Fantasy baseball pickups: It’s beyond time to add Montero

In a season filled with injuries thus far, fantasy managers are surely seeking replacements. Here are three players well worth adding in ESPN leagues:

Rafael Montero, RP, Texas Rangers

Consider this your “go get him” order, because Montero by all rights should be rostered in far greater than 16.1% of ESPN leagues. In fact, between his ability and prospects of holding the closer role — remember that Jose Leclerc isn’t even eligible to return until Sept. 13 — Montero makes a valid case for a top-15 ranking among fantasy closers.

Coming off March 2018 Tommy John surgery, Montero signed a minor league deal in January 2019 with the Rangers, who initially dabbled with him in a starter’s role but quickly opted to convert him to relief. He joined the big league bullpen in July and exhibited a significant rise in four-seam-fastball velocity; he had averaged 93.2 mph with the pitch in 30 career big league starts, he dialed it up to 95.9 mph in 22 relief appearances last season, and he was at 96.5 mph in two weekend appearances in 2020. Montero also shifted much of his slider usage to the changeup, and with that adjustment he took a huge step forward in terms of control; he has walked only 4.2% (5 of 119) of the batters he has faced since joining the Rangers.

Yes, this might be a sub-.500 Rangers team, capping the team’s total save chances, and yes, Montero does have a checkered injury history, including missing Opening Day 2020 with elbow tendinitis. Still, the Montero reliever model is much less susceptible to blow-up outings than the starter, and so far the Rangers’ new Globe Life Field has a pitchers’ leaning — the team and its opponents have combined for 60 runs in nine games — which helps the right-hander’s cause.

Dylan Moore, SS/OF, Seattle Mariners

Typically a 28-year-old journeyman seventh-round pick, one who never graced annual “top prospect” lists during his five-year minor league career, wouldn’t move the needle in fantasy baseball leagues. In a 10-team league, perhaps Moore still won’t. In anything deeper, though, Moore is getting the playing time necessary to warrant the pickup, and what he’s doing with the expanded role warrants your attention.

Once a high-contact, modest-power hitter, Moore has elevated his launch angle and sacrificed contact for more power since arriving in the majors. The small-sample caveat applies, but through 12 games, he has a 55.6% Statcast hard-contact rate, tied with Joey Gallo for ninth-best among hitters with at least 20 batted balls, and seven barrels (batted balls hit at the optimal launch angle and exit velocity). With that, Moore has seemingly captured a regular No. 2 spot in the Mariners’ batting order, a role shift that boosts his counting-number potential, and he has made starts at four different positions: first base, third base, left field and right field, and he did enter 2020 having already qualified at shortstop.

It’s that flexibility that could be beneficial to a fantasy team in this year of increased injuries and schedule changes. Moore might soon add first and/or third base eligibility to the mix, and his five-category ability should be of use to many.

Austin Voth, SP, Washington Nationals

Players on teams that have had a large number of postponements have commonly found themselves on the free-agent list in the season’s early weeks, but in Voth’s case, he was drafted in only 6.6% of ESPN leagues, so his 6.3% current rate hints that’s hardly the case in this instance. Nothing has changed as far as his fantasy potential thus far, and his five shutout innings this past Saturday continue to hint at his upside.

Both — a word which, by the way, rhymes with Voth — the right-hander’s curveball and slider exhibited similar spin rates in his first two starts of 2020 as in 2019, and while he didn’t generate a massive number of swings and misses with them, both were as sharp as during his September 2019 breakthrough. He’s locked in as the Nationals’ fifth starter, and in a season when many of the arms ahead of him have been lost to injury, he is well worth adding now to build up your pitching depth.

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