Injury and ineffectiveness have a way of creating opportunity for players many of us have never even heard of. Or at least if we’ve heard of them, we never thought we’d actually consider putting them on our fantasy baseball squad. Enter Matt Carpenter, A.J. Pollock, and Kirk Nieuwenhuis.
All three are either short-term or speculative grabs at the moment, but it wouldn’t take a whole lot for each of them to fall into regular playing time – and given than none of them have ownership rates north of 5% (alright, Matt Carpenter broke 5% overnight), they’re at the right price. Call it “extreme” deep league waiver wire if you like.
Kirk Nieuwenhuis had a nice little 2011 season in Buffalo, hitting .298/.403/.505 with six home runs, 17 doubles, and five stolen bases over 220 plate appearances. It was thought he would probably stay there for a while too — the team only gave him ten spring at bats and he didn’t do much with them either. But with Andres Torres dinged up and Jason Bay refusing to be younger Jason Bay, the search for alternatives landed him squarely in the leadoff slot on Wednesday. There’s even some rumblings about that idea sticking.
Nieuwenhuis has always been a high strikeout kind of hitter, so it’s no surprise to see ZiPS project a .245 batting average going forward. But should he actually secure regular playing time, it’s possible that he could reach double digits in home runs and stolen bases. Should he lead off, the runs would be aplenty as well. It’s probably more likely that he platoons even in the short term with Scott Hairston, but he may also start to steal playing time away from Bay if he manages to sufficiently endear himself to Terry Collins.
Given the track record of injuries of the incumbents at third base and first base in St. Louis, it’s not a huge surprise to see Matt Carpenter in the lineup. A third baseman for most of his minor league career, Carpenter is now thrust into the lineup for the ailing Lance Berkman. They’re not giving him light duty either as he was hitting behind Carlos Beltran in the #5 slot of the lineup. At 26, Carpenter isn’t a fresh-faced prospect and he actually has a reputation as a guy who can hit for average and get on base, owning a minor league career .300 batting average and .408 OBP over 1400+ plate appearances.
Carpenter has some pop and some speed, but home runs and stolen bases would be occasional at best. ZiPS projects him as a .252/.343/.382 hitter who should see another eight home runs and five bags. While that might be a little pessimistic, something to pay attention to is where he bats in the order as it will obviously impact run and RBI opportunities. If he continues to follow Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran, he’s probably worth a roster slot. And don’t forget that he qualifies at third base and first base in most formats.
Lastly, A.J. Pollock is the beneficiary of the nicks affecting Chris Young and Justin Upton. While Gerardo Parra and Jason Kubel figure to get the majority of the fill-in time, as long as Upton is out, Pollock is likely to play. In fact, against Mike Minor last night, Pollock hit out of the leadoff slot with both Kubel and Parra further down the order. Pollock’s profile might not have the Arizona retirees reaching for their blood pressure medicine, but he has demonstrated the ability to hit for solid average in the minors (although buoyed by what is likely an unsustainable BABIP). He has a good command of the strike zone, doesn’t strike out a ton, and his major asset is his speed, as he stole 36 bases in 133 games in 2011 and already had four at AAA in 2012. Because Parra and Kubel are both left handed, it could be that Pollock is only seen when southpaws toe the rubber, but if he’s able to give a good impression early, I could see him being at least useful enough to try and squeeze a few stolen bases out of him before either Young or Upton return. He’s probably only worth a roster spot in daily transaction leagues where you can toss him when you see the posted lineup, and it’s also pretty likely that his usefulness will be short term.