Finding value in part-time players
In fantasy baseball, we’re always looking for the market inefficiencies; the overlooked players who could provide value from an unexpected source. One of the many places where we can find this type of player is, surprisingly, on the big league bench. Yes, these part-time players who are blocked from receiving the lion’s share of at bats can actually be useful to us fantasy league owners. Often written off by many because of their lack of playing time, this type of hitter can still produce in limited sample sizes, or, if you’re lucky, be season-changers if they find their way into a full-time role. Here are a few of these part-timers to keep an eye on, who may have more to offer than what meets the eye.
1B/3B Wilmer Flores, New York Mets
OF Andrew Toles, Los Angeles Dodgers
MLB teams love to buy low as much as fantasy owners. One of the best recent examples of that is the signing of Andrew Toles following his release from Tampa Bay. Toles slugged an amazing .500 and hit over .300 at each of the four different minor league levels he played last year, chipping in ten home runs along the way to go with 24 steals. His performance was impressive enough to net playoff starts with the Dodgers, despite being out of baseball for two years and starting the season in High-A.
Beyond the incredible story of Toles’ comeback (from conquering anxiety to working as a grocery clerk before the Dodgers reached out to him), there’s real talent here. While the Dodgers’ busy outfield might not afford the 24-year-old every day at bats, he should see a solid amount of playing time in left field while also backing up Joc Pederson in center. With that in mind, he seems like a good bet to receive 400 at bats, and considering Toles’ solid power/speed combination and the .314/.365/.505 line he hit for in 48 games with the Dodgers last season, he represents an intriguing upside play for next season and beyond.
OF Nick Franklin, Tampa Bay Rays
Franklin played sparingly in 2016, but showed improvement across the board in his 4th season. After hitting his way to a horrible 41 wRC+ in 2015, he bumped it up to 110 last season with a .270 batting average and six home runs and steals. The 25-year-old impressively dropped his strikeout rate from a career 33% mark to 22% last year, also hitting for more power than ever before with a career high in isolated power. Franklin’s hard hit rate ballooned to 30.6%, and his contact rate also jumped to 78.4% after remaining under 69% for two seasons.
Unfortunately, Franklin’s found himself on this list as a result of the Rays’ crowded infield. He’ll be a true utility man to start next season for the Rays, as the top backup at first, second, and third base, as well as right field. The Ben Zobrist comparisons are easy because it’s the Rays, but Franklin’s impressive flexibility does raise some eyebrows. Considering his prospect pedigree, his draft pedigree, and his newly found plate discipline, Franklin is a buy in AL and 12+ team leagues. Depending on your league rules, he may only be OF eligible to begin 2017, but he should add more positions to his resume as the year goes on. While Franklin may not clear 350 at bats with ease, there’s a chance he gets there for the first time since his rookie season, and with this playing time should come some home runs and steals.
OF Aaron Altherr, Philadelphia Phillies
Wrist injuries are known for sapping power and throwing off one’s mechanics, so it isn’t shocking that Altherr Altherr had some trouble once he returned to the field. While the extent of his struggles are alarming, impressive power potential remains for the 6’5″ outfielder, and a healthy offseason and Spring Training should allow him to regain his swing. Playing time isn’t a guarantee, as Roman Quinn tops the Phils depth chart in RF according to MLB.com, though Quinn’s inexperience (he still hasn’t logged an at bat in Triple-A) leaves the door open for Altherr. While there’s risk that Philadelphia adds another outfielder before the start of the season, Altherr could also easily find his way into a starting job with a strong Spring. Based on the potential he showed two years ago, the 26-year-old deserves a longer look after a lost 2016, and, given the impressive tools he showcased in his rookie season, this is an excellent buy-low opportunity.
- Clint Robinson: backing up ‘iron men’ Ryan Zimmerman (1B) and Jayson Werth (LF)
- Derek Dietrich: backing up 1B, 2B, and 3B, and an excellent hitter against righties
- Jefry Marte: backing up CJ Cron (1B) and Albert Pujols (DH), both of whom are both coming off surgery, and Yunel Escobar (3B)