The same thing happens in every March draft. You walk away from the computer or the war room and think "we drained the depth pretty well. The waiver wire is going to be skank all year."
And then the unknowns come out of nowhere, the surprise stories, the fun pickups and the lucrative pickups. And on my clipboard, I like to call them The Wiggys.
Ty Wigginton, our patron saint, represents so much that's good and right about fantasy baseball. He had a 24-homer season with Tampa Bay in 2006, a spike pretty much out of nowhere. He routinely qualifies at a bunch of different positions. He's usually out there on the wire, ready to go for free when you need him. And sometimes it's more fun to win your league through a Wiggy here or there than it is through a true superstar player.
There's no exact formula for what makes a player a good fit for The Wiggys. You have to outperform your March expectations, for sure — and you have to be generally undrafted in March. But there's another quality I'm looking for, an everyman quality, a working class hero. In a perfect world, I want The Wiggys to be a collection of guys no one wanted, a group of laughed-at pickups who lead you to a money finish, if not a league championship.
Enough preamble . . . the envelope, please. The 2012 First Half Wiggy of the Year goes to Minnesota's Trevor Plouffe. He hasn't been the best of the free-agent adds (Mike Trout is only the AL's best player right now) but he symbolizes everything we look for in this award. Make the jump, honor Plouffe, meet the rest of the team. And bring along your notebook, as we'll try to figure out what teaching points came out of this year's surprise stories.
Catcher: Carlos Ruiz, Phillies
Overall Y! Rank (Preseason, Current): 312, 46
Honorable Mention: A.J. Pierzynski, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Wilin Rosario, Ryan Doumit, A.J. Ellis
Skinny: While Salty's big year might be more of a stunner, Ruiz wasn't even a Top 20 catcher in our preseason O-ranks. If the Phillies were doing anything in the NL East, he'd be a legitimate MVP candidate. Chooch's .350-41-13-46-3 line from the first half puts him No. 1 on the Yahoo! player ranker through the first half. Crazy numbers.
- Takeaway: In one-catcher leagues, it's generally a good idea to pass on the big names and go for value. You'll usually find some nifty breakouts (in the late rounds or for free on the wire), and keep in mind most of your competitors won't be actively seeking a catcher if they're content with their brand name. Heck, this was a good year to actually add second catcher even as a utility player — there's been that much juice at the position.
First Base: Allen Craig, Cardinals
Overall Y! Rank (Preseason, Current): 261, 125
Honorable Mention: Bryan LaHair, Tyler Colvin
Skinny: Off-season knee surgery kept Craig out for the opening month, but he hit the ground running with multiple-hit games in four of his first five starts. A brief stop on the disabled list (hamstring) followed later in May, but Craig has been terrific since that cleared up. If he can stay healthy — and the Cardinals can find a position for him — he's likely to be a star. Craig also qualifies at three positions (1B, 2B, OF), which contributes to his Wigginess.
- Takeaway: Sometimes the breakthroughs in October are worth taking seriously. Craig slugged .622 in October and clubbed three homers in 19 World Series at-bats.
Second Base: Elliot Johnson, Rays
Overall Y! Rank (Preseason, Current): 750, 288
Honorable Mention: Jose Altuve, Aaron Hill, Omar Infante
Skinny: If we were merely picking the best player among the pickup crew, Altuve would win easily. It's hard for me not to select him, being an Astros Sympathizer and what not. But Johnson's season has been more of an ambush; heck, the guy hit .194 last year in 160 at-bats. Somehow the Rays have cobbled a .275 average, four homers and 15 steals out of this emergency fill-in.
- Takeaway: If you see Joe Maddon in a casino, start betting what he's betting.
Shortstop: Trevor Plouffe, Twins
Overall Y! Rank (Preseason, Current): 387, 142
Honorable Mention: Kyle Seager, Jed Lowrie, Alcides Escobar
Skinny: Lots of good options here but Plouffe's been the best Wiggy story of the first half. The guy had a .226/286/.382 career slash into 2012, and although he showed a little pop last year, no one throws a parade for eight homers over 229 at-bats. Plouffe's walk rate has started to rise as pitchers are respecting him more, and everyone loves getting 19 homers from a four-position Swiss Army Knife (2B, SS, 3B, OF). No one's laughing anymore.
- Takeaway: Plouffe was a first-round pick in 2004, so to some degree this is one for the Post-Hype file. And we also have to retrain ourselves in how we view Target Field: it's no longer death valley to everyone. Right-handed power actually was four percent over average last year, and Plouffe and Josh Willingham aren't having any problems reaching the seats this year. It's the lefties who can't go deep in this yard, not the righties.
Third Base: Chris Davis, Orioles
Overall Y! Rank (Preseason, Current): 285, 151
Honorable Mention: Chase Headley, Pedro Alvarez, Wilson Betemit
Skinny: First things first — I couldn't consider guys like Edwin Encarnacion and Mark Trumbo. They both had O-ranks inside the Top 200, and I know plenty of people who expected big things from both of them in March. If they're sparking your run to a title, tremendous. But this is a day to honor the out-of-nowhere guy.
Davis isn't a player I have a lot of faith in going forward (15 walks against 80 strikeouts, that's ugly), but a .271-38-14-40 line is nifty through the first half of play and he qualifies at first, third and the outfield. After slugging just .402 with two clubs last year, Davis apparently has his mojo back.
- Takeaway: A bunch of strikeouts aren't the worst thing in the world today if big things happen when contact is made. And that retro bird sure looks terrific back on the Orioles hat.
Outfield: Rajai Davis, Mike Trout, Josh Reddick
Overall Y! Ranks (Preseason, Current): 366/182, 223/6, 327/43
Honorable Mention: Bryce Harper, Alfonso Soriano, Gregor Blanco, Ben Revere, Alejandro De Aza
Skinny: Where's Colby Rasmus, you ask? Too famous. His O-rank was 166, after all. I wonder if Tony La Russa would pick him up today.
Trout and Harper present a problem: they're both buzzy franchise prospects who had gigantic expectations the moment they came to The Show. I'd prefer to keep them both off just in the spirit of what this team is supposed to be — a bunch of dirt dogs — but geesh, Trout is the best player in the AL and he was a roto free agent in most leagues for a few weeks. I guess I can't say no at the end of it all.
- Davis Takeaway: The barrier for roto relevance is very low if you can do one specialist thing well, like steal bases. And beware the player who can enter a lineup if one of several players gets hurt (the versatile Jays have a lineup made of Legos, so many pieces fit here and there).
- Trout Takeaway: Don't overlook how much a player can learn from a brief stint in the majors, even if it's a unproductive one. Trout's trial in 2011 probably set him up for today's stardom. This also applies to Chicago's Anthony Rizzo, by the way.
- Reddick Takeaway: Never trade a lot for a closer, like Boston GM Ben Cherington did.
Starting Pitchers: R.A. Dickey (No. 1 starter), James McDonald, Wade Miley, Jason Hammel, Ryan Vogelsong
Overall Y! Ranks (Preseason, Current): 265/4, 335/18, 342/66, 324/108, 266/57
Honorable Mention: Jake Peavy, A.J. Burnett, Kyle Lohse, Lance Lynn, Chris Capuano, Tom Milone, Matt Harrison, Michael Fiers
Skinny: It's been another terrific year for pitching pickups, like it always is. I could easily rattle off 15-20 honorable mentions, too. Special props to Hammel, Peavy and Harrison for making things work in tough environments; when in doubt, I'm always going to do my shopping in those roomy NL parks.
- Dickey Takeaway: There are no rules with the knuckleball. No one knows.
- McDonald Takeaway: Follow the strikeouts, trust that control can improve.
- Miley Takeaway: You don't have to have jaw-dropping stuff or crazy K/9 numbers to be effective.
- Hammel Takeaway: You can't hold Colorado against any prospect (and make sure you listen to your west-coast scouts).
- Vogelsong Takeaway: Not everyone is going to regress back to what the ERA estimators suggest. Vogelsong's a year and a half into a surprising ERA; this late into the game, I say he owns it.
Relief Pitchers: Fernando Rodney (bullpen chair), Tom Wilhelmsen, Jim Johnson, Ernesto Frieri, Aroldis Chapman
Overall Y! Ranks (Preseason, Current): 320/31, 349/131, 232/46, 336/67, 294/41
Honorable Mention: Scott Downs, Ryan Cook, Casey Janssen, Rafael Soriano, Santiago Casilla, Brett Myers, Tyler Clippard
Skinny: So many ridiculous choices, it seems unfair to pick just five guys. Wilhelmsen and Frieri get the nod for the ambush factor as well as their results — no one expected a thing from either guy in the spring. Rodney's been the shocker of the year in the ninth — can it really be as simple as altering his position on the rubber? — and Johnson wasn't even named Baltimore's closer until late in March. Chapman was behind Ryan Madson (early injury) and Sean Marshall, but the dominoes eventually fell for him.
- Rodney Takeaway: Is Jim Hickey the best pitching coach no one talks about? Is there something to the tilt of the cap?
- Wilhelmsen Takeaway: Sometimes a temporary closer will pitch so well, his club really can't take him out of the job.
- Johnson Takeaway: Every team can support a big-save closer, and sometimes a bad team isn't even a bad team.
- Frieri Takeaway: When the strikeout rate is this ridiculous (15.4/9), we can live with what normally would be too many walks.
- Chapman Takeaway: Sometimes a messed-up mechanical failure puts it all together.
One final word: Please don't take any umbrage for the picks selected here, or any player who was not mentioned. These awards are supposed to be fun, celebratory, and unspecific in criteria (there will never be an exact Wiggy formula, not today, not tomorrow, not ever). There's wiggle room with The Wiggys. I understand that everyone has their pet players and favorite stories, and I'd love to hear all about yours in the comments.
Good luck in the second half, gamers. Thanks for hanging out with us on the Yahoo! sandlots.