You can’t ask for a much more favorable Week 11 schedule than the one the Atlanta Braves draw. They begin with three road games against a Detroit Tigers team that has lost nine in a row, then return home to host a Colorado Rockies team that is third-worst in the league with an 11-21 road record.
There are numerous Braves players worth adding for these seven days ahead, but one of them in particular had a stellar first big league start and is well worth the long-term investment. He leads Monday’s list of recommended pickups.
AJ Smith-Shawver, SP, Braves: Among this season’s fastest-ascending prospects, Smith-Shawver made his first pro-career start for high Class A Rome on April 16, and his first MLB start just 54 days later, limiting the Washington Nationals to two unearned runs and three hits over 5 1/3 innings work on Friday. His underlying metrics weren’t eye-popping as only 2-of-43 four-seam fastballs he threw hit 95 mph or faster and he generated only four swings and misses (and one strikeout) with his slider. Still, they hinted at some of the elite potential he possesses, particularly with those two specific pitches.
As a two-sport high school standout with only five starts worth of experience in Class A ball, Smith-Shawver has plenty of room for growth. There’s a reason he’s sometimes compared to his new rotation-mate Spencer Strider. That said, I’ll point out how extraordinarily unfair a comp that is, and most of it simply ties to the rookie’s swift ascent through the Braves’ minor league system.
Injuries to both Max Fried and Kyle Wright have created long-term opportunity in the Braves rotation, and Smith-Shawver appeared to be up to the task in his first two big league appearances (counting his 2 1/3 shutout relief innings on June 4). He’ll next face the Tigers — baseball’s worst team against right-handed pitchers in terms of wOBA (.283) — on Wednesday at Comerica Park, a matchup fantasy managers need to exploit.
Ryan Noda, 1B, Oakland Athletics: How very “Baseball!” is it that the Athletics, whose 12 wins through their first 62 games of the season tied for the second-fewest in the modern era, have since won five in a row? It’s hardly a streak that should be expected to last, especially with the Tampa Bay Rays and Philadelphia Phillies (winners in seven of their last eight) up next. Yes, the Athletics could be teed up for an 0-7 week. Still, the team has been getting solid performances from unexpected sources, with Noda as prominent as any.
In case you haven’t noticed — and judging by the attendance, you haven’t — Noda is currently leading the league with a 19.8% walk rate, his .410 OBP is fourth among qualifiers, and he’s 11th in wRC+ (weighted Runs Created plus, which adjusts the Runs Created category for ballpark and league environment). He also possesses one of the game’s keenest eyes, his 17.7% chase rate being seventh-best, which is why the Athletics have regularly slotted him second in their lineup.
In ESPN standard leagues, Noda might not seem relevant enough and, certainly, first base is deep enough that you might already be set there. But in anything deeper, or if you’re in a pinch at that spot, he’s well worth the pickup for the foreseeable future. Noda, after all, has mashed 51 of his 61 homers between the majors and minors since 2021 against right-handers, and his Athletics are set to face six (and possibly seven) righties during fantasy’s Week 11. In fact, Oakland’s next six opponents have a combined 26-of-30 righties in their rotations and, among the lefties, they’re scheduled to miss Shane McClanahan (Rays) and Ranger Suarez (Phillies) in those series.
Bryan De La Cruz, OF, Miami Marlins: While the De La Cruz in Cincinnati was generating headlines during the past week, it was the one in Miami who has become a beneath-the-radar pickup in fantasy baseball. By the way, at least from my research, they are not related!
Never really considered much of a prospect at the time of his 2021 arrival with the Marlins, Bryan has shown incremental improvement in both of his subsequent seasons in the majors, and he’s been a .343/.415/.598 hitter with six home runs and 24 RBI over his last 27 games to emerge as the Marlins’ regular No. 3 (or sometimes No. 2) hitter. His improvement against breaking pitches this season — his .321 wOBA against them represents a 40-point boost of his 2022 number — has played a big part in his offensive breakthrough.