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 27th, 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 edition of players has you covered.
*Owned percentages via Yahoo!
Jose Altuve - 2B, Houston Astros (50% owned)
Astros infielder Jose Altuve may be just five-foot five, but his play this year has been gigantic. Altuve smacked a career-high four hits in the Houston's road win against the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday, bringing his season average up to .377 and giving him 9 multi-hit games in his 18 games this season. Red-hot hitting is not unusual for the 21 year-old Venezuelan native, however, as he hit .389 in 357 total minor league at-bats in 2011, including an amazing .408 mark for High-A Lancaster. He bypassed Triple-A completely in his ascension to the Astros starting second base job, but the skipped step has done little to slow his hitting. Altuve had mixed reactions from scouts on the farm and profiled as just Houston's 28th best up-and-comer in Baseball America's 2011 Prospect Handbook, but he could be a valuable fantasy commodity this season. While he doesn't have elite speed, Altuve is a skilled baserunner and has already stolen 11 bases in 74 career big league games. He hit out of Houston's number two spot on Wednesday and, if he stays there, could also score a lot of runs this year.
Barry Zito - SP, San Francisco Giants (36% owned)
While Giants starting pitcher Barry Zito's complete game shutout to open the year earned him online praise and a selection in our April 12th AL/NL Under the Radar piece, it was easy to write off the veteran's outing as an outlier or a fluke in his otherwise mediocre (but highly-paid) career with San Francisco. However, Zito has now turned in very good outings in his first four starts of the season and will enter his next game with a 1.67 ERA, a 0.93 WHIP, and opponents hitting just .186 against him. The 33 year-old's positive performance could be attributed to a significant change in his pitch selection, and data from Fangraphs confirms that he's throwing remarkably few fastballs, many more sliders, and has become less dependent on his sometimes dominant curveball. Unlike past seasons, he now often goes long pitch sequences without tossing his signature curve, a move that has put hitters understandably off-balance. Lack of run support and blown leads by the bullpen leave him at just a 1-0 win-loss mark thus far, but with an upcoming nine-game homestand, he should have a couple of opportunities to continue his strong start. He won't post big strikeout numbers, but it's impossible to ignore his success at this point.
Alcides Escobar - SS, Kansas City Royals (29% owned)
Defensive wizard and Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar was one of the Milwaukee Brewers' top prospects when he secured his job as a starter to open the 2010 campaign, but in a pair of seasons starting for the Brewers and Royals he hit just .245 with a .289 on-base percentage- a big disappointment when compared to the near-.300 hitting mark he posted as a minor leaguer. However, starting in June of last season Escobar showed improvement and, from June 1st on, he batted .274 with 21 stolen bases and 8 triples. That improvement seems to have carried over into 2012, and Escobar enters play on Friday with a .286 average and 4 steals. He lacks home run power but it was not long ago that the 25 year-old was a near-lock for a string of .300 average and 25 to 30 steal seasons, numbers that could prove very useful in any fantasy league. Some skepticism is natural, but if Escobar has turned a corner he could be a great source of help in the middle infield.
Allen Craig - 2B/OF, St. Louis Cardinals (25% owned)
Cardinals infielder/outfielder Allen Craig made a strong impression last season by hitting .315 with 11 home runs in just 200 regular season at-bats and then smacking 3 home runs in the World Series against Texas. However, after off-season knee surgery and a lengthy recovery schedule that would make him miss all of spring training and part of the 2012 season, many fantasy owners forgot about him. Some owners stashed him on the disabled list to begin the year, but since he's not a big name he is still available in many leagues. Craig had a string of .300 average and 20-plus home run seasons as a minor leaguer and even hit .320 with 14 homers and 81 RBI in just 83 games on the farm in 2010. His multiple position eligibility boosts his fantasy value even more and, since he has already begun a minor league rehab assignment and is due to return to the club early next week, now is the time to add him.
Jarrod Parker - SP, Oakland Athletics (18% owned)
Young starting pitcher Jarrod Parker had a lot of hype leading up to his Oakland A's debut on Wednesday night, but many fantasy owners still appear ignorant to his potential. His ownership percentage should shoot up over the next few weeks, and for good reason. Parker was the ninth overall selection in the 2007 amateur draft and has been a top prospect since that time, even after missing all of 2010 due to Tommy John surgery. He was traded from Arizona to Oakland as part of a multi-player deal this past off-season and impressed his new club with a 2.18 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 20 1/3 innings (4 starts) for Triple-A Sacramento to open the year. Parker pitches in the mid-90's with movement, and he can dial up his power stuff when necessary, but his success since a so-so early part of the 2011 season has come from his improved changeup and biting slider. He has had some control issues in the past, but his incredibly high ceiling warrants a pickup in nearly any fantasy league.
Nate Schierholtz - OF, San Francisco Giants (16% owned)
Giants outfielder Nate Schierholtz made his big league debut back in 2007 but has rarely been much of a factor in the fantasy baseball world. He made his biggest fantasy impact last season when he logged a career-high 335 at-bats and had career-high statistics nearly across the board, including 9 home runs and 41 RBI, along with a .278 average. He's spent most of his MLB service time as a fourth outfielder or part-time player but increased production has led to more playing time and the 28 year-old is making the most of it in 2012. Schierholtz enters play on Friday with a .291 average and 3 home runs in just 55 at-bats. He also has 3 triples this year, a credit to his underrated speed and athleticism. The Nevada native was a consistent producer in the minors and routinely hit over .300 with 15 to 18 home runs and plenty of extra base hits. He lacks the typical home run power that most clubs want from a corner outfielder, and he often sits against lefthanded starters, but when he is in the middle of the Giants lineup, Schierholtz can provide solid production as a fourth, fifth, or fill-in fantasy outfielder.
Francisco Cordero - RP, Toronto Blue Jays (57% owned)
Blue Jays pitcher Sergio Santos' time as the club's closer has been plagued by injury, absence, and inconsistent play, and this week the worst of it struck when he was placed on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation. He is expect to miss at least four weeks, and former big league closer Francisco Cordero has been tabbed to fill in for the Jays in the ninth inning until he returns. Cordero has 329 career saves and has extensive experience as a stopper, but his pitch velocity and effectiveness has waned since his 2009 All-Star campaign. His strikeout numbers have declined and he still allows more baserunners than a fantasy owner wants, but as long as he has the job in Toronto he belongs on a roster in nearly any fantasy league.
Pedro Strop - RP, Baltimore Orioles (7% owned)
Baltimore closer Jim Johnson appears to have caught the worst of a flu virus swirling around the Orioles clubhouse and, as a result, he has been out of several games in the last week. Closing duties could have fallen to veteran relievers Matt Lindstrom or Kevin Gregg (both have worked as closers in the past) but instead, 26 year-old righthander Pedro Strop has been the chosen one. Strop nailed down saves in back-to-back games on April 24th and 25th and has proven to be a steal since coming over to the O's in a trade for fellow reliever Mike Gonzalez last season. His fastball clocks in the mid to high 90's and he has managed to limit the control issues that plagued him earlier in his career, and that has led to an excellent stat line of 14 strikeouts and just 12 baserunners in 12 innings this year. Johnson will still be the top closer option when he is healthy, but should he falter, get injured, or miss further time due to illness. Strop looks like he'll be the guy in line for Baltimore. Owners in need of saves should monitor Johnson's health and act accordingly.
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