(Really) Deep League Hitter Pickups

“Deep League Hitter Pickups.” So promised a bulletin we received, unbidden, from America’s Leading Fantasy Sports Aggregator. Likewise “Under the Radar Waiver Wire Pickups.” These communiques used to annoy us, because, absolutely without exception, every player thus recommended was long gone in every league we played in. But then we realized: these bulletins from ALFSA are for people who play Fantasy baseball the way we play Fantasy football: join a small league with shallow rosters, prepare for your draft the day before it happens and no earlier, check waiver wire recommendations on Tuesdays, check again Sunday mornings to make sure your players remain alive and ambulatory, and that’s it.

All in all, a sensible way to do things, but when it comes to Fantasy baseball, prudence and we are strangers. And this season, our folly has led us to a couple of leagues where the number of teams, limited player pool, and shortness of roster space produce only three choices when one of our players gets hurt, gets sent down, or is terminally disappointing: (1) a vacant roster spot; (2) an occupied roster spot that might as well be vacant; and (3) a roster spot whose occupant, though widely shunned for excellent reasons, has a faint chance of doing something useful.

Unfortunately, though the season is in its infancy, we’ve already had occasion to wonder who might be behind Door Number Three, and we thought we’d share with you the fruits of our research. Here, then, are five hitters—one at each position, with the middle infielder qualifying at both spots—whom we either would get, did get, or tried to get when in extremis. All of them are owned in fewer than 50% of NFBC leagues, which means they are more likely than not available to you. Hope you don’t need them.

Catcher: Andrew Knapp, Philadelphia. It looks to us as if Knapp isn’t even being taken in two-catcher NL-only leagues, and we can understand why. He’s not a great catcher, and top prospect Jorge Alfaro is in Triple-A and is probably major-league ready. But the Phillies already have a good catcher in Cameron Rupp, and they don’t want Alfaro to sit on the bench. So Knapp’s the backup for the foreseeable future. Knapp’s a switch-hitter, and he doesn’t hit right-handers especially well, but neither does Rupp. Knapp also has, so we read in Fangraphs, “fringe game power,” which we gather is sort of a good thing. And during spring training he worked at first base a bit, against the day when the Phillies need another arm in the bullpen and can’t afford to keep Brock Stassi around. We were going to tell you that you’ll get from Knapp about what you’ll get from Austin Romine, but Romine is now center stage, so make that about what you’ll get from Josh Phegley, who’s owned in 92% of NFBC leagues.

First Base: Tyler Moore, Miami. Moore’s unpopularity—he’s owned in fewer than 1% of NFBC leagues, which is hard to do if you’re a hitter on a major league roster and have a pulse—puzzles us a bit. True, the guy has no on-base skills and is a right-handed hitter who doesn’t hit lefties that well. But he’s backing up Justin Bour, a power hitter who can’t do a thing, power-wise, against lefties (.224/.284/.290 in his career, with no home runs in 107 at bats). Moore, on the other hand, can hit lefties with power when he hits them at all (11 home runs in 251 career at bats). We can envision him getting you a home run or two, and possibly even sneaking his way into a platoon with Bour.

Middle Infield: Greg Garcia, St. Louis. Garcia’s what you want if you’re desperate for an infielder. He’s useful at 2B, 3B, and SS, and he’s an on-base machine with a batting average that won’t hurt you (.258/.377/.363). That’s right, no power and no speed, but remember: by hypothesis, you’re desperate. Will he play? That depends largely on how quickly Kolten Wong manages to play himself out of a job. Pretty quickly, it looks like. If so, Jedd Gyorko is the full-time second baseman, and Garcia gets maybe two starts a week filling in around the infield.

Third Base: Patrick Kivelhan, Cincinnati. This one’s kind of a reach, unless you happen to have Eugenio Suarez on your roster, in which case you probably don’t have room for Kivlehan yet. He’s a right-handed 3B-OF with a little power (22 HR in 472 AB with Seattle’s AAA team in 2015, which is actually pretty good) and some speed (14 SBs in 17 attempts, ditto). Like many of his species, he destroys left-handed pitching (.284/.331/.552 over three AAA teams last season). He’s the Reds’ first line of defense if anything happens to Suarez, and if he shows any ability to hit major-league pitching (he’s .179/. 258/.286 in 31 plate appearances in his career so far) you can even imagine him slipping into the Steve Selsky role as a right-handed platoon mate for Scott Schebler.

Outfield: And speaking of Steve Selsky: the Reds waived him over the winter, the Red Sox claimed him, and then wound up keeping him as their 25th man. (The obvious pick here is Guillermo Heredia of Seattle, whom we can easily see sliding into a left-field platoon with Jarrod Dyson, since Heredia’s a better hitter than Dyson, certainly against left-handed pitching, and just as good a fielder. But, as always, we eschew the obvious.) Selsky is already struggling for playing time, and will have even more of a struggle when Jackie Bradley returns from the DL. Moreover, the Red Sox already have a lefty-mashing outfielder in Chris Young. But Selsky, in addition to hitting lefties as well as Young does, can also play center field and first base, which Young can’t. What with injuries, DHing, giving the regular outfielders a rest, and Keith Moreland’s inability to hit lefties, you can see Selsky scraping up 200 at bats or so, in which you can imagine him getting 5 or more home runs, a batting average that won’t embarrass you, and the kind of Runs/RBI output you’d expect from a guy in the Red Sox lineup. Of course, you can also imagine him getting waived as soon as Bradley comes back. But if he were a sure thing, you, we, and everyone else in the Fantasy universe would already own him.

(Tuesday morning note: We didn’t put Taylor Motter on this list only because he was one of our Bold Predictions two weeks ago, and we try not to repeat ourselves. But now, with Jean Segura injured and perhaps headed to the DL, we again call your attention to him.)

The Birchwood Brothers are two guys with the improbable surname of Smirlock. Michael, the younger brother, brings his skills as a former Professor of Economics to bear on baseball statistics. Dan, the older brother, brings his skills as a former college English professor and recently-retired lawyer to bear on his brother's delphic mutterings. They seek to delight and instruct. They tweet when the spirit moves them @birchwoodbroth2.

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How about Scott Schebler as well?