September 7, 2010
Hot Spots: Catcher, Second Base, and Shortstop
The theme for Value Picks this week will be NL keeper additions still available in the waiver wires late in the baseball season. Here are a couple of interesting names available in more than 90% of ESPN mixed leagues right now that could be cheap keeper options for next year.
The first choice is a player who would have made the Value Picks portfolio fairly consistently had he been given the chance to play on a regular basis. The Cincinnati Reds have been splitting catching duties between the 29 year old Hanigan and veteran Ramon Hernandez, and while both catchers have excelled at the plate, there's a lot more to like about Hanigan's play. While Hernandez is a far cry from what he was as the Oakland A's catcher in the early part of this decade, Hanigan is still beginning to show off his tremendous plate discipline and control. In 601 career PA, he has struck out just 62 times while receiving 61 unintentional walks, a remarkable achievement. His plate discipline numbers back up this skill, as he has swung at just 18.1% of pitches outside the zone (league average is around 26%) while making contact on a staggering 90.5% of his swings (league average 81%). This means that, even if he does not display top-notch BABIP skills or strong power, he can still boast a .280 AVG for your roto team without much sweat. In addition, his strong discipline gives him a bonus in leagues counting OBP.
Hanigan won't slug a whole lot more than he has this season, but a catcher who can maintain solid rate stats is always a sound choice provided he has enough playing time. Hernandez' resurgence puts a dent in that plan, as the Reds may indeed consider picking up his $3.25M option at the end of this year. If the team is smart, they'll realize that a 34 year old catcher is unlikely to repeat a .340 BABIP that is currently the only positive keeping Hernandez in a time share with Hanigan. If the team declines the option or offers any inclination towards Hanigan receiving more PT, fantasy owners should jump at the chance of an above average bat at catcher.
The Nationals could not be more happy with the quick start Danny Espinosa has had for them in September. He hit his first home run in his second game and went 4-for-5 in his fifth game. His minor league numbers from 2010 help make the case for an extended stay in the majors; Espinosa hit a combined .268/.337/.464 across Double- and Triple-A this season, including 22 combined home runs. He also showed some speed, stealing 25 bases in 36 opportunities. His power from the middle infield seems real, as his career .175 ISO in the minors shows, and ideally it would translate into major league home runs should Espinosa's official big league call come. With that kind of boost in two different categories, especially with homers traditionally difficult to find among middle infielders, it is easy to see why Espinosa should have fantasy players with few middle infield options intrigued.
The only question is again one of playing time, and the Nats could make the answer obvious this September. If Espinosa continues to play decently and gets the lion's share of PA at second base, expect Adam Kennedy to be bought out of his 2011 team option and Espinosa installed firmly in the keystone at the start of 2011. Given Kennedy's play after the Cristian Guzman trade, the Nats should be more than willing to part ways with him, opening the door for a full-time opportunity for Espinosa manning the infield up the middle with Ian Desmond.
Josh Thole was heavily considered for a VP spot but was eventually denied because of his lack of a standout statistic. For a late-season run in which you may need to catch up in counting stats, Thole may not be able to help. However, going into a fresh 2011 season, there are worse options out there than a guy who can muster a .270-ish AVG and maintain playing time behind a passable Mets lineup. Essentially, think of him as Ryan Hanigan Lite, with a bit more of a guarantee for PT. Barring an offseason pickup (not out of the question for the Mets), he should open as the team's starter at the backstop.
Thole has been aided thus far in his major league career by a somewhat hefty .338 BABIP. While it isn't out of the question for him to sport a figure like that as his true talent, expect some regression in that and subsequently his AVG. However, he minimizes damage to his AVG by avoiding strikeouts (major league career 12.1% K%, minor league career 11.0%), and it helps that he has a decent eye for the plate (major league 9.2% unintentional BB%, minor league career 11.0%). He sports very little power to begin with, and this is accentuated a bit by his home ballpark of Citi Field, but with such a weak field of catchers (especially in the NL) for fantasy purposes, many owners would consider a league average hitter with a high AVG at their catcher position.
Chase D'Arnaud is not a player who would be considered for 2011 were it not for his team. On a team other than the Pittsburgh Pirates, d'Arnaud would be allowed to simmer in Double- or Triple-A after a mediocre (read: league average) performance in Double-A. His hot professional start in the A-levels brought expectations up, but after 2010 those expectations should be a bit tempered. After hitting .293/.398/.454 in both low- and high-A in 2009, D'Arnaud batted a meager .244/.331/.364 in his first taste of Double-A. The good news is that his steals were as solid as ever; even with the deflated OBP, he still managed to swipe 33 bases in 40 attempts (82.5% SB%) and for his professional career he has taken 78 bases in 95 tries (82.1%).
With the options at shortstop minimal for the Pirates, D'Arnaud could receive a call sooner rather than later. With a solid eye for the zone, he should be good for a passable OBP, even if his AVG suffers for BABIP- or even strikeout-related reasons. That OBP should keep his offensive value afloat, as his primary category of assistance will most likely be steals.
Eric Young Jr. has one really favorable fantasy skill, and that is his speed. He has stolen 13 bases in 15 attempts already this season, with barely 120 PA under his belt. His career major league SB% is 73.6%, but his minor league track record (83.9% SB%) shows a more successful base stealer. The advantage that Young Jr. has over other popless young speedsters such as Alcides Escobar or Emilio Bonifacio is that he has shown a good walk rate in the minors (10.9% in the minors), which should help him stay on base consistently enough to get SB opportunities. Putting Young in Coors Field should help his AVG as well, but he should strike out just enough to require a very high BABIP in order to put up an above-average to good AVG. Still, if his OBP remains close to the league average, his one category value should still be intact.
Young Jr. took over during Clint Barmes' injury late in the year, but there is no guarantee that he will get more opportunities next year. Again, September will show where the Rockies are leaning in terms of 2011 playing time. With Barmes' struggling play over the last few years (combined .241/.300/.405 in over 1000 PA in 2009-2010) should convince the Rockies to reduce Barmes' role to a part-time or bench player, giving Young Jr. the opportunity to run the bases more often.