Fantasy baseball managers can no longer brush off shortcomings by pointing to the calendar and remarking on how early it is in the season. With 2019's midway mark rapidly approaching, few teams can afford to maintain the status quo.
Depending on the league's depth and activity, the waiver wire could be a bit more barren than it was in April. It should be far too late to snag Lucas Giolito, Frankie Montas, Tommy La Stella, Franmil Reyes or Yordan Alvarez for free—if not, get on that now. There are nevertheless plenty of viable contributors who remain unclaimed in most formats.
The following three players are all rostered in well under half of Yahoo and ESPN leagues, as reflected by FantasyPros' consensus ownership rates taken Saturday. Although the first two are recommendations for smaller mixed leagues, the third remains available just about everywhere despite swinging a scorching bat and receiving more reps.
Sonny Gray, SP, Cincinnati Reds: 36% Rostered
Prior to Sunday afternoon's start against the Texas Rangers, Sonny Gray has the same fielding independent pitching (3.02 FIP) as Walker Buehler and Blake Snell. Even those who would rather look at the actual results shouldn't sneeze at his 3.65 ERA and 1.22 WHIP accompanied by 71 strikeouts in 66.2 innings.
That makes him a top-50 starter who should be owned in an overwhelming majority of leagues. He's instead more widely available than Marco Gonzales, Zach Plesac and Nathan Eovaldi.
Is it possible that, in 2019, managers are still scared away by his 2-6 record? It admittedly isn't easy to rack up wins while only once recording an out past the sixth inning all season. However, Gray has also ceded more than three runs in just one of his 13 starts. The Cincinnati Reds have too much offensive firepower to stay cold at the plate, so don't pay much attention to his misfortune.
There are a couple of more valid concerns. Chief among them is calling Great American Ball Park home. According to ESPN.com's park factors, only Coors Field has fostered a higher scoring environment this season. The 29-year-old righty has paid the price by posting a 4.09 ERA inside the bandbox.
Gray also mustered seven combined strikeouts in his past two outings after notching at least seven in three starts to close May. His 10.3 swinging-swing percentage is strong, but not elite enough to comfortably project more than a strikeout per frame going forward. Matching his 8.5 strikeouts per nine (K/9) from 2017 and 2018 is a more reasonable expectation.
Even when weighing those caveats, Gray will hold his own simply by maintaining his ERA and WHIP, both of which are in line with his career numbers. Combine that with a healthy number of punchouts and a heavy helping of ground balls, and he's an especially strong fourth or fifth starter for a manager who can carefully play the matchups.
Ramon Laureano, OF, Oakland Athletics: 25% Rostered
Ramon Laureano entered 2019 as a sleeper too popular to garner the label. After hitting .288/.358/.474 in a late 2018 audition, the Oakland Athletics outfielder drew an average draft position (ADP) of No. 181 in National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) drafts from March. Someone reached as high as No. 71 to attain the popular 20/20 candidate.
He has validated that hype by registering nine home runs and eight steals in 71 games. Investors, however, grew tired of the 24-year-old once he hit a lackluster .234/.291/.355 through April. Rather than sticking to their preseason projections, they found another shiny new toy on the waiver wire.
Rostered in just a quarter of Yahoo and ESPN leagues, his ADP from NFBC's in-season drafts (conducted in late May) plummeted to 304. This is someone who has delivered numbers nearly identical to those of Victor Robles.
Laureano isn't going to win any batting titles with an aggressive approach that has yielded a 4.7 percent strikeout and 25.4 percent walk rate. However, he hits the ball hard enough to avoid becoming a liability in the category. Statcast credits him with a .261 expected average (xBA) that at least supports his ability to sustain his .255 clip (h/t Baseball Savant).
Because of his outrageous arm in center field, Laser Ramon has a secure spot in a solid Oakland lineup. With only 18 players reaching double-digit steals, his power-speed combo is alluring in any five-by-five mixed league.
Dominic Smith, 1B/OF, New York Mets: 2% Rostered
Dominic Smith has started nine of the past 13 games for the New York Mets (one was played under American League rules against the New York Yankees). He's batting .337/.430/.547 in 100 plate appearances.
Although obtained in a small sample size, Smith has a higher weighted runs created plus (164 wRC+) than Freddie Freeman, Anthony Rizzo and teammate Pete Alonso. He's also younger than Alonso, who supplanted him as the club's current and future first baseman.
Smith, who turned 24 on Saturday, struggled in his first two MLB go-arounds. The once highly touted prospect hit .210 in 105 games dispersed over the past two years. He fell down the totem pole before showing up to camp in better shape and excelling during spring training.
Back in March, per Deesha Thosar of the New York Daily News, Smith credited his turnaround to treating his sleep apnea during the offseason.
"I have more energy now," Smith said. "I come to the park feeling good."
As of Saturday, his contact rate has jumped five percent from last season and his walk rate has skyrocketed from 2.7 to 13.0 percent. His hot hand has prompted the Mets to frequently keep him in the lineup—recently as their cleanup hitter—in left field.
Although every batted ball will be an adventure as he maneuvers an unfamiliar position, Smith is worth a speculative add for as long as he's playing. While his batting average is sure to drop once a .403 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) regresses, he still has the makings of a post-hype success story.
All advanced stats courtesy of FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.