Each week we’ll look at a handful of different players rostered in less than 15% of fantasy leagues who you should consider picking up. Many of these players will have the most value in deeper leagues where waiver wire options aren’t as plentiful. Still, they could also occasionally be useful additions in other, more standard-sized leagues depending on your options at their position. This week it’s Trayce Thompson, Emilio Pagán, Brad Keller, and Graham Ashcraft who are worth your time as potential additions in deep leagues.
Trayce Thompson – 5%
After beginning the season with the San Diego Padres organization and spending time with the Detroit Tigers Triple-A affiliate, Thompson is enjoying a productive stretch with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The definition of instant impact, the outfielder has connected on four home runs in his first 97 plate appearances with the Dodgers this season. He also has a stolen base and is hitting .291 with a .371 on-base percentage in those 97 plate appearances.
Since making his 2022 debut for Los Angeles on June 21, Thompson has a higher average than Julio Rodríguez and more home runs than Josh Bell and Xander Bogaerts during that span. He matches up favorably, stats-wise, with a number of other impact fantasy performers during the same span.
Admittedly, it isn’t the biggest sample size for Thompson and should be taken with a bit of a grain of salt considering Thompson’s 35.1% strikeout rate and .438 BABIP, but it’s hard to ignore the outfielder’s production, especially when it’s happening in such a quality lineup. The Dodgers are one of only two teams to have scored at least 500 runs as of the beginning of play on Sunday. Only the New York Yankees have scored more runs than Dave Roberts’ team this season.
Furthermore, with Max Muncy struggling a bit at the plate and hitting further down the lineup – he’s hit higher than sixth in the lineup just once since July 10 – Thompson could, in theory, start to see more plate appearances further up the lineup in Los Angeles. The outfielder hit second for the team on Thursday in Colorado and has hit sixth in two of the team’s last four games.
In most lineups, a player hitting sixth isn’t exactly ideal for fantasy managers. But in Los Angeles’ high-powered offense it’s certainly a positive.
Thompson’s production may be slightly on the unsustainable side, but the power looks legitimate. What’s more, it’s difficult to find players rostered in so few fantasy leagues who are producing at this rate in such a productive lineup. Thompson is a priority add off the waiver wire right now.
Emilio Pagán – 15%
Pagán, like Thompson with his strikeout rate and BABIP, comes with some numbers that could be better.
He’s sporting a 4.89 ERA and a 4.58 FIP in 35 innings of work and entered play Sunday in the eighth and fourth percentiles league-wide in hard-hit rate and barrel rate, respectively.
But, there’s plenty of fantasy potential to be had, especially for fantasy managers who’ve constructed their rosters to have a low weekly ERA and WHIP. That’s mostly due to the fact that Pagán is one of only thirty relievers in the league with at least nine saves.
Despite John Duran’s breakout season, the Twins have maintained somewhat of a varied approach to saves this season.
Twins Save Totals This Season
That varied approach is keeping Pagán firmly entrenched in the ninth inning mix and decidedly on the radar for fantasy managers needing saves.
And this is all without mentioning the fact that Minnesota is currently pacing the American League Central with a 53-48 record. They’re not running away with their division in the same way the Yankees or Astros are, but adding a reliever who is a division-leading team’s top ninth-inning option more often than not is a must for fantasy managers in deeper leagues, even with some of his struggles.
Plus, Pagán is likely to help with your weekly strikeouts totals as well. He’s punched out 52 batters in 35 innings of work, thanks in part to a new split-finger offering that has become the veteran’s top bat-missing offering. All told, the reliever ranks in the 96th percentile in strikeout rate and the 86th percentile in whiff rate.
Brad Keller – 12%
If you’re looking for a high strikeout rate and pitcher wins in a waiver wire candidate, Keller probably isn’t the waiver wire option for you.
That’s in part due to how he pitches, inducing grounders at a high rate, but it’s also due to the team Keller pitches for. Kansas City is firmly anchored to the American League Central basement and the starter has just five wins compared to 11 losses in 19 starts.
Still, despite all of that, there are some fantasy-friendly aspects of Keller’s situation in terms of him pitching for the Royals. Fantasy-friendly aspects that make him a worthwhile pickup moving forward.
Sporting the league’s eighth-highest ground ball rate among qualified starters, Keller has attacked the zone more with his slider and changeup this season. He’s also cut down on the amount of barrels and general hard contact made against him.
The ability to limit barrels and hard contact while inducing grounders at a high rate is obviously helpful in limiting damage for Keller, but it’s particularly useful considering what division he plays in and some of the teams he squares off against on a regular basis.
The American League Central plays host to three other teams, the Tigers, White Sox, and Guardians, who make for ideal matchups for Keller.
All three are not only in the bottom third of the league in terms of runs scored but also barrel rate. The trio is also among the top third of the league in ground ball rate. What’s more, Cleveland has the league’s lowest team barrel rate at 5.1%, while Detroit’s 6.2% barrel rate isn’t too far off.
It also doesn’t hurt that Keller’s expected home run number in four of the five American League Central ballparks is lower than the 11 actual home runs he’s surrendered.
Graham Ashcraft – 9%
Graham Ashcraft doesn’t quite have the same fantasy-friendly environment as Keller, despite pitching in a division that features a similar number of teams who struggle to score runs in the Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates. That’s mostly due to Ashcraft’s home park, Great American Ball Park, which is tied for the highest Park Factor in terms of runs scored in the league with Coors Field per Statcast.
It’s certainly not ideal for promising young starters like Ashcraft, Hunter Greene, and Nick Lodolo, but the former sixth-round pick is finding success, nevertheless. In fact, he’s actually been much better at home, with a 3.46 ERA and a 3.77 FIP in 41.2 innings in Cincinnati.
Overall, the 24-year-old is sporting a 4.64 ERA and a much more palatable 4.06 FIP in 12 starts spanning 66 innings for the Reds. He’s struck out 46 batters compared to giving up just 17 walks and seven home runs.
Crucially, for a pitcher making half his starts in a launch pad of a home park, Ashcraft is adept at limiting damage with a pitch arsenal that prominently features both a cutter (50.7% usage rate) and a sinker (19.3% usage rate). He’s given up just 12 barrels on 227 batted balls, good for a 5.3% barrel rate.
There’s also the fact that the right-hander might be starting to miss slightly more bats on a more regular basis. Averaging just 6.27 strikeouts per nine innings on the season, Ashcraft has struck out at least six batters in three of his last six starts and has 14 strikeouts in his last 11.2 innings.
There are also those enviable matchups against the Cubs and Pirates for the rest of the season. Chicago could, speculatively speaking, trade their two most effective hitters in Willson Contreras and Ian Happ. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, has scored the fewest runs in the National League and has only outscored Oakland and Detroit on the season.
He’s not necessarily someone fantasy managers can rely on against difficult lineups, but in the right matchups down the stretch, Ashcraft can be an effective rotation option.
Image adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)