Each week we’ll look at a handful of different players who fantasy managers in deeper leagues should consider picking up. Many of these players will have the most value in larger leagues where waiver wire options aren’t as plentiful. Still, they could also occasionally be useful additions in other, more standard-sized leagues depending on your options at their position. This week it’s Ji Hwan Bae, Matt Brash, Steven Matz, and Colin Poche who are worth your time as potential additions in deep leagues.
All roster percentages mentioned in this column are via Yahoo fantasy leagues as of Friday afternoon.
Ji Hwan Bae — 7%
If you’re looking for an early-season pickup for stolen bases, it’s most definitely Ji Hwan Bae.
The second baseman and outfielder already stole two bases in Pittsburgh’s Opening Day win over the Cincinnati Reds, while also adding a double, a single, a walk, and a pair of runs scored. And while it’s not the most prudent strategy to go off the results of one game, especially Opening Day, stolen bases are nothing new for the 23-year-old.
Dating back to last season, the rookie stole three bases in his first 10 Major League games, while adding four steals in 19 Spring Training league games earlier this spring. He’s also added a cumulative 50 steals in his last two minor league seasons.
And while Bae isn’t much of a power threat, with just eight home runs in 473 Triple-A plate appearances in 2022 and a 40 grade on his future raw power, per FanGraphs, he brings enough else to the table fantasy-wise to help offset the lack of home run production.
Most importantly, it’s his ability to get on base that, in combination with the steals, gives him a quality fantasy ceiling. Whether it’s making contact or drawing walks, the 23-year-old has shown the ability to do both in his minor league career.
Dating back to rookie ball, Bae has yet to strike out more than 23% of the time at any minor league stop. During that same span, he’s also routinely posted double-digit walk rates. In fact, his only minor league stop where he didn’t produce a double-digit walk rate was rookie ball in 2018. His walk rate that season? That’d be 9.9%.
Matt Brash — 3%
The Seattle Mariners fielded one of the league’s best bullpens down the stretch with Brash, Erik Swanson, Penn Murfee, and Diego Castillo serving as high-leverage options ahead of ninth-inning candidates Andrés Muñoz and Paul Sewald.
Swanson, who was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays, isn’t with the team anymore, opening up even more potential high-leverage opportunities for Brash, who has the potential and stuff to be one of the league’s best relief pitchers.
The right-hander initially spent time as a starter last season before switching to a relief role later in the season. Coming out of the bullpen, Brash pitched to a 2.35 ERA and a 1.97 FIP in 30.2 innings while striking out 12.62 batters per nine frames compared to 4.70 walks per nine frames. Elsewhere, he registered a 14.0% swinging strike rate while his slider’s whiff rate checked in at 44.8%.
Brash has already pitched this season, throwing a scoreless frame in Seattle’s Opening Day win against the Cleveland Guardians. The right-hander was summoned in a scoreless game in the seventh inning to face the heart of the American League Central club’s lineup, striking out Amed Rosario and José Ramírez. He allowed a single to Josh Bell but then proceeded to get Josh Naylor to fly out to left field.
The fact that he was already summoned in a key moment in Seattle’s first game of the season is an encouraging sign for his future usage moving forward. Of course, it’s just one game, but it’s encouraging and promising nonetheless.
If Brash can maintain a high-leverage role alongside Sewald and Muñoz, the two relievers who pitched after him, he’ll be a strong saves+holds league option.
That being said, he could also add notable fantasy value for managers in more standard leagues. The walks from last season clearly weren’t ideal, but Brash can help with weekly ERA and strikeout totals while also potentially chipping in with ancillary saves.
The Mariners have tended to spread saves around a bit. Or rather, they don’t operate with a set closer and utilize their best relievers in the most optimal, leverage scenarios, whenever those might occur in a game.
Case in point, Sewald registered 20 of Seattle’s 40 saves last season, but seven other pitchers logged multiple saves. It isn’t hard to imagine Brash seeing the occasional ninth-inning opportunity this season, especially if Servais continues to trust him in key spots.
Steven Matz 9%
At least on paper, it looked like a good fit, what with Matz’s ability to induce plenty of ground balls while pitching in front of an elite group of fielders across the Cardinals’ infield.
That being said, it wasn’t the best fit in the first year of the starter’s contract with St. Louis. While there were some encouraging signs — more on them in a bit — he also saw his ground ball rate drop from 45.5% to 38.3%.
Of course, that wasn’t the only reason for Matz’s struggles, but batters did tend to make a bit more hard contact at times against him. His barrel rate jumped from 7.0% to 9.2% and his xwOBAcon jumped .012 points from .366 to .378.
Still, Matz simply got unlucky in places. He saw his ERA jump from 3.82 in 2021 to 5.25 in 2022, but his FIP actually dropped slightly from 3.79 to 3.78.
And while the ground ball rate did fall, Matz was also much better in terms of strikeouts and walks. In 48 innings he struck out 10.13 batters per nine frames while surrendering just 1.88 walks per nine innings. Unsurprisingly his strikeout rate (70th percentile) and walk rate (91st percentile) were both decidedly above average.
Fast forward to 2023 and Matz did nothing but impress in Spring Training, registering a 1.53 ERA in 17.2 innings for St. Louis, striking out 17 batters while walking just three, and scattering 10 hits.
Matz doesn’t have the kindest early-season schedule, with his first start coming against Atlanta and his second taking place in Colorado against the Rockies, but fantasy managers who can afford to keep him on their benches shouldn’t hesitate in picking him up. His roster rate isn’t going to stay this low for long.
Colin Poche — 10%
The Rays’ bullpen and high-leverage usage, as it does with many teams, can sometimes fluctuate from year to year in terms of the team’s most trusted high-leverage and late-inning options based on the actual relievers on the team.
Still, it’s hard to ignore Colin Poche’s role in Tampa Bay’s bullpen.
The 29-year-old logged a 3.99 ERA and a 4.54 FIP in 65 appearances spanning 58.2 innings last year, striking out 64 batters while allowing just 22 walks. He finished with 23 holds while chipping in with seven saves.
The reliever also paced the Rays with 29 high-leverage appearances last season. And as with Brash, a number of departures should further solidify Poche’s high-leverage role in Tampa Bay.
Most notably, Raley, Wisler, and Feyereisen are all with other organizations at the moment, while Kittridge is recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Thanks in part to all that high-leverage work, Poche’s collected the aforementioned 23 holds, which tied for the seventh most in the league last year. He’s already registered a hold for the Rays on Opening Day and should continue to be one of fantasy’s top saves+holds league relievers moving forward.