The trade deadline is close enough to the point where we can almost reach out and touch it, and with that comes new opportunities who players lurking among many leagues’ waiver wire options. This week, we’ll take a look at two young players who have arrived with a bang, both benefiting from opportunities opening up in the season’s second half.
Junior Lake | Chicago Cubs | OF / SS / 3B | 19 percent Yahoo ownership; 27 percent ESPN; 25 percent CBS
YTD: 29 PA / .519 / .536 / .852 with 2 HR and 1 SB
ZiPS updated: 176 PA / .306 / .341 / .476 with 5 HR and 8 SB
Lake’s opportunity isn’t yet the byproduct of a fire sale, though the infielder-turned-outfielder has seen playing time recently thanks to the right shoulder sprain of David DeJesus. Depending on one’s league eligibility rules—he hasn’t played in the infield yet this season despite qualifying at several positions depending on the format—Lake’s hot start, capped with a home run and 3-for-5 performance against the D’Backs on Wednesday, has made him a very attractive fantasy option in a bunch of leagues.
Before we start anointing Lake as the next Yasiel Puig, however, we should temper our expectations. It’s true that the 23-year-old was abusing Pacific Coast League pitching to the tune of a .295 / .341 / .462 line this season, and has averaged nearly 17 steals a season since he broke into professional ball in 2007. But a career .732 OPS in the minors takes a bit of the shine off those stats, especially when you consider a career 5.9 percent walk rate that suggests he’ll be a boom-or-bust guy who will likely be susceptible to streaks, especially as he gets acclimated to big league pitching.
Meanwhile, Lake’s playing time could be threatened with the return of DeJesus, who was activated on Wednesday. Although manager Dale Sveum has indicated that he wants to ride Lake’s hot hand, the presence of Nate Schierholtz and Alfonso Soriano in the outfield could squeeze out the Dominican native unless he keeps up his scaling start (which, of course, will happen eventually). As for the infield, Starlin Castro isn’t going anywhere at shortstop, and although Luis Valbuena is offensively challenged, it remains to be seen whether Lake will be trusted to man the hot corner in his rookie season.
Of course, trade talks involving Soriano are heating up, and as the Cubs have little left to do in 2013 except run out the clock, I wouldn’t worry about Lake being sent down. But even with a regular role, I’m not sure I see Lake as a dependable outfield option even in deeper leagues just yet.
Recommendation: I’d ignore Lake in mixed leagues unless he qualifies at an infield position.
Christian Yelich | Miami Marlins | OF | 21 percent Yahoo ownership; 30 percent ESPN; 56 percent CBS
YTD: 9 PA / .375 / .444 / .375 with 0 HR and 0 SB
ZiPS updated: 157 PA / .263 / .324 / .403 with 4 HR and 6 SB
Although we can debate the wisdom of the Marlins’ impetuous desire to rush young prospects to the majors, we fantasy folks don’t have such reservations, as Jose Fernandez has already paid dividends despite his inexperience. But a similar opportunity is knocking for Yelich after Marcell Ozuna and Derek Dietrich were sent down to the minors, allowing the 15th overall player on Baseball America’s top 100 prospects list entering this season to make good on his terrific ceiling. How terrific? Well, it’s hard not to be optimistic about a guy who crushed minor league pitching to the beat of a .313 / .387 / .499 slash line and collected three hits in his debut on Tuesday.
Yelich, 21, brings a sweet swing and first-round pedigree to the Marlins, but rather than bore you with my hack analysis, I’ll just remind you that you don’t need to go far to find scouting reports on him. Instead, I’ll concentrate on what he could bring to the table in 2013.
First things first: Yelich is expected to play every day as the team gears up for the 2014 season. Along with fellow newcomer Jake Marisnick, he’s essentially bounced Justin Ruggiano and his .201 average out of full-time play, and unless Ozuna is returned to the majors down the stretch, I wouldn’t think he has any stiff competition for at-bats as far as this season is concerned. On the other hand, Yelich joins a lineup with the lowest (71) RC+ of any team in the major leagues, and will play his home games in a stadium that significantly depresses left-handed power.
When it comes to big prospects, I’m inclined to drop them immediately into my starting lineups, because I figure they’re already playing well (they were just promoted, after all) and the league has yet to develop a comprehensive scouting report on them. Thus far, I’ve had luck utilizing Puig and Wil Myers out of the gate in my 12-team mixed H2H league, and I wouldn’t have any reservations about similarly riding Yelich, especially if he finishes Week 17 strong.
Yes, Yelich is young, raw and isn’t exactly joining a fruitful offensive environment, but I’ll choose to presume him innocent until proven guilty (or, in fantasy baseball terms, productive until proven unproductive). Assuming he’s already grabbed in keeper leagues, I’d still recommend him across the board in seasonal formats as a high-upside bat who’s still available in plenty of leagues.
Recommendation: Use him in all but the shallowest of formats.