It may seem like it's too late for some virtual no-name to gain the cachet necessary to enter into your lineup plans -- and it may be -- but if there was ever a case to the contrary, Sawyer Gipson-Long just made it.
How's that? Well, he struck out 11 over five innings Saturday at the Angels, registering 23 swinging strikes on just 82 pitches. Here's what that looked like:
It would be one thing if the 25-year-old arrived to great fanfare with a sparkling prospect pedigree and easy path to stardom, but every major rank list had him as just another decent arm in the Tigers system. Now, after two big-league starts suggesting he's something more, do we dare install him in our lineups at this critical juncture of the season, with so much on the line?
In standard-size leagues, it's probably too big of a risk, but the matchups make it something to consider in leagues of 15 teams or more.
DET Detroit • #66 • Age: 25
Sawyer Gipson-Long is already 25, doesn't rank particularly high among Tigers prospects, and had only a 4.33 ERA between two minor-league stops this year. But he also had 11.4 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9 between those stops, an outstanding ratio that suggested he may be more than just rotation filler. We now have two major-league starts to support the claim, the biggest being an 11-strikeout, two-hit effort Saturday at the Angels. It was short, spanning only five innings, but it was dominant, yielding 23 swinging strikes on just 82 pitches. Gipson-Long leaned mostly on his slider and changeup but showed a knack for mixing in his two-seamer and four-seamer at opportune moments, making up for their middling velocity. The long ball was his downfall in the minors and may prove to be in the majors as well, but given his matchups against the Athletics this week and the Royals the following week, perhaps we should focus on the upside. In leagues of 15 teams or more, Gipson-Long could be a godsend.
Jake Burger 3B
MIA Miami • #36 • Age: 27
Jake Burger's top-of-the-scale power was evident even as he was fighting for at-bats with the White Sox. What's changed since joining the Marlins, other than him having a job all to himself, is the amount of contact he's making, striking out 20.9 percent of the time with them compared to 31.6 percent with the White Sox. His batting average has climbed from .214 to .247 during that time, and he's certainly showing no signs of slowing down, going 9 for 18 with two homers and three doubles over his past four games. Those home runs were hit 111 and 113 mph, so the improved contact certainly hasn't compromised the power. With two series against the Mets and one against the Pirates remaining, Burger could give you a nice lift whether at first, second or third base.
Bryan Woo SP
SEA Seattle • #33 • Age: 23
While Sawyer Gipson-Long is getting all the headlines today, Bryan Woo might be the better pickup for this week. He gets not only the same favorable matchup at the Athletics to begin the week but also a second turn at the Rangers to end it -- a more difficult matchup, yes, but generally speaking, two is better than one. That's especially true if the pitcher is any good, and there's ample reason to believe Woo is. He has a 2.61 ERA and 0.92 WHIP in four starts since returning from a mild forearm issue, most recently registering eight strikeouts (with 19 swinging strikes) in 5 2/3 shutout innings against the Angels. His overall 4.16 ERA might give you pause, but his 3.29 xERA is more representative of the way he's actually pitched. He's not my No. 1 sleeper pitcher for this week, but he's the highest-ranked of those that didn't also appear in a Waiver Wire article last week.
Tanner Scott RP
MIA Miami • #66 • Age: 29
The Marlins are playing like a team of destiny right now, hitting their stride for the final playoff push, and their closer has been one of the biggest beneficiaries, notching six saves already in September. In fact, only the Pirates' David Bednar has more saves than Tanner Scott during that time. It's not like Scott's other numbers are prohibitive in any way. His 2.13 ERA speaks for itself, and his 94 strikeouts are fourth among full-time relievers. He recently inherited the closer role from an imploding David Robertson, which suggests maybe the Fantasy-playing world hasn't caught up, but I think Scott's low roster rate has more to do with the left-hander's failed stint as a closer last year. He was far more erratic then, though, actually cutting his walk rate in half this year. If you have an qualms with your current closer, you can swap him out for Scott with confidence.
Mark Canha LF
MIL Milwaukee • #21 • Age: 34
You may have thought Mark Canha's best days were behind him, but the 34-year-old has found new life with the Brewers, batting .319 with five homers, three steals and an .885 OPS since joining them at the trade deadline. He did sit out a couple games last week with a wrist issue, but don't mistake him as a platoon guy. He returned to start all three games over the weekend and actually went 6 for 13 with a home run and two stolen bases. He's bound to cool off eventually, but this hot streak is well-timed for a week that opens with matchups like Adam Wainwright, Drew Rom, Zach Thompson, Miles Mikolas and Johnny Cueto. Canha's natural on-base skills make him especially alluring in points leagues.
CHC Chi. Cubs • #66 • Age: 32
If you play in the sort of league where relievers with a clearer claim to the closer role -- Tanner Scott, Ryan Helsley or Aroldis Chapman, for instance -- are still available, then there's no reason to bother with Julian Merryweather, a speculative fill-in for what may turn out to be a short-term injury. But for however long Adbert Alzolay is sidelined by a forearm strain (and he reportedly did begin playing catch this weekend), the hard-throwing Merryweather seems like the best bet to replace him on a Cubs team still fighting for a playoff spot. It's true Mark Leiter has been Alzolay's setup man most of the year, but he hasn't been getting as many whiffs lately and has seen his usage plummet. Merryweather, meanwhile, has a 1.42 ERA, 0.75 WHIP and 12.4 K/9 in his past 23 appearances, collecting 10 holds and one save during that span.