Fantasy baseball surprises

Joey offers up some fantasy baseball surprise players for your league.

Joseph DeClercq, Writer

I’m going to throw four names at you, Matt Kemp, Jered Weaver, Jose Tabata, and Alexi Ogando. Exactly, who? Well, we all know who Weaver and Kemp are, but the others aren’t household names. What do these four guys mean to fantasy baseball right now? Kemp, Weaver and Tabata are three of the top four players on ESPN’s player rater and Ogando is 24th.

These four guys have been diamonds in a very rough start for many fantasy baseball managers and there are several others just like them waiting for you to take notice. First I’ll tell you what these guys have done and why they’re so special.

Matt Kemp

Kemp had a very disappointing 2010 in which he hit .249 and stole only 19 bases, but so far in 2011 he is hitting .441 with one home run, five RBIs and seven steals. He is on a path for a career year and has already put his 2010 struggles behind him.

Jered Weaver

Weaver is baseball’s No. 1 pitcher as of now and shows no signs of slowing down. He was projected for a big year, but went undervalued in most drafts as evidenced by his average draft position of 67.7. He is 3-0 with 27 strikeouts in 20 innings with a miniscule 0.87 ERA.

Jose Tabata

Since the 2010 All-Star Game, Tabata leads the majors in hits and has a .324 batting average. He has scored 11 runs thus far in 2011 and has stolen five bases while his power has spiked (he has two homers already compared to four in 2010). He is hitting atop a potent young Pirates lineup and will continue to impress. If he is available in your league, go out and grab him quick.

Alexi Ogando

Ogando is a name you might take a while to learn, but not because of his contribution to fantasy baseball. He broke onto the scene last year as a late inning reliever for Texas with a 1.30 ERA and 39 K’s in 41.2 innings. This year, he has made two starts and won both. His eight strikeouts and three walks in 13 innings aren’t too impressive, but the fact that he hasn’t allowed a run yet in his first two career starts is great. He currently ranks ahead of former Cy Young winners Tim Lincecum, and Justin Verlander on the player rater. See where ESPN has him compared to the rest of the league’s hurlers.

Players on the waiver wire

Here are some players you might not think to look for on the waiver wire, but are probably still lying around:

Remember Russell Martin? He’s the catcher who dropped off the table after three straight double digit home run years with the Dodgers from 2006-2008. Well he’s back with the New York Yankees spanking the ball around the park like his teammates. They say hitting is contagious and Martin is a living example of that. So far, in nine games, he has nine hits, three home runs, eight RBIs and is batting .300. If he went un-drafted in your league go grab him quick, especially if you are the owner of slow starters Matt Weiters, Buster Posey, Kurt Suzuki, or Geovany Soto.

Outfielder Ben Francisco has been a pleasant surprise for the Phillies. The guy responsible for filling the hole left by Jayson Werth is hitting .306 with two home runs, seven RBIs and one steal. In 2008 with Cleveland he hit 15 homers and stole four bases, but in 2009 between Cleveland and Philadelphia he hit 15 homers and stole 14 bases while hitting .257. If he can keep his batting average near .270 and swat 15-17 homers with 15 steals he may find his way onto more fantasy rosters in the future, but for now you should be the one person who had him before the rest, go add Francisco.

Toronto shortstop Yunel Escobar bombed in 2010 with Atlanta by hitting .238 with zero HRs. After he was traded to Toronto mid-season, he was much better hitting .275 with four HRs in 60 games. In 2011 he is hitting .458 with one homer and five RBIs. He won’t be counted on as a run producer with the Blue Jays, but if he can keep his average near the .300 mark, 15 homers and 60 RBIs aren’t out of the question.

If Travis Hafner can remain healthy, he might revert back to his 24+ HR and 100+ RBI days of 2004-2007. He has two homers and six RBIs right now and his hitting at a nice .355. Cleveland is sitting at the top of the standings in the AL central division and a large part of that is because of how Hafner has started out.

Matt Harrison is a name to keep a close watch for. The Texas Rangers rotation is the best in baseball partly because of how this guy came out of nowhere. His career ERA is 5.15 and prior to this year he has made just 32 career starts since 2008. He has both of his starts in 2011, allowing just two runs total and striking out 11 with only three walks. He most likely won’t keep up with this pace, but you should ride him while he’s hot.

Zach Britton is a budding young star on Buck Showalter’s upstart Orioles. He wasn’t even on the roster, but an injury to staff ace Brian Matusz opened the door for Britton’s arrival. The highly touted prospect has won both of his starts including a 7.2 scoreless inning performance against Texas. His eight strikeouts to six walks in 13.1 innings is a little alarming, but he is young and developing and we like what we see so far. He should be owned in almost every league and if he isn’t, go use a waiver wire claim now.

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