Fantasy baseball waiver wire: Top pickups with Mookie Betts out

Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports

Sunday's news that Los Angeles Dodgers leadoff hitter and 2023 runner-up in the National League MVP race Mookie Betts suffered a fractured left hand after being hit by pitch, an injury that will cost him multiple weeks, is devastating to his fantasy baseball managers. That's especially true considering the extreme bad luck we've been seeing with first-rounders thus far in 2024.

Betts, the No. 2 player selected on average in ESPN standard leagues, and No. 5 in NFBC Main Event leagues in the week leading up to Opening Day, now joins Atlanta Braves teammates Ronald Acuna Jr. (picked first on average) and Spencer Strider (fourth and second in those respective formats) on the sidelines. Those two were lost for the season, however, while Betts fortunately should appear again in 2024.

Betts' fantasy production will prove similarly difficult to replace, as he's seventh in scoring with 250 points and 11th on the Player Rater (rotisserie scoring). That put him on a 555-point pace, which would've been his third-best season total, within 19 of his 2023 total and his sixth season of at least 500 points. A shorter-term absence, certainly one shy of season-ending, at least enhances those odds, considering the streaky nature of this game in small samples.

Finding a comparable -- or at least remotely within range -- performer is the tricky part, especially since most of those closest to a 500-point or top-10-roto potential impact are heavily rostered everywhere. About the only players who fit the description with a rest-of-season projection and/or upside that would land within range and are available in at least 25% of ESPN leagues are Riley Greene (available in 28.2%), Christopher Morel (35.4%) and Wyatt Langford (62.0%).

What's especially tough in Betts' case is his position flexibility, being a fantasy superstar who qualifies at outfield, shortstop and second base. There have been only 32 players of any caliber who have appeared in at least 20 games at each of those positions in a season, and none had close to Betts' résumé. Tommy Edman, Marwin Gonzalez and Ben Zobrist were among the few who were clearly fantasy-relevant.

Jackson Merrill (37.6% rostered) might be the closest, and therefore most comparable, substitute for Betts' ESPN standard league managers. As a shortstop prospect who settled into center field for the 2024 San Diego Padres, he carries dual eligibility that's similarly difficult to find. Merrill is batting .289/.315/.596 with four home runs and two stolen bases in 15 games in June, possessing a combination of batting average, speed and decent pop that would make him a strong fit.

Beyond that, it's best to split up the prospective replacements into each of Betts' eligible positions, meaning you'll merely need to make do with a single-position sub at the place where you had most recently used Betts.

Outfield replacement: Andrew Vaughn, Chicago White Sox

Vaughn, available in 89.8% of ESPN leagues, would be one of the week's top pickups regardless of Betts' injury status, as he is one of the few White Sox hitters doing much of anything of late. He's a .364/.386/.673 hitter with five home runs in 13 games thus far in June and has been seeing the majority of his time batting out of the second and cleanup spots in the lineup, in part because of a lack of great alternatives on the roster.

Interestingly enough, that coincides with Vaughn's return from a sprained left ring finger, an injury that cost him three games around the beginning of the month. If there's one good thing that can be said about the injury it's that it seemed to shake him from what had at the time been a season-long funk. Little in Vaughn's statistical profile appears to have changed, however, other than a hint more aggressiveness (49.1% swing rate, up from 47.8% from March through May) and a return to form of his previous success against four-seam fastballs (.300 BA, 62.5% hard hit, up from .196 and 41.7%).

Other candidates: Ryan O'Hearn, Lane Thomas, Andy Pages.

Shortstop replacement: David Hamilton, Boston Red Sox

Beyond Merrill, Hamilton is one of the stronger pickups at shortstop, with the benefit of giving his rotisserie managers at least a short-term boost in terms of stolen bases. Those who watched Sunday Night Baseball saw Hamilton's speed in action, as his four steals against the New York Yankees helped the Red Sox set a franchise record with nine steals total in the game. Hamilton is available in 91.4% of leagues.

Hamilton's good selectivity -- he'd be in the 90th percentile or better in chase rate (20.4%) if he had the requisite at-bats to qualify -- helps keep his batting average stable, and Statcast grades him with 90th percentile sprint speed (28.9 feet per second). In the past month, he has started 23 of 29 Red Sox games, batted .333/.375/.533 with three home runs and 14 of his 18 total stolen bases for the season.

Other candidates: Ezequiel Tovar, Willi Castro, Ceddanne Rafaela.

Second base replacement: Nick Gonzales, Pittsburgh Pirates

This is probably the toughest of Betts' three eligible positions to fill. Gonzales, available in 81.9% of leagues, is worth a look, at least if you didn't add players who were previously recommended in this space (Nolan Gorman, Joey Ortiz). Selected seventh overall in the 2020 amateur draft, Gonzales' prospect star has fallen considerably short of where it was at the time of said selection, but he has carved out a respectable, regular role in the Pirates' middle infield this season.

Gonzales has delivered 11 multi-hit performances in his past 25 games, batting .330/.358/.510 with three home runs and 20 RBIs while playing all but one Pirates game in that time. Though he can certainly stand to be more patient at the plate -- he swings at non-strikes 36.4% of the time -- that hot performance even earned him a pair of starts in the No. 3 lineup spot over the weekend. Gonzales' barrel (11.6%) and hard-hit rates (44.2%) are plenty encouraging, meaning he could deliver some sneaky-good, short-term production as you await Betts' return.

Other candidates: Brendan Donovan, Jorge Mateo, Tyler Freeman.

Feel free to cut

Abraham Toro (23.3% rostered), Gleyber Torres (62.2%), Ryan Jeffers (61.6%), Brady Singer (65.0%), Kyle Bradish (56.7%).