Fantasy Baseball Waiver Wire: Top 10 Pickups for Week 14

Andrew Gould@AndrewGould4Featured ColumnistJuly 4, 2016

Fantasy Baseball Waiver Wire: Top 10 Pickups for Week 14

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    Danny Espinosa has hit five home runs over his last four games.
    Danny Espinosa has hit five home runs over his last four games.Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Even during a 162-game season, one amazing day can command the attention of fantasy baseball players everywhere.

    Multiple players blazed their path into this week's wavier-wire recommendations with a monster statement game. Perhaps the magic has already passed, but it's tough to ignore a dominant performance.

    Although the following players are available in over 50 percent of Yahoo Sports leagues as of Sunday evening, their ownership rates will steadily increase over the next few days. That's especially true for the man pictured above, who will soon be claimed in a majority of leagues.

    What else is there to do on a holiday besides scour the open market for free agents? Consider freeing these players from the tyranny of the fantasy waiver wire. 

Honorable Mentions

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    Wilmer Flores recorded six hits (two homers) on Sunday.
    Wilmer Flores recorded six hits (two homers) on Sunday.Morry Gash/Associated Press

    Mixed Leagues

    Cameron Rupp, C, Philadelphia Phillies

    Didi Gregorius, SS, New York Yankees

    Wilmer Flores, 3B/SS, New York Mets

    Angel Pagan, OF, San Francisco Giants

    Daniel Norris, SP, Detroit Tigers

    Brandon McCarthy, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers

    Xavier Cedeno, RP, Tampa Bay Rays

    AL Only

    Mike Zunino, C, Seattle Mariners

    J.B. Shuck, OF, Chicago White Sox

    Aaron Judge, OF, New York Yankees

    Chad Green, SP, New York Yankees

    Cam Bedrosian, RP, Los Angeles Angels

    NL Only

    Adam Frazier, 2B, Pittsburgh Pirates

    Jeimer Candelario, 3B, Chicago Cubs

    Hunter Renfroe, OF, San Diego Padres

    Lucas Harrell, SP, Atlanta Braves

    Zach Eflin, SP, Philadelphia Phillies

10. Max Kepler, OF, Minnesota Twins (6 Percent Owned)

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    Minnesota Twins rookie Max Kepler hit two three-run homers on Saturday.
    Minnesota Twins rookie Max Kepler hit two three-run homers on Saturday.Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    An honorable mention last week, Max Kepler pushed his way into the limelight with a two-homer, seven-RBI performance on Saturday.

    The Minnesota Twins rookie is now batting .256/.328/.479 with five homers in 132 plate appearances. All five long balls have come over the past month, a promising development for a 23-year-old who had yet to harness his raw power in the minors.

    Although he compiled 56 extra-base hits last year, Kepler has never belted more than 10 homers in a single season. He's now showing the tools to change that at the highest level, transferring his gap power into fence-clearing pop.

    Don't write it off as a fluke from a maturing 6'4" slugger. The German newcomer is not a must-add in all mixed leagues, but he has the potential to make an impact in deeper formats.

9. Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B/OF, Cleveland Indians (27 Percent Owned)

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    Lonnie Chisenhall recorded an .879 OPS in June.
    Lonnie Chisenhall recorded an .879 OPS in June.Duane Burleson/Associated Press

    Lonnie Chisenhall has never lived up to his potential, but he has a habit of teasing everyone with stretches of brilliance.

    Two years ago, he hit .332/.396/.519 before the All-Star break, only to unravel with a .218/.277/.315 second-half slash line. Last year, he seemed to suddenly salvage a lost year by batting .403 in August, only to then hit .183 the rest of the way.

    The good Chisenhall has resurfaced, hitting .300/.353/.468 with five homers and four steals in 58 games. He locked down right field with a strong June for the surging Cleveland Indians, but he remains third base-eligible this season.

    Good luck guessing how he fares over the final three months, but there are some positive signs. He has slashed last year's gigantic 20.8 percent infield fly rate to 7.4 while elevating his line-drive rate to a career-best 27.3 percent. 

    Treat him more as deep-league depth than a mixed-league mainstay, but one of these days he may stay hot longer than a month or two.

8. C.J. Cron, 1B, Los Angeles Angels (10 Percent Owned)

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    C.J. Cron went 8-for-11 with three homers and nine RBI on Friday and Saturday.
    C.J. Cron went 8-for-11 with three homers and nine RBI on Friday and Saturday.Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    It took C.J. Cron until April 18 to record his sixth hit of the season. Aside from one double on Opening Day, all were singles. The Los Angeles Angels slugger finished April with one double, triple and home run apiece.

    He exceeded his first month's production two days into July. 

    After going deep on Friday night, the first baseman went 6-for-6 with a double and two homers in Saturday's 21-2 victory over the Boston Red Sox. He has already matched June's tallies of nine RBI and six runs scored.

    This is probably an overreaction, as adding him now doesn't retroactively reward owners for his weekend outburst. Yet his limited power was odd for someone likened to a poor man's Mark Trumbo.

    Inflated by his six-hit game, his .282 batting average will fall. The career .266 hitter, however, is not an average liability, especially with his strikeout percentage depreciated to 14.3.

    He hit 14 homers from July 1 onward last year, so there's enough power for him to matter in deeper mixed leagues, at least as a short-term jolt. 

7. A.J. Griffin, SP, Texas Rangers (33 Percent Owned)

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    A.J. Griffin has piled up the strikeouts since returning from the disabled list.
    A.J. Griffin has piled up the strikeouts since returning from the disabled list.Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    A hot pickup before suffering a shoulder injury, A.J. Griffin is pitching his way back onto the fantasy radar.

    In two starts since returning from a seven-week absence, the Texas Rangers starter has amassed 14 strikeouts and three walks in 9.1 innings, allowing six hits and three runs against the Boston Red Sox and at Yankee Stadium. He now has a 2.93 ERA and 1.09 WHIP this season with nearly a strikeout per inning.

    Before the season, the 28-year-old had not pitched in the majors since 2013, when he earned a 3.83 ERA for the Oakland Athletics. He then missed the next year to an elbow injury, and shoulder issues derailed his comeback attempt last year. 

    A deceptive thrower who rarely reaches 90 miles per hour, Griffin will struggle to maintain his high strikeout tallies with a 9.0 swinging-strike percentage. Yet the early returns are promising enough to monitor, especially before opponents make the proper adjustments.

    His .236 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) has ignited his low ERA, but it's not necessarily fluky. He wielded a .242 BABIP in 2013, and a high infield-fly rate helps explain how he makes so many outs on batted balls.

    Don't expect a breakout star—or even three fully healthy months—but Griffin is looking more and more like a serviceable mixed-league option.

6. Bud Norris, SP/RP, Los Angeles Dodgers (30 Percent Owned)

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    Bud Norris carried over his hot streak to the Los Angeles Dodgers, who acquired him from the Atlanta Braves last week.
    Bud Norris carried over his hot streak to the Los Angeles Dodgers, who acquired him from the Atlanta Braves last week.Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Is this the same Bud Norris who exited April with an 8.74 ERA and .978 opposing OPS?

    Something has clicked for the 31-year-old hurler, who has allowed seven runs over his last six starts. The Los Angeles Dodgers took notice, acquiring him from the Atlanta Braves to fill Clayton Kershaw's spot in the starting rotation. He made a sterling team debut on Friday, yielding two hits over six scoreless frames.

    After the game, per the Los Angeles Times' Mike DiGiovanna, the California native discussed returning home to pitch for a contender.

    "It’s kind of a whirlwind thing, but at the end of the day, I just wanted to be ready to pitch,” Norris said. “It’s the game I love, that I’ve been playing since I was a kid. It’s exciting for me to come home and play on the West Coast and be in a pennant race again.”

    During his recent revival, Norris has registered 37 strikeouts and nine walks in 35.1 innings. He spawned tons of weak contact in June, generating a 58.2 ground-ball rate and 12.5 infield-fly percentage. 

    A fringe starter with a 4.40 career ERA won't keep impersonating Kershaw, but he's a hot hand worth riding in most mixed leagues.

5. Steven Souza Jr., OF, Tampa Bay Rays (38 Percent Owned)

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    Steven Souza Jr. returned from a hip injury on Saturday.
    Steven Souza Jr. returned from a hip injury on Saturday.Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

    Despite his power and speed, Steven Souza Jr.'s flaws flushed his Yahoo ownership rate to 38 percent before returning from the disabled list on Saturday.

    The Tampa Bay Rays outfielder is hitting .251/.310/.434 with 10 homers in 59 games, but the strikeouts could cause trouble. He has punched out in 35.6 percent of his plate appearances, a higher rate than any qualified hitter has accrued. His walk percentage has also declined to 7.1.

    If he can't improve those marks, he'll struggle to maintain a passable average. Just look at last year, when he batted .225 with a slightly higher contact rate

    Yet the 27-year-old could still pull off a 20-10 campaign despite the 17-day hiatus. Investors must hope he'll uptick his activity on the basepaths with a healthy hip, as he only stole three bases in five attempts before getting shelved.

    He left May with an .800 OPS, so Souza still holds value in most leagues despite his contact woes. He's especially useful in on-base percentage formats.

4. Brandon Maurer, RP, San Diego Padres (24 Percent Owned)

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    Brandon Maurer is getting the first chance to replace the traded Fernando Rodney as the San Diego Padres closer.
    Brandon Maurer is getting the first chance to replace the traded Fernando Rodney as the San Diego Padres closer.Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    The last-place San Diego Padres capitalized on Fernando Rodney's stellar start by trading the veteran reliever to the Miami Marlins. The move creates a vacancy in San Diego's final frame, and an unexpected choice will get the first opportunity.

    Padres manager Andy Green revealed his front-runner to the San Diego Union-Tribune's Jeff Sanders:

    Replacing him is not the easiest thing and I don’t think we’re going to come out and say this guy is ‘our closer’ but when you look at the way things are set up in our bullpen, I really like the way Brandon Maurer has rebounded from his rough stretch. I think we’re inclined to give him the first crack at the ninth inning.

    This is the same Maurer wielding a 5.82 ERA and 1.45 WHIP. Right-handed opponents are hitting .295/.333/.545 against the 26-year-old, and a lot of MLB hitters are righties.

    Green must be impressed by Maurer's last eight outings, over which he has amassed eight strikeouts and no walks while allowing one run. Ryan Buchter likely squandered closing dibs by relinquishing five runs on Wednesday.

    Maurer, who has registered 47 strikeouts in 38.2 innings, is getting a chance for saves. He converted his first on Friday night, but not before surrendering his first run since June 13. Add him, but don't assume he'll keep the role for long. 

3. Ryan Buchter, RP, San Diego Padres (25 Percent Owned)

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    Ryan Buchter's elite strikeout numbers make him the more appealing Padres reliever.
    Ryan Buchter's elite strikeout numbers make him the more appealing Padres reliever.Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    If talent wins out, Buchter will end up occupying San Diego's closer seat. 

    Maurer getting the initial odd indicates Green's inkling to play the hot hand. Right now, that's Maurer, but it might not be in a week. He's rolling, but he also suffered a five-run shellacking of his own on May 30 before promptly allowing seven runs over his next five appearances.

    Meanwhile, Buchter had tossed 10 scoreless frames before his recent collapse. He recovered on Friday night, retiring the side in order with two punchouts before Maurer followed with a sloppy save conversion. 

    The 29-year-old has endured two meltdown outings in an otherwise brilliant season. Nevertheless, he still sports a 2.75 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. Opponents are hitting .183/.299/.323 against the southpaw, whose 35.4 strikeout percentage ranks eighth among qualified relievers. 

    Green didn't offer a glowing endorsement for Maurer. Instead, the quote reads like he flipped a coin or picked a reliever out of a hat.

    Once Buchter distances himself more from last week's hiccup, he'll make a hard push for ninth-inning duties. That is unless San Diego also moves him before the deadline. 

2. Javier Baez, 2B/3B/SS, Chicago Cubs (31 Percent Owned)

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    Javier Baez has cut down on his strikeouts and carved out a full-time role with the Chicago Cubs.
    Javier Baez has cut down on his strikeouts and carved out a full-time role with the Chicago Cubs.Associated Press

    Javier Baez is quietly having a productive season, just not the one anyone expected.

    The Chicago Cubs infielder was perceived as a boom-or-bust lottery ticket in the later rounds. The strikeouts would hamper his batting average, but gamers could take a hit if he realized his 30-homer, 20-steal upside. Of course, he'd need to earn regular playing time in a crowded Cubs offense.

    He's playing frequently, predominantly starting at third base with Kris Bryant manning left field. The 23-year-old has also drastically slashed his strikeout percentage to 23.0, a massive improvement after previously whiffing in 38.5 percent of his plate appearances.

    He hasn't, however, channeled his sky-high power upside which had optimists dreaming of a middle-infield-eligible Giancarlo Stanton. Baez instead has eight home runs over 204 plate appearances to go along with five steals and a steady .275/.314/.456 slash line.

    Maybe he's just a younger Asdrubal Cabrera still capable of swiping some bases, but Baez is a solid hitter in a lethal lineup with eligibility at three infield positions. Just because he hasn't reached his ceiling yet doesn't mean it has lowered.

1. Danny Espinosa, 1B/2B/3B/SS, Washington Nationals (50 Percent Owned)

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    Danny Espinosa has fended off Trea Turner with a red-hot June and three homers in July.
    Danny Espinosa has fended off Trea Turner with a red-hot June and three homers in July.Associated Press

    Let's go ahead and shut down the Trea Turner watch.

    It looks like this writer and most other critics owe the Washington Nationals an apology for mocking their decision to delay the middle infielder's promotion. They have instead stuck with Danny Espinosa, who has smacked 18 homers with an .820 OPS.

    After an atrocious April and middling May, he caught fire and hit .309/.418/.704 in June. He closed the memorable month by producing two of his nine long balls and seven of 21 RBI, only to open July with three more dingers over the weekend.

    “There were people calling for Danny's job earlier,” Nationals manager Dusty Baker said, per ESPN.com's Eddie Matz. “But it's a long season. Guys learn, guys get better with instruction. Sometimes they get it early, and sometimes they get it late.”

    Is it a coincidence that Espinosa's breakout coincided with Turner's weekend stay when Ryan Zimmerman went on paternity leave? Maybe, but he's not going anywhere now. 

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

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