Let’s look at some recent call-ups to see if we can find difference makers on the cheap as the fantasy baseball season heads down the home stretch. The theme here is big stats from no names not even on the prospect radar just a couple of months ago.
If you just lost Lance McCullers for about a month, there probably are not attractive options out there, especially when it comes to replacing his strikeouts. But the Astros have an out-of-nowhere, out-of-this-world prospect who is on McCullers’s schedule and has even better stuff. Josh James, who has been added to the Yahoo player pool, is 25 years old. No one had him ranked near the top of any organizational ranks, never mind overall ones. But he’s simply one of the most dominant starters in the high minors.
Check out his overall stats and last 10 starts and especially his last two outings. This guy is lights out. He has 87 Ks in his last 56 innings — all in AAA. Overall in 77.1 PCL innings, 116 punch outs. Yes, the control is problematic, coming and going but definitely coming the last two starts. He’s legit. Check out his stuff.
And here’s what MinorLeagueBall had to say about James after that outing:
“Now he’s unhittable. Over the last year his fastball has improved dramatically, going from a pedestrian 90-92 MPH up to 95-97 with higher peaks. His slider was rather flat when drafted but it has sharpened up and is now at least average, flashing plus. His change-up has also improved although it isn’t as good as the harder pitches.”
One of the reasons James has suddenly emerged is reportedly an ability to finally sleep soundly with the help of a sleep apnea machine. Being better rested is cited as the reason his fastball his jumped from low to high 90s on average, often hitting triple digits. He might not even get the call, but I think it’s likely. And if he does, he’ll be managed very conservatively, which I like. He won’t need innings to get you playable strikeout totals with a decent chance to win given he’d be pitching for the World Champs.
Brandon Lowe is a former third-round pick so unlike the others here. Typically, you like a prospect who suddenly emerges to have been picked in at least the first five rounds given that draft order is one of the key factors in predicting the major league performance of prospects. Lowe is 24 and last year flashed decent power but this year is hitting like a champion with an isolated slugging (slugging average minus batting average) of about .300. That’s courtesy of 22 homers and 31 doubles, including 14 of each in just 181 AAA at bats. He’s on the good side of the platoon and could be a free source of power. He’s 0% owned and gets 2B eligibility. So it’s a free roll if you are hurting for at bats/homers. Lowe is only 6-foot, 185 pounds and strikes out a ton. So there is real batting average downside. But you’d have to fight for a highly-regarded April prospect who was promoted with that same .994 OPS in AAA, but Lowe is just sitting there waiting.
Jeff McNeil is even older than Lowe — 26. And he played in a much more friendly hitting environment in Las Vegas, slugging .600 with a .427 OBP and a manageable 19 Ks in 31 games (14 walks). Overall in 88 games this year, he was .342/.411/.617 in the minors. Since his late-July callup, through Sunday, he was .310/.423/.483 (29 ABs). He added three more hits and a homer (his second) on Monday. It was absolutely crushed. Maybe McNeil is the new Justin Turner, meaning he’ll be an all-star for another team in three years once the Mets jettison him to keep Jose Bautista or something equally foolish. But at least the manager loves him. “(McNeil is) looking more and more like an everyday player at this point,” Mickey Callaway told NorthJersey.com on Monday.
McNeil gives you second- and third-base eligibility and is only 12% owned. But that number has jumped in the last few days among those owners still competing. Make sure you’re one of them.