Fantasy Focus: Utility Bench Guys

Fantasy focus is your semi-regular fantasy baseball advice, often with a Nationals tint. This week we take a look at some creative ways to use your bench.

A fantasy baseball bench is tricky. There are a number of uses for a fantasy bench: off-day fill-ins, emergency replacements, a place to stash extra injured players or not-yet-called-up rookies, or spaces for extra starting pitchers. However, most leagues only give a couple spots for those all-important backups, not nearly enough for a fantasy owner to have all of his or her bases covered. So what’s a fantasy owner to do?

My suggestion: fill a spot with a utility player. Not an actual utility player mind you, the Steve Lombardozzis and Kevin Frandsens of the world won’t be much of an asset to your fantasy squad, but a player who gets regular at-bats, but has eligibility at multiple positions. The number of these players will vary based on your league’s rules, but for my money one of the best, especially in deeper leagues, is Nats second/third baseman Yunel Escobar.

Admittedly this isn’t the best timing after Escobar exited the Nats game Monday with hand lacerations, but he should be fine soon and he can provide some good fill-in value to owners. With shortstop being his primary position before this year and him already making 18 starts at third base he should have eligibility at both positions and could add second base to his resume once Anthony Rendon returns. Now he’s not a good enough fantasy player to be an everyday starter, he’ll only touch double digit home runs and he won’t steal, but that doesn’t mean he’s useless.

His best asset is his playing time, Escobar will start every game for the Nationals when healthy and you don’t want your off-day fill-in having an off-day when you need him. Escobar also makes a ton of contact, which should give him a solid batting average and a decent on-base and slugging percentage for leagues that include those numbers. Plus, his early season usage suggests that he’s the first backup for plate appearances in the one or two spots in the lineup if Denard Span or Rendon are out, which could gain him some extra runs.

All together Escobar can give an owner a lot of flexibility for the cost of only one bench spot. That leaves plenty of room for a stash or an extra pitcher, while still being comfortable in case a guy has to miss a day or two. Escobar is only owned in 4.8 percent of ESPN leagues, so he should be easily available in your league. Unless it’s the Citizens of Natstown fantasy league, because I already own him there.

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