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April 20, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Hot Spots: Catcher, Second Base, and Shortstop

by Michael Jong

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Value Picks Season PECOTA Games Scoresheet
Alberto Callaspo
KCR 50 3 6 10 1 .292 .320 .500 .302 .365 .427 0 2 0 –17 +40 4.17
Ian Desmond
WAS 40 1 4 7 1 .273 .351 .485 .242 .309 .384 0 0 10 –12 +29 4.75
Orlando Hudson MIN 60 1 8 4 0 .269 .356 .404 .285 .359 .411 0 13 0 –2 +7 4.30
Akinori Iwamura PIT 51 2 7 7 1 .250 .353 .432 .270 .349 .377 0 11 0 +15 –39 4.21
Cliff Pennington OAK 50 2 4 10 2 .256 .347 .512 .245 .325 .344 0 0 14 +15 –16 4.71
A.J. Pierzynski CHW 44 0 2 1 0 .171 .227 .195 .269 .313 .400 11 0 0 +16 –47 .73/.17
  Avg for Catcher .256 .324 .397   vRH = OPS v RH
  Avg for Second Base .274 .337 .409   vLH = OPS v LH
  Avg for Shortstop .272 .329 .396   Rng = Range

As we move on in the regular season, we here at Hot Spots will continue to track a "portfolio" of Value Picks that may still be available in your fantasy leagues. There were a few changes since last week's Hot Spots in the Value Picks for the up-the-middle positions. Two players of interest last week faded a bit in the short-term. Chris Iannetta still remains the best of the three catchers mentioned in last week's article, but he is also the most likely to lose significant playing time. With his backstop partner Miguel Olivo raking at the moment (batting .345/.375/.652 in 24 PA) and Iannetta still hanging around below the Mendoza line (.167/.259/.417 at the moment), it looks like the time share at the catcher position in Colorado will remain. If you have the room to stash him behind a consistent catcher, you can still reap the rewards later when Olivo undoubtedly returns to Olivo form, but if you need a starter for your team, it would be best to pass on Iannetta for now.

Last week, Jeff Clement was mentioned as a catcher option who could put up a lot of playing time since he was actually playing first base. However, none of that can happen if he cannot hit, and this past week's 1-for-20 slide did not encourage the Pirates' brass in the hitting department. On Sunday, Clement was benched because of poor production, and a continuation of this trend could lead to more time off. Pittsburgh does have other options at first base, primarily moving Garrett Jones to first and starting outfielder Ryan Church in right field, so the team will not hesitate to make a move if Clement continues on hitless.

Replacing these two catchers in the Value Picks are two young middle infielders with defensive issues and playing time question marks. Alberto Callaspo had been primarily manning third base for Kansas City while Alex Gordon was on the DL, but Gordon's imminent return to the starting lineup will not threaten Callaspo's immediate playing time. Incumbent second baseman Chris Getz just went on the DL as Gordon left it, opening up second base for Callaspo. In the time Callaspo spent in the starting lineup, he excelled, batting .292/.320/.500 with three home runs to his name already. Most of that power production came from a recent two HR, six RBI performance that caught the eyes of many. Even without that, PECOTA likes Callaspo, nabbing him for a solid slash line and decent counting stats in limited playing time. Callaspo is a short-term option in any league, and he may have the benefit of positional flexibility of both third and second base, but his playing time may once again be crunched when Getz returns from the DL. For Scoresheet players, keep in mind Callaspo's below average glove as well.

Ian Desmond has been dominant since the tail end of last season, when his first September cup of coffee went very well at the plate (.286/.318/.561, .298 TAv). He has not slowed down, racking up a 291 TAv to start the year. At the moment, Desmond owns a .348 BABIP that is sure to go down, but the power numbers that were not really present in the minors have impressed so far in the bigs (.261 ISO in 115 major leage PA). Even if the batting average falters as the BABIP drops a bit, a sustained .200+ ISO could keep Desmond's fantasy value afloat. His speed (above the 60th percentile of major leaguers according to PECOTA's Player Profile) and groundball tendencies (above 50 percent ground-ball rate last year between Triple-A and the majors) should help offset some of the AVG difficulty from his somewhat high strikeout rate. His definitive status as starting Nationals shortstop should also remain if he maintains something related to this pace, even if his defense at the position leaves something to be desired. Scoresheet owners should beware of this factor; though his listed range factor is exactly average for shortstops, he has already committed three errors in 78 innings and is well known both in scouting and statistical circles as a liability on defense.

Cliff Pennington is in a similar boat as Desmond's on the AL side. He too has flashed impressive power without showing prior minor league tendencies. In just 50 PA, Pennington already has two homers to go along with a triple and three doubles. Those extra bases and .256 ISO are helping to make up for the meager .256 AVG. To improve on that AVG and .281 BABIP, Pennington may need to put the ball on the ground more and utilize his plus speed; Pennington has 14 fly balls and two popups to his name out of 33 balls in play. Once he gets on, Pennington's speed is good enough to threaten 20+ steals. According to our Heater expert Melissa Lockard, Pennington will receive the full share of shortstop playing time in the short-term, and with only one option behind him, that should stick for much of the season. Again, Scoresheet owners should watch his defensive shortcomings, as Pennington has committed four errors in 124 innings and has a below average range factor for a shortstop.

The remaining middle infielders are on their way up. The last 20+ PA have been good to both Orlando Hudson and Akinori Iwamura, and the uptick in AVG should continue as they approach their likely BABIP. Hudson's standing on a superior team makes him a better choice that is still available (owned in 13.4 percent of ESPN leagues). A.J. Pierzynski has been awful, suffering a similar slump as Clement's. However, Pierzynski's peripherals remain stable, and he should be afforded the playing time to fix his issues at the plate.

Michael Jong is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Michael's other articles. You can contact Michael by clicking here

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