BY ROB SHAW
The Red Sox willingness to trade away both Marco Scutaro and Jed Lowrie was certainly bold, but really the bigger story was the franchise’s confidence in former Royals middle infielder Mike Aviles.
A career .288 hitter, Aviles has been a fine contributor in the Majors when healthy. The New York native making himself at home in Boston doesn’t have much power, but in a solid lineup he can pile up many runs. He is also a sneaky stolen base threat. Think of Aviles in the same mold as Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick, except for a much lower cost and with shortstop eligibility.
Aviles and the Red Sox played at the hitter-friendly US Cellular in Chicago this weekend. Though he finished hitless in his final seven at bats, the 31-year-old veteran makes for a great start in the next series against Oakland. The series will be played in Fenway Park where he already boasts two home runs and a .333 average this season.
The Cubs slugger Bryan LaHair reminds me a bit of Michael Morse, a late bloomer with plenty of power who finally broke out last season with the Nationals. LaHair, is a 29-year-old slugger who entered the season with just five home runs to his credit. He spent the last six seasons at Triple-A and last season blasted 38 round-trippers with a .331 average.
So far LaHair is batting .382 with the majority of those hits good for extra bases. While those numbers will regress quite a bit, that does not mean that he can’t still end up as one of the greatest surprises of the season. LaHair can blast 25 home runs with 90 RBI.
In many ways, he is an upgrade over Carlos Pena for the Cubbies at first base. He may not be the defensive gem that Pena is, but with an average .150 better than what Pena has offered the last few seasons, the Chicago fan base is not complaining. Neither should fantasy managers.
BY ROB SHAW
When it comes to sleepers fantasy managers are often looking for late round picks that could contribute throughout the season. A more valuable sleeper is the talent who is already drafted in the middle rounds, but has the ability to reach superstar potential. Kansas City first baseman Eric Hosmer happens to fit that mold of sleeper.
The 22-year-old talent was the third overall pick of the 2008 draft. Last year he earned his first taste of Big League action and he found immediate success. The Miami native did it all. He blasted 19 home runs, swiped 11 bases, and offered a .293 average.
While Hosmer may be the Royals top young talent, he is not alone. After several years of struggles, the Royals finally have the making of a top-notch lineup with veterans such as Billy Butler and Alex Gordon joined by Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, amongst others.
This season Hosmer should take another step forward and fantasy managers considering drafting Mark Texeira in the first or second rounds are better off scooping Hosmer in the fourth or fifth rounds. He is more well-rounded than Texeira and could end up offering similar power production as well. Hosmer is one of the top sleepers in baseball even if you have to draft him in the middle rounds.
The Reds already have one megastar in the form of Joey Votto, but there may be another in the lineup. Jay Bruce actually had more buzz around him when he made his debut than Votto. The 12th pick of the 2005 draft, Bruce has been in the Big Leagues since he was 21-years old. While there have been some growing pains over the last few seasons, he has improved, and at 25-years old he should be closer to his prime this season.
Bruce has always possessed power. He already has 100 career home runs before he even turned 25. Last season was his first reaching the 30-home run plateau, as he slammed 32 round-trippers. More impressive for his sabermetric fans, Bruce offered great patience at the plate with 71 walks, which made up for his .256 batting clip.
One of the streakiest hitters in the game, Bruce blasted 12 home runs with a .342 average in May, but then hit less than .240 in three of the next four months. Fantasy managers are hoping that another year under his belt will lead to some maturity and consistency at the plate. Bruce is one of the rare talents who can slam 40 home runs with a .280-plus average. However, that’s just talk of potential, and when drafting you need to take more into account.
He’s already in his mid-20s, but Paul Goldschmidt could end up being a fantasy star as soon as this season. An eighth round pick out of Texas State, Goldschmidt has been a pleasant surprise in the Diamondbacks farm system.
Goldschmidt’s power is legit, as he has slammed 73 round-trippers over the last two seasons. He also has cut down on his strikeouts and increased his walks the last few seasons. In his Big League debut, Goldschmidt slammed eight home runs in 48 games. He also swiped four bases, which is a pleasant surprise for a slugger.
While sluggers often take some time to develop in the Big Leagues, Goldschmidt is expected to produce as soon as this season. BloombergSports.com Front Office projects 30 home runs this season, which could land the Diamondbacks right back in the thick of the hunt for the Division Title.
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Kyle Seager, 2B/3B, Mariners
The Mariners have surprised us in recent weeks with an offense we did not know could exist in Safeco. While we’ve discussed Dustin Ackley and Mike Carp, another fine hitter to emerge this season is Kyle Seager. A third round pick in the 2009 draft out of North Carolina, Seager boasts a .313 average after a hitting binge that included 15 hits over six games. In 24 games at Triple-A Seager hit .387 with a .585 slugging percentage. So success at the dish is nothing new for the 23-year-old prospect.
John Mayberry, OF, Phillies
While everyone drafted Dominic Brown in their fantasy drafts this season, it’s instead the 2005 first round pick John Mayberry who is enjoying the better season in the Phillies outfield. The 27-year-old slugger has blasted 12 home runs with 41 RBI through 77 games. Best of all, Mayberry is not a one-trick pony, as he has swiped six bases already this season. Mayberry has blasted 18 home runs in 266 career at bats in the Big Leagues and while he can still improve his plate discipline and lift the average some, Mayberry has earned his way to your fantasy roster.
Chipper Jones, 3B, Braves
The Braves legend will not go away. Chipper Jones has been written off a number of times this season because of his usually array of injuries, but right now he is putting together a nice little hot streak with plenty of power. The batting average is up to .281 on the season with 13 home runs and 58 RBI. Since the All-Star break, Jones is batting .387 with five home runs. 51 home runs shy of 500 for his career, the 39-year-old Jones has already stated that he intends to come back for another season.
Derek Jeter, SS, Yankees
Since the All-Star break, Derek Jeter has hit .355 with 26 runs in 37 games. While that’s nice and all, what’s more remarkable to me is that on the season his average has soared all the way up to .299. So is Jeter back to being Jeter? Yes and no. The average is good and the 13 steals isn’t bad, but the limited power he once had is all but gone. During his hot streak, Jeter has just 10 extra bases including one home run. While he’s not a power guy, it seems that a lot of his hits are coming on grounders with eyes. Regardless, Jeter has played a large part of keeping the Yankees afloat with A-Rod. He also took away a lot of the pressure for next season, as fans will not be clamoring for a position switch.
By Tommy Rancel //
Players who offer power and speed are given premium price tags on both the real and fantasy levels. Hanley Ramirez, Ryan Braun, Carlos Gonzalez, Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford will go within the top 50 picks of most leagues. If you are unable to land one of these primetime players, don’t worry. There are dual threats to be found even as we pass the 100th selection in most standard drafts.
Using Bloomberg Sports’ projection system, here are the top-5 power and speed sleepers with an average draft position of 100 or greater.
In his first full-season at the big league level, Drew Stubbs became one of the game’s true power and speed threats. He was one of just three major leaguers with at least 20 home runs and 30 steals. The other two players -Hanley Ramirez and Alex Rios– are being selected well before Stubbs. His batting average is rather pedestrian and he racked up a ton of strikeouts, but the potential for another 20/30 season is a steal in the double-digit rounds.
Andres Torres experienced a breakout season at the age of 32. In addition to playing a career-high 139 games, the outfielder posted good marks in both home runs (16) and steals (26). As the projected leadoff hitter for the defending world champions, Torres could provide similar results at the cost of a late-round tender.
On the other side of the age spectrum, Ian Desmond emerged as a rookie fantasy option at shortstop last season. After posting double-digits in both home runs and steals last season, Bloomberg Sports’ projects 15 home runs and 20 steals for the Nationals’ shortstop. Over the past three years, only five shortstops have hit those marks in the same season (Ramirez, Tulowitzki, Jeter, Rollins, Reyes).
Rounding out the list is a pair of players who regressed a bit in 2010. After finishing in the top-10 of MVP voting in 2009, Ben Zobrist hit just .238 with 10 home runs last year. The good news is Zobrist still got on-base regularly and stole 24 bases. Bloomberg Sports predicts Zobrist’s power will rebound to the 18-20 home run area with the potential for an equal number of steals if not more. The Rays are thinking about hitting the versatile player in the leadoff spot meaning the potential for runs scored also increases.
After his breakout season of 2009, the Mariners signed Franklin Gutierrez to a four-year extension. He rewarded the team with a near 40-point drop in batting average and an on-base percentage barely over .300. That said, he did hit 12 home runs and stole a career-high 25 bases in 2010. This year he is projected to put up similar numbers. That is far from OF1 production, but with an ADP in the 230’s, Gutierrez is worth the late-round pick.
Finding players that can give you value in multiple categories is the mark of a good fantasy baseball manager. Finding these players in the mid-to-late rounds is even better.
By Eriq Gardner //
- Josh Johnson
- Dan Haren
- Brandon Phillips
- Billy Butler
- Carlos Marmol
- Nick Markakis
- Joel Hanrahan
- Sergio Romo
- Rafael Soriano
- Daniel Bard
Josh Johnson has a little bit of a reputation for being injury-prone, having a Tommy John surgery a few years back, and missing the last month of last season with shoulder inflammation, but he’s also pitched nearly 400 innings these past two seasons as one of the elite hurlers in the game.
By R.J. Anderson //
During any given season numerous players will emerge and submerge above and below the relevancy sea. So many, that it’s hard to keep up unless special circumstances surround the player: an unlikely MVP- or Cy Young-caliber season; pitching a no-hitter or hitting for the cycle; making some fantastic highlight-stealing catch, or hitting the longest home run in the history of baseball. The point is, sometimes guys just get lost in the shuffle and even those who can help your fantasy team out are ignored for the sake of sanity.
With that in mind, meet Kris Medlen. The Braves’ 24-year-old right-hander should be owned in all formats. Yet, Medlen is only owned in 14.1% of ESPN fantasy leagues. He’s owned in more than 50% of CBS fantasy leagues, but started only 29% of the time. This is downright insanity.
Despite having the body type of a reliever (he stands well below 6 feet) and relying primarily on two pitch types (his fastball and change-up combine for more than 90% usage), Medlen has made 11 starts since May 8 and performed admirably, to the tune of 68.2 innings pitched, 6.2 strikeouts per nine, a 1.18 WHIP, and a 3.41 ERA. Compare those stats to his relief numbers (18.2 IP, 8.2 SO/9, 1.02 WHIP, and 2.41 ERA) and Medlen hasn’t lost a step in the transformation. Here’s a more complete view from Baseball-Reference:
It’s not that Medlen is beating up on weak opponents either. He held the Mets to six baserunners and two runs through six-plus innings in mid-May. He went to the Dodgers’ home park and beat them with seven-plus innings of two-run ball. He limited the Twins to five baserunners in eight innings. The Tigers managed just one run against him in nearly seven innings. There’s a reason Medlen is 6-1 and a reason why the Braves haven’t lost a game he started since the final week of May.
He’s good, they’re good, and you’re good too if you can grab him off the free agency heap right now.
For more on Kris Medlen check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.
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By R.J. Anderson
Casey Blake will enter this season as the Los Angeles Dodgers’ starting third baseman for the second consecutive season. Blake, 36, qualifies as a solid if unspectacular player. Last season he hit .280, popped 18 homers, drove in 79 runs a season, scored 84 runs and stole all of three bases. He’s an above-average hitter, no doubt, but is he worth a roster spot in a 12-team mixed league?
Such a question would be so much easier if the Dodgers used Blake like the Cleveland Indians did for years. Last season, Blake appeared in 134 games at third and two at first and left. The year before he appeared in enough games to become eligible at third base and first base, and in the past he’s been eligible at three positions at once. But if a Manny Ramirez suspension wasn’t enough to get Blake out in the pasture, then the addition of Jamey Carroll and Garret Anderson almost certainly won’t lure Blake to another position.
That means Blake’s numbers matter only relative to other third basemen in the league. Bloomberg ranks him as the 13th-best third baseman, and one going well below his B-Rank slot of 152. Instead, Blake is being drafted, on average, at 282nd. That’s a gap of more than 100 slots, indicating that Blake is being undervalued. He’s projected to nearly match last year’s numbers, with 19 homers, a .276 average, and 79 RBI.
That makes Blake a more attractive option than other hot corner bearers like Jorge Cantu, Mark DeRosa, Alex Gordon (destined to start the season on the disabled list), Scott Rolen, and Miguel Tejada.
Is Blake worth a roster spot? He’s not a sexy option, but yes, he’s worth drafting in 12-team mixed leagues. Target him in the late rounds, and take advantage of the huge gap between his likely value and his perceived value.
information on other good third base options, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kit.
By Tommy Rancel
For the first five years of his career, Alex Rios was a productive hitter. From 2004 to 2008, he averaged .288/.338/.455 (AVG/OBP/SLG). But after a slow start in 2009, he was placed on waivers by Toronto, then given away to the White Sox for no compensation other than the amputation of his bloated contract. Overall in 2009, he hit just .247/.296/.395. His batting average was just .199 after moving to Chicago.
Despite the dip in those slash numbers (AVG/OBP/SLG), Rios still hit 17 home runs and stole 24 bases, providing continued value for fantasy owners.
Obviously, the most alarming loss for Rios came in batting average. In 2006-2008, his batting average was .297. His 2009 average of .247 represents a 50-point drop. For a speedy player who was only 28 years old, this was odd.
Sure enough, when we look at his batted ball data from last season — notably batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and his percentage of line drives hit (LD%) — we see some outlier numbers.
Thanks to his speed and ability to hit line drives (more on that in a minute), Rios has a slightly elevated career BABIP of .319. The league average is around .300. Last season, his BABIP dropped to .273.
Digging a little deeper, Rios has maintained a career LD% of 19.8%. In 2009, that number dropped to 16.4%.
Going even deeper into the numbers, Rios saw a tremendous drop in LD% against right-handed pitching (RHP). In his career, Rios owns a LD% against RHP of 19.8%; in 2009, that number sank to 14.7%. This is significant because Rios faced a right-hander 72% of the time last year.
Some studies, like the one here, suggest career BABIP is the best predictor of a player’s BABIP going forward. If this is the case for Rios, expect a healthy regression in batting average, and on-base percentage, towards career marks near .280 and .330.
After hitting 24 home runs in 2007, many expected Rios to become a 30/30 player; however, he is not that type of hitter. A big chunk of the balls he hits into play are line drives or groundballs (42.8% career groundball rate). This leaves little room for fly balls (37.4% career fly ball rate). Because of this, he’s averaged 19 home runs over the past three years; Bloomberg Sports projects a modest 18 homers in 2010, despite the homer-friendly climate of U.S. Cellular Field.
Meanwhile, Rios set a career-high in steals with 32 in 2008, followed by 24 more last season. Over the past three years, his success on stolen base attempts is a strong 81% (56/69). Bloomberg Sports projects 26 steals for Rios in 2010.
Although he had a down season in 2009, Rios narrowly slides into the top 100 players ranked by Bloomberg Sports; his B-Rank is exactly 100. His average draft position (ADP) is just 146.
Assuming a mid-round draft slot in an averaged size (12-14 team) mixed league, you could start your outfield with a combination like Ryan Braun, Bobby Abreu, and Rios. This trio would give you a well-rounded, durable outfield, despite using just one premium draft selection. All three players have averaged at least 620 plate appearances in the past three seasons, and provide a blend of average, (decent) power, and speed.
If we tweak the 30/30 projections on Rios down to 20/20, and add in the potential for batting average regression, we are looking at a productive third or fourth outfielder in many mixed leagues. Target him with other bounceback candidates in the middle of your draft.
For more on sleepers like Alex Rios, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.