One of the coolest parts of this gig is getting the opportunity to talk fantasy baseball with you guys and gals over email and Twitter. That people actually want to hear my opinion on baseball is still a very humbling thing. Most of the time, I get asked about trades and various players on the waiver wire, which is always fun stuff, but I always appreciate it when I receive friendly advice or constructive criticism. Don't be shy.
Just to remind everyone, my general definition of "widely available," at least for the purposes of this column, is those players who are owned in less than 50 percent of Yahoo! and ESPN.com leagues. I think it's a pretty solid threshold that allows me to identify players who could be of use in standard mixed leagues, but I understand that sometimes these players are already gone in deeper formats. I'm very conscious of this fact, so if given the opportunity to look a little bit deeper in a given week, I absolutely will. Well, consider this one of those weeks.
As you'll see below, I have listed five players who are owned in 10 to 50 percent of mixed leagues and five players who are owned in less than 10 percent of mixed leagues. Hopefully most of you will be able to find at least one player who can be an upgrade for your squad.
Let's move on to the good stuff. MIXED LEAGUESScott Baker SP, Twins
(Yahoo: 38 percent owned, ESPN: 21.5 percent)
Yes, Baker can be inconsistent at times, mostly due to his extreme fly ball tendencies, but he's severely underappreciated in fantasy leagues considering that he owns a 3.55 ERA and 78/23 K/BB ratio over 83 2/3 innings. The 29-year-old right-hander allowed one run in a complete-game victory over the Rangers in his last start and has a delicious matchup against the Padres on tap this Saturday. Dive in. Tsuyoshi Nishioka 2B/SS, Twins
(Yahoo: 16 percent owned, ESPN: 18.3 percent)
He's back. Nishioka was activated from the disabled list Wednesday and is expected to return to the starting lineup for Thursday's matinee against the White Sox. The Japanese import was batting just .208 (5-for-24) prior to fracturing his left leg in early April, so he's become something of a forgotten man in most mixed formats. I felt like Nishioka had a legitimate chance to contribute in batting average, stolen bases and runs scored coming into the season and I'm certainly not ready to give up after a handful of at-bats and a freak injury, especially when he can help at two rather weak positions. Vernon Wells OF, Angels
(Yahoo: 42 percent owned, ESPN: 35.3 percent)
You may find this hard to believe, but things are finally looking up for Mr. Wells. He had a two-homer game Monday against the Mariners and a three-hit night with a stolen base Saturday against the Royals. Sadly, those are arguably his best two games at the plate this season. In turn, it's fair to say that his recent DL-stint was exactly what the doctor ordered, even if it was just to clear his head for a couple weeks. I still think Wells can be a top-50 outfielder the rest of the way, which certainly gives him value in most mixed formats. Scott Rolen 3B, Reds
(Yahoo: 32 percent owned, ESPN: 20.2 percent)
I'll admit that Rolen has been a major disappointment this season. The 36-year-old third baseman is batting just .252 on the year and has only two home runs over his first 163 at-bats. The encouraging part, though, is that he has collected five doubles, one triple and six RBI over his last six games, including a three-hit game against the Dodgers on Wednesday. While I have little faith in his ability to stay healthy, I do think he can be a viable alternative until David Wright
and Martin Prado
are ready to return from their respective injuries. Phil Hughes SP, Yankees
(Yahoo: 30 percent owned, ESPN: 18.5 percent)
Well, look who is finally making some progress. Hughes reached 91-93 mph with his fastball during an intersquad game Tuesday and is slated to make his first minor league rehab start Sunday with Class A Staten Island. He'll likely need a couple more starts in order to build up his pitch count, but there's a real chance that he could rejoin the Yankees' starting rotation in early July. Stash him if you have the room, but if his velocity is truly back, he becomes an immediate must-own again.Shopping at the five-and-dime:
(Players owned in less than 10 percent of Y! and ESPN.com leagues)Jeff Karstens SP, Pirates
(Yahoo: 8 percent owned, ESPN: 9.6 percent)
There are lots of things to like about Karstens right now. For instance, he currently ranks fifth in the National League with a 2.66 ERA while averaging just 1.52 BB/9. On the other hand, his .259 batting average on balls in play and 83.1 percent strand rate tells us that he's been at least somewhat fortunate. While it would be smart to expect some correction moving forward, I'm willing to take my chances with a matchup against the reeling Indians this weekend.
Charlie Blackmon OF, Rockies
(Yahoo: 5 percent owned, ESPN: 1.7 percent)
We probably won't see Dexter Fowler
in the major leagues again for a while. Blackmon, who was called up from Triple-A Colorado Springs last week to replace the injured Fowler on the active roster, is batting .343 (12-for-35) over his first nine major league games. Even more enticing for fantasy owners is that he has stolen a base in each of his last five games. And while only one of his hits have gone for extra bases, he showed sneaky pop from the left side of the plate in the minors. The 24-year-old should continue to provide some value in mixed leagues as long as he gets regular playing time in left field. Dustin Ackley OF/2B, Mariners
(Yahoo: 7 percent owned, ESPN: 3.6 percent)
The wait is over. The Mariners finally did the inevitable following Wednesday's game, calling up 2009 No. 2 overall pick Dustin Ackley
from Triple-A Tacoma. The 23-year-old was hitting .303/.421/.487 with nine homers, seven stolen bases and an impressive 38/55 K/BB ratio over his first 66 games this season, a marked improvement from what he showed in Triple-A last year. We surely won't see the same production now that he's calling Safeco Field home, but he won't embarrass himself in the power and speed categories. While it will take him a few games to gain second base eligibility in Yahoo! leagues (thanks a lot!), he should be worth a flier in most mixed leagues right away. Cliff Pennington SS, Athletics
(Yahoo: 5 percent owned, ESPN: 1.2 percent)
There's a new sheriff in town. Well, sort of. Bob Geren was given his walking papers last week and new skipper Bob Melvin has a different way of doing things. One of the most notable changes is that he has installed Pennington as his No. 2 hitter. The lineup tweak has worked out pretty nicely so far, as the speedy shortstop has reached base safely in all six games. Runs are still hard to come by in this lineup, but Pennington will obviously provide much more value out of the No. 2 spot than he was batting ninth. Carlos Carrasco SP, Indians
(Yahoo: 8 percent owned, ESPN: 3.1 percent)
Everyone is rightfully buzzing over Carrasco's current 15 1/3 innings scoreless streak, including seven shutout frames against the Yankees on Monday night, but the truth is that he's been an effective starter for most of the year. In fact, if you take out his season debut against the White Sox back on April 2, the 24-year-old right-hander has a 3.55 ERA and 43/20 K/BB ratio over 11 starts. Not too bad. I wouldn't hesitate using him against the Pirates on Saturday.