May 04, 2009

Astute fantasy owners know all too well how important it is to get the top prospects once they make the jump from Triple-A to the majors. The last two years have seen two of the best players in baseball start the year in the minors and then dominate the majors once they earned their promotions.

Milwaukee's Ryan Braun didn't reach the majors until May 25, 2007 -- yet he won the NL Rookie of the Year award by hitting .324 with 34 homers, 97 RBIs, 15 stolen bases and 91 runs in just 113 games. It was one of the most dominant performances from any rookie who didn't start the year in the majors. Last year, Tampa Bay's Evan Longoria started the season in the minors, but after signing a long-term, six-year contract in mid-April he was promoted to the majors and went on to capture the AL Rookie of the Year Award, hitting .272 with 27 homers, 85 RBIs, 7 stolen bases and 67 runs in 122 games.

Fantasy owners drafted Matt Wieters, David Price and Tommy Hanson for that same reason, knowing that each top prospect would start the 2009 season in the minors but hopefully earn a May promotion and dominate the majors like Braun and Longoria did. But before we get to see those three prospects in a big league uniform, we'll get a shot at Cleveland's Matt LaPorta, who was promoted to the big leagues this week.

LaPorta has a chance to make an impact right away, but he might not even be the best free agent pickup for Week 5. Below is a list of free agent pickups you should be considering as we enter the second full month of this marathon season:

Matt LaPorta, OF, Indians: LaPorta got off to a fast start at Triple-A Columbus this year and was promoted to Cleveland this week when Travis Hafner landed on the DL. LaPorta made his MLB debut on Sunday in right field and he should see plenty of action against left-handed pitchers. While he's originally expected to platoon with fellow call-up David Delucci, the Indians won't yo-yo him between the minors and the majors. He's here to stay now. LaPorta was hitting .333 with five homers, 14 RBIs and 22 runs in 21 games at Triple-A Columbus and had a solid .414 on-base percentage with nine walks and only 10 strikeouts. He has made the grade at every level since the Brewers took him seventh overall in the 2007 draft and he's ready for this move after being part of the CC Sabathia trade last year. Look for him to get playing time in right field, left field, DH and maybe even first base as the Indians try to jump-start this offense with this solid rookie. He could struggle early with all of the attention, but he's a worthy pickup right now because he has the talent to make a big impact over the last 22 weeks of the season.

David Dellucci, OF, Indians: He's certainly not a prospect anymore, but this 35-year-old veteran deserves a look if you need a hot bat right now. Dellucci started the season on the DL with a strained calf and rehabbed at Columbus, where he hit .414 with two RBIs, two stolen bases and seven runs in seven games. He then earned a promotion to Cleveland this week and during his first two games as the Indians' DH he went six-for-nine with two doubles. He will DH or play left field against all right-handed pitchers and is a worthy pickup at least until Hafner returns.

LaTroy Hawkins, RP, Astros: With Jose Valverde out at least four weeks with a calf injury, the closer's job in Houston belongs to Hawkins. The 15-year veteran was a fine closer with the Twins in 2000-01 and the Cubs in 2004, but he's been more of a setup man the last four years. Still, the opportunity is there and the saves will be there, too. Grab him now because Valverde is out a minimum of four weeks and the other options in the pen -- Doug Brocail and Chris Sampson -- don't have the experience that Hawkins has.

Huston Street, RP, Rockies: Colorado made its second switch in the pen in the last two weeks, this time giving Street the closer's job and moving Manny Corpas to a setup role. Corpas was just awful over the last three weeks, losing two games, blowing one save, allowing 16 hits in just eight innings with only three strikeouts and posting a 7.88 ERA and a 2.13 WHIP. Street hasn't given up an earned run in his last four outings and could be a cheap source of saves if he's back on the free agent wire, as expected. Grab him.

David Aardsma, RP, Mariners: Aardsma already has three saves in three chances, but he has a chance for more now that Brandon Morrow is on the DL. He's a great short-term pickup for saves, but he's going to be solid even when Morrow comes back because Morrow had struggled to pitch in back-to-back games.

Scott Richmond, SP, Blue Jays: Richmond has quietly become the top rookie in the AL so far, but be careful with this 29-year-old. During four starts thus far, he has been stellar, going 3-0 with a 2.70 ERA and 1.29 WHIP as he has struck out 20 in 23.1 innings. He certainly seems like a worthy pickup right now as Richmond and the Blue Jays have surprised a lot of folks this year. But Richmond spent most of last year at Double-A New Hampshire (5-8, 4.92) and his current success seems a bit off the charts. He's been consistent so far, but expect a few bumps in the road going forward.

Adam Rosales, 3B, Reds: With Edwin Encarnacion landing on the DL with a wrist injury, the Reds reached down to the minors for the hottest bat they could find. They promoted Rosales, a 2005 12th round pick out of Western Michigan, who was hitting .431 at Triple-A Louisville with four homers, 15 RBIs and 18 runs in just 17 games. Rosales went five-for-nine in his first three starts at the hot corner and is a worthy NL-only pickup until Encarnacion returns. The Reds needed better production out of third base and Rosales could stick in the majors if he keeps hitting like this.

Dexter Fowler, OF, Rockies: I mentioned him several weeks ago and I doubt he's still available in most fantasy leagues, but if he is there in your league do all that you can to get him on your roster. His five-stolen base game on Monday is indicative of his skill set and he's now the full-time starter in CF. He already has nine stolen bases and 12 runs in 20 games and he's hitting a solid .284. Again, if he's somehow still available in your league, put him at the top of your want list and get him now. The opportunity and talent doesn't get any better than Fowler in a hitter's park.

Scott Podsednik, OF, White Sox: The White Sox are struggling to find a leadoff hitter who can handle the center field job and they've now turned to a key player from their World Series championship team. Podsednik signed a minor-league contract with the White Sox in April and he then hit .262 in 10 games at Triple-A Charlotte before getting the call-up to Chicago this week. He was two-for-eight in his first two games and could be a cheap source of stolen bases for fantasy owners if he can get on base. But forget about that 70-stolen base season of 2004 because Podsednik is now 33 and more of a 10-15 SB threat than a 30-SB threat. But the job is his to keep if he can hit well enough.

Melky Cabrera, OF, Yankees: He was almost traded to Milwaukee for Mike Cameron this off-season, but instead started this season unwanted and on the bench in New York. But he stayed patient and this week he was given the starting center field job, replacing Brett Gardner. He has hit .370 over the last seven games with three RBIs and five runs, and for the season he's hitting .321-4-10. He's not a bad pickup if you're struggling with injuries right now in the outfield because he has a chance to hang onto this starting job.

LaPorta's promotion gives hope to the big three who remain in the minors. Atlanta's Hanson had another stellar outing this week, earning his first win at Triple-A Gwinnett while striking out nine in six scoreless innings. Hanson is ready to be a force in Atlanta if the Braves would just give him the chance as he's now struck out 38 with only nine walks in 26.2 innings, while posting a stellar 1.69 ERA

Wieters is hitting only .259 at Triple-A Norfolk, but he also has 11 walks and an on-base percentage of .371. The Orioles will keep him down at Triple-A until at least June 1, when he no longer is a super-two player after 2011. And Price remains at Triple-A Durham, where he's 1-3 with a 3.92 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 20.2 IP.

Stay active this week on the waiver wire because this mixed bag of prospects and veterans has something for every fantasy team.

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