July 12, 2010
Hot Spots: First Base, Third Base, and Designated Hitter
Heading into the All-Star Break, we'll split our attention between the VP list and some undervalued second-half possibilities. The VPs had an underwhelming week overall, and in the World Cup spirit, a few players receive yellow cards, warning them to improve their play or find themselves on the sidelines.
Travis Hafner gets the only red card, since his BA and OBP haven't balanced his low-power ways. Last week was his strongest performance in a while, picking up four singles in 19 PAs. But he also whiffed 7 times and walked twice; those two walks represent half of his free passes in the past four weeks. He's struck out 20 times over the same 62-PA span, for a limp .236/.323/.345 slash line, not strong enough to hold onto a VP spot.
His teammate Matt LaPorta, however, makes an excellent VP replacement. As Marc Normandin wrote recently, LaPorta won't continue his recent .368/.429/.737 hot streak, but LaPorta's got excellent power potential and good plate discipline-you can see that in his career minor-league line of .296/.390/.563. PECOTA's 50th percentile already marks him as an average DH and slightly subpar 1B, but his value rises quickly at either position if he can reach his .275/.363/.507 60th percentile. He has enough upside to help you in power and patience, and is available in 87% of ESPN leagues.
Looking at the other VPs, Daric Barton gets a yellow card for a miserable .050/.095/.200 week, even if his only hit cleared the fence. His 8-18 performance the week before suggested a correction was coming, and playing the Yanks and Angels didn't help. We'll cut him some slack for now, but he's been warned. Ditto Danny Valencia's yellow-card performance: he played against southpaws as usual but twice lost out to Nick Punto. Despite Gardy's assurances, Valencia hasn't gotten consistent ABs and hasn't done quite enough with them to impress; both need to change for him to stay a VP.
I'll warn Matt Joyce without booking him, since he's gotten playing time and has shown patience. His 6 walks in 35 PAs over the past two weeks are nice, unlike his .179/.343/.357 slash line. Tampa Bay doesn't have a comparable DH option, so Joyce will get time to work things out, and we expect he will. Just look at Pedro Alvarez as evidence of our patience: he's hit .289/.347/.489 over the past 14 days and picked up 3 walks this week. He's not incredible yet, but he's improving from the .077/.200/.154 hitter we added three weeks ago.
As I predicted, Russell Branyan's BA slipped and his power rose, pushing his overall numbers closer to a Three True Outcomes line. Adding Justin Smoak puts power behind Branyan and allows him to save his back at DH, improvements that have jumped Branyan's ownership to 15%, so he may crest the 20% VP threshold soon.
Several players may sit below your fellow owners' radars in the second half. Todd Helton isn't expected to linger on the DL, but if he does, the Rockies have a mess of 1B options, including Jason Giambi, Brad Hawpe, and even Chris Ianetta. Giambi is the more familiar name, but he'll share most of the playing time with a more interesting option: Brad Eldred. Long known for swinging for the fences first and checking to see if it's is a strike later, Eldred has worked on his patience in Triple-A, with a 7% walk rate and an overall line of .267/.323/.575, while maintaining his power stroke with 22 HRs in 266 ABs. He's a high-risk, high-reward player who could flourish in Colorado if Helton stays down.
Toronto has sluggers at nearly every position but the places you actually expect power- 1B and DH. If they move Lyle Overbay, they'll promote Brett Wallace, currently mashing Triple-A pitching to the tune of .296/.359/.497. His 21 doubles and 14 dingers this year show his power potential, though his 77% contact rate indicates his lack of polish. Regardless, the Walrus is Toronto's 1B/DH of the future, and he's likely to see big-league ABs in 2010.
Another Show-ready prospect is Mat Gamel, the Milwaukee 3B whose MLB opportunities have been marred by strikeouts and injury. A shoulder problem kept him off the 2010 roster, but he looks healthy after rehabbing in the minors, and is just waiting for his chance. The Crew could move any of three obstacles to a Gamel promotion-Casey McGehee, Prince Fielder, or Corey Hart-once they decide they're sellers. Whether Gamel can curb his whifftastic ways to take advantage of the break will be another story.
A few line drives: DH Jim Thome, lurking at the VP fringes, could get added to the list soon. The pins were just removed from 3B Mark Teahen's fractured finger, and he should be back by August. If anything happens to former VP Gaby Sanchez, Logan Morrison is ready and waiting, sporting a .308/.418/.485 line at Triple-A. And if Arizona trades Adam LaRoche, Brandon Allen awaits, with his .264/.405/.505 line at Triple-A, including an 18 BB% and 25 K%.