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  • Christian Walker leads our look at the fantasy baseball waiver wire.
By Michael Beller
April 04, 2019

Welcome back to Waive Hello, our weekly column on players you should be adding from the waiver wire.

Jake Lamb and Christian Walker split the Diamondbacks’ first base position over the season’s opening week, and it seemed they were settling into a platoon situation. Lamb, however, suffered a quad strain that sent him to the injured list, and he's expected to be out about six weeks. That opens the door to Walker to take the first base job.

Walker has an interesting story of non-linear development. Formerly a highly regarded prospect in Baltimore’s system, he never broke through in the minors with his original organization. After stints on the waiver wire with several different teams, he finally landed with the Diamondbacks just before the 2017 season. They dispatched him to Triple-A Reno, where everything finally clicked.

Walker hit .309/.382/.597 with 32 homers, 34 doubles and 114 RBI with Reno in 2017, earning a cup of coffee with the big league club in September. He was just as good last year, slashing .299/.354/.568 with 18 homers, 25 doubles and 71 RBI in just 84 games, while logging 53 plate appearances with the Diamondbacks. He would’ve gotten a longer look on many other teams, but was blocked by Paul Goldschmidt in Arizona. As such, he was forced to do most of his heavy lifting at Reno.

When the Diamondbacks traded Goldschmidt to the Cardinals this offseason, it was clear Walker would get his opportunity to prove he belonged. With Lamb now on the IL, there’s no one standing between him and regular playing time for the first time in his career. He’s 7-for-19 with three homers, two doubles and six RBI in 20 plate appearances thus far, striking out three times and walking once. When he has started this season, he's fit in the middle of Arizona’s order, and we should expect him to slot fourth or fifth in the lineup for the foreseeable future. If he hits, he’ll remain in the lineup, even when Lamb returns. The team could always move Lamb back across the diamond to third base and shift Eduardo Escobar into a utility role. No matter what, though, Walker is worth a shot in leagues of all sizes.

With that, let’s get to the rest of this week’s Waive Hello.

All players have ownership rates of 40% or lower in at least two of Yahoo, ESPN or CBS leagues.

Hitters

Randal Grichuk, OF, Blue Jays

Grichuk signed a five-year, $52 million contract earlier this week, then celebrated by going out and knocking two solo homers in a win over the Orioles. Grichuk has real power and a spot in Toronto’s everyday lineup, and that could lead to the first 30-homer season of his career. He’s not going to be much of a help in the rate categories, but a 30-homer, 90-RBI, 80-run season from an outfielder will play in all fantasy leagues.

Franmil Reyes, OF, Padres

Reyes is off to a slow start this season, going 1 for 16 with three strikeouts in his first 19 plate appearances. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that he has started five of the Padres’ first seven games, which is as good as we could’ve realistically hoped for given their outfield logjam. The power Reyes showed last year wasn’t a mirage, and the team seems dedicated to him as a regular. It’s far too early to give up on him.

Yan Gomes, C, Nationals

Gomes is available in more than 60% of leagues on Yahoo and ESPN despite the fact that he’s one of the few reliable options at fantasy baseball’s worst position. He’s 5-for-16 with a pair of doubles in 17 plate appearances this season and has hit sixth in all of his starts. Davey Martinez has been giving plenty of time to Kurt Suzuki, as well, and that’s likely why Gomes is so readily available across the fantasy landscape, but that shouldn’t dissuade you from adding him.

Willians Astudillo, C, Twins

It’s going to be hard to find Astudillo a regular spot in the lineup. The Twins don’t love his glove behind the plate, and he’s not supplanting Nelson Cruz as the regular DH. With that said, they need to do what they can to get him as many plate appearances as possible. Astudillo is 6-for-9 with three doubles and three RBI in his first 11 plate appearances this season. This after he hit .276/.314/.467 at Triple-A Rochester last year, and .355/.371/.516 with three homers in 97 plate appearances with the Twins. Catcher is so thin in fantasy leagues that it’s worth taking a shot on him now, even if he starts only sparingly.

Jung-ho Kang, 3B, Pirates

Kang has just three hits in his first 20 plate appearances, but one of those is a homer, another is a double, and he has three walks. He racked up 36 homers and a .483 slugging percentage in 837 plate appearances across the  2015 and 2016 seasons, and with third base a bit shallower than we’re used to, he’s worth a look in deeper formats.

Yandy Diaz, 1B/3B, Rays

Diaz is off to a strong start this year, going 7-for-21 with a homer, three doubles and four walks in 25 plate appearances. He has started every game and hit in a friendly spot in the order, including leading off two of the Rays’ last three games. He has the on-base skills to be a valuable leadoff man, and would have major run-scoring upside should he hold down that spot for the balance of the season.

Pitchers

Matthew Boyd, SP, Tigers

Boyd has 23 strikeouts in 11 1/3 innings this season, which should be enough to garner the attention of everyone who plays fantasy baseball. His whiff rate through his first two starts is 20.2%, with his slider particularly confounding hitters. Boyd had a 22.4% strikeout rate and 10.2% whiff rate in 170 1/3 innings last season, so this isn’t coming out of nowhere. If this increased strikeout upside is here to stay, it could be a breakout season for the 28-year-old lefty.

Freddy Peralta, SP, Brewers

Peralta rebounded from an ugly 2019 debut, striking out 11 batters across eight shutout innings in a 1-0 win over the Reds on Wednesday. He surrendered two hits and walked none, completely dominating the Cincinnati lineup from start to finish. Peralta flashed a ton of strikeout upside last year, fanning 96 batters in 78 1/3 innings and ending the year with a 29.9% strikeout rate. He’ll have to further develop his curve and change to keep this going, but the foundation is solid enough for fantasy owners to buy in at this point.

Brandon Morrow, RP, Cubs

Morrow, who is rehabbing from an elbow injury suffered last season, will throw one more bullpen session this weekend. If that goes well, he’ll begin a rehab assignment next week, with an eye on returning to the Cubs sometime in late April or early May. The Cubs’ bullpen has been a mess in the early going, allowing 17 earned runs on 20 hits and 17 walks in 17 1/3 innings. Morrow may not be immediately restored to the closer’s role when he returns, but he’ll likely get back there sooner rather than later.

Matt Shoemaker, SP, Blue Jays

Few, if any, pitchers have had a better start to the season than Shoemaker. He has 15 strikeouts in 14 innings, and the next earned run he surrenders will be his first. He has allowed just four hits and three walks while earning wins over the Tigers and Orioles. Fully healthy for the first time since early in the 2017 season, he’s once again relying on a splitter that is among the best in the game when it’s on. The pitch has a gaudy 29% whiff rate this season, and has been strike three for 10 of his 15 strikeouts.

Michael Wacha, SP, Cardinals

Wacha held the mighty Brewers’ lineup to one run on four hits and four walks in six innings, striking out seven in his season debut. The lone run he allowed was on a solo homer by Christian Yelich, a misstep for which we can certainly forgive him. The four walks are a bit troubling, especially after he amassed a 10.1% walk rate last season. Still, he did enough to make himself a worthy gamble as a backend starter in most fantasy formats.

Sandy Alcantara, SP, Marlins

Alcantara started the season firmly on the right foot, blanking the Rockies for eight innings while allowing four hits, striking out six and walking none. He came into this season with six starts and 42 1/3 innings under his MLB belt, and was the No. 73 prospect in baseball according to Baseball Prospectus. With a four-seamer and two-seamer that both sit in the high-90s, and a pair of knee-buckling breaking balls that we looked at in depth earlier this week, Alcantara certainly has the stuff to be a dominator. Take a shot on him while you still can.

Blake Parker, RP, Twins

Taylor Rogers and Trevor May are in the mix at the end of games for the Twins, but it seems that manager Rocco Baldelli prefers Parker as his default closer. He has earned the last two saves for the team, though, to be fair, he needed to get just one out for the second one after May did most of the dirty work. Still, if Parker is going to get at least a plurality of the save opportunities, which seems likely, he needs to be owned in all fantasy leagues.

Corbin Burnes, SP, Brewers

Burnes had a successful 38-inning run as a reliever last year, totaling a 2.61 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, and 35 strikeouts. The Brewers always planned on him being a starter in the long term, and after a strong spring he earned a spot in the rotation this season. He made 13 starts with Triple-A Colorado Springs last year, finishing with a 4.96 ERA, 1.45 WHIP and 71 strikeouts in 69 innings. He was lights out a Double-A Biloxi as a 22-year-old in 2017, ending that year with a 2.10 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 84 strikeouts in 85 2/3 innings.

Michael Pineda, SP, Twins

Pineda looked great in his first start in about 21 months, pitching four shutout innings while striking out five and allowing one walk and one hit. He was in the low-90s with his four-seamer, but got great break out of both his slider and curveball, which had usage rates of 25% and 17.5%, respectively. Pineda is still on the radar only in deeper leagues, but this is someone all fantasy owners should be watching with keen interest.

Yonny Chirinos, SP, Rays

Chirinos was one of the poster boys for Tampa Bay’s flexible pitcher usage last season, making 18 appearances, including seven starts, tossing 89 2/3 innings while spending most of the second half of the season pitching after an opener. The team will deploy him as a traditional starter this season, and he looked great in his first outing of the year. Chirinos held the mighty Astros to one run on two hits over seven innings, striking out six and walking none. His pitch mix and velocity stayed in line with last year, with a heavy reliance and sinkers and splitters, and a slider mixed in for good measure.

Lucas Giolito, SP, White Sox

Giolito looked like the once-elite prospect that he is in his 2019 debut. He took a no-hitter against the Royals into the seventh inning, finally allowing a one-out single to Alex Gordon. He ended up allowing two more hits and two runs in the frame, but that didn’t take much of the shine out of his first start of the season. All told, he surrendered those two runs and three hits across 6 2/3 innings, striking out eight and walking one. The velocity on his average four-seam fastball was 94.1 mph, up two mph from last year, and he completely ditched his sinker. Those are the types of substantive changes that could help him realize his front-of-rotation potential. Giolito will next take the mound on Saturday against the Mariners.

Caleb Smith, SP, Marlins

His honor became a popular endgame target at the end of draft season after putting together a strong spring in which he struck out 19 batters in 13 1/3 innings. He showed that strikeout upside in his first start of the year, fanning eight batters in five innings while earning a no-decision against the Mets. Smith’s repertoire includes a four-seamer, slider and changeup, a mix that works well enough without adding a fourth offering. The slider and change had whiff rates last year of 17.3% and 16.1%, respectively, and he got 11 combined whiffs with the pitch against the Mets. The four-seamer, however, produced 10 empty swings in that outing, which certainly bears watching over his next few starts.

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