As the summer months dawn, fantasy baseball managers often seem to have this nasty habit of falling into lulls, frequently pressing the cruise control button. That's especially true for teams that fall deeper into the standings, as their managers often begin to think about their upcoming fantasy football teams.
Judging by some of the current roster percentages across ESPN leagues for certain players, it seems that either or both of those theories are true. Several supremely talented players remain out there in a good chunk of leagues, and they can help provide you the edge to capitalize upon your competition. Here are nine such players I recommend you either grab off the waiver wire immediately -- if they are available in your league -- or trade for if you're in a more competitive league in which they've already been snatched up.
Roansy Contreras, SP, Pittsburgh Pirates (available in 87.4% of ESPN leagues as of Wednesday morning): He has made only five big league starts and is coming off a so-so start against the Atlanta Braves, but the point here is what the right-hander could accomplish with his stellar raw skills. His fastball has considerably greater average velocity and spin than the major league average, he has gotten batters to miss nearly 50% of the time that they've swung at his slider, and he has a developing curveball that is plenty handy to use against lefties. You're adding Contreras for the strikeouts, and if he makes another 16 to 18 starts -- entirely reasonable considering his current innings total -- he could deliver you 120 K's, even if his ratios in road games experience fluctuations.
Brandon Drury, OF/2B/3B, Cincinnati Reds (19.7% available): A journeyman type, he is now thriving with an everyday role in the No. 2 lineup spot for a team that calls a hitting-friendly environment its home. Drury is sporting what are easily personal bests in ISO (.239), HR rate (5.5%), Statcast hard-contact rate (48.7%) and swinging-strike rate (6.5%), giving his stat line a look of complete legitimacy. He brings with him three-position eligibility, and his Reds, after this midweek road series, will play 52 of their final 99 games at home.
Adolis Garcia, OF, Texas Rangers (30.2% available): Honestly, I'm not a big fan of his skill set, particularly in points-based scoring, as he's a free-swinging, power-and-speed type who offers little to sabermetric play. Still, Garcia's power and speed are top shelf (or at least nearly so), as Statcast grades him in the 90th percentile in average exit velocity, 80th in hard-hit rate and 80th in sprint speed. In this steals-starved era, a player with Garcia's quickness (who contributes some with his bat) needs to be universally rostered -- and certainly so in rotisserie leagues. Bear in mind that, under manager Chris Woodward, the Rangers have attempted a steal by far the most often of any team this season, doing so on 8.6% of their opportunities, per Baseball-Referance.com data, after Woodward's 2021 team ranked fourth best in that category (6.5%).
Ryan Helsley, RP, St. Louis Cardinals (66.8% available): He possesses top-10 positional skills, and there's decreasing merit for debate about the team's closer role with each passing day. Helsley's improvements to his fastball this season have been among the most relevant of any pitcher's with regards to a specific pitch, as it went from very good to "out of this world" with 99th percentile average velocity (98.9 mph) and spin rate, plus minimal downward movement that makes preparing for it almost impossible for opposing hitters. If he had begun 2022 as the Cardinals closer, he'd be universally regarded a top-three-ranked reliever.
Alejandro Kirk, C, Toronto Blue Jays (28.6% available): Perhaps the easiest case of any of these players, Kirk's 123 fantasy points thus far are second most among all catcher-eligibles, and his 88.3% contact rate is ninth best among players with at least 180 plate appearances -- a rarity for a catcher. Considering the Blue Jays recently recalled top prospect Gabriel Moreno, fantasy managers might not think of Kirk as a highly regarded option or regular member of the Blue Jays lineup. That's a total misread, and it could make him a viable trade target. After all, since May 1, his 29 overall starts are tied for 10th, and his 126 plate appearances rank ninth among all catcher-eligibles.
Jeffrey Springs, RP/SP, Tampa Bay Rays (52.1% available): Always go for the pitchers who have made distinct tweaks, and be more apt to trust their sustainability when they're members of an organization as good at helping pitchers make such adjustments as are the Rays. Springs has made huge strides with his changeup, which he now throws 36.6% of the time. Statcast has graded it as a top-20 overall pitch in terms of run value, giving him a three-pitch selection that he is locating arguably better than he ever has during his pro career. Let your competition sweat the Rays' tendency to mix and match pitchers or cap starters' innings, and steal Springs via trade if you can.
Spencer Strider, RP/SP, Atlanta Braves (66.7% available): He has rocketed through the Braves organization since being a 2020 fourth-round pick, reaching the big league rotation just 16 days ago, and it's in large part due to his electric four-seam fastball. Strider's speeder averages 98.3 mph, with a 77th percentile spin rate, and he has a pretty darned unhittable slider, too. If his changeup progresses as he gains experience in the rotation, he might be a guy for whom we're making a top-20 positional case entering 2023. For now, consider this your last call to get Strider at a remotely affordable price.
Andrew Vaughn, OF/1B, Chicago White Sox (57.4% available): Sure, part of it has to do with his team's rash of injuries, but the fact that Vaughn has handled the No. 2 spot in the White Sox lineup for 15 of their past 18 games speaks volumes about his recent development. He has batted .333/.383/.486 with two home runs and 15 RBIs during that time span, with an 83.3% contact rate that underscores his improving approach. Vaughn has long possessed solid contact-quality skills -- his career barrel rate is 9.7% and hard-hit rate 47.2% -- so any boost in overall contact can only help support statistical growth. He might be only a small step from superstardom, and that's not a player type you should leave on free-agent lists.
Rowdy Tellez, 1B, Milwaukee Brewers (44.4% available): He's in a bit of a power funk, going without a homer for 15 straight games with an .054 ISO in that time, but that's not entirely unexpected for a player who makes a decent share of bad swings (33.8% career chase rate). Still, Tellez (for the season) has an 88th percentile barrel rate -- and his number in that department since being acquired from the Blue Jays last July 6 is also a very good 11.1%. He also has a 72nd percentile hard-hit rate and 85th percentile expected wOBA. Remember, he still gets middle-of-the-order assignments for a Brewers team that calls one of the best power-hitting environments its home.