The return of another baseball season marks the return of another tradition: the search for talent in the far reaches of fantasy leagues. In this space, we’ll root through the dumpster bins as we try to locate the players who were either forsaken on draft day or who have stumbled on to playing time opportunities. Some guys will work out, some others — heh, perhaps more than some — won’t, but whether you’re looking for spare parts or trying to keep your head above water in a deep format, this column is for you.
Two quick notes: Most of the players discussed are best suited for mono leagues, although there is the occasional customer whose value extends to mixed formats. Finally, I use CBS for the ownership percentages.
Erasmo Ramirez / SP / Tampa Bay Rays / 2%
Our first candidate this year is likely no stranger to owners in deep leagues. It was just a year ago that Ramirez was generating sleeper buzz in Seattle, but a ghastly -0.6 WAR campaign (interrupted, at one point, by a demotion all the way back to Single-A) destroyed his fantasy appeal. After Ramirez wore out his welcome in the Pacific Northwest, the Mariners shipped him to Tampa Bay late last month, and although manager Kevin Cash has not officially anointed Ramirez as the team’s No. 4 starter, it sure looks like he’ll have a spot in the team’s injury-depleted rotation to start the season.
Ramirez, who turns 25 next month, offers some fantasy intrigue due to above-average whiff rates and a nasty changeup, which has significant vertical movement and offsets his low-90s fastball by more than 10 mph. In fact, that changeup is probably a leading reason why the Rays, an organization that heavily emphasizes the pitch, acquired Ramirez in the first place. He was solid in five winter league starts while pitching in Venezuela, and will get a decent opportunity to make his case for the rotation this month as both Alex Cobb and Drew Smyly rehab.
That’s not to say Ramirez is a sure-fire rebound candidate. He’s been killed by the home run ball, even while pitching in Safeco Field, and he’s not going to be cut any slack in that department while visiting the Orioles, Yankees and Blue Jays on a regular basis. Ramirez’s command — which was solid in the minors — has slipped at the major league level in recent years, and despite those whiff rates, he owns just a career 7.2 K/9.
But there is some talent here, and now, a change of scenery and a full-time job to go with it. Ramirez’s volatility rightfully nullified his appeal on draft day, but there are enough forces at work here to make him a perfectly fine AL-only upside bet.
Jeurys Familia / RP / New York Mets / 13%
Familia’s ownership is a bit high for this column, but his potential impact — especially in the immediate term — is such that I wanted to kick the tires on him while the news was still relatively fresh. Jenrry Mejia was set to close out Monday’s win in Washington, but left before throwing a pitch after his elbow began barking, and he was scheduled to undergo an MRI on Tuesday. Although Familia, having pitched a scoreless eighth inning, did not earn the save, manager Terry Collins says he’s the heir apparent if Mejia is seriously hurt:
— Anthony DiComo (@AnthonyDiComo) April 6, 2015
Familia emerged as solid setup man last year, his first full MLB campaign, earning 23 holds after settling into the eighth-inning role midway through the season. He throws gas — his average fastball velocity ranked inside the top 10 among qualified relievers last year — but relies heavily on his sinker, which accounted for nearly half of his offerings in 2014, as well as a slider that generated whiffs at a 26.4% clip. That groundball-generating arsenal has the upside of producing strikeout-per-inning results, though Familia also struggled with control a bit last year and his 2.21 ERA outperformed his FIP, xFIP and SIERA by a significant margin.
In a bullpen also featuring Bobby Parnell and Vic Black, Familia’s opportunity to close out games in New York would have seemed slight just a few weeks ago. But Parnell, coming off TJ surgery last year, won’t be back until at least May, and Black, who has been experiencing weakness in his shoulder, is not expected to be activated from the DL when he’s eligible on Sunday. As for Mejia, well, let’s just say that yet another injury to the 25-year-old — who already has one TJ operation to his name as well as a host of other ailments in his career — would not come as a major shock. Hopefully, all is fine for the Mets’ incumbent closer, but for the time being, Familia is an obvious add in all NL-only leagues and more than a few mixed formats as well.
Karl, a journalist living in Washington, D.C., learned about life's disappointments by following the Mets beginning at a young age. His work has appeared in numerous publications, and he has contributed to the 2014 and 2015 editions of The Hardball Times Annual. Follow/harass him on Twitter @Karl_de_Vries.