Fantasy baseball dollar menu: Under the radar $1 and reserve players to consider in the American League (2024)

The one dollar/reserve player is the best part of auction leagues. During draft prep season, someone down in that 600 ADP area catches your eye, and for some reason, you’re smitten. Maybe he’s in line to take a job from someone you don’t necessarily like. Maybe you read he worked all offseason in his hometown with his high school coach and a Rapsodo, perfecting the spin on a new pitch. Maybe you saw something in his minor league numbers that makes your heart flutter a little bit.

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Whatever the case, you highlight him on your sheet, and come draft day, confidently bid early on high-priced players, because you know you have a few $1 value-returners in your back pocket. After four hours of boredom, you nominate him and then wait through the most grueling four seconds in sports — the “going once… going twice… sold!” call. And you get your guy.

And then the real fun begins. Is this $1 player going to hit 20 home runs? Will he strike out 140 batters in 122 innings pitched? Or will he strain something in mid-March and then mysteriously disappear from player updates for months, only to reveal in September that his elbow issue was really more of a shoulder thing, which was really more of a neck thing, which he aggravated in June and spent the year in extended spring training?

This great dichotomy of outcomes is what makes the one dollar player so great. So without further ado…

2020’s Best $1 and Reserve AL-only Players

Here is my math for a $1 player — a typical AL-only league has 10-12 teams, with 23 roster spots (reserves are typically drafted after the initial auction). So let’s say 276 players rostered. We’ll double that because it’s half the league available, and we arrive at 562. Assume every team has 2-3 $1 players, so we’ll meet in the middle at 30, bringing us to 532 ADP. Your league may vary, and there are lots of 10 team leagues out there, so I’ll push it up to 500 ADP and beyond. If it feels dirty and the guy will obviously go for more, I’ll leave him out.

The players listed here are in descending order of their ADP.

Jeimer Candelario, 1B/3B, DET: Candelario followed up his 19-homer 2018 with just eight in 2019, but we can stick a little asterisk on last season, as Candelario was injured and then optioned. He played 20 games in September and October, though, and while the one home run over 61 ABs didn’t look great, he did manage to walk 12 times, against 16 strikeouts, giving him a .377 OBP. It’s not exactly a new skill for him (his career minor league OBP was .354), but at the end of a frustrating season, it showed he didn’t feel the need to press too hard. And when Candelario got to bat leadoff — a glorious 78 times in 2019 — he carried a .258 average, .372 OBP, and scored 10 runs. They got C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop for some mid-lineup power (and Christin Stewart may develop), so maybe Candelario sees more opportunity at the top of the lineup and becomes a nice 2020 surprise.

Yusei Kikuchi, SP, SEA:Kikuchi had a disastrous 2019 (5.46 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 6.5 K/9) after coming over from Japan and being No. 45 on Baseball America’s top prospect list. Kikuchi wasn’t lights out in Japan, but he was very good — a 2.77 ERA and 1.17 WHIP over eight NPB seasons, with an 8.0 K/9. He gave up 28 home runs to RHBs in 2019, he was equally terrible at home and on the road, he didn’t have one month with an ERA below 4.25 and had four with an ERA above 5.50. Shall we go on? No? Point is, Kikuchi isn’t as bad as his 2019 might suggest. I don’t know if it was an injury he was hiding, some culture shock, the weird ball, or a combination of everything. But if you look at his game log, Kikuchi actually put together some very good starts: he had eight starts with one earned run or fewer allowed and 12 with two or fewer. What did him in were three starts against the Angels, where he gave up 19 total runs in 11.2 innings, and then a series of starts where Kikuchi gave up four or five runs and was yanked early — in his 12 worst starts, Kikcuhi didn’t make it into the sixth inning (which seems very obvious, but still). Can he be fixed now that he has a year in the majors under his belt and a full offseason to adjust? I’d bet on his track record in Japan and risk up to $3 to find out… but you can probably get him for $1.

Joey Wendle, 2B/3B, TB: Wendle was a trendy pick in 2019 (he carried a 226.2 NFBC ADP last draft season), but hit just .231 with three home runs and eight steals over 238 at-bats last season. However, Wendle had his wrist fractured by a Jake Diekman pitch on April 24, just three days after coming off the DL from a hamstring injury. When he returned, he battled discomfort in the wrist until the end of the season. So, in short, Wendle’s 2019 was a mess and he bottomed out due to a power-sapping wrist injury, not a sudden loss of skill. And while the playing time is going to be tough initially, and the upside isn’t massive (15 home runs, 18-ish steals, and a .270 average over a full season?), Wendle is eligible at second and third, and can probably pick up shortstop at some point, too. The hill to climb is a little steeper, but the Rays shift players in and out with aplomb, so a $1 bid on Wendle might be money well spent.

Austin Nola, 1B, SEA: Nola quietly hit .269 with 10 home runs while playing five positions (1B, 2B, C, 3B, OF) last season. He enters 2020 with just 1B eligibility, but chances are he’ll obtain at least three as the season goes on, including the ever-important catcher one. He won’t be a 500 at-bat force, but even getting 350 with nice power and the possibility of decent average is worth the $1 investment, especially considering those at-bats could come in bunches as a multi-faceted injury replacement.

Franklin Barreto, 2B, OAK: Barreto’s price is dampened right now because he doesn’t have a clear path to playing time. But he has the talent — five straight seasons with 10-plus homers in the minors (despite going over 450 at-bats just twice), four seasons of 15-plus steals, a .289 career minor league batting average, and a .352 career OBP. He has the skills to play his way into the lineup, and that’s what I’m betting on with this bid.

Christin Stewart, OF, DET:Christin Stewart is never going to hit .280, but his very legitimate power makes up for it — in five minor league seasons, Stewart hit 25 or more home runs three times. And those three seasons were the only ones where he got 300 or more at-bats. He also has a career .366 OBP, which is over 100 points higher than his batting average (.264), telling me that he’s fairly patient and his OBP isn’t inflated with a high average. Stewart projects to start for the Tigers this year, and while they may not be a run-scoring machine, they have some nice parts, and, like Candelario, if Stewart can get to the top of the order and show off his on-base skills, he could surprise a lot of people. For one dollar, you are buying the playing time, the on-base skill, and the massive power upside.

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Derek Fisher, OF, TOR: I feel that Fisher is the one player on this list who could go for $7 once late March hits and it’s clear he’s winning a job and will be hitting in the dynamic Toronto lineup. But for now, he’s buried in ADP and doesn’t seem to be climbing. Just looking at Fisher’s MLB stats won’t give you much cause for hope (.191 average, 16 home runs over 371 at-bats), but Fisher has twice gone 20/20 in the minors, with both seasons being the only ones in which he got more than 350 at-bats. His trips to the majors were full of days off, occasional playing time, and the failure to get any kind of momentum going — up until his late-season run with Toronto in 2019, when Fisher wasn’t very good. Still, he’s only 26 years old and has shown skill in the minors. It’s very realistic that he could grab an OF job and run with it (Teoscar Hernández and Anthony Alford are also in the mix for playing time), and if he shows off the skill he displayed in the minors, it could lead to a 20/20 flirtation, with an average that could land around .268-ish.

Patrick Wisdom, 1B, SEA: Lots of power (31 HRs twice in the minors), not a ton of average potential, but he could snag enough playing time (maybe Evan White slumps, maybe he beats out Dan Vogelbach for DH at-bats, maybe Kyle Seager isn’t the same player) to justify a late bid.

Colin Poche, RP, TB:He doesn’t throw hard, but he strikes out an eye-popping amount of batters (12.5 K/9 last year; 14.2 K/9 in the minors) and the back-end of the Rays bullpen could either be a constant mix and match (in which case Poche could get 7-10 saves) or someone could run away with the job (in which case Poche possibly gets 30 saves).

James Kaprelian, RP, OAK:Kaprelian very quietly returned from Tommy John surgery and a shoulder/lat issue last year — after not having pitched in a professional game since 2016 — and put up a 3.18 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, striking out 75 batters in 68 innings. If Kaprelian comes into 2020 healthy — and all signs indicate that he will — he should have nice strikeout numbers (9.0-plus K/9) and very good ratios. There will be an endurance issue, and it’s going to take an injury or horrible performance from Oakland’s fairly air-tight staff, but Kaprelian has the skill and looks to be fully healthy after a strong finish to 2019.

Collin McHugh, RP, HOU:It’s not clear where McHugh is going to land just yet (although the Red Sox seem like a perfect fit), but either he starts and does so effectively (he had a 1.96 ERA through his first four starts last year before getting injured, pitching through it, missing over a month, and then returning in a bullpen role), or he’s a reliever, which could mean a higher K/9 with a low ERA and WHIP.

Greg Bird, 1B, TEX: Bird’s injury history is crushing — every time he starts back up again, something new seems to crop up, mainly with his foot or ankle. But after surgeries and rehab, all of that is supposedly behind him, and he has a chance at a fresh start with the Rangers. Bird is now 27, so the clock is running out on his peak, but he hits for average, has good power, and his eye is elite — Bird had a .396 OBP over 1,628 plate appearances in the minors. He has to beat out incumbent Ronald Guzmán, who profiles somewhat similarly in power and average, but with a significantly lower OBP.

Carl Edwards Jr, RP, SEA:Seattle’s bullpen doesn’t have a clear-cut closer, so why not Carl Edwards Jr.? The 28-year-old hit rock bottom last year, with an injury-riddled 8.47 ERA and 1.47 WHIP. But prior to 2019, Edwards was putting up near-elite numbers, with a 2.81 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 12.2 K/9 over 118.1 IP in 2017 and 2018 (combined). My guess is he starts in middle relief, picks up a save or two in April, and runs with the role the rest of the season. Here’s a quick caveat (and part of why he’s in the $1/reserve range): Edwards finished 2018 with a forearm issue and was on the IL with two shoulder issues and a lacerated hand in 2019. So if that carries into 2020 — and who knows, but he did pass a physical and was signed relatively early, at the end of November — this could be another lost season. But if he’s healthy, this could be the origin story of a top closer for years to come.

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Logan Allen, SP, CLE:After putting up seasons of 2.95 and 2.54 ERAs in 2017 and 2018 (along with K/9s of 10.2 and 9.1), Allen got hammered in the PCL last season, with a 5.85 ERA and 1.58 WHIP. He continued that in the majors, with a 6.18 ERA in nine games, split between relief and starting appearances. When someone suddenly gets destroyed after a couple years of being excellent (and Allen pitched over 270 innings between 2017 and 2018, across 49 starts), I assume there’s an injury. Allen only pitched 107.2 innings in 2019, but there isn’t any mention of an injury anywhere. So I’m chalking it up to either him not mentioning an injury or the weird combination of the ball and the PCL. He may not make the rotation out of spring training, but Allen has skill and a good strikeout rate, and should be an impact pitcher by July. UPDATE: With Mike Clevinger now out, Allen’s stock may rise past that of a $1/reserve player.

Anthony Kay, SP, TOR:Kay is an interesting case because we don’t have a ton of minor league info on him, and what we do have is hard to draw much from. If you take the angle that he is a maturing pitcher, though, he’s an absolute bargain at $1. Kay had a 4.26 ERA and 1.41 WHIP in 2018 across two levels. In 2019, though, he dominated Double-A (1.49 ERA, 0.92 WHIP), and then flailed a bit in Triple-A Syracuse (6.61 ERA, 1.63 WHIP) before being traded to Toronto and flourishing again in Triple- A Buffalo (2.50 ERA, 1.53 WHIP). He carried a 9.0-ish K/9 throughout. I honestly don’t know what’s happening here, but my gut says Kay is going to be an interesting player to have on your team, as he can dazzle and fizzle without much warning. Look at Buffalo — he had a great ERA (2.50) that hid a very scary WHIP (1.53). Something clicked for him in Double-A, but it was something he didn’t carry with him to Triple-A. This all brings me here: Toronto doesn’t have a set five. If Kay decides to be the Binghamton version of himself, he could be a $16 profit. If he lands somewhere in between everything, he’s still a $6-7 pitcher in AL-only formats. And if he’s a disaster? You used $1 on him.

Joakim Soria, RP, OAK:I could see him getting involved in the saves mix if Liam Hendriks struggles. Simple as that!

Bubba Starling, OF, KC: He’s an excellent defender, so that should keep him in the lineup if he slumps a little. And I’m not sure if he gets a starting job, but he’ll at least have the chance. Yes, his numbers looked bad in his first taste of MLB action, but he was getting benched a lot and never had a real chance to get momentum going. Even if he loses out on a starting spot, my guess is he plays enough (and can steal a few bases) to return the investment.

Brian O’Grady, 1B/OF, TB: Very quietly, O’Grady hit .280 with 28 home runs and 30 doubles in Triple-A last season, while stealing 20 bases. The year before he hit 14 home runs and had nine steals in just 322 at-bats. But here’s the interesting thing about O’Grady (at least for me) — he’s played 175 career games in center field. You tend to think of a 1B/OF hybrid as a big guy with limited range, who gets stuck at a corner position; but O’Grady, at 6’2″ and 210 pounds, has played more center than first base in his career. Unfortunately for O’Grady, the Rays have Kevin Kiermaier and Manny Margot jamming up center, with Austin Meadows and Hunter Renfroe at the corners… and Ji-Man Choi penciled in at first, with Yoshi Tsutsugo in the mix as a 1B/OF/DH/sometimes 3B. In short, O’Grady couldn’t have landed in a worse spot. However, at this time last year you could look at a team like the Yankees and say the same thing about Mike Tauchman. Bet on the skill and the role sometimes finds itself.

Adolis García, OF, TEX:García is a 27-year-old Cuban who has spent the last few seasons stuck in Memphis. Last year, García hit .253 with 32 home runs and 14 steals. The year before, it was .256/22/10. Before that, .290/15/15. He doesn’t walk, but… such is life. García does have power and speed, and his consistency the last couple seasons leads me to believe he can hit .245-.250 in the majors. Texas has a really weird setup right now, with a lot of moving parts. I think Ronald Guzmán or Greg Bird wins that first base job, which would keep Todd Frazier at third and Danny Santana in center. But the Rangers made a trade for García and he has legitimate skill. Maybe a couple injuries happen and he plays his way into the lineup, at which point you have what looks like a very real and intriguing power/speed force at the end of your fantasy bench.

Chance Adams, SP, KC:I don’t know, man. Chance Adams was so good up until 2018:

… and then things went awry. Maybe it was the constant up-and-down to New York, going from the rotation to the bullpen and back again, being the 26th man a bunch of times for doubleheaders — things like that. But his 2016 and 2017 seasons showed a ton of promise, with low ratios and decent strikeout numbers. And I don’t know if Triple-A was the issue, because he had a 2.89 ERA in 115.1 innings with Scranton in 2017. Something is up! And maybe it’s a change of scenery to Kansas City that he needed to reclaim that earlier dominance. The Royals don’t exactly have a set back-end to their rotation, so keep an eye on Adams; if he has a good spring and you start to see things like “he’s in the mix for the fifth spot,” it could be the opening he needs to jump in and be an effective fantasy asset.

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Christian Arroyo, 3B, CLE: When you get this deep into ADP, you’re not searching as much for breakout potential as you are for a shot at at-bats. Arroyo can play third base, shortstop, and second base — and Cleveland happens to be trying to trade their shortstop, they have a third baseman who went from superstar to reclamation project in one season, and their second baseman isn’t exactly untouchable (although personally, I like César Hernández as an underrated power/speed combo). Point is, Arroyo, a former top prospect, has a shot at snagging at-bats in several plausible scenarios. He won’t offer a lot of power or speed, but with regular at-bats, he could contribute a nice average and possibly do enough there to rise in the lineup and catch some runs and RBI.

Nestor Cortes Jr., RP, SEA: Of all the players in this column, Cortes might be my favorite. The Seattle rotation has plenty of opportunity to grab a spot, and Cortes, who was acquired in November, has these great minor league stats: 2.61 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and 9.1 K/9. He has four seasons (out of seven) with a WHIP below 1.10, which, as a purveyor of WHIP, is really impressive. Additionally, and this may be more for Chance Adams lovers, Cortes also saw his 2018 and 2019 numbers go up as a starter in Scranton (3.71 and 3.86) despite having a 1.49 ERA in Scranton in 2017. Cortes was thrown into the “follower” role for the Yankees in 2019, but was then shifted to a normal reliever in July, then was back to a follower, and back to relief; in other words, an uncertain role that he was learning on the fly. Seattle gives Cortes the chance to start and build on what he was doing in the minors — limiting baserunners and striking batters out.

Miguel Castro, RP, BAL:On the surface, it doesn’t really look like it (4.66 ERA, 1.42 WHIP), but Miguel Castro had a very good 2019…for the most part. He got rocked by the Blue Jays on Sept. 18, giving up five earned runs in 0.2 IP. But from June 1 up until that game, Castro was rolling, with a 2.58 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, and 43 strikeouts in 45.1 IP. Back-to-back blowups in April against the OriolesRed Sox and Yankees (7 ER in 2.2 IP) and a four-run barrage at the hands of the White Sox ballooned his ERA early, but Castro was great in the middle of the season, up until that late-season hammering. I’m not sure if Mychal Givens remains Baltimore’s closer the entire season, just based on his 2019 usage, and that opens a door for Castro to pick up some saves. Castro throws in the mid-to-high 90s and has a sinker that, according to Baseball Savant, not only averaged 97.3 last year, but also has some of the league’s best movement, both vertically and horizontally.

Zac Lowther, SP, BAL: I don’t know why more people aren’t on him after he took his 2018 gains and then essentially repeated them in 2019:

That’s it for the AL! National League $1 and reserve players should be up next week. But here’s the current list I’m working off (Note: I reserve the right to take many of them off once I dig a little deeper!)

  • Shane Green, RP, ATL
  • Sean Newcomb, RP, ATL
  • Jimmy Nelson, SP, LAD
  • Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3b, PIT
  • Orlando Arcia, SS, MIL
  • Drew Smyly, SP, SF
  • Robert Stephenson, RP, CIN
  • Cal Quantrill, SP, SD
  • Rowan Wick, RP, CHC
  • Johan Camargo, SS, ATL
  • Austin Hedges, C, SD
  • Jon Duplantier, SP/RP, AZ
  • Monte Harrison, OF, MIA
  • José De León, SP, CIN
  • Jedd Gyorko, 3b, MIL
  • Zack Cozart, 3b, SF
  • Lewis Brinson, OF, MIA
  • Ryon Healy, 3b, MIL
  • Jazz Chisholm, SS, MIA
  • Jharel Cotton, SP, CHC
  • Albert Almora Jr, OF, CHC
  • Felix Hernandez, SP, ATL
  • Jung Ho Kang, 3b, MIL
  • Blake Swihart, OF, AZ
  • Yasmany Tomas, OF, AZ
  • Yonathan Daza, OF, COL
  • Chi Chi Gonzalez, SP, COL
  • Stephen Gonsalves, SP, NYM

(Top photo: Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images; Stats via Baseball-Reference and Baseball Savant)

Fantasy baseball dollar menu: Under the radar $1 and reserve players to consider in the American League (2024)

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