The headline of this week's column has a bit of a double meaning, as it not only highlights a slugger you'll hear about in a moment, but it also signifies the mad dash to the end of the season. Whether you're in the fantasy playoffs or jockeying for position in a traditional roto format, this is a pretty intense time of year.
With fantasy owners looking for that competitive edge over the final month of the regular season, sometimes we overreact to singular events. Jurickson Profar is a good example of this, as his ownership predictably skyrocketed after he homered in his first major league at-bat on Sunday. But guess what? He hasn't played since. And many fantasy owners should have seen this one coming, as Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler are blocking him in the middle infield and Ron Washington refuses to sit Michael Young. Yes, Profar is exciting and he has the potential to be a fantasy stud before long, but this is not his time.
The same could be said for Shelby Miller, who was mighty impressive in his major league debut Wednesday against the Mets, tossing two scoreless innings while striking out four and walking none. The 21-year-old right-hander has a very promising future and could be relevant in mixed leagues as soon as next year, but how much value can fantasy owners expect from him in a long relief role? Probably not much, even if he does get a start in the final week of the regular season. I'm guilty of falling in love with prospects too, but don't waste a roster spot in redraft leagues if there's someone else out there who has a more realistic chance to make an impact down the stretch.
Mark Reynolds 1B/3B, Orioles (Yahoo: 45 percent owned, ESPN: 37.3 percent)
Those surprising Orioles just aren't going away. And Reynolds is a big reason for their success, especially lately. The 29-year-old slugger has six homers and 13 RBI over his last six games and is hitting .261 with 11 homers and 32 RBI in 48 games since the All-Star break. We're talking about a .237 career hitter with a 32.8 percent career strikeout rate, so I wouldn't advise picking him up for his batting average, but it's interesting that he's hitting line drives at a career-high rate this season. With his power and dual-eligibility between first and third base, Reynolds makes for a strong addition in most formats right now.
A.J. Griffin SP, Athletics (Yahoo: 15 percent owned, ESPN: 10.7 percent)
Griffin didn't miss a beat in his return from a shoulder strain last Saturday against the Red Sox, giving up just one run on three hits and zero walks over seven innings while striking out five. The 24-year-old right-hander is now 4-0 with a 2.26 ERA and 40/10 K/BB ratio in 52 1/3 innings over his first nine major league starts. Griffin has only averaged 89.7 mph on his fastball, so he's not a power guy, but he has solid command and quality secondary pitches. He has a good chance to keep a rotation spot down the stretch and Oakland provides a perfect backdrop for him to find success as a backend starter in the long-term. I wouldn't hesitate using him Friday against the light-hitting Mariners.
John Mayberry, Jr. 1B/OF, Phillies (Yahoo: 10 percent owned, ESPN: 18.6 percent)
Mayberry was one of those guys a lot of folks picked as a sleeper in fantasy drafts this spring. I know I did. In a couple leagues, actually. While he made many of us look silly early on, he has really turned things around recently. The 28-year-old is hitting .368 (25-for-68) with five home runs, three doubles and 14 RBI over his last 18 games. He should continue to play every day down the stretch as the Phillies continue to evaluate their internal options for 2013, so his pop and multi-position eligibility should come in handy in deeper mixed leagues.
Bronson Arroyo SP, Reds (Yahoo: 31 percent owned, ESPN: 35.4 percent)
Don't laugh. In case you hadn't noticed, Arroyo has been on a nice roll for a while now, winning seven out of his last nine starts while posting a 3.33 ERA and 41/12 K/BB ratio over 70 1/3 innings. The 35-year-old right-hander has allowed three runs or less in each of his last five starts. He's well worth using Saturday in a very favorable matchup against the last-place Astros.
Ross Detwiler SP, Nationals (Yahoo: 37 percent owned, ESPN: 36.9 percent)
Detwiler doesn't get as much attention as his fellow rotation mates, but fantasy owners shouldn't complain, as he's still available in more than 60 percent of mixed leagues. The 26-year-old southpaw carved up the Cubs on Labor Day by tossing seven scoreless innings and now holds a 3.15 ERA on the year. He's not a great source for strikeouts (5.53 K/9), but his walk rate (2.51 BB/9) is pretty acceptable and he has induced ground balls 52 percent of the time, which is a big reason why he has only allowed nine homers in 140 innings this year. Detwiler should be started in all formats this weekend against a Marlins team which ranks 28th in the majors in runs scored and has struggled against southpaws all season.
Justin Ruggiano OF, Marlins (Yahoo: 20 percent owned, ESPN: 39.9 percent)
I have been waiting for Ruggiano to turn into a pumpkin for a couple of months now, but it just hasn't happened. While the 30-year-old has come back down to Earth a bit since his fantastic showing in June and early July, he's still hitting .289 with seven homers, 15 RBI and eight stolen bases in 44 games since the All-Star break. Hard to complain about that. You might be surprised to learn that his .955 OPS is eighth-highest in all of baseball among players with at least 250 plate appearances. Yes, even higher than teammate Giancarlo Stanton. Ruggiano has pop, speed and a regular spot in Ozzie Guillen's lineup, so there's really no reason why he shouldn't be owned in most leagues right now.
Chris Carpenter SP, Cardinals (Yahoo: 26 percent owned, ESPN: 22.7 percent)
When Carpenter underwent surgery in mid-July to alleviate thoracic outlet syndrome, he was expected to miss the rest of the season. Apparently not. The veteran right-hander threw a three-inning simulated game on Tuesday and is scheduled to stretch out to five innings on Monday. It's suddenly realistic that he could be back in the Cardinals' starting rotation within a couple of weeks. If you have some roster flexibility, he's makes for a fine DL-stash.
Everth Cabrera 2B/SS, Padres (Yahoo: 5 percent owned, ESPN: 3 percent)
Cabrera is hitting just .235 on the year, so you're buying him for one reason and one reason only: Speed. The 25-year-old swiped two more bases Wednesday night and now has 28 stolen bases in 29 attempts this year. He's tied for 12th in the majors in steals, despite appearing in just 94 games. Yes, his batting average isn't ideal, but it hurts a bit less in a standard roto league where your players have piled thousands of at-bats by now.
Jason Hammel SP, Orioles (Yahoo: 41 percent owned, ESPN: 26.5 percent)
Hammel was the de facto ace of the Orioles' staff until he underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in mid-July, posting a surprising 3.54 ERA and 106/39 K/BB ratio in 109 1/3 innings over 18 starts. Well, check your waiver wire, because he's back. Hammel was solid in a rehab start Saturday with High-A Frederick and is scheduled to make his return Thursday night against the Yankees. I'd think twice about using him right out of the gate, but he could be an asset down the stretch.
Zach Britton SP, Orioles (Yahoo: 16 percent owned, ESPN: 26.4 percent)
Remember when Britton was a waiver wire darling early last year? We could be witnessing the same thing right now. The 24-year-old southpaw struck out eight over seven shutout innings Tuesday night against the Blue Jays and has a 0.94 ERA and 29/5 K/BB ratio in 26 2/3 innings over his last four starts. Per ESPN, opponents are 0-for-20 with 13 strikeouts against his slider during that timespan. Pretty impressive. He'll face a tough test against the Yankees this weekend, but it's not like the Bombers are at full strength at the moment. Use him as a matchup play moving forward at the very least.
Norichika Aoki OF, Brewers (Yahoo: 12 percent owned, ESPN: 13.6 percent)
Many projected that Aoki would end up as a fourth outfielder when he signed his two-year, $2.5 million deal with the Brewers last offseason, but he has ended up being quite the bargain. The 30-year-old outfielder has hit safely in nine straight games (five of them the multi-hit variety) and is now hitting .287 with seven homers, 35 RBI, 22 stolen bases, 62 runs scored and a .770 OPS over 125 games. Aoki is playing every day in right field and has batted exclusively out of the leadoff spot since the All-Star break, so he should continue to help in counting stats.
Shopping at the five-and-dime:
(Players owned in less than 10 percent of Y! and ESPN.com leagues)
Starling Marte OF, Pirates (Yahoo: 9 percent owned, ESPN: 5.4 percent)
Marte flashed some impressive potential upon his call-up from the minors in late July, but he landed on the disabled list last month with a strained right oblique. While those injuries can be pretty tricky, the 23-year-old outfielder began a rehab assignment on Tuesday night and should be back with the Pirates by the end of the week if all goes well. Marte's plate discipline (24/3 K/BB ratio in 101 plate appearances) obviously needs work, but his power-speed combo could make him worth stashing in five-outfielder formats.
Erik Kratz C, Phillies (Yahoo: 3 percent owned, ESPN: 1.3 percent)
Kratz has flown under the radar somewhat, but he's hitting .287 with nine homers and a .944 OPS in 108 at-bats with the Phillies this season. Only teammate Carlos Ruiz has a higher OPS among catchers with at least 100 plate appearances. Meanwhile, he has more home runs than the likes of Chris Iannetta, Salvador Perez, Alex Avila and Yasmani Grandal. Small sample? You bet. But he's worth a flier if you're looking for some pop in two-catcher leagues, especially with Ruiz no sure thing to return this season.
Andrew Cashner RP/SP, Padres (Yahoo: 9 percent owned, ESPN: 0.1 percent)
Cashner was a hot pickup on the waiver wire after he struck out nine over 6 1/3 innings against the Astros back on June 28, but he suffered a lat strain in his very next start and has been sidelined ever since. The good news is that he's expected to return to the starting rotation Friday against the Diamondbacks in San Diego. He'll be limited to about 70 pitches in his first start back and the Padres will likely monitor him carefully down the stretch, but the hard-throwing right-hander has the potential to pick up strikeouts in bunches.