Some well-deserved hype for the often overlooked small-market players

Scott Pianowski
·5-min read

It’s one of those buried memories that I try to forget, like a high school haircut. I vaguely remember being asked to make a bold prediction for the 2020 baseball season, and I said something positive about Bryan Reynolds. Maybe I had him winning the batting title. I can’t quite remember.

Spoiler: Bryan Reynolds did not win the batting title last summer. He didn’t even make the Mendoza Line. That .189 average shouts out at you.

Ah, but it’s a new year, a new day, and perhaps a new Reynolds — or, more like the Reynolds we fell for in 2019. Reynolds is off to a .308/.400/.462 start, with a couple of homers. He’s already walked nine times. Statcast data backs up the early Reynolds returns — his expected average is .313, his expected slugging is .560. Heck, if anything, Reynolds has been a little unlucky in the opening weeks.

The Pirates have made Reynolds the centerpiece of their offense, an offense that’s been better than expected. You’ll find Reynolds slotted No. 3 most days. He’s always had some pedigree — he was a second-round pick out of Vanderbilt — and this is his age 26 season. The low-market screen has kept rostered numbers low, so Reynolds is still out there in 66 percent of Yahoo leagues. Let’s work on correcting that.

Joey Wendle graduates in Tampa 

It’s probably too late to add Joey Wendle in competitive leagues, so this will be more appreciation post than anything. The constant fear with Tampa Bay players is that the lineup-jockeying braintrust will keep talent off the field, but some players are too good to sit. Wendle has shown himself as that this year, starting 16-of-19 games. He’s been in the lineup 10 games in a row, against all handedness.

Although Wendle has just one walk, a .365 average and .619 slugging will play anywhere. And you can slot him almost anywhere — he qualifies at second, third, shortstop. I always grab a few of these legos for my roster, the aim at fielding a positionless fantasy offense.

Perhaps I love Wendle’s game so much because he’s a throwback — he puts the ball in play. Sure, his walk rate is low and I get why that’s a flag, but he’s also a high-contact man, striking out a modest 17.8 percent for his career. His hard-hit metrics are positive, and his expected wOBA is in the top seven percent of the league.

This Mr. Wendle is no bum. And once you’ve carved out a dedicated spot in Tampa Bay, you’ve really made it.

Is Alex Colome on notice? 

Save chasing is one of the souls of Closing Time, so we have to mention Alex Colome’s struggles with Minnesota. Colome gave another game away Wednesday, unraveling in the 10th inning as the Athletics scored another win (Kool and the Gang didn’t play Celebration as often as the 2021 A’s do). Shoddy defense let Colome down, but he made his own mess, struggling with control and command and even hitting one batter.

The seasonal line speaks for itself: 8 IP, 11 H, 11 R, 5 ER. That’s an ERA over 5, and a WHIP over 1.62.

Taylor Rogers wasn’t great in the truncated 2020 season, but he could be ready to take some of Colome’s save chances forward. Rogers has been on point in the fresh year, allowing just one run, unearned, over 7.2 innings. He’s walked one batter — and it was intentional — and struck out nine. He’s still available in about half of Yahoo leagues. It's last call, handshake hounds. 

Lamenting about Dinelson Lamet

One of my long-held fantasy concepts is not to proactively draft into injury-related situations. Injuries are going to find you, don’t go looking for them.

Dinelson Lamet is another case in point.

Although Lamet had elbow concerns into 2021, the aim was to rest and rehab him into game shape and not go the surgery route. Lamet finally got to the mound Wednesday and threw 29 effective pitches — then had to leave with right forearm tightness. The Padres are whistling an optimistic tune, but it’s hard for me to share that sentiment. I’d be stunned if Lamet can gut his way through this problem and pitch effectively this year.

I take no joy in that, of course. Lamet’s peak is that of an All-Star pitcher, perhaps a Cy Young contender. But it makes sense to be prudent with these kinds of stories.

The Padres, of course, have a wealth of options for the rotation spot. Ryan Weathers has already thrown 9.2 strong innings, covering one start and three relief appearances (3 H, 1 R, 4 BB, 10 K). MacKenzie Gore waits in the minors, one of the most decorated pitching prospects in baseball. San Diego looks like a major factor in the NL West all year, and it won’t lack for dynamic mound options.

I’m going to consider a Weathers addition here and there, in front of his Thursday turn at the dangerous Dodgers (there’s your mandatory scouting assignment for tonight). He’s 10-percent rostered. If you have the time — or an NA spot — to wait for Gore, he’s currently rostered at 19 percent.