If you have been reading fellow Mastersballer Zach Steinhorn’s column the last few weeks, then you have been treated to his observations regarding the ongoing Fantasy 411 15-team mock, which I am participating in myself this year. In his most recent look at the results, Zach talked about the desire to be a little more spontaneous in his approach, but how he "couldn’t be the one to draft Yasiel Puig at 2.9, at least not yet." Well, it just so happens that I have no qualms about selecting the dynamic Dodgers outfielder that high in this format, and at the very least I tested that theory by doing exactly that in this mock draft. Yes, I took Puig with the 24th pick, and in all honesty it really wasn’t that hard of a decision. We are talking about a player with a realistic chance at hitting .300/30/30. How many players can we honestly say that about that are available to draft in the middle of the second round of a 15-team draft this year? My answer to this question is one, and his name is Yasiel Puig.
I will concede that all of those number threes above are upside projections, but even with some expected regression to his batting average and speed, we are still looking at a guy who looks like a lock to give you no worse than .285/25/20. I took a look at the projections for Puig from seven different sources, including the one here at Mastersball that I used at the draft table. Here is the average projection for Puig’s 2014: .285/87/26/79/20. For what it is worth, most of these projections have Puig down for less than 600 at-bats, which is a number that he could easily eclipse if he stays locked in the number two spot all year. So the next question on the docket is why didn't I hesitate to grab Puig when I had the chance?
For starters, let’s look at the players who were taken with the picks ahead of me in the second round: Adrian Beltre, Carlos Gomez, Chris Davis, Joey Votto, Jose Reyes, Giancarlo Stanton, Jason Kipnis and David Wright. Davis and Votto are normally first rounders, but in this draft Prince Fielder and Edwin Encarnacion went early, pushing them down a bit. Of this group, the only player I had ranked significantly lower than Puig was Jose Reyes, who I was happy to see go since I thought it would push Jason Kipnis into my arms. Funny how these things go, but it was Zach himself who kept my favorite Indian off my squad. Carlos Gomez is a favorite of the site this year, but I knew he wouldn’t make it past Todd, who was picking right ahead of me. With Gomez already off the board, Lord Z plucked Wright and set the table for my eventual selection.Now let’s look at the players who followed my pick of Puig in the middle of the second round: Shin-Soo Choo, Evan Longoria, Dustin Pedroia, Matt Kemp, Yoenis Cespedes and Alex Rios. Now in all honesty, is there a player in that group that you really love more than Puig? For me, the only one who really came close for my money was Evan Longoria, and he has his own baggage, mainly a lengthy injury history, suspect batting average and zero speed. Choo, Kemp and Cespedes all have the potential to be five-category studs, but so does Puig, and I personally think Puig has the most upside of the bunch. Choo is the safest pick, but his best case seems kind of like a conservative Puig projection, with more runs scored and less power. Kemp is the epitome of high-risk/reward this year, so why take him over Puig? Puig has his own layer of risk, but at least it isn’t in the form of multiple surgeries. The other players here are known quantities at this point, but my reasoning was I could find a “stable” investment in the next round, so why not go for the upside play in the second round?
For argument’s sake, let’s look around the turn at the next group of players to see who else was an option: Freddie Freeman, Buster Posey, Justin Upton, Jose Bautista, Albert Pujols, Ian Desmond (who I took in the third), Hunter Pence and Jay Bruce. Jean Segura went much later in this draft, but for many he is a solid second round choice as well. Anyone on that list that screams out to be drafted ahead of Puig? Some might say Posey, but I haven’t met a catcher I want to draft that high. If I was forced to choose one, I would likely go Bautista out of this group, simply because he has demonstrated the ability to hit 40 home runs, but of course injuries the last two years have kept him under 30, with a big batting average dip and, like Longoria, no speed.I want to examine the numbers a little more, so we’ll borrow an exercise that Todd used in a recent piece on Bryce Harper. First, let’s take the average of the 15 hitters who currently reside in slots 16-30 according to NFBC ADP and see what the average second round player looks like. After tallying the numbers, we get: .287/87/24/87/17. Now take a look at Puig’s composite projection again and compare. He comes up a little short in RBIs, but makes that up in speed. The only other players I sampled who come close in all categories were Gomez, Wright and Kipnis, who were all taken ahead of my selection. Alex Rios is in the ballpark as well, but comes up short in power and batting average.
Next, let’s take the average of the 16 players (all listed above, including Puig) who were actually available for me when I made my second round selection. Things don’t really change that much as we get: .280/86/23/85/15. When you factor in injury risks and pure upside, then Puig looks even better at this point to me, and I was correct to surmise that I could balance any risk involved with taking the plunge with Puig by getting another player in the third round who nearly fit this profile as well in Desmond.
I understand all the reasons people might give themselves to let someone else gamble on Puig’s upside this year. Immaturity, small sample size, holes in his swing, yadda, yadda, yadda. Could he crash and burn this year? Sure, anyone drafted at any slot can. But does he have the tools that can propel him past what we need out of this pick? The numbers here say that he does. All that is left will be having the nerve to pull the trigger if he falls into your lap in the right spot.
One of the funnest parts of any draft for me is always the latter rounds, or to borrow from chess terminology, the endgame. This is the part of the draft that we take our shots on our own personal favorite breakout candidates or just look to roster quality depth at key positions. Whatever approach you like to take, the key for being successful in the endgame is to do your research and get familiar with the players who will likely be available and form opinions on who you want to target. As we continue our preseason "sleeper" series for the American League, we dive a little deeper into the player pool and take a look at some infielders currently being drafted in or around the reserve rounds of 15-team mixed drafts. We'll also check in on some really deep fliers for those of you in AL-only or DC leagues.
C – Josmil Pinto, MIN – Pinto has worked his way methodically through the Twins minor league system, and after a strong season at Double-A and a short stint in Triple-A, he got the attention of fantasy players with his stellar September audition that saw him hit .342 with four home runs and 12 RBIs. The team is moving longtime backstop Joe Mauer to first base permanently, and Ryan Doumit was shipped off to Atlanta. Veteran Kurt Suzuki was signed to serve as both a mentor and bridge to Pinto. The rookie is definitely in the mix for the starting job out of spring training, but since his defense still needs work, he could very well start the year off in a backup role or even at Triple-A for a little more seasoning. But regardless of where he starts, once he arrives he should be able to garner enough playing time to be worth starting as your second catcher. He makes good contact and has demonstrated decent power. If you wait on drafting your second catcher, Pinto offers more upside than some of the aging vets in his tier.
1B – Jonathan Singleton, HOU – Singleton came into last year with plenty of hype after smashing 21 homers in Double-A. Instead, he got busted for smoking pot, served a 50-game suspension and then struggled in his first taste of Triple-A pitching. He was reportedly out of shape upon his return, and never really got his footing. All in all, it was a big step back for the 22-year-old. Looking to put last year behind him, Singleton performed pretty well in the Puerto Rican league this winter, leading the league in home runs with nine. He will be one of many rookies on display in Astros camp this spring, but his shaky contact makes it almost certain he will start the year in Triple-A. But with only Brett Wallace standing in his way and the team in full development mode, he will be given every chance to force his way onto the team, likely in the second half of the season.
Honorable Mention – Jesus Aguilar, CLE – Aguilar is a power-hitting first baseman who is moving up the ranks of Indians prospects after a solid showing in Double-A last year where he smacked 16 homers and 28 doubles while driving in 105 runs. He then went out and tore the cover off the ball in winter ball, hitting 18 home runs to lead the Venezuelan league. He is ticketed for Triple-A, but on a team always in need of right-handed power, he could ascend quickly if his power stroke translates to yet another level.
2B – Kelly Johnson, NYY – The Yankees signed Johnson to a one-year deal worth $3 million in December as an option to play either second or third base. Since then, Robinson Cano has signed with the Mariners and Alex Rodriguez has been suspended for the entire year. It likely means a decent chunk of at-bats for the veteran, who has showed in the past that when given regular playing time, he can produce. He won't hit for average, but he looks like a decent bet for a 20/10 season in Yankee Stadium. After a couple weeks, he'll be eligible at 3B in addition to 2B/OF. Versatility has it's merits in all leagues, especially for a guy you can snag in the endgame.
Honorable Mention – Jonathan Schoop, BAL – Second base is an absolute mess for the Orioles with no less than five candidates for the job this spring. Schoop, 21, is the top prospect in the Minors and could very well be up by June if Jemile Weeks flops yet again.
SS – Eduardo Nunez, NYY – With aging and injury-prone veterans atop the depth charts at 2B/SS/3B, Nunez should be very busy this year in his super-utility role. He is never going to be as good as some people thought he was going to be, but he still has good speed, and that skill will once again be the main reason to take a chance on him late in deep leagues again this year. If he can somehow find his way into the lineup 3-4 times a week, then 20-30 steals is possible. All eyes will be on Derek Jeter and Brian Roberts this spring. Nunez better be ready to play, because he is going to be needed.
Honorable Mention – Hak-Ju Lee, TB – Lee was coming off a promising Double-A season that saw him swipe 37 bases. Unfortunately, he blew out his knee early in the year at Triple-A, putting his ETA on hold. He should be ready for the spring and will look to get his career back on track. The Rays brought Yunel Escobar back, but if Lee shows he is up to speed and ready to contribute, he could get a shot late in the year.
3B – Matt Davidson, CHW – Davidson's stock is on the rise thanks to the December trade that sent him to the White Sox for closer Addison Reed. The top prospect doesn't have much left to prove at Triple-A, and will be given every opportunity to be the starting third baseman on Opening Day. He doesn't run much, so any value he brings will have to be with his bat. He has enough power to hit 20 home runs if he can stick in the Majors all year. While I wouldn't want to rely on him as a starter in a mixed league, he has the pedigree to surprise if he can adjust quickly and isn't any worse of a bet than Lonnie Chisenhall, who I refuse to tout this year in hopes that he will finally deliver something in my fourth year of owning him in my dynasty league.
Honorable Mention – Miguel Sano, MIN – Sano keeps moving up the ladder, mashing home runs along the way. Unfortunately, he has been having trouble with a sore elbow and rumors are swirling that he may need Tommy John surgery. It would be a shame, since he looks like he is ready to play third base right now for the Twins. All we can do is wait and see, but those drafting him in early drafts may come up empty this year.
After working our way around the infield last week, we'll continue our look at potential breakout players for 2014 by turning our focus to the outfield. Below you will find my thoughts on some key names from the Junior Circuit.to consider in drafts this year.
Wil Myers, TB – Myers will be atop most breakout lists this year after his electric rookie season that saw him hit the ground running after his much-anticipated promotion in June. On his way to winning the American League Rookie of the Year, he hit .293 with 13 home runs, 53 RBI and five stolen bases. Myers is well on his way to being a star, and while a full season of at-bats will obviously help him increase his counting stats across the board, there are a couple of red flags that may make you think twice about jumping him too far up your own personal draft board. If I am looking for one place to let a little bit of helium out of his draft stock, then batting average is my main target. Myers posted a BAIBP of .362 last year, a number which seems destined to regress this year and knock that average down to a much more pedestrian level. If he hits .260 is it still worth the price it will take to land him? He hits a lot of ground balls, and his rookie year was not all sunshine and roses. His August was downright brutal as he hit .209 and saw his contact rate tumble to 66%. As with any young player entering their sophomore season, struggles often are part of the equation, so if you are drafting him at his current price, you are banking on him bucking the trend and fully cashing in on him hitting his upside this year. There will come a point in every draft this year where Myers' name comes into view and when he does, take a breath and survey the landscape before you take the plunge. I personally am willing to let someone else have him this year, while I may settle for the less exciting Alex Gordon or even veterans Torii Hunter or Alfonso Soriano.
Avisail Garcia, CHW – The White Sox landed the 23-year-old in the three-team trade that sent Jake Peavy to the Red Sox and Jose Iglesias to the Tigers and then cleared the way for him by trading away Alex Rios and handing the RF job to the promising rookie. While he had his moments with Detroit, he went back and forth between the Majors and Triple-A multiple times, and while he once again held his own, it wasn't until after the August trade that he really began to showcase his skills. Garcia hit .304 with five home runs, 21 RBI and three steals in 161 at-bats, and Chicago is counting on him to help provide a spark in the heart of their lineup this year. While the tools and playing time are there for him to make a serious run at a 20/20 season, he is still a raw and somewhat undisciplined hitter. He was basically allergic to walks last year, and hit way too many balls on the ground to truly tap into some of his natural power. However, he makes good contact, hits the ball hard and obviously enjoyed hitting in his new ballpark.
Kole Calhoun, LAA – Sometimes the biggest factor behind a young player's potential breakout is simply a matter of consistent playing time. There is nothing worse than an exciting young talent stuck in a platoon or worse blocked in the minor leagues by uninspiring veteran ballplayers. Calhoun worked his way through the Angels farm system, and made a real splash in the final two months of the season, when he was arguably the best hitter on the Angels after Mike Trout. In 222 at-bats, he hit .282 with eight home runs, 29 runs scored and 32 runs batted in. He only stole two bases, but he has double-digit speed over the course of an entire season. At 26 years-old, he is more mature than the other names listed here, so while he may not possess the same long-term upside, he also could be a better bet to continue to build on last season's success. One nice thing going for Calhoun is the fact that he has a very good chance to be close to an everyday player for the Angels. Mark Trumbo and Peter Bourjos are gone, Josh Hamilton can't play in the field full-time anymore and maybe most of all, the 5-10 rookie brings an infectious enthusiasm to the game. He's a guy you want to root for, play with and own on some of your fantasy teams this year.
If At Once You Don't Succeed.....
Desmond Jennings, TB - Kind of the Brett Lawrie of outfielders, as he has disappointed his owners two years straight. He doesn't look like he will ever be the stolen base threat we thought he would be, but at least now he is priced where he belongs. At 27, he still has a chance to deliver a 20/30 season and at least this year you won't say he killed your chances if it doesn't happen again. Not a terrible bet at his current price.
Austin Jackson, DET - Jackson took a step back in 2013, and he gave back gains in power, batting average and most surprisingly stolen bases. He was banged up for much of the year, and it wouldn't be that shocking for the 27-year-old to clear the 20/20 hurdle with better health and a new manager who may ask him to run a bit more.
Maybe Next Year
Oswaldo Arcia, MIN – I love Arcia's power profile, but I think he strikes out a tad too much to invest in too heavily this year. I think he makes a decent late-round flier if you are fishing for some power, but you can likely find what he can offer from a boring veteran like Colby Rasmus or David Murphy.
Adam Eaton, CHW – I jumped on the Eaton train last year and payed the price like everyone else on board. An elbow injury cost him the entire first half of the year and then when he finally made it on the field, he didn't deliver the stolen base numbers owners were hoping for. He gets a fresh chance in Chicago, and the team seems ready to hand over CF and leadoff duties to him fulltime. But he will have to prove he can stay healthy to keep Alejandro De Aza/Dayan Viciedo in a platoon in RF.
Be Patient Grasshopper
George Springer, HOU - Springer is the next big thing in the outfield and this year's version of Mike Trout or Wil Myers. He'll be up at some point this year as the Astros continue to look to the future, and while he should be worth a late-round flier in most leagues, the real breakout is at least a year or two away.
After spending the last couple of weeks on a mini-vacation from these pages, and closing the book on another fantasy football season, I am excited to once again turn my attention full-time to my baseball prep. Over the next few weeks, we’ll take our usual look around at potential sleepers, busts and late-round targets from the American League, as well as some real draft results to help you get a read on the emerging marketplace. As a jumping off point, we are going to start in the infield and profile my top breakout candidates for 2014. I think all of these players have a great chance to outperform their price on draft day, and all could be viable targets if you decide to wait to fill certain positions and opt for more pitching early in your drafts.
C - Yan Gomes, CLE - Gomes emerged last year for the Indians after regular backup Lou Marson went down with an injury in a nasty collision at home plate with Desmond Jennings in April. Gomes stepped in and was a pleasant surprise both at the plate and behind the dish, where he posted a caught stealing percentage of .408. Terry Francona has already stated that Gomes will enter the season as the primary catcher, which should ensure him about five starts a week. He showed some decent pop and the ability to hit for average (.294) last year, so the increase in at-bats should translate across the board. Pay for .280/50/15/50/4 and you should come away satisfied.
1B - Jose Abreu, CHW - The Cuban defector is one of the more interesting players to try and project for the upcoming season, but after spending $68 million to sign him, it is clear that he will be the starting first baseman and likely three-hole hitter. Abreu is not to be confused with power/speed countrymen Yasiel Puig or Yoenis Cespedes, but what he does bring to the table is more raw power. At 6’3”, 250, Abreu is an imposing figure with tantalizing power. He has also shown a tremendous eye in his career in Cuba, something he will need to rely on to be successful in his transition to the major league level. The decision to draft Abreu this year will come down to timing and/or expectations. The splash that Puig made last year will very likely help inflate Abreu’s stock, although his lack of a track record should be enough to push him down the ranks enough that he makes a reasonable target for anyone waiting to draft their starting 1B. The range of potential outcomes is wide, and Paul Konerko is still around to steal a start or two if the “rookie” struggles. Pay for .285/80/28/85 and hope that he hits the ground running. If he does, he could blow past those power numbers.
2B- Jurickson Profar, TEX - The Rangers finally cleared the path to regular playing time for their prized prospect by trading Ian Kinsler to Detroit. He will hit in the lower half of a power-packed Rangers lineup, and that along with consistent playing time at his natural position should do wonders for the 21-year-old's psyche, and hopefully allow him to relax and tap into his natural talent. While you don’t want to overvalue him too much heading into his first full season, he seems like a lock for 500 AB’s at a minimum, which should translate into a workmanlike .265/70/12/50/15 with upside for more (particularly steals) if he adjusts a little quicker than expected.
SS - Xander Bogaerts, BOS - Bogaerts showed nice poise and ability for the Red Sox in his late-season callup, playing well enough that he pushed Will Middlebrooks to the bench in the World Series. The Red Sox seem ready to hand over shortstop duties to him, but it is possible that the team still re-signs Stephen Drew, since draft pick compensation and a lack of interested teams (not to mention Scott Boras) has shrunk his market. Even if Drew returns, Bogaerts will get plenty of playing time between SS and 3B, and Drew’s return could actually lower the draft day price for the talented rookie. His power will play better at SS, and he should be able to hit for a decent average. Speed is not really part of his game, and be sure to check where he qualifies in your league before drafting him. He is only 3B eligible in some formats heading into the year.
3B - Brett Lawrie, TOR/Mike Moustakas, KC - When I went searching for a third basemen for this list, I had plenty of options to choose from. Even Lonnie Chisenhall, Matt Dominguez and Matt Davidson would have been worthy choices. But for me, both Lawrie and Moustakas have the pedigree to suggest that this could be the year one or both of them finally puts it all together and delivers on the promise that their teams and fantasy owners have been waiting for. It will be three years since Lawrie tantalized us with his electric debut that saw him hit nine home runs and steal seven bases in just 171 plate appearances. Lofty expectations and injuries has made him a bust two years running, but this year the price will be right for his .275/15/15 profile. Since you won’t have to reach for him this year, the odds that he will actually surprise you are now in your favor. As for Moustakas, his stock couldn’t be any lower after a season in which he regressed badly from his mini-breakout in 2012. After touting him pretty hard last year, I just landed him in the reserve rounds of a 15-team league. At that price, I was more than happy to take yet one more chance that he can figure things out. Hey, it took Alex Gordon awhile to get there too, so don’t be afraid to scoop Moose up if he falls through the cracks in your draft.
When my wife told me back in May that she had booked a family trip to Washington DC for the last week of July, I thought nothing of it. Of course, once our departure date arrived, it was very clear that we would be embrking on our journey right smack dab in the middle of the trade deadline. That's right, Christmas in July, and I would be walking around monuments, museums and graveyards instead of watching Baseball Tonight and obsessing over the wire reports to see which lefty reliever the Indians were going to pick up at the deadline (I saw today that it was Marc Rzepczynski). I wasn't really thrilled at the prospect of being virtually unplugged for a week during such a busy fantasy news week, but those are the breaks for a fantasy family man, and they come each and every summer. So rather than fight it, I embraced it. Other than making some hastily prepared waiver claims over last weekend in a couple of leagues, I more or less have ignored my fantasy teams for the past week and decided to enjoy my vacation.
Funny thing is, Rome didn't burn, the levees didn't break and my multitude of teams are all still standing. Some even made some waves this week, as I pulled into first place in Perry Van Hook's PBY league, where I have been trying in vain to catch the Captain himself for over two months. I haven't been checking the box scores or the standings in real baseball, and lo and behold I see that my Indians have reeled off six wins in a row to firmly insert themselves into the playoff race as the calendar turns to August, which means they are trying to buck the trend they have established the last couple of years of fading fast after the All-Star break.
Our nation's capitol is a beautiful city, full of history and seemingly endless museums, but if you visit be prepared to log some serious mileage on your kicks. You will do an awful lot of walking. That of course can become an issue when you are the de facto tour guide for your clan, and this can lead to some tense moments as your wife looks at you and asks "You mean we have to walk from here all the way over to there? It looks so much closer on the map."
As for baseball, I think the grand slam that Alex Avila smacked off of Stephen Strasburg last night (I saw it on the news this morning as I wrote this) could possibly see the locals put their Nats caps in mothballs til next spring. Redskins caps and RG III jerseys are starting to outnumber the baseball team's apparel around town, and Oriole fans are strutting around town much more proudly than National fans these days.
Speaking of Robert Griffin, the status of his knee is basically bigger news than anything transpiring on the Hill or over at the White House. Every time my kids relinquish the television long enough for me to switch from the Cartoon Network to check the local stations for some news, there is RG III. He is as big a superstar in this town as the President himself, maybe bigger, since he has fans on both sides of the political aisle.
Today is our last full day here in the District of Columbia, and I need to finish banging this article out, since my son is sitting next to me as I type this reading me the rather extensive list of things that we haven't crossed off his list yet. The excitement in his voice and smile on his face is a nice reward for pushing fantasy baseball into the background for at least another day, even if it means I missed out on grabbing the new Astros closer or whoever the White Sox are going to stick into their rotation today. Still, I think I will do the planning for next year's vacation.
As we headed into the break, I spent some bandwidth in this column looking at some hitters that you might want to reconsider for the second half, so today I wanted to give the hurlers a little time as well. Here's a quick look at some potential strikeout sources who all had somewhat rocky starts to the season but have pitched much better of late and could be poised for big finishes to 2013.
Felix Doubront – Doubront entered the season as a solid pitching sleeper based on his ability to miss bats and the hope that he would be better prepared for the long season this time around, as he really faded down the stretch last year. He got off to a decent start in April, buoyed by three wins and 29 strikeouts, but his ratios left little to be desired. Then, as anyone who owned him to start the year can tell you, the wheels fell off with two disastrous starts to kick off the month of May in which he gave up 23 hits and 12 runs, and he was handed his walking papers by many of his believers.
He began to put the pieces together in June, posting an ERA of 2.74 and a WHIP of 1.22, but only had one victory to show for his improved efforts. Since the calendar has flipped to July, Doubront has continued to improve. He has won all three of his starts this month with an ERA of 1.42 and a WHIP of 0.95. He really seems to have turned a corner, and if the Boston offense can continue to provide him with some steady run support, he could be in for a really solid second half. If he’s sitting out on your waiver wire, next week would be a great time to give him a second look as he will get two starts at home against the Seattle Mariners and the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Dan Straily – Straily was another highly sought late-round target this season, due in large part to his ability to miss bats and a belief that he could lock down the fifth spot in the A’s rotation. Unfortunately for his owners, despite a dominating 11 strikeout performance to open the year, he was the odd man out until an injury to Brett Anderson made him a waiver darling at the end of April as owners remembered his sterling debut and salivated about the strikeout potential. Sadly, the results didn’t follow the 24-year-old back to the Majors, as he really scuffled after his recall, failing to get out of the fifth inning in four consecutive starts and surrendering 20 runs in the process. Firmly planted back on countless waiver wires, he promptly delivered a nice little hot streak heading into June, which got him picked up again just in time for some more shaky efforts that saw him back down in Triple-A as the month ended.
He was back with the team after a short stay in Triple-A, and since then has been nothing short of terrific. In three starts this month, he is 2-0 with an ERA of 1.33 and a WHIP of 0.84. He has 17 strikeouts in 20 innings and looks poised for a strong second half as he will try to stake his claim to the Rookie of the Year award. As with many A’s pitchers, his home ballpark helps keep a few more fly balls in the park, and this definitely helps Straily in particular as he is currently sporting a 42% flyball rate on the season. All that means is be choosy in weeks where he has tough matchups on the road.
Scott Kazmir – The former phenom turned heads earlier this season, first by just making it back to the Majors as the Tribe’s fifth starter, but then by actually flashing glimpses of the dominance he showed earlier in his career in back-to-back games in early May. I will openly admit, I speculated in more than a couple places after his 10 strikeout performance against the A’s, hoping that he had perhaps found a time portal back to 2007, when he struck out a league leading 239. Unfortunately for my teams, the results over the next month and a half were more bad than good, capped off by a lousy start against the Nationals where he was chased in the third inning. At that point, his ERA stood at 5.89 and his WHIP was 1.65. That’s just not a pitcher you want anywhere near your starting lineup.
Since then, the 29-year-old lefty has put together his most consistent stretch of the season, stringing together six straight quality starts. He has only two wins to show for his efforts, but he has that ERA down to 4.30 and his WHIP is a much less ugly 1.34. While I am skeptical that Kazmir can keep this up for the rest of the season, I am leaning towards giving him another look in a few leagues, at least for his two starts next week. He is scheduled to face the White Sox, and Jake Peavy, at home and then gets the Marlins on the road. At the very least he should be able to rack up some K’s for you next week, and if he can keep building on his recent success, hopefully come away with a victory or two. I’ll probably dump him in mixed leagues regardless of how he performs next week.
Hector Santiago - Santiago has pitched very well since returning to the White Sox rotation in early June. In that time, he has 51 strikeouts in 48 innings pitched over eight starts. He might be back on the waiver wire coming off a six-run shellacking at the hands of the Tigers, but that as we know is nothing to be ashamed of. With the Sox looking to deal off arms at the deadline, Santiago should have a rotation spot locked up for the rest of the year. He should continue to be a solid source of strikeouts the rest of the way, and could be a nice piece to have at the back of your fantasy rotation come September.
Justin Smoak – The former top prospect teased us last September with his hot finish and then promptly came out and looked brutal for much of April. He was starting to show signs of life in May before an oblique injury sidelined him for about three weeks. Since his return on June 18, he has hit over .300 and smacked five home runs. He is currently sporting the best BB% (13%) of his young career and could be in store for a big second half if he can stick to the new approach. Another sign of Smoak’s improved approach at the plate is the nice spike in LD% this year. His current rate of 24.7% is also a career high, which in turn is fueling his somewhat unsustainable .331 BABIP. Still, I am encouraged enough by what I have seen the last month to give him yet another shot on a few teams. He has burned me before, but if he’s actually figuring things out, I want to be in on it at least somewhere.
Brett Wallace – I actually liked Wallace as a deep sleeper this preseason because along with the move into the AL, he looked like he had a spot locked up in the rebuilding Astros’ lineup. Instead, the team pulled the plug on my post-hype sleeper after two weeks and seven games played. He went down to Triple-A and hit .326 with 11 home runs and 37 RBI’s in 59 games. He was finally recalled from the Minors on June 25 and hit the ball extremely well (.351) in ten games heading into the break. So far in his career, Wallace has never managed to duplicate his exploits in the Minors at the big league level. Still, the Astros need to find out what they really have in Wallace before giving up on him completely, since he did cost them Anthony Gose back in 2010. I am very skeptical that he can provide enough production to be useful in mixed leagues, but he’s up to 4 games at 3B, which means he could gain eligibility there soon, which would at the very least make him worth speculating on in deeper formats. Just be aware that he has been absolutely brutal against left-handed pitching so far this year.
Mike Moustakas – The Royals third baseman has been one of the biggest disappointments of the first half. Entering his third year in the league, off of a 20-homer season, big things were expected for “Moose” this year. He was hitting .183 with a paltry four home runs at the end of May and his owners started heading for the exits. He started to rebound somewhat in June, with a string of multi-hit games, but his power was still M.I.A. He limped into the break and all we can do is hope that the break has given him time to clear his head and ready himself for the second half. I still think he’s worth speculating on in hopes that he rediscovers his power stroke.
Brett Lawrie – Okay, I admit it, I was dead wrong about Brett Lawrie, again. I will admit I bit on the promise of 2011, again, and so far it has been about as bad as it can get. Sandwiched between two injuries that cost him a total of about six weeks, Lawrie hit .204 with five home runs and two stolen bases. He finally made his return from a nasty ankle injury right before the break, and created some buzz by starting two games at second base. Lawrie, it should be noted, came up as a second baseman in the Brewers' organization, but was shifted to third once he joined the Blue Jays. Obviously, if he can gain eligibility up the middle, the bar for him to become fantasy relevant is lowered significantly. I haven’t found him on any of my waiver wires, but I have made a few trade inquiries. I am not expecting miracles, but he’s got nowhere to go but up. If you can stick him at MI, he’s going to provide nice value the rest of the way.
Will Middlebrooks – The Red Sox are in contention for the AL East title, but they will need to find an answer for their hole at third base if they are going to continue to hold off the rest of the division. Middlebrooks had his owners smiling after his three-homer game back on April 7. Sadly, that day was a high water mark for his first half. His early struggles were compounded by a rib injury suffered on a collision with teammate David Ross. To his credit, he played through the injury, but ultimately landed on the disabled list at the end of May. He returned in June, but only managed to hit .138 in seven games before the Red Sox demoted him again. He hasn’t hit particularly well in the Minors since, and there have been rumors that Michael Young could be headed to Beantown to serve as a stop-gap at the hot corner. I still think Middlebrooks will work his way back into the mix at some point, but I am willing to let someone else speculate on his power potential going forward.
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1B Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals – Don’t look now but the 23-year-old Hosmer is finally showing signs of emerging from his season-and-a-half coma. After spending much of May hitting in the fifth spot in the lineup, the team moved him up to the number two spot in the lineup early in the month to try and get his bat going. The move definitely helped the young phenom’s production, as he started getting on base and scoring runs, and after hitting his second home run of the year on June 21st, Hosmer found himself hitting third again. Last week, his bat really came to life and the power that has been missing all year finally emerged as he smacked four home runs to give him seven on the year. His .303/21/6/17/4 slash-line from June is easily the best month he has had since his rookie season, and more in line with the expectations that many fantasy players had for the third-year player. After hitting only one home run the first two months, it is definitely heartening to see his power finally start to manifest itself. It is also a welcome sight to see him run a bit more, as the potential for double-digit steals is a big part of his value as a fantasy player. We all know the kid has the skills he tantalized us with in 2011, and hopefully you held onto him long enough to enjoy his re-emergence. Now if hitting coach George Brett can just figure out a way to get my pre-season sleeper Mike Moustakas going as well, that would really be something.
SS Erick Aybar, L.A. Angels – Aybar was another of my key sleeper targets in drafts this year, as I bought into the promise of his strong second half and the fact that he was slated to hit at the top of the lineup ahead of Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. All he would have to do was get on base and he’d be scoring tons of runs and stealing bases as my MI. Well, it didn’t really work out as planned, as a heel injury suffered early on cost him most of April, and hampered him for much of May as well. His troubles, as well as a lack of production from the heart of the order, saw him score only 12 runs and steal one lousy base the first two months of the year. Not anywhere near the production I was counting on. His struggles finally got him demoted from the leadoff spot and since then he has been a different player. In the month of June, he slashed .306/13/2/19/3 and finally is starting to look like the player who has stolen at least 20 bases three years running. The Angels' offense is too good to stay dormant, and I think it’s only a matter of time before Aybar works his way back into the leadoff spot in the order. Now is the time to get him back on your roster, especially if you have sustained some injuries in the middle infield or are in need of a speed boost.
OF Leonys Martin, Texas Rangers – The Cuban defector was one of my favorite sleepers heading into the year, but inconsistent playing time, thanks to the presence of Craig Gentry, along with zero stolen bases in April, landed him on many waiver wires by May. Since the middle of May, he has turned his season around, and after Craig Gentry was placed on the disabled list with a fractured hand on June 23rd, it basically assured that Martin would see regular at-bats for the first time all season. He has responded with a nice hot streak, including a two-homer game against the Yankees that prompted me to pick him up prior to last weekend's games. He followed that up by extending his current hitting streak to 15 games, scoring four runs and most importantly for fantasy players, swiping a bag in four straight games, bringing his season total to 17. His current hit streak has his average up to .297 on the year, and he has begun to flash some of his latent extra-base power as well. This is a player you want to get in on for the second half, because we all know good things start to happen for this offense when the weather starts heating up. The speed is real, so if you needed speed hopefully you haven’t missed the boat, but I am just as intrigued about a potential power spike that could develop in the second half. I could see him hitting another 10-12 home runs the rest of the way, along with another 15-25 stolen bases. If you have been suffering through Lorenzo Cain’s dismal June, you should think about making the switch to Martin if you can. Hitting at the bottom of the Ranger lineup means his counting stats will continue to be depressed, but he will continue to get the green light whenever he gets on base.
2B Johnny Giavotella, Kansas City Royals - Finally, the Royals have decided to give Johnny G a run at second base, and hopefully he can make them forget about their seemingly never-ending infatuation with Chris Getz. Giavotella isn't likely to be much of a difference maker in mixed leagues, but those in single formats should jump on him and hope that he can finally bring his Triple-A numbers with him to the Majors. He has a little bit of pop and speed, and can help out as a MI in deeper formats.
At last the Minnesota Twins made the decision to call up their top pitching prospect, Kyle Gibson, who will make his much-anticipated major league debut on Saturday against the Royals. The former first round pick from 2009 has finally made it to The Show, after coming all the way back from Tommy John surgery in 2011. The seeds of promise for this season were sown late last year in the AFL, where Gibson showed that his fastball was back and most importantly that he was finally healthy and ready to contribute at the major league level at some point in 2013.
Well, it took a little longer than some Twins fans would have liked, especially after seeing the team continue to trot out struggling starters Vance Worley and Mike Pelfry as well as give starts to the uninspiring P.J. Walters and Pedro Hernandez. But the wait is finally over for Gibson and his many supporters, and I for one am excited to finally get a chance to see the right-hander in a Twins uniform.
In a season that has seen plenty of highly touted debuts, the National League has held a distinct advantage in pitching prospects who have actually made a difference in fantasy leagues. Shelby Miller, Jose Fernandez, Tony Cingrani and more recently Gerrit Cole and Zack Wheeler are examples of NL rookies who have hit the ground running in 2013. That doesn’t even take into account the great season by Matt Harvey, who debuted last year or Julio Teheran, who is finally coming into his own at age 22.
The American League has had its share of first performances, but for the most part, their rookies have not fared quite as well this year. Just ask anyone who plugged Brandon Maurer into their lineup after he grabbed a spot in the Mariners rotation out of spring training. Or, perhaps you took the plunge on Kevin Gausman, and then saw your ERA and WHIP do likewise. Jake Ordorizzi, Chris Archer, Trevor Bauer and Allen Webster have gotten some starts, but so far Dan Straily may be the best rookie performer from the Al, and he’s been shaky at best with an ERA of 5.00 on the season.
So why do I believe that Gibson can break the trend set by rookie hurlers in the AL so far this season, and succeed where others have failed? Well the thing I really like about Gibson is his control and his ability to keep the ball on the ground. Over 92 innings in AAA this year he has an ERA of 3.01 with a WHIP of 1.14. Gibson's strikeout-to-walk ratio stands at 79-28 and his HR/9 is a stellar 0.39 on the year, and he has a good fastball that sits around 92 mph, which he compliments with an above average slider and changeup.
At 6’6”, Gibson cuts an imposing figure on the mound, and that height gives his stuff great downward plane, making it more difficult for the opposing batter to decipher, and hit. As I said before, while Gibson has shown the ability to strike batters out, the key is he has shown an elite ability to induce groundballs over his minor league career. This obviously comes in handy at the Major League level, and can give a young pitcher a better chance of posting nice ratios. (It also doesn’t hurt that he will get to call Target Field home, as it is one of the most pitching-friendly venues in the majors.)
Now of course, as with any rookie pitcher, there are the usual red flags, and with Gibson we have an additional one, thanks to the previous elbow injury. Since Gibson has already logged a decent chunk of innings, he may only throw another 50-70 innings before the team shuts him down for the year. Gibson has also had issues with lefties in the minors, and how he fares against them at the next level will be a big factor in how well he does his first time around. I think Gibson will pitch well enough to be a useful piece in many formats: just be aware that his upside this season will be capped by the innings limit. While it's never great to grab someone you know won't likely be around to help you down the stretch, it may help keep the bidding down enough to make it worth your while to give him a shot, especially in AL-only or Dynasty leagues.
With all my gushing about Gibson, I would be remiss if I didn’t at least touch on another intriguing young arm that returned last weekend in Martin Perez of the Texas Rangers. The young lefty had a nice outing against the Cardinals in his first start since being recalled from AAA. Perez was expected to be the fifth starter out of spring training for the Rangers before a fractured right forearm sidelined him for all of April. The call-up comes in the wake of a very nice stretch of pitching in the minors after a spot-start with the big league club at the end of May. Since then he was 4-0 with a 1.13 WHIP in four starts, and kept things going against the Redbirds with seven innings of two-run ball which notched him his first victory on the year. He’ll have to keep performing to hold onto a rotation spot, but with Colby Lewis and Alexi Ogando still working their way back from injury, he should get an ample audition and as such makes a good speculative play, since he could end up sticking in the rotation the rest of the way.
Andrew Bailey’s latest fit of wildness has cost him the closer’s job in Boston for at least the time being. Koji Uehara and his stellar peripherals will be given first crack at the job with Junichi Tazawa also in the mix. Of course in my couple of daily leagues that I am searching for saves in, I was predictably late on this as well as Joaquin Benoit taking over for Valverde in Detroit. I have to say I just don’t love leagues with wide open waiver wires anymore as I just can’t hope to monitor the news tickers like most of my competitors do these days.
Erasmo Ramirez was one of the more popular starting pitching sleeper picks heading into drafts this year thanks to a solid debut a year ago. While he only made eight starts last year, he turned heads with a very good September, and finished the year with an ERA of 3.36 and a strikeout rate of 7.9. It was assumed that he was a shoo-in for a spot in the Seattle rotation before an injury prompted prior to Opening Day.
Ramirez finally made it back to action in the minors by the end of May, and once again got everyone’s attention with back-to-back scoreless outings in which he struck out 14 batters in 15 innings while issuing only one free pass. He started again last night, and looked good again before giving up two runs in both the fifth and sixth inning. Despite the loss, the 5-11 pitcher once again flashed his repertoire of quality off-speed pitches, which he uses to effectively back up a 92-94 mph fastball, and proved that he is more than ready to make his return to the Mariners' rotation.
Jeremy Bonderman and Aaron Harang are the last two impediments to Ramirez rejoining the team, and finally getting a chance to remind everyone how good his change-up is. While Bonderman authored his third straight quality start last night against the Angels, Aaron Harang struggled against the Angels on Monday. Ramirez is a better pitcher right now than either of his teammates, and clearly doesn’t have much left to prove in Triple-A.
If you concede the previous statement, then you agree with my assessment that Ramirez is on the verge of a recall, and with a style that is very conducive to success in the friendly confines of his home ball park, he is a player that you want to scoop up now and stash if you are able. While W’s can be elusive at times in Seattle, Ramirez should once again be a nice source of strikeouts as well as a stabilizing force for your pitching ratios. The surprising stretch from Bonderman in particular have pushed the timetable for Ramirez' recall a bit, but trust me with the way he's been pitching he will be brought up shortly to solidify the middle of the mariners rotation.
He’s likely stashed in many deeper leagues, but he could be the most intriguing name out there on many waiver wires. If you have been shuffling names in the back-end of your roster looking for someone to stick, Ramirez could be a very cost-effective solution to your problems.
Lonnie Chisenhall was one of my pre-season sleeper picks, as it really looked like he was ready to break out after a terrific camp where he was peppering the ball all over the field. Instead, he struggled out of the gate, and found himself back in Triple-A in early May. Rather than sulk, he took the demotion in stride and rediscovered his stroke in a big way. He hit .390 with six homers and 26 RBI before finally getting back to the Majors yesterday, thanks in part to a shoulder injury to 1B/OF Nick Swisher.
Mark Reynolds has cooled off considerably and is also a liability on defense. And as an impending free agent, he looks like a likely trade chip if the Tribe can’t hang around in the playoff hunt. Now Chisenhall is never going to be confused with Brooks Robinson with the glove, he is clearly a better option than Reynolds.
In any case, it was time for the Indians to give the 24-year-old another chance to finally prove he’s not another Matt LaPorta. If you have been searching for some help at the hot corner, you could do worse than taking a flier on the former first-round pick in hopes that he can finally deliver on some of his pre-season promise. This time around, perhaps the franchise will commit to giving him a much longer look. It's clear they need to find out once and for all if he can in fact become their third baseman of the future.
The last player I want to recommend this week is another Mariner, Dustin Ackley. The former top prospect also found himself back in Triple-A after slumping badly to start the year, but has been tearing the cover off the ball in the Minors ever since, hitting over .383 in 19 games since getting sent down near the end of May.
The team has been impressed with the play of Nick Franklin in Ackley’s absence, and as such they have had Ackley playing in the outfield as a way to facilitate a return engagement with the big league club. He actually didn’t play yesterday for Tacoma, so perhaps he could be headed back to the Majors as soon as tomorrow. Regardless, the team will give him another look sooner or later, as they have plenty invested in seeing him succeed. Even if he comes back primarily as an outfielder, he’ll still retain his 2B/MI eligibility, and that is where he will likely slot back into your fantasy lineup if you decide to give him another look in hopes that he makes it back. \
I have grabbed all of these players in various leagues and formats in the anticipation of their eventual return to the majors. Better to grab them on the cheap if you can afford to stash them than wait then have to get into a bidding war once they are back on everyone's radar.
By now you’ve probably heard numerous reports and read several articles regarding the news that broke yesterday of Major League Baseball’s continuing investigation into performance-enhancing drugs coming out of the former Biogenesis of America clinic in Miami. ESPN broke the story yesterday that the league will seek to suspend up to as many as 20 players, including Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez, for anywhere from 50 to 100 games for their connections to the now defunct “wellness” clinic.
Sure enough, as soon as the news broke, the tweets and articles started flowing, and while I guess this is one more log on the fire, all of us as baseball fans will now have to endure a another never-ending discussion on the evils of drugs in baseball instead of talking about Yasiel Puig’s two-homer game last night. I for one am already sick of Anthony Bosch and he hasn’t even started singing yet. While I don’t like the use of performance enhancers in sports, I have to say that I come down on the side that finds MLB’s approach to combating it just as unseemly.
While I guess I understand Bud Selig’s motivation to go after the players involved, particularly those who have flouted his authority publicly, I find myself in agreement with those voices who today are taking him to task for once again getting into bed with a known criminal and dealer to make his case. We’ve been down this road before, haven’t we? With all of the failures of the past, it is discouraging to see that baseball has once again decided to build a case around the testimony of a guy they put the screws to.
The funny thing here is that the reported suspensions the league is seeking are for players who haven’t failed any drug tests. The league is reportedly seeking to suspend the players in question just for being connected to Bosch. A possible second suspension would be for having made any previous denials to league officials regarding a connection to the clinic or having used PED’s.
I am all for suspending players who get caught cheating, like the league did to Bartolo Colon, Melky Cabrera and Yasmani Grandal last year. They got caught, did their time and are back playing again as is their right. Under the conditions described above, it’s possible all could be suspended again for basically the same offense, which I am certain the player’s union will have a few things to say about.
The reality is that the timing of this bombshell really stinks, and not only for fantasy players. I am sure the NBA and NHL just love MLB sucking all the air out of the room as they try to go about the business of crowning their champions. And baseball fans have this sideshow forced upon them instead of getting to enjoy a season whose storylines are just beginning to really unfold. Now instead of marveling at Chris Davis’ and Dominic Brown’s tremendous starts, we have to hear the inevitable whispers of the cynics trying to spoil everything.
And of course, no matter what happens, the fans will take it on the chin again. We lose no matter what, because even if the league finally gets a victory, which is still very much in doubt at this early stage, it won’t even begin to address or solve the real issues at the core of the problem. All you will have is a few unlucky players who were unfortunate to buy from the wrong guy.
So where do you, the fantasy player, go from here? Well, at this point my first piece of advice is very simple. Don’t panic. Sure it is unnerving when one of your players, especially a key contributor, is linked to a story such as this. But be reminded that there is a process that has yet to unfold, and it is very possible that nothing will happen before the year is out. If you own Braun or some of the other big names mentioned, like Nelson Cruz, Everth Cabrera or Jhonny Peralta, feel free to explore your options, but don’t make any moves solely based on rumors and early reporting. Our game rewards those who can keep their cool and analyze the marketplace objectively, while succumbing to fear prematurely is often a recipe for losing. If you want to prepare for the worst, locking up some of the likely alternatives should suspensions actually get enforced, by all means feel free. For example, Anthony Gose and Rajai Davis would get a nice boost from Melky getting banned again.
My second piece of advice builds off the first. While you stay cool in leagues you need to, take advantage of competitors with lower constitutions and offer to take their troubled players off their hands, at a discount of course, in leagues where you are looking to make a move. The aforementioned Everth Cabrera, for example, could be just the ticket to make a significant move up the standings with his stolen base prowess. The threat of a suspension to him not only makes him a good trade target in his own right but it also increases the value of other stolen base guys on the market.
As of today, I am holding where I have to and looking at buying where I need to. If you were ever going to make a play for a guy like Braun or Cruz, now is the time to strike, while the news is fresh and an owner is potentially rattled. Heck, you may even want to shoot the Robinson Cano owner in your league an email and talk up his connection to Melky Cabrera and the fact that one of his associates is named in the Bosch documents. Cano has never tested positive, but he is at least on the periphery of this investigation, and as such has more risk than he did before. The chance that all of these players actually get suspended this year at some point is much higher than it was a day ago, but if you need a swing for the fence move to get back in the race, then this could be just the opening you’ve been waiting for.
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