Fantasy: 20 Last-Minute Targets Who Could Be On Your League’s Waiver Wire

Image credit: Anthony Banda (Photo by Tom DiPace)

The phrase “churn and burn” takes on new meaning in a season as short—and strange—as 2020.

Expect more soreness and injuries as players work their way into midseason form. Expect more off days for veteran players because of the training room restrictions put in place by the COVID health protocols. Expect players to get figured out more quickly as “the book” gets around more quickly in the 10-team mini-leagues in the East, Central and West. 

For these reasons, Plan B could be paramount this season. The fantasy team stocked with players who can serve as fill-ins for the injured or the underperforming could have an advantage. 

So as you embrace the randomness of a 60-game season—not to mention the playing time opportunities granted by the universal DH—we suggest taking a second look at the following 20 young players, especially in deeper leagues and those that count both saves and holds.

Live Arms

Ryan Pepiot, RHP, Dodgers

The Dodgers strike again! Drafted in the third round in 2019 out of Butler, Pepiot showed impossibly nasty stuff at summer camp. He made big league batters, including MVPs Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger, look foolish with his mid-90s heat and wicked action changeup. 

Tucker Davidson, LHP, Braves

Davidson picked up a slider in the offseason to give him a nifty four-pitch mix, headlined by a high-90s fastball and plus curveball. This figures to be a good season for young pitchers like Davidson, who finished last season at Triple-A, to get a foot in the door to fill innings as starters and relievers work into season form.  

Jonathan Hernandez, RHP, Rangers

The 23-year-old wowed the Rangers with a wicked fastball during summer camp and made the Opening Day roster. A new focus on throwing high-90s two-seam fastballs—”turbo sinkers,” according to manager Chris Woodward—that Hernandez honed in 2019 at Triple-A and during his big league debut helped him avoid hard contact and set up his plus slider.

Patrick Sandoval, LHP, Angels

With the Angels going to a six-man rotation, Sandoval will have an enhanced opportunity to build on a promising September callup that saw him strike out 42 in 39 innings. He throws an outstanding changeup and very good curveball that helped him generate ample swings and misses. How much Sandoval can improve the effectiveness of his fastball will determine his ultimate value.

Scott Moss, LHP, Indians

Few organizations help starting pitchers realize their potential like the Indians, and Moss could be next in line. The 6-foot-6 lefty quietly struck out 11 per nine innings last season at Double-A and Triple-A, supported by a top-25 swinging-strike rate among minor league starters with 100 innings. Moss’ changeup is strong, while his fastball and breaking ball velocity have improved since his trade to Cleveland.

Anthony Banda, LHP, Rays

Banda spent the bulk of the past two seasons recovering from Tommy John surgery and has no concrete role for the Rays this season. But no concrete role is no problem for the Rays, who mix and match as well as any team, perhaps ever. Banda spent the down time refining a cutter that could be the missing piece to complement his fastball/changeup combo. 

Johan Oviedo, RHP, Cardinals

The Cardinals have minded small schools for  big arms such as Ryan Helsley and Daniel Ponce de Leon, and while Oviedo is Cuban, he is similarly obscure to the average fan even after finishing last season at Double-A. The 6-foot-6 flamethrower teases the sort of four-pitch mix that could make him a candidate for starter innings, but he has the requisite high-90s fastball and snapping slider to thrive in relief. 

Ronald Bolaños, RHP, Royals

Tooled-up outfielder Franchy Cordero was the headliner acquired by the Royals in the July trade that sent reliever Tim Hill to the Padres. But don’t overlook Bolaños, a 23-year-old Cuban righthander who came into his own last season by climbing from high Class A to the big leagues during a September callup. His fastball bumps 99 mph and his high-spin curveball pair to give him tools to dominate in a relief role; the way he manipulates his fastball keeps him alive in a potential rotation role.

Ryan Castellani, RHP, Rockies

Castellani, the Rockies’ second-round pick out of high school in 2014, has positioned himself for big league innings in 2020 after shining in summer camp. He made just 10 starts at Triple-A Albuquerque last season before having bone chips removed from his elbow, but he looked fully recovered. Castellani sat 94 mph and showed a sharp slider that caught the attention of manager Bud Black, who listed the righthander among his rotation depth candidates for the season. Colorado’s bullpen is also wide open after the club released veterans Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw before the season.

Trust In The Tools

Edward Olivares, OF, Padres

Of all the tooled-up players who tried and failed to gain a foothold in the Padres’ outfield in recent years—Manuel Margot, Hunter Renfroe, Franmil Reyes, Franchy Cordero—it would be ironic if the one who never cracked the organization’s Top 10 Prospects ranking turned out to be the best of the bunch. That is exactly what Olivares could accomplish after stinging the ball in summer camp and making a case for the Opening Day roster. The 24-year-old righthanded hitter is coming off a quietly productive Double-A Amarillo campaign in which he hit .283 with 18 home runs and 35 stolen bases.

Yu Chang, 3B, Indians

The 24-year-old Taiwanese infielder has the type of enticing raw power and versatility to force his way to Cleveland this season. Manager Terry Francona commended Chang for his short, quick swing and for hitting against his front side, which yielded a number of home run highlights at summer camp. Even though Chang didn’t hit much during a late big league look in 2019, he showed good exit velocity (94 mph) when hitting the ball in the air. 

Jaylin Davis, OF, Giants

Opportunity abounds in San Francisco, where the Giants may break camp without a single position player who will start for the team in three years. Davis could be the beneficiary of playing time as a result. He showcased big power in the minor leagues last season (35 homers, .590 slugging) and turned in an elite sprint speed, according to Statcast, during a September callup. Perhaps most notably, he captured the attention of manager Gabe Kapler, who said Davis has “tremendous bat speed.” 

Jared Oliva, OF, Pirates

Fantasy players have fixated on Oliva because of his stolen base potential—he swiped 36 at Double-A and 11 more in the Arizona Fall League—but he still has the potential to develop into a top-of-the-order type bat if he can prove his on-base credentials. The Pirates begin the season with an outfielder featuring speed-and-defense starters Jarrod Dyson and Guillermo Heredia and a bench full of journeymen (Socrates Brito) and infielders masquerading as outfielders (Cole Tucker, Erik Gonzalez, JT Riddle), so the opportunity is there for Oliva to gain some reps during the season.

Somebody Has To Catch

Isiah Kiner-Falefa, 3B/C, Rangers

The 25-year-old hit well this spring to win a starting job in a thin Texas lineup after serving in a utility role the past two seasons. The number you want to key in on is 38, which is the number of games KIner-Falefa appeared in at catcher last season, making him catcher-eligible in most fantasy leagues. In the absence of a productive regular catcher, Kiner-Falefa is a nice consolation because of the playing time boost he provides to your counting stats.

Austin Allen, C/1B, Athletics

Allen won’t be able to catch a majority share of games for Oakland, but in fantasy he won’t have to in order to have value. Simply registering catcher eligibility, even as he plays first base or DH for the A’s, would be a boon to fantasy teams. That’s because Allen can deliver above-average power with a strong, leveraged lefthanded swing.

Chadwick Tromp, C, Giants

While the Giants make due without Buster Posey, who opted out of 2020, and wait for prospects Joey Bart and Patrick Bailey to develop, someone has to catch 60 games for San Francisco this season. The leading candidates were all non-roster players signed as minor league free agents in the offseason. Tyler Heineman and Rob Brantly are the most seasoned members of the trio, but Tromp could have the most upside. The 25-year-old, Aruba-born catcher has enticing power, and his lack of experience is mitigated by the short season and the Giants’ low expectation for 2020. 

Take A Flier On Cheap Power

Kevin Cron, 1B, D-backs

Cron led the minor leagues with 39 home runs last season, which is a remarkable total for an 84-game season. The hulking righthanded hitter also slugged .777, which is the highest qualifying slugging percentage of at least the past 40 seasons. You may scoff at such an accomplishment, seeing as it was achieved in the Pacific Coast League and using the live major league ball. But the minor leagues are full of friendly hitting environments and that threshold has not been reached in decades. Oh yeah, and Cron popped six homers in 78 plate appearances for Arizona and now has more avenues to playing time with the universal DH.  

Edwin Rios, 1B/3B, Dodgers

Were he a more reliable or versatile defender, Rios would probably already have a role in Los Angeles, perhaps similar to the four-corner one occupied by Matt Beaty last year. After the way Rios hit last year—.311 with a .729 slugging after June 1—and the way his Statcast data sings, there is a big league role out there for Rios. Many teams could make use of a lefthanded hitter who probably fits best in a first base/DH share. 

Ryan McBroom, 1B, Royals

With Ryan O’Hearn’s status questionable for Opening Day, the righthanded-hitting McBroom could sneak into a regular role for the rebuilding Royals. If he hits the ground running, he could stay in the lineup more than projected. The 28-year-old McBroom is coming off a career year at Triple-A in the Yankees’ system—.315/.402/.574 with 26 home runs—but is recommended for fantasy use only in deep leagues or those with daily lineups.

Rangel Ravelo, 1B, Cardinals

Ravelo spent five seasons wearing out Pacific Coast League pitchers but appears to have a reserve role in St. Louis this season. Adding the DH to the mix makes Ravelo worth a flier in deep leagues with daily lineup leagues. The righthanded hitter could work his way into a Jose Martinez-type role by making an imprint against lefthanded starters. Ravelo did big things with a small Statcast sample last year, registering an elite 97.6 mph exit velocity on balls hit in the air.    

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