural replacement for Bader. For teams in need of steals, Thomas is one of the better options in terms of team philosophy and upside.


SP - Adrian Houser (SP/RP, MIL)

1% owned, FAAB $9

The prospect with an electric arm before Josh Hader, Houser has taken his knocks finding a role with the team. With 32 appearances over three season for the Brewers, Houser does have six starts in the Bigs this year. A starter in the minors, this is where his value for fantasy lies, and with the team giving him run support, there is a real risk of wins with Houser. With a 4.19 ERA and 1.40 WHIP, the stats have not driven owners to add him, but the underlying numbers tell a different story.

Houser is holding opposing hitters to a .225 xBA and is giving up below-league average contact. While he does have a 34% Hard Hit rate, this means that when hitters are making contact, the ball can fly. Still, even with that home run rate, he has been able to limit damage with a high stand rate. Expect the power numbers to even out over the year, as without a few bad outings in a small sample, the numbers are much better. With the prospect pedigree and the team context, this is an easy dart this week.


RP - Keone Kela (RP, PIT)

3% owned, FAAB $8

With Felipe Vasquez seemingly on the move at the deadline, Kela is the best closer-in-waiting to target with FAAB this week. Even without the role, the Ks alone will make him a worthy addition for roto leagues. In 17 games this year, Kela has a 3.68 ERA and 1.23 WHIP. Add in 15 Ks in 14 innings, and Kela has been a decent, but not an elite option.

The reason to buy now, other than the trade rumors, is the return from the Injured List. While he has not been as a sharp, and the fastball is down a tick or two, this is common for a recovering pitcher. Expect Kela to get better as the year goes along, as he finds his rhythm after a long delay. Owners are buying skills and a role, making this a safe bet.

*after writing this piece, Kela was involved in an incident with the Cincinnati Reds. Owners should wait for the suspension news before adding Kela.

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