Who needs a hitter?
No one, right? One of the unfortunate realities of today's Fantasy Baseball, with home runs again rising to unprecedented levels in 2019, is that there are more than enough productive bats to go around. Maybe in leagues that use the standard Rotisserie lineup, meaning two additional infield and outfield slots, you might have a hole or two, but in the typical Head-to-Head league, with only nine hitter slots to fill, you're more likely wondering which too-good-to-drop hitter you might be able to unload on someone else.
It's why I've devoted far more attention this year to whatever starting pitcher shows the faintest glimmer of hope, be it someone like Elieser Hernandez or Asher Wojciechowski. That's where the need is.
But look, not everybody's circumstances are the same, and particularly if you play in a deeper league, you may be in just as much need of a lottery ticket-type hitter -- one who probably won't pay out, but maybe. There's at least chance.
Note that I'm not talking about a hyped prospect like Bo Bichette. It goes without saying that young hitters of his stature could immediately challenge the top players at their position and are generally still worth an immediate pickup. It's also possible, though, for unheralded hitters to force their way into the standard mixed-league discussion, as Lourdes Gurriel or Garrett Cooper have done. It just takes especially loud production over a long period of time.
For these eight hitters who have recently come into more regular playing time, I at least see the potential to develop into something useful. And in the case of the two catchers, it's pretty obvious you should already act on it.
ATL Atlanta • #16 • Age: 34
I may be a day late and a dollar short on this one, but seeing as catcher is the one position where there's an honest-to-goodness shortage no matter how shallow the format, Travis d'Arnaud's ownership may be more a reflection of desperation than recognition of just how valuable he can be. Once upon a time, before he had the misfortune of meeting the Mets, he was the top catching prospect in baseball, becoming one of the key pieces the Blue Jays traded for reigning Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey. Rays hitting coach Chad Mottola had a hand in d'Arnaud's development then, and their reunion has effectively turned back the clock. D'Arnaud has hit .302 with 12 homers and a 1.004 OPS since putting on a Rays uniform, yet his expected wOBA is actually lower than his actual wOBA for the season. He's been so productive that manager Kevin Cash has taken to starting him at first base when he isn't behind the plate, thus giving him a playing time advantage on top of everything else.
MIL Milwaukee • #16 • Age: 28
Manager David Bell recently hinted that he didn't know what to do with Josh VanMeter during the rookie's first couple stints in the big leagues. The 24-year-old was such an unknown coming into the year that he didn't even take part in spring training, and to be fair, the introduction of a juiced ball to Triple-A -- where he has put together a .348 batting average, 14 home runs and 1.097 OPS in 181 at-bats -- made his breakthrough there seem too good to be true. But now that Bell has gotten to know him as a player and has taken to playing him wherever he can find an opening -- five straight starts now! -- VanMeter is showing that his power breakthrough may be legit, having homered in three straight games over the weekend. And even when he was a nobody, he was a disciplined hitter.
LAD L.A. Dodgers • #16 • Age: 28
Like d'Arnaud, Will Smith's ownership rate would seem to belie his place on this list, but again, just because Fantasy players recognize their need for a catcher doesn't mean they know what they have in this one. Smith wasn't considered the Dodgers' catcher of the future this spring, after all. Keibert Ruiz was. Smith was the older guy whose power potential was overshadowed by his inability to make contact -- a Mike Napoli type whose bat might be enough to keep him in the lineup once he moved out from behind the plate ... or it might not. Turns out the first of those two assumptions is outdated, as evidenced by his 18.3 percent strikeout rate at Triple-A this year, and the second was just-flat out wrong. He's an uncommonly athletic catcher with a chance to be a defensive stalwart. So when he's slugging the way he is, having already hit 24 homers between the majors and minors, why wouldn't the Dodgers make him their primary catcher?
NYY N.Y. Yankees • #24 • Age: 28
Willie Calhoun actually was a top prospect at one point in time, serving as the key piece in the deal that sent Yu Darvish to the Dodgers a couple years ago, but has had such a hard time finding his footing in the majors that it's like his credentials have lapsed. An inexplicable drop in power production at Triple-A last year didn't help, but it looks like just a one-year blip -- he's up to 14 homers in 244 at-bats between the majors and minors this year. At every stop up the minor-league ladder, he has shown an uncanny ability to put the bat on the ball, which should make his transition easier if the Rangers would just give him a chance. Joey Gallo's fractured wrist, which effectively put to end any thoughts of contention this year, may have opened that door. It's only three games, but Calhoun appears to be getting preferential treatment over aging players like Hunter Pence and Shin-Soo Choo.
NYM N.Y. Mets • #22 • Age: 32
It wasn't so long ago that Ender Inciarte was widely regarded as a Fantasy asset, but he was given no chance of regaining his starting job once rookie Austin Riley came up and was homering every other day. And basically every checkpoint in Inciarte's recovery from a lumbar strain was met with bad news, right up to a miserable rehab assignment in which he barely hit .200. Yet so extensive was Riley's demise that Inciarte has gone back to being a center field fixture since returning. He did sit against a lefty Monday, but only after starting four straight and twice collecting two hits with a home run over the weekend. Throughout his struggles these past couple years, the skill set that allowed Inciarte to hit .300 from 2015 through 2017 has remained intact. Batting average help can be hard to find, and if he's able to recapture that form, something that's even harder to find, stolen bases, should follow.
Adam Duvall CF
BOS Boston • #18 • Age: 34
So complete is Austin Riley's demise that Adam Duvall, who had been collecting dust at Triple-A Gwinnett all season long, has joined Inciarte in leapfrogging him, replacing the injured Nick Markakais. And like Inciarte, Duvall's skill set is already well established at the major-league level. He delivered back-to-back seasons with at least 31 homers and at least 99 RBI for the Reds before getting traded to the Braves midway through last year, when it became immediately apparent that he wasn't well suited for the part-time role they were asking him to fill. He has also made reference to some mechanical changes that helped get him back on track at Triple-A this year, where he hit 29 homers. Whether or not those changes hold up at the highest level remains to be seen, but if the Braves are committed to finding out, there are cheap homers to be had here.
BAL Baltimore • #25 • Age: 28
Of the eight long shots on this list, Anthony Santander is the longest to me. And yet apart from d'Arnaud, he has delivered the most so far, batting .314 with seven homers and an OPS around .900 over his past 30 games. He was never a top prospect, actually coming over to the Orioles as a Rule 5 pick prior to the 2017 season, and was struggling to put together even a .700 OPS at Triple-A, where offensive production has skyrocketed with the introduction of new baseballs. In fact, it's fair to assume that if he played for a team with reasonable depth and something to lose, he wouldn't even be getting this chance. And yet by the way we usually measure the legitimacy of a player's production, Santander's isn't so outlandish. Yes, the xBA and xwOBA suggest he has overachieved, but the BABIP and home run-to-fly ball rate are both within a reasonable range. I'm at least hopeful the bottom won't fall out.
CHC Chi. Cubs • #40 • Age: 32
The presumption was always that Clint Frazier would take over should a need ever develop in the Yankees outfield, so Mike Tauchman has been an easy enough name to ignore when scanning the box score. But the 28-year-old has produced in a way that's not out of line with his minor-league track record, most notably delivering a high walk rate. Unlike Frazier, he has only middling home run potential, and it's possible Cameron Maybin's recent return from the IL costs him some playing time against left-handed pitchers. But Tauchman is the sort of complementary piece that can be elevated to something beyond just useful with the right supporting cast, which the Yankees lineup certainly represents. It'd take an awfully deep league to justify adding him, but monitoring him makes sense for everybody.