Edit: Mark Shapiro reads my blog.
I would imagine that anyone reading a blog about sports would have at least a basic grasp as to what fantasy baseball is. Unfortunately, there is a disappointing lack of Kevin Costner, James Earl Jones and a baseball diamond composed of brain waves emitted during R.E.M. sleep. By the way, the fact that Ray Liotta both bats and throws with the opposite hand of Shoeless Joe Jackson still irritates me when I see that movie. But this is all moot; back to fantasy baseball!
At this point in the year drafts are finished, and other than trades the only way to add to your team is through the waiver wire. Matthew Berry may be an ESPN fantasy expert but every time he suggests a player to add they’re either already on a competitor’s roster, or they’re on my own. He and others like him may be good at what they do, but tips like “Add Ryan Franklin,” “Aaron Hill may have value” or “Pick up Nick Swisher,” don’t do much good when you play in a deep league where these players may have been drafted.
What I would like to do is offer some predictions on players that will not necessarily tear the league apart in the coming months, but guys who can contribute well in at least one category and are not likely to be owned, even in a deep league.
Dingers! Everyone’s favorite statistic. Unfortunately for anyone scrambling with a roster of Carl Crawford, James Loney and Chone Figgins, they are not easy to find. They’re the most important fantasy stat; every homerun adds not only a tally in its own category but also at least one rbi, a run, and upticks in batting average and OPS. As such, they’re can also be difficult to come across. At the end of last season, no league I was in had a free agent who hit even 20 homers.
However, we don’t need to dig up a full season’s worth of power. We’re looking for someone who can contribute a decent number in a short time, maybe 5-10 in a 4-8 week span. The best place to dig for this is the minors. Here are two players who could get a call up and can contribute homeruns to your roster:
Matt LaPorta: Was drafted in only 6% of Yahoo leagues and is currently owned in even less after not making the club in Spring Training. He will get a call up sometime this season, even if it is only in September, and he will hit for power. He’s currently fourth in the International League with a 1.142 OPS and .338 ISO and 5 homers.
Brandon Wood: Wood is a curious case, fantasy wise. He was called up two weeks ago, and many (myself included) added him to their rosters hoping to see some of the power he’s displayed in the minors. A 1.260 OPS and .577 ISO along with 4 homers in only 30 plate appearances were right along the lines of his minor league career, in which he’s hit 83 homers in 1311 at bats. Unfortunately he’s only started one game since his call up, and the Angels are brutally mismanaging their young slugger. I imagine he will be back down to the minors soon, with another chance later this season likely to yield better results. Best yet, he is not only eligible at third but shortstop as well, enhancing his potential value all the more.
In looking for some guys who can help you over the top in the k category the key isn’t to necessarily find the best pitcher. By mid-season every quality starter is going to be long gone, as will most good relievers. So we look to mid-season call ups, and try to find someone who will not just contribute strikeouts but will do so without hurting you in other categories. And since they are owned in most leagues right now I won’t try and pass off David Price or Jordan Zimmerman as sleeper pickups.
Tommy Hanson: Almost made the rotation out of Spring Training, and was drafted in quite a few leagues, but is now a free agent in almost every one. Hanson is a complete pitcher, with a career 1.09 WHIP and absurd 10.5 k/9 ratio (402 k’s in 343 1/3 minor league innings!). So far this season, in his first foray into AAA baseball Hanson has a 1.11 WHIP, 4.14 k/bb and 1.55 FIP in 20 2/3 IP. Hanson could get a call anytime, though late summer or September is most likely.
Clay Buchholz: I suppose it is kind of funny to write about the top pitching prospect for one of the most famous sports franchises in the world, a guy who has already thrown a major league no hitter, as someone to watch for. But that’s really quite true, as Buchholz is pretty much not owned at all. If the no hitter doesn’t tell you what kind of stuff he has, than check out his k/9 line: in 98 major league innings, 8.57, and in 359 minor league innings, 10.8. He’s also got a 1.09 WHIP thus far this season. He has a few hoops to jump through if he wants to pitch in the majors this season (Brad Penny, John Smoltz and a career 4.7 bb/9 innings), but if he makes it up then he will not only have value as a strikeout pitcher, but playing for Boston should help him net a few wins as well.
These guys aren’t necessarily unknowns, but they are hopefully un-owned. The key is not to give you names to add now, but to keep a lookout for their chance to play, and be the first one to scoop them up. The nice thing about power categories is that younger guys, even with unrefined skill sets, are often ready to contribute those stats. Being able to pick out a player or two who can push you over the top in even one category will often be the difference between first place and another disappointing finish.