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At the midway point of the season, it's time to prepare for the stretch run. If you're in a dogfight to make the playoffs, we've got players who can provide some help right now; if you're cruising to a top seed, we've got some high-upside players to target who could make a difference down the stretch.
Either way, this weekend provided plenty of targets who are widely available in CBS Fantasy leagues. Let's go get them.
It's been a tough career for Max Fried, who pitched his way back onto Baseball America's Top-100 prospects list last season after falling off the list in three consecutive seasons, largely due to injuries. The No. 7 overall pick in the 2012 draft, Fried has been incredibly impressive in his first two starts for the Braves, with 17 strikeouts in 11 2/3 innings after his 11-strikeout performance Saturday against the Cardinals. Fried racked up 15 swinging strikes Saturday, including a whopping eight on his curveball, and though his velocity fell off as the start went on, it's hard to focus too much on the bad here. Fried is no sure thing, but we've seen too much to ignore through these two starts. Given the upside, he's my top target on the wire to kick off Week 15, even if it's not a given he'll make another start. When it comes to players who impress the way Fried did Saturday, it's only a matter of time before another opportunity opens up.
I was skeptical about Aaron Hicks' chances of sustaining last year's breakout, for a few reasons. For one thing, it was entirely out of step with where he'd been in his career; for another, he slumped to just a .715 OPS after the All-Star break. However, it's hard to be skeptical after how he's played this season, with an .848 OPS and 14 homers and six steals in 64 games. He slugged three homers Sunday against the Red Sox, and is now hitting .273 with nine homers over the last 28 days. Hicks is pretty much an everyday player at this point and, with Brett Gardner struggling, he's batted leadoff in four of his last five games. With his skill set in this lineup, Hicks has legitimate star potential in Fantasy. He needs to be universally owned.
You may have first heard of Dereck Rodriguez because he's Pudge's son, but he's proving he belongs in the majors with his pitching, not his last name. With 6 1/3 shutout innings in Saturday's win over the Diamondbacks, he's now 3-1 with a 3.16 ERA in his first six MLB starts, with a 3.34 FIP to back it up. Combine that with a 3.40 ERA in Triple-A and 3.94 ERA in Double-A, there are reasons to think he can keep this up. He'll probably top out as an average strikeout pitcher, but he also won't walk many batters, and he has the luxury of pitching in one of the best home parks in baseball half the time. Is Rodriguez a star? No, probably not. He won't be heading to Cooperstown with his dad as anything but a visitor. But there's enough talent here to be worth considering in mixed leagues, especially with his next two starts set to come at home.
Let's have some fun with arbitrary endpoints:
On June 15, Mark Trumbo's OPS fell to .682, essentially identical to the .686 line he managed a year ago. Since? After his two-homer game Sunday against the Angels, he is hitting .296/.349/.722, with seven homers, 14 RBI and 11 runs scored over his last 15 games.
That might just be the result of a random hot streak for a player who is about as streaky as they come, but it also could be Trumbo starting to live up to his peripherals. For the season, he's sporting a career-high 41.4 percent hard-hit rate and 24.8 percent line drive rate, numbers that suggest he's been better than his overall production. Maybe it won't sustain, but Trumbo is just two years removed from a 47-homer season, so I'll take what I can get.
I'm so excited I get to write about Willians Astudillo, and if you're a baseball nerd, you should be excited to learn about him. I'm not sure Astudillo has anything like star potential – scouts have never been particularly high on the pudgy part-time backstop, for one – or if he'll even stick in the majors long-term. But he's a player type we simply haven't seen in the majors in a long time, and there are reasons to think he could hit enough to be Fantasy relevant. The headline skill here is his contact ability: Astudillo does nothing but put the ball in play. In 316 career plate appearances at Triple-A, he's struck out 14 times and walked nine times, a consistent theme throughout his career. And he isn't just slapping at the ball, as Astudillo holds a career .309/.347/.408 line in the minors, including a .311/.341/.517 line at Triple-A. He's hit seven homers this season, and even stolen six bases, while logging time in the field in center and left field, first and third base, as well as catcher. The bar for Fantasy relevance is low enough at catcher that Astudillo is more than just a curiosity, especially if he works his way into the lineup more than just a few times. And, with the "juiced ball" in the majors, his extreme contact-heavy approach could lead to more power than you might think. There's a real risk his time in the majors will be brief, but if he sticks around, Astudillo could be worth a look.
As excited as I was to write about Willians Astudillo, that's how lukewarm I am on Matt Harvey. Sure, he has now gone four straight starts allowing three or fewer runs, but he hasn't exactly been overwhelmingly impressive in that span; he has a 2.31 ERA, but just 16 strikeouts in 23 1/3 innings. Harvey is showing he can still be effective, but he's showing he can still be effective in the same way someone like Ivan Nova or Mike Leake can be. There doesn't appear to be much upside left here, but at the very least he's getting away from the worst-case scenario of his last stretches with the Mets. When he's got good matchups – and next weekend against the Cubs doesn't count – he can be useful. I'm not running out to get him until he has a two-start week again, however.
It might just be a case of "Right place, right time" for Keon Broxton, who has gotten at least three at-bats in all five Brewers' games since his recall. However, it's hard to say exactly how much he would've played if Christian Yelich hadn't come down with a back injury Thursday. Broxton is 4 for 16 since returning to the majors, with five strikeouts, two homers and a steal. With 29 homers and 44 steals in 707 plate appearances between 2016 and 2017, there are certainly Fantasy-relevant skills here. It's just not clear there's a role. If Yelich is placed on the DL Monday, Broxton would be worth adding in Roto leagues as a stop-gap option.