by Eno Sarris //
The San Francisco Giants finally admitted some of their mistakes today when they designated both Aaron Rowand and Miguel Tejada for assignment. Looking back at why they should have known better can help us for fantasy purposes, and looking forward to the final month might uncover a fantasy sleeper or two. Perspective is important.
Call Aaron Rowand the more obscene mistake of the two. In 2008, Brian Sabean signed the outfielder to a five-year, $60 million contract after Rowand made some high-profile catches for the Phillies the year before. Sabean was no doubt excited about Rowand’s career-high power surger in 2007, too. Unfortunately, it was fairly obviously an outlier season. Even at that point in his career, Rowand had two seasons with an isolated slugging percentage over .200… and five seasons where it was under .166. He’s always hit more ground balls then fly balls, and he’s never walked at a league average rate. Rowand was sure to be a strong defender in center field, but he wasn’t sure to add much power or patience, and his swinging strike rates suggested he’d always be an average whiffer or worse.
And that’s how it turned out. Rowand never saw even his career-average power in San Francisco (.163 average, .158 Giants-best), he struck out more, never walked, and became a defense-only center fielder pretty quickly. Now all of the center field at-bats will go to Andres Torres and Cody Ross, even if neither provides much offense either. With Torres’ strikeout rate, the best his owners can hope for is a mini power resurgence (three home runs over the final month?) and a .250 batting average, with maybe five steals to boot.
Ross will be the outfield utility player, more likely to play against lefties as his line against them (.918 OPS vs LHP, .718 vs RHP) is much better. Perhaps it will turn into a straight platoon in left field, actually. Baby Giraffe Brandon Belt bats lefty and is the only non-Carlos-Beltran player on the field right now with elite offensive upside. It might be hard to see it right now with his .219 batting average and slightly-better-than-league-average power (.156 ISO), but Belt does have that sort of long-term upside. Right now, he’s striking out 26.2% of the time, which is out of wack with his swinging strike rate (9.7%, only a little worse than 8.5% league average) and his minor league record (22.2% strikeout rate in Triple-A this year). Once he strikes out less and shows more of that power (.218 minor league low in ISO, at Triple-A), he’ll show more of that .280/.375/.500 type of ability that he has. If you are desperate for offense in a deeper league, now is a good time to pick up Belt. Keeper leaguers should be trying to buy low too if their deadline has not passed.
Let’s not forget Miguel Tejada just because his one-year, $6.5 million contract was a smaller mistake. His short stint as the Padres shortstop shouldn’t have erased the fact that two teams had already moved him to third base. Once a player has been moved off of shortstop, it’s very rare for him to return and find any prolonged success. And Tejada’s power has been in a tailspin since his last decent year in Baltimore in 2007. He doesn’t walk, doesn’t have power, doesn’t have a shortstop’s glove any more, has failing health, refused to lay down a bunt when his third base coach called for it, hits way too many ground balls and doesn’t have the speed to take advantage of those grounders any more. Need anyone say more?
His absence will create more opportunities for Mike Fontenot at shortstop. The lefty cajun might enter into a straight platoon with righty Orlando Cabrera there, even. Cabrera has been about as bad as he was in Cleveland for the Giants, and he’s been better against lefties in his career (.739 OPS vs lefties, .697 versus righties). Neither shortstop is very exciting, and in a platoon role they are even less so. Still, deeper-leaguers might want Fontenot since there are more right-handed pitchers in the league.
The Giants tried to erase a couple mistakes, but the players behind them are not incredibly interesting. Only Brandon Belt even approaches mixed league consideration. But with a month left and five games between them and the Diamondbacks, the Giants felt they had to do something. Maybe the biggest thing we can learn from them in fantasy is that this is the time to feel some urgency. Go out there and do something for each of your teams today.
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by Eno Sarris //
San Francisco Giants’ first-base prospect Brandon Belt is only 22 years old, has only played one season in the minor leagues, is blocked at his major league position by the recently re-signed Aubrey Huff (as R.J. Anderson noted yesterday)… and yet, he may make a fantasy impact in 2011 despite all of these obstacles. He’s jumped many a hurdle already.
In 2006, Belt was drafted in the 11th round by the Red Sox – as a high school pitcher. In 2007, he was drafted in the same round by the Braves – once again, as a pitcher. Then Belt went to the University Texas and struck out eight batters per nine as a reliever, only accruing 17 innings in 2008. After his 2009 season, he was drafted in the fifth round by the Giants.
If you are unfamiliar with his story, this progression might seem strange. The explaining factor is that Belt decided to focus on hitting with the Longhorns, and in that second season at the university, he put up a .323/.416/.523 line (with 40 walks against 37 strikeouts) that caught San Francisco’s eye. They drafted him, corrected his stance by asking him to widen his base and raise his hands, and set him loose on the minor leagues.
In short, he dominated despite lacking much experience as a hitter. In 595 plate appearances across High-, Double- and Triple-A, Belt hit .352/.455/.620 and walked 93 times against 99 strikeouts. That’s a 15.6% walk rate and a 20.1% strikeout rate, both excellent for a power hitter. Even in Triple-A, where he only accrued 61 plate appearances and ‘struggled’ with a .229 batting average, the rest of his triple-slash line looked just fine (.393/.563), and he walked 13 times against 15 strikeouts. He has an excellent idea of what to do at the plate.
The team sent him to the AFL to get more at-bats, and perhaps see if he was ready to play in the major leagues in 2011. Mission accomplished – Belt’s .372/.427/.616 line looked excellent even in the context of the offense-first AFL. This is true of all of Belt’s numbers. Even if you adjust for his slightly offense-friendly leagues, he has been excellent. Considering that his Double-A league, the Eastern League, was considered slightly pitcher-friendly in a recent study, there seems to be little left for Belt to prove in the minor leagues.
The best part about Belt’s work so far is the fact that he’s made these adjustments in his first professional year. That bodes well for future adjustments – both in terms of dealing with major-league pitching, as well as possible short-term positional adjustments. He’s also a very athletic guy with a smooth and easy way about him, as this video taken by Paul Sporer shows.
Of course there are hurdles left for Belt to jump – he has to prove that he’s either capable of playing in the outfield or capable of being so impressive at the plate that Huff should move there in his stead – but Belt has overcome higher obstacles already. He’s a good bet for fantasy relevance at some point in 2011.
For more on Brandon Belt and other young studs, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Front Office.