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Austin Riley
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Strike Zone

And Austin Riley Too!?!

by Matthew Pouliot

When I wrote last week to stick with Collin McHugh for however long the Astros do, I certainly wasn’t expecting him to be sent to the bullpen before ever making another start. It was a harsh way to deal with a guy with a 42/14 K/BB ratio and a 1.22 WHIP over 41 innings in eight starts. Still, few teams have alternatives like the Astros do.

I feel bad for McHugh, who was probably going to be just fine in his return to the rotation. His struggles thus far were all about a 21.4% HR/FB that’s 50% higher than the league average. He’d always been better than the league average there since joining the Astros rotation in 2014. He wasn’t going to sport an outstanding ERA, but he likely would have ended up as a valuable fantasy starter had the Astros stuck with him. That they were so quick to pull the plug surely had something to do with his outstanding numbers in relief last year – he had a 1.99 ERA in 72 1/3 innings – as well as the power arms behind him. It’s a tough break for McHugh in his final year before free agency; he turns 32 in June, so this was probably his one chance to earn a nice multiyear deal.

Replacing McHugh is Corbin Martin, who impressed with a 96-mph fastball and nine strikeouts over 5 1/3 innings in his debut Sunday. That the Astros seem to come up with a new one of these arms every month is the biggest advantage they have over the rest of the league. I worry some about Martin’s walk rate, but he’s a definite mixed-league guy right away.

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American League notes

- Not replacing McHugh was Josh James, who was slated to be one of my very favorite pitching picks this year before suffering a strained quad in late February and getting immediately eliminated from the rotation competition. That the Astros were so quick to rule him out as a starter seemed to suggest that they weren’t as high on him as I was. James returned from the injury in time to open the season in the bullpen, but he struggled initially. He seems to have found his groove now; he’s fanned 11 in six scoreless innings this month. I’m holding out a little hope that now that McHugh is in the pen, maybe the team would consider sending James down to stretch him out. However, there’s been nothing to suggest that it might happen.

- Nicky Lopez could have been the Royals’ shortstop a year ago when Alcides Escobar was still being treated as a fixture and Adalberto Mondesi had yet to break through. He’s up now, but rather than playing shortstop, he’ll get starts at second base and take over most of the at-bats that had been going to Chris Owings. It’s too bad about Owings; if he had hit like he did two years ago, well, he still would have been a mediocre player but he could have been a real fantasy asset on the running Royals (he’s 74-for-88 stealing bases in his career). Lopez will be a definite upgrade offensively. He’s yet to play anywhere other than second or short in his career, so he probably won’t do much moving around. Instead, it’s Whit Merrifield who will be spending a lot of time in the outfield. Lopez isn’t worth grabbing right away in mixed leagues, but he’ll be a nice add in deeper formats.

- Oscar Mercado had a case for making the Indians this spring, but the team opted for Tyler Naquin, Greg Allen and Jordan Luplow instead. His chance finally came Tuesday after he hit .294/.396/.496 in 119 at-bats for Triple-A Columbus. Mercado immediately becomes the Indians’ most interesting outfielder for fantasy purposes; he’s not the best bet from a hitting standpoint, but he swiped 37 bases last year and he’s already up to 14 this season. The bat offers some potential, too; he has decent enough power to left field and his legs will earn him a few extra hits. Those looking for steals could give him a try.

- The Rays’ Brandon Lowe is a guy I’d be looking to sell high on. I like him plenty for 2020 and beyond, but right now, he has the second worst contact rate in the majors, behind only Joey Gallo. While Lowe certainly has legitimate power, he’s not in Gallo territory there. I think we’ll see his average sink from its current .288, especially if he continues to play against lefties, and if he resumes sitting against more southpaws, that’s not a very good thing, either.

- Kendrys Morales never made a lot of sense for the A’s with Matt Olson out – the team would have been better off with Jurickson Profar at first and Chad Pinder at second – and he certainly didn’t fit now that Olson has returned, even if Olson still isn’t 100 percent after recovering from a broken hamate. Now Morales is back as a DH in another stopgap role with the Yankees after being DFA’d by Oakland. That could give him some short-term value in mixed leagues, if only until Giancarlo Stanton comes off the IL. Miguel Andujar seemed likely to see a lot of that DH time, but now it appears that shoulder surgery could be on the way for him.

- It’s odd to see Miguel Cabrera striking out this much and having just one homer through 40 games, but I expect that he’ll bounce back enough to be a solid mixed-league first baseman in the end. He’s still hitting the ball hard and getting into the air more often than not. His strikeout rate is well up, but his contact rate isn’t too bad. Cabrera’s upside is rather limited at this point, in part because he plays in such a lousy lineup and will have a tough time scoring runs, but I’d still suggest hanging on to him.

- Between Nelson Cruz’s sore wrist and Mitch Garver’s ankle sprain, Willians Astudillo seems like a must own in any leagues in which he’s available. Garver’s injury is a real shame; Astudillo gets all of the attention, but Garver had secretly been one of the AL’s best players in limited action, hitting nine homers in 79 at-bats.

- Justin Bour was the odd-man out in Anaheim when Shohei Ohtani came off the IL, and the Angels sent him down after Tuesday’s game. Being promoted in his place is Jared Walsh, which should be fun. Besides hitting .302/.398/.604 with 10 homers for Triple-A Salt Lake, the left-handed Walsh also has decent stuff coming out of the pen, though he’s still not very experienced in that regard (he’s thrown five innings, allowing two runs, this year after throwing 5 2/3 innings last season). It doesn’t seem likely that Walsh will have any fantasy value initially, but if he could convince the Angels to give him a shot in left field, he’d be interesting. The problem there is that Walsh is much more at home defensively at first base, and the Angels still aren’t going to move on from Albert Pujols.

 

National League notes

- Whether Travis Shaw is actually hurt or not, Keston Hiura truly does deserve a shot. The 22-year-old hit .333/.408/.633 with 11 homers and four steals in 129 at-bats for Triple-A San Antonio. He’ll probably strike out too much to hit for a strong average right away in the majors, but the power should carry over, especially with Miller Park aiding him half of the time. He’s worth a try in mixed leagues, particularly for Shaw owners. Shaw probably won’t be usable again anytime soon.

- Ender Inciarte’s back injury gave the Braves an excuse to promote Austin Riley after he hit his 15th homer for Triple-A Gwinnett on Tuesday. Riley played just four games in left field for Gwinnett, so things could be ugly defensively for a while. I expect that Riley will hit, but I don’t know if he’ll do so sufficiently to make up for the difference a healthy Inciarte makes defensively. He does offer more fantasy potential than the rest of this week’s exceptional list of position player callups, though.

- If you tried to take advantage of Dansby Swanson’s hot start by picking him up on April 11, then he’s hit .250/.303/.398 with two homers and 10 RBI for you in 30 games. Still, this isn’t the time to drop him, not now that the Braves have moved him into the second spot in the order. That seemed like a mistake to me – the Braves are just messing with things for the sake of messing with things – but there’s no denying that Swanson is sporting a better approach at the plate this year; he’s chasing way fewer bad pitches. He also might do a little more running while hitting high in the order. I’m not yet counting on him having mixed-league value all season long, but he’s worth using while he’s hitting second.

- It just doesn’t look like the Mike Foltynewicz of 2018 is going to show up anytime soon. His velocity is down a couple of miles per hour, and he’s yet to find his best slider, the one that got him more than half of his strikeouts last year. Maybe his stuff gradually returns the further removed he gets from his elbow injury, but he looks bad enough right now that it just doesn’t seem to be worth waiting on him.

- Amed Rosario’s defense was disappointing last year, but he still seemed redeemable with the glove. One quarter of the way through this season, it no longer really seems like that’s the case. With 10 errors and just 16 double plays turned, Rosario has rated among the game’s least valuable defenders, and even though he has been just fine offensively, it’s quite possible the Mets would have been better off with Adeiny Hechavarria at shortstop this last month and a half. I don’t expect that the Mets will try anything different unless Rosario goes into a lengthy offensively slump. However, they should be looking at Rosario as a center fielder in 2020.

- Not yet joining the callup parade is Brendan Rodgers, as the Rockies are likely waiting until the soft super-two arbitration deadline passes later this month. Rodgers is playing mostly second base while hitting .351/.419/.641 for Triple-A Albuquerque. That’s a friendly offensive environment, but Rodgers is actually hitting .427 with six of his nine homers on the road. The Rockies have already sent down Garrett Hampson to clear some room. Pat Valaika got the callup Tuesday, but he’s just keeping a seat warm. Ryan McMahon is hitting just .232/.318/.358, so he’s not looking like much of an obstacle. It’s worth picking up Rodgers now in any leagues in which he’s available.

- The Giants are calling up 24-year-old Shaun Anderson to make his major league debut Wednesday against the Blue Jays. Anderson has never put up the kind of numbers to make anyone dream of stardom, but he’s been solid at every stop and he has enough on his fastball to keep it going in the majors. This year, he had a 4.11 ERA and a 37/11 K/BB ratio in 35 innings for Triple-A Sacramento. That he’ll be working in a favorable environment for pitchers makes him worth watching, though the Giants’ lack of any discernable offense will make wins tough to come by.

- Also debuting with the Giants is Aaron Altherr, who was claimed off waivers from the Phillies. I was concerned the Giants would bypass him after just calling up Mac Williamson, but he was a smart pickup for a team still desperate for outfield help. Altherr won’t offer any immediate fantasy value and might not be a factor at any point with a tough ballpark for power working against him. Still, he has more offensive upside than anyone else the Giants are using in the outfield right now.

Matthew Pouliot
Matthew Pouliot is the Executive Editor of RotoWorld.com and has been doing the site's baseball projections for the last 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @matthewpouliot.