As we move into an unprecedented shortened season of 60 games, some leagues are preparing for draft season, which is arguably the most fun part of the fantasy baseball season. However, what about those leagues that held drafts before the season was cancelled back in March? Those leagues have rosters full of players just sitting there, waiting for a season. A lot has changed since then, with many player values being significantly different than before.
That said, those leagues all drafted players with the intention of playing 162 games. Now, with almost a third of that total to be played, and a universal DH, so much has changed. All leagues that have previously drafted should have a wide variety of players available on the waiver wire, some with incredible value.
Here are some players I think could be available and should be added. These are players that were probably not drafted back when Spring Training began in March, and have either moved up the rankings since then and/or have added value now because of varying circumstances.
For hitters, the implementation of a universal DH means additional chances for everyday at bats for National League batters. My recommendations will reflect that as the National League is ripe with opportunity. For pitchers, however, the situation is a bit more muddled. Some teams and their rotations have already said that they plan to limit the innings per start of their rotation pieces, casting doubts on if he pitchers will get enough innings per start for a win. That is something to definitely keep an eye on. What I will do here is recommend bullpen arms for now that will be given save opportunities due to the fact that it is a condensed schedule and many managers don’t like to use their closers on back to back days.
1. Howie Kendrick, 2B/OF/1B, Washington Nationals
He should be a popular pick going forward in leagues, but the reasons are warranted. He’s always been a player that has made good contact with the ball, as he has a career .294 batting average and 13 home runs along with 13 stolen bases over a 162 game average. It was last season where he had a mini breakout, finishing with a career high .344 batting average while mashing 17 home runs. Needless to say, he was in the zone in 2019.
The problem with Kendrick for the past few years has been that he’s never been able to find consistent at-bats. Since moving to the National League, he’s been the victim of inconsistent playing time mixed in with movement all around the diamond. This season feels different. With the universal DH implemented, the Nationals have an open spot for a daily hitter, and Kendrick has the versatility to fit the bill. He can not only start at his natural second base position but can also give other players days off and still contribute at the plate as the DH. This is an opportunity for him to prove to the Nationals that he deserves everyday at-bats. He could be the steal of this waiver wire period, so go and get him now.
2. Danny Jansen, C, Toronto Blue Jays
With a shortened season changing things, the catcher position becomes incredibly volatile. Stability at catcher is a must, and having the edge on a potential breakout is a good tool possess. Enter Danny Jansen into the mold, where 2019’s disastrous outing looks to be in the rear-view window.
I’m a big fan of off season preparations and changes, and Danny Jansen was no stranger to fixing what went wrong last season. Complete with hitting a weighted ball off a tee, altering the mechanics of his swing, and changing the timing of his body, these were all part of a major offensive transformation for Jansen, who has said that he focused on the offensive aspect of his game for the first time in a long time.
— RHINO (@RhinoWisco) December 8, 2019
When he returned to Spring Training earlier in the year, the changes were evident, as he, in a short time, mashed for the Jays, sporting a .529/.600/1.353 line with four home runs, 13 runs batted in and three walks (with just one strikeout).
All in all, he looked different, refined and grounded after a winter of hard work. For someone who might be on your waiver wire, he’s worth an add to see if his hot Spring translates into a nice run in a shortened season.
3. Austin Riley, OF/1B/3B, Atlanta Braves
Another beneficiary of the universal DH implementation, Riley comes into 2020 after a disappointing 2019 campaign. After 20 games last year, Riley was at his peak, batting .329 with nine home runs and was on top of the world. That’s when things started crashing down, as pitchers figured him out and Riley just couldn’t hold off on the sliders.
Austin Riley has fallen off drastically in the last calendar month:
73 PA, 32 K, 5 BB, .149 AVG, .205 OBP, .254 SLG
His plate discipline needs to be refined. 9 of his 55 hits have come on pitches off the plate even though almost 40% of his swings are at pitches outside the zone pic.twitter.com/h6DAeuOUMg
— Max Goldstein (@MaxSportsStudio) July 30, 2019
He finished the season batting .229 and 18 home runs and a ton of disappointment.
This past off season, Riley spent a lot of time changing his swing. He knew that his problems were centered around overall balance, as he would place too much weight on his back foot. So he, and minor league batting coach Mike Brumley, worked extensively on this, which he feels now gives him added patience at the plate. He’s gone on record with mlb.com saying:
“People say I can’t hit the slider, can’t hit the slider, can’t hit the slider,” Riley said. “I can hit them when they’re in the zone. I proved that. I hit a couple of those balls out. It’s recognizing which are strikes and balls and being able to lay off those outside the zone, and then to be able to hit the fastball whenever I get it.”
“I felt like later in the season, I was more focused on trying not to swing at that slider, so I wasn’t catching up to the fastball. I think the biggest thing is staying on that fastball and being able to recognize that slider. I think this swing I’ve made is going to allow me to do that.”
These are big adjustments for a guy with a successful track record in the minors. He finished Spring training batting .357, hitting two home runs, and striking out at almost the same rate as he walked. Given that he should have everyday playing time on a competitive team, if he’s available he’s worth the add to see if his hard work in the off season translates into success on the field.
Honorable Mentions: Mauricio Dubon and Mike Yastrzemski, both covered extensively here.
1. James Karinchak, RP, Cleveland Indians
Let me begin by saying that, as of this writing, Karinchak has been re-assigned to the minors, but I believe it’s all but certain that he gets the call back up to the majors in time for the start of the season. Armed with a mid 90’s four-seam fastball and a curveball with a lot of spin, Karinchak missed a lot of bats last season with a 31.9 K% – BB%, while holding batters to a measly .150 batting average.
— FOX Sports Cleveland (@FOXSportsCLE) September 15, 2019
Despite it being a small sample (5.1 innings pitched in 2019), Karinchak has the tools, and the minor league track record, to be an elite pitcher. Fangraphs has his fastball graded with an 80 (near-perfect grade) and an above-average curveball. Emmanuel Clase was projected to be in the bullpen this year to set up closer Brad Hand, but he was suspended for 80 games
With left-handed Brad Hand having a big-money option coming his way, look for Karinchak to get some opportunities, as the cost-cutting Indians haven’t always been known for spending money on their players. He’s their closer of the future, and could be groomed as such with some opportune saves this season.
2. Corbin Burnes, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers
Looking for quality innings this season? Then look no further than Corbin Burnes. In 2019, he held claim to possessing one of the best pitches in all of baseball, his slider, which, being thrown 30.5% of the time, held batters to a .181 batting average. Better yet, it’s SwStr% was at a massive 32.5%, it’s K% was at a whopping 53.3% and it’s xBA of .163 shows that he was unlucky with it! Unbelievable.
Did Corbin Burnes come up with a mid-90's cutter in the pitching lab? Please tell me Corbin Burnes came up with a mid-90's cutter in the pitching lab. pic.twitter.com/EKCpn46Yn5
— Jack Stern (@baseball7310) September 21, 2019
Corbin Burnes, 90mph Slider Grip/Release (isolated/slow). pic.twitter.com/UEWRilmwj2
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 2, 2019
On the opposite end of luck, his 2019 four-seamer was flat and produced a .425 batting average in 2019 (with an xBA of .345), which was his ultimate downfall. That being said, he got to work in the offseason, almost immediately. He even got himself some Lasik eye surgery and came back refreshed in the Spring. He finished striking out 13 batters in only 10 innings pitched while yielding only three walks.
With Josh Hader solidifying saves as one of the league’s premier closers, opportunities for saves will be few and far between. However, for quality innings where owners can accumulate strikeouts at an elite rate, take a chance on Burnes for 2020 and beyond.
3. Matt Barnes, RHP, Boston Red Sox
In 2019, Matt Barnes opened the year as one of the closers for the tumultuous bullpen of the Boston Red Sox. By the beginning of June, he had recorded four saves, but his position there wasn’t safe. Later that year, Brandon Workman solidified himself as the closer for the team, and Barnes moved into a set up role for the team. And that’s when Barnes began to flourish.
As the season progressed, Barnes moved away from his four-seamer and delivered his curveball with increased frequency. This was his bread and butter pitch, as it held batters to a .181 batting average and struck out batters 41% of the time. While he did have control issues in 2019, as evidenced by his 13.3% walk rate, he was able to still record 110 strikeouts over just 64.1 innings pitched, giving any owners who stuck with him elite numbers in a small amount of work.
Per Driveline Baseball’s Stuff metric (which will be under the hood on my starting pitcher ranks coming out Monday), the top relievers by stuff:
1) J Karinchak
2) E Clase
3) M Barnes
4) D Maples
5) J Hicks
6) C Roe
7) B Abreu
8) B Graterol
9) P Fairbanks
10) R Pressly
— Eno Sarris (@enosarris) January 31, 2020
While Brandon Workman is their primary closer, look for Barnes to be sprinkled into the mix, as he does have closer experience. With a high strikeout rate and a handful of saves, he could help you win your league without costing you anything.