Fantasy Baseball Waiver Wire: Time to cut bait with floundering Austin Riley?
Chris Towers addresses Austin Riley's recent downturn and offers up several names to target on the waiver wire to potentially replace him.
The Austin Riley experience was fun for a few weeks. Really fun.
Riley saw his best-case scenario come to life immediately when he stepped onto the field in the majors, homering in his very first game and clubbing 10 in his first 26 games, faster than any player in Braves history. The Braves, you will remember, have had some pretty good players in their history; Hank Aaron needed 64 games to get to No. 10.
He looked like a league-winning Fantasy pickup, and seeing as how he was hitting .299/.377/.681 through 37 games at Triple-A, his .292/.336/.623 line after 26 major-league games didn't look entirely unreasonable. Sure, the 31.8% strikeout rate was a bit ugly, but not so striking in 2019, when 11 players have at least 250 plate appearances and a strikeout rate over 30%, and five have an OPS over .820.
Unfortunately, if the first 26 games saw the best-case scenario, everything since has shown the worst-case. He's hitting .205/.268/.411 over the last 32, with a 36.5% strikeout rate. Worse still, he's sat two of four games since Ender Inciarte's return from the IL, and hasn't hit higher than seventh in the lineup in any game since the first back from the All-Star break.
Which is to say … it might be time to drop Austin Riley. As unbelievable as that might have sounded in early May, there's a non-zero chance he's sent back down to the minors within the next few weeks.
This wasn't how we hoped Riley's season would end up, but it's also not the end of the road for him either. He may still turn it around this season, and even if he doesn't, he's just 22 years old, and could make for an incredible buy-low opportunity in drafts next season. Just look at what Joey Gallo has done this season.
If you're looking for a Riley replacement, the good news is, you won't be too short on options:
Luis Urias 2B
SD San Diego • #9 • Age: 22
Luis Urias isn't a natural replacement for Riley; he doesn't play the same positions, and he certainly won't bring the same kind of power to the table. But he does need to be the top target on waivers heading into Week 18. Urias is in the midst of a massive breakout season at Triple-A, hitting .315/.398/.600 with 19 homers, more than doubling his career total. Of course, you're right to be skeptical of that, given that Urias plays in the PCL, with a new baseball that is leading to record power numbers across Triple-A. The good news is, Urias gets to play with that same ball, and while the NL West isn't the PCL, Urias' high-contact profile (18.2% K-rate in 2019; 12.7% for his career) should lead to more power than was initially expected. There's a bit of speed in the profile too. If everything goes right, Urias should take the second-base job and run away with it, while providing average, and enough pop and speed to be worth starting in all leagues at second base.
CLE Cleveland • #35 • Age: 24
It would be an exaggeration to say Oscar Mercado single-handedly saved the Indians season, but he's been nothing short of a Godsend for a team that was getting sub-replacement level production from basically every outfield spot to open the season. He is 10 for his last 23 with three home runs and three stolen bases in six games, a good sign after he appeared to be fading from a hot start. He's hit .294 in both the majors and minors and has 11 homers and 23 steals across both levels. At this point, he needs to be on every roster with five outfield spots, and any league with more than 14 teams period.
STL St. Louis • #41 • Age: 24
Tyler O'Neill might just be the second half's version of Riley, actually. Like Riley, there's no doubting the raw power O'Neill brings to the table, so it's a question of making enough contact and playing everyday. As for the latter, he has started 16 of 18 games since returning from the minors in late June, so that seems pretty safe. And, while his 32.8% strikeout rate in that span isn't great, it's a nice improvement over last year's 40.1% rate, let alone his 46.5% rate before being sent down in May. Like Riley, there's sizeable risk involved in his profile, but as he seems to be taking off right as Riley is cratering, that swap makes sense.
TB Tampa Bay • #49 • Age: 23
Brendan McKay has proven in his four starts that he deserves to be universally owned, with 18 strikeouts to just one walk in 19.1 innings of work. Don't be discouraged that he was sent back to Triple-A after his most recent start (and first bad one), he should be back soon. If someone did drop him as a result, this is the time to pounce.
CHW Chi. White Sox • #40 • Age: 25
Famous last words for a Fantasy analyst: "Reynaldo Lopez is starting to look good." We've seen flashes from the young fireballer, but his 4.65 career ERA isn't a mistake. Despite all that velocity, he's just never been a big strikeout pitcher, largely due to his lack of reliable secondary offerings. However, Lopez has seen a spike in velocity — 96.7 mph in July — while consistently throwing his slider, changeup, and curveball at the same time for basically the first time in his career. We've been burned before, but with matchups against the Marlins and Mets coming in his next two scheduled starts, I may be buying back in for a look.
BAL Baltimore • #29 • Age: 30
Asher Wojciechowski has bounced around, appearing on three different rosters in 2015, 2017, and now 2019, and he's never been particularly impressive, sporting a 6.49 career ERA. Before Sunday's dominant 7.1-inning, 10-strikeout performance against the Red Sox, he had a 5.74 ERA in four appearances this season. This seems like the most obvious example of an outlier performance you want to ignore, right? Well, maybe not quite. He has struck out 31 batters with just seven walks in his 23 innings of work, with a 16.8% swinging strike rate. It's just five outings, compared to a long track record of mediocrity, but it's also hard to totally ignore that kind of result. At least, in a deeper league.
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