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September 13, 2010

Fantasy Beat

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

by Michael Street

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Third base options abound among undervalued AL keepers, and (like last week), all these players have ESPN ownership levels under 1%, with one exception: regular-season VP Danny Valencia. His 5% ownership is bafflingly low, considering how he’s done since taking over third base for the Twins. In 163 PAs, he’s hit .340/.368/.477, making contact 86% of the time, though his 5% walk rate is a tad low.

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A .379 BABIP during that time suggests regression, and he hasn’t put up great counting numbers at the bottom of the Twins order. Otherwise, he’s had a fine debut, and Dan Wade thinks he might seize ROY with a productive September. Regardless, he’s got the 3B job next year. Kevin Goldstein gave him a three-star rating, pointing out his streakiness, low power, and plate impatience, though only the last showed itself this year. Valencia’s exceeded expectations at every level, and if you want a guy with a lock on productive playing time in 2011, that’s Valencia.

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Like other Cuban imports, Dayan Viciedo is a bundle of potential wrapped in question marks. His power (.219 ISO in Triple-A) is as undeniable as his impatience: he followed up a 3.8 BB% in the minors by not walking in his first 82 major-league PAs. His poor conditioning may push him across the diamond to first base, decreasing his fantasy value.

And, like Alexei Ramirez and Kendry Morales, Viciedo might take a while to adjust, despite the batspeed and raw power BP 2010 speaks of. He also has a good path to playing time at first or third base: if Paul Konerko returns, it’s likely at DH, and the Venezuelan love affair between Ozzie Guillen and Omar Vizquel won’t last forever. PECOTA’s bearish forecast for Viciedo gives him a peak TAv of only .259 in 2014, but that’s based on a small data set and the volatile projectability of Cuban players noted above. He’s a fine gamble for power, though the BA and OBP risk remains.

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Josh Bell, the last of the third-base trio, also has a clear starting role in 2011. Bell’s 23 K% in the minors has bloomed to 33 K% in the bigs. That lack of contact combined with a 1.4 BB% to produce his miserable MLB line above. The power evident in his .191 minor-league ISO hasn’t emerged, maybe because he’s only putting 27.2% of the balls in the air. He’s also not the speedster his 56.5 GB% suggests (23 SBs and 13 triples in the minors); he’ll have to alter his hit trajectory to rack up the longballs. But Bell faces few challenges in the Orioles system, so AL-only and deeper mixed leagues can take a chance on him adjusting with more playing time.

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Across the diamond, Mitch Moreland has already delivered fantasy value this season as Jorge Cantu’s platoon mate. Since his callup at the end of July, Moreland has put up the numbers on his Rotolympus card, and his .288 BABIP shows this isn’t a fluke. His 77% contact rate is down from 84% in the minors, but his 14 BB% shows consistent discipline, and it’s even better than his 10% average in the minors.

He shouldn’t remain a platoon hitter after hitting .328/.415/.515 against fellow southpaws and .318/.377/.519 against righties in the minors. Arlington will augment Moreland’s modest power, and the Texas hitters will boost his counting stats once he inevitably rises in the order. PECOTA also paints an optimistic picture, foreseeing TAvs of .270 and higher down the road. Moreland is a must-own in AL-only and most mixed leagues, even if more than 99% of ESPN owners haven’t recognized it.

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Last is DH Kila Ka’aihue, the better of the Hawaiian Bash Brothers—not much of a contest, since little brother Kala hit .167/.371/.364 before the High-A Stockton Ports released him in May. Kila’s callup came after his .319/.463/.598 2010 season led the PCL in OPS and OBP, thanks to an eye-popping 21% walk rate. His contact rate slipped from 81% in 2009 to 79%, but his 21.7 LD% shows he was nailing the pitches he hit. His SLG is 59 points higher against righties in his career, but his platoon splits are otherwise fairly equal.

While glum, Ka’aihue’s 2010 major-league numbers have shown improvement. After walking 3 times in his first 59 PAs, he took 11 free passes in his next 62 PAs. His whiff rate has held steady at a respectable 17.4%, while his .230 BABIP shows some bad luck. Unlike others on this list, Ka’aihue has some internal competition from Eric Hosmer, and DHs are easily replaceable. But he’ll have 2011 to shine, and those in OBP or Scoresheet leagues can use Ka’aihue, while the rest of us can roll the dice that power will follow his great plate awareness, like it did in the minors.

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The Week in Quotes: Se... (09/13)
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