Fantasy Baseball 2014: 10 Must-Haves Poised for Second-Half Surges
The 2014 MLB All-Star Game is right around the corner, and with it comes the chance to re-evaluate your fantasy roster and look for guys who are poised to take a step forward in the season’s second half.
So who are the 10 guys most likely to take that leap as pennant races heat up and MLB rosters come unhinged at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline? That’s what we’re going to find out.
For the sake of clarity, we will stay away from the big names. That means there will be no mention of Mike Trout, Masahiro Tanaka, Jose Abreu or Miguel Cabrera. They were must-haves at the beginning of the year and have no place being included.
We are going to look at the second-level guys. They are guys who are just now coming into their own or will be given an extended opportunity thanks to an injury or poor performance at their position.
To be sure, these are household names, but they aren’t owned in every league and should be easily available on the waiver wire or at a reasonable price via trade.
Here are the 10 must-haves primed for second-half surges.
Rougned Odor, 2B, Texas Rangers
It looks like Texas Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor is here to stay with Jurickson Profar potentially missing the rest of the season, via CBS Sports’ Dayn Perry. That's great news for fantasy owners.
See, even if Profar did return, Odor has earned the right to keep his spot. In 103 at-bats, he has a .291/.321/.466 slash line with 12 runs scored and 17 RBI. And don’t forget that he stole 32 bases last season in the minor leagues, so he has speed that will surely make itself known once he gets more comfortable in his role.
True, he isn’t selective enough at the plate, but given the extended opportunity he will get the remainder of the season and his current production, Odor is a must-have if your fantasy team struggles at the position or if you are in need of some depth. Only owned in 3.9 percent of fantasy leagues, he is likely available.
Brock Holt, OF, Boston Red Sox
Since being called up for good on May 17, he has come alive, compiling a .318/.361/.426 slash line with 12 doubles and 15 RBI. He has also scored 23 runs and played five different positions. Talk about versatility.
Besides his natural ability, what makes Holt valuable as a fantasy player is that he is going to continue receiving ample playing time, even if Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington adds another bat in advance of the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
There simply isn’t a way that manager John Farrell can afford to not have him batting leadoff given his knack for making things happen. And when Cherington does trade for another bat or calls on Mookie Betts to save the day, the opportunities for Holt to score runs will only increase.
You had better hurry if you want to add him to your roster, as he is now owned in 61.4 percent of all fantasy leagues.
Marlon Byrd, OF, Philadelphia Phillies
True, his batting average is down from last year, but he is still putting up nice power numbers and crossing the plate with regularity. What makes him valuable in the second half is that an uptick in production should increase based on recent performance.
In 2013, for instance, he had more hits, more doubles and a higher slash line in 22 fewer at-bats after the All-Star break, per splits over at Baseball-Reference. To be sure, that isn't a career trend, but Byrd's play has taken a dramatic turn after a disastrous 2012 campaign.
Now Byrd could be traded at some point, according to Nick Cafardo from the Boston Globe, but it’s not like switching teams hinders him in any way. Last year, for example, he put up a .318/.357/.486 slash line for the Pittsburgh Pirates after being acquired from the New York Mets at the end of August and proved to be the final piece in the Pirates’ dash to a playoff appearance.
Expect for Byrd to continue putting up solid numbers with the Phillies before doing the same thing if he gets dealt.
Carlos Martinez, SP, St. Louis Cardinals
True, his body of work to this point has been uneven. For example, he has a 4.63 ERA but has a rather nice 1.260 WHIP and an even better 3.48 FIP. Another thing to consider is that 12 of the 21 earned runs he has allowed this season came in five relief appearances.
In other words, he has pitched better than the raw numbers indicate.
And as a starter, he has done quite well, posting a 3.00 ERA with eight strikeouts and a paltry .167 batting average against in two starts. He did walk five batters in those outings, but he largely kept the ball on the ground and limited any damage.
Now Bleacher Report’s Jason Catania opined that “there's a strong possibility that Martinez's innings will be held in check, so this is an enjoy-it-while-you-can pickup.” Catania makes a fair point, but given the fact that Aaron Finkel from SB Nation’s Viva El Birdos noted that “it seems reasonable to expect one or two months off” for Wacha, manager Mike Matheny will have to stretch Martinez out at some point.
All things considered, Martinez is a must-have.
Andrew Heaney, SP, Miami Marlins
First, he is not going anywhere. The Marlins may employ various fifth starters the rest of the season, but Heaney will continue to start regardless of how manager Mike Redmond fills out the last spot in the rotation.
The second reason is that the kid can pitch. Prior to his promotion, for example, he had a 7-3 record with a 2.47 ERA and a 1.096 WHIP across two levels in the minor leagues. And he didn’t disappoint in his debut, giving up four hits and one earned run over six innings.
Another thing to take into consideration is that he “has poise, pitching acumen and a repeatable delivery,” per ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick. Out of the three attributes Crasnick mentioned, the last one is the key. Without the ability to repeat his delivery, a pitcher is unlikely to find sustained success, and since Heaney can, the chances are good that he will be able to log ample innings and pitch his way to more wins than losses.
It must be noted that he has only made one start, but given his ability, the sky is the limit.
Derek Norris, C, Oakland A's
All he has done this season is compile a .302/.405/.509 slash line with eight home runs, 35 RBI and a stellar 2.2 WAR. Simply put, Norris is on a tear.
One criticism about Norris is that he is part of a platoon in manager Bob Melvin’s lineup, and to a point it is a valid fear. He has played in 59 out the team’s 76 games to this point, however, and has 201 plate appearances, so the concern is a bit overstated. And given his production, Melvin has been finding ways to get him in the lineup, including a recent start at designated hitter.
Currently owned in only 33.2 percent of all fantasy leagues, Norris is the real deal and is primed to break out in the second half.
LaTroy Hawkins, CL, Colorado Rockies
Not that his stats are bad right now, of course. It’s just that there is a fairly good chance that the Rockies will cut ties with him at some point before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline if they can’t make up some ground in the NL wild-card race.
If (or rather, when) that happens, the number of save opportunities for the right-hander should increase considerably.
On the season, Hawkins has only allowed an earned run in six out of his 28 appearances and has 14 saves along with a 2.77 ERA. Solid numbers that will only get better, and with the dearth of quality closers around the league, acquiring the 41-year-old is a shrewd move.
Scooter Gennett, 2B, Milwaukee Brewers
He has a .310/.347/.469 slash line with 20 RBI and 30 runs scored, and he is a top-flight defender. He is simply the answer the Brewers have been looking for at the keystone position for some time.
Other than the weight of his numbers, the biggest reason Gennett needs to be picked up is that manager Ron Roenicke finally started to bat him leadoff. And since the move was made on June 10, the left-handed hitter has put together a .429/.455/.690 slash line with eight doubles, 11 runs scored and an astonishing 220 wRC+, per FanGraphs.
Now there is a lot of chatter that says Gennett is only a good addition for deeper leagues. That’s disingenuous. He is a must-have in any league given his run production.
Alex Wood, SP, Atlanta Braves
Don’t take my word for it. CBS Sports’ R.J. White had this to say:
Wood is on his way back to the Atlanta rotation Wednesday after giving up just one earned run in 8 2/3 innings over two starts with Triple-A Gwinnett. He'll replace Gavin Floyd, who will likely be sidelined for the remainder of the year with an elbow injury, thereby freeing Wood to remain in the rotation as long as he's successful. Based on his track record from earlier this season as well as his excellent rookie season, success should be quick in coming.
The track record White referred to includes a 3.30 ERA and 1.327 WHIP in 18 career starts between this season and last. That is an ample enough sample to argue that he will find legitimate fantasy success taking over for Floyd.
J.D. Martinez, OF, Detroit Tigers
He could always hit, posting a career .332/.394/.548 slash line in the minor leagues. True, he was unimpressive over parts of three seasons with the Houston Astros, compiling a .258 batting average and a .715 OPS, but the talent was there.
Martinez set about to change things, however, and “completely overhauled his swing this offseason—‘reinvented himself,’ as he put it—which might explain his current hot streak and give it some chance of continuing,” according to CBS Sports’ Scott White.
In 113 at-bats, Martinez has a .937 OPS with seven home runs, 11 doubles and 27 RBI. And don’t expect Martinez to slow down all that much since the increase in production is directly related to an increase in playing time. Since May 18, for example, Martinez has appeared in 24 games and has a .346/.379/.704 slash line, according to splits pulled from Baseball-Reference.
Amazingly, he is still available in 59.7 percent of fantasy leagues.
Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are courtesy of Baseball-Reference and are accurate as of game time on Tuesday, June 24. Transaction, injury and game information are courtesy of MLB.com. Contract information was pulled from Cot’s Contracts.