2021 Fantasy Baseball All-Stars: Best Pickups + Late-Round Sleepers From First Half
The Major League Baseball All-Star Break is here, which makes now the perfect time to reflect on the top performers from the first half of the season. Rather than simply pointing out the top overall performers, this piece highlights the overperformers — regardless of fantasy baseball draft position.
Expectations were minimal for the following players. A few mid-round pitchers included had modest expectations. However, they’ve significantly outplayed them, warranting a shoutout.
Still, the majority of the players featured in this space were late-round selections or went undrafted entirely. In fact, one of the first-half star outfielders didn’t even break spring training with his team.
If you’re rostering multiple players from the following group, pat yourself on the back, as you’re likely fairing well in your league standings.
2021 Fantasy Baseball All-Stars from the First Half
Catcher: Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Texas Rangers
Catcher-eligible players who no longer play the position have frequently been fantasy baseball gold over the years. Isiah Kiner-Falefa, the Texas Rangers starting shortstop, can add his name to the pantheon of such players.
Kiner-Falefa has done well to show off his speed by stealing 15 bases, an uncommon occurrence among his “catcher” peers. Enjoy his catcher eligibility while it lasts if you’re in a keeper or dynasty league, as he hasn’t donned the tools of ignorance since 2019 and will lose the eligibility next season.
First Base: Jared Walsh, Los Angeles Angels
Jared Walsh proved who he was in Triple-A in 2019, and more importantly, in 108 plate appearances for the Los Angeles Angels last year. So I’m not alone in retrospectively kicking myself for failing to be higher on his 2021 outlook. According to FanGraphs, in 457 plate appearances since 2020, he’s smashed 31 homers with 65 runs, 90 RBIs, two stolen bases and a .282 batting average.
Walsh is the real deal.
Second Base: Ryan McMahon, Colorado Rockies
This movie has been shown time and time again: A full-time regular for the Colorado Rockies parlays the luscious hitting conditions at Coors Field into being a fantasy baseball asset.
Ryan McMahon‘s .221 batting average on the road is ugly. That hardly matters, though, because he’s raked at home, tallying a .284 batting average, nine homers, 36 runs, 26 RBIs and one stolen base. Sprinkling his underwhelming road numbers on his full-season totals results in a top-100 fantasy baseball ranking.
Third Base: Yuli Gurriel, Houston Astros
Yuli Gurriel was dreadful last year, the first season following the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal. Revisiting his 2020 campaign, an uncharacteristically terrible .235 BABIP killed his value.
This year, however, he’s setting career-highs with a .315 BABIP while also walking at a 10.1% clip. He’s hitting .313 and making the most of his mid-lineup spot to pile up counting stats, scoring 44 runs with 54 RBIs.
Shortstop: Marcus Semien, Toronto Blue Jays
Marcus Semien was great in 2019 and struggled mightily in 2020. This year, he’s on pace to surpass his superb 2019 season.
Semien’s been a spark plug with power atop the lineup for the Toronto Blue Jays. He has a chance at a 40/20 (homers/stolen bases) season with more than 125 runs, 100-plus RBIs and a helpful batting average (.277, presently). The sum of the contributions means Semien was a top-10 ranked player for the first half, exceeding even the wildest optimistic prognostications.
Corner Infield: Trey Mancini, Baltimore Orioles
Trey Mancini‘s tale is inspiring in a way that extends beyond fantasy baseball, as he missed the 2020 season while being treated for colon cancer. Incredibly, he’s returned to the diamond this year and been a run-producer, scoring 47 runs and driving in 53 while tacking on 15 homers with a palatable .254 batting average to boot.
Middle Infield: Brandon Crawford, San Francisco Giants
Brandon Crawford‘s been a whiz in the field throughout his career, with the bat lagging. Opening up his stance has resulted in jaw-dropping improvements as a hitter.
The 34-year-old shortstop has stuffed the stat sheet, slugging 18 homers, scoring 49 runs, piling up 58 RBIs, producing a .291 batting average and even stealing seven bases in seven chances. The veteran’s batting stance change provides a tangible reason to believe he’ll keep producing.
Outfielder: Jesse Winker, Cincinnati Reds
Jesse Winker flirted with a .300 batting average early in his career with little power. Then, he sacrificed batting average for an uptick in power in 2019 and 2020. This year, he’s put the best of both worlds together, belting 19 homers while hitting .301 and piling up runs and RBIs.
Outfielder: Adolis Garcia, Texas Rangers
Adolis Garcia is the player I teased in the intro who didn’t break camp with his team. He’s been a surprise to more than just the fantasy community, suffice to say.
The free-swinging, power-packed outfielder has slugged 23 homers, been an RBI machine with 62, added eight stolen bases and avoided being a batting average liability despite a high strikeout rate and lack of plate discipline.
Outfielder: Cedric Mullins, Baltimore Orioles
Cedric Mullins teased fantasy utility last year, namely by stealing seven bases in 48 games. This year, he’s been so much more than a speed-only player in an age-26 breakout, smacking 16 homers, scoring 49 runs (thanks to serving as the leadoff hitter for the Baltimore Orioles), stealing 16 bases and posting a .314 batting average.
Outfielder: Bryan Reynolds, Pittsburgh Pirates
Bryan Reynolds burst onto the fantasy baseball scene with a stellar rookie season back in 2019 before suffering through a hellacious sophomore slump in 2020. Rather than revert to his excellent 2019 form, he’s gone a step above.
The switch-hitting outfielder is a classic four-category producer (runs, homers, RBIs and batting average) and has managed to add three steals as a cherry on top.
Outfielder: Adam Duvall, Miami Marlins
Adam Duvall is a batting average drag with a .234 mark. With that said, he’s been an excellent power source with 19 homers, which has helped him rank near the top of the league with 62 RBIs. Duvall has also chipped in five stolen bases.
Not too shabby for a guy with a pre-season average draft position (ADP) north of pick 300 across the industry.
Utility: Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels
Shohei Ohtani has played at an otherworldly level this year, making the fact he’s split into two players at Yahoo! a moot point. He’s a legitimate five-category star and top-five player on Yahoo!’s player rater as a batter alone.
If you’re rostering him at a fantasy provider where he’s also pitcher eligible, then that’s gravy.
Bench: Buster Posey (SF – 1B/C), Chris Taylor (LAD – 2B/SS/OF), Jonathan Schoop (DET – 1B/2B), Mitch Haniger (SEA – OF)
Starting Pitcher: Kevin Gausman, San Francisco Giants
Kevin Gausman proved to be a great reclamation project for the San Francisco Giants last year. However, he’s taken things to a whole new level in 2021, spinning a 1.73 ERA, 0.82 WHIP and 30.5 K%.
San Francisco’s surprisingly top-notch offense has also helped him earn eight wins after earning only three last year.
Starting Pitcher: Freddy Peralta, Milwaukee Brewers
Freddy Peralta pitched superbly out of the bullpen for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2020, showcasing a slider that wasn’t in his arsenal his first two years in The Show. His new weapon has followed him back into the rotation, helping him thrive in his second go-round as a starter.
Starting Pitcher: Carlos Rodon, Chicago White Sox
The Chicago White Sox non-tendered Carlos Rodon after the 2020 season, making him free to sign elsewhere. He’s spoken to the non-tender motivating him, and he’s been dominant dating back to spring training.
The lefty is throwing harder than ever and sporting a career-high 15.4 SwStr%. His stuff drew rave reviews in the spring, and his success in 2021 serves as a reminder of the value of sussing out the meaningful spring chatter from the fluff.
Starting Pitcher: Trevor Rogers, Miami Marlins
The Miami Marlins’ rotation was chock full of youngsters who gamers were hyped about drafting in the spring. Trevor Rogers, who recorded a ghastly 6.11 ERA last year, wasn’t among them.
In retrospect, his 3.86 SIERA and tasty plate discipline numbers should have generated more buzz. Nevertheless, there’s a lesson to be learned here, and Rogers is serving it by pitching above and beyond even his glowing peripherals, posting a 2.31 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 30.0 K% in 2021.
Starting Pitcher: Joe Musgrove, San Diego Padres
Joe Musgrove is hardly a sleeper in this space, admittedly. However, he’s an example of patience for glowing underlying metrics paying off, as it’s all come together in 2021 after years of teasing.
He has a sub-3.00 ERA, sub-1.00 WHIP, and tons of strikeouts with a 2.93 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 29.1 K%, to be exact.
Starting Pitcher: Anthony DeSclafani, San Francisco Giants
I see the Gausman reclamation and raise you an Anthony DeSclafani.
Plucked off the scrap heap after posting a 7.22 ERA in 33.2 innings for the Cincinnati Reds last year, DeSclafani’s pitched to a 2.68 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 23.5 K% and earned 10 wins. He’s also been a workhorse, pitching 107.1 innings across 18 starts.
Relief Pitcher: Craig Kimbrel, Chicago Cubs
The vagaries of pitching in relief are something, aren’t they? Craig Kimbrel was a dumpster fire in his first two years (2019 and 2020) with the Chicago Cubs. He’s reverted to his peak years this season, recording a tiny 0.57 ERA, 0.66 WHIP, a gaudy 46.2 K% and slamming the door shut for 20 saves.
Kimbrel flashed down the stretch in 2020 and scuffled through the spring, perfectly illustrating the beauty and madness of relievers.
Relief Pitcher: Alex Reyes, St. Louis Cardinals
The St. Louis Cardinals finally made the right decision by leaving Alex Reyes in the bullpen. The hard-throwing closer’s wildness (18.2 BB%) has been offset by a 30.7 K% en route to tying for the fifth-most saves (20) in the first half.
The Red Birds’ closer gig was a mystery entering the season, and Reyes answered the bell.
Relief Pitcher: Mark Melancon, San Diego Padres
Mark Melancon was also embroiled in a battle for closing duties. All he’s done is emerge with the job and lead MLB in saves with 27.
Melancon isn’t the modern-day high-strikeout closer. Instead, he does the job by keeping the ball on the ground. The formula has worked.
Bench: Taijuan Walker (NYM – SP), Kyle Gibson (TEX – SP/RP), Robbie Ray (TOR – SP), Matt Barnes (BOS – RP), Kendall Graveman (SEA – RP)