July is here, and we are almost at the All-Star Break. With many teams having played just under 50% of their games this season, the long grind towards the finish line carries on. The question of how to replace injured players remains a mystery to most since every player and team’s situation is different. That being said, here are some of the major injuries that can affect your roster, alongside what teams are doing to help themselves in the meantime.
Entering the season, Bryce Harper was considered by many a late first-round draft pick due to his five-category potential. Throughout the year, he has shown just that, providing fantasy owners with a batting average well above .300 coupled with speed and power, making him one of the most valuable players in the game today. When he went down with a thumb injury that would cost him many weeks of the season, those who rostered Harper were sent scrambling, much like the Phillies themselves. Just recently, the answer to that question may have been answered in Darick Hall, who made his debut for the team in grand fashion.
Slotted into the designated hitter spot, Hall profiles as a strong and big-time slugger with power; he has hit at least ten home runs over six different levels of Minor League Baseball over the past five and a half seasons. He’s developed his swing over the years by utilizing the power in his legs to help lift the ball and hit more line drives. That approach of using his entire body for a power swing paid off this past week, as he was able to hit not one, not two, but three home runs in his first three games, and he looks ready to help the Phillies this summer. With some past experience in the outfield, he should also be able to contribute with the glove, though nothing is set in stone.
Conclusion: Losing Bryce Harper is devastating for everyone involved. The Phillies themselves see a massive hole in their lineup that would take a miracle to fill. So far, Darick Hall has been able to fill some of the void left by losing an elite player by providing the power potential that is missing. As for fantasy purposes, Hall is not a certainty to stick. While he does have the pedigree to hit for power, he will need to adjust to the adjustments that will ultimately be made to him. Even though his track record of being able to do that in the Minor Leagues is there, this is Major League Baseball, and those changes will be more difficult. On top of that, Hall doesn’t necessarily profile as someone who will replicate the speed and batting average missing from Harper’s absence. In the end, there is no one player who will fill the hole left by Harper, but Hall has the potential to be someone who can help fill some of what’s missing.
Just recently, Jason Castro was sent to the Injured List for knee discomfort, prompting the Astros to fill the hole of their backup catcher spot. As good as the Houston lineup is, the catcher position has seemingly been an unending void for them with little to no offensive production. In a corresponding move, the Astros called up their number two prospect, and former first-round draft pick Korey Lee in an attempt to fill that void.
Korey Lee has always been a defensive first catcher whose 70-grade arm is what may give him extra playing time. While he does possess above-average power at the plate as well, he lacks some refinement in that he strikes out a lot, having done so 27% of the time in 2022 with the Astros’ Triple-A affiliate. That being said, he may have been starting to catch up after a slow start, since his mid-June numbers were significantly better than the rest of his season, giving hope that he was turning things around. Still, it’s his arm and game-calling ability that should give him a chance to stay behind the plate at some point this season.
Korey Lee has been slashing .320/393/.540 over the last 2 weeks??? pic.twitter.com/cItd4FZVq0
— FᴏʀᴇᴠᴇʀSᴛʀᴏs☄️ (@ForeverStros) July 1, 2022
Conclusion: Keep in mind that Korey Lee is a recommendation for the deepest of two catcher leagues. While the Astros seem content with Martin Maldonado at the plate, the offensive production from any Houston catcher has been atrocious all season. Both he and Castro combined have hit for a .137 batting average and somewhat non-existent power.
Even if Korey Lee struggles at the plate, there is the possibility for more offensive production by him, given the potential that he possesses in comparison to the catchers the Astros currently roster. On top of that, many Minor League catchers have struggled this season due to the pitch count clock, so there is a chance that it took Lee a while to adjust to the timing and game preparation associated with that. All of this adds up to the chance that there is a catcher here with some power that could eventually be a starter for an elite team, and his progress is definitely something to monitor.
Jorge Soler was supposed to give the Marlins the power push that they needed in order to contend. While there was expected to be some regression due to the ballpark that the Marlins call home, most of what he provided the Braves in 2021 wasn’t necessarily out of the question in 2022. Heading into July, Soler had yet to find that groove again, as he has struggled to get much of any consistency going at the plate. Recently he was sent to the Injured List for back discomfort, meaning that he would miss some time to regroup and recoup. As such, with some lineup reconfigurations, Joey Wendle was brought back to the team and should see plenty of time at second base, due to the injury to Jazz Chisholm as well as the versatility of Jon Berti who should see some time in the outfield as well.
Joey Wendle has seemingly been the type of guy whose numbers look better than expected since he’s usually a quietly productive player. His ability to get on-base has been quite consistent over the years, and sometimes it goes unnoticed. Still, this season has been a quietly positive one as he has considerably lowered his strikeout rate and somewhat increased his walk rate, showing a greater tendency to wait for his pitches before making contact. While he won’t hit many pitches hard at all, the fact that he can get on base and then show some speed while there is something that fantasy owners should be interested in, given how hard it is to rack up steals.
Conclusion: It is important to keep an eye on players that can play multiple positions on teams with many openings. Joey Wendle has found himself at both middle infield positions this year, as well as third base, which is optimal for fantasy players to utilize. Additionally, Wendle offers some speed potential as he already has four on the season and finished the last three seasons with eight total each year. While these numbers won’t necessarily win you any leagues, they’re more than enough to stabilize fantasy teams while waiting for injured players to return. Finding someone like Wendle who will keep your team’s batting average in a safe spot while offering speed is more than worthy of addition in deep leagues.
There are some Major League teams where the roster depth makes any injury seem like a devastating loss. The Oakland Athletics do not have that type of roster, as some of their players would probably not be starters on many other teams. That being said, the key to success isn’t solely tied to the names involved, as playing time is very important. After all, a player can’t accumulate stats if they aren’t on the field. Jed Lowrie has been dealing with a shoulder injury that has resulted in poor performance at the plate. The Athletics have placed him on the Injured List and have given him an MRI to help diagnose the problem, leaving a hole in their lineup to be filled by Sheldon Neuse, who has already proven to be worthy of being more than just a replacement.
Neuse was originally a part of the Athletics for years but then sent to the Dodgers in a trade last offseason. While he failed to produce in his sporadic at-bats for a loaded Dodgers lineup, he was later claimed off waivers by the Athletics before this season and has thrived in his opportunities to play earlier this season. While he struggled to maintain that positive momentum during a mid-season slump, he seemed to regain his form with a .404/.400.731 line over twelve games played for Oakland’s Triple-A affiliate. Now, with another opportunity to play, it remains to be seen if he can adjust. Since getting an opportunity late in June, he has hit well over .300 in that timeframe and added a steal.
Conclusion: Opportunity is knocking here for Neuse, and this is the second time where he’s answered with an ability to get on base. What’s nice too is that his minor league track record does show a tendency for power, as he hit 27 home runs in Triple-A back in 2019, and could tap into that power potential at any time. That said, expectations should be tempered as for now, he should be seen as someone who could get on base and contribute some speed. Given that he has an opportunity, if he struggles like he did earlier this season, then it would be time for fantasy owners to move along.
Anthony DeSclafani has had a disappointing season, in that he continues to suffer from the ankle inflammation that caused him to miss some time last year, and had already placed him on the 60-day-IL this season. Recently he went back on the Injured List to rest that same ankle, causing the Giants to fill a hole in their rotation. While the immediate replacement isn’t yet known, waiting in the wings is someone who has surprised many this year: Jakob Junis.
Known for their successful reclamation projects, Jakob Junis came to the Giants and things were immediately different. They completely changed his arsenal, transforming him into a pitcher who throws his changeup, sinker, and slider almost exclusively, while eliminating any and all fastball usage. The results have been marvelous this season, as he has cut his ERA in half, limited his walks to a career-low 1.9/9, and surrendered only six home runs all season. He’s transitioned from an ineffective starter in Kansas City, into an erratic reliever after that while still in Kansas City and into a consistently solid starter in San Francisco. Only one of his nine appearances this year has gone less than five innings.
Conclusion: While the recommendation for Junis is one relayed with confidence, it does come with a minor breach of caution, in that he is currently on the Injured List himself with a hamstring ailment. That said, he is expected to be back soon enough and the hope is that he will replace DeSclafani in the rotation. Junis is worth a look in leagues twelve teams and deeper, given the stability of performances and the quality of the team that he plays for.
Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)