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Under the Radar - Mixed Leagues
Dan Port | Friday July 27th, 2012
Pirates rookie Starling Marte is already off to a great start. (US Presswire)
Pirates rookie Starling Marte is already off to a great start. (US Presswire)
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!

Ben Sheets - SP, Atlanta Braves (52% owned)
It took just two 2012 starts for Braves righthander Ben Sheets to catapult himself from injured former big leaguer to one of the hottest fantasy players in the game.  In just two winning starts for Atlanta, the 34 year-old former Brewers ace has tossed 12 innings, allowed just 7 hits and 4 walks, and tallied 11 strikeouts.  His pitch velocity is down a bit since his last major league season with the Oakland Athletics in 2010, but his curveball is still a devastating out pitch and he looks extremely similar to the hurler who made four All-Star games prior to 2009.  Sheets was featured just last week in our AL/NL Only Under the Radar article, but many fantasy owners were hesitant to add him due to his long layoff and so-so showing in a pair of minor league starts for the Braves' Double-A affiliate. While injuries and difficulty in shaking off some rust could still be issues for him this year, his past accomplishments and high level of performance so far make him a must-add in almost any league where he is still available.

Carlos Villanueva - SP/RP, Toronto Blue Jays (20% owned)
Another former Milwaukee Brewer has been performing very well as a starting pitcher lately, and that would be Blue Jays righty Carlos Villanueva.  The 28 year-old Villanueva had some successful seasons with the Brewers as a reliever and part-time starter from 2006 to 2010, and his 4.04 ERA in 33 games (13 starts) made him a promising piece for the Blue Jays last season, but he wasn't much of a fantasy contributor.  But this year, in 26 games for Toronto, Carlos has posted a 5-0 record with a 2.86 ERA and 62 strikeouts in 56 2/3 innings pitched.  He has started four straight contests since June 29th, and three of his wins have come in his last three outings.  For his career, the Dominican native has made just 44 starts but has averaged 7.8 strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) and has a 4.14 ERA overall.  His next start will come Friday against the Detroit Tigers, and this outing against a hard-hitting lineup should be a nice test of his recent dominance.  If he can get through this start relatively unscathed, Villanueva could be a very valuable fantasy starter for the remainder of the 2012 season.

Starling Marte - OF, Pittsburgh Pirates (16% owned)
Pirates outfielder Starling Marte started his major league career with a bang on Thursday night by crushing the first pitch he saw into the left field seats for a solo home run.  Marte added a single and was caught stealing home on a pickoff to first base, and as a whole he made a very good impression on the Pittsburgh faithful.  Marte has shown excellent but somewhat raw skills throughout his professional career, and he won a Double-A Eastern League batting title by hitting .332 for Altoona last season, adding 12 home runs and 24 stolen bases as well.  In 99 games for Triple-A Indianapolis this year, Marte hit .286 with a .347 on-base mark and a .500 slugging percentage while swiping 21 bases and slugging 12 home runs, prompting the recent call-up.  His numbers jump out as very valuable fantasy stats, but his still-maturing plate discipline and power and his tendency to get caught stealing more than he should may limit his impact this season.  Still, with regular playing time he could help in every standard fantasy batting category.  If the contending Pirates decide to plug him in on a regular basis, fantasy owners could be very happy with the results.  He is also starting his career against the lowly Astros, so now would be a good time to get him in your fantasy lineup.

Paul Maholm - SP, Chicago Cubs (19% owned)
Possibly no big league pitcher has been hotter in the last month than Cubs lefthander Paul Maholm, and the fantasy community is finally taking notice of his stellar numbers.  In 5 starts (and one relief appearance) since June 29th, Maholm has gone 5-0 with a 0.94 ERA, a 0.89 WHIP and 27 strikeouts in 38 1/3 innings.  For the 2012 season, Maholm is 9-6 with a 3.88 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP, and he hasn't allowed more than a single run in a game since June 23rd.  From 2005 to 2011, Maholm was a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates and, despite some solid big league seasons (including a 3.66 ERA in 26 starts last year), he had just a 53-73 career record before this year.  The Cubs are well out contention, but Maholm's recent success is certainly a bright spot for the team.  Past seasons with strings of good play suggest that his recent hot streak could be somewhat sustainable (or at least he'll continue some above-average play), and fantasy owners looking to ride a hot starter who may not get a lot of strikeouts should consider adding him prior to his next outing on Sunday against the Cardinals.

Josh Rutledge - SS, Colorado Rockies (9% owned)
In just a dozen major league games, Rockies infielder Josh Rutledge has already made quite an impression, both on the field and in fantasy leagues, and even prompted a mention in last week's AL/NL Under the Radar article.  Middle infield spots are not usually places to find a lot of great hitters, but the 23 year-old rookie is making it look easy and already has 6 runs scored, 6 RBI, a home run, three stolen bases, and a .356 average (16 hits in 45 at-bats).  The Alabama native has been filling in for injured starting shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and has adjusted nicely to the big leagues since jumping directly from Double-A Tulsa two weeks ago.  It's unclear right now whether the recuperating Tulowitzki will return this season or not, but even if he does it seems likely that his hot-hitting replacement will still find playing time at second base, where he played 22 minor league games this year.  He won't continue at his current pace, but Rutledge had a .306 average with 13 home runs and 14 stolen bases in 87 minor league games before his call-up, so he could provide some across-the-board help for fantasy owners in deeper leagues.

Michael Saunders - OF, Seattle Mariners (12% owned)
According to Baseball America, Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders was the second-best prospect in the Seattle Mariners system and a top-50 overall prospect prior to the 2010 season, but a dismal .196 average in 204 major league games prior to 2012 diminished much of his prospect sheen.  This season, Saunders may finally be blossoming into a difference-making big leaguer, and his numbers are earning him some recognition in fantasy leagues.  Entering play on Friday, Saunders is hitting .258 with 10 home runs and 14 steals in 330 at-bats.  His batting average isn't quite up to snuff yet, but contributions in the other standard roto categories make him very useful as at least a reserve outfielder in most mixed leagues.  Michael is just 25 years old and has done a notably good job as Seattle's everyday centerfielder this season, so he should have ample opportunity to continue and improve on his current pace, which could put him at 15-plus home runs and 20-plus steals by the end of the year.

Closer News:
Francisco Cordero - RP, Houston Astros (29% owned)
Wilton Lopez - RP, Houston Astros (6% owned)
After trading incumbent ninth inning pitcher and 2012 surprise Brett Myers to the Chicago White Sox on July 21st, the Astros installed former All-Star closer Francisco Cordero as their new late-game stopper.  The role fell to Cordero mostly due to past experience, since his 2012 numbers have been far from good and he had just a 5.77 ERA in 41 games for the Blue Jays this year.  Those numbers were somewhat surprising in light of a strong 2011 season in which he notched 37 saves and posted a 2.45 ERA and 1.08 WHIP as a closer for the Cincinnati Reds.  Since joining the Astros this year, Cordero has blown his first two save attempts and has allowed 6 runs in just 2 1/3 innings, leading to much-expected speculation that he may no longer be closing for the club.  Nothing is certain yet, but closing duties may soon fall to 29 year-old righty Wilton Lopez, who has a 2.61 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in 38 innings (37 games) this season.  Lopez has been a steady bullpen arm since 2010, and with the exception of an awful 19 1/3 innings in his rookie year back in 2009, he's put up a 2.81 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in 176 big league innings.  Despite his terrible season, Cordero could still regroup and be an adequate closer for Houston this year, but the smart choice for owners chasing saves is most likely Lopez, who could put up pretty good fantasy numbers in the final couple of months this year.
Dan PortDan Port has been a writer and article editor for Baseball Press since the fall of 2009. He's a Wisconsin native and Los Angeles resident, as well as an aspiring novelist, moderately successful gambler, and avid craft beer aficionado. You can reach him at dan@baseballpress.com or check him out on Twitter @danport and at DanielPort.com.