Fantasy Baseball Waiver Wire: Ha-Seong Kim, Chris Paddack, Nolan Gorman (2022)
It feels like just yesterday we were fretting over the MLB lockout, but lo and behold, the calendar is about to flip to May. We now have nearly a month’s worth of games to work with, meaning some of that early-season statistical noise is getting stickier and becoming more actionable.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s still far too early to completely panic on any of your studs who are off to slow starts. But we can start to parse the underlying numbers of some of the biggest April surprises and try to separate the legitimate breakouts from the fool’s gold.
Note: Rostered rates are from Yahoo leagues as of Saturday night.
FAABulous Four: Top Waiver Targets
Ha-Seong Kim (2B,3B,SS — SD): 13% Rostered
It’s always hard to know how overseas production will translate to MLB, but Kim’s numbers during his final season in the Korean league (KBO) certainly stand out: a .306 average, 111 runs, 30 HRs, 109 RBIs and 21 SBs in only 138 games. He didn’t have nearly as much success in his first season stateside but did manage to swat eight homers and steal six bases in 298 plate appearances.
Kim’s off to a much better start this year, hitting .273 with three homers, a steal, 13 runs, and 10 RBIs in 15 games through Friday. With Fernando Tatis Jr. on the injured list and prized prospect C.J. Abrams struggling, Kim has been in the lineup much more often than not, and he even moved up a few spots to sixth on Saturday. Still just 26 years old, this is a player with great positional flexibility and loads of power/speed upside.
– Talkin’ Baseball (@TalkinBaseball_) April 29, 2022
Chris Paddack (SP — MIN): 30% Rostered
Paddack took the league by storm as a rookie in 2019, hurling 140 2/3 innings with a 3.33 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, and 9.79 K/9 rate. Things got much rougher from there, though, as his ERA hovered around 5.00 over the next two seasons before he was shipped off to Minnesota this spring.
If there’s a knock on Paddack, it’s that he throws too many strikes, but his consistently excellent walk rate gives him a clear path to success if he can just give up fewer homers and strand more baserunners than in years past. He’s actually been a little unlucky so far with a .356 BABIP allowed, but because he hasn’t given up a home run, he’s still off to a pretty strong start.
Paddack is throwing more off-speed stuff this year — particularly his curveball — and it appears to be helping him keep hitters off balance and induce more soft contact. His underlying numbers (2.12 xERA, 2.80 xFIP) and change in approach suggest a rebound could be in store.
– Tom Froemming (@TFTwins) April 27, 2022
Nolan Gorman (3B — STL): 30% Rostered
Stashing prospects in redraft leagues isn’t always the most prudent strategy, but you might want to make an exception for Gorman, who is hitting .338 with 11 — yes, you read that right, 11 — home runs through his first 74 at-bats in Triple-A.
– MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) April 30, 2022
Sure, Gorman is also striking out a whopping 32.5 percent of the time, and Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol says the team has no immediate plans to bring Gorman to St. Louis. But when a prospect does what Gorman is doing at the plate, it eventually becomes too much to resist. Paul DeJong is hitting .137 and is the one member of the Cardinals’ infield who is not a Gold Glover, so he’s the logical player to make way for Gorman if and when he gets the call.
Drew Rasmussen (SP,RP — TB): 24% Rostered
Armed with a 97 mph fastball, Rasmussen missed a lot of bats during his brief minor league career. Last year in Tampa, he had a ton of success as both a reliever and starter, but his strikeout rate plummeted. His strikeout rate has only slightly rebounded so far this year, but he continues to post very helpful ratios anyway. One reason to have confidence that Rasmussen can keep it up is that he’s refined his slider and added a cutter, countering concerns that he was a one-pitch pitcher. Both pitches have been getting great results in the early going.
Priority Pickups – <40% Rostered
Tommy Pham (OF — CIN): 30% Rostered
I mentioned Pham in my first waiver wire article back on April 10, but his roster percentage has actually gone down since then. That’s because he got off to a frigid start, but it doesn’t reflect the fact that he has turned things around in a big way lately, hitting .333 with three home runs over the last two weeks. Pham is locked into the third spot in the lineup, plays his home games in one of the most-hitter-friendly ballparks in baseball, and is still a good bet to steal double-digit bases even at age 34.
Harrison Bader (OF — STL): 20% Rostered
Bader is another name who was featured in my Week 1 article and is making a return appearance. The 27-year old outfielder got off to an ice-cold start, but he jump-started his season with a three-steal game on April 23 and has nabbed two more bases since then. His six steals trail only Julio Rodriguez and last week’s steals recommendation, Jorge Mateo. Bader has yet to go deep this season, but he did hit 16 homers in 401 plate appearances last year, so he won’t be a liability there.
Ramon Laureano (OF — OAK): 28% Rostered
It’s been a while since we’ve heard from Laureano, who is currently finishing out an 80-game suspension for performance enhancing drugs that began last August. He was a fairly dynamic categories league player before that, though, delivering 44 home runs and 27 stolen bases in 265 games since the start of the 2019 season. We’ll need to see if Laureano can produce at the same level without the PEDs, and he’s also returning from core muscle surgery he underwent this offseason. Still, he’s eligible to return to the A’s on May 8 and is worth a speculative pickup in roto/categories leagues given his track record of production.
Sheldon Neuse (2B,3B — OAK): 17% Rostered
It’s taken a while for the 27-year-old Neuse to finally get a shot at regular playing time at the Major League level, but he’s certainly taking advantage of the opportunity, hitting .328 with two homers, three steals, and 13 RBIs in 19 games. The production doesn’t come out of nowhere, either. He clearly had nothing left to prove in Triple-A, where he hit .317 with 27 homers in 126 games in 2019 and .293 with 13 homers in 78 games last year. He can’t quite keep this up, but the underlying numbers are those of an above-average hitter.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa (SS — NYY): 23% Rostered
They say it is hard to score runs from the bottom of the order, but tell that to Kiner-Falefa, who’s crossed the plate eight times in his last nine games while consistently batting seventh or eighth in the lineup. I guess playing for a high-scoring team like the Yankees helps. Kiner-Falefa no longer possesses the same level of fantasy intrigue that he did when he was catcher-eligible, but he did steal 20 bases last season. He’s also posted a solid .276 batting average since the start of the 2020 season, and his early Statcast numbers mostly back up his current .311 mark this season.
Tyler Anderson (SP — LAD): 23% Rostered
Anderson has had a very pedestrian career, churning through five teams in seven years while posting a mid-4.00s ERA at every stop. He’s off to a great start this year because he’s inducing a lot of weak contact, but there isn’t much reason to suddenly think he’s a different pitcher. His velocity is unchanged, as is his pitch mix.
Still, pitching for the Dodgers does have its perks, even in the age of the universal DH. Anderson gets to pitch in a pitcher-friendly home park and division with one of the best offenses in recent memory supporting him. Then there’s the biggest reason to add him: his upcoming schedule. He’s slated to face the Cubs, Pirates, and Diamondbacks his next three times out.
Lucas Sims (RP — CIN): 25% Rostered
Sims was widely considered the most likely candidate to close for Cincinnati heading into the season, but that was before it became evident he would not be ready for Opening Day due to elbow soreness. Tony Santillan and Art Warren each collected a save in Sims’ absence, but it was Sims who earned the first save after he was activated, with Santillan pitching the seventh and Warren the eighth. Sims is unlikely to see every single save chance — he was used earlier in the game on Saturday — and the Reds may not win too many games. But he’s also worth rostering for his potential to pile up strikeouts. Only Josh Hader, Aroldis Chapman, and Craig Kimbrel had higher strikeout rates than Sims last season.
Andrew McCutchen (OF — MIL): 19% Rostered
Now in his 35th year (on Earth, not in MLB), the days of McCutchen being a fantasy stud may be over, but the guy can still play the game. His batting average dipped last season, but that was partly due to a BABIP 30-50 points lower than expected. Even in the “down” year, he hit 27 home runs, stole six bases, and drove in 80 runs. He has two homers and three steals over the last two weeks and is regularly hitting either leadoff or cleanup in a Brewers lineup that should score plenty of runs moving forward.
Raimel Tapia (OF — TOR): 15% Rostered
I named Tapia as a recommended add two weeks ago, but his roster percentage has slightly ticked down since then even though he is playing every day and hitting right in the middle of the Blue Jays’ loaded lineup. He only has two steals so far, but stole 20 in 133 games last year and could pick up a bunch more at any time. With the DH spot in Toronto largely unaccounted for, Tapia should maintain regular playing time even after Teoscar Hernandez returns from the injured list.
Santiago Espinal (2B,3B — TOR): 21% Rostered
Espinal is another player showing a nice mix of power and speed in the early going, with two homers and three steals through his first 22 games. He’s only hitting .261, but his expected batting average is .301, according to Statcast. Espinal had seized the starting second base job from Cavan Biggio even before Biggio landed on the Covid list, so his playing time should be safe going forward. As with Tapia, Espinal has appeal as a way to get a piece of Toronto’s formidable offense.
Deep League Targets – <10% Rostered
Andres Gimenez (2B,SS — CLE): 7% Rostered
Gimenez was one of my favorite sleepers coming into the season, and while his managers had to suffer through sporadic playing time early on, things have been going much more smoothly lately. He’s been in the lineup for nine of the Guardians’ last 11 games, and he’s hitting .340 with a couple homers and 11 RBIs on the year. He only has one steal so far, but those tend to come in bunches. He’s displayed 30-SB ability at both the minor and Major League levels.
Josh Naylor (1B,OF — CLE): 8% Rostered
Naylor is yet another young Guardian off to a nice start at the dish, hitting .311 with a couple home runs in his first 12 games. The 24-year-old appears to be locked in as Cleveland’s starting right fielder, finding his way into the lineup just about every day. While his power stroke has been a little slow to develop — he never had a 20 homer season in the minors — he was rated as a 70 grade for raw power as a prospect, so a power breakthrough is still possible.
Ryan Helsley (RP — STL): 7% Rostered
Granted, it’s an incredibly small sample size, but it’s hard to find a pitcher who has been more dominant so far than Helsley, who’s thrown 6 1/3 innings scoreless innings with one hit allowed, zero walks, and 12 strikeouts. Then there’s the fact that the Cardinals’ closer, Giovanny Gallegos, has been struggling and showing reduced velocity. Manager Oliver Marmol says he’s “nowhere close” to taking Gallegos out of high-leverage situations, but the fact that the question even needs to be asked is noteworthy. Roster Helsley now for the strikeouts and ratios, and it’s quite possible you end up getting some saves in the bargain down the road.
Ian Kennedy (RP — ARI): 8% Rostered
Diamondbacks closer Mark Melancon landed on the Covid list on Friday, and Kennedy stepped right in and picked up a save on Saturday. Many Covid-related absences this season have been very brief, but that isn’t always the case. As such, Kennedy merits an immediate add in all leagues where the saves chase is fiercely contested. The 37-year-old isn’t off to the greatest start, but he’s more than capable of getting the job done. Kennedy saved 26 games with the Rangers and Phillies last season and 30 with the Royals in 2019.
Ryan Thompson (RP — TB): 2% Rostered
You should know by now that it’s a pipe dream to imagine the Rays ever settling on a single closer, but it is becoming clearer that Thompson will get his fair share of opportunities. The 29-year old with the sidearm delivery is the only Rays reliever other than committee head Andrew Kittredge to get and convert multiple save opportunities thus far. Thompson posted a helpful 2.38 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, and 9.79 K/9 rate last season, and has yet to allow a run in 2022.
If you like what you see here, you can get more of my thoughts on waiver wire pickups, buy-low/sell-high candidates, rest-of-season player values and more by subscribing to the Rest of Season Rankings podcast and going to ROSrankings.com. I’m also always happy to talk about anything fantasy-related on Twitter @andrew_seifter.