Fantasy Baseball 2012: Top 15 Waiver-Wire Pickups for Week 12
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The following slideshow touts the top 15 waiver-wire pickups right now, recognizing the best free agents from the majority of 12-team roto leagues.
For the most part, this list rewards players who have already fostered productive starts to the 2012 season.
Savvy readers will notice the rankings are different from last week's offering. These changes can be attributed to the waiver-wire graduations of Phil Hughes, Clay Buchholz, Cameron Maybin and Michael Saunders—forgotten (or largely ignored) assets on draft day but now contributing pieces with their current teams.
That's how it should be with this countdown: here today, gone tomorrow.
Enjoy the show!
15: (SP) Jacob Turner, Detroit Tigers
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We interrupt our regular weekly fawning over Diamondbacks super-prospect Trevor Bauer to promote the fantasy travails of Turner, the 21-year-old pitching stud who'll make his seasonal MLB debut with Detroit on Thursday.
To clarify, Turner is not in Bauer's strata (very few talents are); but a notch just below that realm of elite, almost infallible pitchers isn't so bad, either.
In 310 minor league innings (covering two-plus seasons), Turner has a 3.25 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 256/84 strikeout-to-walk ratio—solid numbers for a prospect with a big upside in the majors.
In 16-team leagues, Turner is a no-brainer pickup at any point; for 12-teamers, owners will probably wait until after Thursday before casting an informed vote on the rookie.
14: (2B) Rickie Weeks, Milwaukee Brewers
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The following recommendation is only for those with iron stomachs.
It's for experienced fantasy owners who understand that Rickie Weeks (5 HR, 16 RBI, 6 steals, .177 batting), even during train-wreck seasons, has nowhere to go but up from this point forward.
How bad has Weeks been? His stats since May 19 (1 HR, 4 steals, .205 batting) might be the best 30-day stretch of his entire season.
Think about that for a second. Weeks, who tallied 29 homers, 83 RBI, 112 runs and 11 steals just two years ago, is now getting pity claps for batting above .200 in a short window.
But therein lies the beauty of a Weeks pickup. He's a low-cost, high-upside flier who could forge a substantial turnaround in the next three months.
Two sluggish reasons for optimism: His walk-to-strikeout ratio (41/77) isn't unspeakably bad. The same could be said about his .305 on-base percentage, as well.
13: (C) Travis d'Arnaud, Toronto Blue Jays
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The Blue Jays already have a solid young catcher in J.P. Arencibia (nine homers, 32 RBI).
But the club can only stash a great prospect like Travis d'Arnaud (15 HR, 48 RBI, .335 BA) in the minors for so long.
In the last two seasons, d'Arnaud (36 homers, 126 RBI, .319 batting) has separated himself from the pack of under-25 prospects. He's also built up expectations to the point where he could be a top-10 catcher to open the 2013 season.
But that distinction is based on him getting quality at-bats in the majors this season—hopefully in the next three weeks.
12: (OF) Kirk Nieuwenhuis, New York Mets
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From a 30-day (.302 batting) and seasonal perspective (6 HR, 24 RBI, 38 runs, 6 steals, .290 BA), Nieuwenhuis has done enough to warrant a middle-infield slot in 12-team leagues.
And yet, fantasy owners have been reluctant to embrace a relatively unknown asset with a hard-to-spell last name.
The reasons for owning Nieuwenhuis are simple: He currently ranks in the top five for runs, hits, homers, steals and batting average among Mets hitters.
In other words, he's the closest thing to David Wright the franchise has to offer.
Besides David Wright.
11: (SP) Kevin Millwood, Seattle Mariners
I've never been an unabashed supporter of Millwood (3-5, 3.69 ERA), but who am I to deny his run of stealth pitching since May 13—a stretch that includes five outings of one or less runs allowed and just 43 baserunners in his last 42 innings?
By any other name, Millwood would have already been scooped up on waivers.
In the last 30 days, Millwood has a 2.77 ERA, 1.27 WHIP and 21/10 strikeout-to-walk ratio. That kind of progress is worthy of fantasy owners' consideration when filling the No. 6 slot in a rotation.
10: (OF) Nick Markakis, Baltimore Orioles
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Any investment in Nick Markakis (8 HR, 26 RBI, .256 BA) comes with the tacit understanding that his current three-year track record (35 homers, 159 RBI, 20 steals for 2010-12) cannot compare to his previous three-year marks from 2007-09 (61 homers, 300 RBI, 24 steals).
That aside, there's still much to like about a 28-year-old corner outfielder who batted .284 or higher for six consecutive seasons (2006-11).
When he returns from a wrist injury (hopefully in the next 10 days), Markakis should be an ideal No. 5 outfielder in 12-team leagues, with the power-speed potential to move up a slot before season's end.
Just keep the expectations within reason and you'll be happy.
9: (SP) Dillon Gee, New York Mets
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Dillon Gee (4-5, 4.43 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 74/23 K-BB ratio) will never be confused with R.A. Dickey or even David Cone (from back in the day), but he's been a productive asset for the Mets all season.
In his last six starts, Gee has allowed three or less runs six times; and in his last 10 outings, Gee has yielded three or less walks nine times.
From a 30-day perspective, Gee also has two wins, a 3.12 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 37/14 K-BB ratio—numbers befitting of a No. 5 or 6 starter in 12-team leagues.
8: (SP) Homer Bailey, Cincinnati Reds
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There's really no defense for Bailey's June 5 clunker against the Pirates (six runs allowed); but isolated implosion aside, he's been a formidable and consistent asset in the fantasy realm.
From a 30-day perspective, Bailey has four wins, a 3.69 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 30/8 K-BB ratio. In his last seven starts, Bailey has surrendered two or less walks seven times and just three or less runs six times.
It also helps that he's a good bet for six strikeouts whenever taking the hill.
For 12-team leagues, Bailey is a must-start prospect from this point forward.
In his next four starts (Twins, Brewers, Dodgers, Padres), Bailey has the capacity for two victories, 27 strikeouts and a 3.29 ERA.
7: (SP) Felipe Paulino, Kansas City Royals
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It's rare to recommend a disabled list-based pitching asset so high in the countdown. But a seemingly mild groin injury is the only reason why Paulino (3-1, 1.67 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 39-15 K-BB ratio) can be found on waivers at this time.
Paulino has allowed zero runs in four outings this season (not including his one-inning stint against Minnesota before getting injured). He also tallied at least five strikeouts in all six appearances.
Of equal importance, Paulino yielded just three or fewer walks five times.
Hopefully, Paulino will be back with the Royals before June 29, allowing for two starts prior to the All-Star break.
Bottom line: Paulino is one of the sturdiest No. 5 starters in the marketplace.
6: (3B) Pedro Alvarez, Pittsburgh Pirates
As of Saturday morning, Pedro Alvarez was not a consideration for the waiver-wire gems list, on the strength (or weakness) of a .178 start to the season (April 5-28)...and a massive power drought from May 2-June 15 (one homer).
But everything changed over the weekend, as Alvarez smacked four homers and collected five hits and nine RBI for Saturday and Sunday—carrying Pittsburgh to wins over Cleveland.
Let's be clear here: At some point in the not-too-distant future, Alvarez owners will be (rightfully) tempted to boot this enigmatic slugger, based on a track record of short bursts of hitting excellence...followed by longer bouts of inactivity.
But with HR-needy clubs, Alvarez can be a poor man's version of Adam Dunn, especially when he's taking quality inside pitches for rides out of the ballpark.
5: (1B/OF) Brandon Belt, San Francisco Giants
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Back in March, my 2012 expectations for Brandon Belt ran in concert with projections involving Mike Trout and Mike Moustakas.
In retrospect, that was a poor assessment of Belt's immediate impact; but it was a reasonable assumption of his hitting talents, which have been on public display recently.
During Belt's six-game hitting streak, the dual-position talent (1B/OF) has tallied three homers, five runs, seven RBI and nine hits. It's important to note that all three of Belt's homers (on consecutive days) occurred against left-handed pitching.
That alone tells me Belt (a .343 hitter in the minors...with a .457 OBP) may finally be ready to produce strong numbers against MLB pitching.
4: (SS) Zack Cozart, Cincinnati Reds
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Just like with Pedro Alvarez and the No. 1 asset in this week's countdown, this is not Zack Cozart's first go-round on the waiver-wire gems list.
His hot-and-cold tendencies have pleased and rankled fantasy owners at various times this season, which is hard to do in the shallow shortstop market.
But for those who haven't suffered with Cozart (7 HR, 15 RBI, 39 runs, 2 steals, .264 BA) during the prolonged slumps, here's a chance to get on the ground floor with a blossoming talent.
In his last seven games, Cozart's batting .450. Since June 3, the 26-year-old boasts two homers, 10 runs and a .380 batting average.
Put it all together, and fantasy owners could land a three-category dynamo for a mere pittance.
3: (SP) Ricky Nolasco, Miami Marlins
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I would have an easier time explaining the Big Bang Theory (the scientific notion—not the popular TV show) than justifying why Nolasco is owned in only 34.3 percent of ESPN.com leagues.
Yes, he's far off the pace of his dream 2008 season (15 wins, 3.52 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 186 strikeouts), but Nolasco is still a respectable asset in real-world and fantasy circles.
In his last 10 starts, Nolasco has allowed four or less runs nine times; and during that span, he crossed the deflating threshold of four walks only once. Additionally, Nolasco has garnered a decision (four wins, five losses) in his last nine starts.
Last but not least, his seasonal ERA (4.37) easily trumps anything from the last four years.
Bottom line: You could do considerably worse for a No. 5 pitcher than banking on a long-standing talent with a track record of three runs allowed, five strikeouts and seven innings per start.
At this point, Nolasco is the perfect flier pick in 12-team leagues.
2: (RP) Ryan Cook, Oakland A's
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By the time this countdown gets published (Monday morning), Ryan Cook will likely be snatched from every 12-team league with unlimited waivers.
It's a double reflection of Cook's season-long dominance (0.61 ERA, 0.84 WHIP) and how quickly fantasy owners can mobilize to grab a middle reliever-turned-closer (three saves from June 12-16) in free agency.
(Grant Balfour was recently demoted.)
But for the lucky few who play in leagues where Cook's name still holds little value, don't waste another second on a premium talent with the capacity for 16 saves from this point forward.
And that's a conservative projection for someone who doesn't turn 25 until June 30.
1: (1B/3B) Mark Reynolds, Baltimore Orioles
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Mark Reynolds' 15-day revival (three homers, 10 RBI, 11 runs, .341 batting) shouldn't be a surprise to many fantasy owners. After all, we're talking about a guy with per-season averages of 38.5 home runs and 92.5 RBI from 2008-11.
At some point, he was going to get out of a sub-.200 funk that lasted 34 days (April 6-May 10) and essentially vanquished all the fantasy cred Reynolds had accumulated from the dream 2009 campaign of 44 homers, 102 RBI and 24 steals.
Reynolds had long been overdue to take advantage of middling American League pitching, especially on a playoff-contending club. And even if his batting average should stagnate in the .240 range...just focus on the surge of homers, runs and RBI that will surely come.
As for steals? Well, the days of 20-plus thefts may be gone, although that's a weird statement to make of a player in his athletic prime (28 years old).