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 who might help you boost your fantasy team in 2012.
Under the Radar - Mixed Leagues
Friday June 29th, 2012
With all of the unpredictable injuries and job changes of the baseball season, many fantasy owners are looking to the waiver wire for help. Regardless of where help is needed, this edition of UTR can provide you with some players who are still available in most mixed leagues.
*Owned percentages via Yahoo!
Jonathon Niese - SP, New York Mets (44% owned)
With his latest start on Wednesday night, Jonathon Niese may have finally proved himself to all doubters in the fantasy community, so the window to scoop him up in leagues is quickly closing. After a 7 inning, 6 strikeout, 1 run victory against the Cubs, Niese now has a 3.55 ERA and a 6-3 win-loss record this season. Those numbers don't seem like great fantasy assets, but his 85 strikeouts in 88 2/3 innings can't be ignored, and his other so-so stats call all be laid on a couple of awful outings. For example, if you extract his disastrous 3 inning, 8 run start against the Blue Jays on May 18th, Niese's season ERA would be a far more impressive 2.74. Of course, you can't eliminate bad starts completely, but if he can avoid catastrophe games like the one against Toronto last month, he could be a steady source of strikeouts and provide a bit of assistance in all other standard fantasy categories for the rest of the season.
Brandon Belt - 1B/OF, San Francisco Giants (35% owned)
Giants first baseman Brandon Belt was mentioned in our mixed league Under the Radar piece back at the start of the season, but he mostly stumbled out of the gates and failed to live up to the high expectations that he had after several impressive years in the Giants minor league system. Belt also experienced similar struggles in parts of a major league try with San Francisco last year, so it was looking more and more as if the 24 year-old would need more seasoning to find his stroke with the big club. But since the start of June, Belt has emerged as a legitimate major league hitter, tallying a .303 average with 4 home runs (his only long balls of the year), a .413 on-base mark, and 15 RBI. Though he sees the bench whenever teammate Buster Posey is shifted from catcher to first base, Belt's recent performance should be earning more and more faith from his coaches. He's a hot pickup in fantasy leagues right now, and his massive potential means that he could grow even more as a hitter before October.
Jair Jurrjens - SP, Atlanta Braves (30% owned)
A 2.96 ERA in 23 starts last season put Atlanta Braves starter Jair Jurrjens on a lot of fantasy rosters, but an injury forced him to miss the final month-plus of the year. He required knee surgery and struggled in his return earlier in 2012, tallying a dreadful 9.37 ERA in 4 starts and warranting a demotion to Triple-A. With teammate Brandon Beachy (who looked like one of baseball's best hurlers through 13 starts) lost for the season due to Tommy John surgery, Jurrjens was recalled for a start against the Red Sox on June 22nd. He allowed just 3 hits, 1 walk, and 1 run over 7 2/3 innings at Fenway Park, and it appears he'll retain a spot in the Atlanta rotation, especially after a decent followup outing (5 2/3 innings, 2 earned runs) against the Diamondbacks on Thursday. While he's far from a sure thing due to his injury and early-season struggles, Jurrjens is the type of pickup that can help win a fantasy league, assuming he can recapture some of the success he experienced in 2011. He is not a strong strikeout pitcher, but owners in need of a gamble to lower their ERA and WHIP numbers (and snag a few wins) should make a move on Jurrjens.
Stephen Drew - SS, Arizona Diamondbacks (25% owned)
After missing nearly a year of baseball after a gruesome ankle injury last July, Diamondbacks shortstop Stephen Drew returned to his team this week and recorded a hit in his first start on Wednesday. Drew cracked 21 home runs and a .291/.333/.502 triple-slash (average/on-base/slugging) line for the D-backs in 2008, but he's failed to match those numbers since. Still, he has been a fairly steady source of home runs as a major league hitter, particularly at a position where reliable power hitters are tough to find. His impressive doubles and triples won't directly help fantasy owners, but they're indicative of the type of productive hitter he can be. Returning from such a serious injury might mean that Drew will need time to adjust, and Arizona manager Kirk Gibson may try to slowly ease him back into regular playing time, but Drew is worthy of a risk in many fantasy leagues and could be a boost for owners trying to scrape out some middle infield help.
Jose Quintana - SP/RP, Chicago White Sox (21% owned)
White Sox lefthander Jose Quintana has been nothing but excellent since his big league debut last month, and a recent move to the White Sox rotation has only provided more of the same from the 23 year-old. Quintana skipped Triple-A completely on his way to a spot with the White Sox and enters his Friday start with a 1.25 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP in 43 1/3 innings with the team this year. He has recorded just 24 strikeouts this season and his 5.0 strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) rate for the Sox is well off of his minor league career average of 10.0, but he's still managed back-to-back 8 inning scoreless starts in his last two games against the Dodgers and Brewers. He's achieved this success mainly by limiting walks to almost nil, with just 6 bases on balls in those 43 1/3 innings in 2012 and only one in his 28 June innings. He'll face his biggest test on Friday in a start against the New York Yankees, who released him back in November. If he can handle New York's lineup with anything close to the ease at which he's handled the rest of league this year, he could quickly emerge as one of 2012's more unexpected pitching surprises.
Bobby Parnell - RP, New York Mets (28% owned)
Jon Rauch - RP, New York Mets (3% owned)
The wheel of closers spun again this week when Mets closer Frank Francisco hit the disabled list with an oblique strain and opened the door for righthander Bobby Parnell to step in and take on the ninth inning role. Parnell became a regular part of the Mets bullpen back in 2009, and the 27 year-old has been mostly successful since 2010, posting a 3.34 ERA and 97 strikeouts in 94 1/3 innings in in 2010 and 2011. He struggled some as a stopgap closer for the club last season, but he revamped his pitching repertoire a bit and has posted solid 2012 numbers with a 3.09 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 32 innings. By abandoning his tight slider in favor of a slower knuckle-curve, Parnell has improved his groundball rate and been hurt far less by big innings, though he still allows a lot of baserunners (he has a 1.32 WHIP in 2012). Earlier this year, veteran righty Jon Rauch would've seemed like an obvious choice to step in and close, and he served that role whenever Francisco was unavailable, but he's struggled to a 6.63 ERA since April 29th and lost favor in important game situations. Rauch could still scoop up a few save opportunities until Francisco's return, but for now it appears that Parnell (who notched his first save Thursday night) will be the Mets stopper until Francisco's return and, if he fares well, possibly beyond.
Jared Burton - RP, Minnesota Twins (12% owned)
Glen Perkins - RP, Minnesota Twins (16% owned)
With incumbent closer Matt Capps hitting the disabled list, the Twins and manager Ron Gardenhire have expressed that the closing duties will now be handled by righthander Jared Burton and lefty Glen Perkins. While Perkins has seen more time as a fill-in closer throughout his career, Burton has locked down the two save opportunities since Capps went on the DL. Neither is particularly dominant but both have been largely successful mid and late inning relievers in the past and through the first two months of this year. There's no set date for Capps' return, but tests revealed his injury was just shoulder inflammation, so barring any new developments he could return as soon as his 15 days are up. However, since Capps hasn't been particularly great this year, it's possible that either Burton or Perkins (should they earn the opportunity) could get save chances throughout the rest of the season. Presently, Burton looks like a smarter pickup, but Perkins will likely see save chances too, depending on matchups and workload. One shouldn't expect huge things from either pitcher, but fantasy owners chasing saves should certainly move on one or both of them soon.
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