It turns out, the answer might just be, “both.”
Thames famously flamed out in North America earlier this decade and subsequently found success in the Korean Baseball Organization, producing monster numbers for three seasons before rejoining MLB with the Brewers. In 2017, his first year back stateside, Thames hit 31 homers and entered 2018 as the Brewers first baseman to target. As he struggled in the early stages of 2018, though, Aguilar flourished, moving from a pinch-hitter role to a full-time job, being named a National League All-Star and receiving MVP votes while hitting 35 homers with 108 RBI. We got it wrong last time, but make no mistake: heading into 2019 drafts, this was the guy to aim for.
We were, of course, wrong about that declaration as well, with Aguilar stumbling out of the gate and losing his grip on the job to the resurgent Thames, who has hit .257/.369/.510 with 13 homers in 82 games. But don’t count out Aguilar yet -- if we can dabble with arbitrary endpoints, the 29-year-old has hit .309/.397/.618 with five homers in 30 games since May 31.
And there may be room enough for both to coexist without playing time between them being a zero-sum game. With outfielders Ryan Braun (knee), Christian Yelich (back) and Lorenzo Cain (thumb) all nicked up to some extent, Thames could find at-bats in a corner outfield spot while Aguilar mans first base. In any case, both Aguilar (39 percent rostered) and Thames (10 percent) are worthy of your consideration.
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(Players rostered in under 50 percent of Yahoo leagues)
Framber Valdez, SP/RP, Astros (Yahoo: 5 percent rostered)
It was a month ago that D.J. highlighted Valdez in this space, and in that writeup our fearless Waiver Wired leader wrote that the southpaw has “some blowup potential.” Indeed. After cruising past the Orioles and Blue Jays in his first two starts upon promotion to the rotation, Valdez was victimized by the Yankees and Pirates for 11 earned runs in 6 1/3 innings over his next two starts. That second shellacking got him optioned to Triple-A, but he’s showed well in two starts since his demotion and is talented enough to receive the benefit of the doubt for a couple subpar outings. The Rangers aren’t a walk in the park to the tune of the O’s, but they’re not infallible, either. The 25-year-old is an intriguing streamer who has potential to be more than just a spot starter if his Thursday appearance goes well.
J.P. Crawford, SS, Mariners (Yahoo: 15 percent rostered)
I’m old enough to remember when Crawford was one of the top prospects in baseball. In actuality, it wasn’t that long ago, but in baseball terms -- where our tolerance for disappointing performance is measured in weeks, not years -- it’s been a lifetime since Crawford was a promising young shortstop in the Phillies organization. Injury and ineffectiveness in the Phils’ minor league system took him out of the spotlight, and he was a necessary part of the package they shipped to the Mariners in the Jean Segura trade this past winter. Healthy and with a new lease, something happened this spring: the 24-year-old started living up to the hype. Crawford hit .302/.407/.452 with four homers in 34 games in the minors, and he hit the ground running after a promotion in early May. In 39 games, the infielder is hitting .277/.347/.466 with four homers, 25 RBI, 20 runs scored and a stolen base. He may not blow anyone away in any particular category, but he’s always had strong on-base skills, has shown surprising pop in his first two months on the scene and has hit near the top of the Mariners’ order on merit. Those facts paired with his first-round, top-prospect pedigree command your attention.
Alex Young, SP, Diamondbacks (Yahoo: 34 percent rostered)
The ways in which Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo did Young a favor this past Sunday are numerous. Lovullo infamously pulled the plug on Young’s spot start despite the young left-hander carrying a no-hitter through six innings against the Rockies. Upon entering the game, reliever Yoshihisa Hirano promptly allowed an infield hit, the no-hit bid was officially dead and Lovullo was left to answer questions after the game about the decision. What it did, though, was ensure Young wouldn’t blow out his arm chasing glory that has very loosely correlated with continued success in the majors, and it made Young something of folklore for at least 15 minutes -- “Did you hear about the guy who was removed while throwing a no-hitter?” It also preserved the 25-year-old’s pristine numbers through three appearances, as Young owns a microscopic 0.68 ERA and 0.38 WHIP in 13 1/3 innings. He’s received no public guarantees of remaining in the D’backs rotation coming out of the break, but unlike the no-hitter decision, it would be hard to defend denying the southpaw more chances to prove he belongs.
Danny Salazar, SP, Indians (Yahoo: 21 percent rostered)
Aaron Civale, SP, Indians (Yahoo: 3 percent rostered)
Both Salazar and Civale are highly prospective plays, but both have some nice rest-of-season upside as well. What’s not debatable is that the Indians have been ravaged by injury, and that their rotation is being held together by tape and string. The club is currently without Carlos Carrasco, who may not return this year after his leukemia diagnosis, and Corey Kluber, who has been out since the beginning of May, is perhaps close to a rehab outing but not close to a return. What throws more uncertainty into the situation is the Indians’ perceived willingness to trade rotation stalwart Trevor Bauer ahead of this month’s trade deadline. Salazar and Civale stand to benefit most from a Bauer trade and the uncertainty surrounding Kluber and Carrasco, and both offer fantasy usefulness at their peak. The 24-year-old Civale dominated the Tigers in a June 22 spot start and has a 2.17 ERA in 10 minor league starts this year. The right-hander throws four pitches for strikes and while it’s not an overpowering arsenal, it can get the job done, especially against some weak AL Central opponents. Salazar, conversely, has electric but hard-to-control stuff and has struggled to stay healthy in recent years. He’s building up his stamina on a minor league assignment at the moment, but could be back before the end of the month. Both pitchers are worth stashing as low-risk, high-upside plays.
Miguel Sano, 3B, Twins (Yahoo: 31 percent rostered)
You may remember Sano from such hits as “Can’t-Miss Prospect” and “This Is Definitely Going To Be His Year.” A guy that’s been on radars for close to a decade, Sano has found some success at points in his major league career but has failed to spin it into the kind of perennial relevance that is the hallmark of many of his contemporaries who populated the top of prospect lists. And while the same can be said of the 26-year-old this season as well, Sano does have 13 homers in 40 games while hitting .236/.321/.574. That includes entering the All-Star break with a nine-game hitting streak, and in his last 15 games Sano has six homers with a 1.017 OPS. The issues are unchanged -- he strikes out way too often, compromising his ability to hit for average -- but the power is undeniable. Fantasy players with the room to take a hit to their batting average should consider the slugging third baseman.
Alex Verdugo, OF, Dodgers (Yahoo: 43 percent rostered)
Verdugo’s relatively light fantasy usage is likely a byproduct of the offensive age in which we’re living. His play certainly hasn’t been the issue -- at the break, the 23-year-old is hitting .303/.350/.489 with nine homers, 39 RBI, 34 runs scored and four stolen bases. That’s a five-category contributor who’s floating around in close to 60 percent of Yahoo leagues. If his production to this point hasn’t convinced fantasy players, perhaps betting on the come is a more attractive scenario: as the trade deadline approaches, Verdugo is at or near the top of the list of trade chips expected to be dangled by contending teams as they seek help for the postseason run. Departing a good Dodgers offense wouldn’t be ideal, but a chance to be a more prominent member of a batting order -- of his 274 at-bats this year, close to two-thirds have come batting fifth or lower in the lineup -- would likely mean an uptick in his counting stats. Playing that game is a gamble -- if Verdugo were to somehow end up with the division-rival Giants, for example, Oracle Park would be a disaster for whatever power he does have -- but even if he ends up in an unsavory landing spot, he should continue to be fantasy-relevant despite his surroundings. Why wait?
Jesse Chavez, SP/RP, Rangers (Yahoo: 27 percent rostered)
D.J. featured Chavez is the AL-only section of this column a few weeks ago, and people listened: at the time he was rostered in just 3 percent of Yahoo leagues, and now he’s up to 27 percent. As much as I’d love to credit Mr. Short with the bulk of that increase, Chavez has done most of the heavy lifting -- since moving into the Rangers’ rotation on June 25, the right-hander has a 3.63 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 18 strikeouts in 17 1/3 innings. On top of the relief work he’d done to that point, the 35-year-old holds a 3.30 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 59/17 K/BB ratio across 62 2/3 innings of work this year. The bad news is, advanced metrics think he should be worse than he’s been, and a little worse luck won’t play well at Globe Life Park in Arlington or against AL West opponents. Chavez could still be useful in the right spots, though, and he certainly deserves mention in this space for what he’s done to this point.
David Fletcher, 2B/3B/SS/OF, Angels (Yahoo: 31 percent rostered)
Luis Rengifo, 2B/SS, Angels (Yahoo: 1 percent rostered)
One of the best stories of 2019 wrote an unfortunate chapter last week when Tommy La Stella fouled a pitch off his right shin and fractured his tibia. That injury will keep him out 8-10 weeks, and it opens a door for Rengifo to play a more prominent role. The 22-year-old rookie infielder has been passable to this point, batting .260/.333/.379 with three homers and no steals in 52 games, but he was a much more prolific base-stealer in the minor leagues and should have more to offer in that arena. Fletcher has been a regular all year but has been adrift in the Verdugo Realm, good but not good enough to be widely rostered. That 31 percent number is in spite of the fact he hit .295/.359/.409 with five homers, 30 RBI, 45 runs scored and five steals in the first half. With an ability to get at-bats at a range of positions and the confidence of manager Brad Ausmus -- he’s received more at-bats atop the Angels’ lineup than at any other spot in the order this year -- Fletcher should continue to quietly and steadily produce useful numbers in the second half.
Shopping at the five-and-dime:
(Players rostered in under 10 percent of Yahoo leagues)
Ryan Zimmerman, 1B, Nationals (Yahoo: 6 percent rostered)
A reality television star was elected president of the United States, the Blues won the Stanley Cup, and yet the most improbable thing that has happened since 2016 may have been Zimmerman’s 36-homer, 108-RBI, 90-run season in 2017, in which he hit .303/.358/.573. Can you believe that? What a time to be alive. Things haven’t gone so well for the 34-year-old since then, or in the years leading up to that season, but he still has one thing going for him: the Nationals are still obligated to pay him to play baseball this year. That fact means that, when healthy, he’ll likely be on the field and in the lineup, and even though Bryce Harper is gone it’s not a bad lineup. Zimmerman missed two months due to plantar fasciitis in his right foot but returned before the break, going 7-for-21 with three doubles in five games. Staying on the field has long been Zimmerman’s biggest challenge, but when he’s in there he’ll be htiting the middle of the Nats’ order. You could do worse.
Danny Duffy, SP, Royals (Yahoo: 8 percent rostered)
The problem with Duffy if we can focus on just one, is that he’ll forever be held up to the pitcher we saw him be in 2016. If we’re able to divorce that season from his current reality, we can perhaps appreciate the 2019 version of Duffy as someone still usable in spots. Take, for example, his last five starts, in which he’s got 3.78 ERA with 26 strikeouts in 33 1/3 innings. That’s decent, not tremendous, but usable. He’s been prone to giving up homers, he’s too inconsistent with his strikeout totals, he plays for the Royals … there are plenty of reasons to not go all-in on Duffy. Curated well, though, he could provide value as a streamer. One of those spots will come Friday when he opens the second half against the light-hitting Tigers. Take advantage.
Sam Dyson, RP, Giants (Yahoo: 7 percent rostered)
Apologies to D.J., who picked out Reyes Moronta in this column a week ago, but I’m inclined to think Dyson gets the first shot at the job if Will Smith is on the move. It’s true that Dyson has also pitched so well that he is a candidate to be dealt to a contender as well, but that’s the idea, right -- we’re throwing a high-risk, high-reward dart, so playing it safe doesn’t really help anyone. If Dyson does stay, his 2.30 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and 39/6 K/BB ratio would play well at the back end of the Giants’ pen, and although we continue to refer to the San Francisco club as “light-hitting” and “lowly” -- more on that in a bit -- the Giants offense has actually perked up a bit in recent weeks. That doesn’t mean Dyson or whoever takes over the job will lead the league in save chances when Smith is dealt, but that reliever might not be a throwaway closer, either.
Robel Garcia, 1B/3B, Cubs (Yahoo: 8 percent rostered)
In the absence of Ben Zobrist, the Cubs may have found their new do-everything player in Garcia. The 26-year-old has played all over the infield, and a bit in the outfield, over the course of his minor league career, and prior to his promotion earlier this month he’d hit 21 homers with a .285/.364/.594 line in 72 games between Double-A and Triple-A. He didn’t stop bopping upon his arrival in the majors, either, smashing two homers in his first four games. He’s played at second base in two of those four games, and with Addison Russell struggling/being a generally troubling member of the organization, Garcia might soon take Russell’s job on a more full-time basis. That’s certainly an intriguing thought, and based on the fact that he’s already rostered in 8 percent of Yahoo leagues despite having only been in the majors a week, the window to get in on him is already a little more closed than it was even a few days ago. Act soon if you don’t want it to close on your hand.
A.J. Reed, 1B, White Sox (Yahoo: 0 percent rostered)
Reed was Baseball America’s No. 11 prospect ahead of the 2016 season, and anyone who pays attention to prospects knows that it’s hard for a first baseman to rise so high in the ranks. What that says is, the guy can hit. Or, he could hit. A second-round pick of the Astros in 2014, Reed was crushing Double-A pitching by 2015 and appeared in 45 games with the big club in 2016. That audition didn’t go well, and he was relegated to just three more appearances in the majors in the years to follow, but Reed continued to hit dingers in the minors. When even that stopped -- he hit .224/.329/.469 with 12 homers in 56 games at Triple-A Round Rock this year -- the Astros decided they needed his 40-man roster spot for more productive members of their organization and designated him for assignment. The White Sox scooped him up and wasted no time deciding to let him sink or swim in the majors, resolving to promote him for the start of the second half. With Yonder Alonso now gone, the 26-year-old Reed should have no roadblocks to playing time as the team’s designated hitter and part-time first baseman, and with the Sox still likely a year away they’ll give him a long leash to try to get straightened out. The talent is tantalizing, and Reed is worth an add in most leagues for the big-time upside if things click.
Tyler Naquin, OF, Indians (Yahoo: 1 percent rostered)
It’s been established that the Indians outfield is a wasteland, and barring a trade of Bauer or prospects for help in that department, there’s playing time to be had. Enter Naquin, who’s been there all along but who’s putting together a quietly useful season. The 28-year-old is hitting .266/.306/.462 with seven homers and three steals in 54 games. With Leonys Martin jettisoned and Bradley Zimmer still without a clear timetable, the outfield seems to consist of Oscar Mercado, Jake Bauers and Naquin, with Greg Allen and Jordan Luplow in tow. Naquin’s ultimate upside is limited -- in 250 career games, he’s hit 24 homers and 10 steals -- but he’s chipping in across the board and seems to have a clear path to playing time. The prerequisite for being rostered is lower than that in some deep mixed leagues, let alone AL-only.
Austin Slater, OF, Giants (Yahoo: 1 percent rostered)
Austin Thomas Slater -- A.T. Slater, not to be confused with A.C. Slater -- overhauled his swing this offseason to join the launch angle revolution. The changes helped him crush at the minor league level, as the 26-year-old hit .308/.436/.529 with 12 homers in 70 games, and he’s shown well in a five-game sample in the majors as well -- Slater has two homers, including a grand slam, and has collected five extra-base hits in his first 14 at-bats since his July 1 promotion. The Giants are taking this year to figure out who’s going to be part of their future, meaning Slater will likely continue to get playing time while he keeps producing. In an outfield that includes names like Mike Yastrzemski, Alex Dickerson and Tyler Austin, Slater has a good shot at holding his place in line for a while.
Daniel Ponce de Leon, SP/RP, Cardinals (Yahoo: 2 percent rostered)
All Ponce de Leon has done in the majors is produce, and yet the Cardinals remain reluctant to give him more responsibility. Perhaps the organization knows best, but it’s hard to argue with the 2.48 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 62/24 K/BB ratio he’s posted across 58 MLB innings since the beginning of last season. That’s especially true when starter Michael Wacha has struggled -- a fitting juxtaposition of the two came on July 4, when Wacha was knocked around for four runs on six hits over 3 1/3 innings before Ponce de Leon got the win with 2 2/3 innings of scoreless relief -- seemingly further opening the door for Ponce de Leon to get a shot in the rotation. Now’s the time to get on board with the 27-year-old -- that includes you, Cardinals.