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Under the Radar - Mixed Leagues
Dan Port | Friday July 22nd, 2011
Blanks brings his big-time power back to San Diego. (Icon SMI)
Blanks brings his big-time power back to San Diego. (Icon SMI)
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 looking to the waiver wire for help in keeping their 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!

Kyle Blanks - OF/1B, San Diego Padres (1% owned)
Kyle Blanks is a big man with big home run power, but injuries and the inability to make consistent contact have hampered him since short debut season two years ago.  However, at the age of 24, he's still young and his very successful play this year for the Padres minor league affiliates put him back on the big league radar, and the club recently promoted him.  He'll take the roster spot of rookie Anthony Rizzo, who is a highly-touted prospect but has thus far been unsuccessful in making the jump to big league ball.  Blanks started 2011 playing for Double-A San Antonio but after some success there made the jump to Triple-A Tuscon, where he has put up amazing numbers.  Those numbers include 11 home runs in just 34 games and a .351 batting average.  The only drawback to his promotion is that he hasn't played a whole lot of outfield this year and 27 year-old Jesus Guzman has been performing well lately as the Padres everyday first baseman.  However, the way Blanks is slugging, one has to think the team will find ways to get him into the lineup, and if he can hit anywhere close to the way he did in the minor leagues this season, he's worth a fantasy roster spot for any team in need of a home run boost.

Jeff Keppinger - SS/2B, San Francisco Giants (10% owned)
As we discussed in a recent Trading Places article, infielder Jeff Keppinger was recently dealt to the San Francisco Giants in a clear attempt to boost the offense of the pitching-heavy but light-hitting bay area club.  The 31 year-old Keppinger is on his fifth major league team and, though he lacks any substantial home run power, he has managed to establish himself as a capable major leaguer.  The Florida native is a .283 lifetime hitter and has worked as both an everyday starter and utility infielder throughout his career, mostly playing second base and shortstop.  He's a solid contact hitter and had a .307 average in 163 at-bats prior to his trade this season, but he drew just four walks and posted a .320 on-base percentage with the Astros.  Again, he doesn't hit homers and he doesn't collect stolen bases, but his multi-position eligibilty and high batting average could be an asset to a fantasy team, at least as a bench reserve.

Zack Cozart - SS, Cincinnati Reds (4% owned)
Rookie shortstop Zack Cozart has made a good impression in his limited time with the big club.  Cozart had hits in his first seven big league starts, and he notched multi-hit games in three of those.  One has to think that the Reds will want to see him showcase his skills more and more as the year rolls along, especially since fellow shortstop Edgar Renteria appears to be at the final stage of his long major league career.  Prior to his call-up, Cozart hit for a triple-slash (average/on-base/slugging) of .310/.357.467 for Triple-A Louisville, tallying seven home runs and nine stolen bases in 77 games.  He won't dominate any fantasy category, but Cozart is off to a nice start and could contribute a solid batting average and some help in the home run and steals categories from here on out.  Over a full season, he could very likely be a 15/15 (homers/steals) guy, so fantasy owners, particularly those in keeper leagues, should invest now.

Alex Presley - OF, Pittsburgh Pirates (11% owned)
Pirates outfielder Alex Presley was featured a few weeks ago in one of our AL/NL Only Under the Radar pieces, but his continued hitting has made mixed league fantasy owners take notice.  In 19 games this year, Presley has hit .351 with a home run and four stolen bases and is one of the younger contributors to the surprisingly successful 2011 Pittsburgh club.  Presley doesn't possess more than double-digit home run power (if that), but his high batting average, adequate on-base skills, and baserunning prowess make him worth a fantasy pickup.  Prior to joining the Pirates this year, the 25 year-old swiped 18 bases (4 caught) in 75 games for Triple-A Indianapolis, and his .290 career minor league batting average bodes well for his ability to make solid contact against big league pitching.  He isn't particularly flashy, but Presley is a hot hitter with potential, so fantasy owners should consider him.

Eric Thames - OF, Toronto Blue Jays (12% owned)
Like Presley, Toronto outfielder Eric Thames was featured in a past AL/NL Under the Radar article and, also like Presley, Thames is a young outfielder who has earned the right to be on mixed fantasy league rosters.  A Pepperdine product, Thames has impressed in his short time with the Blue Jays this year by hitting .303 with 11 doubles, 4 home runs, and 18 RBI in just 35 games.  Add those numbers to his minor league totals (.352 with 25 doubles and 7 home runs) and he's hit .333 with 36 doubles and 11 long balls this season.  He's also managed a combined on-base average of .387, a very notable mark for such a young hitter.  He left Thursday's game after rolling his ankle, but the injury appeared minor and at this point he isn't expected to miss any time.  Thames brings a .308 minor league career average to the majors, plus he could be a legitimate 20 home run guy over a full season (he clubbed 27 homers for Double-A New Hampshire last season), but his .380 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) during his time with the Jays will likely settle down.  He also doesn't see much action against lefthanded pitching, so playing time may be a factor sometimes.  Still, he's close to wrapping up a great July and could score a lot of runs from here on while hitting second for the hard-hitting Blue Jays.

Jeff Niemann - SP, Tampa Bay Rays (12% owned)
Though he's often been overshadowed by the stellar seasons being put together by rotation-mates James Shields, David Price, and Jeremy Hellickson, Tampa Bay starting pitcher Jeff Niemann has recently been as successful as his more notable teammates, and that earns him some serious fantasy attention.  In five starts since returning from the disabled list (where he was placed in early May due to a lower back strain), Niemann has three wins with a 2.08 ERA and 26 strikeouts (against 9 walks) in 30 1/3 innings.  He's also nearing the end of a stellar month of July where he allowed just two runs in 21 1/3 innings.  In his last outing, he had his best game of the year, striking out 10 Red Sox while allowing just 2 hits and 2 walks in eight shutout innings, though he didn't figure in the decision.  Niemann is no stranger to success, as his 25-14 combined 2009 and 2010 win-loss record will attest to, and fantasy owners looking for a hot starter should definitely look into bringing him on board, especially since the Rays will be finishing out the month against the Royals and the light-hitting Athletics and Mariners.

Chris Capuano - SP/RP, New York Mets (16% owned)
After injuries forced him to miss over two full seasons of baseball, lefthanded pitcher Chris Capuano returned to the Milwaukee Brewers last season and saw his first action since 2007.  His 18-win season in 2005 seemed like a distant memory but, after initially stumbling as a reliever, he reclaimed some of his former glory by posting a 2.91 ERA in his final 34 innings (six games, all starts).  He joined the Mets in the off-season and, despite his 2010 late-season success, few figured he would be much of a contributor, particularly based on his injury history.  However, Capuano hasn't missed any playing time and is among the best pitchers for the Mets, despite his 8-9 win-loss mark.  He enters the weekend with a 4.16 season ERA but has been better since a rough April and May and has a 3.40 mark since June 1st.  But most impressive this year are Capuano's strikeout totals, as he's struck out 92 hitters in 110 1/3 innings, good for a 7.5 strikeouts-per-nine-innings (K/9) rate.  In his two best seasons with the Brewers in 2005 and 2006, Cappy had a 4.01 ERA and averaged 7.2 K/9 and 175 whiffs per season.  Those numbers, surprisingly, seem somewhat attainable now, though the 175 strikeouts might be slightly out of reach.  Regardless, if Capuano can stay healthy and keep rolling like he has during the last seven weeks, he could be a sneaky-good pickup for fantasy owners looking for a little help at the end of their pitching rotations.


Closer Watch:

Jason Isringhausen and Bobby Parnell - RP, New York Mets (both 22% owned)
The closer situation for the New York Mets was discussed last week in our article about Francisco Rodriguez's trade to the Milwaukee Brewers, but it is certainly worth mentioning here that both Jason Isringhausen and Bobby Parnell could be seeing save opportunities for the Metropolitans.  Since K-Rod's departure, Isringhausen has logged the only save for the club, but that by no means takes Parnell out of the running for some ninth inning duties.  It's likely that the Mets will split closing duties between the 38 year-old Isringhausen and the 26 year-old Parnell, at least until one of them seizes the role.  Fantasy owners desperate for saves could scoop up one or both of these players with the understanding that it may be a timeshare situation.
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.