Contrary to popular belief, the secret to rebuilding (and winning) your fantasy league is not hoarding prospects. This season, you could be waiting patiently for the arrivals of Michael Kopech, Willie Calhoun, and Luis Urias to save your team, or you could have jumped on pop-up producers like Max Muncy, Jesus Aguilar, and Ross Stripling. Last year, Aaron Judge, Luis Severino, and Charlie Morton were universally available if your timing was right.
The thing about prospects is that sometimes they pan out, and sometimes they don’t. Even a “successful” one like Ronald Acuña has just a 114 wRC+, with a rest-of-season projection slightly below that. In real life, that’s fantastic for a 20-year-old and Acuña is a likely future star. But in the meantime his production is nothing special.
And again: Acuña is a success story. Owners might wait years for the likes of Byron Buxton, Dansby Swanson, and Alex Reyes to carry their teams to relevancy. All the while, players like the following four who are owned in less than 40 percent (well, actually, 43 percent) of Ottoneu leagues have been quietly carrying contenders:
1. Steve Pearce, 1B/OF, 17% owned
Pearce has already made six starts since debuting with the Red Sox on June 29, and the fact that he’s producing should surprise no one. Pearce has a 111 wRC+ in his career (102 vs. RHP and 127 vs. LHP), and in 1,000+ plate appearances since 2015, he has roughly the same wRC+ against all comers (114 vs. RHP, 112 vs. LHP).
Pearce is first on this list not because he’s necessarily the best player, but because his 113 wRC+ since 2015 is virtually identical to Acuña’s production this season. Pearce doesn’t always start, and Acuña’s ceiling is unquestionably higher, but if you have two or three Steve Pearces on your team, it’s actually not difficult to match Acuña’s offense at a fraction of the cost.
2. Lucas Duda, 1B, 42% owned
Let’s say you missed out on Jesus Aguilar, and you’re hurting at first base. Why not consider Lucas Duda? He should not start against lefties, but against righties he’s a solid producer with a cheap price tag. He’s never had a below-average season against right-handed pitching, and even on a miserable Royals team this year he’s slashing .281/.336/.488 against them. He has a 132 wRC+ against righties in his career, including a .239/.346/.487 line (124 wRC+) since 2015.
3. Brad Miller, 1B/2B/SS, 19% owned
He’s not really an exciting player, and his production has been known to disappear for long stretches, but the bottom line is that Miller hits righties well and is eligible at shortstop and second base. For his career, Miller has a 110 wRC+ against right-handed pitching, including a 112 wRC+ against them since 2015. Like Duda, Miller should absolutely not start against lefties, but he’s exactly the type of cheap depth piece to seek out if you’re thin up the middle.
4. Dexter Fowler, OF, 38% owned
Who doesn’t like a good buy low candidate? There may be some red flags, but even with this year’s atrocious .167/.270/.271 line in 250+ plate appearances on the books, Fowler has a 110 wRC+ since 2015.
If you take this season out of the equation (which you absolutely shouldn’t do, but I’m doing it anyway), Fowler entered 2018 with a 119 wRC+ and .351 wOBA over his last three seasons spanning more than 1,700 plate appearances. Which should we read into more: 1,700 plate appearances from 2015-17, or 256 plate appearances in 2018? I’ll take the Larger Sample Size, please. Buy low, and hope he gets traded or plays himself back into a starting role with the Cardinals.
Ben Kaspick is the founder of CoveCast, LLC, a sabermetric San Francisco Giants analysis website and podcast featured at CoveCast.net. He has written for RotoGraphs since 2016 and also contributes to SB Nation's Beyond the Box Score. Follow him on Twitter @Cove_Cast.