Fantasy Baseball: 8 'No-Names' Who Are Still Being Highly Undervalued
It's no secret that star players win fantasy leagues, which is why they deservedly get most of the pub and love in columns. But owners, especially those in deeper formats, should find a special place in their hearts for the no-names, too.
After all, you can't fill out a roster in a 14-team mixed or AL/NL-only league entirely with star-caliber players. So it's important to realize and accept that you'll need a sprinkling of lesser-knowns to help prop up your lineup and rotation, too.
The thing is, you shouldn't just use any old so-and-so to fill out the nooks and crannies of your roster—you want to unearth a never-even-heard-of-him or two who, despite still being undervalued in fantasy, just might have the potential or the opportunity to make an impact.
Like these eight players on the pages to follow, who have no-name status. That is, they're currently owned in less than 30 percent of ESPN fantasy baseball leagues.
Garrett Jones, 1B/OF, Miami Marlins (25.4 Percent Owned)
Zach McAllister, SP, Cleveland Indians (14.2 Percent Owned)
Wade Davis, SP/RP, Kansas City Royals (0.4 Percent Owned)
Tom Koehler, SP, Miami Marlins (3.7 Percent Owned)
Dallas Keuchel, SP, Houston Astros (1.3 Percent Owned)
David Murphy, OF, Cleveland Indians (13.8 Percent Owned)
Dioner Navarro, C, Toronto Blue Jays (8.4 Percent Owned) (pictured)
Chris Heisey, OF, Cincinnati Reds (0.6 Percent Owned)
With knee surgery expected to sideline Jay Bruce for at least the next month, the Reds are going to have to get production from somewhere, and Heisey is the best candidate to provide at least some of the pop for which Bruce has become known.
That's not to say that Heisey is going to smack 30-plus homers from here on out, but the 29-year-old does have an 18-homer campaign in his career (2011), and he showed he can still muscle up in spring training by notching six homers among 12 extra-base hits. Plus, he'll likely be hitting in the front half of the Reds lineup, which means more trips to the plate and should provide opportunities to score and drive in runs.
For an owner in a 14-team or NL-only league looking for a short-term boost at the fourth or fifth outfield spot, you could do worse than Heisey.
Brett Cecil, RP, Toronto Blue Jays (1.0 Percent Owned)
It took some time for Brett Cecil to figure things out and find his place after breaking into the bigs as a starter five years ago. Now that the 27-year-old has transitioned to the bullpen, though, he's taken off.
Last year, the southpaw had the best season of his career yet, posting a 2.82 ERA, a 1.10 WHIP and a dazzling 10.4 K/9. He's off to a similarly strong start in 2014, too, with a 3.68 ERA, a 1.29 WHIP and—get this—an even better strikeout rate of 14.7 per nine.
Beyond that, Cecil actually notched the save Monday—his second of the year—and could see some more chances to get the final few outs until incumbent closer Casey Janssen returns. Frankly, Cecil could get a handful (or more) saves even after the injury-prone Janssen makes it back.
Regardless, Cecil has proven his power stuff from the left side plays up in the pen, and the low ERA and WHIP, along with a lot of whiffs, are bound to help owners who turn to him as a third or fourth reliever.
Derek Norris, C, Oakland Athletics (1.8 Percent Owned)
If you thought McGehee's BABIP was obscenely elevated, what does that make Derek Norris' .407 average on balls in play? Clearly, the 25-year-old won't stay this fortunate, meaning his .364 average is bound to come down, but there are positive signs from Norris, too.
For instance, the righty swinger has more walks (11) than whiffs (10) a month-plus into the season, which is a plate discipline trend that is going in the right direction for the third straight year. Norris also has a fair amount of power, with 18 home runs in just about a full season's worth of plate appearances in his career to date.
And while the platoon-happy Athletics tend to sit Norris against tough righties (.609 career OPS vs. RHP), that's not such a bad thing if it keeps him from being exploited. As it is, he's actually faring well against same-side hurlers this season (1.133 OPS), albeit in a minute sample size of 36 PA.
All in all, Norris just may wind up being an ideal second catcher in leagues that require two.
Casey McGehee, 1B/3B, Miami Marlins (25.6 Percent Owned)
After a year away from MLB while playing in Japan, where he hit .292 with 28 homers and 93 RBI and was Masahiro Tanaka's teammate on the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, Casey McGehee is back.
The 31-year-old's balls-in-luck play won't last (.392 BABIP), but he's had out-of-nowhere success before (see: his 23-homer 108-RBI campaign as a Brewer in 2010), and he's got the hot-corner gig all to himself in Miami. With playing time, so comes the accumulation of counting stats.
While McGehee has yet to hit one out in 2014, he tallied two more RBI Tuesday, bringing his season total to 23. There's value in that, especially while the Marlins offense is clicking.
Marcus Semien, 2B/3B, Chicago White Sox (9.8 Percent Owned)
Last year, Marcus Semien broke out as a prospect. This year, he's breaking into the big leagues.
Semien, 23, already has three homers and three steals and possesses the pop-speed skill set to reach 15 of each in a full season's worth of at-bats. That, along with eligibility at both second and third base, makes him a savvy middle infield play.
Here's where it should be noted, though, that Semien is hitting only .213 and currently leads the majors with 47 strikeouts. Of course, a peek at those just below Semien on the strikeout leaderboard reveals names like Justin Upton, Starling Marte, Giancarlo Stanton and Carlos Gomez, all of whom are pretty darn good fantasy options. In other words, all those whiffs don't necessarily preclude production.
Clearly, though, there's risk. Not the least of which comes from the possibility that Semien may not remain on the 25-man roster now that second baseman Gordon Beckham is back and third baseman Conor Gillaspie is expected to return this week, according to Colleen Kane of The Chicago Tribune.
As long as Semien sticks around, even as a utility type, and keeps coming up with key hits in big, late-inning spots—he has four go-ahead hits in the seventh inning or later already, per Kane—his numbers, including 19 runs scored and 16 RBI, could be boosted by what is a surprisingly stout White Sox offense.
Mike Leake, SP, Cincinnati Reds (12.2 Percent Owned)
In many ways, Mike Leake is like a younger version of his former rotation-mate, Bronson Arroyo. You know, the one who used to be pretty good.
While that may not be the sexiest of comps, Leake fits the bill for his ability to provide both quantity and quality in the innings department, much like Arroyo did as a Red. Sure, Leake is prone to the occasional disaster, because he's hittable (9.3 H/9 career), surrenders his share of homers (1.2 HR/9 career) and doesn't register lots of strikeouts (5.9 K/9 career). Sounds like Arroyo, right?
And yet, Leake won 14 games last year while out-pitching his peripherals—his ERA was 3.37 compared to a 4.04 FIP—and he's doing the same in 2014. Through his first six starts, Leake is sporting a 3.53 ERA despite a 4.45 FIP, in part because his stellar 1.7 BB/9 rate is a career best, which helps him limit damage.
It won't always be pretty, but more often than not, Leake is going to put up a quality start or something close to it, thanks to his ability to pitch deep into ballgames.
Cody Allen, RP, Cleveland Indians (27.6 Percent Owned)
We knew this was coming, right? The John Axford crash-and-burn, that is. Despite compiling nine saves already, the embattled, inconsistent Axford has walked 10 batters and given up three homers in 13.0 innings. No wonder he's suffered a blown save and two losses over his past two appearances.
Which brings us to Cody Allen, the underrated righty with the funky delivery and hard-to-hit fastball who looked like a closer-in-waiting by putting up a 2.43 ERA and 11.3 K/9 as a rookie last year. Allen, 25, is once again throwing well in 2014, with a 2.03 ERA and 13.5 K/9, and he could handle the ninth if given the chance.
No announcement of new roles has yet been made, but Allen makes for a smart speculative snag for owners seeking saves. While fellow righty Bryan Shaw actually got the save Tuesday night—he might be one to snag, too—that also simply could have been the Indians' choosing not to overwork Allen, who'd thrown three of the past four days.
Even in the unlikely event that Allen somehow doesn't get more than a few save opportunities, his ERA, WHIP and strikeouts-per-nine numbers will be worth rostering as a third or fourth reliever in standard leagues.
Drew Hutchison, SP, Toronto Blue Jays (6.4 Percent Owned)
How would you like to own a former highly regarded pitching prospect who currently ranks among the top 20 in strikeouts-per-nine? Because in addition to a few other arms, that also describes Drew Hutchison.
The right-hander had his career halted by Tommy John surgery in 2012, but he's fully recovered and throwing better than ever. Oh, and he's still only 23 years old.
While Hutchison wasn't great Tuesday, he still threw a career-high eight innings along the way to giving up five runs on nine hits, and his line would've looked much better if not for giving up a grand slam with two outs in the sixth inning.
Hutchison's 4.17 ERA is tolerable, but his 3.12 FIP tells a better tale of how well he's been pitching. The main concern here is that he'll be facing an innings limit down the line in his first full season after surgery, but there's no reason you can't enjoy Hutchison for now.
After all, if he keeps it up, he won't be an undervalued no-name much longer.
To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11