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Fantasy Baseball Waiver Wire Pickups: Week 1

by Andrew Gould | @andrewgould4 | Featured Writer
Mar 30, 2021

 

It’s no April Fools joke; a full MLB season is scheduled to begin Thursday.

This time last year, everyone was wondering if they’d see any baseball at all in 2020. Now, barring a last-second setback, Opening Day will commence on time.

Fantasy baseball players may think they already completed the hard part by drafting. Not quite. A successful manager will shift from draft gear to in-season management mode instantly, even if that means attacking the wavier wire before the season’s first pitch.

Some gamers might not have a choice, as Eloy Jimenez, Zac Gallen, Luke Voit, Nick Anderson, and Kirby Yates all suffered long-term injuries late into spring training. Don’t waste any time replacing them. The same goes for anyone who didn’t make the big-league roster or snag the anticipated role.

Plenty of intriguing players went undrafted in most Yahoo leagues, so let’s scour the waiver wire for some talent capable of leading your fantasy squad to glory this season. Some other noteworthy options rostered between 50-60% of Yahoo leagues include Mitch Haniger, Andrew Vaughn, Jake McGee, Emilio Pagan, Anthony Bass, John Means, and Freddy Peralta.

Note: Rostered rates are from Yahoo leagues as of Monday night.

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FAABulous Four: Top Waiver Targets of Week 1

Aaron Hicks (OF – NYY) : 44% Rostered
Hicks has only once exceeded 400 plate appearances in a season, but worry about his injury risk later. Because of that spotty track record, the potential No. 3 hitter in one of baseball’s most dangerous lineups — playing in a premier hitter-friendly ballpark remains available in some three-outfielder formats.

The one time Hicks managed to stay on the field for most of the year, he compiled 27 home runs, 11 steals, 90 runs, and a .360 xwOBA for the Yankees in 2018. Further removed from Tommy John surgery that would have cost him time in a normally scheduled 2020, the 31-year-old is aiming for 30 homers.

See what a fully healthy Hicks can do in April. If he can’t hit his weight or stay on the field, move on to a different hot hand.

Peter Fairbanks (RP – TB): 33% Rostered
The Rays placed Nick Anderson on the 60-day IL with a partially torn pitching ligament in his pitching elbow. Although he won’t undergo surgery, the star reliever isn’t expected back until after the All-Star break.

That makes an uncertain ninth inning even murkier in Tampa Bay. More likely than not, the forward-thinking franchise won’t pick one guy to shut the door. However, Fairbanks and Diego Castillo stand out as the two premier candidates. The latter can earn his earn in any role, which is why his Yahoo rostered rate is already 64% and rising.

With most of the attention going to Castillo, Fairbanks remains available in plenty of places. He’s well worth a speculative add. Last season, the wide-eyed righty recorded a 2.70 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 26.2 innings before registering three saves on Tampa Bay’s road to the World Series. That playoff usage made him a popular sleeper before Anderson’s injury, and he now has a better chance of at least operating as part of a closer-by-committee.

Yusei Kikuchi (SP – SEA): 26% Rostered
Kikuchi has posted a 5.39 ERA and 1.47 WHIP in 41 career MLB starts, so drafters shunning him in a shallow mixed league is understandable. His waning command could make him an untrustworthy headache on a start-by-start basis, but there’s also encouraging upside.

A clear case of the results not matching the metrics, Kikuchi had a 3.30 FIP, 52.0% ground-ball rate, and 47 strikeouts in as many innings last season. The strikeout surge — and contact decline — resulted from his average fastball velocity soaring from 92.5 to 95.0 mph. He looked like an ace in three of nine starts, but he torpedoed your ratios in most of the others. This is a matter of risk tolerance, but Kikuchi could be one strong start away from his rostered rate doubling.

Myles Straw (SS/OF – HOU): 21%
Most fantasy gamers know by now that stolen bases are an endangered species. Even though Straw has hit .246/.327/.322 with one home run in 224 plate appearances, the speed potential makes him a high-impact sleeper.

Straw split 70 stolen bases evenly between Double-A and Triple-A in 2018. Despite his major-league shortcomings thus far, he swiped 16 bags in 98 games while flashing a 10.7% walk rate. Astros manager Dusty Baker also floated Straw’s name as a potential leadoff hitter, a thought he seems to have jettisoned in favor of Jose Altuve. Straw will likely begin at the bottom of the order, but the 26-year-old should get steady starts in center field.

ATC projects only Adalberto Mondesi, Trea Turner, and Ronald Acuna Jr. to steal more bases than Straw. There’s no superior speed source available anywhere.

Priority Pickups – <35% Rostered

Nick Wittgren (RP – CLE): 30%
Anyone who drafted James Karinchak as a top-10 closer might want to sit down for this. According to Tom Withers of the Associated Press, Wittgren has impressed Cleveland manager Terry Francona this spring and is a candidate to close games. Although he’s far less electric than Karinchak, Wittgren has compiled a 2.99 ERA and 88 strikeouts in 81.1 innings since the start of 2019. The righty also generated the lowest contact rate (73.3%) and highest swinging-strike rate (12.2%) of his career in the shortened 2020.

Besides, Francona has shown a willingness to adapt his bullpen usage beyond limiting his relief ace to the final frame. In his mind (and to anyone not playing a fantasy baseball league with saves and no holds), using Karinchak elsewhere is not a demotion. Wittgren may not wield league-winning upside, but the 29-year-old can deliver solid ratios and his fair share of strikeouts. Attaching saves to that portfolio would instantly make him a valuable fantasy producer.

Ryan McMahon (1B/2B/3B – COL): 29%
Raimel Tapia (OF – COL): 29%
With the season just beginning, we’re typically taking the long view for players who can stick on your squad for your long haul. However, it’s never too early to start playing the matchups. That’s especially true since the Rockies commence the 2021 campaign with a seven-game homestand.

McMahon and Tapia are both intriguing pieces in larger leagues. Nolan Arenado’s departure solidifies plate appearances for McMahon, who offers multi-position eligibility and renewed hope via an altered swing. Tapia, meanwhile, earned Colorado’s leadoff role last year by batting .321 with eight steals in 51 games.

Their final lines will both warrant a spot in mixed leagues, but they’re best deployed as Coors streamers. Tapia is a career .337 hitter at home, but that average drops 100 points on the road. McMahon’s .510 slugging percentage in Colorado craters to .323 without the aid of high altitudes. Use them wisely.

Madison Bumgarner (SP – ARI): 20%
Bumgarner’s 2020 season was undoubtedly disastrous. In his age-30 campaign, the lefty surrendered a 6.48 ERA and 1.44 WHIP in nine starts. He allowed a higher average exit velocity (89.5 mph) than his average four-seam fastball velocity (88.4 mph) with baseball’s worst barrel rate.

But what if 2020 wasn’t the end of the rodeo for Mason Saunders?

Bumgarner has regained a bit of velocity this spring and submitted 16 strikeouts in 11.2 frames. Since everyone dropped him last August, they also might have missed him recording five scoreless innings in each of his final two turns. Now that the veteran has worked a normal offseason schedule, he could bounce back closer to his 3.90 ERA from 2019. That would especially be valuable if he can re-discover his workhorse roots.

Tanner Scott (RP – BAL): 21%
No Orioles reliever has registered more than 11 saves in each of the last three seasons. Few opportunities will arise, and those scarce chances may not go to the same closer.

But saves remain one of fantasy baseball’s most finite resources, and Scott could snag some in Baltimore. The 26-year-old southpaw looks like the team’s best bet now that Hunter Harvey is out with an oblique injury. Last season, Scott notched a 1.31 ERA and 16.8% swinging-strike rate in 25 appearances. While he pitched far above his 3.48 FIP and 3.85 SIERA, a lethal combination of whiffs and ground balls (58.0%) is reminiscent of former Orioles closer Zach Britton.

Tarik Skubal (SP – DET): 20%
Skubal had a rough big-league initiation, surrendering a 5.63 ERA in 32 innings. Yet it was still apparent why the 6’3″ southpaw is well regarded. He notched 37 strikeouts — including a 20-3 K/BB ratio in his final three turns — with help from a sharp slider. After working on his changeup at Driveline this offseason, the 24-year-old impressed Detroit management enough to make the Opening Day roster. He may not last on your roster through April, but Skubal is precisely the type of high-upside gamble you want at the end of your bench.

Jonathan India (3B – CIN): 15%
The Reds are on the verge of rearranging their entire infield to accommodate India. It’s looking increasingly likely that Mike Moustakas will move back to third base, and Eugenio Suarez will shift to shortstop so India can start at second base. It’s unexpected, as they could have moved Senzel back to the infield.

They must be impressed by the neophyte, who has tallied three homers and two steals this spring. India has played just 34 games at Double-A, but the 24-year-old is a relatively polished prospect capable of producing some power and speed in a hitter-friendly ballpark. While he probably won’t make a demonstrative impact, India could be an interesting corner or middle infielder in standard fantasy formats.

Deep League Targets – <10% Rostered

Maikel Franco (3B – BAL): 9%
Franco struggled to find a job despite playing all 60 games and recording a respectable .278/.321/.457 slash line. The wait was worth it, as the 28-year-old found an everyday gig and a ballpark upgrade in Baltimore. While it’s time to abandon hopes of him maturing into Edwin Encarnacion 2.0, a .250 batting average with 20-25 homers and ample RBIs as a potential cleanup man will certainly play in deep leagues.

Ian Kennedy (RP – TEX): 6%
Matt Bush (RP – TEX): 4%
Jose Leclerc and Jonathan Hernandez are both out indefinitely with elbow injuries. That leaves a barren bullpen without a clear closer front-runner in Arlington. For now, this looks like a situation to ignore unless desperate for saves in deeper leagues. There are no clues as to who will get the first chance, but Kennedy and Bush have made the Opening Day roster.

Having recorded a 3.41 ERA and 30 saves for the Royals in 2019, Kennedy brings Closer Experience to the table. The 36-year-old, however, also surrendered seven home runs in just 14 innings last season. Bush, drafted No. 1 overall as an infielder in 2004, improbably made his major league debut 12 years later as a reliever. He even notched 10 saves in 2017, but hasn’t pitched in the majors since undergoing Tommy John surgery late in the 2018 season.

Kennedy bouncing back into a useful fantasy closer is a bit more feasible, but nobody would blame you for sitting this one out.

Taylor Trammell (OF – SEA): 4%
He’s not Jarred Kelenic, the young outfielder everyone wanted to see make Seattle’s Opening Day roster. But don’t hold that against Trammell.

Formerly a top prospect in his own right, Trammell’s stock tumbled following poor Double-A results for the Reds and Padres in 2019. The 23-year-old has impressed this spring, uncorking three home runs with two steals and a 1.037 OPS. As a result, he’ll make his MLB debut as a starting outfielder to begin the season. Take a chance on a post-hype sleeper with blazing speed, decent pop, and a keen batting eye.

Jose Alvarado (RP – PHI): 4%
These velocity readings seem good.

A standout in Tampa Bay’s 2018 bullpen, Alvarado dealt with an oblique strain in 2018 and a shoulder ailment last year. The 25-year-old lefty now looks to rebound for the Phillies, whose bullpen acquiesced an atrocious 7.07 ERA last season. Hector Neris and Archie Bradley are expected to battle for saves, but Alvarado has pitched his way into the conversation this spring. Phillies manager Joe Girardi left the door open for Alvarado, who has lost 50 pounds, to join the fray.

Kevin Newman (2B/SS – PIT): 6%
Although it’s unwise to read much into spring training stats, it’s also difficult to ignore Newman’s quest for the highest spring batting average ever. Batting a ludicrous .714 (20-for-28), he’s on pace to easily surpass Todd Linden’s .586 benchmark set in 2008.

Does this really matter? Probably not much. However, it should at least solidify a full-time job for Newman, who batted .308 with 12 homers and 16 steals in 2019 before hitting .224 in 172 plate appearances last season. He can at least be a reasonable depth piece in larger leagues.

Logan Webb (SP – SF): 5%
How does one go from universally undrafted to a trendy buy before Opening Day? Webb has gained traction by compiling 17 strikeouts and one walk across 11 scoreless spring frames. He’s not only made the Giants’ rotation, but will start their third game against the Mariners. While Webb wields an unsavory 5.36 ERA across 94 big-league innings, a 4.15 FIP and 5.5% barrel rate hint at a useful hurler who can limit hard contact. Consider Webb a tempting opening-weekend streamer who could stick around for the long haul in deeper formats.

Sam Hilliard (OF – COL): 4%
Everyone wanted Hilliard last year, but he let them down by batting .210 with a 36.8% strikeout rate. Now nobody is bothering, which could mean he makes good on the hype one year late. Of course, he’ll have to earn (and maintain) a starting role first. Garrett Hampson may now be needed at second base to replace the injured Brendan Rodgers, opening up an outfield spot for Hilliard alongside Tapia and Charlie Blackmon. It’s worth finding out how much early exposure he gets to Coors.

Jay Bruce (1B/OF – NYY): 2%
Luke Voit will undergo surgery to repair a partial meniscus tear in his knee. Even before this news broke, there was chatter of Bruce making the team. Bruce is now the Yankees’ leading candidate to replace Voit against righties. The three-time All-Star has batted .217 over the last three seasons, so only bite if needing a short-term power jolt. Although already demoted to Triple-A, Mike Ford is making a strong case for an extended opportunity.

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Andrew Gould is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Andrew, check out his archive and follow him @andrewgould4.