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  • The season may be just a few days old, but it's never too early to improve your fantasy baseball team via the waiver wire.
By Michael Beller
April 01, 2018

Opening Day is a great occasion for legend-making. The baseball world anticipates it for months and, once it happens, it represents 100% of the season. It’s easy for anyone to want to buy into what they see on Opening Day as being real, even though everyone understands that if the same performance came in the middle of June, it might not even register. That’

The latest player in this proud tradition is Matt Davidson. The White Sox designated hitter belted three homers on Opening Day in their 14-7 waxing of the Royals. He became the fourth player in MLB history to leave the yard three times in his team’s first game, vaulting him immediately into the consciousness of every fantasy player. If you’re in a league with daily transactions, Davidson is likely already owned. If you’re in a weekly league, however, chances are he’s out there for the grabbing heading into the first full week of the season.

There’s no doubting Davidson’s power. He hit 26 homers in 443 plate appearances last season. If he secures an everyday job with the White Sox, which he’ll have every opportunity to do, he could sail beyond 30 homers. The problem, however, is everything else. Davidson totaled a 37.2% strikeout rate last season, leading to a .220/.260/.452 slash line. Even if he hits 30 homers, that might not be enough to offset potentially ugly rates. Davidson comes with about as much risk as possible for a player with a three-homer game under his belt.

Here’s the thing, though. The season isn’t even one week old. All we’re hunting for on the waiver wire at this point is plausible upside. Davidson clearly has it. When he makes contact with the ball, he typically gets a lot of it. Statcast measures barrels, which, as you can likely guess, measures how often a hitter squares up the ball. Davidson ranked 15th in the majors last season with 8.8 barrels per plate appearance, and 13th with 15.4 barrels per batted-ball event. When Davidson makes contact, he regularly does so with authority. The issue for him is making contact in the first place.

Despite Davidson’s obvious major flaw, the upside here is too great to ignore with the calendar just turning to April. He’s easily worth gambling on as we head into the first full week of the season. If you lose the bet, it won’t cost you much, if anything, If you win it, you could have the cheapest 40-homer hitter in the league.

With that, let’s get to the rest of this week’s Waiver Wire.

Jose Martinez, 1B/OF, Cardinals

Like Davidson, Martinez got scooped up in plenty of daily leagues immediately after Opening Day. He went 3-for-4 with a homer—with all his hits coming off Noah Syndergaard—and then was named the everyday first baseman by Mike Matheny. Martinez was one of the breakout stars of last year’s second half, and that made him one of the most debated players this year? Was his breakout, at 29 years old, bankable? Would he get enough playing time on a crowded Cardinals roster? We already have the answer to the second question, and there’s reason enough to bet that the answer to the first one is an emphatic yes. There was nothing fluky about his .309/.379/.518 slash line with 14 homers in 307 plate appearances last season. He struck out in fewer than 20% of his plate appearances, an excellent rate for a power hitter, and walked in more than 10% of them. He’s going to hit in the middle of what could be a potent lineup every single day. First base was one of the top-heaviest positions coming into the season, with anyone who fell beyond the likes of Jose Abreu and Rhys Hoskins potentially grasping at straws. Martinez can be your savior, but he isn’t reserved only for such owners. Even if you have Paul Goldschmidt or Joey Votto or Freddie Freeman, Martinez needs to be on your radar.

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Mitch Haniger, OF, Mariners

Haniger should’ve had a higher ownership rate at the start of the season after hitting .282/.352/.491 with 16 homers and five steals in 410 plate appearances last season. He’s expected to be an everyday player for the Mariners this year, which is huge for his bottom line. Even if he regresses some in the rate categories, he should make up for it, from purely a fantasy value perspective, in the counting categories. There’s also no guarantee he regresses in rates, but that’s not a serious concern at this point of the season. He has upside to be a starter in all fantasy formats, and all he’ll cost you is the worst player on your roster. In all likelihood, Haniger should’ve been drafted in your league. You can make up for that oversight, and essentially for free, this weekend.

Michael A. Taylor, OF, Nationals

Taylor is another outfielder who belonged on more fantasy teams coming out of draft and auction season. Nevertheless, he’s available for the taking in about 60% of Yahoo leagues. He’s not quite so unpopular in more competitive formats, but consider this an endorsement, regardless of your league size. Even when Daniel Murphy returns, he’s not likely to lose much playing time. Howie Kendrick will likely get some run in the outfield, and Adam Eaton, who’s clearly a superior hitter to Taylor, can slide over to center field to spell him. Still, Taylor is the Nationals best defensive outfielder, and he possesses easy 20-20 upside. Given his skill set and excellent team context, he should be unowned in only a statistically insignificant portion of leagues.

Willie Calhoun, OF, Rangers

Calhoun is going to spend some time in the minors, potentially just enough for the Rangers to extend their control over him for one more full season. Whenever he comes up to the majors, he’ll be one of the most dangerous hitters in their lineup. He was a monster at the Triple-A level last year, hitting .300/.355/.572 with 31 homers, 27 doubles and 93 RBI in 534 plate appearances. The 23-year-old entered this season ranked 36th among Baseball America’s top-100 prospects, and 43rd on Baseball Prospectus’ list. Calhoun can be a serious difference-maker in all fantasy formats upon his first day with the big league club. Even if you have to burn a roster spot for a month, the payoff will likely be worth it.

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Randal Grichuk, OF, Blue Jays

Grichuk hit a home run in his second game with the Blue Jays, his first hit with his new team. At this point of his career, he’s a known commodity. Grichuk has plenty of power. He’s also going to strike out a lot and, unless he has made drastic changes, be a drag on your rate stats. Still, this early in the season, all you’re really hunting for is bettable upside. Grichuk has it, thanks in large part to the guarantee of an everyday gig, at least early on this season. He likely won’t have to worry too much about Steve Pearce stealing his job, so he should have plenty of leash, even if the strikeouts pile up. Grichuk could hit 30 homers with a regular spot in Toronto’s lineup. This is a dart well worth throwing.

Ketel Marte, SS, Diamondbacks

Marte hasn’t done much in his first few games of the season, but his inclusion here is merely a continuation of the sleeper case he built this spring and over the second half last season. If you need any further validation of Marte’s strong second half from a year ago, look no further than the five-year, $24-million contract extension he signed on the eve of Opening Day. The price is clearly a bargain if Marte proves to be the player the Diamondbacks think he is, but the fact they’d extend him such an offer with a career slash line of .264/.317/.359 shows just how strongly the team that knows him best believes in its bet. Even with Nick Ahmed’s hot hitting to kick off the year, and the looming presence of Chris Owings, Marte is likely play mostly every day.

Dansby Swanson, SS, Braves

Swanson was the No. 1 overall pick in the amateur draft not even three full years ago. He’s all of 24 years old. Let’s not write his baseball obituary just yet. The shortstop has piled up five hits in his first 14 plate appearances of the season, including two that have gone for extra bases. The Braves are going to be a sneaky competitive team all season, with an intriguing offense that features an MVP candidate (Freeman), the Rookie of the Year favorite (Ronald Acuña) and two budding stars (Acuña and Ozzie Albies). Swanson is likely to hit toward the bottom of the order all season, but a lack of pressure could be a good thing for a player who has yet to rise to the level of his massive expectations. Again, this is all about bettable upside. Swanson has plenty of it.

Sean Newcomb, SP, Braves

Miles Mikolas, SP, Cardinals

Why are these two pitchers grouped together? First, it starts with the watchwords of this column, of which you are likely sick at this point: bettable upside. Newcomb and Mikolas both have it. Newcomb fanned 23.7% of the batters he faced last season, racking up 108 strikeouts in 100 innings. He has a fastball that sits in the mid-90s, a wipeout curve and changeup that enjoyed a 22.9% swinging-strike rate last year. Now in his age-25 season, he could be ready to make the leap. At the very least, he’s likely to miss enough bats to be a solid rotation-filler in most fantasy formats.

Mikolas, meanwhile, remade himself in Japan after flaming out of the majors in 2014. There was never any question about his stuff, but he could not harness it in the least, leading to a walk rate of 8.4%. He may have figured it out in Japan, though, and finished spring training on a roll, striking out 13 batters while walking two over his final 14 innings. He surrendered just two runs on eight hits in that same timeframe, facing mostly true major leaguers. The upside here is easy to spot.

So why the urgency? Both Newcomb and Mikolas make their season debuts on Monday. Make a claim for them now, and you can likely get them for peanuts. If both pitch well in two-start weeks, however, you could have plenty of competition for them on next week’s waiver wire.

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