(That headline doesn't work with Rays teammate Brandon Lowe.)
The Cardinals still get credit for their Devil Magic brand of turning non-prospects into contributing and, sometimes, star-level players in the majors, but the Rays have carved out a niche for themselves in that space recently as well.
Nate Lowe is one of the latest players to benefit from the Rays Demon Sorcery. (Hey, it's a working title.) A 13th-round pick by the Rays in the 2016 MLB Draft, Lowe was a low-profile prospect who hit 11 homers in his first year-and-a-half in professional baseball. He had some on-base skills that might have translated to a James Loney-type hitter at the major league level, but he wasn't trending toward being a player featured on Waiver Wired, let alone receiving American League Player of the Week honors, as Lowe did last week.
It was a power breakout in 2018 that paved the way for his ascent to the majors. Lowe began the year at High-A but mashed his way to Double-A and eventually Triple-A, finishing with 27 homers, 102 RBI, 93 runs scored and a .330/.416/.568 line across all stops. This year, the 24-year-old continued to hit at Triple-A, knocking 12 homers in 68 games, and he had two brief cameos with the big club earlier this year before being promoted again in early July.
After that promotion, the slugging first baseman hit .345/.424/.897 with five homers and 10 RBI in his first eight games. That included back-to-back games with a homer against the Yankees before the All-Star break, and a two-homer game against the Orioles this past weekend.
As mentioned, the Rays' ability to produce productive hitters out of thin air -- not just by way of their farm system, but also through free agency and trades, with guys like Travis d'Arnaud and Yandy Diaz helping propel the team into a Wild Card spot in mid-July -- actually works against Lowe in some senses, as there are a lot of mouths to feed and manager Kevin Cash is not shy about creative lineup constructions. To that end, Lowe, after going 8-for-17 with three homers in the four-game series against the O's, was held out of the first two games of the Rays' series against the Yankees this week.
Lowe is a legitimate power hitter and has found his footing at the highest level, though, and he's only getting better. Rostered in just 31 percent of Yahoo leagues, now's the time, as Lil Jon urged, to get Lowe.
(Players rostered in under 50 percent of Yahoo leagues)
Percentages are from the morning of Thursday, July 18th
Homer Bailey, SP, Athletics (Yahoo: 17 percent rostered)
We're all prone to biases. To be human is to be subjective. So I'll admit, Bailey might not have landed on this list were he still a member of the Royals. But when an organization like the A's, which is still recognized as forward-thinking and, more importantly, has postseason aspirations, plucks Bailey from the Royals -- giving up a former first-round pick in the process -- it lends a small amount of legitimacy to the year he's had thus far. That year includes posting a 3.48 ERA in six June starts, including a stretch where he allowed a combined four earned runs over four starts. It's not just perception that makes the 33-year-old more interesting, though. A move to the Oakland Coliseum is a good one for any pitcher, and being on a more competitive team gives Bailey a chance to be more valuable for fantasy purposes. It's also worth noting that the A's bullpen is strong to the extent that they sent a non-closer reliever, Liam Hendriks, to the All-Star Game. The Royals ... not so much. Bailey's not a can't-miss guy and may be best reserved for deeper leagues and AL-only types, but he's suddenly relevant, something that was less true a week ago.
Tyler O'Neill, OF, Cardinals (Yahoo: 22 percent rostered)
Few players are hotter right now than the 24-year-old -- in terms of performance, that is, although I defy you to find a more chiseled ballplayer than Bro'Neill. The outfielder homered again Wednesday, his fourth homer in his last five games, and since being recalled on June 29 he's hitting .354 with those four homers, 10 RBI and nine runs scored. He's benefiting from being one of the only bright spots in a struggling Cardinals lineup at the moment, too, batting cleanup behind Paul Goldschmidt in Wednesday's contest. A toolbox of a player, O'Neill's biggest challenge will continue to be hitting for average and cutting down on the strikeouts. Through 34 games this year he's hit .314/.344/.547, which is good; he's also struck out in 36 of his 86 at-bats, which is less good. As those trends go so will O'Neill's playing time and, by extension, his fantasy value. It's hard to argue with what he's doing right now, though.
Dylan Cease, SP, White Sox (Yahoo: 27 percent rostered)
The story of both of Cease's starts to date has been similar: early struggles, better as the game goes on, decent-but-uninspiring final line that nods to both his upside and the fact that he's a 23-year-old rookie who's made two major league starts. Cease had trouble with the Royals on Tuesday but could have been out of the third inning without incident if it wasn't for a throwing error that led to a pair of unearned runs. In his final three innings, he gave up just two hits, but one was a liner that center fielder Charlie Tilson played into a double and the other was a single that right fielder Ryan Cordell played into a two-run, inside-the-park home run. There will be frustrating days for Cease as he navigates his first go-round in the majors, but his 13 strikeouts in 11 innings also reminds that there's serious potential here. There are some soft matchups in the American League Central and the right-hander should only get better as he gets more comfortable at the major league level, too. This buy-low window might not be open much longer.
Travis d'Arnaud, C/1B, Rays (Yahoo: 28 percent rostered)
D'Arnaud is not the first and won't be the last product of the #RaysDemonSorcery on this list, but he's arguably the most shocking. He's actually the product of two strong forces currently surging through Major League Baseball -- the Rays' ability to turn nothing into something, and the Mets' ability to turn something into nothing. After the Mets designated d'Arnaud for assignment in late April and the Rays acquired him from the Dodgers after five games, the Rays worked their magic and turned the backstop into a productive member of the lineup. That has included an assortment of lineup spots -- the only spot in the order at which he doesn't have an at-bat this year is cleanup, and he's got 36 at-bats from the leadoff spot -- and he's also gotten work at first base along with catcher. All nine of his home runs this year have come since the start of June, including a three-homer game earlier this week against the Yankees, and the 30-year-old is hitting .274/.333/.526 as a member of the Rays. Catcher is enough of a wasteland that d'Arnaud is worth a flier in mixed leagues.
Jose Peraza, 2B/SS/OF, Reds (Yahoo: 24 percent rostered)
Peraza was a bust until he wasn't, and then he wasn't until he was again. Now, after struggling for most of this season following a breakout 14-homer, 23-steal season in 2018, Peraza may be on the right track again. The 25-year-old showed signs of life in June, hitting .268/.306/.375, and he had eight hits including a homer in his first 21 at-bats this month. That's buoyed by one four-hit game in Colorado, but sometimes a game like that -- followed by a pinch-hit, two-run homer the next night, and an RBI double in the following game -- can be a spark for a hitter who we've seen is more talented than his results to that point. The fact that he's still not running, and when he does it's been a mixed bag -- he's got just five steals in nine attempts, and has just one successful steal since April 30 -- is curious and frustrating, but that could also be a product of not getting on base with any regularity. It's speculative, but we've seen what good Peraza can do in a fantasy context, which makes the gamble more intriguing.
Wil Myers, OF, Padres (Yahoo: 46 percent rostered)
This is not a propping up of a player because he's deserving of being propped up -- Myers has fallen out of favor in San Diego and his playing time is that of a guy worth forgetting in fantasy. This is a case of recognizing that Myers has been bad, but that something is likely going to have to give soon. Myers has been relegated to a bench role, literally, since Independence Day, not having made a start for the Friars since July 4. The Padres have their reasons, namely that Manuel Margot, Franmil Reyes and Hunter Renfroe are playing better and Josh Naylor is part of their youth movement. But with the trade deadline approaching, Renfroe is on the block, and Naylor hasn't impressed to the point that he's exempt from being demoted. In either of those scenarios the outfield picture gets less crowded, and there also exists the possiblity Myers, who's still owed a lot of money but who is still just 28 years old and has 12 homers and nine steals in 92 games, is appealing to a team looking to take a shot on a talented guy who's on the outs with his current club. Maybe none of that comes to fruition and Myers remains an overpaid pinch-hitter for the rest of the year. But if we're clear about the parameters -- that this would be a high-upside lottery ticket, and that nothing is guaranteed -- there are few players as talented as Myers floating around on the majority of waiver wires these days.
Scooter Gennett, 2B, Reds (Yahoo: 49 percent rostered)
Like Myers above, Gennett has failed to perform when given the opportunity. Unlike Myers, Gennett has barely been given the chance. After suffering a serious groin strain in spring training, Gennett was only activated on June 28 and has played in just 11 games to date. Sure, he hasn't performed in those 11 games, hitting just .156/.182/.188, but, like, it's been 11 games! Surely some of his low rostership is due to the fact he was dropped in leagues in late March and just hasn't been picked back up, but this is a guy who was a fifth- or sixth-round pick in drafts this spring. For good reason: he hit 27 homers with 97 RBI and 80 runs scored in 2017, and followed it up with a 23-homer, 92-RBI, 86-run 2018 season in which he hit .310 with an .847 OPS. Simply, the 29-year-old has proven that he's a top producer at the keystone, he just hasn't had a chance to round into form yet this summer. Give him a chance.
Jeff Samardzija, SP, Giants (Yahoo: 25 percent rostered)
Few might have been surprised when the Giants and Rockies combined for 21 runs in the first game of Monday's doubleheader at Coors Field. What likely was surprising was the fact that the Giants scored 19 of those runs, and that Samardzija was dominant in a game when German Marquez yielded 11 earned runs on his own. The Shark gave up a pair of solo homers, as pitchers are wont to do in Coors, but he allowed just two other hits and one walk while striking out nine on the afternoon. The win was his third in a row, and the third straight start in which he's allowed two runs or fewer. Overall, Samardzija is 7-7 with a 3.93 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 89/29 K/BB ratio in 105 1/3 innings of work across 19 starts. That doesn't stand out on the surface, but in the offensive age in which we're living, it's useful. It's not out of nowhere, either -- injuries limited the 34-year-old to just 10 disappointing starts last year, but it was just two years ago he struck out 205 batters in 207 2/3 innings. Go Shark fishing.
Adam Frazier, 2B/OF, Pirates (Yahoo: 17 percent rostered)
Recalling the Homer Bailey discussion, I am not without my biases with regards to Frazier. Coming into the year, the 27-year-old was poised to be the Pirates' everyday second baseman and leadoff hitter. With good on-base skills and enough pop and speed to be interesting, I and others were on Frazier as a sleeper to know. Fast forward to July 1, and Frazier was hitting a pedestrian .254/.311/.361 and had largely seen himself removed from the leadoff role. On that Monday, the Pirates hung 18 runs on the Cubs and Frazier set a franchise record with four doubles as part of a five-hit night. The following night he went 4-for-4 with a home run and three RBI. This month, Frazier is hitting .447 with a homer, a steal, seven RBI and 11 runs scored. He's back to regularly hitting leadoff for manager Clint Hurdle, and with the good stretch his overall line is up to .281/.333/.407. All the things that made him a buzz-worthy player this spring still apply, and now that he's seen the depths, he's even cheaper than he was then.