Whether you're sitting pretty at the top of the standings or battling for your playoff life, the All-Star break is a good opportunity to take stock of your Fantasy baseball team, where you stand, and what you need to make a championship run. Because, while your first-half stats matter -- they're locked in -- you can't just rest on that if you're cruising, and you can't take them as proof that you are fated to lose if you are struggling.
The only thing that matters now is what lies ahead for your team. Identify who is going to help you in the second half and who has already seen their best days, and make sure you prioritize the former. With that in mind, here are 10 players who haven't exactly been all that helpful to Fantasy players in the first half but who I'm confident will be a key part of countless championship rosters when it's all said and done.
Whether you can just add them on waivers or can look to make a buy-low trade offer, these 10 should be on your radar:
CHW Chi. White Sox • #25 • Age: 23
Vaughn's breakout already started. Early on, Vaughn was striking out entirely too much, but he's continued to cut his strikeout rate as the season has gone on -- down to 17.5% so far in July. It's a small sample size, but Vaughn has been hitting the ball hard all season long, so making more contact is the most important step, and he's doing it now. Maybe that won't stick, but given that plate discipline was arguably Vaughn's biggest selling point as a prospect, I'm willing to bet that will continue. I've said it before, but we could be looking at a top-five first baseman for 2021 drafts here.
Jeff McNeil 2B
NYM N.Y. Mets • #6 • Age: 29
McNeil had been a rock solid contributor in his first three seasons, and so while nobody necessarily expected him to be a superstar, we certainly expected him to, at the very least, be one of the best sources of batting average in the league. He's hitting .258, and his underlying numbers aren't all that much more impressive either. So, why the faith? It's about that track record. It's not like McNeil is suddenly striking out or hitting the ball dramatically less hard than he has in the past. It seems like McNeil's swing is just a bit out of whack -- he's getting under the ball just a little too often, and he's not pulling the ball as much as he once did. It's little things that have hampered him so far, and maybe that's a flaw in his profile; because he really doesn't have much value outside of a standout batting average, which means there isn't much to fall back on if that skill slips. But I'm willing to bet on McNeil figuring it out now that he's healthy.
LAA L.A. Angels • #6 • Age: 31
Here's another one a lot like McNeil. Rendon has battled injuries that have left him struggling through his worst performance ever, but he also has an even longer track record to buy into. Maybe he's just lost it at 31, but I'm more willing to bet this was just a bad partial half-season, and that he'll be more or less himself once he gets back from his time on the IL -- which should be Friday against the Mariners. This is solely a bet on an elite player with an elite track record, one who you could probably trade for at a steep discount right now. Do it.
COL Colorado • #7 • Age: 24
It's been an up and down season for Rodgers since returning from his early injury, and he entered the break in a bit of a slide -- he had four hits in his last seven games as his season line dipped to a pretty pedestrian .261/.333/.433. But a lot of the things we liked about Rodgers as a prospect have been on display even through his uneven performance. He's striking out just 18.7% of the time while sporting above-average exit velocity numbers. He's hitting the ball on the ground too much, which makes it tough to take advantage of all that Coors Field has to offer hitters, but if he can start to elevate the ball just a bit more, Rodgers could take off like a rocket.
MIN Minnesota • #19 • Age: 23
Consider Kirilloff a test of your faith in the value of advanced metrics like StatCast's expected stats. Kirilloff has been hitting the ball consistently hard all season despite a wrist injury that at one point seemed like it might cost him his season. He's been one of the biggest underperformers of his expected stats of anyone in baseball, hitting .265 with a .450 slugging percentage while his batted-ball metrics suggest he should be hitting .292 and slugging .545. His batted-ball profile doesn't necessarily suggest that Kirilloff should be particularly easy to shift against -- one key way in which a player might underperform those metrics -- and if his wrist was causing issues, you would expect to see it in his quality of contact. Those numbers are intended to be descriptive, not predictive -- as in, they have more value as a measure of what a player should have done, not what they will do in the future -- but it's still mostly good signs for the top prospect. I'm willing to bet on him continuing to hit the ball with authority, with the big numbers following shortly after.
Chris Sale SP
BOS Boston • #41 • Age: 32
When you can take easy wins as an analyst in this industry, you take 'em. And a former top-five starting pitcher who should be back in the majors within the next four weeks should be a fairly easy win. Sale is, of course, coming back from Tommy John surgery, and there is no guarantee that he will be himself when he does make it back to the majors. But his recovery has so far gone off without any notable hitches, and he made his rehab debut Thursday, his first appearance since he was shut down with elbow inflammation in August of 2019. It looks like he'll be back right around the two-year mark of that injury, Sale was expected to throw two innings in his rehab appearance for the Florida Complex League Red Sox, but he ended up getting a third in, striking out five over his three innings while allowing four base hits. He mostly worked with his fastball, which topped out at 94 mph and sat around 93, but he did work his changeup and slider in as the outing went on. It's just the latest first step, but it's encouraging nonetheless. If Sale is available in your league (he's 84% rostered), make sure you snag him. Because if he's even close to his pre-injury form, he's a must-start pitcher down the stretch.
Tarik Skubal SP
DET Detroit • #29 • Age: 24
You could argue Skubal's breakout is already underway, sparking around the middle of May when he ditched his splitter, introduced a changeup, and started using his sinker more often. The results have been very promising: 3.56 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 74 strikeouts in 55.2 innings over 10 starts. His overall ERA is still pretty ugly (4.36), which might help explain why he's still available in nearly one-quarter of CBS Fantasy leagues. I'm not quite sure if Skubal has ace upside -- he seems to have something of a kitchen sink arsenal without any one specific dominant pitch -- but the fact that he was able to make those adjustments in-season and find success with them suggests the possibility of even more refinement. It's worth betting on that kind of talent.
BOS Boston • #57 • Age: 28
It's hard to figure out what quite has gone wrong for Rodriguez so far this season. He's got that 5.52 ERA, so obviously quite a bit has gone wrong for him, but there's no one obvious answer in his underlying numbers. He has a career-high strikeout rate, a career-low walk rate, a groundball rate above his career norms, and he's still doing a good job of limiting hard contact -- not quite as good as 2019, but his .376 expected wOBA allowed on contact is only slightly worse than league average, and you can live with that if you're getting a bunch of strikeouts and avoiding walks. You don't want to just chalk it up to bad luck, but it really does look like Rodriguez is doing just about everything you'd want right, and that short work out for him in the long run. He'll need to pitch better with men on base (.909 OPS allowed) and he could probably stand to benefit from the Red Sox being a bit more judicious with how long they leave him in, because he's had some later-inning blowups. But, both of those issues would be less harmful if Rodriguez were getting the results he deserves.
TB Tampa Bay • #62 • Age: 24
McClanahan is such an interesting pitcher. His flaws are obvious, and he hasn't actually been that great of a pitcher so far. But his skills are even more obvious, and he's so close to being a potentially really great pitcher. The most obvious flaw is his usage; McClanahan has thrown more than five innings just four times in 13 starts, completing six innings only twice. He's also had some trouble keeping the ball in the yard, sporting a 1.35 HR/9 despite a solid 47.8% groundball rate. But he has electric stuff, including a legitimate four-pitch arsenal that should be able to get him through the lineup multiple times. His curveball, slider, and changeup have all been great swing-and-miss pitches that have also limited hard contact well, which is one reason to think he's got better days ahead. The other is the fact that the Rays are inching closer to using him as a typical starter -- he threw 86 or more pitches in four of his last five starts heading into the break. It's not hard to see how he could become a star, and he's so close to getting there. He could be very fun down the stretch.
LAD L.A. Dodgers • #26 • Age: 27
Gonsolin's return from injury has been a frustrating affair, but I'm willing to bet the kid gloves are coming off after the break. The Dodgers are down multiple starters, potentially for a long time, and they've gotta let Gonsolin loose -- especially with how well he is pitching. Control was an issue in his first couple of starts (eight walks in 5.1 innings), but he's got a much more manageable 8.9% walk rate over the last five to go along with a 28.2% strikeout rate during that time. Gonsolin had a 2.49 ERA in 112 MLB innings, and he could be a top-30 starting pitcher the rest of the way.