April 12, 2010
Hot Spots: First Base, Third Base, and Designated Hitter
Fantasy owners can find roster value in overlooked younger players and continuing position battles, and this week’s Portfolio shows a little of both. I covered Daric Barton (less than 1% ownership in ESPN leagues) a few weeks back and, despite his line thus far, he doesn’t have a first baseman’s pop. If you’ve got power elsewhere, however, his BA value and lack of competition make him a good mixed-league CIF play and a decent AL-only 1B play.
Gaby Sanchez (owned in 3% of ESPN leagues), on the other hand, brings both patience and power, and he has a chance to cement himself in the bigs as Logan Morrison continues developing in AAA. Sanchez had a 14% strikeout rate and 12% walk rate in the minors, while averaging 12 HRs and 25 doubles to produce a tidy .485 SLG. He needs to reach his 80th PECOTA percentile to deliver good power for his position, but his BA brings value in just his 60th percentile. He’s been hitting lower in the Marlins’ order, suppressing his counting numbers, but continued production will certainly move Sanchez up.
David Freese is the Cards’ #3 prospect, according to Kevin Goldstein, and the BP staff ranked Freese fourth among 2010 ROY candidates. That’s because Freese has raked minor-league pitching at every level, with his poorest 50+ PA performance coming in 2006, when he hit “only” .299/.374/.510 at Single-A. He’s tried to control his whiffs, as evidenced by a 24% strikeout rate in AAA, which is balanced somewhat by his overall 10% walk rate. Other projection systems give him more credit for this minor-league production, but his PECOTA projection only gives him value above his 80th percentile, leaving Marc Normandin to offer a more bearish assessment of Freese’s value.
Heater’s Erik Manning points out that St. Louis’s similar pessimism may be why they signed Felipe Lopez, who will back up Freese, despite having more value at second base. Manning also believes that Freese’s age and continuing off-the-field issues (he picked up a second DUI this past winter) makes his leash very short. Freese will hit eventually, so mixed-league owners should watch to see if LaRussa remains patient enough for his prospect to finally arrive, while NL-only owners can either watch Freese or stash him, if their benches are deep enough. He's owned in about 11% of ESPN leagues, so there may be time to wait.
Brandon Wood is two years younger than Freese, but he’s also on his last prospect legs, probably because he has five times as many major-league PAs as Freese. Once a shortstop, like his backup Maicer Izturis, Wood has shifted to the left side of the diamond because of his defensive shortcomings. That’s hardly surprising, since Wood’s wood, not his leather, made him a prospect, though his hitting has also held him back.
Wood crushed minor-league pitching to the tune of .286/.354/.541 in seven seasons, but his lumber turned to balsa against big-league pitching, with a career .183/.212/.296 line in 252 PAs, including 74 Ks and 7 BBs, strikeout problems that have continued this year (6 Ks and 0 BBs). PECOTA gives him a good shot at 3B relevance despite this, with above-average power production in his 50th percentile. Any performance uptick will help you there, but his BA isn’t as strong, as he’d need to exceed his 90th percentile to crack the average performance level. Marc Normandin also didn't think much of Wood in his preseason 3B rankings, putting him alongside Freese and Lopez, but he felt that Wood had the best chance to break out of that dismal prediction.
Third base is a good place to get power in fantasy, and Wood can deliver that, given playing time. If you can stand the BA bumps or bench him until he heats up, he’ll make a good CIF play in deeper mixed leagues and a good 3B fallback in AL-only leagues. Most of us, however, will want to monitor Wood (owned in 4% of ESPN leagues) to see if he can finally live up to his namesake. (Late addition, 11:45 AM PT, Monday: Heater's David Saltzer emailed me late last night with his thoughts on Wood and Izturis. He feels that Wood's leash may be rather short, due to the Angels' low offensive output thus far, plus Scoscia's predilection for the small-ball tactics of Izturis over the longball threat of Wood. A slim chance of a trade for a more serviceable 3B could also be a possibility.)
Less-certain value can still be found in other areas. Daniel Murphy’s injury has given Fernando Tatis playing time, even at second base. Until Murphy returns, Tatis can be played in deeper leagues at any qualifying position other than first base. Whether Baltimore plays Luke Scott as a designated hitter or a first baseman, any significant PAs will allow him to deliver very good value at either position, though his BA is a bit lacking. Cracking a .500 SLG in his 60th PECOTA percentile makes Scott a very good power gamble for teams in deeper leagues.
Medical Update: Knee pain will keep Lance Berkman from next week’s road trip, while Ryan Zimmerman will miss a few games with a tweaked hammy. Chipper Jones, Russell Branyan and Alex Gordon should all be playing soon, probably in that order.