It’s Opening Day, the teams are drafted and excitement is bubbling over! You have to exhibit a measure of patience to have success in fantasy baseball, but the balance is difficult to strike between that patience and actively acquiring quality players off the free agent wire. The patience should be given primarily to the core of your roster, let’s say the top 15 picks or so, but after that you should identify at least a name or two on your roster that you’re ready to cut if you find someone on the wire.
Here is a look at 10 overlooked names who could become early season waiver gems:
Longtime Sporer favorite slipped down the list a bit this year because of the added depth in the middle infield positions, but I still think there’s more in the tank. He’s entering his age-24 season with a relatively full-time role in hand (I say “relatively” because it seems Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant are the only two with truly guaranteed roles given their depth). He’s batting sixth in the lineup and if he can hit the ground running, he’ll avoid the lower third of the lineup more of than not. A realistic breakout season looks like a .280 AVG, 25 HR, and 75+ R/RBI.
Brandon Nimmo | Mets, OF
Nimmo posted a .379 OBP in a nice 69-game debut last year thanks to a 15% BB rate. That stellar eye and his left-handedness will earn him playing time and put him near the top of the order. He’s leading off on Thursday. With Michael Conforto out, this is his chance to shine. If Adrian Gonzalez falters, they can move Jay Bruce to first and go Conforto, Nimmo, Yoenis Cespedes once everyone’s healthy. Nimmo doesn’t have great power or speed so it’s hard to see a transcendent season, but a 15 HR/10 SB season with tons of runs thanks to .375+ OBP has value in many formats. He’s almost certainly gone in any OBP league, but check just in case as the shallower iterations (10- and 12-teamers) might’ve left him out there.
Matt Davidson | White Sox, 3B
Hitting 26 yaks ain’t what it used to be! Davidson was an afterthought in anything but AL-Only leagues despite taking part in the 2017 power surge. Of course, when you hit .220 with your homers, it mitigates the value. His vomit-inducing 37% K and 4% BB rates didn’t help, either. However, playing time is king and he should get as much as he can handle right in the middle of the White Sox lineup.
A full-time player in the middle of a modest lineup is often better than the part-timer who may be more talented, but has uncertain playing time and a lower third lineup spot. With someone like Davidson specifically, make sure you can afford the AVG drain. If he can bring that strikeout rate to even 30% (which is still pretty awful), it could be worth some batting average points given how hard he regularly hits the ball. Davidson could be a worthy fill-in for someone waiting on Justin Turner.
Edit: He didn’t make this list BECAUSE of the 3 HR. I made the list last night and he only had one by the time his part was written! Obviously this will raise his profile substantially. Hitting 3 HR in one game doesn’t change the outlook. He’s still a power-rich AVG-drain sort of guy.
Lucas Duda | Royals, 1B
Hitting 30 yaks ain’t what it used to be! Duda was even worse than Davidson average-wise, clocking in at .217, but he balanced his 28% K rate out a bit with a solid 12% BB rate. This allowed for a passable .322 OBP. Duda is more likely to be platooned out of facing lefties, but a strong side platoon option can still be worth a roster spot in most leagues, but especially those with daily lineup changes. The Royals open with a host of righties with just two through April 10th (Matt Boyd and James Paxton).
Preston Tucker | Braves, OF
I definitely overrate his 2015 in my mind when I think about Tucker. Do you remember what he did that year? Think of it in your head before I tell you… he had a 104 wRC+ with 13 HR in 323 PA. I always have it as like 125 with 22 HR for some reason. In other words, it’s less surprising to see him fizzle out a bit when I’m reminded of the actual numbers he put up in that debut campaign. He missed a lot of 2016 to injuries and then put up a solid-if-unspectacular 24 HR and .798 OPS in 568 PA at Triple-A Fresno last year. He’ll be holding up the strong side platoon until Ronald Acuña’s arrival so it’s a short-term play, but I still think he has above average power. He can post a low-.200s ISO with high-20s HR pace.
Brian Anderson | Marlins, 3B
Never a huge prospect coming up, Anderson has a bunch of 45s and 50s on his scouting report, but he’s got a clear path to the full-time 3B role in Miami. He hit .275 with 22 HR in 498 minor league PA last year. He could replicate those totals in a full MLB season.
Jose Pirela | Padres, 2B/OF
Pirela won a job out of spring when he looked like the odd man out going into it. Manager Andy Green has suggested that Pirela is fit for a full-time role after a sharp half season in San Diego last year. He could bounce between outfield and second base and he’s got a little bit of a Yangervis Solarte feel to him, including coming from the Yankees organization. Solid approach, average or better plate skills, and some punch. A 20+ HR season isn’t out of the realm for the 28-year old late-bloomer.
Curtis Granderson | Blue Jays, OF
He’s better than the .212 AVG we saw last year, but I wouldn’t put the cap much beyond .245 given his flyball lean. But he’s still got pop and all the righties he can handle. He still had an .806 OPS against them last year with 21 HR in 410 PA. Look at him as a short-term fill-in for now with a tinge of potential to be more.
Jed Lowrie | A’s, 2B
Can he stay healthy two years in a row? He’s healthy right now and he’s going to be in the heart of a solid Oakland lineup. He’s a point league stud because he clubs a boatload of doubles and takes walks.
Nick Markakis |Braves, OF
He just allllwaaaayyysss plays! He hasn’t had a SLG north of .400 since 2012, though, so there’s definitely a limited pool of leagues where he’s truly viable.