Are my eyes deceiving me, or does the calendar now read September? Could it be that the 2013 fantasy season, once so fresh and full of promise, is now fading into the sunset? Sadly, the answer is yes, as we’re at the point where the postseason is at hand and major league rosters are expanding to accommodate new players. But as the dog days of August came to a close, two once-heralded prospects have returned—one from injury, one from mediocrity—to lend a helping fantasy hand and present themselves as intriguing options for fantasy teams making their final push.
Danny Duffy | Kansas City Royals | SP | 9 percent Yahoo ownership; 4 percent ESPN; 27 percent CBS
YTD: 16.1 IP / 1.10 ERA / 9.4 K/9 / 2.8 BB/9 with 2 wins
ZiPS updated: 26 IP / 2.40 ERA / 8.9 K/9 / 3.2 BB/9 with 2 wins
Having just returned to the majors, Duffy is like a September call-up, but better, since he’s already got major league experience (and success). A former third-round pick in the 2007 amateur draft, Duffy blazed his way through the minors, compiling an excellent 10.6 K/9, 2.88 ERA and 1.153 WHIP over the course of 419 innings. Although he was still a bit raw when he reached the majors two years ago, he brought the strikeout ability (and mid-90s heater) with him, compiling a nearly 8 K/9 over his first 133 big league innings. All in all, the future looked bright for the southpaw as the 2012 season got underway.
Then the Tommy John surgery came.
Now, Duffy is back and looking extremely sharp for the still-playoff-hopeful Royals, vaporizing hitters at a better than strikeout-per-inning clip after posting three solid outings. In fact, Duffy hasn’t allowed an earned run in his last two starts, including a six-inning, one-hit effort against the mighty Tigers on Aug. 16. Although the fastball velocity is down a tad since he returned, and he’s favoring his change-up a bit over his curveball, he’s still generating a healthy 11.6 percent swinging strike percentage and is generating first-strikes better than he had in his previous major league stint. (It should go without saying that these data are based on a tiny sample size.)
Add in an increased focus on keeping his cool out on the mound and a supporting cast that, at the very least, should make a run at playing .500 baseball or better for the rest of the season, and you have a true upside guy who can make a fantasy impact in the playoffs. Factor in two home starts in Week 23, one against the aforementioned Tigers and one against the punchless Mariners (a team that owns the lowest batting average against left-handers in the American League), and you shouldn’t hesitate to pull the trigger on the 24-year-old.
Recommendation: Duffy is good to go in standard mixed leagues, especially with two starts next week.
Dustin Ackley | Seattle Mariners | 2B / OF | 30 percent Yahoo ownership; 16 percent ESPN; 31 percent CBS
YTD: 341 PA / .258 / .308 / .350 with 3 HR and 2 SB
ZiPS updated: 438 PA / .256 / .310 / .354 with 5 HR and 3 SB
Remember how the second base class of 2011 was going to pump new blood into one of fantasy’s shallowest positions? Remember how the emergence of Ackley, Jason Kipnis and Jemile Weeks was going to give us a new generation of middle infield stars? Well, things haven’t turned out that way, with only Kipnis making good on his all-star potential while Jemile Weeks has spent the season down in Triple-A and Ackley being so useless that the former second overall pick in the 2009 draft was demoted to the minors in May.
But things have changed since then, as Ackley has quietly turned his season around, hitting .351 /.380 /.518 in the second half, with an impressive 1.017 OPS in August. Still just 25 years old, it’s possible that Ackley is just finding the confidence that made him one of Baseball America’s most prized prospects for two years straight, or perhaps a new batting stance is to credit for the resurgence. Regardless, Ackley’s hot streak comes with outfield eligibility (enough so that he’ll likely carry over the dual positions in most keeper leagues next year), which provides a much-needed boost to his value, since he offers little help in the home run or steals department.
But hey, a high batting average/on-base percentage never hurt anyone fantasy’s team, and Ackley’s stock, once so high, has fallen to such lows that he’s apparently been forgotten in many leagues. The season is winding down, but for those looking for a hot hand, Ackley’s cachet and recent success make him a worthy gamble in many leagues.
Recommendation: Shallower leagues may have better options available, but I think Ackley is worth grabbing in all 14-league mixed formats and beyond.