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 July 6th, 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!
Michael Fiers - SP, Milwaukee Brewers (32% owned)
Brewers righthander Michael Fiers probably wasn't on too many prospect lists to begin the 2012 season, but the 27 year-old overachiever has very quickly earned himself some acclaim in fantasy baseball circles. Fiers entered this year as the twelfth-best prospect in a weak Milwaukee farm system (according to Baseball America) after a strong minor league campaign in which he went 13-3 with a 1.86 ERA as a starter and reliever and won his organization's Minor League Pitcher of the Year Award. The Florida native was a 22nd round pick out of Division II Nova Southeastern University back in 2009 and began his pro career as a closer, but has quickly adapted to a starting role. His stuff is far from overpowering, but impressive command of a high-80s fastball and a strong changeup that baffles lefthanded hitters have helped him post excellent numbers while filling in in the Milwaukee rotation, and after a solid (but losing) outing on Thursday he holds a 3-3 record with a 2.31 ERA, a 1.07 WHIP, and 50 strikeouts in 46 2/3 innings (8 games, 7 starts) for the big club this year. He posted similar strikeout numbers in the minor leagues and it's finally time for fantasy owners to start buying in to his surprising success, particularly since the Brewers will open the second half against some light-hitting NL Central opponents.
Salvador Perez - C, Kansas City Royals (25% owned)
It's hard to imagine any major league hitter having a finer return from injury than the one that Royals catcher Salvador Perez is in the midst of. Perez has simply raked since rejoining the team, and his 4 for 5 performance on Thursday raised his season line to a remarkable 17 for 40 (.425) with 3 home runs. The 22 year-old Perez's home run numbers have always been just average, so the power numbers should level off, but he's no stranger to high batting averages and multi-hit games. He batted .331 in 148 big league at-bats last season and his minor league seasons indicate that he could be very capable of a near-.300 mark (or better) for the rest of the 2012 season. Fantasy owners in need of any catching help should act fast, and even teams that are set at backstop should try to find room for Perez as a possible bench player and/or trade chip for the rest of the year.
Yasmani Grandal - C, San Diego Padres (14% owned)
Former first round draft pick Yasmani Grandal was a dynamic catching prospect for the Reds but was blocked by fellow catcher Devin Mesoraco before a December 7, 2011 trade sent Yasmani and others to the Padres in exchange for pitcher Mat Latos. With the Padres organization, Grandal has displayed even more of the solid hitting and sharp batting skills he did when he hit .305 with 14 home runs and a .401 on-base percentage across three minor league levels in 2011. Prior to his call-up on June 30th, the switch hitter was batting .335 with 6 homers, 18 doubles and a .443 on-base mark in 56 games for Triple-A Tucson, and his first full week as a big leaguer has been even more positive. The 23 year-old clubbed 4 home runs in his first 18 at-bats for the Padres and should be the starting backstop from here on, as incumbent catcher Nick Hundley was demoted after an awful offensive display in the first three months of 2012. Catcher is always a tough position to get good fantasy numbers out of and, while it's likely that Grandal's slugging will be stifled by the confines of Petco Park, he's still a very good young hitter with lots of upside.
Travis Wood - SP, Chicago Cubs (18% owned)
Few big league pitchers have had more success in the last few weeks than Cubs lefty Travis Wood, who enters his Friday start on a three-game winning streak. During that streak, the former Reds prospect has allowed just one run and notched 15 strikeouts in 20 2/3 innings, lowering his season ERA to 3.05 and his WHIP to 1.09. He was a key piece in the deal that sent reliever Sean Marshall to Cincinnati back in December, and he is surpassing all expectations thus far while earning some serious attention from fantasy owners. It's doubtful that his strikeout numbers will be anything more than passable, but the 25 year-old former second round pick may finally be locking in as a big leaguer, and owners in need of rotation help should definitely consider riding the hot hand and adding Travis to their rosters. He may not maintain his current ERA or WHIP rates, but he's certainly done enough to warrant some acknowledgment as a possible late-blooming prospect.
Clayton Richard - SP, San Diego Padres (21% owned)
Fantasy owners should always be hesitant to invest in any pitcher who isn't even striking out 6 hitters per nine innings pitched (K/9), but Padres hurler Clayton Richard has been successful enough lately to earn a pass on that stipulation. Richard has just 66 strikeouts in 113 2/3 innings entering his Saturday start against the Reds, but he's had five straight quality starts and lowered his ERA from 4.76 to 3.64 since the start of June, posting a 4-2 record and a 2.19 ERA in those seven games. Richard has been a useful end-of-the-rotation fantasy pitcher before too; his 14-9 record, 3.75 ERA, and 153 strikeouts in 201 2/3 innings back in 2010 certainly aided a few roto owners. He's far from a fantasy ace, but the Padres play a lot of upcoming games in favorable pitching parks and Clayton is among the hottest pitchers in the league right now, so he could be a smart fantasy play, at least in the short term.
Jim Thome - DH, Baltimore Orioles (8% owned)
When he finally hangs up his spikes, Orioles slugger Jim Thome will have a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame waiting for him. However, that day may still be a ways off, as Thome has proven this year by once again being a fairly productive big league slugger. With 609 career home runs among a long list of career accomplishments, most baseball fans are very familiar with Thome, but a June 30th trade from the National League's Philadelphia Phillies to the American League's Baltimore Orioles took him from the fantasy fringe to a legitimate pickup in most leagues. The slow-footed Thome will get plenty of time to play designated hitter for the O's, particularly against righthanded starting pitchers, and his still-keen batting eye and big-time home run power make him worth consideration for fantasy owners looking for some punch from their utility spot. Thome logged four games at first base for the Phillies this year and was on the brink of fantasy eligibility there in some leagues, but it's no sure thing that he'll see any time on the fieldfor Baltimore before the end of the season. Still, he's worth a bench spot or a streaming option in a lot of leagues and should be on nearly everyone's fantasy radar right now.
Rajai Davis - OF, Toronto Blue Jays (15% owned)
Though he's just a season-and-a-half removed from a .284 average and 50 stolen bases (with Oakland), Blue Jays outfielder Rajai Davis was far from trustworthy for many fantasy owners heading into the 2012 campaign. Davis stole 34 bases in 95 games in 2011 but hit just .238 and was a big letdown for any invested fantasy owners. The 31 year-old started 2012 on a similar downer by hitting just .185 with 3 stolen bases (2 caught) in April, but he's rallied nicely since then and has hit .283 with 17 steals (4 caught) since then and, while in the middle of his turnaround, even earned a mention in our AL-Only Under the Radar piece on May 30th. He doesn't draw many walks and he has no real home run upside, but for fantasy owners looking to pile up a few steals and runs scored with a decent batting average, Davis could be of assistance.
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