AL Waiver Wire: Week 13

First, it was Josh Shepardson. Then it was Paul Singman. Now, I’m taking over THT’s AL Waiver Wire column, looking at some less notable names lurking on the scrap heap of fantasy baseball leagues the nation over. Entering week 17, here’s are a few names that might be overlooked in your league.

Greg Holland | Kansas City Royals | RP | ESPN: 1.7 percent ownership; Yahoo!: 10 percent ownership
YTD: 3.55 ERA / 1.55 WHIP / 12.8 K/9
Oliver ROS: 3.51 ERA / 1.29 WHIP / 10.3 K/9

Let’s play a game of pretend, shall we? Let’s “pretend” the Royals stink, and won’t be much better for the rest of the year. While we’re at it, let’s “pretend” the Royals will be sellers over the next week or so, looking to unload veterans in the hopes of importing younger talent. Quite obviously, you don’t have to be Buster Olney to engage in this scenario when it comes to 28-year-old Jonathan Broxton, already the subject of sustained trade rumors, and, with a balky elbow and a one-year contract, perhaps as sure a player to be traded as any in baseball right now.

Assuming he leaves, that leaves Kansas City with two options in the ninth inning: Aaron Crow and Greg Holland, the same two sleepers who were discussed as possible replacements for Joakim Soria back when the season began. Although Crow has more appearances (43) and holds (12) than Holland, he also has more blown saves (four), two of which have come since Saturday. And if you take away a mediocre April for Holland—during which he was nagged by a rib injury, an ailment that eventually landed him on the DL in the season’s third week—he’s been very good, pitching to the tune of a 1.63 ERA and a 12.69 K/9 since.

Factor in a FIP (2.33) and xFIP (2.89) that’s well below his 3.44 ERA and you have a guy who’s pitched pretty well for a future closer.

Recommendation: Since there might be an opening for the job by the end of the month, Holland is a guy to grab in all AL-only leagues, and, perhaps, some deeper mixed ones as well.

Nick Castellanos | Detroit Tigers | OF | ESPN: 0 percent ownership; Yahoo!: 0 percent ownership
YTD: .318/.354/.462 (Double-A)
Oliver ROS: N/A

Meet Castellanos. Former first round pick. No. 44 among Baseball America’s top 100 prospects entering this season. Third baseman turned right fielder by way of some guy named Miguel Cabrera. And now, Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski tells MLive.com, a guy who’s “very close” to breaking into the big leagues.

Pretty much anyone with Castellanos’ hype deserves the moniker of “sleeper,” but before he becomes the next fantasy darling, he’ll have to address some big questions first.

Big question No. 1: How harsh will his major league learning curve be? Let’s remember that this kid is only 20, and has never taken a hack higher than Double-A. Sure, he’s developed into one of the minor leagues’ brighter hitting talents, but one imagines he won’t come out of the gate like gangbusters.

Big question No. 2: Can he secure enough playing time to be a fantasy factor? Currently, Detroit’s right field is occupied by a platoon of Brennan Boesch and Ryan Raburn, which doesn’t sound all that imposing. But Boesch is starting to show signs of life for the first time this year: He’s hammered out a .395/.425/.684 line in July. Plus, Castellanos has been a right-fielder for about as long as Chief Justice John Roberts has been a liberal hero; even Dombrowski had to admit that the defense will be a work in progress over the upcoming months, if not years.

Big question No. 3: What would he bring to fantasy? He doesn’t steal bases—he has just eight over his minor league career—and he hasn’t really hit home runs down on the farm either, chalking up just 16 long balls since entering professional play two years ago. The power will come around, analysts believe, but that might not happen in 2012. Comerica Park won’t really do him any favors as a right-handed hitter, either. It’s also worth noting that while his minor league career strikeout rate is a very reasonable 21.3 percent, his 7.7 percent walk rate (3.4 percent this year) leaves room for improvement.

Still, there’s a lot to like about this kid, and the Tigers are very much in the hunt for the AL Central title. If Dombrowski is already talking about promoting Castellanos, I have to think it’s going to happen before September, and chances are he won’t be called up to Detroit so he can merely sit on the pine.

Recommendation: Castellanos is probably worth a flier in most AL-only leagues right now, though I’d pass on him in mixed leagues until it’s clear when he’ll be called up and what his role will be.

Zach Britton | Baltimore Orioles | SP | ESPN: 1.2 percent ownership; Yahoo!: 2 percent ownership
YTD: 9.00 ERA / 3.00 WHIP / 2.3 K/9
Oliver ROS: 4.36 ERA / 1.44 WHIP / 5.5 K/9

You remember Britton, of course, part of the vaunted new wave of Orioles pitching that never materialized. But Britton, by and large, has been a victim of bad luck in his two-year major league career thus far: He lost the first half of 2012 due to a shoulder injury, and, while managing to compile a 2.5 FanGraphs WAR campaign in his rookie season last year, still finished with a frustrating 11-11 record and a bloated 4.61 ERA.

But he’s back now, and with Jason Hammel on the shelf and Brian Matusz doing his Brian Matusz thing, Britton, 24, likely has a rotation spot all to himself in Baltimore—assuming he can hold down the job. On Tuesday, Britton made his first start of the year, taking the loss against the lowly Twins in a four inning-plus performance that saw him surrender four earned runs and a disturbing six walks against just one strikeout. But the southpaw will still able to touch 93 on the radar gun, which is an encouraging sign for someone coming off a significant injury.

The Orioles hope that velocity will translate into some strikeouts, since Britton has yet to live up to the potential that made him a nearly strikeout-per-inning pitcher prior to his big league tenure. In nearly 60 minor league innings this year (10 starts), Britton amassed a meh 6.2 K/9 rate, though he was able to keep the home runs and walks in check.

Basically, he looks like a guy who’s (a) still learning how to develop at the major league level, and (b) someone whose full recovery from injury is going to take some more time. For the time being, Britton’s got a full-time job, but he’s yet to establish the low-level consistency he achieved in his 2011 season—let alone the ceiling that once made him one of the most coveted minor league pitchers in the game.

Recommendation: He has a few more starts to make before he can be considered dependable, but you could probably do worse in deeper mixed leagues when it comes to upside among available starting pitching.

Lorenzo Cain | Kansas City Royals | OF | ESPN: 11.7 percent ownership; Yahoo!: 12 percent ownership
YTD: .324/.342/.559
Oliver ROS: .274/.326/.407

It’s hard to calculate just how far Cain’s stock has fallen since the season began. Consider: After gaining a job following the Melky Cabrera-Jonathan Sanchez trade/highway robbery, Cain, 26, put together a monster spring training, slamming his way to a .371/.450/.743 line with five homers and five steals. But that was before a hip injury destroyed the first half of his season, and before a prospect named Wil Myers decided to devour every Double-A and Triple-A pitcher he could get his hands on. Now, Cain is back, but he’s almost an afterthought in fantasy, perhaps better known as the guy blocking Myers’ path to the majors more than a guy who can contribute on the diamond.

And make no mistake: Cain still has plenty of fantasy value, evidenced by the .289 average he’s flashed since returning to duty last Friday. Manager Ned Yost insists the team will ease him back to full-time duty as he recovers, but Cain’s clearly making a case for himself as an everyday player right now. He’s probably not going to help with home runs or RBIs that much—though he did slam 16 long balls and knock in 81 as recently as last year in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League—but he can help with average and steals, though it’s worth noting he hasn’t yet attempted a steal so far this year (a side effect of his injury, perhaps?).

Obviously, Myers’ name deserves to be attached to any consideration of Cain, since despite Kansas City’s repeated insistence that the phenom will spend the better part of 2012 down on the farm, he’s simply too good to keep out of the big leagues. But with Alex Gordon in left field and Jeff Francoeur in right, Cain is the man who stands to be squeezed out of a job if/when Myers gets the call.

Recommendation: We’ll worry about Myers’ impending arrival when it happens. In the meantime, Cain is worth a pickup across the board as he jumps out to his first real stretch of playing time this season.

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Next: NL Waiver Wire: Week 13 »

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