Fantasy Waiver Wire: Week 26, Vol. II

So we’ve come to this, fellow waiver wire brethren, the end of the 2013 fantasy season. It’s been a grand ride as we’ve surveyed the fantasy landscape all season long, digging for hidden jewels among the leftovers for a shot at padding our deep-league teams for a playoff run.

But now, as the regular season comes to an end, we’re at the point where there’s not much else to do but take stock of 2013 and look ahead for next year.

Continuing a run that Jack Weiland and I have put together, we’ll take a look today at four possible keeper candidates for deep leagues next year whom I highlighted earlier in the season. Next week, we’ll begin the process of tallying up all the winners and losers who’ve appeared in this column this season.

But that’s next week. For now, here are four hidden gems you may have picked up in 2013 who could help out as keepers for next season. (Apologies to Christian Yelich and Michael Wacha, both of whom were left out of these wrap-ups. I just figure that you don’t need to read about their keeper value here and that we should concentrate on more obscure players, ya dig?)

Leonys Martin | Texas Rangers | OF
YTD: 484 PA / .259 / .313 / .384 with 8 HR and 33 SB

Well, Martin fell a bit short of my optimism back in late June, when I wrote, “If he can keep the average in the .270-.280 range and mix in some home runs, well, it’d be hard not to call him a must-start in mixed leagues.” Still, there’s not a whole lot wrong with adding 33 steals to a fantasy roster, and in terms of upside, I’d like to remind everyone of the .323/.388/.503 line Martin compiled in the minors.

In terms of what went wrong in 2013, it’s important to keep in mind that Martin had a .745 OPS when July concluded, and it’s reasonable to consider that he simply fatigued down the stretch of his first full MLB season. (The acquisition of Alex Rios, along with getting bumped down to ninth in the Rangers’ batting order in September, probably didn’t help much, either.)

The walk/strikeout percentage split (5.8/20.7) ultimately fell short of ideal, but again, a look at his minor league numbers suggests Martin will make better contact as he gets his feet wet in the majors.

Assuming Rios and David Murphy return to the Rangers outfield next year, Martin, as he did early in 2013, could face a potential platoon situation and/or playing-time battle with Craig Gentry, though I’d think the chances of that are remote.

That being the case, Martin, who twice appeared on Baseball America’s top 100 prospects list, could flourish at a hitter’s park as he enters his second full-time major league season. He already brings the steals, and even if the average and power climb a little bit, there’s no reason not to think that Martin will be a terrific late-round sleeper and already someone to think about as a keeper in deep leagues.

Nathan Eovaldi | Miami Marlins | SP
YTD: 100.1 IP / 3.50 ERA / 6.6 K/9 / 3.4 BB/9 with 4 wins

The final numbers for Eovaldi aren’t spectacular, but they do represent a step forward from 2012 for a guy once considered one of the Dodgers’ top pitching prospects and someone who missed the first two-and-a-half months of the season with biceps tendinitis. Eovaldi’s line wasn’t half bad, not when you consider his 3.66 FIP and solid 44.7 percent groundball rate, numbers that were verified with a reasonable .281 BABIP and 72.8 percent strand rate.

The strikeouts might be a bit disappointing for a guy who features a fastball that reaches the upper 90s, though his K/9 improved by more than half a batter compared to 2012, and his F-strike% improved a bit, as well. (Alas, the swinging strike rate, perhaps the most important peripheral associated with strikeout ability, did not climb.)

But perhaps some focus on Eovaldi’s secondary pitches (primarily a slider, but he also features a curveball and occasionally a change-up) during the offseason could sharpen his ability to miss bats.

Eovaldi definitely has a live arm, and the Marlins, who acquired the 23-year-old in the Hanley Ramirez trade last year, likely have no plans to move him out of the rotation. Yeah, the Marlins likely won’t be that much better than the 100-loss disaster of this year, so the wins might not jump high into the double digits, but I don’t think a 7.0 K/9 with a moderate WHIP and ERA is out of the question, making Eovaldi an intriguing sleeper for 2014.

Dillon Gee | New York Mets | SP
YTD: 193 IP / 3.54 ERA / 6.5 K/9 / 2.1 BB/9 with 12 wins

I had to get at least one Met in these keeper round-ups, right? Okay, I clearly didn’t, but I certainly wanted to, and with Jeremy Hefner’s arm heading to Tommy Johnville and Eric Young Jr.’s playing time in question for next year, Gee is not just the brightest Mets alum from this column, he’s an interesting keeper candidate for deep leagues after a solid 2013 campaign.

I say solid, not great, because Gee’s numbers aren’t spectacular, and a generous 78.9 percent strand rate, along with 24 home runs allowed in fewer than 200 innings (despite a league average 10.5 HR/FB rate) allowed for a not-great 4.02 FIP and identical xFIP. Meanwhile, the 1.28 WHIP owes heavily to the terrific walk rate, certainly not the fact that he allowed better than a base hit per inning.

But I do admire a guy who provided fantasy owners with a better than three-to-one walk-to-strikeout ratio, and Gee, pitching on a squad that ultimately will lose nearly 90 games, was dynamite in the second half, producing a 2.50 ERA and 1.05 WHIP over 12 starts.

And the walk rate should count for something, given that it’s declined every year he’s been in the majors and is why Gee is the owner of a career 1.30 WHIP over 496.1 innings. A 9.5 SwStr% isn’t bad, either, after a 2012 season that saw him produce an 8.0 K/9 in roughly a half season before a blood clot in his shoulder shut him down.

No, Gee doesn’t have a terrific ceiling, but he should offer fantasy owners help in at least WHIP next year, with an uptick in his strikeouts and a drop in his ERA not being out of the question even if his strand rate reverts back to career levels. Assuming the Mets are a better team in 2014—cue audience laugh track—a 14-15 win season isn’t out of the question for Gee, making him a potentially useful rotation man in NL-only leagues and perhaps a deep mixed league or two.

Martin Perez | Texas Rangers | SP
YTD: 112 IP / 3.54 ERA / 5.7 K/9 / 2.7 BB/9 with 9 wins

Let’s end this capsule with the glass-is-half-empty side of things. Martin, just 22, benefited from a cushy 77.7 percent strand rate, shooting his FIP to 4.28. A 1.03 HR/9 is a bit high, also. Oh, and those strikeouts? You can’t feed a fantasy family on a less than 6.0 K/9.

But why carp? Perez, a five-time guest star on Baseball America’s top 100 prospects list, was basically excellent for a guy who’s pitching in essentially his first major league season. (He made 12 appearances in 2012, totaling 38 innings.) After all, the walk rate was good, the 48 percent groundball rate was very good, and he held his own in Arlington, compiling a 3.07 ERA against a 1.41 WHIP.

In fact, since July 31, a span of 10 starts, Perez has gone 6-2 with a 2.97 ERA, producing a good 64 percent strike percentage and better than two-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio while emerging as a major reason why the Rangers are still in the wild card hunt as of this writing.

With a decent 9.3 SwStr%, I’m confident the strikeouts will rise. And even if Perez never emerges as a strikeout-per-inning fantasy demon, an ability to cap the walks and not lose his cool in the Texas heat means he’ll be, at worst, a serviceable fantasy starter who pitches for a team that wins ballgames.

Perez will only get better as he matures, and while he’s not a slam-dunk keeper, he’s close. And for a guy who likely will be touted as a terrific late-round pickup in mixed leagues next year, you could save yourself some time and keep him now in deeper mixed leagues.

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