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January 24, 2011

Fantasy Beat

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

by Rob McQuown

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On Jason Bay, Adam Rubin of ESPN New York reported, “Bay: Concussion issue in the past” on December 14. It's hard to be 100% optimistic about recovery from a concussion, but for the sake of estimating his performance, that's what will be done today. Keep in mind that it's still wise to assume that all analysis will be moot, and he won't recover sufficiently to be a 2011 force. Any player can have a season-ending injury, but consider Bay to be more likely, due to a pre-existing condition.

Jason Bay was hitting .275/.366/.442 through June, 2010. Even before his injury, his stats had deteriorated to .259/.347/.402, atrocious stats for the investment the Mets made in the corner outfielder, considering his bat was the reason for his paycheck. The kneejerk reaction is that the reduced bat speed of his age and the move to a tougher park were pushing him toward non-production at a fairly early age. But Bay won't go easily; he's proud and a hard worker, and he's had a worse year than 2010 before - .247/.327/.418 in 2007, at age 28. It's clear that Citi Field isn't as kind to him as Fenway Park was, but Pittsburgh's PNC Park is a nightmare for righty power hitters, and he hit .281/.375/.515 in his time as a Buccaneer (career .285/.382/.504 in PNC park itself). Still, while 2010 shouldn't blind fantasy owners to Bay's value, it also can't be ignored. While keeping in mind that the risk involved isn't wise to take on for an otherwise great fantasy squad (since the downside is so severe), don't be scared off of picking him up at a bargain while league-mates are looking only at his 2010 struggles.

Michael Brantley has to win a job in spring training, and it won't be a chip shot. With his defense, he's probably the best option for the Indians in left field, but Austin Kearns is a Manny Acta favorite, and had the better 2010 stats; meanwhile, Trevor Crowe was given more playing time than Brantley in 2010. As noted in-season last year, Brantley's value is reduced by not being allowed to cover his natural position of center field. But his fantasy upside is quite good, being a fast slap hitter with great contact skills. He's capable of hitting .300 and swiping 40 bases. After getting another chance due to injuries last year, he hit .292/.332/.390 from August onward, with 8 steals in 211 PA, and in 844 career PA at AAA, he's swiped 59 bases. Given the Grady Sizemore's knee and the relatively low skill levels of Kearns and Crowe, 400 plate appearances seem very likely, but this is a player with a wide variance in projected playing time, and spring training will have a lot to say about his 2011 value to a fantasy team.

Peter Bourjos moves around the outfield like a waterbug, impacting games defensively with his astonishing range. He blasted out a .314/.364/.498 batting line in AAA at age 23 (2010), but much of the slugging percentage can be attributed to the good hitting environment at Salt Lake and the extra-base hits he gathers with his great speed. He's nowhere near as bad offensively as his poor 2010 stats with the Angels suggested, but the rumors floating around suggest that Los Angeles is going to move him to a fourth outfielder role with the acquisition of Vernon Wells and the rumors of a free agent signing (Vlad?). Mike Trout is a vague threat to his playing time, too, but the team seems to be viewing him as Torii Hunter's heir apparent, so he'd have to utterly destroy the high minors this year to enter the equation just yet. If he does get playing time – again, watch the news and spring results – he could post 30 steals without damaging batting average, homers, or runs scored categories too much. Don't expect many RBI, based on his style of offense.

Michael Saunders could be one of the best buy-low candidates for 2011 in AL-only leagues, and possibly post stats worthy of starting in mixed leagues. Then again, he could be back in AAA, as first Jody Gerut gets a chance to make another miracle comeback, and/or Greg Halman shows that his power stroke can overcome Safeco Field. Last year, PECOTA projected Saunders to hit over .250 and perform at a 15/15 rate for a full season, and there wasn't really any warning that he'd trip and fall over the first step of the MLB career ladder. He's an above-average defender in a corner, which helps in this defense-minded organization, and – at the risk of being coldly pragmatic – the allegations against Milton Bradley can't hurt Saunders' chances to receive playing time (now that Jack Cust is clogging up the DH spot). Still, banking on Saunders getting even as much playing time in 2011 as he did in 2010 is risky at this time. If he does play, expect the same across-the-board production as predicted for 2010, contributions which tend to lead to players being underappreciated in fantasy formats anyway. The best course for now is probably to let someone else grab him unless he's ultra-cheap, and then target him in trade if it appears he's going to get time.

Brett Wallace was listed in PECOTA as “Toronto 3B” last year, and Marc Normandin gave him two stars at that position entering 2010. As Marc's review pointed out, he came up far short of even this modest level of confidence, with a quip about his weight. That quip wasn't a first, as even the Toronto Sun had an article titled, “Brett Wallace one heavy hitter” last June. His size isn't the only attribute Sun Writer Bob Elliott points out, as he notes from Wallace's past:

Wallace did eventually play for Arizona State and won PAC-10 player-of-the-year and Triple Crown honours in 2007-08.

[…]

From ScoutMLBNetwork.com, Nov. 27, 2004: “Wallace is one of the nation’s best power-hitting high-school prospects and among the best in the state of California at third. Wallace was voted as the Napa County offensive player of the year in 2003 and is considered to be a lock for the first two rounds of next June’s MLB draft.”

This is good to keep in mind, as Wallace's status as a star seems to be in free fall, with his (inevitable) move to first base, and return to the National League with the woeful Astros. As an indicator, Kevin Goldstein ranked him 44th on his top-100 before 2010, and by August wrote, “Wallace is a placeholder, not a linchpin on a championship-level club.”. And Carlos Lee ended the season at first base for the Astros. Apparently, the plan is to move Lee back to left field and play Wallace at first base, so playing time for “The Walrus” should be secure. Don't be surprised if he's better than anyone's expecting in 2011. That will likely still be short of deserving the raves he received in the past, but enough to fill first base on a fantasy roster for a low price.

Roger Bernadina's GP 2011 page will be posted here for reference, but his outlook doesn't look very good, as alluded to in the comments last week.

Matt Kemp was alluded to in the Tony Gwynn, Jr. writeup, and yours truly admits to being perplexed by the situation. In fact, in the recent BP Kings Scoresheet Baseball redistribution draft, I traded for the 4th pick and took Stephen Drew instead of Matt Kemp, though I'd intended on taking Kemp when I made the trade. Christina Kahrl writes – in GM for a Day (link for those with Premium access):

Finally, I'm only GM for a Day, which keeps me from really being in a position to deal with the one issue that I think everyone associated with the organization has to worry about: How will Don Mattingly handle Matt Kemp? Not to put too fine a point on it, but questions over Kemp's motivation existed before Joe Torre got here, and they have outlasted the future Hall of Fame skipper. Whether the borrowed Yankee legacy of Torre's portable heir apparent adds anything extra in the dugout is already going to be an important consideration, but heading into their next camp and larger than any single question involving Mattingly's acumen as a skipper is going to be how he handles his responsibility to manage his players. If questions over Kemp's effort continue to simmer as a subject as much as they did on Torre's watch, you can count on its ongoing capacity to distract from the task at hand—an eminently winnable National League West.

I guess the short answer is that he's “high risk/high reward”, since we know he can be a first-round type talent when everything is going well for him. But smart readers probably already knew as much, so it really comes down to how much risk an owner is willing to take with his fantasy team.

Still in the queue:

 

Please keep suggestions coming, and let me know if I missed someone.

Rob McQuown is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Rob's other articles. You can contact Rob by clicking here

Related Content:  A's,  Brett Wallace

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