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  • Writer's pictureJosh Nix

Fantasy Baseball Waiver Wire Prospects (4/25/22 - 5/1/22)

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Week three is in the books and I can only hope you were good (lucky?) enough to grab some of this year’s best values in your draft. If not, all the more reason to stay active on the wire and ensure you are one week early in snagging the next big thing. Last week’s waiver wire recommendations were on the money once again and I hope you secured one or more of Connor Joe, Joe Ryan, Matt Brash, Owen Miller or Brad Keller — all returned dividends and helped to propel their teams toward the top of the standings. You know we’ve got you covered @weknowfantasy, so let’s dive in and see who’s out there that can help your team this week.

Before we jump into some top performers that deserve a roster spot on your team, it’s always important at the beginning of the year to remember the guys that have not yet performed but are about to return. For example, all of Ramon Laureano, Kyle Lewis, and Alex Kirilloff are expected back over the next two weeks for the A’s, Mariners and Twins, respectively. A good fantasy manager grabs these guys well before they return to secure that value at a discount. Grab these guys now if you have any roster space at all, especially Laureano (even in the shallowest of leagues) because that move will pay off over the course of the season.

As always, we’ll take a look at players that are out there in leagues of different sizes (shallow/10-12 team and then deeper/AL or NL only leagues.) Be active with your in-season management by checking the wire regularly – it makes all the difference.

Shallow Leagues – 10/12 team mixed leagues:

Aaron Hicks, OF, New York Yankees

Aaron Hicks is a longtime favorite of mine and I am hoping that he is able to stay healthy this year because there has never been a question about his talent. Hicks is a former #1 draft pick that combines power, speed, and plate discipline – he showed what he could do in a full season in 2018 when he posted a .366 OBP with 27 HR, 90 R, 79 RBI, and 11 SBs. Hicks has looked good in the early going for the Yankees and he was recently placed in the leadoff spot and has batted in that position in five of his last six starts. If that sticks and he can stay healthy, Hicks could provide your team with a ton of runs, along with double-digit HRs and SBs, and a fantastic OBP (he is not a BA standout but won’t kill you in that category either.)

Brandon Marsh, OF, Los Angeles Angels

Marsh was one of the Angels’ top prospects when he was called up last year and given an opportunity to show what he could do. Unfortunately — like his teammate Jo Adell — Marsh struggled at the major league level in 2021, primarily because he struck out far too often (35%) but so far in 2022, Marsh has made some adjustments and looks primed to deliver on his potential. Marsh has slashed his strikeout rate down to 20% and is currently batting .323 with 1 HR, 6 R, 11 RBI and 1 SB on the season. He was always an intriguing power/speed combo in the minors and could easily deliver double-digit HRs and SBs with more upside if all falls in line.

Joc Pederson, OF, San Francisco Giants

Pederson has long been a platoon guy and it is likely he will continue to sit against lefties. That said, he has not only secured regular playing time for the Giants, but is capitalizing on that PT as well. Pederson is locked in and crushing the ball, posting a Statcast hard hit rate over 51%, which has yielded a .297 BA and 3 HRs in his first 11 games. Pederson has always had a power hitter’s batted ball profile, hitting the ball in the air around 40% or more of the time. Combine that with the kind of hard hit metrics he is putting up and you have the recipe for a big year. He may not play every day, but if you can afford the roster space, he will be great in daily leagues or weeks where the Giants play mostly RHPs.

Merrill Kelly, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks

Kelly is a guy that has always had good, but not great, stuff and never quite been able to put it all together, but throughout spring training and now into the regular season, Kelly has been electric – in his first three regular season starts, he has a 0.59 ERA with 18Ks through 15 innings. Kelly changed his pitch mix and is now relying more on his cutter and changeup, which have been very effective. While he won’t continue to pitch to a 0.59 ERA, the 1.69 FIP underscores that this is likely no mirage and that Kelly is worthy of a roster spot on your squad.

Kyle Gibson, SP, Philadelphia Phillies

I have long thought that Gibson has another level and that, one year, he is going to put it all together and finish as a top 15 guy. I’m not saying that will happen in 2022, but he certainly has the skills and is out of the gate fast. Gibson has thrown 17 innings in three starts, allowing just 13 hits and striking out 19. he data indicates he has outperformed his 3.57 ERA, as he has a 2.57 xERA and 2.49 FIP. Gibson also has the advantage of pitching for a team that should score plenty of runs, giving him more opportunities for wins. Most fantasy teams have someone they could drop for Gibson.

MacKenzie Gore, SP, San Diego Padres

Gore is the shiny new toy that was, not long ago, the top pitching prospect in all of major league baseball. With Blake Snell on the IL, Gore is finally getting his shot and he is looking cooler than Johnny Depp in trial. He is a left-hander that can bring the heat, averaging 95 and touching the upper 90s with his FB. In his first two starts, Gore has allowed just 2 earned runs and struck out 10 in 10 innings of work. Rookie pitchers often have their struggles and I’m sure Gore will as well, but this is an encouraging sign from a guy with undeniable talent. This may be the beginning of Gore putting it all together.

Garrett Whitlock, SP/RP, Boston Red Sox

Whitlock is the Swiss army knife of the Red Sox pitching staff – he has pitched multiple innings in relief (as many as 4,) has been a closer and earned a save, and has a win on his record. He also sports a 0.93 ERA with 11 Ks in 9 innings pitched. Whitlock is widely regarded as perhaps the most talented pitcher in the Boston bullpen, the only question is how the Red Sox will choose to deploy his talents. For example, he started yesterday’s game for the Red Sox and surrendered just one hit and no walks in four innings while striking out 7 (yes, he’s a beast.) I always bet on talent and Whitlock has that in spades. Grab him now if he is available in your league – it will pay off whether he ends up as a starter or the closer. Anyone remember John Smoltz??

Deeper Leagues (15 team or AL/NL Only)

Taylor Ward, OF, Los Angeles Angels

Coming into the year, everyone assumed that the Angels outfield would primarily be manned by Mike Trout, Jo Adell and Brandon Marsh, with Ward subbing in as needed to give the other three a breather. Far from it, however, Angels’ skipper Joe Maddon has endorsed Taylor Ward as a fixture in the team’s OF and Ward has slotted 2nd, 3rd or 4th in the lineup every game since he returned from the injured list. He has earned that spot in the lineup – Ward is currently batting .348/.464/.522 with a nearly 18% walk rate and a HR and SB in only 28 plate appearance. Ward’s expected stats back up the results, with a .366 xBA, .463 xwOBA and a .613 xSLG. He is someone that should be snatched up in most leagues given the playing time and results so far.

Josh Naylor, OF, Cleveland Guardians

Naylor was on the IL to start the year, but he is back and immediately jumped into regular playing time, particularly with the injury to Owen Miller. He may not ultimately play every day, but the left-hander will be in the lineup most days and he is a bat-to-ball specialist, in the mold of some of the other low strikeout hitters in the Guardians’ lineup. Naylor was a well-regarded prospect in the Padres' system and he may just need sustained ABs to fulfill his potential and tap into the power most scouts believe he will ultimately unlock. Naylor is currently hitting .444 and striking out only 5% of the time. Those numbers will normalize, but I believe Naylor will be a steady contributor — with the upside for more — in deep leagues and should be owned. He should also quickly gain 1B eligibility, making him even more valuable.

Thairo Estrada, 2B/SS, San Francisco Giants

Estrada isn’t a guy that is going to mash a ton of homers or steal a ton of bases, but he is steady and has carved out an everyday place in the Giants’ lineup, which is valuable in deeper leagues. Estrada is also off to a very good start for the Giants, hitting .255 with 2 HR, 11 R, 9 RBI and 3 SBs in his first 15 games. Gabe Kapler has also made comments praising Estrada, which supports the idea that his fixture in the lineup will continue.

Maikel Franco, 3B, Washington Nationals

If you need a CI in a 15 teamer or NL only, Maikel Franco is your guy. Again, in these leagues, playing time is king and Franco is playing 3B everyday for the Nationals. He isn’t a great option in OBP leagues due to a low walk rate, but with some BABIP help, he can be helpful in BA leagues, posting perhaps something in the .260s if everything breaks right. He currently sits at .263 and has 2 HR and 10 RBI in 16 games. He is also hitting the ball with authority (50% hard hit rate per Statcast) and elevating the ball at a good rate, which could lead to more HRs if that batted ball profile is sustained.

Paul Blackburn, SP, Oakland A’s

Blackburn is a guy that has never truly impressed at the major league level, posting a 5.47 ERA. This year, however, Blackburn has been nothing short of tremendous. Through three starts, he has pitched 15 innings with a 1.80 ERA (1.37 FIP), 11 hits, 1 walk, and 14 Ks – not bad, not bad at all... The success this year can be credited to a new pitch (a new grip on his curveball giving it more life) and a new pitch mix – he is now throwing his curve and change a combined 43% of the time, and both pitches have been very effective. It’s natural to be skeptical, but you can’t wait too long in deep leagues or Blackburn will be gone. Grab him now and ride the wave.

Jorge Lopez, RP, Baltimore Orioles

If you’re thinking, “What about saves? I need saves you jerk – who can I pick up??” Don’t worry, no waiver wire column would be complete without a recommendation on the closer du jour. Most people stayed away from the Orioles bullpen due to the uncertainty and the fact that, let’s be honest, the team is pretty terrible. That said, Lopez has been outstanding – he now has 3 saves on the year with a 2.25 ERA through 8 innings, thanks to a fastball averaging 97 mph and some fantastic secondaries (slider and curve.) The way he is rolling, Lopez looks to have a firm job on the closer role in Baltimore for now and, with closers, you can’t ask for much more.

The biggest mistake many fantasy owners make early in the season is the pride associated with falling in love with their own draft picks. People get married to the guys they drafted because they feel like cutting those players means they were wrong. But building a winning squad sometimes means you have to cut a guy you think has potential (NOT stars, please don’t cut stars early) to ride the hot hand... sometimes those hot streaks turn into career years. So be aggressive on the wire early and get the guys that can win you a championship. Good luck all!

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