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Many people choose to wait on the catcher position on Draft Day, and that strategy is looking pretty smart right about now. Not only have some of the most dependable catchers -- either through injury or underperformance -- failed to live up to expectations, but we've seen a number of talented young options at the position get their chances.
If you didn't invest heavily at catcher entering the season, the waiver wire is obviously of huge importance. We've seen Top-100 prospects like Andrew Susac, Kevin Plawecki and J.T. Realmuto make their major-league debuts, and two more got the call this weekend. So, should Blake Swihart or Austin Hedges be on your radar?
Let's start with Hedges, who is a bit less obvious a case than Swihart. Hedges was Baseball America's No. 27 prospect entering 2014, but tripped up in Double-A last season and failed to make their list. However, MLB.com still had him at No. 51 this season, so there are obviously talent evaluators who still believe in him.
He did a good job justifying that faith in Triple-A, hitting .324/.392/.521 with just eight strikeouts in 21 games, but the bat isn't supposed to be his calling card. Hedges has elite defensive abilities, which should keep him in the lineup, but his bat doesn't project to be a weapon. His best season in the minors came when he hit .279 with 10 home runs in Class A as a 19-year-old, and he has pretty much regressed since then.
Hedges' ceiling is likely as a No. 2 Fantasy catcher, with some power potential that could develop if he turns doubles into homers. Unless his first month at Triple-A is the new normal, he probably isn't worth much of a look beyond NL-only leagues.
Swihart, on the other hand, could make a big impact. Swihart has posted an OPS of .794 or better in each of the two seasons entering 2015, and had climbed all the way to No. 17 on Baseball America's prospect lit. He really started to show what he was capable of last season, when he slugged 12 home runs while hitting .300 at Double-A.
Swihart isn't quite the opposite of Hedges, but his bat is probably ahead of the glove. If he is going to force his way into the Red Sox lineup for good, the bat is what is going to get him there, and it helps that he has no platoon split to speak of, as the switch-hitter posted a .780 OPS against RHP last season and .861 mark against the opposite number.
The Red Sox know they are going to need to mash their way to wins this season with their dreadful pitching staff, and Swihart certainly gives them a better chance to do so than Sandy Leon or the injured Ryan Hanigan.
Swihart is by no means a can't-miss prospect, and we all know how risky young catchers are. However, he has the upside and playing time opportunity to be worth a look as a No. 2 catcher in 12 team or deeper leagues.
Billy Burns, OF, Athletics (6 percent owned)
Let's stick with the theme and discuss another young guy who recently got the call. Unlike Swihart or Hedges, Burns doesn't carry with him the kind of prospect pedigree that immediately puts him on your radar, but he does have certain skills that could play very well for Fantasy. Burns basically has zero over-the-fence power, with just two home runs to his credit in 406 minor-league games. However, he has showed an advanced understanding of the strike zone, with nearly a 1:1 strikeout to walk ratio, and that is what allows him to put his best weapon to use. Burns posted a .387 on-base percentage, and ended up swiping 184 bases, including 79 in 170 games in Double-A and Triple-A, with an 88.8 percent success rate. It is possible Burns doesn't see too much playing time before he gets send back down -- he was called up earlier in the season without appearing in a game -- but if he can hang on, his on-base skills and speed could push him to Fantasy respectability.
Alex Colome, SP, Rays (18 percent owned)
The Rays will eventually have an embarrassment of riches in the rotation, but right now, that hasn't quite been the case. They've had to rely on journeymen and relievers to fill out multiple spots in the rotation, but Colome's return from an illness should help things settle down. He isn't guaranteed a spot in the rotation long term -- Alex Cobb and Matt Moore loom -- but Colome could make an impact while he's there. Colome hasn't really had much success getting strikeouts in his limited major-league chances so far, but he did average 8.5 K/9 in 182 1/3 innings at Triple-A, so the potential is there, even without taking into account his 95 MPH fastball. Tropicana is a pretty good place to call home, too, so Colome should be worth a look even in mixed leagues for the next few weeks as a streaming option.
Mike Fiers, SP, Brewers (67 percent owned)
Fiers went from breakout candidate to bust in record time, and it wasn't a total overreaction. He was one of the best pitchers in baseball on a per-inning basis last season, but he's also had a very up-and-down track record and doesn't quite have the stuff that makes you think he can be an elite pitcher. However, he continues to rack up tons of strikeouts while showcasing glimpse of his considerable upside. He has allowed just two runs in 10 innings over his last two starts, while totaling 18 strikeouts and 20 swinging strikes, a sign that his stuff continues to play up. He'll always give up more homers than you would like, which gives him a lot of potential for meltdown starts, but he does enough else well that he remains worth a roster spot even during the bad times. Keep in mind, however, that he is scheduled to face the Dodgers in Week 5, so you might want to hold off starting him even if you do snag him; the Dodgers feast on homer-prone pitchers.