USA TODAY Sports Weekly

Safety in numbers: Finding fantasy baseball gems on MLB’s also-ran teams.

- Kris Olson

At least until this year, if you added outfielder Eddie Rosario to your roster, you knew what you were going to get. When the dust settled at year’s end, you’d have 25 to 30 home runs and a decent batting average.

But if you are currently battling for a league title, Rosario, who started the season with the Minnesota Twins and was traded in July to the Atlanta Braves, may be the last player you want to roster. It has nothing to do with Rosario’s talent, which he still possesses, even if injuries have cloaked it this season.

Rather, for the balance of 2021, the early indication­s are that, while Rosario was still rehabbing from an abdominal injury, fellow deadline acquisitio­ns Jorge Soler and Adam Duvall had planted stakes in the Atlanta outfield that may be hard to uproot, Rosario’s lefthanded­ness notwithsta­nding.

Instead of rostering Rosario, a better place to look for those crucial counting stats in the season’s final month may be the rosters of some of Major League Baseball’s also-ran teams. To varying degrees, these teams are currently deploying players who may not have Rosario’s pedigree but do have something he currently lacks: a path to a steady stream of plate appearance­s.

Here are a few names to consider:

AMERICAN LEAGUE

In Baltimore, the Orioles are trying to sort through what next year’s infield might look like. A number of players are getting late-season looks, but for fantasy purposes, the most interestin­g may be Jorge Mateo.

Waived by San Diego, Mateo has reached base in all of his 18 starts since landing in Baltimore (24-for-68, .353) and also clearly has the green light on the basepaths (four stolen bases in

six attempts).

As a bonus, Mateo has played 10 games at second base, nine at third and is currently the Orioles’ primary shortstop, putting triple – or perhaps even quadruple – eligibilit­y within reach.

Texas has a slew of new faces, along with one player who has returned from exile seemingly determined to reestablis­h himself as part of the team’s future.

That returnee is second baseman Nick Solak. Since spending a month in the minors, Solak has gone 11-for-27 (.407) with a home run. He should get most of the starts at the keystone in September.

As for the new faces, the one making perhaps the most noise recently has been infielder Andy Ibanez. Ibanez has actually been getting steady playing time since late June, but his bat came alive in August (.310, four home runs). However, Ibanez is

currently nursing a hamstring injury, and his playing time could take a hit if the Rangers decide to take a look at top prospect Josh Jung at third base.

D.J. Peters has also been a fixture in the Texas outfield, and while he may well be a batting average liability, he could provide a power boost. In 24 games since his August 3 call-up, Peters has gone 17-for-92 (.185) with 34 strikeouts but chipped in six home runs.

Kansas City is also giving a long look at third base to Emmanuel Rivera, who fractured his left hamate bone in June. The nature of his injury may put a crimp in his power production down the stretch, but Rivera has otherwise held his own (22for-79, .278) and even stolen a couple of bases.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

They aren’t “prospects” – one is 29, the other 30 – but fantasy

managers who have benefited from the production of first baseman Frank Schwindel and outfielder Rafael Ortega of the Chicago Cubs aren’t complainin­g.

Schwindel assumed the position vacated by Anthony Rizzo’s trade to the Yankees, and he has done a more-than-credible Rizzo impression since the deadline (32-for-92, .348, five home runs, 17 RBI).

By next spring, the Cubs may find a younger, more interestin­g option for first base. But for the balance of this year, Schwindel should be a lineup lock.

Meanwhile, Ortega became a full-time player with the trade that sent Kris Bryant to San Francisco. Since July 17, Ortega has hit .331 (42-for-127) with six home runs and six stolen bases, batting almost exclusivel­y from the leadoff spot.

Colorado may have been counter-productive­ly quiet at the trade deadline, but its playing time picture has shifted significantly. One of the primary beneficiaries has been outfielder

Connor Joe.

Since July 27, Joe – like Ortega, primarily a leadoff hitter – has hit .300 (30-for-100) with seven home runs in 28 games. Colorado’s outfield is about to get more crowded with Raimel Tapia coming off the injured list, but the impact of Tapia’s return should primarily fall on others.

Once the Rockies return home Sept. 2, they will play 16 of their final 26 games at Coors Field.

In Miami, there are plenty of outfield at-bats available, and while Jesus Sanchez may have the prospect pedigree, Bryan De La Cruz has done the best job taking advantage of the situation (33-for-93, .355, two home runs, one stolen base).

Another important developmen­t in the Miami outfield has been the degree to which Jorge Alfaro has logged time there. Combined with his resurgent bat (29-for-94 in last 27 games) and willingnes­s to steal a base (four stolen bases in that span), Alfaro has become one of the more intriguing catcher-eligible players for the stretch run.

Finally, Pittsburgh has had a revolving cast of misfits, including two castoffs from contenders, infielder Michael Chavis and outfielder Yoshi Tsutsugo.

Chavis had been dealing with some elbow discomfort. If he can get past that, he should get the chance to build upon his hot start as a Pirate (8-for-22, one home run).

Tsutsugo should continue to see time at either an outfield corner or first base. However, the left-handed hitter has had reverse platoon splits since coming to the majors, and he has been out of the starting lineup for four of the Pirates’ last five games against right-handed starters.

Still, when he has played, Tsutsugo has been on a power binge, launching five home runs while going 9-for-27 since joining Pittsburgh on Aug. 16.

 ?? MATT MARTON/USA TODAY SPORTS ?? Since taking over as the Cubs first baseman after the Anthony Rizzo trade, Frank Schwindel, above, has gone 32-for-92 for a .348 average with five homers and 17 RBI.
MATT MARTON/USA TODAY SPORTS Since taking over as the Cubs first baseman after the Anthony Rizzo trade, Frank Schwindel, above, has gone 32-for-92 for a .348 average with five homers and 17 RBI.

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