The Braves were just full of surprises this weekend.
It started early Saturday with the announcement they were calling up their top prospect, outfielder Michael Harris. It continued Sunday with the news that flamethrower Spencer Strider, who had seemingly settled in as a setup man with Tyler Matzek on the IL, would finally try his hand at starting, scheduled to take the hill Monday. Both are the sort of players who should garner outsized attention on the waiver wire. Both are rostered in just 30 percent of CBS Sports leagues.
First, Harris. He has impact potential both in the field and at the plate and was turning heads early on in the minors, making big statistical strides even while moving up the ladder. So what made his promotion surprising? He was still only at Double-A. He's just 21 years old. The Braves have had trouble filling out their outfield, having relied on Travis Demeritte (since demoted to Triple-A) for weeks at a time. But they had begun experimenting with William Contreras out there. They had Drew Waters showing signs of life at Triple-A. Why leapfrog them with a player only three years out of high school?
Clearly, their confidence in Harris is high, which counts for something in itself, but it's worth pointing out that even higher-end, further developed prospects than him have had a hard time breaking into the majors in recent years. The immediate successes have become more the exception than the rule. Harris' hit tool being his best maybe gives him a leg up. He's also equipped to steal bases, which earns him more benefit of the doubt in Fantasy. But power is expected to be a bigger part of his profile in due time, and while he's done a better job elevating the ball this year, it's still not a tool that he's fully realized yet.
So far, he's 1 for 6 with two strikeouts, which is of course too small of a sample to mean anything. He's been batting ninth and might have to sit against tougher left-handers, at least until he proves an indispensable part of the lineup. Your chance at him is probably now or never in five-outfielder leagues, but in three-outfielder leagues, I'd be inclined to wait and see.
As for Strider, we already know he's capable of getting major-league hitters out. His 13.7 K/9 ranks second among pitchers with at least 20 innings, behind only Dylan Cease. His 16.8 percent swinging-strike rate ranks seventh. But can he start? Well, he did 21 times in the minors last year, and while all of his major-league appearances have come out of the bullpen so far, four have lasted longer than three innings. He went 2 2/3 innings in his most recent appearance Wednesday, throwing 46 pitches.
The bigger question is whether his arsenal is diverse enough to handle a lineup the second and third time through. As good as his fastball is, peaking at triple digits with a high spin rate, he leans on it nearly 75 percent of the time. It and the slider are basically all he throws. We've seen Carlos Rodon succeed with a similar arsenal, but comparing Strider to him would of course be premature. Still, it's worth taking a shot to see if Strider can stick in the role.
Let's see who else is available on the waiver wire ...
MJ Melendez RF
KC Kansas City • #1 • Age: 25
Even given the sorry state of the catcher position, MJ Melendez's roster rate has stagnated, presumably due to the assumption he'd return to a reserve role once Salvador Perez was healthy. Well, Perez has been back for two games now, and Melendez has started both, even getting a chance to play right field Sunday with Whit Merrifield moving to center. He went 2 for 4 with a double. Clearly, the Royals have come to value his bat, and at that particularly thin position, you should, too, especially if he ends up with a playing-time advantage from manning other positions.
Kole Calhoun 1B
CLE Cleveland • #56 • Age: 36
When Kole Calhoun went on that home run binge last week, the presumption was that it couldn't last forever and that he'd have nothing else to offer once it ended. He may be disproving that, though. He has multiple hits in three of his past five games, homering only once during that stretch. In all, he's batting .381 (24 for 63) with four homers over his past 17 games. Statcast mostly backs up what he's been doing, too, and it wasn't so many years ago he was a must-start player in Fantasy. I remain skeptical in three-outfielder leagues, but by now, he should be rostered in five-outfielder leagues.
Royce Lewis 3B
MIN Minnesota • #23 • Age: 24
Royce Lewis looked like he'd lead off this column when word came down Sunday that the Twins were calling him back up, this time to play the outfield. Unfortunately, his triumphant return lasted only three innings. He suffered a bone bruise in his knee while making a spectacular catch in center field. In a way, though, the injury makes him that much easier to pick up, provided you play in a league with IL spots. You'll have less competition for him and likely easier choices to drop. There was already a case for stashing him when he was optioned back to the minors, but now he won't have to take up a bench spot.
PIT Pittsburgh • #59 • Age: 24
Roansy Contreras' second start Sunday was another mild success -- good enough to justify a speculative pickup, anyway, while enthusiasm is still tempered. The upside remains considerable given the elite spin rates on his fastball, slider and curveball, as well as his 12.7 K/9 in the minors last year. In 20 2/3 innings between this year and last, he has yet to actually struggle against a major-league opponent.
TB Tampa Bay • #59 • Age: 31
Even more interesting than Contreras, probably, is Jeffrey Springs, who it's absolutely clear now is being used like a conventional starter. Seeing as he spent all of last year in the bullpen, it seemed like the Rays were employing him like an opener at first, but he made his first six-inning start Friday after going 5 2/3 innings in his previous outing. His numbers across the board are pretty spectacular, but most notable is his 14.6 percent swinging-strike rate, which would rank seventh among qualifying pitchers. His changeup has the look of an elite pitch.
CHC Chi. Cubs • #5 • Age: 24
Christopher Morel was a flawed prospect coming into the year, struggling to hit for average in the minors while striking out at exorbitant rates. But he's had no such issues so far in the majors while flashing an incredibly diverse skill set. He's impacting the ball well, swiping bases with reckless abandon and even taking walks -- an unfamiliar trait that has moved him into the leadoff spot. In addition to center field, he's already appeared at second base, third base and shortstop, so the Cubs shouldn't have trouble finding at-bats for him as long as he continues to deliver. The athleticism is legitimate, so it's the plate discipline you'll want to monitor.