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Don't Sleep on Tampa Bay's Bats


Even though the Tampa Bay Rays won 90 games in 2018, their surge to start this year is quite a surprise. They have won five of their six games thus far and are in sole possession of first place in a top-heavy AL East. While this is partly due to the Red Sox and Yankees stumbling out the gates, the Rays' performance should not be overlooked.

While they are more notable for their pitching with their funky openers and last year's AL Cy Young winner on board, their bats are the focus of this piece. The Rays possess a medley of under-owned potential fantasy assets available across various leagues/formats.

They have had to face a rough schedule of pitching thus far with the Astros and Rockies (weird to include, but true) rolling into town. There is a lot of value to be mined from Tampa that owners want to jump on before it is too late.

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Yandy Diaz, 3B/DH (14% owned)

Yes, THE Yandy Diaz is widely available and worth a speculative add this season. The former Cleveland Indian was traded for former top-50 prospect Jake Bauers in the offseason. The move was viewed as peculiar by the public due to Bauers' pedigree and future years of control but from Tampa Bay's POV, the cost is worth it. The Rays' farm system is loaded and they clearly viewed Nate Lowe as the team's future first baseman over Jake Bauers. Giving him up for statcast darling Yandy Diaz is but a small price to pay.

Diaz, at first glance, looks like a potential home run champion. The dude is an absolute unit and could probably curl an apartment complex. However, never in his minor or major league career has he cracked double-digit home runs over the course of a year. The issue does not stem from a lack of power, but an inability to lift the ball. Diaz often hits the ball hard as heck, yet it constantly ends up on the ground.

The Rays may have identified a solution to Diaz's troubles. Six games into the year, Diaz has already matched his career MLB home run total (one) and knocked three doubles. He has a hit in all six games the Rays have played and has batted either first or fifth in each of those games. On top of this, it is not like he is swinging for the fences either. Diaz has struck out just three times thus far and walked on four occasions.

His ground-ball percentage is down, while his fly ball percentage is up. Diaz' hard hit percentage is significantly higher than the past two seasons but should regress to a more sustainable number soon. The Indians jerked him around as an occasional DH and hardly gave him playing time throughout his first two MLB seasons. The Rays are giving Diaz every opportunity to succeed, and that may just be all that he needed.

The sample size is still extremely small, but to gain an edge in fantasy sports, you need to be willing to jump at the sight of any advantage this early on. At worst, if Diaz struggles down the line, he can be dropped without hesitation for a different waiver wire darling. Utility bats are fungible, but sometimes you land the Jesus Aguilar or Max Muncy that sticks.

Take a flier on Diaz if he is available. He is viable in all formats with 10 or more members.

(Yes, he was injured in Tuesday's game but it is reported as a twisted ankle. He was given Wednesday off as a regular rest day and looks to return Friday when the Rays start their next series).

FAAB Bid: 8-10%

 

Brandon Lowe, 2B/OF (9% owned)

Brandon Lowe had a rough start to the year. He went 0-for-9 in the first three games of the season, but that was against Houston Astros pitching. Not totally forgivable, but understandable. Since that first series, super-utilityman Joey Wendle (hamstring) has hit the Injured List and Lowe has hit 4-for-11, with two walks, and a steal. Lowe has started two of the past three games, with the benching coming against a lefty. While this may be discouraging, he was switched in for the second go around the batting order.

Lowe is a talented hitter with power in his bat. Over the course of 205 Triple-A plate appearances in 2018, Lowe jacked 14 home runs and 14 doubles. He received the call up to the majors and finished off the year with six home runs, six doubles, and two triples in 148 plate appearances there.

He already has one home run on the season (albeit against Chad Bettis) but his current performance indicates that more should come. The concern with Lowe going into this season was play time, but the Joey Wendle injury has opened up an opportunity to prove that he's worth a regular spot in the lineup. His capability of playing the infield and outfield makes him versatile enough to potentially stick around even when Wendle and Matt Duffy return.

Lowe's strikeouts and issues against lefties are fair concerns, but there might be too much talent to ignore if he's a regular in the lineup these next few weeks.

With his walk rate across the minors and majors typically in the double digits, he should be able to mask a lower batting average and be more viable in leagues that value OBP and/or OPS. He's probably someone to avoid in points leagues and shallower leagues with AVG as a category.

FAAB Bid: 3-5%

 

Kevin Kiermaier, OF (10% owned)

More of a known commodity in the fantasy community, that for some reason is owned in fewer than ten percent of leagues. Kiermaier's struggles with health are a big reason why he is so widely unowned, but it's a new season, and he's seemingly at full health. Although he has not played a "full" season since 2015, Kiermair has produced when on the field.

Kiermaier is a .260-ish hitter who can (potentially) hit 20 home runs and steal 20 or more bases. That type of bat is drafted in the top-125 of certain formats if a full season is guaranteed. Kiermaier has produced across all categories in the past and is slated to receive full-time at-bats thanks to his stellar defense. Rest days will be few, and far between for this poor man's Lorenzo Cain.

Although he's hitting towards the bottom of the order, Kiermaier has started the season with a solid amount of production. He's stolen a base, knocked a home run and three doubles while driving in five and scoring four times himself. He has nine strikeouts to just one walk but that should stabilize in the coming weeks.

Kiermaier's worth grabbing and holding onto in deeper (12+) non-OBP categories leagues until/if he gets injured. Fantasy owners in points formats should disregard him.

FAAB Bid: 5%

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