Health is the only question
Though he has never been quite a household name, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise to baseball fans that Josh Willingham can hit. Unfortunately, injuries have been a constant issue for the now 35-year-old, whose ownership is only on the rise after he missed nearly two full months with a wrist injury.
Even coming off the worst season of his career at the age of 35, Willingham is a dangerous hitter, when he is in the lineup. He is up to a 1.011 OPS on the season in just 59 games, and has driven in 11 runs in his last nine games. Even at this point, Willingham is precisely the type of bat that can help Fantasy owners out, especially with batting down around the league.
Only 19 outfielders are currently qualified for the batting title while holding an OPS over .800, a mark Willingham reached in each of his first seven full seasons in the majors. Willingham will get more time off than Fantasy owners might like, but when healthy, he can be a consistent contributor. Scott White has him ranked as top-50 outfielder from here on out. Getting that kind of production from a waiver-wire pickup makes him a no-brainer.
Upside is always worth a look
Savvy Fantasy owners -- especially those in keeper leagues -- have been aware of Jon Singleton for a while. The big first baseman hasn't exactly set the world on fire during his first week in the bigs, but we know that's not a death knell; fellow Astros top prospect George Spring was hitting .179 with one RBI and no home runs through his first 10 games before landing on his feet.
Singleton doesn't have Springer's all-around tool set, but he might be nearly as well qualified to make a Fantasy impact early on. His best asset in the minors was his plate discipline, as he struck out in more than a quarter of his plate appearances just twice in his minor-league career, while drawing a hefty share of walks.
Singleton has looked a bit overmatched so far, but he has the type of bat that should translate well. Though he plays a position already deep with production, Singleton is worth a flier for his talent alone.
Another interesting top prospect
With the Super-Two deadline safely behind us, we are going to start to see an influx of top-flight prospects get the call from the upper minors. Stroman was actually the rare top prospect whose team seemed unconcerned about the extra year of service time earned by waiting, as he sat in the team's bullpen for nearly a month before he finally got his chance to start.
Stroman looked downright pedestrian in his bullpen role, allowing nine runs in just 6 1/3 innings of work, while striking out just four batters in that time. Fortunately, after a pair of turns in the rotation, he has mostly managed to put those struggles behind him. He has fanned 13 batters in 12 innings while allowing just one run in each outing.
Stroman moved quickly through the minors as a draftee out of college, and overpowered minor-league hitters with a fastball he can run easily into the mid-90's. He has averaged 95.2 miles per hour with his four-seam fastball in his two starts, and his curveball looks like a true out pitch right now, garnering 10 swinging strikes on 42 pitches.
Like any young pitcher Stroman carries risk. However, chances are, you've had at least one injury to your pitching staff so far, and at least one more disappointment. With Stroman pumping in 95 mile-per-hour fastballs and available in nearly half of all CBSSports.com leagues, he should be a top priority.
Changing the story
Rubby De La Rosa is trying to turn himself into a Tommy John success story, and looks capable of doing so right now. Three years removed from surgery, De La Rosa is back to throwing in the mid-90's, but is seeing his most success right now throwing a changeup that opposing hitters simply can't figure out.
De La Rosa throws his change at 88.2 miles per hour on average, and is almost using it as a primary pitch right now. He has thrown as many changeups as four-seam fastballs through his two starts, and has made hitters look silly with it. While he has yet to record a swinging strike on 84 fastballs, the changeup has induced 22 whiffs, more than a quarter of the time he has thrown it.
Armed with a changeup that can neutralize platoon advantages and a slider that can keep righties honest, De La Rosa looks like he might be able to live up to his former billing as a top-100 prospect. I just added him in a 12-team roto league.
Taking advantage of his chance
With John Axford's struggles early in the season, Cody Allen has taken advantage of the opportunity to pitch in the ninth inning. He has recorded four saves in the last 10 days, while allowing just one baserunner in those appearances.
In spite of his recent success, manager Terry Francona has stuck with his closer-by-committee line, and recently gave Axford a vote of confidence. Though Allen seems to be the guy right now, it appears as if this is just a short-term fix, with the eventual goal being to get Axford back into the role before long.
Allen has struck out more than a batter per inning while posting a 2.81 ERA this season, so he should remain useful as long as he is getting saves. However, as soon as Francona gives Axford the nod, Allen should be back on waivers.