Triston McKenzie’s time is now

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With the All-Star Break right around the corner, now feels like a good time to reflect on the first half of the 2021 season–and there’s a lot to reflect on. The foreign substance crackdown has been arguably *the* story of the first half. Several players have publicly displayed their disdain for the midseason changes, but there’s nothing players can do but adjust. In addition to this, it seems like there’s been more injuries than ever to star players, hurting the hearts of fantasy managers everywhere at one point or another. Then, when you factor in the mistreatment of minor league players and the other scandalous events in baseball this season, you realize there’s been a lot to take in. Luckily, fans, analysts and players alike get to take a breather and enjoy the festivities that will begin in a couple days.

However, just because baseball is on pause doesn’t mean your winning mindset should be. The waiver wire never sleeps, so you need to continue to actively scour the waiver wire for potentially valuable additions to your rosters. In this week’s piece, I am going to highlight several intriguing names who could be sitting on your waiver wire. Let’s get into it!

Points League Options

(players rostered in under 50% of ESPN leagues)

Enrique Hernandez 2B/OF, Red Sox (39% rostered)

Hitting leadoff typically gives a player a nice boost in value. They see more plate appearances, so they have more opportunities to produce. Ideally, as an MLB manager, you want someone who gets on-base at a high clip as your leadoff guy. And recently, Hernandez has been doing just that.

Coming into this season, Hernandez has been an average offensive contributor, at best. He’s showcased the ability to hit 20+ home runs over a full season while drawing walks at a decent clip. However, he’s never been able to have a high batting average because of his slightly pull heavy tendencies and struggles against breaking pitches. Fortunately, as of late, he’s been drawing walks at an encouraging clip. Since June 15th, he’s drawn 13 walks (15.3% walk rate) and he has a .400 on-base percentage.

He’s showcased the ability to draw walks at a decent clip in past seasons, so this display of patience isn’t too surprising, but it’s still very encouraging. For one, it gives him another avenue to scoring points for fantasy teams and two, it gives the Red Sox reason to keep letting him hit leadoff. His quality of contact is solid and his home run ceiling is likely capped around 25 home runs over a full season. More than that, he makes contact in the zone at a consistent and respectable clip, but the aforementioned factors will continue to limit his batting average ceiling. While he’s not the most exciting waiver wire pickup, Hernandez has the ability to be a solid utility option for most points league fantasy rosters. Don’t overlook him if he’s one of the better available options in your league.

Jameson Taillon SP, Yankees (41% rostered)

Before the season started, Taillon’s last MLB start came on May 1st, 2019. He unfortunately had to undergo his 2nd career Tommy John surgery that year, giving him another roadblock to overcome. So all in all, this season has been his first time pitching every five days in almost two years. With that being the case, Taillon’s early season struggles need to be analyzed with this context in mind. And aside from getting used to pitching in MLB again, Taillon has been learning to do so in a new uniform. There’s been plenty on Taillon’s plate over these past few years, and he’s handled all the adversity like a champ.

On the mound, he’s continued to utilize a five-pitch arsenal, one that includes a high spin mid-90s four-seam fastball, a sinker, a curveball, a changeup, and a slider. In the past, Taillon succeeded through consistently demonstrating solid command and control while inducing ground balls at a high rate and limiting hard contact. So far in 2021, his command has been spotty, but this is a common issue among players returning from Tommy John surgery. Regardless, his command hasn’t been the best and as a result, he’s been inducing ground balls at a career low rate while allowing a good amount of hard contact.

Surprisingly, he’s actually sporting a career best 18.2% strikeout minus walk rate thanks to a career high 24.9% strikeout rate. So, while his command hasn’t been the best, he’s been missing plenty of bats. To be more specific, his four-seam fastball has been missing plenty of bats. As aforementioned, his four-seam fastball has above average spin and this year, he’s throwing it more than ever (50.2% usage rate).

At the same time, he’s throwing his sinker at a career low rate, a good indication that he was asked to focus solely on his four-seam fastball as his primary hard pitch. He throws it almost exclusively up in the zone, which plays well off the pitch’s spin, leading to a good amount of whiffs. As he continues to find his groove on the mound, his start-to-start results will begin to improve. More than that, if his four-seam fastball can continue to induce whiffs at a high rate, Taillon might become the best version of himself very soon. Given his pedigree and talent, there’s no reason for Taillon to be sitting on waiver wires in 12+ team leagues. If you see him out there, go grab him before someone else does.

Alex Kirilloff 1B/OF, Twins (29% rostered)

What impresses me the most about Kiriloff is the fact that he never played in college, yet immediately found success in his first taste of professional baseball. After being drafted 15th overall in the 2016 MLB Draft by the Minnesota Twins, Kiriloff earned a .306/.341/.454 slash line with seven home runs over 216 at-bats playing in rookie ball. Right out of the gate, he demonstrated the ability to limit strikeouts (13.8% strikeout rate) while hitting for power and average. He finished his minor league career–playing between rookie ball and Triple-A–with a .318/.366/.503 slash line and 38 home runs over 1,109 at-bats. And coming into 2021, there really wasn’t much left for him to prove from an offensive standpoint.

His ability to hit to all fields using his compact swing and strong hands will help make him a high floor fantasy option for most of his career. Over his first 191 MLB at-bats, he has a .262/.311/.440 slash line with seven home runs and a stolen base. His quality of contact has been impressive, his splits have been strong, and he’s been an aggressive hitter. This aggressiveness would typically be a red flag, as it could lead to more strikeouts and less contact. However, given Kirilloff’s solid bat control and understanding of the strike zone, he’s capable of swinging outside of the zone and still making solid contact. He’ll be a solid source of points for as long as he’s up and receiving regular playing time.

Triston McKenzie SP, Indians (30% rostered)

At 6-foot-5, 165 pounds, McKenzie’s physique mixed with his unique–yet repeatable–delivery has made him one of the more intriguing young pitchers in baseball. As a minor leaguer, he earned a 2.70 ERA (3.16 FIP) and 22.1% K-BB (30% strikeout rate) over 350.1 innings pitched. More than that, he didn’t allow many hits (.195 batting average against) and as a whole, he made an admirable minor league career.

He made his MLB debut in 2020 and he earned a 3.24 ERA (3.25 SIERA) with a McKenzie-esque 42:9 K:BB over 33.1 innings pitched. Armed with a mid-90s four-seam fastball as well as a slider, a curveball, and a changeup, he has an arsenal that can be effective at the highest level. He’s capable of generating whiffs on all of his pitches and when you match this with his strong command and pitchability, the upside starts to look very enticing. Unfortunately, poor control and command resulted in a rough first half of the season.

Over 49.1 innings pitched, he has an uncharacteristically high 18.9% walk rate. This isn’t who he is and it appears likely that these struggles are mechanically and/or mentally related. Whatever the issue is, or was, the Indians recalled him to start against the Royals on July 9th and he ended up having the longest start of his MLB career (7.0 innings pitched, one hit, one walk, nine strikeouts). His 73.9% first pitch strike rate was by far a season best mark as his control and command looked much improved. If he’s truly rediscovered his form, McKenzie can be an upside SP3/4 for the rest of the season. If you’ve been searching for starting pitching help, don’t let this opportunity to secure McKenzie slip through your fingers.

Luis Arraez 2B/3B/OF, Twins (30% rostered)

Safety is underrated. Sometimes, some of the most valuable fantasy options are also the most boring, a scenario that almost perfectly describes Arraez’s present day fantasy value. Over 216-at bats this season, Arraez has earned a .292/.361/.380 slash line with a home run and a stolen base. 50 of his 63 hits on the season have been singles. So we have a player who doesn’t steal and doesn’t have much power upside at all, yet he’s a safe fantasy option? Precisely.

Arraez is a pure contact hitter who has a consistently above average strikeout rate. He knows how to hit any type of pitch thrown his way, he hits the ball to all fields, and he’s never had a zone contact rate or contact rate less than 90%. Beyond this, his quality of contact has actually slightly improved this season, so it’s possible there’s untapped power potential in his bat. His value comes from his walk rate, contact skills, and overall strong plate discipline. Arraez is his name, contact is his game. He’s one of the more boring, yet reliable fantasy options out there. Add him if you’re looking for a player who has a safe floor, just don’t forget to brew the coffee.

Tylor Megill SP/RP, Mets (22% rostered)

After a rather average college career, Megill was drafted in the 8th round of the 2018 MLB Draft by the New York Mets. He was used almost exclusively as a relief pitcher playing between Low-A and Single-A from 2018-2019. Then, in July 2019, the Mets opted to use him exclusively as a starter for the remainder of his minor league career. Over 19 minor league starts since July 3rd, 2019 (89.2 innings pitched), Megill earned a 4.01 ERA (2.22 FIP) and 122:27: K:BB playing between Single-A and Triple-A. He struck out six or more batters in 13 of those 19 starts.

With David Peterson on the injured list, Noah Syndergaard and Carlos Carrasco still recovering, and Megill excelling in the higher levels of the minors, the Mets figured it was time to see what Megill could do at the highest level. Over his first 14.1 MLB innings pitched, he’s earned a 3.77 ERA (3.48 SIERA) and 19:6 K:BB. He’s been utilizing a mid-90s four-seam fastball, a slider, a changeup, and a seldom used curveball. His command of his secondary pitches has been solid and both his slider and changeup have a whiff percentage greater than 41.0%. At his current ownership percentage, he’s worth stashing to see if this ability to induce strikeouts at a high rate is sustainable in the majors.

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Deep Points League Options

(players rostered in under 10% of ESPN leagues)

Trevor Larnach OF, Twins (6% rostered)

I’ve already recommended adding several Twins players in this piece, as both Luis Arraez and Alex Kiriloff possess tools that can help most fantasy rosters. Well, Larnach is owned in less leagues and holds some value of his own. He was drafted 20th overall in the 2018 MLB Draft by the Minnesota Twins after having a very productive college career at Oregon State. Within his first few minor league seasons, it was clear that Larnach had a strong understanding of his strike zone, given his consistently solid walk rates. In fact, he had a 10.9% walk rate over 734 career minor league plate appearances.

Furthermore, his solid bat speed and bat control became more obvious as his minor league career progressed. He knows how to hit the ball to all fields and his game power has been developing nicely. Over his first 172 career MLB at-bats, he’s earned a .262/.357/.436 slash line with seven home runs and a stolen base. However, while there is fun upside here, he has a whiff rate greater than 50% against offspeed and breaking pitches. As a result, he’s currently sporting a 30.7% strikeout rate. He’ll struggle to consistently produce at the plate for as long as he’s whiffing against offspeed and breaking pitches at this rate. Nonetheless, at the peak of his career, this is a player who will have a strong on-base percentage and solid batting average all while demonstrating the ability to hit around 25 home runs. For now, he’s worth an add in deeper leagues and in formats that have deep benches.

Kole Calhoun OF, Diamondbacks (8% rostered)

The 33-year-old veteran returned from the injured list on July 10th and reclaimed his role as the Diamondbacks’ primary right fielder. At this stage in his career, he’s likely already reached his ceiling, but that doesn’t mean he can’t help your fantasy teams. In 2019, he was barreling and pulling the ball at career high rates, helping him hit a career high 33 home runs. More than that, as his career has progressed, his aggressiveness against pitches in the zone has gradually increased. He’s always had solid raw power, so it’s no surprise to see him hitting more home runs as he swings that bat in the zone more.

Before landing on the injured list, he had a .292/.333/.479 slash line with two home runs over 48 at-bats. And while I expect that .292 batting average to fall below .250 in time, he’ll continue to hit home runs. To further support his power upside, in 2020, 7 of his 16 home runs came off a breaking pitch and he had a career high .451 expected weighted on-base average against them. This success has carried into 2021 and all in all, his home run upside should remain strong for as long as he’s healthy. We love home runs in points leagues, so don’t overlook Calhoun if you’re looking for a free source of power.

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