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.
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!Scott Diamond
- SP, Minnesota Twins (42% owned)
There's been a lot written this season about Minnesota lefthanded pitcher Scott Diamond and his speedy ascension from middling minor leaguer and former Rule 5 pick to de facto major league ace, and for good reason. Even in a season littered with surprising pitching performances, his numbers are among the most surprising. Fresh off of his so-so Thursday night start against the Philadelphia Phillies, Diamond now has a 2.13 ERA and a 5-2 record in 8 starts. Combine this with his 4-1 mark and 2.60 ERA from 6 starts for Triple-A Richmond this year, and you can see why people are so excited about his prospects for the rest of the 2012 campaign. Diamond doesn't overpower hitters, as evidenced by his meager strikeout numbers and more hits allowed than innings pitched, but the former Braves farmhand has cut his walk totals down to microscopic, Cliff Lee
-like levels, and his astounding ability to induce ground balls has helped negate many of the baserunners he allows. His last start suggests that it's doubtful he'll continue the extreme success he's had thus far, but he's put up enough good starts this year to warrant a place on nearly any fantasy squad.Trevor Plouffe
- 3B/2B/SS/OF, Minnesota Twins (38% owned)
After an awful start to his 2012 season, Twins utility man Trevor Plouffe has been among the hottest hitters in baseball recently and just last week earned a spot in our Under the Radar - AL/NL Only
piece. Back on May 16th, Trevor was hitting a miniscule .133 in 60 at-bats before homering and driving in two runs against the Cleveland Indians. From then on, he has hit .305 with 11 home runs (including 7 in just 11 games this month) and in just 82 at-bats and has pulled his season average up to .232. His season numbers still don't look great overall (with a .307 on-base percentage), but with 12 home runs in 142 total at-bats and eligibility at four positions in most leagues (and even some games at first base), he can't be overlooked. The 26 year-old has shown fairly consistent power as a minor leaguer and some flashes of that as a big leaguer, but his batting average has never been consistently good. Nevertheless, his recent hot streak and versatility make him very roster-worthy in mixed leagues.Michael Brantley
- OF, Cleveland Indians (33% owned)
Cleveland outfielder Michael Brantley went 1 for 4 with a double on Thursday to extend his current hitting streak to 21 games, a streak that should warrant more attention from the fantasy community. While hitting streaks don't factor into fantasy scoring, Brantley's .341 average, 6 stolen bases, and 12 runs scored during that time (since May 20th) certainly does. He's smacked just one home run this year but is up to 9 stolen bases (5 caught) and 29 runs scored this year, which could help fantasy clubs in need of some outfield help. Brantley has mostly been mediocre in several stints as a regular for the Indians, but the former Brewers prospect is just 25 years old and could finally be blooming as a big league hitter. His minor league numbers include a .303 lifetime average and a pile of stolen bases, so continued success could certainly provide fantasy clubs with aid in the batting average, runs, and steals categories. A .285 average, 75 run, 20 steal finish seems quite possible for Brantley in 2012.Danny Espinosa
- 2B, Washington Nationals (31% owned)
Every year there are several players who get drafted in fantasy leagues based on a somewhat shaky but potential-filled campaign the year before, and Nationals infielder Danny Espinosa was one of those guys this year. In 2011, Espinosa hit just .236 and had 166 strikeouts, but his .323 on-base mark, 17 steals, and 21 home runs pointed to superstar upside, and he was typically drafted in the middle (12th through 15th) rounds of most fantasy drafts. He struggled badly to start the year and was dropped in most of those leagues, but he has caught some fire lately and since May 22nd he is hitting .288 with a .373 on-base mark, 2 home runs, and 6 stolen bases (zero caught). His season average still sits at a poor .235 and his 6 home runs is not up to snuff with his preseason expectations, but fantasy owners looking for a boost in their middle infield might be smart to gamble on his continued success.Nathan Eovaldi
- SP, Los Angeles Dodgers (5% owned)
After jumping straight from Double-A ball, Dodgers righthander Nathan Eovaldi fared pretty well in 10 major league games last season, and he's done even better after making the same jump in 2012. The 22 year-old was an 11th round pick out of high school back in 2008, and the Houston native was steady but not particularly dominant in his time on the farm. However, more strikeouts in 2011 and this season have helped him limit base hits more, leading to a notable turn in his overall performances. Eovaldi relies heavily on his mid-90s fastball, but he commands it well and tactfully mixes in his off-speed selections enough to be effective, for the most part. Nathan looked good in a no-decision pitching duel with Angels ace C.J. Wilson
on Tuesday night and, while still winless for the Dodgers in 2012, he has a 1.82 ERA in 24 2/3 innings (4 starts) for them this year. He may not have the massive upside of some other pitching prospects, but Eovaldi could certainly find a place as a low-end fantasy starter for many owners this season, and possibly beyond.Norichika Aoki
- OF, Milwaukee Brewers (5% owned)
Despite some rather impressive numbers for the Yakult Swallows in his homeland of Japan, Brewers outfielder Norichika Aoki seemed destined for a part-time role with his new team in 2012, but lately he has been among their best hitters. In a crowded outfield that includes Ryan Braun
, Nyjer Morgan
, Carlos Gomez
, and Corey Hart
, Milwaukee didn't seem to have much room for their newest addition Aoki, but injuries (which forced Hart into more first base duty) and slumps (by Morgan and Gomez) have led to a lot more playing time for Aoki, and he's thrived in it lately. After struggling to a .220 average in mainly pinch-hit duties during the first six-plus weeks of the year, he has turned a corner. The 30 year-old has hit .330 since getting more regular playing time in mid-May, and he enters play on Friday with a .298 season batting average, 3 home runs, 9 doubles, 3 triples, and 5 stolen bases (1 caught). His home run and stolen base totals fluctuated overseas, but his batting average was always very high. With continued playing time at all three outfield spots (though mostly in right field), Aoki seems capable of a .300 average, around 10 home runs, and 15 to 20 stolen bases by the end of the season. His average might even be higher than that, making him a very welcome addition to a fantasy roster in need of some help in that category.
- RP, Oakland Athletics (32% owned)
For the first time in many weeks, there isn't a whole lot to report on the closer front, save for Oakland's recent decision to roll with righthander Ryan Cook instead of lefty Brian Fuentes
. Fuentes was the initial favorite to take over the role vacated by inconsistent hurler Grant Balfour
back in early May
, but his own struggles took him out of the ninth inning and handed the job to 24 year-old Ryan Cook. Cook has allowed just 2 runs and 9 hits in 28 innings of work this season, with 16 walks and 27 strikeouts. Whether he could be a long-term solution at closer is still very much a mystery, but he's been extremely effective so far and could emerge as one of baseball's bigger surprises by season's end. Oakland is not a high-profile team, so Cook is still available in a surprising amount of leagues, and fantasy owners should certainly add him if they can right now.