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August 9, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Hot Spots: First Base, Third Base, and Designated Hitter

by Michael Street

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Value Picks Season PECOTA Games Scoresheet
1B/3B/DH Team PA HR R RBI SB BA OBP SLG BA OBP SLG 1B 3B DH vRH vLH Rng
Russell Branyan SEA 283 14 33 35 1 .245 .319 .466 .236 .344 .442 51 0 18 +33 –92 1.84
Edwin Encarnacion TOR 251 12 34 32 1 .252 .315 .478 .263 .352 .476 0 65 0 –24 +64 2.55
Matt Joyce TB 121 5 14 20 1 .210 .347 .450 .248 .338 .449 0 0 9 +23 –78
Matt LaPorta CLE 272 6 31 25 0 .251 .324 .383 .262 .344 .462 55 0 7 –12 +29 1.85
Danny Valencia MIN 140 1 12 14 1 .344 .400 .438 .256 .308 .410 0 36 0 –11 +40 2.65
Dayan Viciedo CHA 71 3 13 7 1 .310 .310 .521 .238 .287 .369 3 22 0 –11 +40 2.65
Brett Wallace HOU 22 0 2 3 0 .278 .409 .333 .254 .322 .412 5 0 0 +24 –71 2.65
Subscribe to Heater Avg for First Base .275 .359 .477   vRH = OPS v RH
Heater Magazine Avg for Third Base .269 .339 .434   vLH = OPS v LH
  Avg for Desig. Hitter .263 .350 .468   Rng = Range

The first fringe VP candidate reaches the list this week, and we’ll offer a rundown of the other bubble options, who haven’t yet shown the skills or the playing time to add. Making room for our latest addition means releasing Dayan Viciedo, due to his own diminishing skills and playing time.

As Ozzie Guillen tries to keep his Sox atop the AL Central, he’s given most of the playing time at third base to Omar Vizquel, not Viciedo. With Mark Teahen returning soon, Viciedo will see even less time, assuming he’s not demoted. And when he has started, Viciedo has shown a love for the longball but an utter disdain for the walk (0 in 71 PA). His 85% contact rate balances that lack of patience, as does his .211 ISO, but without the playing time to swing the lumber, develop his eye, and deliver counting numbers to fantasy owners, he’s not valuable enough to keep.

Replacing him is Brett Wallace, whom Houston immediately promoted to the majors after acquiring him and trading away Lance Berkman. Small wonder, as Walrus matched his .302/.365/.505 line with Triple-A Sacramento in 2009 by hitting .301/.359/.509 at Triple-A Las Vegas in 2010. Stunningly, he registered nearly identical 21% strikeout rates and 6% walk rates during both seasons.

So far, Wallace hasn’t accumulated enough PAs to draw firm conclusions about his MLB performance, though he’s collected a hit in every August start. His power hasn’t emerged yet, as just one of those hits went for extra bases, but that only proves he’s not overswinging, and he certainly looks comfortable at the plate. Wallace began as a third baseman, so he retains that eligibility in most leagues, and the Astros could still use him there, once Chris Johnson’s .422 BABIP comes down to earth. Either way, however, Wallace should soon gain eligibility at both CIF positions, driving his value higher.

PECOTA’s 50th percentile is a bit underwhelming, but he becomes a respectable third baseman if just his 60th percentile, and a good first baseman in his 70th. His talent and playing time make him a great add in all but shallow leagues, and he’s a must-add in keeper leagues. He’s available in more than 98% of ESPN leagues, but that will change sooner rather than later, so get him while you can. He’s the kind of hitter who can make a difference in your fantasy team down the stretch.

Other VP members can make a similar difference, starting with the hottest hitters, Matt LaPorta and Edwin Encarnacion. LaPorta hit .269/.367/.462 last week, a spell that saw EEE swat .389/.450/.889. LaPorta’s playing time is unchallenged, while Encarnacion’s smoking bat has kept him on the field despite Toronto’s crowded outfield. If EEE starts to tank, that could change, but for now, he’ll play and deliver excellent value. Surprisingly, LaPorta’s available in 92%, and Encarnacion in 98%, of ESPN leagues.

Fantasy owners have also been slow to recognize the success of Matt Joyce and Danny Valencia, both of whom are now regulars. Joyce sits occasionally, and his .111/.273/.167 line last week won’t help that case, but he’s remaining patient, so his batting line will turn around. Valencia, on the other hand, is starting every night, despite cooling off after a smoking start to hit just .207/.258/.276 last week. He could sit when Justin Morneau returns—which should happen soon—but Valencia’s performed well enough for Gardenhire to keep playing him there.

Also cooling off is Russell Branyan, who missed time due to back spasms, but he returned to the lineup last week full-time, only to collect 2 hits in 22 PAs. One of those hits was a solo HR, so his back doesn’t seem to be affecting his power. If his back is healthy, his .158/.256/.289 line over the past two weeks doesn’t inspire much confidence, putting him close to the cut line.

If he does depart the VP list, there are plenty of emerging post-deadline options. Highly regarded prospects 3B Josh Bell of Baltimore and DH Jordan Brown of Cleveland have earned their chance to show their stuff. Bell’s .171/.171/.195 in 41 PAs needs work, however, and Brown’s .250/.286/.350 has come in just 20 PAs, making it too early to draw conclusions. Both, however, are good hitting prospects, with Brown expected to deliver BA while Bell should bring power.

Jose Guillen’s release allowed the promotion of Kila Ka’aihue, who should offer decent pop and a good batting eye that will bring OBP more than BA. Dan Johnson, who’s filling for an injured Carlos Pena, could bring punchless OBP, while Carlos Delgado’s recent signing by the Red Sox might bring the whole triple-slash package—if he’s healthy enough to play.

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