April 5, 2010
Hot Spots: First Base, Third Base, and Designated Hitter
For this final preseason Hot Spots column, I’m focusing on underdrafted players, anticipating our shift to targeting undervalued players during the regular season. There’s no better place to start than Kansas City, whose offense is projected by BP to score 741 runs, fourth-worst in the AL, making fantasy owners overlook Royals players.
One who doesn’t deserve such a snub is Billy Butler, whose 32.3 VORP in 2009 was second-best on the team. He’ll need to reach his 80th PECOTA percentile to beat that VORP in 2010, but even his 50th percentile has fantasy value. Though he isn’t a slugger, Butler’s 14% strikeout rate and 8% walk rate from 2007-9 show his strong BA contributions. If he can recapture the patience he exhibited in 2008, when he had a career-best 12.9% K rate, Butler could hit .300 again in 2010; his 60th percentile would get him there, while also cresting .500 SLG.
Butler’s modest power is still the best option for Kansas City’s cleanup spot, where his 20+ HRs and 30+ doubles will help him drive in whatever runs the Royals will score. His job is also secure, as Kila Ka’aihue offers the only organizational pressure, and Ka’aihue’s punchless plate discipline and indifferent defense make him a better DH. Fields, no legit 1B even when healthy, is DL-bound, further bolstering Butler’s Draft Day value with full-time PAs and making him a great mixed-league corner option and a second-tier 1B in AL-only leagues.
Hideki Matsui slips in lots of drafts because his DH designation limits roster flexibility, the same reason he’s no longer with the Yankees. His balky knees kept him from playing in the New York outfield in 2009, and they need the DH spot open.
Matsui’s played well enough in the outfield during Spring Training to get some starts there in the regular season, according to Heater’s Dave Saltzer; this gives his owners flexibility, too, depending on your league’s eligibility rules. A great clutch hitter and RBI machine, Matsui offers PECOTA-projected ratios that are strong at DH but even better in the OF, so the qualification adds value as well as flexibility.
Abreu has been even better than Matsui at generating RBIs, ranking 2nd in OBI% in 2009 among batters with 300+ PAs. He’s not a great DH, but the additional PT will boost his counting stats—particularly those steals—and help prevent injury to the 36-year-old. Mike Napoli’s only 28, and offers awesome power behind the plate but his shoddy defense has limited his time there, driving down his value. Saltzer sees Matsui’s outfield move opening up more DH PAs for Napoli, boosting his value as a fantasy catcher. And if Matsui gets hurt, Napoli would slide into the DH nearly full-time, making this one of those domino-effect roster moves that benefits owners of both Napoli and Matsui.
Scott Rolen’s long-term deal told power-hitting prospect Juan Francisco that Cincinnati didn’t think he was ready for prime time, yet Francisco made Cincy’s big-league roster this week, apparently giving the all-or-nothing slugger a chance to stick in the bigs.
Rolen’s the bigger bargain, as his health scares owners off, but his back should be helped by playing on real grass instead of Toronto’s plastic simulacrum. His diminished counting stats drop him from elite status, but his slash line features above-average ratios. Rolen’s 87% contact rate and 9% walk rate in the last three years give him a much better chance than PECOTA’s 90th percentile to hit .300, especially if he maintains the 11.7% walk rate he had in 162 PAs with the Reds last season.
As for Francisco, Rob McQuown touched on him already, and Kevin Goldstein rates Francisco as a three-star prospect. All three stars are for his power, since he doesn’t bring anything else, particularly BA, as evidenced by his 2007-9 strikeout rate of 28%. PECOTA sees him peaking at .271 in his 90th percentile, where he’d also hit 32 bombs and slug .500. That’s not a bad tradeoff, but he’s the Reds’ long-term, not short-term, option there. Heater’s Shawn Weaver points out that promoting fifth starter Mike Leake on March 11 will bump Francisco to the minors, as veteran-lovin’ Dusty gives any short-term backup duty to featherweight hitter Miguel Cairo.
The less said about Cairo’s fantasy value, the better, but don’t overlook Rolen because of his injury history, and be ready to grab Francisco if the injury bug bites Rolen. Rolen’s a good NL-only 3B and a decent corner option in deeper mixed leagues, while Francisco should only be on the rosters of keeper leagues with deep benches.