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NL-Only Waiver Wire Pickups for Week 1

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.

 

C - Austin Hedges (C, SD) - 7% owned

Anyone who plays for the Padres needs to be owned, especially if they are playing regularly. Not only is the overall offense legitimate, but playing multiple games versus Colorado, at Colorado, and the Arizona Diamondbacks “pitching staff” adds real helium to early season projections. More specifically on Hedges, the power is real, with the only downside in the past being the batting average. For example, in 2017 his xWOBA and xAVG both placed him in the bottom 15% of the league. Still, the good news is that even when posting most of the same numbers in 2018, he moved up to the bottom 40% of the league.

While Hedges might never be a good contact option, the rest of the league seems to be drifting down to his level. This means that the impact of a regular Hedges season does not hurt as much as it has in the past. The even better news is that the K and BB rates moved in positive directions in 2018, adding a bit more of a floor to the production. For owners in need of catching and power, and willing to bank on 20 plus bombs, the Friar’s backstop is the pick this week.

 

1B - Wilmer Flores (1B/2B/3B, ARI) - 14% owned

What limited Flores's fantasy value in New York was the lack of regular playing time, which a move to the desert should fix. With no Paul Goldschmidt, Flores looks to be the starting option at first, when Lamb is out of the team, and at second on most other days. Slated to hit fourth in front of Lamb, this is a good spot for a player who has posted batting lines around .270 over the past three campaigns. Add in a K rate that was top 15% in the league, and the overall package looks to be one that will fit into what the Diamondbacks are trying to do.

The launch angle also tipped up last year from 16.8 to 17, and even without the gains, Flores still was good for at least 16 homers a season in a part-time role. Playing time, with fits around the fantasy line-up, all mean that Flores will produce with counting stats, even if at a slower rate, due to the playing time alone.

 

2B - Ian Kinsler (2B, SD) - 9% owned

When he signed with the Padres, baseball fans were wondering where and when Kinsler would play this year. With the demotion of Luis Urias to Triple-A, the keystone is open for Kinsler. Batting lead-off will only help, as productive seasons from Wil Myers, Manny Machado, and Eric Hosmer all boost the base for the production that Kinsler owners can expect.

The downside on Kinsler is that he does not hit the ball hard, with an 85.3 exit velocity, placing him in the bottom 20% of the league. The good news is that singles count just as much as other hits when playing in front of the run producers that San Diego has acquired. Another playing time over raw skills option, Kinsler will be worth the add and fits best as a MI over a full season.

 

3B - Yangervis Solarte (2B/SS/3B, SFG) - 3% owned

The Giants are not going to be a good team this year, and even that might be overselling what this campaign will look like for Giants fans. The good news is that Solarte can play around the field, and looks to be the starting option at third with Evan Longoria’s injury. Even if Longoria comes back soon, and early reports are positive, the NL-style will only help Solarte, with expected double switches and pinch hitting chances to get him opportunities off the bench.

The reason he was going undrafted looks to be the second-half decline that dropped his season-long numbers to .226/.277/.378. In the first half with the Jays, he hit .241 with 16 homers, as opposed to the .175 batting average and one homer to finish the season. Even with all of that the .233 BABIP cannot be overlooked and should help some positive regression to push the numbers up closer to his career norms.

 

SS - Nick Ahmed (SS, ARI) - 2% owned

Starting at shortstop and batting seventh for Arizona, Ahmed has quietly been one of the more consistent options at the position over the past few seasons. Last year Ahmed entered the year with a new swing, and it did not work out, ticking his batting average down to .233. The upside was that the power popped, with 16 homers over the full season, after 20 total over his first four seasons in the Bigs.

His other calling card is speed, with a measured sprint speed in the top 25% of the league. While he only stole five bases last year, there are multiple 30-plus seasons in the minors, and little reason to think that the team will stop him from running this year. While only valuable in NL-only formats, the fact that he is starting, and offers 15/8 upside make him an easy add this week.

 

OF - Albert Almora Jr. (OF, CHC) - 4% owned

The first of two Cubs on this list, Almora looks like he might never reach the prospect ceiling that many had him primed for, but that does not diminish his fantasy value. Batting eighth is not ideal, but in a good offense, this will not hurt his value as much as other clubs. Most of his productivity comes from the batting average, with .277, .298, and .286 lines over the past three seasons. Admittingly, there is close to no pop in this bat, with only 1.4% barrels last year, so owners need him to single his way to productivity this year. And yet, he did hit 24 doubles last year, a product of his speed.

The downside is that he does not steal much, if at all. Owners looking for a batting average floor to balance out other adds on this list should target Almora. At the very least, he will play 130 games this year if healthy.

 

OF - Jason Heyward (OF, CHC) - 3% owned

The decline of Heyward might be one of the saddest stories in the Majors over the past two seasons, but owners should jump on that sunk value to add him for free off the waiver wire. Heyward appears to have the starting right field job to begin the year, and with the defense alone, will need to struggle to lose out to the bench options in Chicago. The best sign from 2018 was the drop in the K rate, from 13.9% in 2017 to 12.3% last year. This put him in the top 25% of the league and shows that the plate skills are still there. Launch angle was down a bit, but the exit velocity was up, so read into that what you will.

The other selling point is that all of his expected rate stats were higher than the actual, so there is some room to grow into what the peripherals are telling owners. Another player with value due to line-up context and playing time, there are worse players to add for free.

 

OF - Curtis Granderson (OF, MIA) - 2% owned

Ah, the Marlins. Who knows what they will do this year, outside of offering interesting pitching options. And yet, Granderson earned a spot with a good spring and should be starting the majority of the year, or at least until he is dealt to a contender to sit on the bench. Granderson has value in leagues that allow players to earn the return package in a trade to the American League, but also will be a solid outfielder while he stays with the Marlins.

Slated to hit lead-off on the long end of the platoon, Granderson should be a lock for 350 or more PAs. The carrying skill is OBP, with an xWOBA in the top 25% of the league. In 2018, his expected slash was .247/.341/.416 all look good, and coupled with a 34.3% hard-hit rate show that there is something left in the tank. If last year is a good predictor, owners can expect 12/5 from Granderson and will be happy to add him this week.

 

SP - Pablo Lopez (SP, MIA) - 8% owned

This pick could be any of the exciting young arms that the Marlins have to offer. Why Lopez? His ownership is much lower, and there is little to no risk he moves to the bullpen. Over 10 starts last year, Lopez posted a 1.26 WHIP, with an 18.6 K%. Expect the K line to move up with time on the Marlins, at least based on his track record in the minors. Even without the stuff, his breaking offerings posted 60% or higher ground ball rates, so he keeps the ball in play for outs. Add in that his home park is one of the better pitching options in the Majors, and all of this looks good for a break-out season.

While the Marlins will not rack up many wins for fantasy owners, the rate and counting numbers alone should make this at least an SP4 play if he can carry over a blazing hot spring training into the regular season.

 

RP - Reyes Moronta (RP, SFG) - 6% owned

While not an option for saves right now, with the chance that Will Smith leaves, there is a better than zero chance that Moronta adds eight or more saves this year. The main reason to add is the stuff, with a 30.2% K rate last year, and five through his first two innings this year. The other items of note from 2018 were the 2.49 ERA and 1.09 WHIP. If there is one thing that does not hurt fantasy owners on bad teams, it is the raw skills out of the bullpen. Wins will not be there in spades, but 12 holds should be the floor from the past few years. Add Moronta as a ratio play, and hope for saves over a full season.

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