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 May 4th, 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 homers, steals, saves, strikeouts, or even wins, this edition of players has you covered.
*Owned percentages via Yahoo!
David Robertson - RP, New York Yankees (58% owned)
Due to the season (and possibly career) ending ACL injury to Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, mentioning his successor David Robertson might seem too obvious for an "under the radar" piece, but he still necessitates a writeup and any owner in any fantasy league who may have missed the news needs to immediately rush to the waiver wire and see if Robertson is available for a pickup. David is off to a flawless start this season and was baseball's top setup man last year with a 1.08 ERA and 100 strikeouts in 66 2/3 innings pitched. Also, despite the pressure of replacing a legend like Rivera, his consistent dominance over opposing hitters is likely to continue as he transitions into a ninth inning stopper. Robertson's ownership percentage will skyrocket this weekend, and he could become one of the league's top closers by the end of the year.
Jed Lowrie - 3B/SS, Houston Astros (28% owned)
It wasn't long ago that Astros infielder Jed Lowrie was a bright prospect for the Boston Red Sox, particularly after an impressive 2007 minor league campaign where he hit .298 with a .393 on-base average and 13 home runs. After that, he failed to really succeed as a big leaguer and his Red Sox career was derailed by injuries and inconsistency at the plate. However, a move to the Astros this year has put him back on the fantasy radar, and he enters play on Friday with a .329 average, a .427 on-base percentage, and multiple hits in 6 of his last 9 games. Though he's not a big home run slugger, Lowrie is capable of 15 home runs in a season and is hitting near the middle of the Astros lineup, so he could post solid run and RBI numbers and be a very valuable middle or corner infield asset for fantasy owners this year.
Will Middlebrooks - 3B, Boston Red Sox (12% owned)
As we mentioned in our latest Clinical Notes article, Boston third baseman Kevin Youkilis was injured over the weekend and the void at third base could possibly be filled by top prospect Will Middlebrooks. On Wednesday, that's exactly what happened and Middlebrooks was promoted when Youkilis was placed on the disabled list. Baseball America ranked the 23 year-old as the organization's top prospect entering 2012 and, after hitting .285 with 23 total home runs and 10 total steals for three different minor league clubs last year, he was off to a red-hot start at Triple-A this year (.333 with 9 home runs in 24 games). Though not as hyped as some other recent 2012 big league call-ups, Will is a superb athlete with a great arm and enormous offensive upside. He's aggressive at the plate and is just now tapping into his all-fields power, and he even kicks in some stolen bases from time to time. He doesn't draw many walks, but there's very little not to like about the Texas-born prospect. Of Middlebrooks' 416 minor league games, only 136 have been above Single-A ball, so there will certainly be some learning adjustments with the Red Sox, but he was 2 for 3 with a steal in his first game and overall he's worth a pickup in just about any mixed fantasy league.
Gerardo Parra - OF, Arizona Diamondbacks (34% owned)
Injuries in the Arizona Diamondbacks outfield helped 24 year-old Gerardo Parra get a mention in our April 18th AL/NL Only Under the Radar article, but his continued production while leading off for the club has earned him a spot in this piece too. Parra has seized most of the playing time vacated by injured centerfielder Chris Young, and he enters play on Friday with a .256 average, 15 runs scored, and an impressive 8 stolen bases. He posted solid across-the-board numbers in 493 plate appearances last year by hitting .292 with a .357 on-base mark, 20 doubles, 8 triples, 8 home runs, and 15 stolen bases. As long as he has a spot in the batting order, he can provide those same across-the-board stats for fantasy owners, particularly those in need of stolen bases.
Tony Campana - OF, Chicago Cubs (13% owned)
Cubs outfielder Tony Campana was another basestealing threat was featured in last week's AL/NL Under the Radar piece, and the speedster has spent that week continuing to swipe big league bases. Campana starts Friday with 7 stolen bases in just 11 games and it looks like more are on the way. Campana is also hitting .344 in 36 plate appearances and has been getting significant playing time for the team ever since they traded struggling veteran Marlon Byrd. The 25 year-old is not a highly-touted prospect and, despite a .303 career minor league batting average, it appears that his only sure asset is his speed. Tony swiped 24 bases in just 155 plate appearances last season has some staggering minor league steal totals, so while he may be a one-category helper, he's among the best at it. He probably won't maintain a .300 average all year, but if your fantasy team needs steals and he's in the Cubs starting lineup, he should be in your lineup too (be sure to check our daily lineups page to make sure).
Chris Capuano - SP, Los Angeles Dodgers (29% owned)
Oft-injured lefthanded pitcher Chris Capuano has certainly resurrected his career in the last couple of years, and he now appears to be as good or better than he was in his best big league campaigns over a half-decade ago. Of his four big league seasons with 150 or more innings pitched, 2011 was Capuano's best with regard to his strikeouts-per-nine-innings (K/9) rate (at 8.1) and he's set to eclipse that so far in 2012. He's often appeared dominant for the Dodgers this year (particularly in his last outing against Bryce Harper and the Nationals) and he enters his May 5th start against the Cubs with a 2.73 ERA, 29 strikeouts in 29 2/3 innings pitched, and a 3-0 win-loss record. One of the keys to Capuano's success throughout his career has been the stellar command of his changeup, but his breaking balls have had extra bite this year and his fastball is up a few ticks from where it was two years ago when he returned from his second Tommy John surgery. Chris has had a lot of ups and downs for a player who is just 33 years old, but if he can remain healthy this year he could certainly be a great asset as an end-of-the-rotation fantasy starter.
Drew Smyly - SP, Detroit Tigers (21% owned)
The Detroit Tigers have certainly proven that they like to fast-track their pitching prospects to the big leagues, and so far in 2012 it's paid off big for the team and lefthanded starting pitcher Drew Smyly. The 22 year-old entered the season as the club's number three prospect (according to Baseball America) and despite just 23 minor league games (and just 9 above Single-A ball) since leaving the University of Arkansas as a draft-eligible sophomore in 2010, he's had little trouble as a major league hurler. His consistent mechanics, solid off-speed stuff, and strong command of a low-90's fastball has helped him post a 1.23 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 22 innings entering his May 4th start versus the Chicago White Sox. He has worked six innings in each of his last three starts, but hasn't gone past that either. He'll likely work deeper into games as the season moves along, which will help his win totals and possibly prove whether or not he is capable of continuing his success. There's not much to examine as far as past performance, but Smyly is one of baseball's hotter young pitchers right now and savvy fantasy owners should ride his strong play until he gives a solid reason not to.
Anthony Bass - SP, San Diego Padres (16% owned)
Padres righthander Anthony Bass ranked as just the 28th best prospect in the Padres organization entering 2012 (per Baseball America) and appeared to be on his way to a role as a middle reliever in 2012. However, further development of his changeup and improved command of his low-90's fastball have helped him miss a lot more bats this season and, after a pair of relief outings, he made his first big league start on April 12th. In 48 1/3 innings for the Padres last year, Bass struck out just 24 hitters, but this year, the 24 year-old has whiffed 27 batters in just 27 1/3 innings and even took a perfect game into the sixth inning of his most recent start against the San Francisco Giants. While his mechanics are somewhat sloppy and he's not a particularly dynamic young prospect, Bass has always had a knack for posting good numbers and his 3.01 minor league ERA (in 370 2/3 innings) and 1.90 MLB ERA (in 75 2/3 innings) should be proof enough by now that he belongs on many fantasy rosters, at least when making a start at pitcher-friendly Petco Park.
Scott Downs - RP, Los Angeles Angels (48% owned)
Somewhat surprisingly, young righthander Jordan Walden emerged as an All-Star closer for Los Angeles Angels last season, and the club was understandably confident in his abilities to do the same in 2012. However, Walden's early-season struggles, while certainly not the only problem for the Angels this year, prompted manager Mike Scoscia to make a change and install veteran reliever Scott Downs as the team's new closer. Downs has been a major leaguer since his 2000 debut with the Cubs and has had mixed success, but since 2007 he has posted a 2.10 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP as a late-inning lefthander with the Blue Jays and the Angels. He has filled in as a part-time closer before and has 19 career saves, so he should be able to adequately handle the ninth inning duties for as long as the Angels need him to. Walden will likely return to the role once he can regain his command and limit the number of baserunners he allows, but for now Downs is a strong play in any fantasy format. If he's still available in one's league, he's worth an immediate pickup.
Jon Rauch - RP, New York Mets (8% owned)
Much like Angels hurler Scott Downs, Mets pitcher Jon Rauch has outperformed his team's incumbent closer so far this season. Mets closer Frank Francisco has allowed 8 earned runs in 10 1/3 innings and, though he's blown just one save, Rauch has been better and essentially lights-out with just 3 earned runs and just 9 baserunners allowed in 11 2/3 innings of work. Francisco has proven himself to be a capable late-inning reliever since 2007, but his 3.89 ERA since that year is a clear sign that he may lack the dominance that teams prefer from their stopper. If his struggles continue, it's inevitable that Rauch will get some save opportunities, particularly since he has closed in the past and had 21 saves and a 3.12 ERA for the Twins in 2010. Fantasy teams with roster space could be wise in making a speculative move for Rauch now, or at least monitoring his situation in New York.
Brian Fuentes - RP, Oakland Athletics (7% owned)
Ryan Cook - RP, Oakland Athletics (7% owned)
After years of perseverance and inconsistent results, Australian-born pitcher Grant Balfour established himself as a very competent and sometimes dominant setup man with the Tampa Bay Rays from 2007 to 2010 and with the Oakland A's in 2011, and this success led to his installation as Oakland's closer this year. However, after mostly strong performances, Balfour has had problems lately and has allowed 5 earned runs and recorded just one out in his last two games. These problems may have opened up opportunities for other ninth inning options in Oakland, most notably lefthander Brian Fuentes and righthander Ryan Cook. Not long ago, Fuentes was a closer for the Colorado Rockies and among the best in the game, but his tendency for allowing baserunners and missing the strike zone eventually pushed him to a setup role. Cook is a rookie with just 23 big league appearances, but he has been untouchable this season and has allowed just 2 hits and 7 walks while tallying 13 strikeouts in 12 1/3 innings this year. Balfour appears to still have his job as the closer for now, but should he continue to falter it's likely that Fuentes and/or Cook will get their chances as well. Fantasy owners hunting saves should certainly watch for any developments and, if possible, make a speculative pickup.
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