It’s been said that the good ones copy and the great ones steal. With that in mind, I’m stealing a cue from Mr. Podhorzer, who looked at a pair of players owned in less than 10% of leagues earlier this week. But since my two fantasy beats this season are Deep-League Waiver Wire and American League Outfielders, I figured, Why not combine the two?
What was that they say about those who steal again?
Juan Rivera, Blue Jays LF
ESPN: 1.1% owned
Yahoo!: 2% owned
Forgotten after a down season (career-low .156 ISO), perhaps Rivera is also being overlooked in drafts because, frankly, he got a little lost on his own team late in 2010. The Angels’ outfield/designated hitter shuffle became extra crowded over the final two months last year, and it’s no coincidence that Rivera saw season-lows in games (15) and at-bats (54) last August, the same month in which Peter Bourjos debuted. Still, we’re talking about a player in his prime (32 years old) whose batted ball ratios stayed in line with his career numbers and who owns a pair of fairly recent 20-homer, 80-RBI seasons (2006 and 2009). In fact, Rivera has averaged 17 four-baggers in his six seasons with 250+ ABs. Having moved onto Toronto in the forever-infamous Vernon Wells trade, Rivera is now free from all the Angels in the outfield (hey oh!), has once again been entrusted with a starting gig and, better yet, now gets to hit in Rogers Centre, last season’s fourth-most homer-friendly park (as opposed to eighth-toughest Angel Stadium). He could easily wind up driving himself in 20 times yet again, making for a fine No. 4 OF in AL-only leagues.
Ryan Sweeney, Athletics OF
ESPN: 0.2% owned
Yahoo!: <2% owned
This one is for those of you who are looking to go a level deeper. For those who know every single projected starter in baseball—and their backups. For those who laugh when fantasy columns talk about guys with “upside” because all you care about is finding some dude wearing an MLB uniform with blood pumping through his veins. For you, there’s Ryan Sweeney. Lacking in power (.100 career ISO) as well as a starting job, Sweeney is still a savvy reserve outfielder play, primarily for three reasons: 123, 116 and 81. Those are the average number of games played over the past three seasons for, in order, David DeJesus, Josh Willingham and Coco Crisp, namely, the three Oakland OFs in front of our man. In other words, he’s going to get plenty of opportunities to flaunt his oh-so so-so skills. (FYI: Sweeney himself is recovering from knee surgery that forced him to miss the last half of 2010, but he’s on track to be ready by Opening Day.) Not only will one or more of those three A’s suffer some kind of injury (setting the over/under on Crisp’s first DL stint at April 27th—any takers?), but manager Bob Geren has already indicated that Crisp will be rested regularly to keep him fresh. Beyond that, Sweeney is a standout with the leather, meaning he’s likely to pick up occasional ABs filling in as a late-game defensive replacement for Willingham. If you’re looking for a non-starting player who will still rack up some 350+ ABs, add to your counting stats and not hurt your rate ones (career .286 BA)—and maybe even sell a few jeans along the way—well, my deep-league friend, I bring you Ryan Sweeney. After all, he is only 26, so you know, there may be some upside.
Jason Catania is an MLB Lead Writer for Bleacher Report who also contributes to ESPN The Magazine, ESPN Insider and MLB Rumor Central, focusing on baseball and fantasy content. When he was first introduced to fantasy baseball, Derek Jeter had 195 career hits, Jamie Moyer had 72 wins and Matt Stairs was on team No. 3. You can follow him on Twitter: @JayCat11