January 17, 2011
Hot Spots: First Base, Third Base, Designated Hitter, and Outfield
Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The news of the past week has been slow, so if readers have suggestions for 1B/3B/DH/OF players to review Wednesday, feel free to post them here, and all four positions will be covered, whether the players moved or not. In other news, Acta Sports has a new page for Graphical Player: http://www.actasports.com/gp11/ and there should be a free multi-page preview up there soon. Baseball Prospectus 2011 can also be ordered from the Acta site, taking care of all the requisite 2011 “hardcopy” fantasy players (and other baseball fans) will need.
There's no 2011 change with Carlos Gonzalez, nor will there be for anytime in the foreseeable future, as he inked a seven-year contract with the Rockies. Not being above a little self-congratulation, yours truly will remind folks of the April (2010) discussion regarding the Rockies outfield in this very column, where little was held back in recommending “Car-Go”, as advice such as “Gonzalez is going to rake”, “don't fear the limited playing time estimates”, and “target in trade immediately” was offered.
Jim Thome is returning to the Land of 10,000 Homers (or Lakes, or whatever it is), and while the Value Picks writers didn't jump on him with quite the same zeal as Carlos Gonzalez, he was just a part-time player last year, and Michael Street got him on the list at the start of May, noting “Despite his age, potential health problems and limited playing time, deeper AL-only leagues and saber-scoring or Scoresheet leagues can all get some value from Thome, if used judiciously.” And as the prognosis for Justin Morneau's concussion failed to improve, Thome's stock rose. As noted in the Baseball Prospectus 2011 annual, he became only the fourth player age 39 or older to slug .600 or better. With Morneau expected to be healthy, another 300 (or or more) plate appearance season seems unlikely from Thome, and his slugging percentages were .503 and .481 in 2008-2009, so it's likely he'll settle in at under .500 slugging, as well.
Yours truly wasn't so on-the-mark with tepid comments about Ryan Raburn last year, noting “For fantasy teams which need flexibility and pop, he isn't awful, but not good enough to start in most mixed-league formats.” Well, he hit .346/.392/.582 from that day onward, again having a hot September, as Craig Brown had previously noted of his 2009 season. Raburn remains a great platoon bat at worst (he's slugged .514 in his career against lefty pitching), and the Tigers have plenty of question marks around the diamond, so his versatility could come in handy as well, though he's not much of a defender anywhere. As a longtime infielder, it's not completely out of the question that his outfield defense will improve somewhat, however.
Ben Francisco is a career .263/.329/.446 hitter (with 39 HR and 26 SB in 1221 career PA) who avoided arbitration with Philadelphia this week, re-upping for over $1 million in 2011. He hovers around league-average in defensive metrics, and has shown a typical platoon split, hitting .267/.347/.460 against lefties for his career (though he was atypically very lopsided in 2010, tuning them up at a .284/.344/.557 rate). In short, Ben Francisco is about as close to being an average corner outfielder as possible, on both sides of the ball. His problem is that the guy in waiting was compared to all of Carl Crawford, Barry Bonds, and Daryl Strawberry in the first three sentences of his “Scouting Report” section at Baseball America, and when Kevin Goldstein gets to the Phillies Top 11 in a few days, it's unlikely his reports on Domonic Brown will be any more tempered. The Phillies aren't giving the kid anything, claiming that they expect Francisco to be the most-often right fielder (The Philadelphia Inquirer reports: "We are pleased to have come to terms with Benny," Amaro said in a statement. "Our goal in this process is to come to equitable deals. Benny, as we've stated, will have an opportunity to play more regularly in right field this year, and I am looking forward to the competition beginning this spring.") Anyway, that's a verbose way of noting that there's a lot of risk with Francisco, despite the relative certainty about his talent level. At the very worst, he seems like a prudent “handcuff” position for owners gambling that Domonic Brown explodes on to the scene like Jason Heyward did in 2010. At best, shrewd NL-only leaguers could end up with a decent full-timer for chump change on auction day.