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Pickups of the Week

This week, Yahoo! Sports fantasy expert Brandon Funston looks at nine intriguing fantasy baseball players still available on the waiver wire in more than half of Yahoo! fantasy leagues.

Raul Ibanez

40-year-old veteran scoring big in the Big Apple of late

Raul Ibanez (OF) New York Yankees
There's not too many hitters in baseball hotter right now than Señor Ibanez. The stately veteran is hitting .381 with four home runs and nine runs batted in over his past six games. He now has 21 RBIs in 28 games, good for 29th in MLB. He's been a sloth out of the gate in each of the past two years, only to turn things on from May well into the summer months. At his age, stamina and health concerns cast serious doubt about his ability to be a sustaining influence on your fantasy roster for the remainder of the season. But he's clearly still able to pull the trigger against the heater - he's seen the third fastest average fastball rate among hitters (92.4) yet has still managed the 63rd best hit value on fastballs in the league. You could very well get another 8-10 home runs and respectable BA and RBI numbers to go with them before the wheels fall off later this summer.

  • Y! % 28%
  • Y! rank 120
  • AVG.273
  • HR7
  • RBI21
  • R10
  • SB2
Kyle Seager

Seager has been "Like a Rock" down on the corner

Kyle Seager (3B/SS) Seattle Mariners
Seager takes Allen Craig's spot as a the back-to-back POW nominee. His ownership in Yahoo! leagues has almost pushed past the 50 percent tipping point, and a final POW plug should hopefully do the trick. So, once again, let's quickly review Seager's fantasy virtues: His minor league track record is excellent. He's been the No. 37 player in the Yahoo! game for the month of May. His .491 SLG% ranks 43rd in the league, right between Billy Butler and Miguel Cabrera. He's shortstop-eligible in the Y! game, a position where he currently ranks No. 8. And he's locked down the regular hot corner role and No. 5 spot in the batting order for the Mariners. Welcome him with open arms, folks.

  • Y! % 49%
  • Y! rank 114
  • AVG.295
  • HR4
  • RBI20
  • R13
  • SB3
Will Middlebrooks

Soon-to-be squeezed Red Sox rookie sensation still worth grab-n-stash consideration

Will Middlebrooks (3B) Boston Red Sox
What happens to Middlebrooks when Kevin Youkilis returns from the DL is fantasy's $64,000 question. Youkilis is eligible to come off the DL now, but it might be something close to another week before he actually gets written into a Red Sox lineup. And when that happens, it's probably unlikely that Middlebrooks will be in a Red Sox uniform. The probable scenario is that Middlebrooks will be sent back to Triple-A Pawtucket when Youkilis returns so that he can play everyday. But with Boston's season in the tank and Middlebrooks hitting the cover off the ball - top rated fantasy 3B in Y! since his arrival - rumors are heating up that Youkilis could be available for trade. Of course, Youkilis will have to show that he's healthy first, so Middlebrooks will have to bide his time. In the mean time, Middlebrooks owners can hope to enjoy another week of his active services and then consider whether it's worth using a bench spot to stash him until his inevitable return this summer.

  • Y! %42%
  • Y! rank 292
  • AVG.310
  • HR4
  • RBI13
  • R8
  • SB1
Alcides Escobar

KC defensive masterpiece has been in a hitting groove for almost a year

Alcides Escobar (SS) Kansas City Royals
Escobar went 6-for-10 over Mother's Day weekend, raising his season average to .296. He's now hitting .286 with 28 steals since early June of '11 (132 games). Hitting at the bottom of the Royals order hurts his ability to be a true three-category fantasy player (just 60 Runs in those 132 games), but at a thin shortstop position, a two-and-half category player like Escobar deserves fantasy consideration.

  • Y! % 28%
  • Y! rank 183
  • AVG .296
  • HR1
  • RBI10
  • R12
  • SB7
Andy Dirks

Dirks has been a dagger in the side of AL pitching in May

Andy Dirks (OF) Detroit Tigers
Brennan Boesch whiffed at his opportunity in the catbird seat, hitting in the Tigers' No. 2 spot ahead of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. That has opened the door (seat?) for Dirks, who is riding an eight-game hitting streak, seven of those games with him hitting second. Dirks is in that classic, .280, 15/15 outfielder mold, and his ability to make contact makes him a good fit to follow Austin Jackson in the order. His "gamer" mentality and short, compact stroke has endeared him to crotchety manager Jim Leyland, who recently had this to say about his left fielder: "He's a really nice player. I like him. He's a very nice player. It would be nice if we could settle him into that two hole." Dirks has been playing with a sore hamstring, but he's been told he can play through it and still recover, so expect Dirks to continue to set the table for the Tigers' titanic twosome.

  • Y! %26%
  • Y! rank 199
  • AVG.371
  • HR3
  • RBI11
  • R13
  • SB0
Yonder Alonso

Yonder's bat finally singing way over in the major key

Yonder Alonso (1B/OF) San Diego Padres
By trading Mat Latos to the Reds for Alonso, among others, the Padres afforded Alonso the chance to get out from behind Joey Votto and play everyday. And after a sluggish start in San Diego, the Reds' No. 7 overall pick in the '08 draft is starting to build a head of steam. Since dipping below the Mendoza Line on April 24, Alonso has hit .383 over his past 16 games. Unfortunately, hitting in the middle of the second-worst offense in MLB can cause one to go unnoticed despite riding such a hot streak. At 25, Alonso has the solid hitting pedigree and growth potential that are always appreciated pieces of a waiver wire claim.

  • Y! %21%
  • Y! rank 693
  • AVG.293
  • HR1
  • RBI10
  • R5
  • SB1
James McDonald

Big Mac assaulting NL hitters with a K attack

James McDonald (SP) Pittsburgh Pirates
In his past four starts, McDonald is 2-1 with a 1.86 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 29 innings. Looking at his peripheral data

, you'll see a heavy reliance on a slider this season, a pitch that has been either a non-factor or all together non-existent in the past. Early returns have been stellar, with McDonald ranking 11th among starters in overall slider pitch value. Not to be left out, McDonald's curveball and fastball also rank highly among starters. And, perhaps, most encouraging is that McDonald has curbed the free passes, as his current 3.02 BB/9 rate is nearly a walk lower than his career average (3.97). Considered by Baseball America in '09 to be the Dodgers' top pitching prospect, McDonald has settled into post-hype territory. But he has just 356 innings of major league experience and he's just now hit his prime years (age 27), so there's no reason to look at his recent numbers with utter disbelief. Especially with that new slider toy that he's bringing to the table this season.
  • Y! %25%
  • Y! rank 87
  • ERA2.42
  • WHIP1.03
  • W2
  • SV0
  • K/97.86
Carlos Zambrano

Who knew Zambrano and Ozzie Guillen would be such a beautiful marriage?

Carlos Zambrano (P) Miami Marlins
Maybe you can fight fire with fire. Maybe it takes a combustible personality to know a combustible personality, in which case Ozzie Guillen and Zambrano are a match made in heaven. Clearly, the on-the-field results can't be argued, as Zambrano ranks fifth in MLB with six quality starts. Zambrano's fastball no longer averages 90 mph (89.4), but he's turned heavily to split-fingered and cut fastball offerings, which have been very successful. In fact, his Swing Strike% (9.8) is his highest since his rookie season. And his O-Swing% (pitches that batters swung at that were outside the strike zone) is at 30.6%, three points higher than his previous career best. This may not be the Zambrano that we all remember in his prime. But who cares when you are getting these kind of results?

  • Y! %49%
  • Y! rank 80
  • ERA1.87
  • WHIP1.04
  • W1
  • SV0
  • K/97.31
Jason Vargas

Vargas adds a twist to his fantasy intrigue

Jason Vargas (SP) Seattle Mariners
Vargas owns the distinction of being the only current top 50 player in the Y! game (No. 50) not owned in at least 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Certainly his underwhelming track record and some peripherals that point to the benefit of luck in '12 (.221 BABIP; 79.1 LOB%) have many owners leery about his ability to keep to the same course. But, to his defense, he's inducing ground balls at nearly 10 percent above his career rate and he's striking out nearly one batter more per nine innings than his career norm. Interestingly, Vargas made a change in his delivery last September, and the results paid immediate dividends - he went 3-0 with a 2.02 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 23 K in 26.2 IP in his final four turns of '11, all after installing a more dramatic twist in his windup. If you combine what he's done this year with his final four contests of September, it makes a pretty compelling case for Vargas in fantasy circles.

  • Y! %42%
  • Y! rank 50
  • ERA2.79
  • WHIP0.97
  • W4
  • SV0
  • K/96.62

Top sub-50 percent owned save targets: Scott Downs, LAA; Rafael Dolis, ChC; Dale Thayer, SD; Casey Janssen, Tor; Addison Reed, ChW; Matt Thornton, ChW; Brian Fuentes, Oak; Jon Rauch, NYM; Rafael Soriano, NYY

Other Week 7 Pickups: Jed Lowrie, Hou, 3B/SS; Pedro Alvarez, Pit, 3B; Chris Johnson, Hou, 3B; Mitch Moreland, Tex, 1B/OF; Ty Wigginton, Phi, 1B/3B/OF; Todd Helton, Col, 1B; Robert Andino, Bal, 2/3/SS; Mark Ellis, LAD, 2B; Danny Espinosa, Was, 2B; Andres Torres, NYM, OF; Jason Kubel, Ari, OF; Brennan Boesch, Det, OF; Jose Tabata, Pit, OF; Kirk Nieuwenhuis, NYM, OF; Carlos Quentin, SD, OF; Ryan Doumit, Min, C/OF; R.A. Dickey, NYM, SP; Erik Bedard, Pit, SP; Jonathon Niese, NYM, SP; Drew Smyly, Det, SP; Jarrod Parker, Oak, SP; Bud Norris, Hou, SP; Jonny Venters, Atl, RP; Earnesto Frieri, LAA, RP

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Anthony Rizzo, 1B (ChC) – Bucking for a promotion with 4 HRs in past six games; leads PCL with 1.073 OPS
Matt Davidson, 3B (Ari) – Snakes top hitting prospect has 5 HRs in past 12 games for Double-A Mobile
Wil Myers, OF (KC) – Continues to terrorize the Double-A Texas League with 4 HRs and a .370 BA in past nine games
Mike Olt, 3B (Tex) – Rangers top corner prospect has a .400 BA, 5 doubles and 3 HRs for Double-A Frisco in his past 12 games
Andrew Oliver, SP (Det) – Tigers Triple-A farm arm has allowed just 12 hits in past 24.2 IP - 1.46 ERA, 26 K in those 4 starts
Julio Teheran, SP (Atl) – Braves top prospect hitting stride with 1.12 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 14 K in past 3 Triple-A starts (14 IP)
Jake Odorizzi, SP (KC) – Young Royal has 1.98 ERA, 33 K, 5 BB in past 4 starts (27.1 IP) for Double-A NW Arkansas

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