USA TODAY Sports Weekly
Safety in numbers: Finding fantasy baseball gems on MLB’s also-ran teams.
At least until this year, if you added outfielder 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 outfield 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 final 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:
In Baltimore, the Orioles are trying to sort through what next year’s infield 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
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 infielder 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 fixture in the Texas outfield, 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.
They aren’t “prospects” – one is 29, the other 30 – but fantasy
managers who have benefited from the production of first baseman Frank Schwindel and outfielder 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, five home runs, 17 RBI).
By next spring, the Cubs may find a younger, more interesting option for first 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 significantly. One of the primary beneficiaries has been outfielder
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 outfield 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 final 26 games at Coors Field.
In Miami, there are plenty of outfield 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 outfield 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 misfits, including two castoffs from contenders, infielder Michael Chavis and outfielder 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 outfield corner or first 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 five games against right-handed starters.
Still, when he has played, Tsutsugo has been on a power binge, launching five home runs while going 9-for-27 since joining Pittsburgh on Aug. 16.