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Hotpage May 19, 2014 (Week 8) PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Lawr Michaels   
Monday, 19 May 2014 00:00

My goodness, what a goofy season. Steve Pearce released, then re-signed by the same team a day later. Kyle Farnsworth released and picked up and released and picked up (all the while Heath Bell is available).

How about Prince Fielder hurt and Matt Kemp doing OK? Or, every hot second year killer pitcher in the world needs to have surgery while Mark Buehrle and Scott Kazmir are flourishing?

Go figure.

While we are at it, let's try to figure Kyle Blanks, now with the Athletics. Now, I admit some moves are better than others, but Blanks is just about as perfect a fit on the Athletics as can be imagined. For one, as essentially a member of the island of lost players--those with flashes of great skill--as are Brandon Moss, Josh Donaldson, Scott Kazmir, and now Drew Pomeranz, to name a few.

The beauty of the Oakland schema is indeed using those individual skills as part of a collective, something Oakland does better than any other team. So, with Blanks, the team now has a perfect right-handed first base/outfield counterpart to Moss. I think he could get 300 plate appearances between now and the end of the season, and hit 10-12 homers in that role. Just saying.

Speaking of those same Athletics, I like the Yankees' Chase Whitley in very much a Jesse Chavez kind of way. Whitley, like Chavez, has mostly been a reliever over the course of his minor league career, and similarly has been much of a journeyman in the Minors. In fact, Whitley has only 14 starts over his 151 minor league appearances, with 11 of them occurring over the past two years. The right-hander was 3-2, 2.39 this year over six starts and 26.3 innings at Triple-A before being called up, and he tossed 4.6 scoreless frames Thursday for his first start. I don't think Whitley will be deadly, but until the league gets a book on him, he could be useful in an AL-only format.

Across town, the Mets' ninth-round selection in 2009, Jacob deGrom, had a pretty good start against the very same Monsieur Whitley, and deGrom actually out-pitched him, going seven innings, allowing four hits and a run, but earning the loss in a 1-0 game. deGrom has 267 whiffs over 323.3 frames, and went 4-0, 2.58 this year at Las Vegas, and he is just one more in a cluster of young New York arms who could emerge. And, I do have a better feeling about Whitley's prospects this year.

Before I get too far from from Blanks and that first basemen/outfield link, if you have Prince Fielder, or are in a league where Mitch Moreland is still available, he might indeed get a spike in  playing time with Fielder limited. Moreland has generally fared better with the warm weather, and he can be very streaky. Still, he should be good for the same 10-12 dingers as Blanks.

So, with the incredible proliferation of injuries all over, while some younger prospects might get a chance, the opportunity for vets to get a last hurrah also exists, so the Nationals' Greg Dobbs, a veteran left-handed stick, can play third--though he only qualifies at first at this juncture--and again, is one of those guys who has the pop and if he sticks for the remainder of the season could belt a handful of dingers in an NL-only set-up.

The White Sox demoted Jeff Keppinger after he was reactivated (per the front office, they want Conor Gillaspie, Marcus Semien and Gordon Beckham to get the playing time right now), meaning the utilityman will probably be grabbed on waivers somewhere with so many fallen gladiators of the diamond this season. Keppinger boasts some pop and some speed, and even some position flexibility as he should qualify at first, second, and third. In fact, if a National League team gets him, I am bidding some LABR FAAB on him to plug my third base hole.

Maybe now is the time for Anthony Gose, who is still just 23, and who is hitting .286-0-2 but has a .929 OPS over his first couple of games. Gose has a couple of swipes and five walks to four whiffs so far. Maybe now is the time. Looks good, though it is a small sample.

Finally, Jaime Garcia is back with the Cardinals and got a Sunday start (seven innings, four runs) and the truth is as a fifth or sixth starter you may be tempted, but Garcia is one of those arms who simply scares me. Despite a career 3.45 ERA, it is the 1.328 WHIP, and 2.67 strikeout-to-walk number that makes me skeptical. I would rather risk on a Hector Santiago guy, who might have a schizo WHIP, but who can dominate with strikeouts and really kick it to another level.

Last Updated on Monday, 19 May 2014 15:08
 
Hotpage May 12, 2014 (Week 7) PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Lawr Michaels   
Monday, 12 May 2014 00:00

It is not that I look for a theme from week-to-week but this week seemed another one of those rounds of reclamation, with a bunch of familiar names coming back for another bash at the Show.

However, there was also one premiere promotion, that of the Rangers' Rougned Odor, who is filling in for Donnie Murphy, who is filling in for Jurickson Profar, who replaced Ian Kinsler. This is the kid who last year, at 19, hit .305-5-59 at Myrtle Beach, and then moved up to Double-A Frisco, where over 30 games he hit .306-6-19. Compare that to the .279-6-17 he is hitting this year over 32 games at the same level, and it seems safe to say the youngster can handle himself at that level. This is a jump for Odor, but Texas is pretty good at picking players of his ilk, and moving them forth at the right time. Odor is more than worth a gamble here, even knowing there could be pending position battles on the horizon.

Pittsburgh, sitting on Gregory Polanco, promoted Jaff Decker, acquired from the Padres during the off-season. Decker, a #1 selection of the Friars in 2008, has pretty much stalled, however, since his .236-9-92 of 2011, which also produced a solid .373 OBP (103 walks to 145 whiffs, 15 steals and 29 doubles). Decker did get 13 games of Petco attention last year (.154-1-2), but that was apparently inconsequential enough for San Diego to swap him. On a pretty good and young Pirates team, he is probably no better than a spare part, albeit an intriguing one.

I have been a David Phelps fan since his debut in the bigs in 2012, and though he has indeed been up and down (194 strikeouts over 204.3 innings with a pretty good 1.293 WHIP), Phelps does well enough with the strikeouts-to-walks (81 free passes) but homers (25) are mostly his bane. Since the Yankees' rotation is limping with both Michael Pineda and C.C. Sabathia on the DL, Phelps has greatness, if not opportunity, thrown upon him. He is a totally fine risk in an AL format, and in a deeper mixed league could even be of some use.

I truly wondered why the Giants picked up Tyler Colvin, he of the Saberhagenmetric powers numbers of 20 homers in 2010, six in 2011, 18 in 2012, then three last year. The Giants have--err had--Brandon Belt, with Mike Morse and Buster Posey each able to cover first. So, Belt gets hurt, and Colvin becomes useful as a left-handed outfield/first base option in a park with a short wall to right. And, it isn't like I am superstitious, but, it is an even year.

In a deeper league, Lucas Duda could well still be floating around in the free agent pool. He is the first baseman in New York now, with Ike Davis in Pittsburgh and Josh Satin now sent down. Duda has hit 15 homers in each of the past two seasons, and at present has a more than respectable .260-4-15 line.

As for Davis, he has been hot, posting a .375-0-3 line over the last couple of weeks, and he has five walks to seven whiffs. Like Duda, Davis has worked himself into full-time play. I confess, however, I cannot be an objective judge, having spent $25 on the guy last year and picked him in another league. Not to mention making him my #1 pick in my long-term keeper Strat-O-Matic following his rookie year. Meaning you are on your own.

I don't remember Efren Navarro playing in the Majors, but apparently the Angels outfielder did scrape together a few at-bats. Navarro, 27, actually has some pretty good minor league numbers with a .296-42-420 basic line, and he had a pretty good .360 minor league OBP that mostly took a hit after he reached Triple-A three years ago. But, this year he has 18 walks to 21 whiffs (146 to 247 previously), a seemingly nice improvement. He is a left-handed first base/outfield option (is another theme revealing itself?), and Los Angeles of the American League is thin at both locations. The problem is Navarro does not have a ton of power, nor is he a killer base stealer. He does have some gaps pop (208 doubles), but I would not count on a long term in Anaheim.

Chris Parmelee, come on down. Left-handed. First base/outfield. Strikes out too much. Pass.

If you are in a deep AL league and need some catching help, Steve Clevenger of the Orioles will be getting more at-bats with Matt Wieters hurting. In fact, Wieters may not be able to catch for awhile with a bad arm (talk is he may be able to return to DH). Clevenger is hitting .256-0-5 over 13 games.

Finally, Reid Brignac, Tampa Bay's second-round selection in 2004, is now back up with the Phillies, his third team since the Rays gave up on him in early 2013, making the utility man a "player to be named later." Then, Brignac went to the Yankees (.114-0-0 last year over 44 at-bats, with one walk) and he is now with the Phils. He is one of those guys that might string together a solid 35 games in the Majors, at some point. However, I have no illusions he will do it now.

Last Updated on Monday, 12 May 2014 12:39
 
Hotpage May 5, 2014 (Week 6) PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Lawr Michaels   
Monday, 05 May 2014 00:00

As we plow into May, a handful of more than interesting prospects were promoted during the week, and there were even a couple of veterans who deserve a look, starting with the ever goofy life of Steve Pearce.

The Baltimore first sacker, whose week was worthy of one of my "Life and Death in the Transactions" Mastersblog pieces, was released by the Orioles Sunday, claimed by the Jays (he declined) on Tuesday (which he declined) and then signed the same day back with the Orioles.

Over the week, Pearce, filling in for the obliquely injured Chris Davis, hit .313-0-2 since his return to Camden, and if you need to fill a corner slot in an AL-only format, he is as good a guy as you will get. True, Pearce has a big swing and is streaky, but he also put up a decent enough .261-4-13 line last year over 119 at-bats, and is hitting a similar .261 now after his past week's toiling. That will not hurt should you need to fill a slot.

I like the Brewers' Caleb Gindl, up to spell the outfield with Ryan Braun ailing, although I confess Gindl is puzzling. I say this about a player who has 335 minor league walks to 638 minor league punch-outs, good to help post a .366 OBP thanks to a .293 batting average. Yet last year, over 57 games, the former fifth-round selection in 2007 walked 20 times to 25 whiffs, posting a .340 OBP with a .242 average. Weird. Anyway, again, in a deep NL, Gindl offers some speed and will probably function as the #4 guy.

At our Passover Seder, Richard Kweller asked me why no one had claimed Sam Fuld off waivers after the Athletics ran out of slots and had to offer the outfielder up to the world. Well, a day later the Twins did indeed grab Fuld. A pretty good role player, he is hitting .286 with six swipes this year, and with Aaron Hicks hurt, Fuld will get to start pretty much every day till Hicks returns. The Twins might find themselves in the same pickle as the Athletics when Hicks and Josh Willingham and Oswaldo Arcia return, but for now he can give you some speed.

Sticking with the Twinkies, another speed source could well be shortstop Danny Santana, whom the team brought up to help with some middle infield production. Santana is largely of the Ben Revere/Jonathan Villar ilk of less than powerful hitters, but he makes decent enough contact with a .274 average over 2,138 minor league at-bats, having 432 strikeouts, but just 122 walks. Santana has 117 swipes in the Minors, but just a .318 OBP, so he could be a bit of a risk, but steals are still steals.

Grant Green is one of those puzzles: a guy who can totally rake in the Minors (.309-57-308 over 507 games) but with a .255 average over 151 at-bats, it makes the former first-rounder (in 2009) a bit more puzzling. Although Green did hit .280-1-16 last year with the Angels and with so many Halos injured, Green could see some serious playing time. Plus, he is one of those guys who once he gets the hitting hang, could be really good in a Michael Young kind of way.

And, while we are with the Angels, the hospital squad has also promoted first sacker C.J. Cron to help add a little pop. Cron, the Angels' first-round pick in 2011, out of the University of Utah, has an excellent .289-60-273 line over 325 minor league games, having advanced a level a season since signing. Before his call-up this week, Cron was hitting .319-6-26 over his first 28 games. Cron does like to swing the bat (.332 OBP) but like Green, on a generally aging Angels team, the first baseman could help pave the way for a new generation. He does make for an interesting pick in an AL-only, but I fear that swing might be outmatched at this point.

Speaking of first-rounders, the Jays promoted Marcus Stroman, a first-round selection of the Nationals in 2009, whom Washington swapped for Denard Span in 2012. Stroman is on the small side at 5'9", but he still manages to generate a lot of torque thus movement on his offerings. Stroman has 188 whiffs over 157.6 innings, with a 14-7, 3.03 ERA. Before his call-up, Stroman was 2-2, 1.69 at Buffalo, with a 1.088 WHIP (26.6 IP, 22 hits, seven walks, 36 whiffs, and no homers) and though he will start his Major League life in the pen, don't figure that will last too long.

Finally, I am not sure why there is something about Nate Karns, drafted by the Nationals in 2009, then traded last off-season to the Rays, for this is a guy with an 0-1, 7.50 mark over 12 big league innings, and a guy who is 2-2, 8.20 this year with six homers allowed over 26.3 innings. I guess it is because as a minor leaguer, he is 26-14, 3.11 over 330.3 innings, with 395 whiffs to 146 walks and 238 hits allowed (1.162 WHIP) and that includes those awful 2014 totals. He may not be ready for prime time yet, but Karns is surely worth watching.

Last Updated on Monday, 05 May 2014 09:29
 
Hotpage April 28, 2014 (Week 5) PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Lawr Michaels   
Monday, 28 April 2014 00:00

If you somehow managed to make it through this past week without getting hit by injury, my cap is off to you.

I am guessing the bottom line is otherwise, and there are so many that let's cut to the chase and look at the injured, and who might benefit with some playing time as a result.

The Orioles have a huge hole at first, but were still confident enough in the wake of Chris Davis going down to release the closest thing they had to a first sacker in Steve Pearce. Nick Markakis has filled in so far, and though David Lough has gotten outfield at-bats, Delmon Young, hitting .306-1-4, should benefit. Super utilityman Steve Lombardozzi might follow the Alberto Callaspo path, and get some time in at first as well. Ryan Flaherty becomes viable as well, but the reality is of all those mentioned, Young and Lombardozzi are the pair whom I would hand time to.

Conor Gillaspie getting hurt in Chicago comes at a lucky time, as the White Sox just got Gordon Beckham back. That means Marcus Semien will continue to see playing time. Semien is an OK play in an AL-only format, and is a nice future play in a mixed league.

Brayan Pena, hitting .286-0-2 with a pair of swipes, becomes the beneficiary in the wake of Devin Mesoraco going down till at least mid-May with a hamstring strain.

Chris Stewart, just activated himself, will get the playing time with Russell Martin also down with a bad hammie. Stewart is not really much of an offensive threat, although his career strikeout-to-walk total is 59 walks to 99 punchouts, which is actually pretty good. If he can hit .250, Stewart can post a .330 or so OBP, though that too might be a stretch.

Chase Headley is out for a bit with a calf strain, and some combination of Alexi Amarista and Jedd Gyorko will cover, most likely with Gyorko, who moved to second from the hot corner last year, moving there and Amarista, who has played six games at third in 2014 for San Diego, more likely a second baseman. Amarista was an interesting minor league player, but he has not really hit with any authority in the Majors, so look elsewhere for now.

Mark Trumbo and Cody Ross played DL yin/yang much like Gordon Beckham and Conor Gillaspie. Trust Ross for sure, although he could be a tad rusty getting back into a groove. But, if available, Ross is as good a sub as you will get and at this time of the year would be a good pick off the reserve list in a mixed format anyway.

Michael Cuddyer also has a hurting hamstring, and that likely means that Charlie Blackmon gets to keep it going, as will Corey Dickerson in the outfield, while Justin Morneau will get everyday play at first. Drew Stubbs could be a gamble, but I like Jordan Pacheco, who was the team's platoon first sacker last year, was their third sacker the year before, and who is the #2 catcher right now as a flexible pick-up who also might get some added playing time. Pacheco has a career .287 average over 254 games and a .353-0-2 line this year over six games.

Bryce Harper addded to his frustrating season by spraining his thumb, again fortuitously just as Denard Span returned from his own injury issues. Washington has Nate McLouth in their outfield, but he has hit an anemic .097-0-0 so far over 19 games, and Tyler Moore, who raised eyebrows in 2012 (10 homers over 156 at-bats) and lowered them last year (.222-4-21 over 167 at-bats). The guy I would watch is Kevin Frandsen, who has played seven games in the outfield, boasts a little speed, and at .267-0-3 boasts the best resume this year of the group.

Jean Segura had the misfortune of walking, face first, into a Ryan Braun practice swing but the Brew-crew will try to make due with Jeff Bianchi during their shortstop's absence. Scooter Gennett did play some short his first year in the Minors, but the question is why would Milwaukee move him in deference to the still lousy hitting Rickie Weeks (.172-0-0) when Bianchi can cover and hit no worse? Segura needed stitches, but is day-to-day.

Anibal Sanchez is down with a laceration on his middle finger, which moves Drew Smyly up the rotation food chain. Smyly is a good addition if available, and the Tigers brought Justin Miller back but really, the bullpen man who has the most experience is Phil Coke. However, Coke is at best mop-up right now. Aside from grabbing Smyly, if available, leave this hole alone.

However, I might take a chance on the Astros' Collin McHugh, who shut out Seattle over 6 2/3 innings, striking out 12 earlier in the week, then came within an out of shutting out Oakland to finish the week. Now 2-0, after starting his career 0-8, McHugh has a minor league resume of 37-28, 3.36, over 652.6 innings with a 1.263 WHIP and 631 strikeouts to 199 walks and 625 hits. He is the guy I would grab this week, even over the White Sox Scott Carroll.

Last Updated on Monday, 28 April 2014 07:23
 
Hotpage April 21, 2014 (Week 4) PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Lawr Michaels   
Monday, 21 April 2014 00:00

One manner in which baseball has become so much more fun the last bunch of years is with the promotion of prospects earlier in the season than in the "old days."

Over the last few years, we have seen Mike Trout, Manny Machado and Jose Fernandez, to name a few, advance to the Majors and make an almost immediate mark (OK, it took the second time for Trout).

Well, the 2014 influx has now begun with the Astros promotion of outfielder George Springer (which unfortunately meant the demotion of a guy I like a lot, Robbie Grossman).

A first-rounder in 2011, Springer has 284 minor league games under his belt, with a .302-65-207 line that includes 85 swipes, which includes his excellent .303-37-108 2013 split between Double-A Corpus Christie and Triple-A Oklahoma City. Springer also swiped 45 last year, and though he struck out 161 times, so did he walk on 83 occasions (.411 OBP). Houston has already inserted Springer at the clean-up slot in their everyday lineup, and that means you should grab him, if available, and do the same in virtually all circumstances.

There are a bunch of pitchers this year who have caused owners to mutter, "Who?" after a stellar performance or two. Today we will look at a few of these guys, starting with the Marlins' Tom Koehler. Drafted in the 18th round back in 2008, Koehler has had a workmanlike minor league career, posting a 54-33, 3.71 mark over 682 innings and 127 starts, with 582 strikeouts.

That fostered Koehler coming to the bigs for good (he had a cup and 13.3 innings in 2012), joining the rotation with fellow rookie Fernandez. The righty went 5-10, 4.41 over 143 innings, with a 1.357 WHIP.

The 27-year-old has been lights out this month, going 2-1, 1.89 over his first 19 innings and three starts. Koehler is not a deadly strikeout guy, but, in a rotation that has dominant arms like Fernandez and Nathan Eovaldi, that could be a good thing. If Koehler is out there and you could use a fourth or fifth starter, jump on him.

It is a little odd that Boston is messing around at third base, waiting for Will Middlebrooks to return. In my meager view, the team should just promote Garin Cecchini and get it over with, trying to figure out what to do with the extra parts. Enter Brock Holt, a ninth-round selection of the Pirates in the 2009 draft, who was then swapped to the Red Sox along with Joel Hanrahan in 2009.

With a .307-15-177 line in the Minors over 466 games, Holt does in fact have a nice resume. Further, the Rice alum has 61 swipes and 179 walks to 263 strikeouts, good for a .374 OBP. Holt has done very nicely since assuming the hot corner (.429-0-2) but he does not generate enough of the traditional production for third, and the rest of the Boston infield is pretty well set for awhile. But, Holt could spell the outfield and be a useful utility player. Not to mention he has third base for the moment, and in a deep set-up is an OK risk.

Kyle Gibson was the Twins' #1 selection in 2009, and compared to the likes of Springer and Fernandez, Minnesota has brought their top pick along slowly. With a 21-21, 3.51 line over 74 games and 72 starts (377.3 innings), Gibson struck out 337, walked 105 and allowed 356 hits (1.222 WHIP), the 6'6", 220 pound right-hander came to the Majors last year for good, going 2-4, 6.53 over ten starts.

This year, so far at least, Gibson has been stunning, going 3-0, 0.93 over 19.3 frames, with ten strikeouts, nine walks and 12 hits (1.086 WHIP). Gibson could create a little more distance between the whiffs and walks, but he has yet to surrender a homer, and clearly has a hot hand. Meaning in any format he can help, and in an AL-only, well, if he is out there and is half as efficient as he has been, that will still be money in the bank.

Seattle brought back hard-throwing Brandon Maurer, who pitched well enough (4.3 innings, a couple of hits and walks, a run and four strikeouts) in his first start in Seattle on Sunday. A 23rd-round pick in 2008, out of Orange Lutheran High in Southern California, Maurer did come to Safeco last year for 90 innings, but was knocked around for a 5-8 record with a 6.30 ERA. Maurer whiffed 70, and only walked 27, but he allowed 114 hits over which 16 were homers.

Maurer has pitched well enough in the Minors (19-21, 3.81 over 378 innings with 358 K, 132 walks and 361 hits) and if he can keep his pitches down, could fare well. Still a long-shot for now.

Colorado nabbed hurler Tommy Kahnle from the Yankees this past winter as a Rule 5 selection. A fifth-round pick in 2010 by the Pinstripes, Kahnle is a reliever who garnered 15 saves at Trenton last year and has 285 strikeouts over 214 innings. Over that period, Kahnle allowed just 142 hits, but gave up 123 walks (1.238 WHIP), so command is the issue. So far, he has had that (2-0, 1.93 over 9.3 innings), though nine walks to six whiffs still shows a point of concern. Still, on the Rockies, where the closer gig has really been a swinging door, anything could happen. And, as a Rule 5, he should be on the roster the remainder of the season. 

Tampa's C.J. Riefenhauser is not unlike Kahnle (well, save the Rule 5 bit) in that he was drafted in 2010, and converted 11 games at Double-A Montgomery last year, going 6-1, 1.22 for the campaign which ended at Durham. Riefenhauser has 342 whiffs over 361.3 innings, with 291 hits allowed and 106 walks (1.096 WHIP). A lefty, Riefenhauser will probably get situational work for now, but he is one of those quiet relievers who can help keep numbers stable, and grab a save and a win from time to time.

Let's close with reclamation project Kevin Kouzmanoff, who last played in the Majors in 2011, splitting time between the Rockies and Athletics, going .235-7-33 over 235 at-bats, with a poor .284 OBP. Kouz stumbled around in the Minors, and only came up with the Rangers to help the team while incumbent third sacker Adrian Beltre is down. However, his .395-2-9 line over his first ten games suggests he could be a nice pick-up while Beltre heals. Not to mention, if you play daily formats, he could be a cheap and rewarding play against lefties when Kouz is hitting at Arlington.

Last Updated on Monday, 21 April 2014 09:01
 
Hotpage April 14, 2014 (Week 3) PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Lawr Michaels   
Monday, 14 April 2014 00:00

What a goofy start to the new season, huh?

Arms falling apart, guys wrecking themselves sliding into bases, instant replay controversies, and woo hoo, more problems with closers than in all the doors of all the houses in which I have lived.

For now, let's try and forget all that insanity, and turn our focus onto the players I want to look at this week in the never ending search for players who might give us a fantasy boost over the remaining 24 weeks of the season.

Remember back when Danny Duffy was the toast of the draft universe after being drafted in the third round in 2007? And then he whiffed 120 hitters over 81.3 innings in the Midwest League in 2008, and slammed through four levels in 2010 and became a top 100 prospect? Then came 2011 and the now inevitable TJ surgery and like so many glossy prospects, Duffy disappeared from our radar. Well, a full year removed from that surgery, and Duffy seems like he might be back.

After five pretty good 2013 performances (2-0, 1.85 over 24.3 frames), the lefty began this season at Omaha, but back he is and if you think Bruce Chen will prove to be the answer as the Royals #5 rotation guy, I want to be in your league. Add in Duffy to that mix, and suddenly the Royals rotation starts to really look dangerous.

Now that Josh Hamilton has injured himself for his 4-6 week spread over 2014, J.B. Shuck is back. I was really surprised that Shuck did not keep the fourth outfielder slot this year, coming out of spring. That is because the 26-year-old did pretty well last year over 129 games and 437 at-bats, hitting .293-2-39 with 60 runs and eight swipes, not to mention good contact numbers of 27 walks to 54 whiffs. He is back and in a deep league, I would jump all over him.

OK, raise your hand if you noticed that Kevin Kouzmanoff hit .370-3-12 over 54 spring games? If your hand is up, does that mean you selected the 32-year-old, who has not played in the Majors since 2011? I thought not. Well, with half the Rangers infield in traction, he could be a good selection in a deep format. A few homers on a team that knocks the ball around, irrespective of personnel, it seems.

In the National League, with A.J. Ellis down, Drew Butera, son of former catcher Sal Butera, seems to be getting the bulk of playing time. He is hitting .286 over his first couple of games, but this is a guy with a .183 average over 500 Major League at-bats. Maybe the Dodgers have enough offense to be happy with Butera's defense alone, but personally, I would gamble with Tim Federowicz. Or, I would either look elsewhere, or leave Ellis active.

The Rockies recalled second sacker Josh Rutledge, who performed so well in 2012 (.274-8-37 over 74 games) and disappointingly in 2013 (.235-7-19 over 88 games). Rutledge really does not belong in the Minors with his .329-27-138 line with 33 swipes and a .387 (74 walks to 197 whiffs) over 288 games. I like Rutledge so much more than DJ LeMahieu that it is not worth mentioning much more.. Get him from the free agent pool if you can, even in a mixed format.

At present, the Nationals have eight players on the DL, and that could spell opportunity for itinerant utility player Kevin Frandsen. This year, he has played a couple of games in the outfield, plus one at first, but expect Frandsen to get plenty of at-bats covering second and third some while the Nats try to get past their early-season injury woes. Frandsen has a .261-14-94 line, with 59 walks to 99 whiffs, and as a 32-year-old vet, he could do quite well simply as a band-aid in the capital over the course of the season. In an NL-only format, he is more than worth a pickup.

Let's close with a couple of pitchers, starting with 6'8", 260 pound Dellin Betances, one of those Yankees pitching prospects we all imagined would be killer a few years back. Lots of struggles later, Betances got it together at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last year, saving five while going 6-4, 2.68 over 94 innings, with 108 punchouts to 42 walks and 52 hits (1.191 WHIP) and has 723 minor league strikeouts over 641.3 innings. If you want a sleeper for closer duties in New York, he is your man.

Finally, I have been a Dustin McGowan fan since his 2007 12-10, 4.04 season, when the righty looked like he was going to take a step up and become one of the best starters in the American League. The former first-round selection in 2000 has simply struggled since that time, mostly with injuries, including that Tommy John surgery that has become so chic. Well, he is now 32, and I am guessing McGowan has learned to pitch now. If you can grab him in a deep AL format, it's worth a shot. I mean, I tried to get him in my Scoresheet League and failed, so somebody else must be watching.

Last Updated on Monday, 14 April 2014 08:09
 
Hotpage April 7, 2014 (Week 2) PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Lawr Michaels   
Monday, 07 April 2014 00:00

Despite some oddly inclement weather here in the Bay Area--with the Athletics rained out three times if you count a pre-season game--we actually have a complete week of statistics. (Note that there had not been a rainout in Oakland since 1998.)

How much fun is that? Well, fun or not, we still have a season's worth of fantasy work in front of us here, so let's get right to the players who might still be in your free agent pool after the maelstrom of drafts, and who might be worth fishing out for future use.

Somehow, an odd confluence in the cosmic forces have made Abraham Almonte the starting center fielder in Seattle, a team with a suddenly fun outfield of Dustin Ackley, Logan Morrison and Almonte. I am not sure if any of these guys will make or break your fantasy season, but I do think if all three play a full year they will all give nice profit, especially Almonte, who was a late reserve pick for me in my Scoresheet league.

The 24-year-old, signed by the Yankees seven years ago out of the Dominican Republic, has a pretty good minor league line of .269-47-292 with 202 steals and a strong enough .350 OBP (322 walks to 534 whiffs) over 696 minor league games. The Yanks swapped Almonte for Shawn Kelley in 2013, and I suspect the M's got the better part of the bargain. Amonte has a .286-1-4 line this first week with a steal. If he keeps that up, it will help in every format!

The Braves rotation hit the skids when they lost Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy at the end of Spring Training, but I think they have compensated well by signing Ervin Santana--who gets his first start this week--and Aaron Harang. Now 36, Harang had a lousy 2013 (5-11, 5.76) for sure, but it was time spent with two crappy teams in the Mets and Mariners. On the Braves, who are generally good with their hurlers, Harang should be much more like he was in 2011 (14-7, 3.64 in San Diego) and 2012 (10-10, 3.61 with the Dodgers) and is a nice gamble in an NL-only format at this point for a few bucks.

I actually covered Yangervis Solarte of the Yankees in my USA Today piece middle of last week, and since then all he has done is validate my opinion. Especially with the injury to Mark Teixeira, Solarte looks to be getting some everyday play in the Bronx infield, and can even chip in in the outfield (he played six games in left last year). Solarte is hitting .538-0-4 so far, and is probably on the radar of most owners, but just in case, and especially in an AL- only format, a nice and flexible selection.

So, what do we make of "new" Marlins third sacker, Casey McGehee? A player who has really had no relevance since 2010, when he hit .285-23-104, McGehee fell far enough off the chart that he spent 2013 leading the Tohoku Ratuken Golden Eagles to a Japanese World Series title--along with Andruw Jones--notching a .292-28-103 line, and probably learning how to hit off-speed stuff. McGehee has both a full-time job for now, and is hitting cleanup, making the 31-year-old a nice gamble. If his .450-0-10 first week suggests anything, it is great potential numbers on an everyday basis from a guy largely overlooked in shallower formats.

Last week, I mentioned Brandon Hicks in passing when I noted the Giants' Joaquin Arias as a potential utility player. With Marco Scutaro's back resulting in a DL stint, Hicks, on the heels of a .348-3-11 spring, made the San Francisco roster. Hicks is hitting .444-1-2 over nine at-bats so far, having played second for the Gigantes, and in a deep NL-only format, Hicks, who has clubbed 91 minor league homers, could be a cheap power source at least on a temporary basis.

The Tigers hold an American League counterpart to Hicks, with 34-year-old Don Kelly, who has 23 homers and a pretty good eye as witnessed by his 70 walks to 137 punch-outs over 477 Major League games. Kelly plays first, second, third and the outfield, and in an AL-only format, he could be a decent role player getting at-bats a couple of games weekly, spelling the Detroit regulars.

Let's finish with the two players who probably topped the FAAB charts in their respective leagues this time around, starting with the Rockies' Charlie Blackmon, who clubbed six hits and three doubles during the Colorado opener and is hitting .600-1-6 with a pair of swipes so far this first week. Now 27, Blackmon was a second-round pick of the Rockies in 2008, and he really established himself last year with a .309-6-22 season over 82 games and 246 at-bats (.803 OPS). Blackmon will likely fetch top dollar in your deep league, if available, but the outfielder makes an intriguing buy and addition if you can get him without breaking your bank.

The Twins' Chris Colabello is Blackmon's American League counterpart, having broken out of the box with a .389-1-7 first week, mostly as the DH. At age 30, Colabello is probably not worth the crapshoot of Blackmon, but that does not mean owners in an AL-only setup will not spend accordingly. I would be inclined to let them. Think Chris Shelton, lite.

Last Updated on Monday, 07 April 2014 10:00
 
Hotpage: March 31, 2014 (Week 1) PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Lawr Michaels   
Monday, 31 March 2014 00:00

As I start to draft this, there about 90 minutes between the world and first pitch on the North American continent of the 2014 Baseball Season. So, I will get to see one of my favorites to break out this year, Andrew Cashner, who happens to grace my LABR team, take on the Dodgers. That means I get to watch Jedd Gyorko, Scott Van Slyke, Andre Ethier, Yonder Alonso, Will Venable and Cashner all play, and it matters.

What fun!

So, as we make our last moves and positioning going into the first week--and sort of prompted by comments on "Bed Goes Up, Bed Goes Down", comments last Saturday, let's finish the pre-season by looking at my favorite source for scrounging fantasy points, utility players.

Generally, utility players are not everyday players, but that doesn't mean they don't log pretty close to full-time play over the course of the season. Bettter, they are simply invaluable in the event of an injury as multi-positional players, and that related flexibility can make managing a team so much more successful and efficient.

Let's start with Marcus Semien (2B/3B/SS, White Sox), of whom a number of comments on the heels of my Matt Davidson assessment, were lodged over the weekend. Now, I love Semien, if for no other reason than he is from the Bay Area and went to Berkeley, but I really think the infielder will become the man at second, allowing the White Sox to let go of Gordon Beckham. Semien, who hit .261-2-7 over limited Major League play last year, played three games each at second and short, but will start this year manning the keystone slot. I love a guy who walks more than he whiffs, and at Double-A last year, Semien grabbed 98 free passes to 90 whiffs. That tells me he is a smart ballplayer, and that tells me he could be pretty good.

Alberto Callaspo (2B/3B, Athletics): A number of years back, in 2005, Callaspo ranked way up there on myTop 250 Prospect List following a .304-11-80 season with 38 walks to 30 strikeouts split between Double-A and Triple-A. Callaspo, over his Major League career, has a 162-game mean of .273-9-59 with four swipes, and I will bet he is right there with similar numbers--and maybe a few extra swipes--in Oakland this year. I think Callaspo might get some time at first base as well, making his value increase a little.

Joaquin Arias (1B/2B/3B/SS, Giants): Arias played all four infield slots last year, and with Marco Scutaro down, figures to get the bulk of time manning second (though watch out for Brandon Hicks, who had a wicked spring at .384-3-11 over 24 games). Though not a high OBP guy at .302 over his career, Arias does boast a .273 average and should be good for 8-10 steals. He should also be cheap or in the reserve pool in most leagues, and in a deep league could be a big help. I have Arias in LABR, spelling Scutaro right now, in fact.

Steve Lombardozzi (2B/3B/OF, Orioles): It is kind of strange that the Tigers, who are trying to fill a gap at short, traded the 25-year-old, who has played a couple of games at shortstop, to the Orioles for a shortstop (Alex Gonzalez) without much to offer at this point (too bad Omar Vizquel isn't an option). Lombardozzi did have a drop off on his OPS from .671 to .619 last year, but his basic numbers were pretty much the same over the past couple of years despite 100 fewer at-bats in 2013. So, with Jonathan Schoop in waiting, and Jemile Weeks dispatched, the keystone slot at Camden falls to Lombardozzi. I have a good feeling about it.

Yan Gomes (C/1B, Indians): Just inked to a six-year contract extension, Gomes is hardly a secret. He has, however, played catcher, first base and left field, along with third base over his 131 game Major League career. The 26-year-old has a .271-15-51 line over that span. 'Nuff said.

Jordan Pacheco (C/1B, Rockies): Over the past two seasons, Pacheco has caught, played first, and third. As of now, he is the Rockies' backup catcher, but coming off a solid .346-2-5 spring, will probably get a chance to redeem himself from his down 2013 (.239-1-33) after his solid .309-5-54 first full season in 2012. I have Pacheco as a catching option in several leagues.

Emilio Bonifacio (2B/3B/OF, Cubs): The speedy Bonifacio should get plenty of chances both at second (Darwin Barney is hardly a threat), third (should Mike Olt struggle) and then in the Wrigley outfield. Emilio will collect his 400 at-bats, and though he is probably gone in deep leagues, he makes for a nice play in mixed and shallower formats as well.

Dustin Ackley (1B/2B/OF, Mariners): No longer a favorite prospect, Ackley kicked up his game at the end of last season with a .304-3-20 second half, so Seattle wants to give their former #1 selection in 2009 another chance. Certainly, second base is out with Robinson Cano in tow, so left field--or maybe some center--are probably where Ackley gets his playing time. Ackley has a sweet swing, and should perform better than his numbers indicate, but going into his third year, this should be step up time.

Last Updated on Monday, 31 March 2014 07:39
 
Tout Wars 2014 (from Manhattan) PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Lawr Michaels   
Monday, 24 March 2014 00:00

This year’s American League Tout Wars auction was different.

To start, because the season began this past weekend with the National League playing Saturday, the precedent of the AL leading off shifted to Sunday.

What made this a little fun and different for me was that every year on the “normal” Saturday of Tout, I publish my wish list for the draft, noting some of the players I am looking to grab, for how much, and why.

Now, for the most part I don’t really care who knows which players I like, or even what I might be thinking at least prior to the start of the draft.

And, a few of my esteemed colleagues did indeed read my thoughts, which made the bidding process more than interesting. If you review the players who constitute my team below, you can see some of my thoughts about that.

Second, this was a hard draft to read. Most of the time, there is a distinct flow to a draft, with sometimes stars going at a premium, and lots of money going off the table quickly, as in the AL LABR draft earlier this month. That suggests holding a little money, and controlling the draft during the soft periods, usually starting around the fifth cycle of nominations. In this instance, there are also usually values in the $2-$3 range at the end game.

Or, like the LABR NL the next day, all owners will be very careful to pay value for most players. In those instances, there are still times where the values soften, but what that really means is trying to play it out the middle, ensuring all your positions are filled with guys who are productive, while also grabbing values and moderately priced players aggressively, as by the end game most teams will have money. That means bidding wars for the likes of Bengie Molina, who went for $21 a few years back in the XFL under such circumstances.

Sunday’s auction was more like the latter scenario, but some instances, such as the position of closer, dictated you would have to spend $17-$20 for a closer, any closer.

That makes it tough, since those soft spots and patterns are scattered and hard to spot, if they exist at all.

Anyway, here is what I wound up with:

C: Adrian Nieto ($1): I pegged Nieto for a buck, and was pretty sure I would hear crickets, and fill the spot without challenge. Nieto, as a Rule 5, should make the team backing the shaky Tyler Flowers. At worst, for a dollar, big deal.

C: Stephen Vogt ($1): My understanding is the Athletics want John Jaso ($11) to spend most of his time DHing, and that suggests Vogt (.395-3-12 this spring) will make it as the third catcher. Hope so, but again, at a dollar, not a huge investment needing very little to get a return.

1B: Nick Swisher ($18): First sackers, and power was going quickly, and at value, so I took the dependable outfielder/first sacker and that was that.

2B: Alberto Callaspo ($6): Callaspo, also versatile and able to play second and third, will get 400 at-bats and I was happy to nominate and get him and plug the spot during the first third of the draft.

3B: Kyle Seager ($21): I pegged $22 for either Josh Donaldson or Seager, and when Donaldson went for $25 just prior to the Seattle third sacker, I was happy to get him for a dollar less than I thought I would.

SS: Jed Lowrie ($14): I like Lowrie a lot, and he is a switch-hitter who makes very good contact. He was healthy last year, and if he can repeat 2013, will be well worth the $3 less than I imagined the shortstop would fetch.

MI: Eric Sogard ($4): I had no intention of cornering the Athletics middle infielders, but there they are. Still, all three repeating would be what I want, and the almost Face made big strides last year.

CI: Marcus Semien ($6): I love the White Sox rookie who hails from UC Berkeley, via El Cerrito, our home town. He Is their best choice at second or third, and in a tight league a good gamble to take.

OF: Alex Rios ($25): I love the Rios production, and got him at a bit of a deflated rate simply because the league switched to OBP. But, since I am looking for a .340 OBP for my team, if all my hitters are simply in that range, I will be fine. I think Alex can do that, plus some.

OF: Michael Brantley ($16): I had him down Saturday for $14, and I think I might have victimized myself by making sure everyone knew I wanted the Cleveland flychaser. But, the way the draft was going I knew I would have to spend to get some guys, and Brantley gives me some of everything and I think is improving.

OF: Lorenzo Cain ($8): Again, a guy who can do everything, and who should improve. Right where I thought he would cost.

OF: Alejandro De Aza ($10): Jason Collette had the same thought as me about Colby Rasmus, who went for $15, three more than I wanted to pay, but I was happy to grab De Aza towards the end for a sawbuck. Again, a guy who does some of everything.

SW: Nick Castellanos ($14): I was actually afraid I was going to leave money on the table as I had $26 and two open spots when Chris Liss bid me up for my second to last vacant slot. I did not really overpay in that I had the money to spend, and I can play Castellanos at third or the outfield. Another rookie gamble I am happy to make.

UT: Danny Valencia ($1): Oh how I thought he would do, and oh how Valencia has disappointed. But, based upon his 2013 (.304-8-23) and his minor league on-base skills, another guy who need not do much to earn a profit.

P: Chris Sale ($29): Pegged him at $24, but now considered an elite starter, I wanted a big arm for my staff and Sale is it.

P: Chris Archer ($12): Another basically young arm, on a team full of basically young players it seems. Which will make it fun. I think Archer is this year’s Alex Cobb of 2013, hopefully without a liner to the noggin’.

P: Sonny Gray ($14): I had wanted Dan Straily, assuming Gray would be more high profile and expensive. I notched Straily for $12, and would not go to the $14 that my mate Rob Leibowitz would. Still, when I had a chance for Gray at the same price, I jumped at it.

P: Scott Kazmir ($11): I cannot believe I own Kazmir in two leagues, but somehow I convinced myself that he has settled down, and that pitching in Oakland will be good for him.

P: Ubaldo Jimenez ($6): Again, not a guy I would normally go after, but a good price and I had the money. And, if Tim Lincecum is worth around $9 these days, Jimenez is worth $6.

P: Hector Santiago ($12): My final acquisition, and I again had the bucks and love Santiago’s potential. Another guy who can miss a lot of bats and really crank things up.

P: Glen Perkins ($18): Closers were expensive, and once I realized this I decided to focus on getting one, and trying to pick up extra saves via middle guys.

P: Fernando Rodney ($12): When I had a chance to get a second closer for $12, as opposed to a couple of good set-up guys for around $9 between them, I shifted gears. If I get a boost in saves, there will always be someone willing to trade for one of mine.

P: Sean Doolittle ($1): Again surprised that a second bid was not made for Doolittle, who throws very hard and does indeed get punchouts. He might even get a save.

Res 1: Steve Lombardozzi: Maybe my mistake in not grabbing J.P. Arencibia and hedging my catching bets, for I do have enough infielders. And, my bud Andy Behrens grabbed the Texas catcher just a pick before my turn coming around.

Res 2: J.B. Shuck: I took the speedy outfielder when I missed out on Arencibia.

Res 3: Rubby De La Rosa: Loved him as a rookie with the Dodgers, and now a year past TJ surgery, I think the now Red Sox can fill a hole and make a return.

Res 4: Dylan Bundy: A gamble with my last pick, but a fun one. And, the dude has heat and is also returning from TJ surgery. But, I also think success in the Minors this year will mean he gets a chance this year.

https://docs.google.com/a/creativesports.com/spreadsheet/lv?key=0AsAa9oCjuqbwdGJUMzl5bGlpbnVxSk5wel9VTnE3dHc&toomany=true

 

Last Updated on Monday, 24 March 2014 03:00
 
To OBP or not to OBP (that is the question) PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Lawr Michaels   
Monday, 17 March 2014 00:00

This year, Tout Wars, which takes place just a week from now in wonderful New York City, embraces a major change in point tallying by shifting from the traditional category of batting average in deference to the much more revealing on-base percentage.

This is really the biggest change in the league format since I joined, back in 2000, when the scoring went from 4x4 to 5x5, adding strikeouts and runs scored as categories.

Personally, I am pretty ambivalent about the change. Ever since I started playing Strat-O-Matic, in the early 70's, I have regarded WHIP and OBP as the two best indicators of potential player performance.

However, in order to win a league, one has to play by the rules and format of the league, so whether or not I regarded OBP as a better indicator of a player's skill set than batting average, as far as winning the league is concerned, batting average was all that mattered.

Of course in my opinon, a good OBP indicates a selective approach at the plate, and that plate discipline generally points to a stronger average and set of offensive skills irrespective.

So, to finish up this time, let's look at some players with strong on-base skills who might not be as highly thought of in "average" leagues who may get a boost in Tout and other on-base leagues due to looking differently at the numbers.

Gaby Sanchez (1B, Pirates): I still remember back to the completion of Sanchez' rookie year, and my Strat-O-Matic team needed a first sacker. I had a choice between Ike Davis and Sanchez, and chose wrong. Not that it would have helped me that much over the long haul, but the advantage I saw in Gaby was his ability to get on base. I made the wrong choice. What I did see in Sanchez back then was 57 walks to 101 whiffs, and though the first sacker has had ups and downs since, I love the 44 walks to 51 strikeouts (.361 OBP) he earned last season. I think he will add power with the confidence of everyday work, and will be a bargain in NL-only leagues.

Josh Satin (1B, Mets): Speaking of Davis, I have a hard time imagining the Mets playing Davis, potential or not, with Satin and Lucas Duda (also a decent on-base threat with some power) both on the squad. True Satin does not have the power of Davis, but he did hit 15 doubles and walked 30 times to 56 whiffs last year over 75 games, good for a decent .781 OPS. Davis might have the pop, but anyone who gets on base more often will have a chance to score more often, and in this case, that is Satin. At least as of now. Also, Satin is the healthiest of the trio as I write.

Caleb Gindl (OF, Brewers): Gindl was acceptable in the Minors, with 325 walks to 615 strikeouts (.367 OBP), and he upped the ante with a 20:25 ratio over 132 Brewers games last year. Gindl is a fourth outfielder with Milwaukee, playing primarily behind Khris Davis, backing Ryan Braun. It is true that the sample size is small, but in an NL-only set-up, the 350 at-bats the left-handed hitter might get if he makes the roster could be a solid addition (Gindl has some pop to boot).

John Jaso (C, Athletics): I have been hyping Derek Norris since last year as the future of the Athletics behind the dish, and I do think Norris will grab the bulk of the playing time, but Jaso will get his licks both as the back-up backstop and then as a platoon DH so that both players earn close to 400 plate appearances. With 178 walks to 173 strikeouts as a major leaguer, Jaso's skills at reading pitches is clearly established. By the way, it also means a strong chance that the A's will carry a third catcher, meaning a potential payday for Stephen Vogt.

George Kottaras (C, Cubs): There are some things that seem so obvious to me, and yet the world misses. Like I cannot understand why Barry Zito, with four pitches and some serious smarts, cannot become the new Jamie Moyer. Another is why no one give George Kottaras a full-time chance to catch, since despite a horrible lifetime .214 batting average, he has a .730 OPS. That means over his 295 major league games, he has a .324 OBP (remember, his average is 110 points lower) and 29 homers. I do have a bet with the NFBC's Greg Ambrosius that Kottaras has a 20-homer season in him if he ever gets a chance to play full-time. Maybe as a left-handed hitter behind Wellington Castillo, he will get a chance.

Dioner Navarro (C, Blue Jays): I have always been a Navarro fan, although like many, I lost faith when he lost his ability to make contact in 2006. Still, with 193 walks to 342 strikeouts, Navarro's OBP is 62 points higher than his average at .313, and the catcher only has 54 strikeouts over 2251 at-bats. Contrast that to former catcher J.P. Arencibia, who has 64 homers over 1299 at-bats, but just a .258 OBP. That is just seven points higher than Navarro's career average as a case in point. Happy to take a chance here, and, if you notice, catchers do pretty well at this strike zone stuff because they work with it on defense. And, because a catcher's primary task is handling the pitching game, it is why their hitting skills often are not improved until later in their respective careers.

Jose Tabata (OF, Pirates): Still just 25 years old, Tabata has a chance to build off his strong second half--along with the promising future he presented when he made the Majors as a 21-year-old. Tabata has 120 walks to his 220 strikeouts (.339 OBP), which suggests he makes good contact, and the 40 walks to 61 whiffs he culled, despite a 33-point drop in average from 2010 to 2011, fostered a three-point rise in Tabata's OBP (to .349). With a full-time job, as a real veteran, I think Tabata will excel.

Kole Calhoun (OF, Angels): I want to be disciplined when it comes to bidding for Calhoun, as he still has just 218 major league at-bats, but 21 walks to 41 strikeouts last year with the Angels, to go with his 188 minor league walks to 261 whiffs (.402 OBP) point directly to his eight homers and .808 OPS last year. And, that is what earned Calhoun a full-time job going into 2014. I fear he will cost around $15 in Tout, which is a little higher than I would like to go. But, if I can get him for $11 or $12, I am jumping on it.

Last Updated on Monday, 17 March 2014 08:23
 
Battling for Playing Time (AL) PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Lawr Michaels   
Monday, 10 March 2014 00:00

Two weeks ago, we looked at National League position battles, so after a brief hiatus for LABR, let's pick it up and look at the American League position battles.

As noted, position battles scare fantasy owners because they threaten the most basic of roto tenants: that playing time is everything.

Which is true. However, in a deep league, where every team might have a few holes, mining the competition between teammates can be a real source of production for a couple of reasons.

One is that most of the time, the player who does not earn a starting job either winds up as the reserve fourth outfielder/utility infielder. Second, if younger, those same players go to the Minors to ensure playing time, and are usually among the first recalled from the Minors in the event of an injury or flameout.

But, there is a final caveat, and that is as often as not, the player in question actually grabs a starting job, and maybe 400 at-bats along with any of the above scenarios.

So, this time, let's turn our eyes to those players and struggles in the junior circuit, and do a little projecting.

In Seattle, with newbie Robinson Cano at second and Brad Miller at short, both Nick Franklin and Dustin Ackley are question marks. Franklin will probably get the utility infield gig, and for now, Ackley is penciled in as the left fielder with Michael Saunders holding center and Corey Hart in right. Hart is the surest thing, but he is injury prone, and Saunders and Ackley are offensive question marks. So, while either might make a nice pick, the guy I am looking to is Abraham Almonte. Now 24, Almonte was acquired from the Yankees for Shawn Kelley just prior to the 2013 season. Last year at Tacoma, Almonte hit .314-11-50 with 20 steals over 94 games, while walking 49 times to 66 whiffs (.404 OBP). Almonte did struggle (.136-1-1) but I like him as the fourth outfielder to start 2014, and the truth is, I like his future better than that of Ackley or Saunders.

The American League West has a few other considerations, so let's go to the Angels next, where speedy J.B. Shuck is listed as outfielder #4 behind Josh Hamilton, Kole Calhoun and Mike Trout. Further, the Angels are looking to aging Raul Ibanez to carry the bulk of DH time. Well, Hamilton has his injury struggles, and Ibanez had a slow second half. Somehow among all this, Shuck, who logged 129 games for the Angels last season, is the odd man out. The speedy outfielder did hit .293, stole eight bags and scored 60 runs over that brief span to go along with a decent enough 27 walks to 54 strikeouts (.331 OBP). I think J.B. will emerge as the third man in the outfield most of the time, with Hamilton getting DH time and Ibanez having likely outlived his fine career.

Moving to Oakland, it is no secret I am a big fan of both Derek Norris and Daric Barton. Oakland does have a nice thing going, and though I do think Norris will get the bulk of catching time, John Jaso will get both backstop time and DH time. That means Oakland will likely have to keep a third catcher for those instances when Jaso is the DH and Norris the backstop. So Stephen Vogt (.467-0-4 this spring over 17 at-bats) should make the squad to help out on the right side. It also probably means Alberto Callaspo could get some playing time at first as well as second. Sadly, it also means Barton will probably be on the short end of the roster stick to start the season.

Finishing yet another AL West position dogfight, it is true J.P. Arencibia couldn't hit water if he fell out of a boat, as they say. The owner of a career .212 batting average and .258 OBP over 1299 Major League at-bats, Arencibia has just 74 walks to 400 strikeouts. But, Arencibia does have a pretty good 67 homers over that same span. Right now, J.P. is backing Geovany Soto, who has been living off the hope of his 2008 .285-23-85 and then 2010 .280-17-53 line. Aside from those flashes, Soto is not so different from Arencibia, who is three years younger, aside from those seasons. I think the younger guy in Texas, with some decent hitting around him, might just kick it up.

The Royals have a pair of spots I am looking at. The bottom of the Kansas City rotation features aging Bruce Chen, who has had an up-and-down 15-year career (80-76, 4.49, with a 1.368 WHIP) and Danny Duffy, full of talent to go with a 1.570 WHIP and 4.75 ERA, less than stellar. I have loved Yordano Ventura  (455 minor league strikeouts to 415.3 minor league innings) for a little over a year, and I think he pushes past both Chen and Duffy.

The Royals have been giving Mike Moustakas every opportunity to show he is the guy who hit .322-36-122 in 2010 at three levels. Since then, Moose has a .297 OBP and .681 OPS in the Majors, looking much more like a Brandon Wood clone. So, I would keep an eye on Danny Valencia, who clubbed .304-8-23 over limited time for the Orioles last year. It is not like Valencia is such a stud, but in an AL-only format, I think he is a much better bet than Moustakas, whom I think is a lost cause.

Last Updated on Monday, 10 March 2014 07:47
 
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