We've arrived at that magical time of year when top prospects are suddenly deemed ready for the big leagues. It's no coincidence that this is when many teams project they will be safe from these players qualifying a year early for arbitration as a Super Two. But we'll take what we can get.
Gerrit Cole already made his high-profile debut for the Pirates earlier this week, but many more will follow in the weeks ahead. Zack Wheeler (who I mentioned in Waiver Wired two weeks ago) is expected to make his major league debut next Tuesday against the Braves, and we could be hearing names like Wil Myers, Kyle Gibson, Nick Castellanos, Taijuan Walker, Billy Hamilton, Oscar Taveras, Christian Yelich, Travis d'Arnaud, and Archie Bradley before long. Yes, lots of waiver wire goodness on the menu. However, while we wait, here are some other options to chew on.
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Kyle Blanks 1B/OF, Padres (Yahoo: 25 percent owned)
Blanks was once considered one of the game's top power hitting prospects, but injuries limited him to just 92 games at the major league level between 2010-2012. However, now that he's finally back to full health, we could be witnessing a post-hype breakout. Through 43 games this season, the 26-year-old is batting .285/.375/.488 with six home runs, seven doubles, and 22 RBI. While it's a small sample, the jump in his contact rate has been very encouraging. The injuries to Yonder Alonso and Cameron Maybin have opened the door for him to receive regular playing time in the short-term, so go ahead and take a chance on his power potential. The 6-foot-6 Blanks is a fine option in five-outfielder formats or if you need to fill a CI (corner infielder) spot.
Andrew Cashner SP, Padres (Yahoo: 32 percent owned)
I mentioned Cashner in Waiver Wired a long time ago, but he's still not getting much love. What gives? After going a career-high eight innings in Tuesday's win over the Braves, the 26-year-old right-hander now has a 3.47 ERA and 42/14 K/BB ratio in 62 1/3 innings across 10 starts this season. While the strikeouts are a little lower than I expected, his control has been very impressive. Sure, Cashner has an injury history and figures to run into an innings-limit eventually, but he should be owned in nearly all fantasy formats right now.
Andre Ethier OF, Dodgers (Yahoo: 47 percent owned)
Yes, Either has been terrible this season. And yes, he may be the odd-man out in the Dodgers' outfield once Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford return from the disabled list. But I'm not ready to give up on someone who has such a long track record of success. We know he's not going to hit southpaws, but this is someone who had a .945 OPS against right-handed pitching as recently as last season. The 31-year-old is hitting more fly balls than normal this season, which has made him an easier out, but a rebound wouldn't be surprising. As always, the objective should be to try to strike before the hot streak. And I think it's coming soon.
Michael Pineda SP, Yankees (Yahoo: 25 percent owned)
Pineda is finally getting closer to making his long-awaited Yankees' debut. Currently on the comeback trail from shoulder surgery, the 24-year-old right-hander allowed an unearned run over 4 1/3 innings first rehab start with High-A Tampa on Sunday and was reportedly clocked at 95 mph on the radar gun. He's expected to make a few more rehab starts before being reevaluated, but he could be cleared to join New York's rotation just before the All-Star break. It's worth noting that the Yankees could get an extra year of team control on him by keeping him in the minors for a couple of weeks after his 30-day rehab window expires, but that shouldn't stop you from slotting him in an available DL-slot. He has the potential to make a major impact during the second half.
Erick Aybar SS, Angels (Yahoo: 40 percent owned)
Similar to Ethier, this is the case of a struggling player who has a long history of success. Interestingly, Aybar got off to a similar slow start last season before hitting .325 with eight home runs, 34 RBI, and 16 stolen bases after the start of June. I'm not saying that will happen again, but I'd rather take my chances with him than invest in young and unproven talent like Didi Gregorius (29 percent owned) and Nick Franklin (25 percent owned) or bank on someone like Brandon Crawford (47 percent) to maintain his current level of production. If Aybar gets things going again, he could soon find himself back near the top of the Angels' lineup, which would be a nice boon for his value.
Josh Rutledge 2B/SS, Rockies (Yahoo: 21 percent owned)
The Rockies demoted Rutledge last month after he hit just .242 with a .655 OPS in 43 games, but he's batting .348/.438/.565 with two home runs, nine doubles and an 11/8 K/BB ratio through his first 69 at-bats with Triple-A Colorado Springs. Granted, he's in a fantastic hitting environment, but that's still encouraging to see. With D.J. LeMahieu struggling, Troy Renck of the Denver Post speculates that the Rockies could bring Rutledge back to the majors by the end of the month. Those in shallow leagues can afford to wait, but this might be the right time to stash him in deeper formats.
Shopping at the five-and-dime:
(Players owned in under 10 percent of Yahoo! leagues)
Jeff Baker 1B/OF, Rangers (Yahoo: 4 percent owned)
After joining the Rangers over the winter on a minor league deal, Baker has proven to be an excellent bargain so far this season, hitting .317 with nine home runs in just 92 plate appearances. No player with at least 75 plate appearances has homered more often this season. That's called making the most out of limited playing time. Baker has done most of his damage against southpaws, which isn't surprising considering that he has an .884 OPS against them during his career. This renders him more of an option in daily leagues, but he's worth considering while Mitch Moreland recovers from a hamstring strain.
Gordon Beckham 2B, White Sox (Yahoo: 6 percent owned)
With a weak .241/.305/.361 batting line and a .666 OPS since his promising rookie campaign in 2009, Beckham may never prove worthy of being the No. 8 overall pick in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, but should be on your radar in deeper formats now that he's back from hamate bone surgery. I don't expect the lofty batting average to continue, as it's mostly driven by a .364 BABIP (batting average on balls in play), but Beckham is capable of 5-10 homers and a few stolen bases the rest of the way. Nothing overly exciting here, but that's acceptable production from a middle infielder spot.
Corey Kluber SP, Indians (Yahoo: 5 percent owned)
Kluber has flown under the radar a bit, but it's time to give him his just due. Fresh off tossing eight innings of one-run ball against the Rangers on Tuesday night, the 27-year-old right-hander now owns a a 4.08 ERA and 57/12 K/BB ratio in 57 1/3 innings this season. If you throw out his clunker against the Tigers on May 10 (eight runs in 4 2/3 innings), he has a 3.08 ERA in his other 10 appearances. Kluber throws strikes, gets swings-and-misses, and induces ground balls right around the league average, so there are some intriguing ingredients here. His next two starts are against the Nationals and Twins at home, so this is a good time to give him a try.
Mike Zunino C, Mariners (Yahoo: 8 percent owned)
Almost exactly one year after he was drafted, Zunino was called up by the Mariners this week. The move comes as a bit of a surprise, as the 22-year-old backstop cooled down significantly after a hot start this season, hitting just .238 with a .303 on-base percentage and a 59/14 K/BB ratio in 208 plate appearances. I don't disagree with those who say he is being rushed, but it's not like the Mariners have many great options behind the plate right now. With Zunino's contact issues, I wouldn't look for a high batting average right away, but he's certainly capable of launching a few home runs. He's worth a shot in two-catcher mixed formats.
Jordany Valdespin 2B/OF, Mets (Yahoo: 2 percent owned)
While Ike Davis is trying to figure out his swing with Triple-A Las Vegas, the Mets are going with Daniel Murphy at first base and Valdespin at second base. Valdespin has been an intriguing player ever since his arrival to the majors early last year, in part because he's such a lightning rod for attention, but the biggest issue for him has been playing time. Now that he has it, his pop and speed should come in handy in deeper formats. However, with his free-swinging ways, don't look for much help in the batting average department.
Erasmo Ramirez SP, Mariners (Yahoo: 2 percent owned)
I included Ramirez under my AL-only recommendations a couple of weeks ago, but it's time to promote him to the mixed league side now that he's inching closer to getting back to the majors. After missing the first two months of the season with triceps discomfort, the 23-year-old has a 1.42 ERA and 14/6 K/BB ratio in 17 2/3 innings in his first three starts between Double-A Jackson and Triple-A Tacoma. It shouldn't be long before he gets a chance in the Mariners' rotation, so he makes for a smart addition in deeper leagues if you have the roster flexibility. Perhaps he'll deliver on his sleeper status after all.