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 2011.
Under the Radar - Mixed Leagues
Friday July 1st, 2011
With all of the unpredictable injuries, slumps, and job changes, many fantasy owners are already looking to the waiver wire for help in keeping their early season hopes alive. Here are some mixed league options for owners looking to make additions at this point in the season.
*Owned percentages via Yahoo!
Jemile Weeks - 2B, Oakland Athletics (24% owned)
Of all of June's rookie call-ups, it seems like Oakland second baseman Jemile Weeks initially received the least amount of buzz in the fantasy community. That week, Weeks was featured in our AL/NL Only Under the Radar piece and, since a rough first game where he went hitless in four at-bats, Weeks has hit well and raised his season batting average to .303. He's also impressed with six multi-hit games over his first 20, 12 runs scored, and six stolen bases. Now that infielder Mark Ellis has been traded, Weeks is securely entrenched as the Athletics' everyday second baseman and leadoff hitter, which should allow him to add to his run and stolen base totals. Most middle infield options will hurt you in at least one of the five standard fantasy categories and, though Weeks may not drive in a lot of runs, he can definitely be a positive contributor in the other four.
Derrek Lee - 1B, Baltimore Orioles (27% owned)
For the past several years, Baltimore first baseman Derrek Lee has battled through back and wrist injuries, and that has soured most fantasy owners from investing too much in him on draft day. However, as a waiver wire pickup, Lee requires very little investment and the price paid for owning him is extremely low. Since his most recent trip to the disabled list, Lee has been inserted back into the middle of the Orioles lineup and in the last two weeks he has tallied a .314 batting average with two home runs and seven RBI. Lee could be poised for a big second half, considering that he is currently healthy and more acclimated to American League pitching. The required investment in him is small and, now that he is available on 73% of waiver wires, the payoff as a corner infielder in a mixed league could be great.
Jonny Gomes - OF, Cincinnati Reds (13% owned)
Reds outfielder Jonny Gomes has quietly hit 11 home runs and stolen five bases so far this season, but unfortunately those counting stats also come with a very low batting average and inconsistent playing time. However, over the past two weeks both of those issues have improved, as Gomes has hit .321 with two home runs and a 1.136 on-base plus slugging (OPS) over his last 28 at-bats. For much of the season, the 30 year-old had lost at-bats to fellow outfielder Chris Heisey, but now that starting centerfielder Drew Stubbs is struggling at the plate, Heisey is seeing more time in center than left. Whether it is simply a hot streak or a long-term trend, Gomes should be picked up in any mix fantasy league that starts more than three outfielders, at least until he cools off.
Garrett Jones - 1B/OF, Pittsburgh Pirates (10% owned)
Pittsburgh infielder/outfielder Garrett Jones never really lived up to the expectations put on him after the Pirates made him an everyday player late in the 2009 season, and he hit just as many home runs (21) in his breakout partial 2009 season as he did in the entire 2010 season followup. So far this year, Jones has eight home runs and a .246 batting average, but there are a couple of reasons why he is a good option as a mixed league player from this point on. First, throughout his minor league career he has been a better second half player than first half, not unlike Adam LaRoche (with outfield eligibility). Last season, Jones did not post his traditional second half surge because he was playing through multiple injuries and received fewer at-bats. Second, the recent injury to outfielder Jose Tabata and lack of production from first baseman Lyle Overbay should secure more at-bats for Jones. His multi-position eligibility is also a nice bonus for any fantasy owner.
Mark Ellis - 2B, Colorado Rockies (1% owned)
Owners who play in deeper mixed leagues (15 teams or more) should look to acquire recent Colorado Rockies' addition Mark Ellis, who provides one more option at the shallow middle infield position. The 34-year old veteran made his way to Colorado from Oakland in a Wednesday afternoon trade and, though he has struggled at the plate this year, Ellis hit .291 with five home runs and seven stolen bases for the A's before a trip to the disabled list derailed him last year. His struggles at the plate in 2011 could stem from a .249 batting average on balls in play (BABIP), and his career BABIP of .291 suggest that will rise as the season rolls along. The move to Colorado will put him in a better hitting ballpark and a better lineup, and that should give him at least a modest boost in value. Even if you don't have a spot for him in your fantasy starting lineup, Ellis is worth a cheap free agent acquisition budget (FAAB) bid in appropriate leagues and can be stashed on the bench, just in case his new surroundings cause him to take off at the plate.
Jeff Karstens - SP, Pittsburgh Pirates (27% owned)
How many quality starts does it take to before owners start believing that a pitcher is worthy of a roster spot? For Pirates righthander Jeff Karstens, apparently it is eight out of 13. That ratio may not sound fantastic, but over the first two months of the 2011 season Karstens was actually the Pirates' swingman, pitching both out of the bullpen and spot-starting in the rotation. As a result, probably the biggest reason he doesn't have more quality starts is simply because his arm wasn't stretched out enough to pitch the full six required quality start innings in those early outings. While Karstens' strikeout rate is not fantastic, with just 53 strikeouts in 84.2 innings pitched, his strikeout to walk ratio (K/BB) of 3.12 to 1 is near-elite for a starting pitcher. Unlike previous years, the Pirates are currently a .500 ball club that doesn't always struggle to score runs, and that means it's time to graduate Karstens from a streamer to a player worthy of a full-time fantasy roster spot.
Phil Hughes - SP, New York Yankees (34% owned)
Yankees righthander Phil Hughes, who struggled greatly through 10.1 innings pitched in his only three starts of the 2011 season back in April, will be coming off of the disabled list very soon and will be inserted back into the Yankees starting rotation when he is activated. Most of Hughes' struggles at the beginning of the season were linked to a loss of fastball velocity, and there was no specific injury reported for the drop-off. Instead, the generic term "dead arm" was attached to the problem and Hughes hit the disabled list as a result. Resting and then rebuilding his arm strength while on the DL seems to have greatly helped the 25 year-old, and Hughes' fastball has consistently been in the 93-94 mph range in his first two minor league rehab outings. The Yankees may not give him his first start until after the All-Star Game but, if he is kept on normal rest between outings, Hughes would be eligible to pitch the third or fourth game of the Yankees' series against the Tampa Bay Rays immediately preceding the break. He could be a valuable asset to any team in need of a boost at the starting pitcher position, and with the Yankees offense backing him, Hughes could rack up wins in the second half of the 2011 season.
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