In fantasy, I generally consider utility players to be more valuable than ever in September, when expanded rosters allow managers to schedule in a few more rest days for their regulars. Throw in the fact that these guys have already played five months of baseball, and the combination of nagging injuries and general fatigue further encourages managers to work in additional rest days.
The last thing you want in the fantasy playoffs is empty lineup slots. Of course, there’s the obvious caveat that it’s difficult to find productive utility players on waivers at this point in the season. In other words, don’t go picking up Cliff Pennington just because he’s eligible at four positions. Let’s not get carried away here.
The three players featured in this piece are all widely available, and capable of producing when they find their way into your lineup.
Wilmer Flores – 1B/2B/3B/SS
(9% Yahoo, 12.5% ESPN, 16% CBS, 54% Ottoneu)
Flores is eligible at all four infield positions in nearly every major fantasy format. This alone makes his extremely low ownership hard to fathom. The thing about Flores is that I would still consider him underowned, even if he couldn’t play all over the fantasy diamond.
With the Mets suffering a never-ending series of injuries, Flores quietly worked his way into a highly favorable position. Lately, the 25-year-old settled into the fifth spot in the Mets lineup. There’s some strong RBI potential there — batting directly behind the likes of Curtis Granderson, Yoenis Cespedes and Jay Bruce — and Flores himself has been on an absolute tear since the beginning of July, hitting a blistering .298/.340/.582 (.284 ISO) with 12 homers in the last two months.
The knock on Flores is that he does the vast majority of his damage against left-handed pitching, and that’s still true. However, I watched a game a few days ago in which the always-excellent Mets announce crew discussed how much better Flores looks against righties lately. A quick check of the numbers shows that Flores is hitting .279/.328/.393 against same-handed pitching since August 1. That’s nothing special, but it is indeed significantly better than he usually hits righties.
I would still not play him against good right-handed pitchers, but against southpaws and bad righties, I’m comfortable having him in my lineup in most formats.
Jose Peraza – 2B/SS/OF
(15% Yahoo, 12.9% ESPN, 20% CBS, 61% Ottoneu)
If your team has a need for speed, Peraza is your man. The 22-year-old has near-zero power, and has possibly never heard of taking a walk (his highest walk rate in the last three years was 3.6%, in a 44-game sample from Double-A in 2014). What Peraza does do is make tons of contact and steal bases, a combination that plays nicely in most formats.
Peraza swiped 64 bases in 2013 — his first full professional season — and followed up with 60 steals in 2014, 36 last year, and 24 so far in 2016. Through 48 major-league games this season, he’s hitting an eye-popping .340 and stealing a base about once per ten PA. He won’t help much in R/RBI/HR, but if you could use some help with AVG or SB, Peraza could be a nice fit.
Nick Franklin – 1B/2B/SS/OF
(2% Yahoo, 1.6% ESPN, 4% CBS, 16% Ottoneu)
Franklin’s emergence as a productive fantasy player is going about as far under the radar as possible. The 25-year-old post-hype sleeper is doing a little bit of everything through his first 43 games this year, hitting .290/.353/.492 with five homers and six steals in just 137 PA.
Franklin’s spot in the batting order fluctuates as much as his defensive position, as he’s batted anywhere from leadoff to eighth in his last ten starts. No matter where he plays, he’s hitting. Coming into the season though, Franklin was a .203/.275/.348 hitter through 174 major-league games, so there is admittedly a chance he could drop off a cliff at any time.
Still, he’s shown big improvement in his plate discipline this year. While his walk rate has dropped a touch (from 9.0% career to 7.3% in ’16), the major decrease in strikeouts (from 29.8% to 22.6%) more than cancels out the slight drop in walks, allowing Franklin to finally make enough contact to generate a solid AVG.
He’s a wild card, but if he keeps it up, he’ll make a positive impact on your team for the season’s final month.
Scott Strandberg started writing for Rotographs in 2013. He works in small business consultation, and he also writes A&E columns for The Norman Transcript newspaper. Scott lives in Seattle, WA.