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Waiver Wire: The 'Stros are relevant?!?

Michael Hurcomb
Fantasy Writer
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The Astros have recently been a hot-button topic in Fantasy Baseball. It started with George Springer's earlier-than-expected promotion to the majors. It continued with the speculation of when Jon Singleton will make his MLB debut. And it hasn't stopped thanks to Collin McHugh's surprising performance.

But while the Astros have generated plenty of headlines as of late, one player that is being overlooked is starter Dallas Keuchel, who is owned in just 26 percent of CBSSports.com leagues.

McHugh has been in the majors for just a week and he's already at 41 percent ownership. Granted, he did have two pretty outstanding starts and is coming off 65-point Fantasy week, but this situation reminds me of The Tortoise and the Hare. McHugh might be off to a quick start, but Keuchel's slow-and-steady pace shouldn't be ignored.

It's a pretty interesting story when your pitching coach can't even explain your success, which is the case with McHugh. Houston pitching coach Brent Strom had some pretty revealing quotes after McHugh's last start Sunday. He said the right-hander is winning without his trademark pitch (sinker). Strom added "he's a different guy than I saw in spring." McHugh has been successful because he's working up in the strike zone, which is helping add life to his breaking ball and cutter.

I tend to agree with my colleague Adam Aizer, who said on Monday's Fantasy Baseball Today podcast that it's unrealistic to believe a player can completely change in such a short amount of time. McHugh entered 2014 with an 8.94 ERA in two major-league seasons. He had a 14.29 ERA this spring. He also had a 4.50 ERA at Triple-A prior to his promotion and his Adam Wainwright-like transformation.

Most added players on CBSSports.com
Player Own %
1. Joe Smith, RP, Angels 57 (+53)
2. Collin McHugh, SP, Astros 41 (+41)
3. Dayan Viciedo, OF, White Sox 66 (+39)
4. Tanner Roark, SP, Nationals 58 (+32)
5. Franklin Morales, SP, Rockies 38 (+31)
6. Carlos Ruiz, C, Phillies 59 (+28)
7. James Loney, 1B, Rays 58 (+28)
8. Mark Melancon, RP, Pirates 49 (+26)
9. Alcides Escobar, SS, Royals 53 (+25)
10. Josh Beckett, SP, Dodgers 51 (+21)

Keuchel's track record isn't much better than McHugh's. He came into 2014 with a 9-18 record and 5.20 ERA in his first two MLB seasons. But Keuchel hasn't built unrealistic expectations like McHugh, and there is some history to suggest Keuchel could continue his sustainable pace.

Keuchel has relied on his changeup being a game changer for him this season. It's been the pitch he's used the most behind his sinker and the whiff rate on his changeup is at 20.8 percent, according to BrooksBaseball.net. That's significant because it's the highest whiff rate Keuchel has had on his changeup since June 2013, when it was at 23.1 percent. Keuchel even threw the changeup at pretty much the same frequency -- 15.4 percent in June '13 to 15.5 percent in April.

You ask -- How did Keuchel do last June? I answer -- He went 2-2 with a 3.00 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, .257 opponents' batting average and had a 9.3 K/9 rate. In April, Keuchel is 2-1 with a 3.56 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, .267 opponents' batting average and 8.9 K/9 rate. Pretty similar results.

Although Keuchel had 5.15 ERA last season, his xFIP -- which is an estimate of what his ERA would be using the factors that a pitcher can influence directly, including strikeouts, walks, hit batters and fly balls -- was 3.58, per FanGraphs.com. It's also worth pointing out Keuchel has improved at stranding runners, posting a 78.2 percent strand rate, which is above his career rate (69 percent).

I'm not preaching Keuchel is going to be a Fantasy savior or you are missing out by not adding him off waivers. But while everyone is going cuckoo for McHugh, if you are really looking to add more than a short-term option, Keuchel might be the Houston starting pitcher that meets your needs.

James Loney, 1B, Rays


Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 58 percent (up 28 percent)
Loney is often an overlooked option because he doesn't have great home run power at a loaded Fantasy position. Still, Loney can be a reliable contributor. He averaged 14.4 Fantasy points per week in Head-to-Head formats and was the 139th ranked player (including pitchers) in Rotisserie leagues last season. This year, he's averaging 18 Fantasy points per week. However, he has just one home run and a .416 slugging percentage in 24 games. He had just 13 home runs and a .430 slugging percentage in 158 games last season. Loney is a good major-league first baseman and a solid contributor, but it doesn't translate into high-end Fantasy potential, which will continue to hold Loney back from being a must-add player.
Leagues worth adding him: 14-team Head-to-Head Rotisserie

Tanner Roark, SP, Nationals


Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 58 percent (up 32 percent)
My colleague Al Melchior has been touting Roark for quite some time, but I've always been hesitant to buy into the hype because he was a late bloomer in the minors. Well, it's time to clear a spot on the bandwagon. Roark -- who went 6-17 at Triple-A in 2012 -- credits his career turnaround to better controlling his emotions and scrapping his four-seam fastball. Roark relies on a four-pitch arsenal -- sinker, slider, changeup and curveball -- that he commands well and throws for strikes. Nationals manager Matt Williams says Roark isn't afraid to go after hitters and reminds him of former Giants pitcher John Burkett, who was once a 22-game winner in 1993. Roark might never develop into Justin Verlander, but he's not a bad back-of-the-rotation option for Fantasy owners.
Leagues worth adding him: 12-team Head-to-Head and Rotisserie

Alcides Escobar, SS, Royals


Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 53 percent (up 25 percent)
Escobar is having an out-of-body experience offensively, batting .358 with a .507 slugging percentage and .918 OPS in his last 20 games. The number that really stands out is the .507 slugging percentage, which is largely due to seven doubles in that span. You shouldn't expect the power numbers to continue. Escobar slugged just .377 in the minors and had a .342 slugging percentage in the majors coming into 2014. Though, I'm not totally ready to write off Escobar in Rotisserie formats or Head-to-Head leagues that reward heavily for steals. He's just entering the prime of his career, so a breakout season is realistic. He's capable of hitting for a decent average while stealing some bases. Escobar is a poor man's Elvis Andrus. He does a lot of the same things Andrus does, but what separates Andrus is the run total. It's the difference of Andrus hitting at the top of the Texas order and Escobar at the bottom of the Kansas City lineup.
Leagues worth adding him: 12-team Rotisserie, 14-team Head-to-Head

Josh Beckett, SP, Dodgers


Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 51 percent (up 21 percent)
It's very unusual to see a pitcher with a 2.45 ERA, 0.91 WHIP and striking out 9.0 batters per nine innings owned in less than 50 percent of Fantasy leagues, but that's the case with Beckett, as veteran Fantasy owners are being very cautious in adding the injury-prone right-hander to rosters. I can't really blame the skeptics because I hadn't paid much attention to Beckett until he tossed eight innings Friday against the Rockies. Prior to that, he hadn't lasted more than five innings in his first three starts. If you have a free roster spot, adding Beckett isn't a bad idea because he does have some upside, even at 33 years old. But my big hesitation with Beckett is that he isn't talking like a confident pitcher. After Friday's game, he called it a "step in the right direction" and it showed him he "can do some things he hasn't done in a while." Beckett said he will take Friday's eight-inning outing "as a stepping stone and keep pushing forward." It would have been a lot better had Beckett said he's back to form, so a cautious approach here is certainly warranted.
Leagues worth adding him: 12-team Head-to-Head and Rotisserie formats

Carlos Ruiz, C, Phillies


Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 59 percent (up 28 percent)
Ruiz is coming off a big week, batting .500 (11 for 22) with one triple, one home run, four doubles, five walks, seven RBI and eight runs in six games. It was good enough for Ruiz to take home NL player of the week honors. Ruiz is off to a productive start, batting .296 with a .479 slugging percentage and .891 OPS in 20 games. He hasn't looked this good since his career year in 2012. There are obviously some concerns if his 2012 production is legit since Ruiz missed the start of the 2013 season while serving a 25-game suspension for testing positive for an amphetamine. He didn't perform as well last season until late in the year, when he hit .288 with a .444 slugging percentage and .788 OPS over his final 44 games. My take is that Ruiz is a suitable injury replacement for Devin Mesoraco or Russell Martin owners. He's even a decent NL-only or No. 2 Fantasy catcher in Rotisserie formats. I'm just not buying he will get back to his 2012 level.
Leagues worth adding him: 10-team Rotisserie, 14-team Head-to-Head

Adam Dunn, DH, White Sox


Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 55 percent (up 7 percent)
The White Sox have sat Dunn on most days when a left-handed starter is on the hill, and it seems to be a successful formula. He is only batting .176 in 13 games against lefties, but he is batting .304 with a .420 on-base percentage, .571 slugging percentage and .992 OPS in 20 games against righties. It seems not having to face lefties regularly is boosting Dunn's confidence and keeping him sharper against righties. It probably hasn't hurt either the added lineup protection from Jose Abreu. The only negatives in Fantasy are Dunn still strikes out a lot, which hurts his value in Head-to-Head formats, and he could be a bad Fantasy play in weekly leagues when the White Sox are set to face a bevy of left-handed starters. Dunn is putting up some decent power numbers, but his Fantasy ownership is right around where it should be.
Leagues worth adding him: 12-team Rotisserie, 14-team Head-to-Head

Ian Kennedy, SP, Padres


Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 70 percent (up 8 percent)
If you have to act now on adding Kennedy off waivers, it might be worth the investment before it's too late. His 2014 stats are starting to look a lot like the numbers he had when he was a 21-game winner in 2011. The real telling signs are Kennedy's low walk rate (1.9 BB/9) and low home run rate (0.5 HR/9). He had a 0.8 home run rate and a 2.2 walk rate in 2011. There's more good news. Kennedy has been really strong on the road as opposed to at home in pitcher-friendly PETCO Park. He is 0-3 with a 5.00 ERA in three home starts. Still, he's given up just one home run and has a 1.17 WHIP at home. The ERA is bound to come down, so there is still plenty of upside potential here with Kennedy.
Leagues worth adding him: 12-team Head-to-Head and Rotisserie

Lucas Duda, 1B, Mets


Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 32 percent (up 6 percent)
It would have been nice to see Duda go on a hitting spree once the Mets dealt Ike Davis to Pittsburgh, but that hasn't happened. Since a four-hit game April 14, Duda is batting .211 with one home run, two doubles and six RBI in 11 games. The Mets seem convinced Duda can get back to the power hitter he was in 2011, when he slugged a career-high .482. The team could be onto something since Duda's ISO, which is a measure of a hitter's raw power, is identical (.189) to what he produced in '11, per FanGraphs.com. But his so-so start leads me to believe Duda will probably continue to be a streaky hitter, so only rush to add him in waivers if he starts to heat up. He could be a potential reserve option in Rotisserie leagues if you are looking for a potential cheap source for home runs.
Leagues worth adding him: NL-only, 14-team Rotisserie

Jonathon Niese, SP, Mets


Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 65 percent (up 12 percent)
It's nice to see Niese's ownership on the rise because I've been touting him as an undervalued option for quite some time, especially in points leagues. Niese dealt with some shoulder problems last season, but when he returned from the disabled list he averaged 20.5 Fantasy points over the last eight scoring periods. He was even a top 30 Fantasy starting pitcher in Head-to-Head leagues in 2012. He might not be as strong an option in Rotisserie formats because of an OK strikeout rate and his WHIP can be erratic. But since the start of the 2012 season, he is 22-19 with a 3.46 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and is striking out 7.0 batters per nine innings. He's no Fantasy ace, but you could do a lot worse. Niese is a more valuable asset at the back end of your rotation than you think.
Leagues worth adding him: 12-team Head-to-Head and Rotisserie

American League options

Juan Francisco, 1B, Blue Jays


Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 9 percent (up 2 percent)
I must admit I was a little shocked to see the Brewers part ways with Juan Francisco after he put together a pretty strong spring, batting .346 with a .731 slugging percentage and 1.231 OPS in 13 games. However, it didn't seem the team was comfortable with his defense at first base, so they parted ways. Francisco eventually latched on with the Blue Jays and made his way to the big-league roster a few weeks ago when Adam Lind (back) hit the disabled list. Francisco has been seeing regular at-bats between DH and first base and is doing fairly well, batting .286 with a .571 slugging percentage and .946 OPS in eight games. Still, all of Francisco's success has come against right-handed pitchers. He's hitless in six at-bats against lefties. Lind is also terrible against lefties and the Blue Jays are not going to bench Edwin Encarnacion, so Francisco will be looking at a playing time crunch or be jettisoned off the roster once Lind returns.
Leagues worth adding him: Stopgap option in AL-only

National League options

Scooter Gennett, 2B, Brewers


Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 24 percent (up 11 percent)
Gennett is technically in a platoon with Rickie Weeks, but Gennett gets the better draw since he's a left-handed hitter. He's started 20 times to Weeks' six starts at second base, and it's not like Weeks is pushing for more playing time since he's off to a poor start. Gennett, on the other hand, is batting .303 through 25 games. Though, he hasn't had much success when he's faced a lefty, batting .200 against left-handers. Gennett is a good contact hitter than can find the gaps, but he doesn't even have moderate home run power and isn't much of a stolen-base threat. He hasn't shown a lot of offensive upside in his pro career, so don't look to Gennett as a steal off waivers. He is what he is -- a low-end Fantasy option best used in deeper Rotisserie and NL-only formats.
Leagues worth adding him: NL-only, 14-team Rotisserie

Player you might reconsider dropping

Jedd Gyorko, 2B, Padres


Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 82 percent (down 8 percent)
It's a little shocking to see Fantasy owners give up so quickly on Gyorko since he just seems to be a slow starter. He hit just .247 in April last season before breaking out with a .303 average, .545 slugging percentage, .907 OPS, six home runs, six doubles and 12 RBI in May. If you look at Gyorko's batted ball numbers this season, nothing really stands out besides he's not chasing as many pitches outside the zone and isn't swinging at as many pitches overall. But it's just a small sample size. The numbers that really stand out are Gyorko's .197 BABIP and .067 ISO. He had a .287 BABIP and .195 ISO last season, so he hasn't even scratched the surface of his potential yet. I can't imagine in most formats there is a player on waivers at second base with more upside than Gyorko, so it doesn't make sense to be dropping a starting option onto waivers if you can just stash him on your bench.
Leagues worth adding him: 12-team Head-to-Head and Rotisserie

Q &A

Somebody in my league just got rid of Alex Cobb. Should I pick him up or do you think he will be available in May or June? --@whiz23

MH: In shallow formats, there's no need to stash Cobb unless you have DL spots. In deeper formats, you probably want to use the roster spot since Cobb should be better than most waiver-wire options once he is healthy. Cobb averaged 24.5 Fantasy points over the first two scoring periods before getting hurt, so you could make the argument he's worth a bench spot.

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Player News
Braves' Rodriguez goes one inning, walks two in spring debut
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(4:31 pm ET) Braves starting pitcher Wandy Rodriguez, who is competing for the fifth spot in the rotation, allowed one run on two hits and two walks in one inning of work during his spring debut Wednesday against the Mets. He struck out one.

Rodriguez got off to a rocky start Wednesday as he walked Juan Lagares to start the game. Lagares would score four batters later on a two-out single by Kirk Nieuwenhuis.


Phillies pitcher Paul Clemens throws two scoreless innings Wednesday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(4:29 pm ET) Phillies pitcher Paul Clemens was able to throw two scoreless innings in Wednesday's 3-1 win over the Yankees. Clemens came on in the third innings and did not surrender a hit in his appearance.

He allowed just one base runner on one walk.


Brewers' Kintzler ready to bounce back after injury plagued 2014
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(4:13 pm ET) Brewers pitcher Brandon Kintzler was been bit by the injury bug in 2014. Kintzler was forced to go under the knife with a knee injury last year while dealing with a shoulder issue as well, allowing him to pitch just 58 1/3 innings, posting a 3.24 ERA and 31 strikeouts.

"My arm hasn't felt this good in a while. It feels live," Kintzler said. "I feel like my alignment, my mechanics, is right where I need it to be."

Kintzler also said he wasn't in the right mindset in 2014.

"Mentally, I just wasn't right because I was thinking of mechanics so much," said Kintzler, 30. "I had to go 'around' my knee, and as a sinkerballer, I need to get up over that knee. I would throw one really good sinker and go, 'Yeah, that's it.' Then, the next one, my arm couldn't get there, and it's a flat sinker and a homer. That was so frustrating. I couldn't be consistent."


Giradi: Yankees' Tanaka to make spring debut late next week
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(4:04 pm ET) Yankees manager Joe Girardi said Wednesday starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka should make his spring debut sometime late next week, according to The Wall Street Journal. The Yankees are being cautious with Tanaka after he dealt with an elbow injury last season.

Yankees' Alex Rodriguez goes 1 for 2 in spring training debut
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3:57 pm ET) Yankees designated hitter Alex Rodriguez went 1 for 2 from the plate with a single and a walk in his spring training debut Wednesday. Rodriguez, slotted a DH with Chase Headley starting at third, also left one runner on base.

Rodriguez said after the game he felt like he was swinging underwater, but was happy to make contact and pleasantly surprised to get a base hit, according to MLB.com.


Yankees OF Carlos Beltran (elbow) to make spring debut Friday
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(3:54 pm ET) Yankees manager Joe Girardi said outfielder Carlos Beltran will make his spring debut Friday, according to The Wall Street Journal. Beltran is coming off surgery in October to remove a bone spur from his elbow.

Diamondbacks' Hellickson (rib) feels good after throwing in bullpen
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(3:46 pm ET) Diamondbacks starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson said he felt fine after throwing a bullpen session Tuesday, according to The Arizona Republic. Hellickson had his previous bullpen session Saturday end early due to discomfort in his rib cage area.

Orioles' Chris Davis open to more reps at right field
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(3:44 pm ET) Orioles' Chris Davis told reporters that he's prepared for more reps at right field this spring, according to Comcast SportsNet Baltimore on Wednesday. Davis has not played the outfield since 2012, and has only 39 starts in right field during his MLB career.

"The way our team is constructed here you're always on your toes," Davis said. "With the way we run the DH, you know that there's an opportunity for me to play somewhere else, so you try and stay prepared. I think the biggest thing for me going from the infield to the outfield is just the reps. I haven’t had a lot of reps in right field."


Diamondbacks' Inciarte ready to compete for roster spot
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(3:39 pm ET) Outfielder Ender Inciarte was one of the Diamondbacks' top performers in the second half last season, but even a strong finish to the year couldn't secure him a starting job this season. Therefore, Inciarte will be competing for a spot on the roster this spring.

"There's a lot of competition here, but you only control what you can control," Inciarte said, per The Arizona Republic. "I know I can play defense. I know I can run. And I know I can hit. I've just got to do my job. I want to have a chance to play, but I'm ready to take any opportunity they give me or any role.

"I know whatever happens is going to be the best thing for me. I know if I go to Triple-A, I'm going to do my best and find my way back."

Inciarte shouldn't be talking about Triple-A just yet, especially not when you are on the manager's radar.

"He's the type of player you like to have because he can do so many different things," manager Chip Hale said. "He's kind of a throwback to when we played and being able to use all those different tools in a game instead of just waiting for the big home run."


Mets' Wilmer Flores exits spring game after HBP on wrist/forearm
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(3:09 pm ET) Mets infielder Wilmer Flores was forced out of Thursday's spring training game after being hit by a pitch on the wrist/forearm region, reports MLB.com. Manager Terry Collins told reporters that his hand was "fine" after the game, per ESPN.

Flores is viewed as the favorite to win the shortstop job after he hit .251 in 78 games and had a .979 fielding percentage at shortstop in 2014.


 
 
 
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