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After Kyle Gibson’s disastrous first start of the season at Kansas City, I dropped him in one of my points leagues for Domingo German. Needless to say, it wasn’t the best decision. German has had his moments this season, but Gibson has been one of the better pitchers in baseball over the first half of the season, from a results perspective. I’m bringing this example up to highlight the fact that the bad roster decisions you make early in the season shouldn’t define your season. I ended up grabbing Tarik Skubal, among others, and my team has been performing well. It’s not about how you start, it’s about how you finish.

For this upcoming week, the waiver wire is once again full of potentially valuable pickups, some being more obvious than others. There are also several players whose ownership percentages are still too low. No matter what poor decisions you’ve made this season, remaining active on the wire can help you make up for them. Here’s a handful of players that I believe should be targeted as needed in points leagues right now.

Points League Options

(Players rostered in under 50 percent of ESPN leagues)

Michael Kopech SP/RP, White Sox (40 percent rostered)

There’s a reason Kopech is 40 percent rostered despite lacking a true fantasy friendly role, dude’s a stud. He returned from the injured list on July 1st and he’ll be one of the White Sox’s best relief pitching options going forward. Surprisingly, Kopech has been a professional baseball player for a long time. The 25-year-old was drafted 33rd overall in the 2014 MLB Draft by the Red Sox and has since been working towards finding his place at the highest level. Unfortunately, injuries have held him back, as he had to deal with Tommy John surgery in late 2018. But he’s back now, he appears healthy, and he could hold some real value if he ever finds himself back in the starting rotation.

So far in 2021, he has a 1.72 ERA (2.79 SIERA) and 45:12 K:BB over 32.1 innings pitched. As a starter, he has a 2.25 ERA and 19:3 K:BB over 12.0 innings pitched. He’s armed with a high spin four-seam fastball that sits mid-high 90s, a hard slider that has late bite to it, as well as a changeup and a curveball that he doesn’t use as frequently. More than that, he’s demonstrated pinpoint command, mainly of his four-seamer and slider. If the White Sox are forced to find a replacement to an injured member of their rotation, Kopech could be the next man up. Go add him if you’re looking good in the standings and you want a high upside player sitting in your relief pitching spot.

Kolten Wong 2B, Brewers (44 percent rostered)

Many were excited to see how Wong would perform leading off for the Brewers and through 52 games, he’s been as good as expected. Over 194 at-bats, he’s earned a .294/.349/.490 slash line with seven home runs and six stolen bases. Interestingly enough, at age-30, there’s reason to believe he could surpass his career high in home runs. To start, he’s sporting a career high 38.7% hard hit rate and 6.7% barrel rate over 163 batted ball events. More than that, his quality of contact has been even better in June (11.8% barrel rate and 47.1% hard hit rate over 34 batted ball events). He’s been hitting fewer ground balls, more line drives, and his contact abilities have remained strong. All in all, it appears Wong is tapping into more power. Whether these improvements continue remains to be seen, but if they do, you want to be the one to have him rostered in your league.

Zach Thompson SP/RP, Marlins (26 percent rostered)

Witnessing late-blooming players succeed is one of the more underrated joys of baseball. Their dedication to the game is obvious and you can’t help but root for them. With that being said, Zach Thompson could end up being one of the more surprising stories of the 2021 season. After Thompson’s 11-strikeout game on June 26th vs the Nationals, many people began to ask, “Where did this guy come from?” Well, he was never a big-time prospect name, but there are reasons to be optimistic about his rest of season outlook. Thompson was drafted in the 5th round of the 2014 MLB Draft and he went on to have a serviceable minor league career (4.11 ERA and 11.6% K-BB over 519.0 innings pitched). However, since around 2019, there’s been a notable uptick to his strikeout ability. And through his first 18.0 MLB innings pitched, we’re starting to see why.

Thompson is armed with a high spin four-seam fastball that sits low-mid 90s, along with a cutter, curveball, sinker, and changeup. He’s been using his cutter the most and locating it similarly to his curveball, and both pitches have a whiff rate greater than 30 percent. In fact, none of his pitches have a whiff percentage less than 25 percent. It’s possible he doesn’t continue to induce whiffs at this rate as the league gets used to him, but that’s not how you secure waiver wire gems. If Thompson does indeed continue to induce whiffs at a high rate, he should help your fantasy teams significantly. He’s worthy of a bench spot given his low ownership percentage and intriguing upside.

Willy Adames SS, Brewers (34 percent rostered)

As a minor leaguer, Adames demonstrated minimal power over a lengthy minor league career (38 HR over 2,283 at-bats). He also demonstrated the ability to consistently get on-base while maintaining a solid batting average. All in all, he looked like a player who would be a slightly above average performer for the majority of his MLB career. Fast-forward to the 2021 offseason, and through 371 career MLB games, he’s been about what we’ve expected production wise. He has been walking less and striking out more at the MLB level, but that’s understandable given the fact that he’s facing the best of the best. But so far in 2021, Adames looks like an improved player and maybe a change of scenery was all he needed.

Since being traded to the Brewers on May 21st, Adames is batting .293 with eight home runs and a stolen base. His quality of contact has been much improved this season and he’s been a more aggressive hitter, as indicated by an increased zone swing percentage. More than that, he’s been hitting with power to all fields and has been seeing regular playing time at shortstop. At just 25-years-old, it’s very possible that Adames is tapping into the best version of himself. He’s a solid addition to any points league roster.

Adbert Alzolay SP, Cubs (22 percent rostered)

Signed as an international free agent by the Cubs in 2012, Alzolay’s path to the majors has been a long one. He made his MLB debut in 2019 and truly struggled to command his arsenal. This poor command carried into 2020, but his ability to throw strikes improved and he earned a 2.95 ERA (4.15 SIERA) and 29:13 K:BB over 21.1 innings pitched. So far in 2021, his ability to throw strikes has improved even more, indicated by a career high 44.7% zone rate. But beyond that, Alzolay made a change that ascended his game to another level: he’s throwing his slider the most.

His slider has a career 29.6% K-BB and .213 weighted on-base average against. It’s easily been his best pitch and this past offseason, it appears Alzolay came to this same conclusion. Aside from throwing his slider the most, his overall command of his pitches has seemingly improved. And despite a decrease in his strikeout rate, Alzolay is sporting a career high 18.7% K-BB. As long as he uses his slider the most, he will be a useful fantasy asset. Go pick him up if you’re looking for cheap starting pitching depth that has upside.

Jarred Kelenic OF, Mariners (32 percent rostered)

I know, I know. Kelenic didn’t perform as well as we expected him to when he was called up in mid-May. Over 83 at-bats, he had a .096/.185/.193 slash line with two home runs and three stolen bases. His .109 batting average on balls in play indicates he dealt with some bad luck, especially when you consider his 79.8% contact rate matched with solid quality of contact. More than that, he didn’t chase many pitches while he was up but as a whole, it was clear he wasn’t quite ready for the majors just yet.

However, there’s a good chance he doesn’t waste his next opportunity. Since returning to AAA, he has a .284/.368/.580 slash line with six home runs, four stolen bases, and a 14:11 K:BB. He’s been as good as ever and it shouldn’t be too long before he’s back up with the big league club. Right now, Kelenic should be stashed just as much as he was prior to his initial call up given his free upside.

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Deep Points League Options

(Players rostered in under 10 percent of ESPN leagues)

Matt Manning SP, Tigers (8 percent rostered)

Matt Manning was one of the more hyped up prospects this offseason, and for good reason. To start, his 6-foot-6 frame and athletic build should help him become some version of a workhorse starter long-term. Additionally, he’s armed with a strong four-seam fastball, plus curveball, and a changeup that’s still developing. His overall command is still developing, but he has the upside to be a top starter on most MLB teams.

Unfortunately, Manning’s first taste of AAA ball went rather poorly. He earned an 8.07 ERA (4.35 xFIP) and 36:10 K:BB over 32.1 innings pitched. It’s then reasonable to wonder, why was Manning called up if he couldn’t succeed against AAA competition? Well the Tigers are dealing with a plethora of injuries to their starting pitching depth and as a result, Manning’s development is being accelerated.

Whether this helps or hurts him remains to be, but so far, it appears he’s definitely hurting. He’s earned a 8.16 ERA (5.74 SIERA) and 6:4 K:BB over 14.1 innings pitched. Through three career starts, he’s induced 13 whiffs on 105 swings (12.4% whiff rate). Reportedly, the Tigers want him to start throwing his slider more, a pitch that he showcased in this past spring training. giving his two breaking pitches. This will give him another pitch for batters to worry about and could help him become more comfortable on the mound. Manning is a very young arm who should be approached with patience in all formats. In redraft points leagues, he’s a solid stash in deeper leagues.

Gavin Sheets 1B, White Sox (6 percent rostered)

After being selected 49th overall in the 2017 MLB Draft, Gavin Sheets went on to have a rather solid minor league career. He consistently limited his strikeout rate while drawing walks at a respectable clip. However, his best tool is easily his raw power. Over his first 161 AAA at-bats, we were beginning to see this raw power translate into game power, as he hit nine home runs. The White Sox must have noticed this development too and they opted to call him up on June 29th to see what he can do at the next level. So far, he’s impressed.

It’s a microscopic sample size, but over his first 18 MLB at-bats, he’s already hit two home runs. To support this early display of power, he has a 53.0% hard hit rate and 108.9 mph max exit velocity. He’s seen most of his playing time in right field so far, but will also see time at 1st base and as a designated hitter. With Yermín Mercedes being sent down and the White Sox still dealing with injuries to their lineup, I see Sheets continuing to see regular opportunities for as long as he’s performing.