You’ve read the noise about all of the studs. Now it’s time to take a look at the quiet guys in the corner. They all want to get out on that dance floor, and they’re cutting some impressive moves while few people are paying attention. But sooner or later, somebody is going to slap them with the “taken” label and dance a wallflower to a championship. It might as well be you.
The players listed below are free agents in most Yahoo! leagues, owned by 56% or fewer team managers. A few of these guys have been big-time contributors in the recent past. The others are simply trying to prove they belong in the fantasy community. Don’t let these guys blend in with the crowd by fooling yourself into thinking nobody else is watching.
Without further ado, I present the May 2013 Under-the-Radar fantasy baseball lineup. Each player’s current percentage of Yahoo! ownership is in parentheses following his name.
Catcher: Ryan Doumit (35%): The switch-hitting 32-year-old, a .270 lifetime hitter in more than 2,500 career at-bats (this is his ninth pro season), hit 18 HR last season and knocked in 75 runs. He’s off to a slow start with the Twins this season (.216/3 HR/ 16 RBI), but all three dingers have come in the past two weeks. He’ll never be confused with Mike Piazza, but even with meager stats thus far he’s outperformed Victor Martinez, Salvador Perez (barely), Miguel and Jesus Montero, A.J. Pierzynski, and Jonathan Lucroy – all of whom are owned at a higher rate. Doumit presently ranks #12 among backstops for the season. In the past month he ranks #10. In the past two weeks he ranks #4. He and Joe Mauer rotate between catcher and DH, giving Doumit plenty of breathers from the tools of ignorance.
First Base: Mitch Moreland (46%): Other than my man-crush, Paul Goldschmidt, no first baseman has matched Moreland’s production in May. This 27-year-old hits sixth in a Texas lineup that ranks #3 in OPS and #7 in runs scored in the majors. His present slash (.296/ 9 HR/ 21 RBI/ 18 R) ranks #12 among first baggers. But in the past two weeks, he’s outdone every 1B who doesn’t play for Arizona with six consecutive consonants in the middle of his last name. Moreland is only in his third full MLB season and appears to be an afterthought in the fantasy community. Mo Vaughn was an under-appreciated commodity at essentially the same stage of his career. So far, Moreland outranks Albert Pujols, Allen Craig, Adrian Gonzalez and Billy Butler. My gut (which, by the way, was wrong about Tony Cingrani sticking in the Reds rotation) tells me Moreland is in his break-out season. Ask him to dance, now!
Second Base: Kelly Johnson (42%): “Oh yes they call him the Streak, look-at-that, look-at-that….” Johnson, 31, has been both a fantasy bonanza and bust for the past few seasons. You never know when he’ll lead the league in all fantasy stats for a week or completely bust your team’s numbers. In 2010, my first dance with the dude, he wowed all spectators (.284/ 26 HR/ 13 SB). But the next season, he thoroughly sucked until the Diamondbacks traded him to Toronto; then, for the few remaining games, he hit like a champ. In 2012, he had 16 HR and 14 SB, but batted a pitiful .225. Which brings us to now: Since May 1st, Johnson has hit .315/ 3 HR/ 15 RBI – with three 3-hit games - and has raised his season average from .227 to .276. He has 6 HR and 4 SB on the season and is tied for sixth among 2B with 23 RBI. He is presently the #8 ranked second baseman in the Yahoo! game.
Third Base: Trevor Plouffe (22%) and Jedd Gyorko (30%): This position is stacked. Nine 3B rank in the top #89 of all Yahoo! fantasy players. Others, such as Ryan Zimmerman, Chase Headley, Aramis Ramirez, and Brett Lawrie are getting back on track from injury outages. Needless to say, most people aren’t in the hunt for a fantasy 3B except in deep leagues – so I’ll keep this brief. Plouffe has hit .274 in May with 2 HR/ 11 RBI to raise his average from .217 to .242. Not impressive, but progressively better. Gyorko is hitting .307 in May with 4 HR but only 5 RBI. Keep an eye on this kid. He also qualifies at 2B.
Shortstop: Jhonny Peralta (57%): The 31-year-old is only two seasons removed from a .299/21 HR/ 86 RBI performance. His average plummeted last season, as did the HR and RBI (13/63). But in 141 ABs this season, Jhonny P is stroking at .319 with 4 HR/ 18 RBI/ 21 R. Since May 1st he’s hit .377/ 2 HR/ 6 RBI/ 12 R – along with six multi-hit games. He has some Johnson streakiness in him, but any shortstop in the dangerous Detroit lineup should be dancing at a much higher rate than 57%, especially when you consider he is the #4 ranked SS in Yahoo!
Outfield: Gerardo Parra (47%): The Diamondback lead-off hitter, a 26-year-old in his fifth MLB season, is a career .284 hitter (1,814 ABs). He’s never hit below .261 for a season and has speed (15 SB each of the past two seasons). Parra entered May hitting .305 and has hit .366 this month (with seven multi-hit games) to raise his average to .327. He’s not going to knock in may runs, but he does have 3 HR and has scored 27 times. Hitting two spots ahead of the emerging Goldschmidt (I can’t seem to make it through a column without mentioning his name multiple times), look for Parra to remain among the league leaders in runs scored all season. He is presently ranked #84 overall in Yahoo! Dayan Viciedo (27%) thumped 25 round-trippers last season and knocked in 78 runs. He slumped to begin the 2013 campaign and then hit the shelf for about three weeks due to a strained oblique. Since returning to the White Sox lineup on May 10th, he’s hit .400/2 HR/6 RBI. Don’t let this youngster – he’s only 24 – slip onto the dance floor with another owner. Andy Dirks (8%) is gamely handling the lead-off duties in Detroit (at least against righties) with Austin Jackson on the shelf with a pulled hammy. Dirks is hitting .297 with a couple of dingers and 6 RBI the past ten days. He’s not a prototypical lead-off hitter, but he managed to swat .322 last season and will still have a spot when Jackson returns. He ranked #8 among outfielders the past two weeks (.348/ 3 HR/ 8 RBI/ 10 R).
Slide Steps: Matt Garza is returning on Tuesday when the Cubs face the Pirates, which means he will also likely pitch Sunday against the Reds. To make room in the rotation for Garza, Carlos Villanueva will be moved to the bullpen. Jaime Garcia hit the 15-day DL with a shoulder strain. David Phelps fanned 8 in 7 IP against the Blue Jays Saturday. Keep this kid on your watch list. Tony Cingrani was optioned to Triple-A Louisville following Johnny Cueto’s return to the Reds rotation. Colby Lewis is on pace to rejoin the Rangers rotation in early June. Josh Johnson should be back at around the same time. Keep an eye on Chris Carpenter.