Fantasy baseball waiver wire: Don't overlook Colton Cowser

Colton Cowser of the Baltimore Orioles has been relatively forgotten among all the recent Holliday spirit. Getty Images

OK, so Jackson Holliday's first five days in the big leagues were anything but special and, in fact, they were pretty darned bad, as he became only the fifth player in the past decade to strike out multiple times in each of his first four career games -- Domingo Santana (2014), Bobby Dalbec (2020), Liover Peguero (2022-23), Wade Meckler (2023).

To be clear about one thing upfront: Be patient, particularly if you sank a hefty investment into Holliday. Four games does neither a season nor career make, and the only shred of a negative to his story thus far is that the Baltimore Orioles are loaded with young talent all over the diamond -- they're the effective 2024 version of the 2023 Cincinnati Reds -- so if the rookie's slump extends for weeks, they can't afford to be too patient, especially not with their goal being an AL East title.

Among that young talent is Colton Cowser, emerging as an everyday outfielder thus far after having endured a horrific start to his big league career in 2023.

Cowser, who made the Opening Day roster on the heels of a .304/.418/.717, 6-HR, 13-RBI spring stat line in 18 games, played sparingly over the season's first 12 days, yet went a promising 5-for-11 (.455 BA) with a pair of doubles. It was enough to earn him a place in the April 9 starting lineup, a game in which he went 2-for-4 with two more doubles, four RBI and 0.269 WPA (Win Probability Added, which estimates to what degree a hitter's contribution in that game changed his team's prospects to win, meaning his was worth more than one-quarter of a win), the latter being the fifth-best single-game performance by any Orioles hitter this season.

That was plenty to begin earning Cowser regular starts, generally in place of slow-starting, yet historically respectable outfielder Austin Hays. Since then, Cowser has hit safely in all six games, totaling four doubles, four homers, 12 RBI and two steals. Most encouraging was that Cowser even drew a start against a left-hander (former teammate and now Brewer DL Hall) on Saturday, and had a single in his two at-bats against Hall.

This is the challenge for the Orioles, as they need to maximize every lineup position and, with the amount of depth they have throughout the offense, playing Cowser regularly so long as he remains productive makes plenty of sense. He's a lifetime .305/.427/.518 hitter against righties as a professional -- that includes his awful stint with the big club last year -- while the aforementioned Hays is a .257/.308/.421 career MLB hitter against righties. So, at the very least, merely a straight platoon role between the two makes sense.

Fantasy managers have begun to catch on, adding Cowser in 37.7% of ESPN leagues over the past week to boost his roster percentage to 40.3%, though that still pales in comparison to Holliday's 70.9% roster percentage (up 27.7% in the past week).

A slight adjustment that Cowser made during the offseason might've unlocked his full potential -- which, by the way, earned him Kiley McDaniel's No. 30 overall prospect ranking entering 2023. Cowser's batting stance now has him with his hands further from his body, allowing him to be more relaxed and capable of handling breaking and offspeed pitches. He's already 6-for-15 (.400 BA) with two of his doubles and one of his home runs against breaking and offspeed stuff.

As has been the case with many prospects in the past, however, Cowser seems to be putting it together in Year No. 2 after similar early struggles to Holliday's initially. There's no reason Cowser's roster rate shouldn't be closer to Holliday's.

Deeper league pickups

Max Meyer, SP, Miami Marlins (13.6% rostered): Initially just a fill-in for the Marlins while both Edward Cabrera and Braxton Garrett healed, Meyer looks like he has legitimate staying power in Miami's rotation following three outstanding starts. He's third in the majors in whiff rate -- the percentage of opposing hitters' swings that resulted in a flat-out miss -- at 36.9%, fueled by a slider he throws roughly half the time and that has been responsible for 12 out of his 14 K's.

Meyer's latest outing was a quality start, seven-strikeout gem against the Atlanta Braves. Cabrera and Garrett are each either one or two more rotation turns away from being ready for activation, so we'll see where they fit into the team's plans, but A.J. Puk and Ryan Weathers now look much more likely to be the ones sent to the bullpen as opposed to Meyer.

Yariel Rodriguez, RP, Toronto Blue Jays (3.8%): A 27-year-old from Cuba who was only lightly used during spring training and in two season-opening starts for Triple-A Buffalo, Rodriguez was summoned for a Saturday start after Bowden Francis failed to impress in his first two turns of 2024. Rodriguez struck out six of the 16 Colorado Rockies hitters he faced while limiting their offense to just one run in 3⅔ IP, which is probably enough to keep him in the Blue Jays rotation for an extended period of time.

Bear in mind, though, that the matchup was one of the best he could have faced for a major league debut, meaning it's best to monitor him for another turn or two before slotting him in for mixed leagues.

Kirby Yates, RP, Texas Rangers (2.0%): Rangers manager Bruce Bochy announced on Friday that Jose Leclerc, who has a 12.00 ERA while being scored upon in four of his six appearances, has been removed from the closer role. That opens things up for either the extensively experienced David Robertson or Yates.

Yates is the one much more widely available -- Robertson is claimed in 18.4% of ESPN leagues -- and he's the one who finished off the Rangers' Friday victory after Robertson had pitched the eighth inning. Yates has closer experience as well, having led the majors with 41 saves in 2019, as well as an elite combination of four-seam fastball and splitter that should lead to success, if he's granted the role.

Feel free to cut: Leclerc (36.1%), Puk (24.9%), Tanner Scott (59.5%), Hunter Brown (56.6%).