Each week, Baseball Press will be providing some "under the radar" fantasy players for NL-only leagues, AL-only leagues and mixed leagues. We'll review the diamonds in the rough on the waiver wire that might help you boost your fantasy team in 2012.
Under the Radar - Mixed Leagues
Friday April 13th, 2012
With all of the unpredictable injuries and job changes, many fantasy owners are looking to the waiver wire for help in getting their season started off right. Whether you need saves, strikeouts, or even if you're chasing wins, this season's first edition of players has you covered.
*Owned percentages via Yahoo!
Alejandro De Aza - OF, Chicago White Sox (46% owned)
While 28 year-old White Sox outfielder Alejandro De Aza could be considered a late-bloomer as a big league hitter, he's still a very interesting fantasy option in 2012. In regular playing time late last season, De Aza hit .329 with 12 stolen bases in 152 at-bats and carried that momentum over into a starting job as the White Sox starting centerfielder and leadoff hitter this year. De Aza's minor league numbers suggest that he could be an above-average offense contributor by providing a .300 average and 20-plus stolen bases, though it's doubtful he'll club more than just a few home runs. However, De Aza could score a lot of runs if Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn can succeed as run producers this year, and the Dominican native has already been a hot pickup early in the year.
Jeff Samardzija - SP, Chicago Cubs (38% owned)
Former Notre Dame football great and current Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija chose professional baseball over football and, through 2010, it appeared he might've made a questionable choice. In 81 2/3 innings over parts of three big league seasons, Samardzija's ERA was an awful 5.95. However, a strong 2011 season in the Cubs bullpen led to a 2.97 ERA and a career-best 8.9 strikeouts-per-nine-innings (K/9) rate in 75 appearances, giving some hope for his future as a big leaguer. This year, Samardzija made the Cubs starting rotation and, perhaps building upon his strong minor league career as a starter, looks primed to have a big season. In his first start this year, Samardzija locked down a victory by going 8 2/3 innings with 8 strikeouts and three runs allowed (one earned). More importantly, he allowed just four hits and zero walks. Jeff has excellent stuff but can be erratic in allowing walks and leaving easy pitches for hitters, so he's far from a sure thing this season, but fantasy owners looking for strikeouts and upside should certainly consider him.
Lance Lynn - SP, St. Louis Cardinals (31% owned)
While he's not particularly well known outside of St. Louis, 24 year-old Cardinals pitcher Lance Lynn is already off to a very good start in 2012 and could be a fantasy factor. Lynn was a key bullpen arm for the Cards' 2011 championship run and posted a 3.12 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP with 40 strikeouts in just 34 2/3 innings with the big club last season, but still generated little fantasy buzz on most draft days this year. He was the 39th overall pick in the 2009 amateur draft but, due to some struggles in the high minors, wasn't considered a top prospect when he debuted last year. However, his major league success speaks for itself and, after a 6 2/3 inning, 8 strikeout, 1 run allowed victory in his first start of 2012, he could be well on his way to a big performance in his first full season with the Cardinals.
Adam LaRoche - 1B, Washington Nationals (30% owned)
Despite being well known for his poor career numbers in the first halves of big league seasons, Nationals infielder Adam LaRoche is worth a look for fantasy owners seaching for offensive output from the first base position. When healthy, LaRoche's full-season numbers have been remarkably consistent since he became a full-time player seven years ago, and if you disregard the injury-shortened 43 game season he posted in 2011, his career averages between 2005 and 2010 are 25 home runs, 87 RBI, a .271 batting mark, and a .340 on-base percentage (OBP). What is remarkable, though, is that in those six seasons he never hit less than .259, and never hit fewer than 20 home runs. In the past, if a fantasy owner was willing to ride out LaRoche's meager pre-July batting average and on-base mark, one would be rewarded with solid overall numbers. Now, in 2012, he is off to a hot start and is already 10 for 29 at the plate (a .345 average) with a pair of home runs and 8 RBI as Washington's cleanup hitter. Any fantasy owner in need of a first baseman or corner infielder with a solid big league hitting resume should certainly try to get LaRoche before he's no longer available.
J.D. Martinez - OF, Houston Astros (31% owned)
A big part of fantasy baseball is finding lesser-known hitters on poor teams who are forced into important playing time and thrive with their opportunity. Astros outfielder J.D. Martinez certainly matches this description, and the 24 year-old outfielder is making the most of his chances. Martinez appears entrenched as the Astros' number three hitter and starting leftfielder, and after a solid 206 at-bat debut in 2011, the Florida native appears ready to put up a good offensive season. Martinez completely skipped Triple-A ball, but had remarkable numbers during his time on the farm and batted .342 with a .958 on-base-plus-slugging (OPS) mark in 1,118 minor league at-bats. His power numbers are not ideal for a corner outfielder (he also played first base in the minor leagues) and he would be fortunate to reach 20 long balls as a big leaguer, but a .300 average with 15 to 18 or so homers is possible, especially since he seems to have adjusted nicely to big league opposition. He could have something of a breakout year this season and may be a nice addition to a fantasy bench. Martinez hit .360 in 50 at-bats against lefthanded pitching last season, so he might make an excellent spot-starter against southpaws too.
David Murphy - OF, Texas Rangers (17% owned)
Since 2008, Rangers outfielder David Murphy has sometimes proven himself to be a viable fantasy player, mainly for his ability to play all three outfield spots and provide decent numbers in all standard five-by-five fantasy categories. His major pitfall has been his inability to hit lefthanded pitching, as evidenced by his .215 hitting mark against southpaws in 2011 (against a .296 average versus righthanders). From 2008 to 2011, Murphy has averaged a .277 hitting line with 14 homers, 60 RBI, and 10 stolen bases per year, all while serving mainly as a platoon or part-time hitter and getting an average of 418 at-bats per season. He's prone to hot and cold streaks, but when he's hitting like he has to start off the 2012 campaign he's an excellent guy to slot in against righthanded pitching. Playing in the potent Rangers offense is helpful too, and Murphy is a solid outfield option off of most mixed league fantasy benches.
Fernando Rodney - RP, Tampa Bay Rays (54% owned)
With regular closer Kyle Farnsworth out of commission for an undetermined amount of time, the Tampa Bay Rays' closing duties were up for grabs earlier this season and have since been gamely seized by former Angels reliever Fernando Rodney. Rodney has had some experience closing games throughout his career but has usually proven too erratic to be relied on much as a ninth inning option. However, he has gotten off to a very quick start in 2012 and has already recorded three saves and a win in his four appearances. While Farnsworth may soon return to the team and take back his job, any fantasy team in a league where Rodney isn't on a roster should pick him up immediately.
Hector Santiago - RP, Chicago White Sox (56% owned)
The surprising off-season trade of last year's White Sox closer Sergio Santos opened a door for a new Chicago stopper in 2012, and after weeks of indecision by manager Robin Ventura, the club appears to be committing to the surprising choice of lefthander Hector Santiago. Santiago won the job over more experienced and/or hyped players in the Sox bullpen, but has fared well in his role and could be one of the more interesting stories of the new season. The 24 year-old's pitching repertoire features a fastball that can touch the upper-90s, and a screwball, which he learned from former big leaguer Angel Miranda while converting from reliever to starter in the White Sox minor league system. His new pitch and success as a starter helped him reach the big leagues straight from Double-A last year, but it's difficult to predict how long he'll be able to succeed at such a high level. Regardless, he is currently collecting saves for the White Sox, which makes him worth a pickup in any fantasy format.
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