Two weeks from today, Major League Baseball rosters will expand from 25 to 40 for the final month of the season. With more roster spots open, fresh faces will appear, ready to help their MLB teams down the stretch.
The same players, ranging from those returning from injury to prospects getting their first sips of coffee in the big leagues and to guys who can fill particular roles and needs for a team, could mean the difference in late fantasy baseball success as well.
ARMS RACE: Any team, fantasy or in the MLB is always hunting for arms, especially late in the season. With injuries, pennant races and the sure to come juggling of rotations for the playoffs, pitching is at more of a premium now than any other time during the season. So, which pitchers can be expected to contribute going forward?
Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals: If you're here on the basis of a fantasy baseball impact, pause your reading and go check your league's free agency to see if he's available. He's currently working through rehab starts in the minors and will return the first week of September, and the Nationals will once again sellout every start he makes.
He looks just like he did a year ago, and his fastball touched 99 in his last start. He is the only pitcher whose going to be available who offers the same upside as an ace right now.
And sure, you might only get three or four starts out him this year, but they'll happen while head-to-head fantasy teams are in their playoffs. As for roto leagues, who couldn't use a late boost in strikeouts?
David Huff, Cleveland Indians: Huff might only be available in fantasy baseball because the Indians traded for Ubaldo Jiminez at the deadline.
The Indians optioned Huff to AAA even though he had made three very good starts, allowing just one run in 17.2 innings and had struck out 15 batters in that time. He was merely the victim of circumstance, a young arm they knew they could send down and call back up when a spot opened up for him.
Huff, who has been solid in AAA all season, will get a regular turn in the rotation down the stretch as the Indians shoot towards the playoffs because Carlos Carrasco hit the DL with elbow inflammation. Carrasco also has a six-game suspension to serve waiting for him when he gets healthy.
This gives the Indians an opportunity to let their young lefty taste a pennant race, helping both the present and future.
Matt Moore Tampa Bay Rays: Despite owning a completely homegrown pitching staff, the Rays keep pumping out premier arms. Much as Jeremy Hellickson did a year ago, Moore is going to give Tampa the opportunity to trade a good, young arm (perhaps Niemann or Shields) to bring in a ton more young talent.
Moore has been the best strikeout artist in minor league baseball for three years, and 2011 is no different as he's punched out 180 in 133 innings.
They'll break him in the same way they did Hellickson and David Price, giving him the chance to take up a roster spot as a dominant reliever who will spot start down the stretch. One injury to the pitching staff and he's a great option as a replacement.
Trevor Bauer, Arizona Diamondbacks: When the season started, Bauer wasn't in the D'Backs system. In fact, he wasn't even in pro ball.
After dominating the college scene as a co-ace of UCLA's squad with Gerrit Cole, Bauer eventually was drafted third overall. He signed quicker than most guys taken that early and has already reached AA.
He's been an absolute knockout in his brief time in the minors, sporting a 1.93 ERA and has struck out 25 players in 14 innings.
He's could provide a spark for Arizona out of the pen or as a starter, and as soon as he's called up he's a must-have for fantasy owners.
BACK-STOP BACKUP: Catching is perhaps the hardest position to find in the MLB, subsequentally making good catching a treasure in the world of fantasy. Getting production from behind the plate is something every general manager, whether that's for the Yankees in the MLB or PocketfulofBusterPosey in Yahoo!, is constantly in search of.
Jesus Montero, New York Yankees: Speaking of the Yankees, they have a bat-first catcher waiting in AAA for his call to the show.
The detractors on Montero are whether or not he can stick defensively, but he comes filled with good fortune for both the Yankees and fantasy owners.
Right now, his defense doesn't matter. At all. He'd essentially replace Jorge Posada as the team's DH for the Sept. run, so he won't hurt the Yankees at all. And his defense doesn't hurt fantasy owners because fantasy baseball knows not defensive prowess. He's rated at catcher, so therefore any offense he provides as a DH counts towards a position otherwise weak on the waiver wire.
Devin Mesoraco, Cincinnati Reds: He appears to be the Reds catcher of the future, and has better numbers in AAA than incumbent catcher Ramon Hernandez does in Cincinnati. Pretty impressive considering Hernandez owns an .829 OPS.
Hernandez has held Mesoraco off all year, but with the Reds out of the race in the Central its time to start looking towards what could be. And with Hernandez hitting free agency after the season, Dusty Baker will look to prime his future catcher in the final month of the season.
He can do a little bit of everything at the plate, as he's belted 13 homers and 33 doubles to accompany his .292/.371/.486 slash line.
HITTER'S HAVEN: Finding an offensive spark down the stretch is never an easy task, but when rosters expand young hitters are most likely to get their chance at a cup of coffee. Sometimes pitchers may not because teams are monitoring innings, and catchers stay down to refine defense, but there is far less restriction on position players. Outfield is probably the easiest position to find some talent capable of a late season offensive spark, a lot of new faces will show up in the next couple weeks, so start there.
Logan Morrison, Florida Marlins: LoMo was unexpectedly sent down, despite having a productive season. He had rapped 17 homers and 21 doubles but found himself a bus ticket to AAA because he was hitting .249.
He'll be back when rosters expand, and if he's playing with a chip on his shoulder over the demotion could bring a very solid slash line to the Marlins and fantasy owners in Sept.
Jerry Sands, Los Angeles Dodgers: Sands earned a roster spot out of spring training but did little after that to warrant staying in the show.
Since being demoted Sands has pounded minor league pitching for 23 homers in 74 games in AAA to the tune of a .590 slugging percentage.
He'll be back in LA before long.
JD Martinez, Houston Astros: Okay, so Martinez is already up, and everyone is forgiven for not noticing because he plays for Houston. Go ahead, name three other guys who start for them. Probably not happening since Carlos Lee is the only opening day starter still with a job for the Astros.
The good news, since Martinez is very much in the future plans for Houston, he also get to be in the now plans. He's batting in the middle of the order and hitting behind speedsters Jose Altuve and Jason Bourgeois, so he'll have some chances to knock in runs.
After punishing the minors for a .960 OPS, he's performing well so far in the MLB with 15 RBI in 16 games.