Fantasy Baseball Waiver Wire: Top 10 Pickups for Week 12

Andrew Gould@AndrewGould4Featured ColumnistJune 20, 2016

Fantasy Baseball Waiver Wire: Top 10 Pickups for Week 12

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    Yordano Ventura has strung together two strong outings after a terrible start to 2016.
    Yordano Ventura has strung together two strong outings after a terrible start to 2016.Gail Burton/Associated Press

    The fantasy baseball waiver wire can't stay hot forever.

    Through hot streaks, call-ups and role changes, a steady stream of worthwhile free agents circulate on a regular basis. Yet an upgrade isn't always available at no cost, and there's no law requiring fantasy players to pick someone up every week. 

    This might be a week to lay low. Assembling a fruitful list of 10 waiver-wire recommendations has never proved tougher this season. Some options are limited to smaller mixed leagues.

    Plenty of talented players remain available in over 50 percent of Yahoo Sports leagues. Most of them, however, have already received recognition here in previous weeks.

    Rajai Davis, Matt Adams, Trevor Bauer and Jonathan Gray deserve more attention. The red-hot Justin Turner is right on the ownership cutoff point. In a competitive league, someone should have added Trayce Thompson weeks ago.

    With so many risers already highlighted, this list features fallers looking to earn forgiveness from those who dropped them earlier this season. Those players deserve second chances, and the other guys justify a first look.

Honorable Mentions

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    Tim Lincecum tossed six solid innings during his 2016 debut on Saturday.
    Tim Lincecum tossed six solid innings during his 2016 debut on Saturday.George Nikitin/Associated Press

    Mixed Leagues

    Mitch Moreland, 1B, Texas Rangers

    Danny Espinosa, 1B/2B/3B/SS, Washington Nationals

    Wilmer Flores, 2B/3B/SS, New York Mets

    Alex Bregman, SS, Houston Astros

    Albert Almora, OF, Chicago Cubs

    Steven Moya, OF, Detroit Tigers

    Tim Lincecum, SP, Los Angeles Angels

    Zack Wheeler, SP, New York Mets

    David Phelps, SP/RP, Miami Marlins

    AL-Only

    Ike Davis, 1B, New York Yankees

    Ezequiel Carrera, OF, Toronto Blue Jays

    Michael Martinez, OF, Cleveland Indians

    Jake Smolinski, OF, Oakland Athletics

    Adrian Sampson, SP, Seattle Mariners

    NL-Only

    Jace Peterson, 2B, Atlanta Braves

    Cody Asche, 3B/OF, Philadelphia Phillies

    Matt Garza, SP, Milwaukee Brewers

    Luis Perdomo, SP/RP, San Diego Padres 

    Jim Johnson, RP, Atlanta Braves

10. Robbie Grossman, OF, Minnesota Twins (7 Percent Owned)

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    Robbie Grossman has produced star-caliber numbers in a small sample size.
    Robbie Grossman has produced star-caliber numbers in a small sample size.Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Let's play a highly misleading game. Here are the slash lines, walk rate and strikeout rates of two anonymous hitters. 

    Player A: .289/.425/.514, 18.2 BB%, 22.6 K%

    Player B: .289/.425/.536, 19.2 BB%, 21.7 K%

    Player A is Paul Goldschmidt. Player B is Robbie Grossman.

    So it's settled. Grossman is better than Goldschmidt. The Minnesota Twins outfielder is available in over 90 percent of Yahoo Sports leagues, so enjoy your fantasy championship.

    In all seriousness, he has attained those numbers through 120 plate appearances. This is also the same person tossed away by the Houston Astros after batting .143/.222/.245 last season. He's not a must-add star in the making, but the early returns are promising enough to notice.

    The rise in walks and decline to a workable strikeout percentage particularly offer encouragement, even if he's more of a short-term add in deeper formats until he sustains this success beyond one stellar month.

9. Willson Contreras, C, Chicago Cubs (34 Percent Owned)

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    Willson Contreras made his MLB debut for the Chicago Cubs over the weekend.
    Willson Contreras made his MLB debut for the Chicago Cubs over the weekend.Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    If Willson Contreras plays, he'll make a substantial fantasy impact.

    Prior to getting promoted on Friday, the Chicago Cubs catcher crafted a .353/.442/.593 slash line in Triple-A. Along with earning a personal-best 11.7 walk percentage, he brandished more power and speed than in years past with nine homers and four steals.

    The Cubs welcomed him over the weekend, but he joins Miguel Montero and David Ross on the big league roster. Montero, hitting a mediocre .202/.319/.325, could sacrifice playing time, but the 32-year-old remains a superior presence behind the plate. Ross will stay aboard as Jon Lester's personal catcher.

    If given regular starts, Contreras wields top-10 upside as a catcher worth utilizing in all mixed leagues. Unfortunately, he can't expect regular starts out of the gate. He's not even guaranteed to stay in the big leagues through the month.

    In redraft leagues, he's most intriguing in two-catcher formats or leagues with ample bench space. He's certainly more exciting than Derek Norris or Nick Hundley, but infrequent reps will probably make him less valuable. 

8. Whit Merrifield, 2B/OF, Kansas City Royals (28 Percent Owned)

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    Whit Merrifield has enjoyed resounding success atop the Kansas City Royals' batting order.
    Whit Merrifield has enjoyed resounding success atop the Kansas City Royals' batting order.Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

    Whit Merrifield is the typical out-of-nowhere hot hand limited to a honorable mention, but he gets a nod during a slow week.

    Ravaged by injuries and tired of Omar Infante's abysmal offense, the Kansas City Royals promoted the 27-year-old, who has spent the last six years in the club's farm system. Considering he hit .274/.334/.399 during his minor league tenure, nobody could have expected this.

    In 28 games, Merrifield is hitting .333 with 10 doubles, two home runs and four steals. Featured in the leadoff role despite drawing three walks, he has scored 21 runs.

    This won't last from a fringe prospect who never displayed any power in the minors. Owners in shallow mixed leagues should let someone else grab him for a short-term jolt that will soon wane.

    As for everyone else, he also may not perish into irrelevancy. He swiped 32 bags last year and 16 in 36 Triple-A games before his promotion, so look for him to lose power but gain speed. And given how long Royals manager Ned Yost kept Alcides Escobar atop the batting order, he won't move Merrifield for a lack of plate discipline.

7. Cody Reed, SP, Cincinnati Reds (30 Percent Owned)

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    Cody Reed registered nine strikeouts during his MLB debut on Saturday.
    Cody Reed registered nine strikeouts during his MLB debut on Saturday.David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Cody Reed isn't a first-class prospect for whom fantasy players waited with bated breath. He didn't change that perception during his MLB debut, allowing four runs over seven innings on Saturday.

    He did, however, strike out nine Houston Astros, and the southpaw's final line would look better if lefty killer Evan Gattis didn't take him deep during the seventh frame. In a year where most pitching neophytes don't last five innings, it was refreshing to see Reed deep in an outing with only 92 pitches, even if the Cincinnati Reds should have yanked him after six in hindsight.

    MLB.com's No. 60 prospect posted a 3.20 ERA in 11 Triple-A starts, weaving 63 strikeouts and 17 walks over 64.2 innings. The 6'5" hurler works in the mid-90s with a plus slider, and he profiles as a future No. 3 or 4 starter with high-strikeout upside.

    As a short-term fantasy play, he's best deployed in the right matchup until gamers can square him up over a larger sample size. Don't drop anyone too good to land him in mixed leagues, but he's worth a speculative add in most places.

6. A.J. Reed, 1B, Houston Astros (14 Percent Owned)

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    A.J. Reed shouldn't wait much longer for the Houston Astros to promote him.
    A.J. Reed shouldn't wait much longer for the Houston Astros to promote him.Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Better to grab a hyped prospect a week early rather than wait a week too long. Now is the time to add A.J. Reed, who is on the cusp of graduating to the Houston Astros.

    The first baseman hasn't demolished Triple-A pitching, but he sports an .827 OPS despite his .252 average. He has also accumulated multiple hits in five of his last 10 games, recording eight extra-base knocks in the process.

    Before the 23-year-old slugger caught fire, Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow gave a promising update to the Houston Chronicle's Jake Kaplan nearly two weeks ago.

    "He's getting closer," Luhnow said. "There are certain things we're definitely looking for that will give us confidence that he's going to consistently deliver up here. But I don't think we're that far away."

    Reed has since made a promising case for a promotion, and the Astros created a first-base vacancy by demoting Tyler White. While he'll struggle to make contact in the majors, his pop warrants a place in the lineup over Marwin Gonzalez.

    The buzz around Reed has exceeded reality in most circles. He's closer to Justin Bour than Chris Davis this year, but the power ceiling merits an investment in all leagues.

5. Jayson Werth, OF, Washington Nationals (34 Percent Owned)

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    Jayson Werth has jumped back into fantasy relevance with a tremendous June.
    Jayson Werth has jumped back into fantasy relevance with a tremendous June.Associated Press

    After hitting .221 during an injury-riddled 2015, Jayson Werth exited May batting .225. Decaying into no more than a solid power source with a decrepit average and no speed, the 37-year-old faced danger of vanishing from the fantasy zeitgeist. 

    Any fantasy investors who dropped the Washington Nationals outfielder better not tell him

    Werth has awoken in June by batting .327 (18-for-55) with two homers in 14 games. After drawing 13 walks to 45 strikeouts through May, he has worked 10 free passes this month while punching out out 14 times.

    His 39.4 hard-hit percentage resembles the rate earned in 2014, when he batted .292/.394/.455. The veteran will probably never flirt with a .300 average again, but his current .250 clip is reasonable from a career .271 hitter.

    When he's healthy and making steady contact, Werth is well worth using in leagues with five starting outfielders. If he stays on the field long enough, he'll deliver his first 20-homer campaign since 2013 while stockpiling counting numbers ahead of Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy in the No. 2 hole.

4. Kolten Wong, 2B, St. Louis Cardinals (30 Percent Owned)

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    Kolten Wong returns to the majors after hitting four home runs in seven Triple-A games.
    Kolten Wong returns to the majors after hitting four home runs in seven Triple-A games.Associated Press

    Fantasy players knew Jhonny Peralta's return would spell trouble for the struggling Kolten Wong. Most expected less playing time, not a demotion.

    With their veteran shortstop back in the fold, the St. Louis Cardinals had no need for a second baseman hitting .222/.306/.286 with one home run in 144 plate appearance. They sent him to Memphis rather than downgrading him to a limited bench role, but the 25-year-old quickly overstayed his welcome.

    In seven Triple-A games, Wong batted 12-for-28 with four walks and four home runs. By driving in 11 runs, he more than doubled his RBI tally (five) collected over 49 MLB games. He also registered one more extra-base hit than the four compiled in St. Louis.

    Most importantly, he took some reps in center field, where he can earn playing time upon his return. St. Louis optioned Randal Grichuk to Triple-A, and none of its crowded crop of position players are equipped to handle the demanding position.

    Wong recalled his past experience in center to MLB.com's Nick Krueger

    "I played center field in college," Wong said. "I feel like I'm athletic enough to play out there. It was funny being out there. It just brought back memories of playing in college again my freshman year. I didn't feel like I really lost that much."

    Although never the best real-life hitter, he recorded two straight seasons with double-digit homers and at least 15 steals. If he garners more playing time in center and reverts closer to a .250 batting average, he can salvage his season as the solid middle infielder drafters anticipated. 

3. Yordano Ventura, SP, Kansas City Royals (48 Percent)

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    Yordano Ventura made his two strongest starts of the season while appealing an eight-game suspension for hitting Manny Machado.
    Yordano Ventura made his two strongest starts of the season while appealing an eight-game suspension for hitting Manny Machado.Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

    After witnessing Yordano Ventura's sudden turnaround, fantasy managers across the world are frantically pleading with Manny Machado to charge all of their struggling pitchers.

    The 25-year-old entered 2016 as a promising breakout selection, striking out over a batter per inning after last year's All-Star break. This year, however, he has tallied an underwhelming 59 strikeouts over 79.1 frames while issuing 36 walks—20 in April.

    Two months into a disastrous season, the Kansas City Royals flamethrower decayed from unplayable to unownable in standard mixed leagues. Only four starting pitchers have a worse strikeouts-minus-walks percentage than his 6.6, but nobody would dare touch Mike Pelfrey or Jeff Locke in a league with fewer than 20 teams. 

    Ventura's season reached an embarrassing nadir on June 7, when he relinquished six runs against the Baltimore Orioles before intentionally plunking Machado with his hardest heater of the day. If a patient owner stuck by his side that long, his latest display of immaturity proved a tipping point.

    So naturally he has since returned to life and allowed one run over his past two starts while collecting 15 strikeouts to one walk. Sometimes baseball only exists to infuriate those who adore it.

    He'll now serve his eight-game suspension for the incident at Baltimore, which either amounts to missing one start or making his next outing on extra rest. That buys gamers a later time to give the maddening pitcher a second chance before he's again owned across the board.

2. Travis d'Arnaud, C, New York Mets (45 Percent Owned)

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    Travis d'Arnaud struggled at the plate in early April before landing on the disabled list.
    Travis d'Arnaud struggled at the plate in early April before landing on the disabled list.Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    This isn't the first "Travis d'Arnaud is close to returning from the disabled list" post. It probably won't be the last.

    The New York Mets catcher would have enjoyed a breakout year if his 2015 campaign wasn't cut to 67 games due to two separate injuries. His .355 weighted on-base average (wOBA) ranked third among catchers with at least 200 plate appearances behind Kyle Schwarber and Buster Posey.

    That d'Arnaud didn't show up in April, when he hit .196/.288/.261 in 13 games before suffering a right rotator cuff strain. Yet 52 plate appearances is an awfully small sample size to discard a potential top-five performer at his position when healthy.

    According to Newsday's Marc Carig, the Mets plan to activate the 27-year-old on Tuesday. As his team loses ground on the Washington Nationals without Lucas Duda and David Wright, manager Terry Collins said he can't afford to gradually ease his catcher into action.

    “When he gets back here, I think we’re going to throw him out there,” Collins said, per Carig. “Now, is he going to be more than four in a row, I doubt it. It may not be four in a row. We’ll just see how he plays. But I think he’s ready to take on anything we can put at him except for a real extended period of time.”  

    If he can't stay on the field for even three-quarters of the season, d'Arnaud will never realize his potential as a premium fantasy option. Now that he's set to return, enjoy him now and worry about a future absence later.

1. Shawn Kelley, RP, Washington Nationals (43 Percent Owned)

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    Shawn Kelley will transition from an elite middle reliever to a tremendous temporary closer.
    Shawn Kelley will transition from an elite middle reliever to a tremendous temporary closer.Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    With Jonathan Papelbon sidelined, the Nationals' best reliever moves to the ninth inning.

    For the first time in his career, the 35-year-old went on the disabled list due to a right intercostal strain. Nationals manager Dusty Baker initially danced around naming a replacement, but Shawn Kelley picked up two saves during the week.

    According to the Washington Post's Chelsea Janes, Baker will stick with Kelley as his ninth-inning option.

    “This is what we settled upon,” Baker said. “Mike [Maddux] and I talked about it, and we think he’s best suited for that until Pap gets back.”

    It wasn't a tough call, as the 32-year-old sports a 2.45 ERA, 0.82 WHIP and 35-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 25.2 innings. His 2.12 fielding independent pitching (FIP) ranks No. 10 among all qualified relievers. 

    He's better than Papelbon, who accrued a 3.62 FIP and career-low 18.6 strikeout percentage before getting shelved. Yet don't expect any controversy when he returns; Baker is too much of an old-guard manager to downgrade someone with a decade of closing experience. 

    Kelley is only keeping Papelbon's seat warm, but he's an elite fantasy option as long as the role is afforded to him. Upon returning to a setup gig, he'll still hold value as a top-notch middle reliever.

    Note: All advanced stats courtesy of FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

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