Your draft or auction is over and Opening Day has arrived, meaning all you need do is sit back and watch your team dominate, right? Of course not. Savvy owners will hit the waiver wire immediately after the draft, looking for high-upside players who may have slipped through the cracks. Here is a look at one player at each position who could be available and could make a big impact from the free agent list.
The average draft position (ADP) and draft percentage data come from Mock Draft Central.
Catcher: Chris Iannetta, Rockies
Draft Percentage: 54.5|PERCENT| of leagues
Iannetta’s career in Colorado has been sabotaged at nearly every turn, whether it’s been by management or by ridiculous breakout years from such saps as Miguel Olivo and Yorvit Torrealba. As a result, Iannetta has been limited to no more than 333 at-bats in any single season. This year, the Rockies don’t look to have much of a choice but to play him. Their best backup is Jose Morales, and he’s, well, bad. Our projections currently have Iannetta for a .238 batting average, 18 HR, 45 R and 58 RBI (no stolen bases). However, if he can get up to 400 at-bats, our projections of his counting stats increase by 20 percent – 22 HRs, 55 R, 70 RBIs, well above the catcher averages. He’s no guarantee and the low average hurts, but the catcher position is so thin that even his initial projections warrant a roster spot in any league with 10 or more teams.
Honorable mention: John Jaso (39.3|PERCENT|)
First Base: Derrek Lee, Orioles
Draft Percentage: 66.9|PERCENT|
Lee had a down year between the Cubs and Atlanta last season, and at age 35 there is reason to be concerned about his performance. However, that down year still saw a .260 average, 80 R, 80 RBI and 19 HR from Lee in 547 at-bats. Obviously, that’s not the kind of elite performance one hopes for in a first baseman, but stat lines like that are also the reason that the UTIL slot is so often filled by first basemen. Lee’s strikeout rate jumped 5 percent last year, which may be age catching up with him, but also could be random variation. We should expect fewer strikeouts this year, which should help his batting average climb back toward the league mean. Don’t expect .300 out of Lee ever again, but .280 is more likely to happen next year than .260, which will look pretty solid out of UTIL or a second 1B when paired with Lee’s still-solid counting stats.
Honorable Mention: Freddie Freeman (49.7|PERCENT|)
Second Base: Neil Walker, Pirates
Draft Percentage: 40.0|PERCENT|
One has to be careful with players like Walker. When rookies post years like Walker’s 2010 campaign with Pittsburgh, in which he batted .296 with 12 HRs, 66 RBIs and 57 R, some are quick to expect improvement the next season when regression may instead be in order. That doesn’t appear to be the case with Walker, as people seem to be convinced that he’s much worse than his 2010 numbers – which would likely be top-12 second baseman material over a full season. Indeed, we predict Walker to regress – a projected .278 batting average – but his increase in playing time will make up for the reduced rate of accumulating counting stats. With 100-150 more at-bats, Walker should be able to pick up 15 HR, 80 RBI and 70 R – something that I don’t feel comfortable saying about Brian Roberts (100|PERCENT|), Mike Aviles (97.9|PERCENT|) or Howie Kendrick (84.8|PERCENT|).
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When he was on the field last year, Hardy was an above-average fantasy SS. He compiled a .268 average to go with 6 HRs, 44 R and 38 RBIs in 375 plate appearances. No, that’s not a good line at all, without the context of position. But consider that, given 375 plate appearances, the league average shortstop hit 4 HRs, scored 43 runs, and had 34 RBIs while batting .262. Hardy’s numbers were right in line with his career averages, except for his power numbers, which were a bit down. That should be rectified with a move from spacious Target Field to Camden Yards, a very friendly place for right-handed batters, particularly with regards to home runs. Hardy should once again be an above-average fantasy shortstop, and with a full season under his belt, that makes him well worth a roster a spot in many 10-team leagues.
Honorable Mention: Jed Lowrie (12.4|PERCENT|)
Third Base: Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays
Draft Percentage: 35.9|PERCENT|
It’s difficult to blame drafters for missing on Edwin “E5” Encarnacion, as the news that he would have the starting role at 3B in Toronto didn’t break until Tuesday. However, now that Encarnacion has a cemented role, we can feel better about projecting him for more than 380 at-bats. He was already down for 21 HR, 54 RBI and 52 R, which help offset the pain of a .240-ish batting average. Encarnacion isn’t the kind of guy you want to rely on in a starting role, but he makes an excellent fill-in and can help you in three categories. As a starter for Toronto, Encarnacion could hit 30 HRs – Rogers Centre is the best place for righties to hit homers in the league – and should see his R/RBI totals jump as well.
Honorable Mention: Placido Polanco (59.3|PERCENT|)
Outfield: J.D. Drew (45.5|PERCENT|)
Draft Percentage: 45.5|PERCENT|
When forced to choose between Drew and a fantasy player higher up the list – say, Ryan Ludwick, who has been drafted in 97 percent of leagues – the following question has to be asked: Do I prefer 450 plate appearances of good-to-great performance or 600 plate appearances of average performance? Apparently the worries about J.D. Drew’s injuries are enough to keep him on the waiver wire in most leagues. The worries are legitimate, but it’s hard to beat Drew’s production when he plays – a .270 batting average, 20 HRs, 60 RBI and 70 R. When you throw in the player you slot in for those 200 or so at-bats while Drew is on the DL, that could be 30 HRs, 75 RBI and 85 R out of one of your OF slots, if not better.
Honorable Mention: Josh Willingham (29.7|PERCENT|)
Starting Pitcher: James McDonald, Pirates
Draft Percentage: 37.9|PERCENT|
McDonald made an immediate impact for Pittsburgh last season after coming over as part of a deadline deal with the Dodgers. The right-hander struck out 61 batters in just 64 innings en route to posting a 4-5 record, a 3.52 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP. The Pirates shouldn’t be 100-loss team again in 2011 – they could challenge for a .500 record if things go right – but 70-75 wins is more likely. As a result, McDonald should be able to post a respectable win total – think 10-13 – if he can pitch at all like he did last season. Expect a small dropoff – an ERA closer to 3.80 and a WHIP closer to 1.40 – but McDonald should be a major asset in strikeouts once again, and with the other three pitching stats coming in at respectable or better, he deserves a roster spot.
Honorable Mention: Jake Westbrook (20.0|PERCENT|)
Relief Pitcher: Aroldis Chapman, Reds
Draft Percentage: 46.2|PERCENT|
Remember, saves are only 20 percent of what a reliever provides in a 5×5 format. Chapman projects to be one of the best relievers – if not <i>the</i> best – in the other four categories. Anybody who has seen Chapman pitch realizes that he’s nearly untouchable when he can truly dial it in for short stints out of the bullpen. He’s a lock for at least one strikeout per inning and should be able to maintain an ERA below 3.00. The Reds are going to win a decent amount of games this year, and inevitably some will be credited to relievers. The only potential issue is walks, but he’s been much better with his control in the bullpen than out of the rotation. In addition, Francisco Cordero, the Reds’ 35-year-old closer, could collapse at any second, and Chapman might be the first to step in and pick up the available saves.
Honorable Mention: Joel Hanrahan (73.1|PERCENT|)