Waiver Wire: AL, Week 21

Jeff has come down with a case of pneumonia, so this week’s Waiver Wire AL is kind of a joint effort between the two of us. Jeff wrote up the first four, and I did the last five. Get well soon, Jeff! -Derek Carty

Jeremy Hellickson | Tampa Bay | RP, SP | 19 percent Yahoo! ownership
YTD: 2.05 ERA, 0.76 WHIP, 8.54 K/9, 1.37 BB/9, 41.2% GB%
Minor League Splits MLE: 3.47 FIP, 1.29 WHIP, 7.71 K/9, 3.55 BB/9, 36.3% GB%

Hellickson has already proved himself a major league capable pitcher, but the Rays, who need only four starters in the postseason and want to be careful with Hellickson’s workload, sent him to the minors earlier this week to re-transition him into a relief role come September. As a result, many owners have abandoned Hellickson. He’s been dropped in 7.4 percent of ESPN leagues in the past week and all of my money leagues have seen owners cut Hellickson loose.

However, owners in need of ratio stabilization and extra innings should seriously consider Hellickson. He will not accrue many saves (maybe a few to give the dominant Rafael Soriano a night off), but he will rack up plenty of Ks with a good ERA/WHIP to boot. Rule of thumb is that a starter is about a full run better as a reliever… just saying…

Recommendation: Hellickson is an elite middle reliever worth owning in all mixed and AL-only leagues.

Desmond Jennings | Tampa Bay | OF | 2 percent Yahoo! ownership
2010 Minors (Triple-A): .292/.367/.418
MLS MLE: .253/.315/.353

As evident by the plethora of top prospects (seven top 80 prospects in Baseball America’s preseason prospect rankings, two in the top 20), Tampa’s farm system is stacked. We’ve all seen what Hellickson can do. If he were your organization’s top prospect, you might be pretty happy. Funny thing about the Rays, however, is they have a prospect who’s been ranked higher than Hellickson in each of the past two seasons (even as recently as Baseball America’s midseason update to its top prospect list): Desmond Jennings.

Jennings is a light hitting, fast running center fielder with good range and above average walking skills (10.6 percent minor league career BB%). Jennings is essentially the reason the Rays can let Carl Crawford walk this offseason, as he is a center field version of the all-star right fielder (albeit with a lighter bat: .102 MLE ISO).

In 337 at-bats in Triple-A this season, Jennings has produced a solid .292/.367/.418 line and gone 34-for-37 in stolen bases. His MLE line is .253/.315/.353, which I think undersells his AVG/OBP ability given his big wheels (9.1 speed score), extreme groundball ways (50.2 percent) and “good enough” line drive talent (18.8 percent). The high popup rate (16.8 percent this season, 16.6 percent career) is disconcerting, but if Jennings keeps the ball on the ground more than half the time, that number should come tumbling down.

Some people are excited about Eric Young Jr. in Colorado as an AVG/SB guy, but Jennings is the much more tantalizing outfield-eligible option. The Rays are very likely to give this kid, who has little left to prove in the minors, some time in the show to find his legs.

Recommendation: Jennings should be owned in all eligible formats.

Dan Johnson | Tampa Bay | 1B | 0 percent Yahoo! ownership
2010 Minors (AAA): .297/.427/.602
MLS MLE: .249/.358/.463

Dan Johnson is another (albeit “advanced”) prospect in the Rays’ seemingly bottomless minor league system. The 30-year-old first basemen/DH made his rookie debut with the A’s in 2005, hitting batting .275/.355/.451 with 15 homers in 434 PA. In subsequent seasons for the A’s, a malady of injuries (and a bout with double vision) limited Johnson’s effectiveness and he was eventually released in 2008, then signed by the Rays. His 2008 season with the Rays’ big league club was short lived (29 PA) and Johnson would spend 2009 playing in Japan before signing a $500,000 minor league contract with the Rays in the offseason.

The Ray’s gamble on the lumbering hitter has seemingly paid off, with Johnson batting .297/.427/.602 with 28 homers in 337 at-bats for the Rays’ Triple-A affiliate. Minor League Splits pegs Johnson’s minor performance this season as worth a strong .249/.358/.463 MLE (.821 OPS) with a 34-homer pace per 600 AB.

Johnson’s strikeout rate is quite solid (17.6 percent), especially for a power hitter, and he’s still walking plenty. It seems almost poetic that the man who was unseated by Jack Cust is hitting very Jack Cust-like (with fewer strikeouts) this season. I could see a .260-.270 BA for Johnson despite a high flyball rate (48.5 percent). Johnson was recently recalled and owners in need of power and OBP (especially those in deeper leagues) should employ his services immediately.

Recommendation: Must own in AL-only formats if given reasonable playing time. Borderline option in standard 12-team mixed leagues.

MLB’s Diversity Fellowship Is a Step in the Right Direction
It is not a perfect program, but it certainly counts as progress.

Chris Davis | Texas | 1B, 3B | 4 percent Yahoo! ownership
2010 Minors (Triple-A): .335/.396/.540
MLS MLE: .283/.332/.439

In contrast to Mitch Moreland‘s doubles-inspired .291/.400/.491 line in Triple-A this year, Chris Davis is proving himself to be a Quad-A player with a .335/.396/.540 line with plenty of line drives (as always) and a hope-inspiring (though still a bit high) 26.4 percent strikeout rate. When Davis keeps the strikeouts around 25 percent, he rakes—see his 2008 campaign and second half performance in 2009. When he whiffs too much, well, you get what he’s done in 113 PA this season and what he did in the first half of 2009.

According to the manual MLE calculator on Minor League Splits (do not ask me why, but Davis’ 2010 numbers are not listed on MLS), his minor league numbers translated from the PCL to the Arlington to the tune of .283/.332/.439. I think that SLG is a bit low, given the power Davis has previously flashed in both the majors and minors, but I think the BA/OBP projection is legitimate given Davis’ strong line drive percentage and low BB rate. I peg Davis as a (rounded) .280/.335/.485 hitter with plenty of ISO upside. And .485 might even be selling Davis low. Then again, I have an irrational love of Chris Davis.

Recommendation: Davis is a high-risk, high reward player at a premium position. If the strikeout rate stays in check and he gets a big league call-up, Davis is a must-own player in all AL-only and mixed league formats.

Koji Uehara | Baltimore | CL | 7 percent Yahoo! ownership
YTD: 27 IP, 2.00 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 10.33 K/9, 1.7 BB/9
Oliver ROS: 3.89 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 6.7 K/9, 2.0 BB/9

I was very high on Uehara during the preseason before the O’s decided to sign Mike Gonzalez to close, but despite struggles and injuries to Gonzo, Uehara’s season was derailed by an injury of his own and some Alfredo Simon luck. Now that Buck Showalter is running the show in Baltimore, though, it looks like Uehara’s time may have finally come. He’s absolutely dominating this year after posting a quality rookie season in the rotation in 2009, and he’s a must-own while he’s the favorite for saves. Still, there are some reasons for concern.

For one, he’s an extreme, extreme flyball pitcher, although with such good control it won’t be as big an issue as it would be for other pitchers. Still, poor HR/FB luck could make Uehara look really bad since he’s allowing so many flies to begin with. Also, maintaining a K/9 above nine might be a stretch considering that Uehara doesn’t have a real breaking pitch and his fastball is only 88 mph or so, but his heater does get a ton of rise, which should allow him to strike out his fair share.

You can consider me on the Uehara bandwagon with just a bit of skepticism.

Recommendation: Must own in all leagues.

Ivan Nova | New York Yankees | SP | 2 percent Yahoo! ownership
2010 minors (Triple-A): 2.86 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 7.1 K/9, 3.0 BB/9
Oliver ROS: 5.00 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 5.6 K/9, 4.3 BB/9

With Javier Vazquez struggling, Nova will be making a second start for the Yanks and could find himself making a few more throughout September if he scrambles together some luck. I wouldn’t bank on it, though, as there’s little to like in Nova’s profile. He’s had just one better-than-average year above Rookie ball — this year at Triple-A — and even at that, he hasn’t dominated. He had a modest K/9 of 7.1 at Triple-A and is frowned upon by Oliver, but his stuff looks like it could be passable.

He throws his sinker 94 mph—very fast for a sinker—but it’s just okay in terms of actual sink and it doesn’t get much fade. His change-up also has okay sink but has good arm-side run, and his curve gets decent, if unspectacular, two-plane movement. His repertoire allows to get a lot of ground balls, which he’ll need if he’s going to have any success at the major league level. He won’t generate many strikeouts—league average at bes —and with less-than-stellar control, Nova might be a one-trick pony.

Nova’s not a guy I’m rushing to get, but you could probably do worse.

Recommendation: Not ownable in mixed leagues. Should be owned in 10-team and deeper AL-only leagues. Mostly just a flier in 10-team leagues, but he’ll probably be ownable as long as he continues making starts.

Chris Tillman | Baltimore | SP | 2 percent Yahoo! ownership
2010 minors (Triple-A): 3.29 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 7.2 K/9, 2.3 BB/9
Oliver ROS: 4.92 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 6.4 K/9, 3.2 BB/9

Chris Tillman has been nothing short of dreadful in his 90 major league innings thus far in his career, and his minor league numbers dropped off in his second go-round at Triple-A this year, but it’s looking like he’ll get another shot in a few days when rosters expand, perhaps seeing the O’s go to a six-man rotation to accommodate him.

His strikeouts dropped off at Triple-A this year, and Oliver no longer seems to be very high on him, seeing Tillman as deep AL-only fodder only. Still, Tillman has a very good pedigree, and I do like his stuff to an extent. He’s got a big-breaking 12/6 curve and a high-rising fastball to go with a solid change, but with little differentiating the three pitches in terms of horizontal movement and the curveball having a big hump, it’s possible that major league hitters simply aren’t fooled by him, having to focus on only one plane. This is mere speculation on my part, but no matter what, Tillman doesn’t make for anything more than a high-risk, high-reward pickup for a team in need of a home run.

Recommendation: Should probably be avoided in all but the deepest of mixed leagues. Should be owned in 10-team and deeper AL-only leagues, or shallower if you’re employing a high-risk season-end strategy.

Kila Ka’aihue | Kansas City | 1B, DH | 1 percent Yahoo! ownership
2010 minors (Triple-A): .322/.465/.601
Oliver ROS: .239/.368/.390

Finally the Royals are giving Kila a shot, trotting him out there at the start of all but three games since his call-up at the beginning of the month. He’s not quite the fantasy prospect he was a year or two ago after a down-ish 2009, but he’s still a guy with good power who’s been batting third in the lineup lately (albeit for the Royals). He also walks a ton, so he should score his fair share of runs. He’s not going to set the world on fire, but at 1 percent ownership, he can be helpful if you need some pop down the stretch along with some RBIs and runs.

Recommendation: Can be owned in 15-team or deeper mixed leagues if you need power. Should be owned in all AL-only leagues.

Mike Moustakas | Kansas City | 3B | 0.1 percent ESPN ownership (not in Yahoo! database yet)
2010 minors (Triple-A): .318/.368/.593
Oliver ROS: .258/.302/.443

Moustakas has been one of the biggest breakouts in the minors this year, and while Chris Getz, Mike Aviles, Wilson Betemit and Yuniesky Betancourt aren’t the most imposing infield in the world, his fantasy impact may be limited. The PCL season doesn’t end until Sept. 6, and the Royals may want Moustakas to participate in the playoffs following that. If they do decide to call him up, however, he would likely see at least semi-regular ABs, in which case he’d be a must-own in AL only leagues and a high-upside flier in mixed leagues.

Recommendation: Watch closely in mixed leagues, stash if you have a deep bench and few other options. Should be stashed in 12-team and deeper AL-only leagues with a bench.

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Jeffrey Gross is an attorney who periodically moonlights as a (fantasy) baseball analyst. He also responsibly enjoys tasty adult beverages. You can read about those adventures at his blog and/or follow him on Twitter @saBEERmetrics.
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I’m in a deep keeper league with 2 minor league spots per team and can be kept so long as they do not eclipse the min. AB or IP totals for ROY.  Mejia is available, and wondering who I should drop of Rze, Volstad, and Jeanmar Gomez.  Heading into my playoffs and the add/drop deadline is on Sunday. So looking for help this year and next…  Love the column and appreciate the advice.

Jeffrey Gross
Jeffrey Gross

Id drop volstad. The repo man has too much upside. not familiar with gomez, sorry.

But I’d gamble on Mejia over Volstad.


oooops.  wrong column, should be in NL.  sorry