Fantasy Baseball 2012 Waiver Wire: 7 Hot Players to Target ASAP
Now is the time to act.
The waiver wire is never as talent-rich as it is during the first few weeks of the season. Fantasy studs will emerge, and whether you're able to jump on them now could make the difference between winning and losing later in the season.
It's always important to keep things in perspective and remember that success in a small sample does not necessarily reflect a real, repeatable skill, but in some cases small samples are harbingers for big numbers.
For these seven players, there's at least one number that's sure to get bigger in the coming weeks: their ownership percentage.
Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds RP (48% Owned)
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Aroldis Chapman is stuck in fantasy purgatory at the moment, but don't let that dissuade you from stashing the Cuban fireballer on your bench.
His purportedly overpowering fastball has been just that, and he's followed up a spring in which he averaged nine strikeouts for every walk by not allowing a free pass in his first three innings of work.
If Chapman has really worked out his control problems, he's got the upside to be a top-20 fantasy starter. Given at least 180 innings of work, he'd be money in the bank for 200 strikeouts.
If the Reds are really serious about making a playoff run, they can't afford to keep an arm like this mired in middle relief. With only Homer Bailey, Mike Leake and Bronson Arroyo standing between Chapman and a slot in the Cincinnati rotation, I expect that he'll get his chance sooner rather than later.
He's still a bit of a speculative pick, but if your team has some room for risk, grab him now and reap the benefits later.
Chad Billingsley, Los Angeles Dodgers SP (67% Owned)
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It's generally not a good idea to put a ton of stock into one start against the San Diego Padres, but in Chad Billingsley's case, the underlying numbers dictate that I make an exception.
Billingsley was absolutely untouchable in his first outing of 2012, fanning 11 Padres and walking just one.
He's had starts like this before, but in this case, his performance improvement was accompanied by a measurable change in his approach.
Billingsley threw his changeup 13 percent of the time, more than twice as often as he's ever thrown in before (for a full season). He pulled the string on more than a few San Diego hitters, and if he can continue to do the same over his next few starts, this improvement is absolutely sustainable.
If you've got Clay Buchholz or Jair Jurrjens taking up space in your rotation, give 'em the boot and pick up Billingsley.
Hector Santiago, Chicago White Sox RP (36% Owned)
The Chicago White Sox bullpen is a muddled situation at best, but at the end of the season's first week, Hector Santiago looks like the best bet.
He was overpowering in spring training, matching every baserunner he allowed with a punch-out (13 of each in 11 innings).
His fastball tops out in the mid-90s, but it's his devastating split-finger that's already giving hitters nightmares. Not only does it drop off the table, it averages nearly 20 mph slower than his fastball.
He's already cashed in on one save opportunity, and the Chicago Tribune is reporting that Santiago has the official "closer" tag. That makes him much more valuable than Matt Thornton, Francisco Cordero or Matt Capps.
Zack Cozart, Cincinnati Reds SS (36% Owned)
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Already 26 years old, Zack Cozart was a moderately hyped prospect heading into the spring. He won the starting shortstop gig for the Cincinnati Reds, but given that his competition was Paul Janish, the accomplishment really isn't all that impressive.
His hot start in the big leagues (5-for-8 with a home run and a stolen base), however, is extremely impressive.
Cozart has always displayed a decent blend of power and speed, and his minor league record paints a picture of a player capable of maintaining an average around .275. That's wonderful production from a fantasy shortstop.
I'd take Cozart over known entities like Mike Aviles, Yunel Escobar and Ian Desmond, all of whom are owned in more 49 percent of leagues.
Kelly Johnson, Toronto Blue Jays 2B (63% Owned)
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Kelly Johnson has settled in for his first full season in Toronto quite nicely, collecting five hits, including a home run, in his first three games of 2012.
He's found a cozy home in the second spot in the batting order, right in front of Jose Bautista, Adam Lind and Edwin Encarnacion. Those three will combine for upwards of 100 home runs, giving Kelly Johnson plenty of run scoring opportunities.
Johnson's got some power of his own, but in his new situation, on-base ability will be his most important skill. If he can keep it around .350 (it was .370 back in 2010), he'll add 95 runs scored to his 20 home runs and 15 steals.
If Johnson is available in your league, feel free to hand Chase Utley, Ryan Roberts or Jason Kipnis their walking papers.
Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox SP (59% Owned)
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Chris Sale has yet to pitch this season (he's scheduled to start tonight in Cleveland), but I'm so confident in his pending production that I'm going to go ahead and put him on this list anyway, assuming that he'll qualify as "hot" by the end of the evening.
Sale was dominant out of the bullpen last season, featuring a more diverse repertoire than most relievers can offer. He complements his mid-90s heater with an overpowering slider and a good enough changeup, giving him enough ammunition to vanquish hitters on both sides of the plate.
It's amazing to me that he's not owned in more leagues. At this point in the season, it's almost like there's a (resisting the urge to make an incredibly stupid pun) discount (phew) on him.
Anyway, I'd take him over Jhoulys Chacin, Wandy Rodriguez and Vance Worley.
Colby Rasmus, Toronto Blue Jays OF (52% Owned)
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I know that this list is supposed to feature "hot players," but I feel the need to make an exception for Mr. Rasmus.
Yes, he's started the season with only one hit in his first 12 plate appearances, but come on, it's 12 plate appearances. If he did this in the middle of July, nobody would bat an eye, but because he was already a bit of a risky draft pick, reactionary owners are dumping him.
Also, just look at that picture.
No, really. Let it wash over you for a minute.
You're telling me that you don't want that guy to be a part of your life for the next five months?
I'll admit that Rasmus is far from a sure thing, but he's got more upside than just about any player owned in less than 75 percent of leagues.
Cut ties with Jeff Francoeur or Peter Bourjos and grab his 20/20 potential while you can.