The Tampa Bay Rays are one of baseball’s most innovative organizations. They’re responsible for making the extreme infield shift a mainstream strategy and their experimentation with using an “opener” last season has gotten much attention and will likely have its fair share of copycats.

The Rays are trend setters who consistently think outside the box, and it’s helped them achieve success. They unexpectedly won 90 games last season, they’ve won 10 of their first 13 games this season, and are currently in first place in the AL East. However, a sound, forward thinking strategy can only take you so far. A baseball team also needs good players.

The Rays have plenty of talent on their roster, much of which went virtually ignored in preseason drafts. Entering Thursday’s action Rays starting pitchers had a combined 1.61 ERA. Blake Snell and Charlie Morton are widely recognized for their abilities, but there are other budding stars in the Rays rotation who deserve to be acknowledged as well.

Tyler Glasnow (3-0 0.53 ERA), has been dominant. He pitched six shutout innings, struck out 11 and walked just one batter in his last start. Glasnow tweaked his delivery this spring and saw an increase in velocity as well. While he’s had issues with his control in the past, he’s recorded 21 strikeouts and walked just three batters in 17 IP this season.

Yonny Chirinos (2-0, 0.75 ERA in 12 IP) probably isn’t as good as his 2019 season stats suggest. However, ERA estimators such as FIP, xFIP and SIERA, all put his true ERA at 3.53 or lower. Chirinos is worth picking up off of waiver wires in deeper leagues and is also a good streaming option depending on the match-up. Overall, opposing hitters are batting just .108 against him. Specifically, the batting average against Chirino’s sinker has dropped from .319 last season, to .211 this season. That stat is encouraging because it’s the pitch he uses most often.

The Rays also have plenty of under the radar fantasy value among their position players as well. We mentioned Yandy Díaz last week, but another Rays player with upside is second baseman Brandon Lowe . He’s a patient hitter with power (55.6 hard hit rate this season). Lowe has the ability to hit 20 HR, but he’ll need to show improvement against off-speed pitches in order to reach his full potential. He should be on your watch list and is likely available on your league’s waiver wire.

Taking a closer look at other potential waiver wire adds, many fantasy baseball managers are going to want to get a piece of a Mariners offense that’s hitting home runs at a record pace. Daniel Vogelbach (.423 BA, 5 HR in 9 games) is getting lots of attention. He has a legitimate power bat, but been susceptible to the curveball and slider in his brief minor league career. With eight of Vogelbach’s nine career big league home runs coming against the fastball, pitchers may eventually adjust their approach against him. For now, ride him while he’s hot.

Dansby Swanson , (former first overall pick of the 2015 MLB Amateur Draft) is batting .324 with four home runs through his first 11 games and highly sought after on league waiver wires. Can we expect the career .243 hitter to continue to rake? The following statistics strongly suggest he might. Compared to last season, Swanson has raised his walk rate (14 from 8.6), lowered his strikeout rate (18.6 from 22.6), and decreased his chase rate (24.6 from 36.5). His early season power surge is partially due to the result of his increased hard hit rate (42.9 from 35.6) and average exit velocity (93.7 from 87.6). Swanson’s line drive rate has also increased (32.1 from 19.9). That stat is key to him maintaining a respectable batting average since line drives tend to result in hits much more often than other batted ball events.

Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward ’s ownership rate in ESPN fantasy baseball leagues has increased by 33% over the past week. He’s off to a hot start (.371 BA, 4 HR, 2 SB) and like Swanson most of his advanced metrics suggest that his early season uptick in power is real. Heyward has posted increases in exit velocity, launch angle, and hard hit and fly ball rates. Statcast suggests that his Expected Batting Average (xBA) should be closer to .322 (we’ll take that). We could be looking at a nice bounce back season from Heyward. 

Let’s talk about a player who is trending in the wrong direction. Brewers first baseman Jesús Aguilar enjoyed a breakout 2018 season in which he hit 35 home runs, but through the first 10 games of this season, he’s batting just .111 and doesn’t have an extra-base hit. Eric Thames ’ overall numbers haven’t been very good this season either, but he did start in place of Aguilar on Wednesday. For his career, Thames has had good success against right-handed pitching. This could potentially turn into a platoon situation.

Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong is a perfect example of how careful fantasy baseball players need to be when working the waiver wire early in the season. Through the first six games of the season he was batting .476 with three home runs but since then, he’s batting .136 with zero home runs. Statcast puts his xBA in the .265 range, which is much closer to his .256 career average.

We’re accustomed to using batting average and ERA in our player evaluations. However, with the baseball season consisting of a series of hot and cold streaks with some periods of expected normal player production sprinkled in for good measure, those stats don’t always paint a complete picture of a player’s performance. This early in the season advanced metrics like xBA and Exit Velocity for hitters and FIP, xFIP and SIERA are important tools that should be used in your player analyses.

Turning our attention to injury news, it looks like Luis Severino will be sidelined for much longer than originally anticipated. Severino was diagnosed with a Grade 2 lat strain this week. It appears Sevy suffered this latest setback while rehabbing from the rotator cuff injury that first sent him to the IL. Some speculate he’ll be sidelined until the middle of July. If you invested a late round pick or used a waiver wire move on Gio González , who signed a minor league deal with the Yankees, it now seems more likely that he’ll eventually join the Yankees big league roster.

Mike Clevinger exited his last start due to back tightness that wasn’t supposed to force him to miss a start, but it turns out he’ll be shut down for six to eight weeks.  Shane Bieber was already expected to have a significant role in the Indians rotation and becomes even more important moving forward. He pitched seven shutout innings against the Tigers on Thursday.

You’ll probably hear a bunch of Ferris Buehler comparisons from Walker Buehler fantasy owners based on his ugly 8.25 ERA after his third start on Thursday night. Remember, the Dodgers limited his workload this spring and there were reports that Buehler wasn’t feeling right heading into the season. Stay tuned.  

The Rockies sent Ryan McMahon (elbow strain) and David Dahl (lower abdomen injury) to the IL since our last column. As of now both are viewed as short term injuries. The Rockies obviously don’t have much love for fantasy baseball players as evidenced by all of the moving parts in their lineup of late. Mark Reynolds and Josh Fuentes have gotten starts at first base. Garrett Hampson , Yonathan Daza and Raimel Tapia have been moved in and out of the lineup in the Rockies outfield as well. Based on the uncertainty surrounding the Rockies lineup on a daily basis, we can’t recommend starting any of these players in weekly season long leagues for now. 

Astros third baseman Alex Bregman suffered what is being described as a “very minor” hamstring strain on Tuesday. Yuli Gurriel replaced him at third base on Wednesday night.

We offer thanks to the fantasy gods for sparing (we hope) the irreplaceable Mike Trout . He suffered a groin strain on Tuesday and while he still might be placed on the IL, initial reports suggest that it is a mild strain.

Lastly, we hope the Mets have started a new trend that other big league teams will follow. First baseman Pete Alonso was regarded as a top power bat in the Mets minor league system and he had a tremendous spring. The Mets could have had Alonso start the season in the minor leagues in order to manipulate his service time, but they included him on their opening day roster. He’s rewarded them with a .378 batting average, six home runs and 17 RBI in his first 12 games.  Kudos to the Mets!