Now that the season has finally started, the focus shifts from who to draft to who to pick up off waivers. Rob Leibowitz did a nice job breaking down the news of Matt Lindstrom opening the year as the White Sox closer, over Nate Jones. And Sergio Santos will fill in for Casey Janssen, and could easily keep the job all year if he pitches well. I would spend more on Santos if I was searching for early saves, since unlike Lindstrom, I truly believe he can keep the job long-term. Beyond the two new closers from the AL, there are not so many slam dunk waiver picks to open the season. One thing I do know is that fantasy players are an impatient lot, so often the best pickups come from other teams' drops. So make sure to keep an eye on your league's transactions in the early going, because often other teams will drop players that will be an upgrade for your squad. Many of the players listed below are guys I talked about at different points in the preseason, and in some cases, when I did, steady playing time may still have been an undecided question. Here is a quick second look at a bunch of position players from the American League that are worth taking a second look at for deep leagues and AL-only leagues. Sometimes the best early season pickups aren't the most costly ones. They are just guys who have the opportunity to succeed. The rest often comes down to the ability to hit a curve or play solid defense. Still, with so many leagues and so many different formats that I play in, I expect to be grabbing a lot of these guys in the coming days to fill out my various rosters.
Josmil Pinto, MIN - The rookie catcher made the Opening Day roster as the backup to Kurt Suzuki. The latter is the starter, and somehow found himself hitting in the two-hole on Monday night, but Pinto is clearly the player with the bigger upside here and is worth stashing in hopes that his defense is solid enough that he can at least earn a 50/50 split with Suzuki right out of the gate. Pinto has to improve with his work behind the plate, but the fact he is in the Majors to start the year puts him one step closer to eventually taking over as the everyday starter by mid-season.
Adrian Nieto, CHW - Nieto was a sneaky grab by our own Lawr Michaels in AL Tout Wars, and he landed the backup catching job to Tyler Flowers to start the year. The interesting thing about Nieto is he is a Rule-5 pickup, meaning he must remain on the major league roster all year or be offered back to his original club. So if he shows he can handle backup duty, he’ll stick around all year. Seeing as Flowers is a career .199 hitter, Nieto likely has a bigger opportunity to make an impact than most Rule-5 picks, and if he hits, it isn’t that hard to see him winning the starting job outright at some point this year.
Justin Smoak, SEA - Smoak has let down his believers so many times that his stock was at an all-time low heading into this season. But there he was on Opening Day, starting at first base and batting cleanup for the Mariners. He went 2-for-4 with a home run, three runs scored and three RBI. I couldn’t blame anyone for not wanting to take a chance on the former top prospect, but having Robinson Cano hitting in front of him can only be a good thing. He has always had the pedigree, but all that has been missing is consistency. He has always been a streaky hitter and should benefit from an improved lineup around him.
Jonathan Schoop, BAL - I wrote the Orioles rookie second baseman up in this column a couple weeks ago, as he was the talk of camp for the team. Sure enough he made the team and was starting at second base, while Ryan Flaherty filled in for the injured Manny Machado at third base. I personally believe that Schoop is here to stay and will take hold of this job and keep it all year, even after Machado returns. Baltimore is in win now mode, and as the ninth place hitter in a potent offense, anything he brings to the table with the bat will be a bonus.
Alex Gonzalez, DET - The 37-year-old was the unlikely hero for the Tigers on Opening Day, driving in the winning run with a single in the ninth against Greg Holland. The injury to Jose Iglesias prompted the Tigers to grab the veteran off the scrap heap, mainly due to doubts that the other in house options, Andrew Romine and Hernan Perez, were ready for full-time duty, at least to start the year.
Yangervis Solarte, NYY - The 26-year-old Solarte won the utility job for the Yankees over Eduardo Nunez, thanks to a hot spring as well as the fact he is a much more versatile defensive player than Nunez. Still, it was somewhat surprising to see Nunez DFA’d by the Yankees, seeing as just a few years ago he was being talked up as the heir to Derek Jeter at shortstop. Solarte can play second, short, third and even the outfield. But the fact is the team had soured on Nunez's defense enough to give Solarte a longer look. With Brian Roberts and Jeter both injury risks, Solarte should get more playing time than your average utility man. As for Nunez, he should find another home, maybe in place of Gonzalez in Detroit or backing up the already injured Jose Reyes in Toronto.
Matt Davidson, CHW - The rookie, who came over to the White Sox in the Addison Reed trade, got caught up in a numbers crunch and was sent to Triple-A to start the year. It wasn’t the news people who took a chance on the youngster wanted to hear, but the reality is Conor Gillaspie was out of options, and with Jeff Keppinger and Gordon Beckham hurt to start the year, the team couldn’t find room for their third baseman of the future. Gillaspie is an average talent who won’t be able to hold off Davidson for long. If you drafted him in a deep league, my advice is to hold him and wait.
Grady Sizemore, BOS - We first took stock of Grady’s comeback story a couple weeks ago, when the former fantasy standout was making waves in Red Sox camp. Well, he won the starting job and then went out and smacked a home run on Opening Day off Chris Tillman. He hit sixth in the lineup, which makes sense, since he was never a big OBP guy in his years in Cleveland, when he regularly lead off. Look, if you drafted him, it didn’t cost you much. Odds are his body won’t hold up and he will give way to Jackie Bradley Jr. at some point, but what if he does manage to stay healthy? 20 home runs seems like a reasonable bet, even if the stolen bases are a thing of the past.
Abraham Almonte, SEA - Almonte was one of my outfield bargains back in February, and there he was leading off and playing centerfield for the Mariners to start the season. He has enough speed to steal 20-30 bases with regular playing time, so he is still worth grabbing if he is on waivers in your deep mixed or AL-only league. The guys battling him for playing time have plenty of injury concerns, so he could stick as the starter in centerfield all year.
Aaron Hicks, MIN - Hicks was another player we targeted as a bargain back in February, and sure enough he did enough to convince the Twins to hand him the starting centerfield job to start the year. They waived Alex Presley and sent Darin Mastroianni to Triple-A, so Hicks will get the chance to show he deserves to be part of the club's future.Moises Sierra, TOR - Anthony Gose was the trendier pick to win the fourth outfielder job, but he was sent to the Minors to open the year. Sierra was out of options and hits from the right side, which further helped his case. The Jays needed a right-handed bat to platoon with Adam Lind, and Sierra fills that void. Gose had options left, and the team wants him to play every day in the Minors to start the year. Sierra will get those at-bats at DH when Lind takes a seat against lefties, so he can have some value in AL-only leagues.