Note: Player prices are based on Thursday's games for players in action Thursday (5/29) and Wednesday's games for those who won't play again until Friday.
Teams not playing Thursday: New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, Washington Nationals, Miami Marlins, Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs, Colorado Rockies, San Diego Padres
Now, on to some of the top plays as we head into the third month of the season.
Zack Wheeler, NYM (Thu. at PHI), $7,200 – While the Phillies have fared surprisingly well against southpaws this season, they've been an absolute disaster versus right-handers, posting a .291 wOBA and .654 OPS. Citizens Bank Park is a tough ballpark for any pitcher, but Wheeler gets to face a lousy offense, and he has a nice shot to pick up a win in a matchup against the Phillies' David Buchanan. Though not spectacular, Wheeler has been much better than his 4.63 ERA and 1-5 record indicate. He's fanned 8.47 batters per nine innings and owns a 3.63 FIP, while his .335 BABIP and 66.8 percent strand rate indicate that better days are ahead. It's still too early to put much stock in batted-ball statistics, but Wheeler's 53.1 percent ground-ball rate and 17.9 percent line-drive rate are encouraging.
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Rafael Montero, NYM (Fri. at PHI) – Montero's price will presumably rise from the $5,300 it sat at in his last start, a one-run, 10-strikeout home outing against the Diamondbacks. He still figures to be one of the cheapest pitchers available, and in a GPP (Guaranteed Prize Pool) contest, it's hard to pass on this kind of upside at such a low price. Pitch counts are typically a major concern when it comes to first-time call-ups, but Montero averaged 106 pitches in his first three starts. While the Mets figure to rein him in eventually, the young right-hander clearly has the green light to go deep into games.
Wily Peralta, MIL (Sat. vs. CHC) – The Cubs have been even worse than the Phillies against right-handed pitching, ranking 28th in wOBA (.282), 29th in OPS (.633) and 26th in strikeout rate (22.6 percent). Peralta, meanwhile, has been one of the most consistent pitchers in baseball this season, holding his opponent to three earned runs or fewer in each of his first 10 starts. The 25-year-old perhaps has limited upside due to his modest strikeout totals, but he's one of the safest plays available, with minimal blow-up potential.
Cole Hamels, PHI (Sun. vs. NYM) – Hamels was mediocre in a tough matchup against the Rockies last time out, but he otherwise seems to be back on track after struggling through his first three outings of the season. Since those first three outings, he's given up just nine earned runs in 28 innings, with a 30:8 K:BB ratio to back it up. Don't be fooled by the Mets' decent numbers against left-handed pitching through the first two months of the season. The Amazin's own an MLB-worst 25.8 percent strikeout rate against southpaws but a .357 BABIP has allowed them to tread water.
Other intriguing options: Ubaldo Jimenez, BAL (Thu. at HOU), $8,200; Julio Teheran, ATL (Fri. at MIA); Stephen Strasburg, WAS (Fri. vs. TEX); Masahiro Tanaka, NYY (Sat. vs. MIN); Tanner Roark , WAS (Sun. vs. TEX)
Mitch Moreland, 1B/OF, TEX, $3,600 – Moreland's skill set appears to be the same as ever, but he's now batting third in a decent lineup, at least against right-handed pitching. The power should come around soon, and while you probably want to save the first-base spot for a true slugger, Moreland makes for an excellent play in the outfield so long as he's occupying that No. 3 hole in the lineup.
Edwin Encarnacion, 1B, TOR, $5,200 – Encarnacion continues to put up staggering numbers, yet he still comes at a rather reasonable price. He's hit 14 home runs in May, including three in the last four games and eight in the last 10. As mentioned last week, I'm always wary of overpaying for hot streaks, but even if he weren't the hottest hitter in baseball, Encarnacion would still be playable at $5,200. If the latest stretch hasn't pushed his price above $5,500, it isn't clear if anything will. I'll take a red-hot Encarnacion at $5,200 over, say, Miguel Cabrera at $5,900.
Wilmer Flores, NYM, 2B, $2,000 – Flores won't be in the lineup every day, but he's worth a look whenever he is. He isn't your typical no-bat $2,000 option, as he possesses above-average power for a middle infielder, albeit with minimal base-stealing skills. Flores owns a .231/.286/.231 slash line through his first 42 plate appearances of the season, but he had a .307/.360/.500 line at Triple-A Las Vegas after posting a .321/.357/.531 line for Vegas last season. While it hasn't translated to the majors yet, Flores did hit 20 home runs in 589 Triple-A plate appearances.
Matt Carpenter, 2B/3B, STL, $4,300 – Carpenter's price has hovered well above $4,500 for much of the season, making him one of the few good players that I've yet to use. Last season's stats perhaps created unrealistic expectations, but he's still one of the top hitters who is second-base eligible. While an 18.2 percent strikeout rate may scare some away, Carpenter has actually improved his swinging-strike and contract rates from last season. The strikeouts should drop off as the season goes on, and Carpenter figures to work his way back toward a .300 batting average. He's already looked better of late, with six multi-hit games during his ongoing 10-game hitting streak.
Todd Frazier, 3B/1B, CIN, $4,200 – Frazier has arguably been the Reds' non-Cueto MVP this season, as he's batting .269 and is on pace for 29 homers, 86 RBI and 86 runs. Coming off a disappointing season that included some poor luck, Frazier still appears to be slightly undervalued. His. 269/.341/.489 batting line hasn't been assisted by fluky peripherals, and he had similar numbers in 2012. Best of all, the Reds are heading to Arizona for a four-game weekend series at hitter-friendly Chase Field against a lousy pitching staff.
Jed Lowrie, SS, OAK, $3,600 – Lowrie hasn't done much over the last few weeks, but it's not as if he's piling up strikeouts and turning in terrible at-bats. He's still one of the better offensive options at a weak position, and I'll happily take the discount that comes with a poor stretch of batted-ball luck.
Kole Calhoun, OF, LAA, $3,800 – Wildly overpriced at this time a week ago, Calhoun has dropped from $4,900 to $3,800, after struggling in his first seven games back from the disabled list. While I'm admittedly higher on the young outfielder than most, there are plenty of legitimate reasons for optimism. He destroyed Triple-A pitching in both 2012 and 2013 and then slashed .282/.347/.462 over 222 plate appearances for the Angels last season. Sure, he's off to a slow start this year, but he's only logged 84 PAs and owns a .224 BABIP. It would be nice if the Angels had as much faith as I do, as Calhoun has spent time in the bottom third of the lineup, behind such offensive luminaries as Erick Aybar and what's left of Raul Ibanez.
Other intriguing options: John Jaso, C, OAK, $3,700; Brian McCann, C, NYY, $3,700 (Wed.); Freddie Freeman, 1B, ATL, $4,500; Derek Dietrich, 2B, MIA, $3,600 (Wed.); Jean Segura, SS, MIL, $4,000 (Wed.); Pedro Alvarez, 3B, PIT, $3,900; Yasiel Puig, OF, LAD, $5,600; Desmond Jennings, OF, TB, $4,000 (Wed.); Coco Crisp, OF, OAK, $3,600; Jay Bruce, OF, CIN, $3,700; Andre Ethier, OF, LAD, $3,400; Ryan Ludwick, OF, CIN, $2,900