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.
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 after the first six weeks or so of the fantasy campaign:
* Owned percentages via Yahoo! Fantasy Sports
Thanks to the help of St. Louis Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan, Angels starting pitcher Joel Pineiro rejuvenated his career a couple of years ago. Pineiro added a sinker to his pitching arsenal during his stay with the Cardinals and hasn't looked back since, becoming a predominately ground ball pitcher. Although he's never been a high strikeout pitcher (5.6 strikeouts per nine innings in his career), his ability to limit walks and maintain a respectable ERA make him roster-worthy. He was shut down for the first month of the season in 2011 due to shoulder tightness, but based on his early results since returning (2-0, 1.98 ERA in 4 starts) all signs point to Joel being healthy going forward.
After being sidelined after breaking his left thumb during a headfirst slide against the San Francisco Giants on April 11th, shortstop Rafael Furcal is poised to return to the Dodgers lineup later this week or early next week. The switch-hitter has been successful from both sides of the plate during his minor league rehabilitation assignment at Triple-A Albuquerque, and hopefully that will carry over. Although he's hit just .192 with one stolen base this season, fantasy owners know that, when healthy, Furcal makes consistent contact and has the ability to steal bases at will.
Outfielder Michael Brantley has flipped ownership numbers between just AL-only leagues and mixed leagues due to teammate Grady Sizemore's playing status. Now that Sizemore has hit the disabled list, Brantley will be the new leadoff hitter and see all of the playing time in center field for the Indians. Brantley has certainly enjoyed hitting leadoff for the Tribe this season, as he's posted a .365 on-base percentage (OBP) and two stolen bases. Even when Sizemore does return, Brantley will shift back over to left field and bat sixth or seventh. He's a nice addition and can contribute in all categories, and he should continue to help fantasy owners moving forward.
Dustin Ackley - 2B/OF, Seattle Mariners (6% owned)
Prospect Dustin Ackley is making it difficult for the Seattle Mariners front office not to call him up to the big leagues, as Seattle currently ranks next to last in the American League in runs scored, batting average, and on-base percentage and could use all the help they can. The team has had Adam Kennedy
and Jack Cust
regularly batting cleanup, so any offensive spark is welcomed. However, despite Ackley tearing up Triple-A pitching, the team is reluctant to promote him based on the logjam at the middle infield positions and because he's still learning to play solid defense at second base. Ackley's ability to work the strike zone has always been strong, especially his ability to draw a walk, and he can hit for a nice batting average and produce good numbers in leagues with OBP as a scoring category. Even though there isn't a specific timetable on his arrival in Seattle (sometime in the month of June), AL-only and deep league owners with bench space should take notice.
Though the San Diego Padres have struggled to score runs early this season, they've turned things around in the month of May, thanks in part to outfielder Cameron Maybin. Maybin, a former first round pick of the Detroit Tigers in 2005, has posted a triple-slash line of .315/.367/.444 with two home runs this month. He has six stolen bases in the young season, but has yet to swipe a bag this month. Furthermore, Maybin has owned lefthanded pitching this season in 37 plate appearances, hitting .455/.514/.667 with two homers. Like most hitters who call Petco Park home, he's struggled in San Diego, hitting just .211 in 22 games there. Regardless, Maybin is a player who will easily hit double-digit home runs and steal close to 20 bases by season's end. Owners looking to acquire Maybin shouldn't be concerned about the knee injury that's kept him out of the lineup the past few games, as it's not considered serious.
The Seattle Mariners are desperate for any type of offensive production from the middle of their order, and outfielder Franklin Gutierrez can certainly help out. Gutierrez has missed all of 2011 with a stomach ailment, but he returned earlier this week after a successful rehabilitation assignment. The Mariners will likely start Gutierrez off slow and platoon him with Michael Saunders
, but after that Gutierrez will be the everyday centerfielder. He strikes out too much to hit for a high batting average, but he can contribute to the home run category for fantasy owners.
- SP, Baltimore Orioles (43% owned)
Orioles starting pitcher Brian Matusz hasn't thrown a big league pitch this season due to a rib cage injury, but he is expected back in the big leagues by the end of the May. Matusz pitched in a rehabilitation game earlier this week and is expected to appear in another rehab outing this weekend, where he'll throw between 70 and 80 pitches. If all goes well and his sessions are pain-free, he'll rejoin the Baltimore rotation soon after. Matusz is likely stashed on the disabled list in most leagues, but if an owner dropped him earlier in the season due to roster limitations, it's wise to store him on your bench and wait it out.
- 2B/3B, Colorado Rockies (3% owned)
Colorado infielder Jose Lopez appears to be earning more playing time at third base for the Rockies and is once again a fantasy contributor. Lopez, 27, has made five consecutive starts for the Rockies and is currently hitting .350/.381/.400 in his last seven games. Colorado started the season hoping that Ty Wigginton
and Ian Stewart
could split time at the hot corner, but neither player has produced much thus far. Due to injuries and poor performance, the third base gig is currently wide open for anyone, including Lopez. He would have been the everyday second baseman, but Jonathan Herrera
unseated him during the first week of the season and Lopez has found himself in a platoon situation since then. Manager Jim Tracy is looking for any type of production at third base right now, and he currently seems to be leaning toward Lopez. Owners in deep mixed leagues with a corner or middle infield position should monitor his playing time and act accordingly.