Kikuchi Climbing

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The Mariners will receive a double-dose of hope today with Jarred Kelenic and Logan Gilbert both making their way to the majors. Kelenic is already scooped up in any and all competitive fantasy leagues and I probably don’t need to tell you that Gilbert is well worth a flier too. Our own Chris Crawford went over the case for Gilbert in this video and Matt Williams discussed the call-up in Thursday’s Daily Dose. The 24-year-old might not be as flashy as some of the pitching prospects ahead of him on Top-100 lists, but with the way he commands his pitches, he sure looks ready.

These call-ups suggest that the dam could be about to break with other top prospects. We’ll get into a few of them in this week’s column, so stay tuned, but don’t let the impulse to stash put you in a difficult position with your roster. You might be waiting a while with some of these guys, so you’ll have to weigh the pros and cons with each particular case. Stashing pitching prospects is always a tricky gamble, as progress often isn’t immediate and a return trip to the minors isn’t out of the question if they struggle. At a time when pitching isn’t too hard to find in fantasy leagues, be careful about going overboard.

Have specific questions about your roster? Ask @djshort on Twitter.

MIXED LEAGUES

(Players rostered in under 50 percent of Yahoo leagues)

Note: Percentages are from the morning of Thursday, May 13th

Yusei Kikuchi SP, Mariners (Yahoo: 37 percent rostered)

Kikuchi was mentioned in the first Waiver Wired of the season, but I have to go back to the well here. The southpaw began the year with a 5.70 ERA and five homers allowed through his first four starts, but he’s turned things around with a 2.66 ERA and 25/4 K/BB ratio in 20 1/3 innings over his last three outings. He’s amassed at least 15 swinging strikes in each of those starts, maintaining the velocity uptick he showed last year. While he’s given up more in the way of hard contact this year, he’s also missing more bats. Going by CSW (called strikes plus whiffs) percentage, he ranks 20th among qualified starters, ahead of the likes of Walker Buehler, Kevin Gausman, Trevor Bauer, and Aaron Nola. Maybe Kikuchi will continue to be frustrating as all get out, but the breakout potential remains.

Ryan Mountcastle 1B/OF, Orioles (Yahoo: 47 percent rostered)

Mountcastle entered 2021 with some serious momentum after slashing .333/.386/.492 with five homers over a 35-game sample with the Orioles last year, but he’s been dropped in some mixed leagues due to his slow start. Still, he’s been on the upswing of late, hitting .298 (17-for-57) with two homers and three doubles over his last 15 games while settling in the middle of the O’s lineup. He’s put up a 17/1 K/BB ratio during that time with no real improvement in his contact rate, so the approach remains flawed, but he’s at least silenced chatter about a possible demotion. Mountcastle is hitting the ball just as hard as he did last year and he gets to play half of his games in Camden Yards. Give him a shot if he’s been dropped.

Vidal Brujan 2B, Rays (Yahoo: 11 percent rostered)

Yeah, yeah, we all know about Wander Franco. He’s awesome and his time is coming sooner or later. But it’s probably time to start stashing Brujan too. The 23-year-old is red-hot to begin the year in Triple-A, slugging four homers through seven games after never hitting more than nine homers in a full season in the minors. We already knew he could hit and run, but if the power is truly progressing, look out. The Durham Bulls have only played seven games this year, but Brujan has already made starts between second base, third base, and all three outfield spots, so clearly the Rays are preparing him for a roving role at the major league level. And it could happen sooner than we originally thought.

Editor’s Note: Don’t forget to download the NBC Sports EDGE app to receive real-time player news and updates. Plus, it allows you to easily track your favorite players. Get it here!

Gavin Lux 2B, Dodgers (Yahoo: 41 percent rostered)

Sort of like the Dodgers themselves, this hasn’t been the start of the season Lux had in mind. However, his go-ahead homer against the Mariners on Tuesday functioned as a reminder of his immense potential. Lux’s bat has actually perked up a bit recently, with a .343 batting average (12-for-35) over his last nine games. He’s been hitting the ball harder while beginning to cut down on his strikeouts. Just much better at-bats in general. Oh, and he’s wearing tight pants.

Gavin Lux says he wears Walker Buehler's tight pants whenever Buehler starts. After tonight's homer, he said they might be here to stay.

— Juan Toribio (@juanctoribio) May 12, 2021

Pants power? Whatever works.

Brandon Belt 1B/OF, Giants (Yahoo: 44 percent rostered)

From pants to Belt, that’s what we do here. Belt was forced to leave Tuesday’s game with left side tightness, but assuming it’s not a major concern — the team called it “precautionary” at the time — feel free pick him up in most leagues. The 33-year-old got off to a slow start, which is understandable after he missed most of the spring while dealing with mononucleosis in addition to COVID-19, not to mention the surgery last October to remove a bone spur from his right heel, but he’s amassed seven homers and 19 RBI over his last 22 games to go along with a .260/.382/.589 batting line. He quietly posted some huge numbers last year and current sits in the 95th percentile in hard-hit rate and the 99th percentile in terms of barrel percentage. The health history isn’t great, but he’s undervalued.

Adbert Alzolay SP, Cubs (Yahoo: 23 percent rostered)

Going by pitchers with at least 30 innings pitched, Alzolay is tied for 11th in the majors with a 0.88 WHIP. Yes, WHIP is an imperfect stat, but it’s one we use in standard fantasy leagues. It also usually points to a pitcher who has displayed excellent control. That’s perhaps the most encouraging aspect of Alzolay’s season to date, as he’s walked just six batters in 32 innings after issuing 22 free-passes through his first 33 2/3 innings in the majors between 2019-2020. The 26-year-old has evolved over the past couple of years, changing up his diet after an injury thanks to his wife — who is a nutritionist — and ramping up his slider usage so far in 2021. It’s working for him. He racked up a career-high 18 swinging strikes on Tuesday against the Indians, with a whopping 15 of them coming on that slider. He’s a two-start pitcher next week, which should be the cherry on top as far as recommendations go.

Robbie Grossman OF, Tigers (Yahoo: 23 percent rostered)

Let’s not get too carried away with Grossman in mixed leagues, but the veteran switch-hitter does some things well. Most importantly, he gets on base. He’s sporting a .377 on-base percentage to begin the year and holds a .360 on-base percentage in 571 games dating back to 2016. Only Max Muncy, Carlos Santana, Mike Trout, and Yandy Diaz outpace him in walk rate so far this season. The Tigers’ lineup isn’t good, but Grossman is getting volume at the top of the lineup and A.J. Hinch is apparently giving him the green light to create some offense. He’s a perfect 7-for-7 in stolen base attempts, with only Ramon Laureano (8) and Whit Merrifield (11) ahead of him on the leaderboard. Grossman has never reached double-digit stolen bases in a season before, but that’s about to change. He’s also capable of providing some punch on occasion. There’s an obvious ceiling here, but Grossman is a respectable option if you are trying to work through some injuries in your lineup.

Nick Senzel 2B/OF, Reds (Yahoo: 33 percent rostered)

Things weren’t looking very promising for Senzel a couple of weeks ago, but he’s rattled off a .350/.409/.450 batting line with one homer, one double, five RBI, and seven runs scored over his last 10 games. He’s hit leadoff in six straight games while mostly playing second base as Mike Moustakas sees time at first base with Joey Votto on the mend. This might not last forever, but we’re certainly happy to see that second base-eligibility potentially sticking around. Senzel has greatly increased his contact rate this year, as only 11 qualified hitters have a lower strikeout percentage. Add in his quality of contact and his xBA sits at .302, per Baseball Savant. Things are looking good here at the plate, though it’s a bit strange that he’s just 2-for-7 in stolen base attempts. His elite speed suggests he should be better in this area, but he’s a work in progress in this area. Mostly, it’s just nice to see him healthy.

Deeper Dandies:

(Players rostered in under 10 percent of Yahoo leagues)

Tyler Chatwood RP, Blue Jays (Yahoo: 6 percent rostered)

Jordan Romano notched his first save of the season Tuesday against the Braves, though it didn’t come easily. He threw 29 pitches and worked around a single and a walk in the frame. Chatwood pitched the eighth inning, though its worth noting that he had the tougher assignment against Ronald Acuña Jr., Freddie Freeman, and Marcell Ozuna. Romano’s control has been worse this year and he’s not missing as many bats, either, so he’s far from a sure thing as the favorite for saves. Chatwood really seems to be finding his niche as a late-inning arm, posting a 0.73 ERA and 17/3 K/BB ratio over 12 1/3 innings. He’s throwing his cutter more than ever and getting a ton of whiffs on the pitch. That A.J. Cole got the save on Wednesday only underscores the opportunity in this bullpen.

Jarren Duran OF, Red Sox (Yahoo: 5 percent rostered)

Okay, so Jarred Kelenic and Logan Gilbert are on the way with the Mariners and Vidal Brujan appears on the verge with the Rays. Who might be next? Well, Duran should be pretty high on most lists at this point. The 24-year-old is red-hot to start the year in Triple-A, highlighted by a two-homer game on Tuesday. This might look strange with a player who had eight homers in 199 minor league games coming into the year, but he’s made some swing changes over the past year and a half. This is one of those things that was noticed at the alternate site, but the progress wasn’t seen by the public at large without the benefit of minor league games in 2020. The speed was already enough to put him on the radar, but obviously he’s more interesting in fantasy leagues if the power surge sticks. Franchy Cordero has been flat-out terrible, so it’s easy to imagine Duran taking his rightful place as the new regular center fielder for Boston very soon.

Alek Manoah SP, Blue Jays (Yahoo: 5 percent rostered)

The Blue Jays optioned Nate Pearson to Triple-A after a brutal showing in his return to the majors last Sunday. Could Manoah be the next man up? He’s doing his best to make a case. The 6-foot-6, 230-pound right-hander has begun the Triple-A season with 12 scoreless innings and a 17/2 K/BB ratio through his first two starts. He didn’t allow a hit until the sixth inning against Rochester on Wednesday. Manoah features mid-90s velocity on his fastball as well as a plus-slider, with excellent control to boot. There’s shoot-for-the-moon potential here, but the marks against him are his relative inexperience in pro ball as well as the fact that he’s not on the 40-man roster. Still, if you are in a deeper league and/or have an N/A spot available, Manoah isn’t a bad speculative play.

Weekend Warriors

Tyler Anderson SP, Pirates (Yahoo: 26 percent rostered)

Maybe it’s because Anderson pitches for the Pirates, but he continues to go overlooked in fantasy leagues. The southpaw has compiled a 3.05 ERA over seven starts to begin the year, including a dominant outing against the Cubs last time out. He’s allowed two earned runs or fewer in five straight starts while completing at least six innings in the last three. The secondary numbers back up what we’ve seen thus far. Thanks to an increase in his cutter usage, his swinging strike rate sits at 13.1 percent this year, up from 10.1 percent last year. He’s a recommended play against the Giants on Friday at home.

Jordan Montgomery SP, Yankees (Yahoo: 37 percent rostered)

Montgomery got off to a slow start this year, but he’s righted the ship of late, posting a 3.18 ERA over his last three starts. This includes six innings of one-run ball with nine strikeouts against the Rays on Tuesday. The big key has been the control. He’s walked two batters in 17 innings during that time after issuing seven walks in 21 2/3 innings to begin the year. Control was a strong suit for him last year, so look for this to continue. Interestingly, Montgomery mostly scrapped his cutter on Tuesday, which has been his least effective pitch to date. In turn, he racked up a season-high 17 swinging strikes, nine of them coming on his changeup. Start him with confidence against the Orioles this weekend in Baltimore.

AL ONLY

Danny Santana 1B/2B/3B/SS/OF, Red Sox (Yahoo: 1 percent rostered)

Seriously, Santana is eligible at all of these spots in Yahoo leagues. That should be reason enough to put him on your radar, but keep him in mind if the Red Sox want to wait on prospect outfielder Jarren Duran. At minimum, Santana could be a decent stop-gap, at least as a part-time player. Santana got a late start on the season after needing surgery for a foot infection, but he’s on a minor league rehab assignment right now and should be ready to rock soon. The approach has never been great, but he put up 28 homers and 21 steals over 130 games in 2019 with Texas. Pretty decent sleeper, all things considered.

Hyeon-jong Yang SP/RP, Rangers (Yahoo: 1 percent rostered)

Yang joined the Rangers in February after spending 14 seasons in the Korea Baseball Organization, but it didn’t warrant much in the way of attention since it was just a minor league deal. The 33-year-old didn’t crack the Opening Day roster, but he’s been a difference-maker since joining the club in late-April, posting a 2.25 ERA and 13/2 K/BB ratio in 12 innings over three appearances. He struck out while allowing just one run (a homer to Mitch Garver) over 3 1/3 innings in his first MLB start last week. Yang doesn’t have overpowering stuff -- sitting right around 90 mph with his fastball — but he throws strikes and has been picking up a ton of whiffs on his changeup. The ceiling isn’t high here, especially as teams get a better look at him, but he could have some value if the Rangers continue to use him smartly.

NL ONLY

Jesus Sanchez OF, Marlins (Yahoo: 1 percent rostered)

We already mentioned Vidal Brujan’s hot start, but Sanchez’s has been even better. Through his first seven games in Triple-A this year, he’s hitting .571 (16-for-28) with four homers, two doubles, and a triple. He’s also struck out just three times. The 23-year-old struggled in a small sample with the Marlins last year and has admittedly seen his prospect stock tumble a bit in recent years, but he’s known for making hard contact. The raw power hasn’t fully translated to results and his aggressiveness could get him into trouble at the next level, but the Marlins could give him another shot soon. He’s certainly knocking on the door.

Khalil Lee OF, Mets (Yahoo: 3 percent rostered)

Lee got his first call-up to the majors on Thursday after outfielder Albert Almora Jr. landed on the injured list with a shoulder contusion after colliding into the center field fence on Wednesday. The Mets are in need some seem depth with Brandon Nimmo also on the injured list. Acquired from the Royals in a three-team trade during the offseason, Lee offers plus-speed with patience and even a bit of pop from the left side of the plate. He struck out 28.2 percent of the time in Double-A in 2019, but it’s hard to ignore that he stole 53 bases over 129 games that year. There could be some short-term relevancy here, but he’s certainly a name to watch for the future.

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