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September 28, 2010

Fantasy Beat

2010 Rookie Roundup: AL Hitters

by Marc Normandin

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More rookies! This time of the American League variety, continuing where we left off after a look at some fascinating NL names. Just like last time, there will be more rookies to look at, but these three are the most worthwhile for discussion as far as hitters go.

Danny Valencia has helped the Twins recover from injuries in his inaugural major league campaign, putting up a line of .318/.358/.462 over 299 plate appearances. Valencia's had some help in his line—I'm looking at you, .351 BABIP. His BABIP on liners, flyballs and groundballs are all above the major league average this year, and though he's had a lot of hard-hit grounders reach the outfield for singles, not all of them may find a hole in 2011.

Then again, Valencia doesn't strike out much—just 14 percent of the time—so he puts a lot of balls in play, giving him more chances to rack up the hits. Valencia always had lofty BABIP in the minor leagues (in a career that spanned from 2006 through 2010 before his being called up to the Twins), so there is a precedent for this. He should be able to post an above-average BABIP again next year, just don't expect it to be around the .350 mark or you may end up disappointed.

That being said, Valencia has a .298 TAv right now, which puts him 30 points above the average at third base. He has plenty of cushion to pad his value if he's bitten by the regression bug in 2011, and should still perform well above-average for the position regardless. He's a name worth holding onto, and pseudo-sleeper for 2011 despite his tough-to-ignore production—just 29.9 percent of ESPN leagues own Valencia right now, and more than half of that is from pickups in the last week.

Dioner Navarro has worked hard the past two years to destroy production and happiness at the catcher position in Tampa Bay, but thanks to John Jaso, there may be a player worth looking at behind the plate now. Catcher remains weak—the league average TAv for the position was .256, ahead of only shortstop—and thanks to leagues that require you to play two catchers at once, someone like Jaso coming out of nowhere is huge.

Jaso ranks eighth in runs above replacement amongst backstops thanks to a .293 TAv. While a lot of the value for that comes from his on-base percentage, which means it isn't necessarily helpful in a fantasy format (Jaso is hitting .266/.380/.381) there's still plenty to like. Of course, if you're in a league with OBP or OPS, then Jaso is someone to covet.

His .285 BABIP is a little below the league average, and he's a very patient hitter who understands the strike zone—he has earned a free pass in 15.2 percent of his plate appearances, but don't mistake that for passiveness, as Jaso has been called out on strikes a mere 9.5 percent of the time. If anything his batting average should climb given how little he strikes out and the fact his BABIP isn't due for a harmful regression, which makes him even more intriguing for 2011.

Remember when Brennan Boesch was hitting .342/.397/.593 with 12 homers and 22 other extra-base hits, and he was the potential darling of the American League rookie class? Neither do we, as there's nary a mention of his awesomeness in our Fantasy Beat archives (in a related story, phew). Boesch's season line of .261/.327/.426 doesn't look terrible, especially for a rookie, but let's consider a few things. He has hit .166/.245/.229 since the All-Star break with just two homers and seven doubles in a similar amount of playing time to the numbers referenced above. He's not this terrible a the major league level, but it's tough to get excited about a left-handed hitter who struggles against right-handers and is relying on his production against southpaws to stay above sea level.

PECOTA was not a fan of Boesch heading into the year either, which does not bode well for his future outlook. His weighted mean forecast had him at .230/.273/.389, and even his 90th percentile had him at .248/.294/.459. Let's not even get into his 10-year forecast, because just a look at it is too much for those with weak stomachs. Boesch needed to take significant steps forward in his game to be considered a legitimate hitter by PECOTA, and based on his second half that is not what has happened. There's a chance he will be productive in 2011 if given the chance, but he's not someone worth using a roster spot on until he shows he is capable of that.

Related Content:  Danny Valencia

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