Last year, fantasy owners learned that you can add a franchise player to your team after draft day. Cliff Lee was an undrafted veteran who turned a strong spring into a spot in the Indians' rotation and, after two solid starts, became a hot free agent pickup in fantasy leagues. Twenty-four weeks later, he was the AL Cy Young Award winner after going 22-3 with a league-best 2.54 ERA -- leading many fantasy teams to league titles along the way.
Now it will be interesting to see if Emilio Bonifacio is this year's Lee. Bonifacio also went undrafted in some fantasy leagues and was the hottest pickup in Week 1. He was drafted in 78 percent of our NFBC leagues, but in those leagues iwhere he went undrafted, went for as much as 30 percent of a team's allocated free agent budget ($300 out of an imaginary $1,000 budget) to as little as five percent. Either way, Bonifacio paid off in a hurry as he hit .583 during his first five games with one homer, five RBIs, four stolen bases and nine runs. He's batting leadoff and starting at third base, so the at-bats should be there all year long.
Now for the big question: Just who is Emilio Bonifacio? You may not have heard of him before this season, but Bonifacio has been a pro player for eight seasons, having signed with the Diamondbacks in 2001 as a 17-year-old out of the Dominican Republic. He spent time in Rookie ball or Class A for the first five seasons before hitting .321 with 61 stolen bases in 2006. He added 41 stolen bases at Double-A Mobile in 2007 and then played 49 games in the majors last year, splitting time between Arizona and Washington after being traded for Jon Rauch.
The Marlins traded for him in November and immediately said he would start at third base. The move didn't make much sense at the time since he had never played third base in the majors before, but the Marlins saw something in the 23-year-old that nobody else did. He has been the catalyst to the Marlins' fast start and a wonder for any fantasy team who currently owns him.
Finding someone as productive as Bonifacio on the waiver wire this week is going to be tough, but we'll keep looking. Here are a few potential free agents who are worth a look if you have a hole to fill:
Eric Stults, SP, Dodgers: With Hiroki Kuroda now on the DL, Stults was called up from the minors to join the Dodgers' starting rotation and he shined during his first start on Saturday night. Staked out to an early lead, he threw comfortably and picked up the win at Arizona. Stults, who has been a spot starter in Los Angeles over the last three seasons, gave up just one earned run in 5.1 innings, allowing four hits and two walks with five strikeouts. He's just a fill-in replacement for the Dodgers now, but if he keeps pitching like that he could remain in the rotation, especially after the rough start by rookie James McDonald the night before.
Ricky Romero, SP, Blue Jays: The sixth overall pick of the 2005 draft out of Cal-State Fullerton, Romero made his MLB debut this week and walked away with his first win. He was paired against another rookie making his MLB debut -- Detroit's Rick Porcello -- and Romero won the matchup easily. He allowed just two earned runs in 6.0 innings on seven hits and two walks with five strikeouts. After an unimpressive four minor-league seasons, Romero has found his groove this spring and he's a worthy gamble at this point for your starting rotation.
Albert Callaspo, 2B, Royals: With Jose Guillen landing on the DL this week, the Royals moved Mark Teahen to right field and inserted Callaspo into the starting lineup at second base. He has limited power and speed, but he did hit .305 with the Royals last year and was hitting .333 through the first week of the season. He's not going to be a Cliff Lee type of pickup, but he could fill a void early in the year.
Dustin Moseley, SP, Angels: The tragic death of SP Nick Adenhart has darkened the start of the season for the Angels and all of baseball. Adenhart had just finished his best start of his young career and was primed for a breakout season before his fatal car accident. The Angels' rotation was already thin before this loss and now veterans like Dustin Moseley will have to step up and fill the void. He's not going to be this year's Cliff Lee, but he has the potential to start 15+ games and possibly earn 7-8 wins thanks to this strong offense. During his first start, he gave up three runs in six innings on nine hits with four strikeouts.
Dexter Fowler, OF, Rockies: Fowler went undrafted in several fantasy leagues this year because he was expected to start the season at Triple-A Colorado Springs with Ryan Spilborghs manning center field at Coors Field. But the Rockies kept him on the big league roster and he's now platooning in center field. He started three games this week and was hitting .375 with one homer, two RBIs, one stolen base and three runs. His at-bats will continue to be limited as he plays against primarily left-handed pitchers, but he sure is exciting when he's on the field and soon he will be the fulltime centerfielder. He's fun to watch and he's a good fill-in for the time being.
Cardinals' Closers: All of those fantasy owners who hitched their wagon to rookie RP Jason Motte had a terrible first week as they saw him blow the Opening Day save and then get buried deep in the bullpen. Manager TonyLa Russa has little patience for rookies and he quickly gave Motte the hook, pitching him in the sixth inning on Saturday in a new setup role. After Motte struggled on Monday, LaRussa turned to Dennys Reyes for one save -- his first since 1999 -- and to Kyle McClellan for another. Neither pitcher is overpowering, but they could be a cheap source of saves if LaRussa continues to alternate them in the late innings.
Don't lose sight of the top prospects who started the year in the minors because you know they will be up soon and contributing in a big way. Fast starts for those prospects include:
Tommy Hanson, SP, Braves: In his first start with Gwinnett (AAA), he struck out 10 batters in 4.1 innings, while allowing just three hits and two walks. He was too pumped up in the first inning and showed signs of wildness, but he settled down after that and was dominant before reaching the pitch limit the Braves had set beforehand. He will be a May call-up and will be solid for the Braves.
Mat Gamel, 3B, Brewers: He definitely needs to improve his defense, but the Brewers sure could use his bat right now. During his first three games at Triple-A Nashville, Gamel hit .615 with one homer, seven RBIs and five runs. It's too bad the Brewers aren't back in the AL because he would make an ideal DH for them.
Baltimore C Matt Wieters and Tampa SP David Price had rougher debuts at Triple-A, but both will be call-ups soon as well. Even Cleveland OF Matt LaPorta got off to a fast start, hitting .625-1-2 with four runs during his first week at Triple-A Columbus.
Keep a close eye on the waiver wire and the minor leagues, because outside of trading for new players those are your best avenues to improve your team after draft day. And as we learned last year with Cliff Lee, some diamonds can be uncovered in the rough.