Five Potential Stars Without Everyday Roles – AL Edition

Playing time rules the day in fantasy baseball. The more of it your players have, the better you will do. It should go without saying that you want quality players logging that playing time, but in case anyone was unclear, I obviously believe that to be the case. It can be difficult to take a platoon player (under 130 gms) – even a good one – over someone playing at a slightly lesser clip but doing so 85%+ (~140+ gms) of the time.

Brett Gardner isn’t as good as Jesse Winker on a per plate appearance basis (103 to 125 in wRC+ since 2018), but he has 416 more PA giving him massive counting category edges. Finding the guys who can increase their playing time load in season is often a key separator in the winners and the losers. Here are five players who could fantasy stars if they find regular reps.

Yesterday I ran what ended up inadvertently being an NL edition of this so I didn’t want to leave the AL-Only folks hanging. I’m giving a couple extras because so many of the AL candidates are outfielders and I didn’t want to leave the infield empty handed.

Victor Reyes | DET | OF

Reyes fans had to be bummed by the Robbie Grossman and Nomar Mazara signings for the Tigers as they seem to have pushed Reyes to the bench with JaCoby Jones fulfilling the other role. The speedy 4th OF has been an avenue for cheap fantasy upside in the past and Reyes could absolutely be a draft day bargain because of his uncertain role. The switch-hitting 26-year-old has a career .271 AVG in 724 PA and that’s a bit depressed by his .222 AVG debut after being a Rule 5 pickup in 2018. Since then he is hitting .293/.327/.414 with 7 HR and 17 SB in 505 PA.

Adam Engel | CWS | OF

Speed and defense have kept Engel on the White Sox roster for the last four seasons, but some burgeoning pop brings him into focus for the fantasy realm. A .141 ISO doesn’t really wow anyone (nor should it), but it was a sharp gain for Engel in 2019 after just a .107 mark in 2017-18. He then upped it to a more robust .182 in 93 PA last year. Small sample caveats apply, of course, but we could have a late bloomer on our hands. If Andrew Vaughn doesn’t make the team, I think Engel could find a good bit of time in the OF with Eloy Jiménez shifting to DH and he could play at a 15 HR/15 SB clip with plenty R/RBI opportunities in a deep White Sox lineup.

Yoshi Tsutsugo | TBR | 3B-OF

Tsutsugo transitioned to MLB from the Japan League in the weirdest year ever and acquitted himself pretty well all things considered (98 wRC+, .197 ISO). His illustrious career in Japan saw him excel as a prominent middle-of-the-order slugger with patience (13% BB) and many believe he can be a solid above power force in the majors as well. The trick will be finding consistent playing time to find that rhythm necessary to maximize his skills. As a lefty, there should at least be more opportunities to get in regularly while some defensive flexibility could put him into a strong side platoon role at some point where he could deliver 20+ HR with a good OBP.

Mike Tauchman| NYY | OF

Are we still doing the Tauchman hype machine? Yes, yes we are. As a Yankee he has a .268/.356/.451 with 13 HR, 12 SB, 61 RBI, and 64 R in 407 PA. While the return of Brett Gardner does dampen some of the Tauchman interest, this is still a very shaky OF/DH setup health-wise with Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Aaron Hicks.

That trio has logged just one season of 140+ games among them since 2018 (Stanton’s ’18 with 158). Hicks has never crossed that threshold and Judge has done so just once. All three are studs, but it’s just impossible to have confidence that they will be out there daily for six months. Tauchman is an AL-Only gem for sure and could find some major mixed league viability if a long-term role came open for him.

Aledmys Díaz | HOU | IF

The Astros infield is one of the most locked down in the league in terms of starters, so Diaz would enter via injury, but could fill in at any of the four spots with at least 175 innings played at all of them. While he hasn’t been able to replicate his rookie breakthrough from 2016 (132 wRC+ in 460 PA), he has been a league average bat in 1059 PA since then with 18 HR and 4 SB per 500 PA with a .262 AVG. If a long-term opportunity open up, Diaz is an interesting fill-in without a ton of hype.

Chas McCormick | HOU | OF

The centerfield job is far from locked down in Houston. Myles Straw is getting an opportunity to become a full-time starter and he has the glove to hold the position, but the bat is a question. While McCormick is probably a better fit on a corner, Kyle Tucker could feasibly shift to center and create an opening here if Straw doesn’t take off. McCormick has great plate skills and had a solid 2019 split between Double- and Triple-A with 14 HR and 16 SB in 448 PA. I discussed drafting McCormick in a Draft & Hold league a few weeks back and you can check that out here.

Ka’ai Tom | OAK | UT (played OF in minors)

The Rule 5 selection from Cleveland hasn’t appeared in Spring Training yet due to an oblique injury, but he fits the prototypical Oakland profile of an overlooked, non-traditional player with great minor league numbers (2019: 162 wRC+ at AA; 132 at AAA) capable of playing really well in the majors. An outfielder by trade, he only qualifies at UT in NFBC and as such hasn’t been drafted yet in a single league (not even a 50-round Draft & Hold). The Mitch Moreland signing puts a damper on obvious playing time for him, but if they decide to stick with him his lefty bat could find some opportunities at DH or a corner OF spot where he could flex his pop, strong eye, and perhaps even a little speed contribution (15 SB per 500 PA in the minors).


Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and contributes to ESPN's Daily Notes. Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer and on Twitch at sporer.

newest oldest most voted

Statcast thinks Tsutsugo is pretty much a superstar.