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. As August dawns, here are a few names that might be overlooked in your league.
Chris Carter | Oakland Athletics | 1B/OF | ESPN: 4.9 percent ownership; Yahoo: 6 percent
YTD: .275 / .405 / .652
If you’re a THT reader, I’m going to assume you’re a bit more hardcore than the average fantasy baseball fan, which means I can probably skip the introduction to Carter. But for those who haven’t been acquainted, Carter, 25, has been a perpetual prospect for seemingly forever—one incapable of making his mark at the big league level. A centerpiece in trades involving both Carlos Quentin and Dan Haren, Carter has been named to Baseball America’s top 100 prospects list three times and was the A’s organizational player of the year in both 2008 and 2009. A sturdy 6-foot-4, 245-pound right-handed slugger, Carter can mash, as evidenced by his career .535 minor league slugging percentage.
Trouble is, in his previous major league stints in 2010 and 2011, his mighty bat turned to putty, as he combined for a helpless .167 average with just three home runs in 124 plate appearances. Carter didn’t make the major league roster to open 2012, and was called up in late June after hitting .279 / .367 / .486 with 12 homers and 53 RBIs in the Pacific Coast League. Since then, he’s steadily become a fixture at Oakland’s first base, playing nearly every day since mid-July and becoming a big part of the A’s mid-summer surge.
All well and good. But what assurances do we have that Carter’s recent stretch has finally made him fantasy viable?
The biggest knock on Carter over the years has been his propensity for strikeouts; he compiled a 23.5 rate during his lengthy minor league tenure. That’s certainly not a crime at the big league level—isn’t that right, Adam Dunn?—but it’s also not going to make many friends among the fantasy flock if the power numbers and on-base production aren’t there. While Carter’s strikeout rate hasn’t changed much, he has maintained an on-base percentage above .400 since July 13, when he more or less took over as the everyday first baseman.
And the power is still there, proven by his five home runs, 12 RBIs and .558 slugging percentage over that period.
A quick glance at Carter’s plate discipline figures suggests he’s maturing as a hitter. After posting O-Swing rates approaching 30 percent during his first cups of coffee in the majors, Carter is learning to lay off pitches outside the strike zone, dropping that mark to 22.7 percent entering Thursday night’s action. His nearly 70 percent contact rate represents a new career high, such as it is, despite the fact that he’s seeing fewer fastballs, according to FanGraphs’ PITCHf/x data.
True, he’s benefited from a ridiculous 38.1 percent HR/FB rate, which will steadily come back down to earth over the coming weeks. But as long as he can draw enough walks to offset the strikeouts, he should be dependable enough to provide some pop at the middle of Oakland’s order, especially if Yoenis Cespedes can stay healthy enough to provide him some protection. It’s too soon to say whether Carter is flowering into the prize pig the A’s were once sure they had, but he’s moving in the right direction and right now has an everyday role in the A’s lineup.
Recommendation: Worth a pickup in all AL-only leagues, though it’s not yet clear whether he’s a viable mixed-league first baseman.
Hisashi Iwakuma | SP | Seattle Mariners | ESPN: .7 percent ownership; Yahoo: 3 percent
YTD: 4.10 ERA / 1.382 WHIP / 7.6 K/9
OK, so a back-of-the-rotation arm on the Mariners likely isn’t burning up the waiver wire in too many leagues right now. Then again, Iwakuma did post 13 strikeouts in a dazzling eight-inning gem Monday night against the Blue Jays, walking three batters and allowing just one earned run en route to a convincing 4-1 victory. Combine that performance with his previous two starts (1.89 ERA, 10.9 K/9, 3.32 BB/9 over 19 innings overall) and you have a guy who, at the very least, has popped up on the waiver wire radar.
The skinny: Iwakuma, 31, was one of Japan’s top pitchers entering the 2011 season, when he was courted by Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s for a reported four-year, $15 million deal. But the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement, making Iwakuma’s case the first time a Japanese player had gone through the posting process and did not agree to a contract. Back in Japan, a sore shoulder limited the right-hander to just 17 starts last year, and this time, Iwakuma took a one-year deal with the Mariners in the hopes of boosting his value for the upcoming offseason.
He’s spent the bulk of the 2012 season in the bullpen, but was promoted to the rotation after Mariners fans learned the Hector Noesi couldn’t get anyone out. In his five starts, Iwakuma has posted a nearly strikeout-per-inning rate, as well as a 4.03 BB/9 and a meh 1.345 WHIP. His overall numbers (4.10 ERA, 7.58 K/9, 1.67 HR/9 in 59.1 innings) aren’t too pretty, but then again, we’re talking about someone who’s spent his entire career up until April as a starting pitcher, and besides, he’s had to deal with a nasty 22.9 HR/FB rate, even while calling pitcher-friendly Safeco Field home.
I’m not ready to herald this guy as the second coming of Hideo Nomo (pre-Mets, post-Mets Nomo, that is), but he’s certainly showing improvement, and comes with a pedigree that suggests he’s capable of doing big things. True, the Mariners bullpen didn’t get any better over the past week with the Brandon League trade, but Iwakuma is definitely someone to keep an eye on, as he’s one or two starts away from becoming a popular waiver wire pickup.
Recommendation: Worth a look in AL-only formats and a pickup in deeper ones, though he’s not yet mixed-league material.
Daniel Straily | SP | Oakland A’s | ESPN: N/A; Yahoo: N/A
What do Stephen Strasburg, Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander have in common? They all have fewer strikeouts than Oakland’s newest starting pitcher, Daniel Straily, whose eye-popping 11.38 K/9 (175 strikeouts) was summoned to the big leagues Thursday. Expected to make tonight’s start, Straily, 23, features a low to mid-90s heater, along with a strong slider and a change-up. Although he wasn’t a tremendous prospect entering the 2012 season—he wasn’t even invited to big league camp in the spring—improved mechanics caused Straily’s trajectory to take a sharp upward turn in 22 starts split between Double-A and Triple-A, where he combined to go 8-6 with a 2.60 ERA and .969 WHIP and keep his walks at a very manageable 2.4 per 9 rate.
I haven’t yet heard anything about an innings limit, but it’s worth noting he pitched 138.1 frames so far this season. And although his promotion pushed Travis Blackley to the bullpen, both Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson could be back with the team in a matter of weeks, forcing manager Bob Melvin to consider a six-man rotation, or demote Straily to make sure he’s receiving regular work.
It’s tough to speculate on what to expect from Straily, since we’re only talking about one season of elite minor league performance. But I’m a believer in stocking my fantasy squad with upside guys, risk/reward players with the potential to put up big numbers. Straily certainly seems to qualify in that respect.
Recommendation: We’ll find out more about this guy over the next few weeks. In the meantime, get him on your AL-only roster if you have the space, and for that matter, dump any extra cargo overboard in mixed leagues to see if you can grab a piece of the action down the stretch.
Mike Olt | 3B / 1B | Texas Rangers | ESPN: .5 percent ownership; Yahoo: 0 percent ownership
Speaking of upside guys, I’m sure you’re already familiar with Mike Olt, who was killing the ball in Double-A to the sound of a .288 / .398 / .579 line with 28 home runs and 82 RBIs. No. 43 on Baseball America’s top 100 prospect list entering the season, Olt, who turns 24 later this month, profiles as a bopper, and was shielded by the Rangers all summer long despite sustained interest from other clubs leading up to the trade deadline.
This blurb is not to tell you about how wonderful Olt is, since either you believe in his ability, or you can go to any number of other places to read about how other people look at him. Instead, I’m more interested in how much he’s going to play, as he doesn’t do fantasy owners a lot of good if his name isn’t being scrawled on the lineup card on a regular basis. In the immediate future, it seems as if Olt will face lefties and will play mostly at first base and DH, though he could spell Adrian Beltre at third base, which is his primary position.
Granted, it’d be great if we were assured out of the gate that Olt was guaranteed a position all to himself. But sharing first base with Mitch Moreland (.278 / .326 / .503) isn’t the worst fate in the world, either, because if you take away the 26-year-old’s hot May, you’re left with a guy who’s hit .248 with just five home runs this season. Moreland still offers pop against right-handed pitchers, and Olt’s leapfrogging over Triple-A suggests his learning curve could be a bit longer, but Moreland doesn’t represent an immovable roadblock by any means.
Recommendation: Olt’s ceiling is too high to ignore in AL-only leagues, and owners in mixed leagues might as well roster him, too. Just don’t expect instant results, and stay tuned to see if he eats up more playing time as the season progresses.