Pittsburgh Pirates SS Oneil Cruz, one of the league’s most exciting players and a top-100 choice in ESPN average live drafts, fractured his left ankle in a home plate collision Sunday afternoon and could be sidelined for two months or more. Cruz, initially projected by ESPN Fantasy to hit 25 home runs, score 90 runs and steal 23 bases, is more valuable in roto leagues rather than points formats due to the stolen bases and his sketchy plate discipline, but still, it will be difficult to replace him in all fantasy leagues.
In fact, OF Bryan Reynolds and Cruz are the lone Pirates hitters rostered in more than 20% of ESPN standard leagues, a clear indictment of Pittsburgh’s underwhelming lineup. OF Ji Hwan Bae, who has played center field and second base for the Pirates this season, could assume leadoff duties for Cruz, while 2B/3B Rodolfo Castro likely handles shortstop. Bae has two stolen bases, and he stole 33 bases between Triple-A Indianapolis and the major leagues last season. Castro hit 23 home runs and stole 12 bases for the Pirates and Indianapolis.
Fantasy managers in deeper leagues should keep an eye out to see if the Pirates promote 2B Nick Gonzales, the No. 7 pick in the 2020 amateur draft. Gonzales, 23, has only a week of games at the Triple-A level and wasn’t exactly a fantasy star at Double-A Altoona (.263, 7 HR, 5 SB), so expect the Pirates, not expected to contend this season, to exercise patience. Don’t ask about top prospect 2B Termarr Johnson. He’s 18, injured and still in A ball.
Meanwhile, the Pirates are 6-3 and franchise legend Andrew McCutchen has 25 fantasy points, good for a top-25 total among big league outfielders. McCutchen, 36, hits third on a regular basis for the Pirates, and he is off to a solid, albeit unsustainable .375/.515/.583 start. Still available in 86% of ESPN standard leagues, McCutchen has already attempted three stolen bases in eight games and has more walks than whiffs. Sure, managing a fantasy team with your heart is dangerous, but sometimes it works out. Sadly, I can’t make a case for young 3B Ke’Bryan Hayes (.139/.162/.194) anymore.
Fantasy managers in ESPN leagues should keep Cruz rostered in their IL slot, for even in a half a season of playing time, he can be a difference maker with his power and speed. Baltimore Orioles speedster Jorge Mateo, an undisciplined hitter but standout defender and potential repeat stolen base champion, is the most added shortstop in ESPN leagues. Other available shortstops off to solid starts include San Francisco Giants 2B/SS Thairo Estrada, Chicago Cubs leadoff hitter Nico Hoerner and Milwaukee Brewers rookie SS Brice Turang. Veterans Amed Rosario and Javier Baez lead the SS most dropped side.
Speaking of shortstops, anyone concerned about the power potential of Tampa Bay Rays SS Wander Franco because of his rather tepid first two big-league seasons can stop worrying. Franco homered in the first inning Sunday, his fourth home run in nine games, and is hitting .351/.400/.757. He is among the top-10 points scorers in ESPN standard leagues. The Rays are 9-0, winning each game – yes, versus inferior competition, but still – by four or more runs. Franco hit 13 home runs over 153 games and 652 PA over his first two seasons, showing excellent plate discipline. Now, at 22, here comes the power. It’s early, but Franco looks like the top-40 fantasy option we once expected.
Franco and only three Rays hitters are rostered in more than 20% of ESPN standard leagues (OF Randy Arozarena, 3B Yandy Diaz, 2B Brandon Lowe). 1B/2B/3B Isaac Paredes, OF Jose Siri and OF Josh Lowe warrant attention in deeper formats, though Siri hit the injured list (hamstring) Saturday. Paredes has power potential for sure after hitting 20 home runs in 381 PA last season. Josh Lowe boasts power and speed potential, but he has to prove he can hit left-handed pitching. Anyway, keep an eye out.
More and more injuries
— Fantasy managers anxiously await clarity Monday on the wrist injury suffered by Boston Red Sox OF Adam Duvall Sunday. Duvall, hitting .455 with four home runs and a league-leading 14 RBI in eight games, left Sunday’s game in the ninth inning after an attempted diving catch. He missed half of last season with an injury to the same wrist. No hitter has more fantasy points this season. OFs Rob Refsnyder and Raimel Tapia would likely replace Duvall in the outfield. Los Angeles Dodgers rookie James Outman is a popular free agent addition still available in 60% of leagues.
— The Seattle Mariners placed potential saves option RHP Andres Munoz (shoulder) on the IL, solidifying closing duties for RHP Paul Sewald, who saved a pair of weekend wins over Cleveland. RHP Matt Brash earned Sunday’s save chance, and he promptly blew it. Sewald, who saved 20 wins last season, should have some ninth-inning security for a while.
— Fantasy managers don’t care too much about Arizona Diamondbacks RHP Zach Davies (oblique), but his IL stint opens a rotation spot for enticing RHP Drey Jameson, who won two games and saved another in his three appearances in a long relief role. Jameson isn’t quite the Arizona prospect that RHP Brandon Pfaadt is, but he’s in the majors now, and deep-league managers should take note.
— New York Yankees 3B Josh Donaldson (hamstring) could miss the minimum 10 days with his latest malady, but managers in ESPN’s new shallow leagues were ignoring him anyway, for good reason. The injury clears up an infield logjam and should keep OF Giancarlo Stanton in the DH role. OF Willie Calhoun (remember him?) got Donaldson’s roster spot, but keep an eye on OF Franchy Cordero, who has homered and knocked in five runs over his past two starts.
— Anyone stashing Milwaukee Brewers LHP Aaron Ashby (shoulder) and hoping he would return relatively soon can move on now. Ashby, who struck out 27% of batters faced his first two big-league seasons, underwent surgery and may miss the entire season. With Ashby out, LHP Eric Lauer struggling and RHP Freddy Peralta not so durable, Triple-A LHPs Robert Gasser and Ethan Small figure to see opportunity at some point this summer.