KEEPERS: Late 2016 pop-ups and surgers—NL

Last week we highlighted some of the favorite late-season strong finishers and late-season pop-ups on AL clubs; now the NL gets the same treatment. Again, the objective here isn't to rehash MLB debuts of the more obvious prospects, or productive full-season performances of unexpected names. We're looking for under-the-radar players and prospects with opportunity, who showed something in the 2H after more than a few fantasy owners had given up on their seasons or turned to football. In short, our objective is to offer a edge for keeper league owners still paying attention.

Following a 9 HR / 23 SB performance, Keon Broxton (OF, MIL) may not be under the radar in deeper leagues. But for the uninitiated, Broxton struggled in his limited MLB opportunities, hitting .125 courtesy of a 50% ct% through his first 67 AB. Broxton shuttled between MIL and Triple-A until his final MLB promotion at the end of July—after which the light flicked on. From that point Broxton was on a tear, hitting .294 with 8 HR and 16 SB over 143 AB until a broken wrist ended his season on September 16. The 26-year-old Broxton has long intrigued with his speed, patience and at least average power, with huge strikeouts and low BAs his undoing. And though a 62% ct% (130 HctX) during the surge was a step up during the small sample surge, it remains a red flag. That said, Broxton's finish and the aforementioned skills (including outstanding CF defense) will give him more opportunity in 2017. In an era of scarce SBs, he's a high-risk, high-reward fantasy proposition.

A third-round 2012 draft pick, Andrew Toles (OF, LA) spent all of 2015 out of baseball after being released by TAM, the upshot of multiple minor league suspensions for behavioral issues related to an anxiety disorder. Following some time off that included both grocery-bagging and conditioning, he was re-signed by his old GM (now with the Dodgers) in September of last year. A seemingly a different person, the 24-year-old Toles' athleticism has taken over. After rocketing through three minor league levels with a combined .331/.374/.511 line with 23 SB in 323 AB, Toles showed no letup in LA—where his .314/.365/.505 (108 AB) performance and defense are now getting post-season roster consideration. Toles can play all over the outfield with plus speed, decent contact, moderate power and plenty of room to grow. Toles needs to prove that he can keep things together, and a deep LA organization may even keep him in the minors as of Opening Day 2017. But his 2016 performance, .300 BA upside and broad skill set are speculation-worthy now.

Adam Frazier (2B/OF, PIT) doesn't have any HR pop or big ceiling to speak of. But his outstanding high-minors bat-to-ball skills—89% ct%, .300 BA over 638 AB in 2015-16—translated to PIT, where he posted a .301/.291 BA/xBA over 146 AB in part-time play following a mid-season promotion. A 4/1 SB/CS and 120/131 RSpd/Spd confirm Frazier will run a little, though his minor league SB% suggests he'll never be a huge MLB threat. These skills, handedness and defensive versatility should give Frazier an MLB career, and on a team in transition like the Pirates, perhaps more with the right combination of trades, injuries and a little luck. An end-roster flyer that could balance out your low-BA sluggers while providing nice coverage for your injuries.

Brock Stewart's (RHP, LA) 2016 MLB numbers (5.79/5.03 ERA/xERA over 28 IP) aren't all impressive. But they're skewed heavily by his first two MLB outings—in hitter-friendly Miller Park and Coors Field—in which he coughed up 14 runs and 5 HR in 9 IP. And over his final three starts, Stewart was terrific in allowing just 5 runs over 15 IP while posting a 15/5 K/BB against CHC and ARI, two of the NL's better offenses. A legit pop-up prospect, Stewart's back-story is intriguing. His 2016 AA/AAA numbers—121 IP, 1.79 ERA, 129/19 K/BB, just 4 HR allowed—came after just 135 non-descript IP career-to-date, following his selection in the 2012 draft as a two-way player. By all accounts now, Stewart owns a low-mid-90s fastball with a solid change-up and developing breaking stuff. With limited mileage on his arm, Stewart clearly has a feel for pitching, potential for more growth, and legitimate #3 SP upside.

Luis Perdomo's (RHP, SD) 4.13/3.90 ERA/xERA over 94 IP in the second half doesn't seem like anything special. But in his rookie season on a bad team, Perdomo posted 100+ BPVs over three of the season's final four months while posting a 1.9 Ctl and 61% GB% in the 2H. He'll need to generate more swing-and-miss, as the 5.5 2H Dom suggests. But the 23-year-old Perdomo maintained 93+ MPH throughout the season on his fastball, while posting a 16% SwK% on his curve. With plenty of opportunity in rotation-challenged SD, Perdomo looks like a minor pitching adjustment, some better hr/f luck, and one or two defenders away from a breakout. At a time when healthy pitchers are difficult to come by, he's speculative pick-up that deep-leaguers should ponder.

Having just turned 30 and with plenty of MLB experience under his belt, Juan Nicasio (RHP, PIT) is an outlier among our list of mostly 20-something players. And we were skeptical in this space as to how his outstanding spring as an SP would hold up in-season. But as we suspected, Nicasio thrived in his 2H return to the pen, long after most of his spring fantasy owners had dropped him and moved on. In fact, Nicasio made big BPV gains almost across-the-board—ERA/xERA, Dom, Ctl, Cmd, GB%, hr/f velocity, etc.—following his return to the pen, with a 180 BPV over 50 2H IP suggesting that a closer role might even be in his future. Even as a dominant multi-inning reliever with a chance to pick up some wins, Nicasio is another name worth owning in these pitching-desperate times. 

Like most bullpen prospects, Shae Simmons (RHP, ATL) was likely out-of-sight / out-of-mind to most fantasy owners following Tommy John surgery in February 2015. Before that, Simmons was regarded as the heir apparent to Craig Kimbrel in ATL, largely on basis of a sub-2 ERA in the minor leagues, fueled by a nasty high-octane closer repertoire—and further entrenched by 23 Ks and a 2.91 ERA over his first 21 MLB IP. In his late-season return, Simmons posted a 1.96 ERA with 23 Ks in 18 IP over three minor league levels before pitching tossing 7 IP of one-run ball for ATL in September. He has the recently-extended Jim Johnson ahead of him in the closer role for now—and the forearm soreness that sidelined him for the final two weeks illustrates his injury risk. But Simmons is again throwing in the mid-90s, and the ATL front office is hardly trade-averse.

Cody Bellinger (1B/OF, LA) fell outside most 2016 pre-season Top 100 prospect lists. And he began the season with an Opening Day hip injury at Double-A Tulsa that sidelined him for a month and dogged his performance through all of May. But once healthy and back in the groove, Bellinger showed why many pegged him as a fast riser in 2016. His BB/K grew from 52/150 (68% ct%, 10% bb%, 0.35 Eye) in 2015, to 60/94 (77% ct%, 13% bb%, 0.64 Eye) in 68 less AB, while hitting 26 HR in his high-minors debut. And Bellinger saved his best for last, posting a 36/45 BB/K and 18 HR in 218 AB following the All-Star break. He'll begin 2017 in Triple-A to fine-tune his skills and wait for an opportunity. But handedness, athleticism and the ability to play all three OF spots in addition to first-base suggests that his MLB debut could come sooner than later.  

Jeimer Candelario (3B, CHC) may not have opportunity in his current organization, which in part is what's keeping him overlooked. To be sure, Candelario's defense is also an issue, since more than a few close observers don't believe he can stay at third-base. But there's nothing to dislike about Candelario's hit tool, particularly following his June promotion to Triple-A. The 22-year-old put his skill on display in Iowa, posting a .333/.417/.542 line (38/53 BB/K, 9 HR) over his final 264 AB. Offensively, Candelario is clearly good enough for an extended MLB trial now, and certainly young enough to grow into a position over the long haul. Expect AL clubs to inquire this off-season—and the loaded Cubs to listen. 

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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.