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Fantasy Baseball Today

Week 15 Fantasy baseball waiver-wire talk

By Chris Towers | CBSSports.com

Can Steve Pearce remain one of baseball's best hitters? (USATSI)
Can Steve Pearce remain one of baseball's best hitters? (USATSI)

Steve Pearce , OF, Orioles; 60 percent owned, +35 percent

A real late bloomer?

When I see Pearce's recent play, it is hard not to think of Chris Shelton, who hit 10 home runs in 25 April games in 2006, before plummeting off the face of the eart.

The 31-year-old Pearce was designated for assignment by the Orioles in late April, before he found his way back and became an indispensable piece for Baltimore. Now, the Shelton comparison is not entirely fair to Pearce, who has stretched his solid production over two months as an every-other-day player.

Pearce has been best used as a platoon player who sees the majority of his playing time against left-handed pitchers in his career. He has flipped that script so far, with a .919 OPS and five home runs in 108 at-bats against right-handed pitchers this season; he had just six home runs in 431 at-bats against righties prior to this season. Unless something drastically changed in the type of player Pearce is, he is bound to be overmatched against righties before long.

Pearce is now owned in a majority of CBSSports.com leagues, thanks to a massive four-game stretch that saw him hit three home runs and rack up seven hits. However, I am not particularly optimistic that a 31-year-old with a career .694 OPS entering this season has really turned into an elite hitter. Pearce won't be on your roster long.

Mike Zunino, C, Mariners; 64 percent owned, +23 percent

All-or-nothing at catcher

Mike Zunino hits bombs. Of this, there is no question. At a position relatively bereft of power, he leads all catchers with a .212 Isolated Slugging percentage. Unfortunately, the free-swinger is also dead-last among catchers with a .220 batting average, and a.286 BABIP doesn't exactly suggest bad luck.

Zunino's plate discipline is a major issue, and it likely always keep his average in the low-.200's. Fortunately, he hits a ton of fly balls, so when he runs into one, it has a good chance to leave the yard. He is 10th in the league in fly-ball percentage, and the ball leaves the yard 16.4 percent of the time he puts it into the air.

If you are adding Zunino, just know what you are getting yourself into. At this point, he looks very similar to J.P. Arencibia, who hit 18-plus home runs in three straight seasons, while never hitting higher than .219. If you can afford the hit to your average, Zunino's power and run production bring a lot to the table.

Mookie Betts, OF, Red Sox; 56 percent owned, +21 percent

Looking for the right role

If Betts is to turn into a Fantasy star, he will have to buck the recent trend of Red Sox top prospects like Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr., who have struggled early in their careers.

The 21-year-old does not come to the Red Sox with expectations nearly as high as those placed on Bogaerts and Bradley, as he ranked just 75th among prospects entering the season, according to Baseball America. However, Betts looks well prepared for a 21-year-old, after he struck out just 33 times in 77 games between Double-A and Triple-A this season, while hitting .345/.437/.520.

Given his gaudy numbers and impressive plate discipline in the high minors, Betts looks ready to make an impact. However, he doesn't look like a big-time power hitter, having notched just 23 home runs in 276 games in the minors. His best assets are his plate coverage and speed, and is more likely to make an impact at the top of the order than in a run-producing spot.

Unfortunately, Betts has batted eighth in each of his first four games, limiting what Fantasy owners might expect from him. The kind of upside Betts has makes him a must-own in Dynasty/keeper leagues, but his current role and every-other-day usage pattern makes him a bit more risky in yearly leagues.

Joe Smith, RP, Angels; 51 percent owned; +16 percent

It's his job for now

Smith's jump in ownership can be easily attributed to the team's decision to move Ernesto Frieri to the Pirates. That makes a certain amount of sense, though the fact that Smith is only owned in 51 percent in spite of that also makes plenty of sense.

The Angels seem to want Smith in a set-up role where there is more flexibility in how they can use him. The fact that they acquired an All-Star (albeit struggling) closer in Jason Grilli illustrates that perfectly. If Grilli can regain some of his form, or Smith struggles, the Angels might be quick to put Grilli into the role.

There is no question Smith is capable of holding down a spot in the late innings, though. Especially given the spike in his strikeout rate this season, to a career-high 9.80 per nine innings. As long as Smith has the job, he should be a very useful Fantasy option, but savvy owners will have to read the tea leaves if it starts to look like Grilli is pushing him for the job.

 
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