As we near the endpoint of Week 4 of the Major League Baseball season, fantasy league waiver wires are becoming less and less plentiful. Sure, if you’re in a 10-team league or a shallower 12-teamer, there are gems to be had — every league has an owner who panics and drops a good player after a cold start — but I’ll let the watered down publications handle that stuff; these juicy bits of info are for those of you in deeper leagues. You won’t see me trumpet guys like Zack Cozart, Chase Utley or Michael Saunders, like many sites are doing, because we both know those players aren’t sitting on your waiver wire.
Today’s column will focus on a handful of outfielders that are much further off owners’ radars, yet can offer tremendous value in deeper formats. All recommended players are under 2 percent owned in ESPN fantasy leagues.
Steve Pearce, OF/1B, Rays (0.8% owned)
Steve Pearce’s MLB career can be summarized with a famous line from the American Pie movies: “Remember that ONE time in band camp when….?” Like the flute-toting redhead in those four illustrious films, fantasy owners will always be able to say, “Remember that ONE time Steve Pearce hit .293 with 21 home runs?” It was just three seasons ago, at the age of 31, that Pearce accomplished this feat. Fantasy owners everywhere figured this was a fluke, as the nine-year veteran has a career .238 BA and had never surpassed four homers in a season before. We were right, but apparently the Orioles were sold, as they signed him to a one-year, $3.7 million deal. A drop off to a .218 average with just 15 HR wasn’t enough to dissuade the Rays from giving him $4.75 million either.
It’s pretty clear that Pearce’s 2014 season will be a one-of-a-kind experience, but that doesn’t mean he can’t help deep-league owners. Logan Morrison‘s struggles (6-for-56) have led to more playing time for Pearce, and he’s been able to produce some decent stats over the last week. The 33-year-old has started five of the last six games for Tampa and has hit .313 (6-for-17) with a HR, two RBI and an impressive four walks in that span.
At some point Pearce will turn into a pumpkin, but his multi-position eligibility and current starting status make him worthy of an add in deeper formats.
Nick Williams, OF, Phillies (0.7% owned)
Nick Williams was the Texas Rangers’ fifth-ranked prospect following the 2014 season, according to Baseball America, but he was sent packing to Philadelphia last year as part of the Cole Hamels deal. Philly is a great system to be in if you’re looking to quickly rise through the ranks, and Williams has done just that, beginning the year at Triple-A Lehigh Valley after playing just 22 games for the Phillies’ Double-A affiliate in Reading following the trade last July.
The 22-year-old struggled out of the gate, slashing a meager .174/.222/.261 through his first seven games, but he’s picked it up since, hitting .361/.385/.528 in his last 39 plate appearances. He’s not really known to be a big home run hitter, or even a high-volume base stealer, but he can do a little bit of everything and brings a solid batting average and on-base percentage to the table.
The Phillies arguably have the worst corner outfield in baseball, and with Peter Bourjos (.169 BA), David Lough (.250, 2 XBH) and Tyler Goeddel (.160 BA) as the only players standing in his way, it’s possible we see Nick Williams playing every day for the Phillies by July. In very deep leagues, he’s worth speculating on if you have someone easy to cut.
Brandon Guyer, OF, Rays (0.6% owned)
Another Tampa Bay Ray makes this list, and this time it’s Brandon Guyer, who is someone you should be considering if you’re in a roto league.
Guyer has hit .300/.440/.450 with a homer and three RBI against left-handed pitching, and this ability puts him on the fantasy map. The reason I say he’s only worth rostering in roto leagues, though, is because he never plays when a righty is on the hill (he has just seven at-bats against right-handers), and you can’t afford to have a guy like that in a head-to-head league when there’s a chance he may may sit four or five straight games when Tampa faces a string of righties. But in roto, where you can pick and choose whom you play, he’s the perfect target.
Jeff Francoeur, OF, Braves (0.3% owned)
In fantasy baseball, and especially in deep leagues, production often comes second to playing time. Yes, we want our players to perform well on a daily basis, but simply playing on a daily basis gets you going in the right direction. In the case of journeyman outfielder Jeff Francoeur, both are being accomplished.
After failing to draw interest in the free agent market all off-season, Francoeur reunited with his former club in late February and was added to the Major League roster prior to Opening Day. He didn’t see much playing time beyond some pinch-hitting appearances early on, but an injury to Ender Inciarte and legal troubles for Hector Olivera have opened up the door for the 32-year-old. He’s made the best of it too, hitting .385 with four RBI over his last nine games, six of which were starts. There’s no need to be worried about him losing a ton of at-bats when Inciarte returns either, as it looks like rookie Mallex Smith will be sent back to Triple-A to work on his game.
If you’re looking for a flashy player, you’ve come to the wrong place, but Jeff Francoeur will provide consistency and do so at a very cheap price.