With the unofficial marker of the baseball season’s midpoint now in the rearview mirror, the 2017 playoff push is officially underway, with trade season having been ushered in a blockbuster cross-town move. As the collection of teams on the fringes of postseason contention evaluate their place in the standings, fantasy owners are likely approaching their respective league deadlines, looking for big splashes and incremental upgrades alike to solidify their roster with the fantasy playoffs rapidly approaching. What follows are a collection of players, three per position, that could, in my opinion, be of particular interest to owners down the stretch. They range from top players that could be targets for an owner’s biggest move, yet still may be potentially realistic acquisitions, to role players who could likely be found on the waiver wire but may be the difference between a win and a loss at a time when every game is magnified in importance. Next week, we will look at some pitchers poised for a potential leap forward, but, for now, here are some potential position player targets for the rest of this season.
Top Trade Target- J.T. Realmuto
Realmuto has established himself as one of the better catchers in baseball, with a .303/.361/.456 line, the best offensive season of his career. Realmuto’s plate discipline numbers have improved this season, and his improved on-base percentage has manifested itself in stronger runs scored totals this year. Despite being perennially underrated due to his time on a poor Miami roster, Realmuto’s contact quality and contact rates should enable him to hit for a high batting average at the very least.
Fallback Option- Wilson Ramos
Seemingly recuperated from his knee surgery of last season, Ramos represents an intriguing power buy for owners looking for a high-upside, high-risk play at the catching position. Ramos’ 2016 season had set him up as a clear top-10 option at the position before his injury, and, while his 42 plate appearances this season is not enough to draw any particularly strong conclusions, it is encouraging to see that his hard-contact rate and isolated power are stronger than ever before in his career, an indicator that his power appears to have survived his surgery.
Deep Flyer- Robinson Chirinos
With rumors that the Rangers are interested in shopping starting catcher Jonathan Lucroy, and with Chirinos having garnered more playing time in recent weeks, Chirinos may be in line for increased playing time down the stretch. Increased playing time may be all that he needs. An above-average hitter in parts of each of the last three seasons, Chirinos’ fly-ball heavy pull approach makes him a rare power threat for a catcher. That approach will lead to a low BABIP and a high strikeout rate, so Chirinos’ only real carrying tool is his power. However, he would be worthy of a flyer in the event of a trade or injury to Lucroy.
Top Target- Yonder Alonso
One could be forgiven for being skeptical of Yonder Alonso’s breakout. A roughly average hitter for his entire career entering 2017, Alonso consciously revamped his approach at the plate to better tap into his raw power. Always able to make solid contact, Alonso has this season adopted an uppercut swing to maximize power, and while this has come with a predictable spike in strikeouts, there is little doubting that Alonso is much improved as a hitter. Alonso has shown some signs of slowing down, his output at the plate having declined every consecutive month, but he remains a well above-average hitter. As a contract-year player, a trade away from the admittedly rebuilding Athletics may well be in the cards. A move to a more hitter-friendly park could help to counteract an impending home run regression, and a stronger lineup could give him more RBI and runs scored opportunities.
Fallback Option- Justin Bour
Another player who does not quite get his due thanks to playing in Miami, Bour’s contact quality this season has been fantastic, as his 41.7% hard contact rate ranks him in the top-20 in all of baseball. Bour showed off his power on the grand stage in the Home Run Derby, and, while he has not shown any signs of a deep-rooted change in approach, his improvement in contact quality has enabled him to already set a career-high in home runs. He is due for some HR/FB regression, and he likely will not get to 40 homers for the season or anything, but Bour possesses some relatively cheap power upside down the stretch.
Deep Flyer- Josh Bell
Bell’s game is not without flaws. He is a pull hitter who hits a ton of ground balls, making him easy to shift and likely to struggle to hit for a high BABIP. That said, Bell has demonstrated an improved power output this season, albeit with a few percentage point drop in his contact rate that suggests that he may be selling out for a bit more power. Even with that drop in contact rate, Bell still strikes out well less often than the average big leaguer, and, that, coupled with improved results on contact, should make him a decent threat to hit for a solid batting average, even after penalizing him somewhat for a ground-ball heavy approach. In many respects, Bell’s approach is similar to Eric Hosmer’s, except that Hosmer uses more of an all-fields approach. Bell has, however, shown an ability to use the entire diamond in the minors. With his strong plate discipline, emerging power and still intact contact skills, Bell may develop into a threat offensively, even if he never manages to get the ball off of the ground.
Top Target- Brian Dozier
[the_ad id=”384″]Dozier’s peripheral statistics are largely similar to his underlying stats from 2016, when he was one of the top power threats in the game, particularly in the second half. Dozier’s pull-heavy fly-ball approach would seem to make him potentially susceptible to offspeed pitches, yet pitchers have actually attacked Dozier with fastballs in the strike zone more often this year. To that end, he has yet to punish pitchers as he did down the stretch last season, but his contact rate, contact quality and plate discipline are all equal to, or better than, his rates for last season. It appears that the biggest reason for his pedestrian first half was a HR/FB regression to his career norms, despite his contact quality this season being the strongest of his career. While it would be unrealistic to expect him to repeat last season’s second-half dominance, Dozier appears poised for a strong stretch run yet again.
Fallback Option- Jed Lowrie
Like Alonso, Lowrie may soon benefit from a trade out of Oakland, although his horrendous month of July may force the Athletics to hold onto him and attempt to market him in the offseason. For fantasy owners on the hunt for a cheap second baseman, though, that poor month may make his acquisition cost more palatable. Lowrie’s strikeout rate has spiked recently, his walk rate has plummeted and his isolated power has fallen below .100 for this month, a trifecta of a performance decline that may sour some owners on him. That said, there has been no report of an injury, and Lowrie’s first-half performance was strong enough to remain optimistic that he is simply in the midst of a slump, perhaps attempting to pull the ball a little too often, and that he can be corrected. That his contact quality has remained strong (his soft, medium and hard contact rates are all intact from his early-season performance) during the slump gives enough reason to attempt to weather this storm or to buy low. Rumors of a trade, should they come to fruition, may result in some added versatility down the stretch, particularly with rumors of Boston being interested in acquiring him to fill their third base void, making him a potentially attractive reserve piece.
Deep Flyer- Brandon Phillips
Phillips’ quiet bounce-back into being a capable everyday second baseman is a big reason that the Braves surprisingly remain on the NL postseason periphery more than halfway through the season. With the exception of stolen base totals (he remains a competent base stealer, but is far from a dynamic threat on the basepaths), Phillips looks largely like the slightly above-average offensive player that he was in his heyday in Cincinnati. His free-swinging, high-contact approach limits his on-base percentage, although he continues to hit for a solid batting average by making solid, all-fields contact. Nothing in Phillips’ profile screams high-upside, but he is capable still of making contributions in all five major roto categories, with a chance to hit over .300 down the stretch, making him a solid, if unexciting, streaming or reserve option.
Top Target- Anthony Rendon
Unquestionably the most difficult player on this list to acquire, Anthony Rendon nevertheless feels underrated, despite having been arguably the best player in the National League this season. Rendon’s feel for the strike zone has always been terrific but has reached new heights this year, with more walks than strikeouts thanks to an extremely low chase rate and a fantastic contact rate. In addition, Rendon is running the best contact quality of his career, having cut his pop-up rate in half, maintaining a strong fly ball rate, and pulling the ball enough to be a top power threat, but not so much that he develops any massive holes in his swing. In short, Rendon appears to be one of the best all-around players in baseball, and if there are owners that remain skeptical of this, then he just may be worth paying the hefty price to acquire.
Fallback Option- Nick Castellanos
The top hitter in baseball this season by hard contact percentage, Castellanos has long combined promising indicators with relatively pedestrian results, and this season’s first half was no different. As such, some may be inclined to be fatigued by the idea of Castellanos as a perpetual breakout candidate, but he continues to provide reasons to see him as such. With a strikeout rate far from outlandish, improving plate discipline, and an ability to make extremely hard, all-fields contact, Castellanos may finally be coming into his own as a hitter. Still only 25, he could be forgiven for his up-and-down start to his career.
Deep Flyer- Yoan Moncada
A pure upside play, baseball’s best prospect figures to see a lot of playing time down the stretch in Chicago after a solid offensive first half in the International League. Moncada’s minor league strikeout rates remain troubling, but his tools are nearly unmatched league-wide. With borderline elite speed and raw power, Moncada has a chance to be a special performer right away, although he will likely come with some peaks and valleys because of his contact problems. That said, players with Moncada’s combination of pure tools and elite plate discipline are nearly impossible to find, so he should at least be added in all leagues as a potential upside play, should he prove to be more polished than expected at age 22.
Top Target- Xander Bogaerts
Seemingly with an ever-changing profile, Bogaerts’ future as a hitter is difficult to pinpoint. He has become more of a free-swinger this year, adopting a slash-and-dash type approach designed to maximize his BABIP. That said, Bogaerts has also previously demonstrated an ability to hit for power, having launched 21 home runs last season, and listed at 6-foot-1, 210 pounds, he does not fit the profile of the prototypical slasher. Bogaerts has never seemingly shown much interest in hitting more fly balls, and, given his success with a ground-ball oriented profile, it is difficult to blame him for that, but he clearly has more power potential should he decide to sell out for it. If not, he remains a high-average shortstop in one of the best lineups in baseball, a strong fantasy asset with a rare combination of floor and ceiling.
Fallback Option- Addison Russell
Similarly to Castellanos, Russell has long been seen as a potential breakout performer, but he has never had the offensive production to support that kind of reputation. That said, much of Russell’s first-half struggles can be attributed largely to poor luck. His contact numbers are largely intact, he has cut his soft contact rate by nine percentage points from last season, and, given that the Cubs seem poised to perform better offensively, Russell may be in line for stronger runs scored and RBI totals than he had early on this season.
Deep Flyer- Marwin Gonzalez
It goes without saying that Gonzalez’s sensational first half performance cannot possibly be sustained. That said, he has always had a somewhat promising offensive profile, with solid all-fields contact, and an ability to switch hit and play all around the diamond making him an ideal offense-first utility man. Thanks to Carlos Correa’s unfortunate injury, however, Gonzalez should stake a claim to an everyday role, and opportunity has been his only major drawback as a fantasy asset. Drawing more walks and making more contact this year than ever before, Gonzalez looks to be a solid offensive shortstop, independent of his teammates. Toss in the fact that he plays on the best offensive team in baseball, and Gonzalez may be a top-10 shortstop from here on out.
Top Target- Justin Upton
Another Tiger making fantastic contact, Upton has flown somewhat under the radar since signing his six-year free agent contract, but, this season, he has done what he can to live up to it. Despite seeming prone to in-season highs and lows unmatched by anyone in baseball, Upton’s season lines have looked remarkably consistent from year-to-year, and this year is no exception. After a bout with strikeouts last season that suppressed his batting average, Upton has cut it back to normal levels in 2017 while increasing his walk rate by three percentage points from last season. Upton’s all-fields approach and home park limit his true slugging potential, but, despite Detroit’s sell-off, Upton should remain in a potent lineup (his opt-out clause makes him an unlikely trade candidate himself), and few MLB outfielders have been as consistent offensive performers over the past decade. Still yet to turn 30, there is little reason to believe Upton can’t sustain this performance level.
Fallback Option- Aaron Altherr
Altherr is as risky as any player on this list, with a hamstring injury scheduled to sideline him for the next three to four weeks. Luckily, that timeline could have him back on the field for the fantasy postseason, and Altherr has demonstrated physical tools unmatched by most in baseball. A mechanical change designed to simplify his swing has helped him to cut down his strikeout rate to more palatable levels, and his power is quite rare. Altherr’s hard contact rate this season is fantastic, north of 40%, and a 10 percentage point decrease in his ground ball rate has enabled him to make the most of that raw power. Of course, it is possible that Altherr could have a setback, at which point the Phillies may just shut him down, so he may be too high-risk for many owners. However, his upside is not typically found on the waiver wire.
Deep Flyer- Robbie Grossman
Grossman’s offensive profile is very polished for a 27 year-old semi-regular. His plate discipline is elite, among the best in baseball, helping him to run sky-high on-base percentages despite subpar batting averages. With the Twins’ offense as a whole having improved this season, Grossman’s on-base ability should more consistently translate into runs scored. Most encouragingly, Grossman’s contact rates have risen substantially from last season, enabling him to be a productive hitter despite a cratering BABIP. Given his solid all-fields contact, that BABIP should improve, and, given that he seems to be progressively gaining Paul Molitor’s trust and is gaining playing time down the stretch, Grossman may provide some cheap runs scored and RBI for fantasy owners in the second half. He does not steal bases, and his ground-ball heavy approach will inherently limit his home run output, so it is certainly not the flashiest profile, but Grossman could provide some much-needed offensive production the rest of the way.