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It’s the start of April, and baseball is in the air. The world just feels better when Opening Day comes along, and even more so because all of our fantasy teams have a shot at the title. Each new year brings its own collection of surprises from players no one had on their radar taking full advantage of an opportunity in the show. The fantasy graveyard is littered with the teams who stuck to their guns with guys going downhill fast and missing out on the next big thing.

Last year, Tommy Pham won a lot of leagues for fantasy owners. To say he came out of nowhere doesn’t really capture how big of a surprise his 2017 represented. A better way to put it is that Pham’s success came out of a black hole from a parallel universe where even they didn’t know who he was! In honor of Pham, Rotoballer will be digging deep and looking for the players you need to keep on your radar and grab if you can.

The only qualifiers for this list is that said player is A) an outfielder, and B) owned in fewer than 50% of all Yahoo leagues. That means popular adds like Jose Martinez won’t be getting written up because, at this point, most leagues know about him and have added him. Rather, we’re looking for players that are truly overlooked, but still have value.

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Week 1 Outfield Waiver Wire Targets

Kevin Pillar, TOR - 33% Owned

Few players had a better, or at least more fun, first week than Kevin Pillar. Over four games, the 29-year-old has hit .462/.500/.769 with a home run, three steals, four runs, and just three strikeouts over 14 plate appearances. Further, he’s been an early regular on top highlight lists, robbing a home run from Tim Beckham and stealing home against the Yankees. Pillar is feeling it and is going to be a top add over the next couple of weeks, especially if he continues to show up on Sportscenter.

Unfortunately for Pillar, the fun is likely temporary. In 2017, Pillar started the season hot and tailed off as the weeks went on. Between March and April last year, he hit .301 with four homers, two steals, and thirteen runs over 110 at-bats. That made him a top 30 outfielder, and he was similarly snatched up off the wire. May was fine with a. 252 with three more homers, six steals, and twenty runs, but June saw him collapse. He rebounded in August and closed out with solid but unspectacular months in August and September. A change occurred in June that corresponded with his downturn, and it had nothing to do with injury. Pillar is the rare hitter that seems to hit better the further down the lineup he’s slotted. That might not be totally fair, but he sure doesn’t like hitting leadoff.

Pillar has done his damage this year so far out of the 8 and 6 spots, and that actually lines up with his career. Pillar has always been more of an over-achiever as opposed to a cornerstone, so it’s not surprising that most of his career has seen him hit towards the bottom of the lineup. But when Pillar’s hot, he is an ideal leadoff hitter. But when the Jays give him the spot, he plummets to the tune of .235/.287/.386. Compare that to the career .294/.334/.426 hitting out of the 8 hole, and it is clear that he is far more comfortable closer to the wraparound. Unfortunately, if he continues to hit, it’s only a matter of time before the team moves him back into the leadoff, hopeful that his struggles are behind him. Word to the wise, they probably aren’t.

There’s no reason to expect that the veteran center fielder won’t continue to be productive. Maybe not as productive as the first week might suggest, but certainly top-50 among outfielders. But for owners that are able to grab Pillar off the wire, keep an eye on when he’s moved into the top of the order, and move him for maximum value.

 

Jesse Winker, CIN10% owned

Jesse Winker represents one of the more polarizing hitting prospects in recent memory. The young Red is less athletic than your typical major league outfielder, is a passable fielder, has displayed little power over his minor league career, and even less speed. What he can do, and he does this about as well as any player in the minor leagues, is hit. Jesse Winker has an impressive hit tool, with almost superhuman hand-eye coordination, an uncanny feel for the strike zone, and a loose, pure swing that sprays the ball all over the field. Some scouts are concerned that his lack of tools will leave him without the ability to let his bat shine. Others feel that the bat is too special to be ineffective.

Winker only has nine, uninteresting at-bats thus far this season. They don’t paint much of a picture, but in 2017, the 24-year-old had 137 at-bats and produced seven home runs, far more than expected. The thing about a pure swing is that sometimes power can be generated simply because of greater velocity and angle on pitches coming at him. There is a real argument that Winker will be able to generate more power than his profile suggests because the pitching he’ll face in the bigs is better than the pitching he faced previously. This sounds insane, but it’s a real thing, and if you add the juiced ball to the equation, Winker has the potential to be more than an empty average.

For those in OBP leagues, Winker has real value. He has produced a career .379, and he’s such a smooth hitter that the lowest projection model had his OBP across 420 major league at-bats at .347. That’s a .347 for a 24-year-old, unathletic hitter with less than 140 at-bats. That is about as close as these systems get to giving respect. Winker won’t win a lot of leagues this season, but he’s a real dark horse for Rookie of the Year if he gets the plate appearances, and the unspectacular Reds are likely to run him out often to see what they have. Owners with a free roster spot looking for a wild card, and especially those in keeper or dynasty leagues, should do the same.

 

Brian Goodwin, WSH1% owned

Last season, I lost a June head-to-head matchup in one of my leagues that I was expecting to win handily. This is a deep, 24-team dynasty league, and my team was far more talented than the competition. But at the end, I was upset thanks to an MVP-level week from a player I had never heard from before. Brian Goodwin burst onto my scene that day, and I’m not ashamed that his official nickname for me the rest of the year was an expletive.

Goodwin is the lost man in the Nationals outfield, as the former supplemental first round pick serves as the fourth or fifth outfielder depending on how Dave Martinez is feeling about Howie Kendrick that day. Goodwin loses attention to prospects Victor Robles and Andrew Stevenson, and at this point the public opinion of the 27-year-old is that he is little more than organizational depth. He might not even get a tweet from a beat writer in the event of his release. But Goodwin is better than that, and there’s real talent and potential fantasy value in deep leagues.

Last season, Goodwin picked up 278 at-bats covering for Bryce Harper and Adam Eaton, producing a .251/.313/.498 line with 13 home runs and six steals. He strikes out a bit too much at 24.8%, but draws walks on 8.3% of his plate appearances. When he got consistent run in the month of June, he produced nicely. A .286/.371/.583 over 97 plate appearances was good for a 139 wRC+, making him a solidly above average hitter. One of the reasons for the success during that span was a run against left-handed pitching, whom the left-handed Goodwin oddly excels against. For his career, he’s hit .327/.382/.592 against southpaws.

Don’t look now, but Goodwin ended the month of March with a 2-for-5, two runs, and a huge grand slam against the Reds. He brings some solid power and enough speed to snag a few bags, which is more than you can expect from a typical fourth outfielder. If the Nationals start to give him consistent at-bats, especially against left-handed pitchers, there is a real possibility that Goodwin could become very useful for fantasy owners. For leagues that have deep benches, the veteran is an ideal platoon candidate to get the most out your at-bats, especially if you’re struggling with injured stars. Further, if Bryce Harper or Adam Eaton get bit by the injury bug, Goodwin will get enough run to be fantasy relevant even in 12 or 14-team leagues.

 

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