Sure, it's only the first week of the fantasy baseball season but it is never too early to take a look at the waiver wire. As you look around you will find several names who were undrafted league but are very useful fantasy players. Luckily you don't have to scour the waiver wire every day and figure out how these names might help your fantasy team.
That's my job.
Every week I will be not only listing the top free agent pickups for the week but also explaining how and why these guys will help your team. Feel free to add more names to the list or just let me know what you think by commenting in the space below. Now let's see which available players deserve your attention this week.
1) Brandon Belt, 1B, San Francisco Giants (Owned in 34% of leagues)
Belt making the big league club out of spring training was unexpected but even the Giants front office realized that his talents were too good to stash away any longer. Belt is an ultra disciplined hitter who makes pitchers work the count and will draw a good amount of walks.
His patience and on-base ability is sorely needed in this Giants lineup as is the protection he offers for Buster Posey and Pat Burell. Belt has good power but isn't a threat for 30+ HRs. He should be good for about 20 HRs, 70 RBI and 70 runs this season which profiles as a very good fantasy corner infielder. The thing that might surprise some is that Belt is actually a very good athlete who stole 22 bases in the minor leagues last year. Though he won't be a regular base stealer, don't be surprised if he swipes 12-15 bags for the Giants in 2011.
2) Domonic Brown, OF, Philadelphia Phillies (Owned in 25% of leagues)
Of all the players in Waiver Flavor this week, Domonic Brown is my bet to have the biggest fantasy impact this season. Before he was hit by the pitch that broke his hand, Brown was soaring up draft boards in fantasy leagues and with good reason. He is a pure five tool player with plus skills across the board. Brown will hit for power, especially in Citizen's Bank Park, and has good speed which should translate to planty of stolen bases this season.
The key for Brown's success is managing the strike zone and not becoming too home run happy, which he does at times. With his speed, he will be able to leg out plenty of infield hits putting him in prime position to rack up the steals. The Phillies need Brown back desperately now that Chase Utley is missing from the lineup and Jayson Werth is in Washington. Brown should see plenty of opportunities once he comes back from the fracture in his hand which should be in a week or two. Trust me folks, he is well worth the wait and the bench spot.
Smoak...If You Got Got Him
3) Justin Smoak, 1B, Seattle Mariners (Owned in 19% of leagues)
This is one of my own personal favorite sleepers for the 2011 season. It stuns me how many fantasy players were in love with Smoak at this point last season—his ownership was at 30% despite being in AAA—but who now want nothing to do with the talented youngster.
His numbers from last season should be completely ignored as he was a nomad crossing the country, playing for four different teams at two different levels. Smoak has finally found a home in the fifth spot in the Mariners everyday lineup and I expect him to have a terrific season. Smoak is a rare player who is a legitimate switch hitter with power from both sides, who has a great approach at the plate and a tireless work ethic. There will be struggles but when all is said and done, Smoak's stats will look similar to .280/.340/.490, 25 HR, 85 RBI and 75 runs. Those are some real good numbers for a guy who is currently not owned in 80% of fantasy leagues.
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4) Kyle McClellan, Starting Pitcher, St. Louis Cardinals (Owned in 29% of leagues)
Somebody in the Cardinals rotation has got to step it up in order to replace Adam Wainwright, who is out for the season after undergoing Tommy John Surgery a few weeks ago. So why not Kyle McClellan? McClellan had a stellar spring training, going 4-0 with an 0.78 ERA, 0.87 WHIP and 16 K's in 23 innings and winning the Cardinals open competition for the final spot in their rotation.
Though he has worked out of the bullpen for the past couple seasons, McClellan wants to be a starter and is putting all that he's got into this opportunity. He will start at home against the Pirates on Tuesday and coming off such a marvelous spring, he is a fantastic starting pitcher streamer for at least a week of two.
5) Sean Rodriguez, 2B, 3B, OF,Tampa Bay Rays (Owned in 31% of leagues)
I'm not sure why Rodriguez wasn't drafted in more leagues but their loss could be your gain right now.
The Rays placed stud 3B Evan Longoria on the 15 day disabled list due to a strained left oblique, opening a spot in the everyday lineup for Rodriguez. He is a small but powerful hitter who has the stroke to hit 20+ HRs a season if given steady playing time.
He also has good speed and the faith of Rays Manager Joe Maddon to give him the green light on the basepaths. The best part about adding Rodriguez to your fantasy team however, is his multi-position eligibility. You can play him at 2B, 3B, MI, CI or OF, making him the perfect role player that every successful fantasy team has. For those who have already lost key starters such as Longoria, Mike Stanton or Matt Holliday you could get by just fine for a few weeks with the addition of Sean Rodriguez.
6) Allen Craig, OF/1B, St. Louis Cardinals (Owned in 1% of leagues)
The Cardinals are putting off their decision on Matt Holliday until early next week but either way he is going to miss at least 10 games after having surgery to remove his appendix last week. That creates an opportunity for the young right handed slugger, Allen Craig. Craig has great power generated by a quick whip like swing with big time loft. Craig is a very seasoned hitter who has made great strides in strike zone discipline over the past couple years. His bat is sorely needed in the Cardinals lineup while Holliday is out and picking him up would be a good chance to get some cheap run production from a waiver pickup right now.
7) Jordan Walden, Relief Pitcher, Los Angeles Angels (Owned in 9% of leagues)
Walden had an amazing run for the Angels at the end of 2010 where he struck out 23 in just 15 innings. He is strictly a two pitch pitcher with his four seam fastball being his primary offering out of the pen. This fastball has a heavy natural run and sink that is very difficult for hitters to center or get lift on.
Walden is widely regarded as the future closer of the Angels but with Fernando Rodney always a work in progress, that opportunity should come earlier than expected. In deeper leagues and leagues that credit holds, Walden is much more valuable right now but sooner or later he will have great value in every fantasy baseball format.
8) Wilson Ramos, Catcher, Washington Nationals, (Owned in 1% of leagues)
It always surprises me how quickly baseball fans and especially fantasy leaguers forget about top prospects after a slow start to their career or they're traded, as in Ramos' case. Ramos was once a threat to Joe Mauer's job in Minnesota but was traded to Washington last season in exchange for closer Matt Capps. Ramos is a very good defensive catcher with one of the best arms in the majors. His defense will help out the Nationals pitching staff which struggles holding runners on base and therefore will earn himself a lot of playing time.
As a hitter, Ramos has great power and is capable of producing a 20+ HR season as an everyday starter. I know that the Nationals have three legitimate catchers but trust me when I say that Ramos is by far the best right now. He will be the starter and be a low end starting fantasy catcher and an absolute must own in leagues that start two or more backstops.
Jeff Mans is a co-host of The Fantasy Alarm Show on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio, the Senior Writer at Fantasy Alarm and a contributor to Bleacher Report.