Rolling In The Deep: Don’t Hit An Early Wall(s)

As the month of April draws to a close this weekend, it’s a good time to take a moment and realize just how early it is in the world of fantasy baseball, especially once we remember that the season started a week late due to that pesky lockout . Earlier this week, just when I was starting to feel confident about a couple of my teams that seemed securely perched atop the standings, a single full day of great hitting and great pitching for other teams knocked me down to 5th place in one league and 3rd in another. It was a wake-up call not only for me to not neglect my teams that seem to be flying on autopilot, but also that there is still plenty of hope for my teams that have gotten off to less favorable starts. As is our never-ending dilemma here in the deep league world, early injuries and poor player performance tend to put our teams in an even bigger hole than our standard-league counterparts can imagine, since there is often little to nothing available in the free agent pool to help us. That won’t stop us from trying to find help for a roster in need of some, though, and on that note, we proceed to this week’s deep-league names.

It may not be pretty, but I’m going to keep things in the true deep this week, highlighting only players who are less than 5% owned, featuring a countdown of players owned in 4%, 3%, 2%, and 1 % of CBS leagues. I’m calling it “Deep League Countdown,” but you can feel free to translate that to “countdown to probable fantasy irrelevance, but maybe we’ll get lucky and find one or two guys in here that can actually help our deep league teams .”

Zach Davies (4%). Davies’ numbers are pretty gross this year over his four starts, but I’m going to throw his name out there anyway while acknowledging that those ugly numbers came against three of the better offenses in the NL, namely the Dodgers, Mets, and Padres . Davies’ start against the Nationals, meanwhile, wasn’t bad at all: 2 earned on 2 hits plus 2 walks in 5 innings, with 7 Ks. As a starting pitcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks, he’s not going to get significant run support any time soon, and as a starting pitcher in the NL West, he’ll continue to get plenty of unfortunate matchups for the time being. And while he’s never going to have a run of fantasy greatness even while facing lackluster opponents, he could at least be deep-league streamable in the right place at the right time over the course of a long season.

Andrew Knizner (3%). Knizner hasn’t exactly been exciting this season, but he hasn’t been bad, especially for a 3% owned catcher. He’s hitting .259 with a homer and 6 RBI in 9 games (27 ABs) while backing up Yadier Molina, and he should continue to get more playing time than many backups as Molina’s farewell tour continues into the dog days of summer. I’m already starting to think ahead to next year in the NL-only world when Knizner might be a solid if not spectacular option — from what I’ve heard out of St. Louis, he’s being groomed to pretty much be the guy next year in terms of building his relationships with the Cardinals’ pitching staff, which of course would mean being the guy in terms of every day at bats as well.

Luis Gonzalez (2%). Gonzalez is another product of the San Francisco Giants’ clown-car like factory of hitters that get thrown into big league duty after magically appearing from their minor league system. Gonzalez has started several games in a row as Lamont Wade continues to rehab his knee injury (and Mike Yastrzemski remains on the Covid IL), and the early returns are positive, as he’s hitting .316/.350 OBP over 6 games, including his first major league homer and 5 RBI. As I write this we’re waiting to hear whether Joc Pederson’s groin injury is at all serious, so we’ll see if Gonzalez continues to get regular playing time and if he continues to take advantage of it.

Alan Trejo (1%). Trejo has seen what I would consider a surprising amount of time in the Rockies’ middle infield (4 starts at 2B, 4 at SS), and may continue to, largely because the Rockies are weird, but also because A) Brendan Rodgers has been a disaster, B) now Rodgers has a bad back, and C) Garrett Hampson has been hurt all year, and the Rockies may or not remember he exists when he gets healthy. He’s a not-exciting 25 year old, but he’s a solid (.276) hitter in his major league career, and hit 32 homers over his last two minor league seasons while swiping an occasional base. And did I mention he plays half his games in Colorado?

AL

Chas McCormick (4%). McCormick has been sharing time with Jose Siri in Houston and is off to a nice if not great start, hitting .280 with a homer and 3 RBI. I own him in one deep league and am keeping an eye on him in a couple others as long as he continues to get even semi-regular starts atop the Astros’ lineup, just in case he goes on a tear and earns more long-term , regular playing time. I’m not really holding my breath for that to happen; his 2 walks versus his 11 Ks alone make me feel like things are likely to get worse before they get better, but a girl can dream.

Ryan Jeffers (3%). Yep, it’s another 3% owned catcher, since you may need to look everywhere you can for counting stats when it comes to deeper leagues. Jeffers’ ownership has gone up one tick this week, likely because Gary Sanchez has missed a couple of games to give Jeffers an additional few starts for the Twins. There was some hope in the fantasy community that Jeffers would have a more prominent role this year, but the Twins didn’t flip Sanchez soon after accquiring him as many thought they would, and he remains a back up for the time being. Even as a backup, though, he could contribute enough power to help in the deepest of leagues over the course of a season. After hitting 14 homers in 85 games last year, he’s already hitting 2 this year — and I guess the good news is that if he’s getting fewer ABs, then his .212 career average won’t do quite as much damage.

Taylor Walls (2%). Walls has already started 13 games for the Rays, at three different positions (2 at 2B, 8 at 3B, and 3 at SS), and he’s already proving to be a solid and versatile option in real-life baseball. As for the pretend kind of baseball, for the moment he still only qualifies at shortstop in most leagues, so I can’t give him too many points for versatility yet. As for being a solid fantasy player, I think it all depends on your definition of solid, but let’s remember that we’re talking about a 2% owned player here. He’s hitting .281, his OBP is a (much better than solid!) .439, and he has 3 stolen bases, so in the right deep league, you could be doing worse at your middle infield spot.

Anthony Gose (1%). I drafted Gose in a couple deep draft-and-hold, no waiver wire leagues early on this winter, with the hope that he could be a decent, healthy bullpen arm deep into the season, knowing my teams would inevitably get hit with assorted pitching injuries. I’ve ended up throwing him into an active lineup or two sooner than I’d expected to as he’s off to a very solid start for the Guardians: just 6 innings, but he has 8 Ks and a win, while only allowing one run (on 4 hits and 2 walks). Gose may end up with a higher leverage role in the bullpen than I expected if he can continue to be effective while James Karinchak is on the shelf with a bad shoulder — and why not mention at this point that Emmanuel Clase has been shaky at best while converting 2 saves, sporting an early ERA of 6.75.

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