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April 26, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Value Picks at Catcher, Second Base, and Shortstop

by Michael Jong

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There are a lot of changes going on this week's Value Picks portfolio, due to performances both good and bad, so it is definitely worth mentioning the players who are departing this week before welcoming in the fresh faces for this week's recommendations.

Departures

Alex Avila, Detroit Tigers (35 percent ESPN / 68 percent CBS)

Avila continued to mash under the suggestion of Value Picks, hitting .462/.533/.769 since last week's article, including two doubles and five RBI. This shot up Avila's ownership in ESPN leagues this week from 10 percent to 35 percent. What is more important for Avila in terms of mixed league status is Victor Martinez's strained right groin knocking him out for two weeks. Prior to this, Avila was likely to lose time to left-handed starters in favor of Martinez shifting to from DH to catcher. Now that Martinez is on the disabled list with the groin injury, Avila should get more looks now than ever with the Tigers.

Danny Espinosa, Washington Nationals (40 percent ESPN / 62 percent CBS)

Espinosa shot up in popularity (and I would like to think that was all due to Value Picks) thanks to a .333/.364/.429 week. Espinosa has been shifted to the leadoff spot, which has certainly helped in his run scoring (39 percent runs scored rate in 2011) and should allow him to get more opportunities to run the bases. He did squeeze out a steal in the past week, so fantasy owners should be somewhat intrigued.

Jed Lowrie, Boston Red Sox (99 percent ESPN / 93 percent CBS)

It should be no surprise that Lowrie's ownership jumped after last week's torrid Monday game. Even after the four-for-five Monday performance, Lowrie still tore it up, hitting .300/.318/.550 with three extra-base hits (including a home run), five runs, and three RBI. We talked about Lowrie ad nauseam last week, but suffice to say that if Lowrie isn't yet owned in your league, you should jump at the chance to pick him up.

Jayson Nix, Toronto Blue Jays (1 percent ESPN / 4 percent CBS)

Nix would have remained on the VP list had he not suffered a bruised left shinthat forced him onto the 15-day DL. We will say goodbye to him for now, and keep an eye on his playing time when he returns from injury. In place of Nix, expect more from John McDonald, whose utility bench role has been upgraded now to part-time starter at second and third base with the multiple injuries the Jays have.

Arrivals

Mike Aviles, Kansas City Royals (11 percent ESPN / 39 percent CBS)

The reason Aviles has once again dropped into the Value Pick ownership zone is the potential of inconsistent playing time. He started the season as the Opening Day third baseman, but with his slow start combined with the hot start by Wilson Betemit, Aviles has been shoved into a bit of a time share. However, of the three players involved in the second base / third base axis, Aviles is one of the two better players and one of the more intriguing fantasy options.

Here is what I said about Aviles in the past:

As for the other categories, Aviles is at the whims of the BABIP gods: when they smile upon him, as they did in 2008 and 2010, his average looks excellent and his performance is dragged up along with it. When they do not favor him, as they did in the injury-riddled 2009 year, his game is difficult to watch. PECOTA takes a midline stance, projecting a very believable .281 AVG with an accompanying .310 BABIP. While he will never bring any value in an OBP or OPS league given his poor walk rates, he brings just enough power to hover around a .400 SLG and provide close to double-digit homers. The newfound steals and his positional eligibility at second base and third base (and, in leagues with more lax positional requirements, shortstop as well) should make him a useful commodity late in mixed league drafts.

All of this basically still holds; Aviles is suffering through a .238 BABIP that is sure to go up. His recent two-homer game might have bought him some more time to reestablish himself at the plate and steal back some playing time, so if you're a mixed league owner with a mediocre middle infield situation, taking a chance on a balanced fantasy player (on average) like Aviles is a good call.

Incumbents

Jamey Carroll, Los Angeles Dodgers (4 percent ESPN / 8 percent CBS)

With all the injuries currently saddling the Dodgers' lineup right now, Carroll is all but entrenched in a starting spot. With all of that playing time, Carroll is bound to at least buy you counting stats as an emergency mixed league middle infielder or injury replacement. His placement in the lineup assures at least runs, especially given how fierce the bats of Andre Ethier (.382/.450/.539) and Matt Kemp (.402/.480/.655) have been behind him. Carroll scored three runs last week, but has crossed the plate just 26 percent of the time so far this season, compared to a career mark of 40 percent. Expect more runs as we go forward along with the occasional steal and always solid averages, making him a fringe / bench mixed league option and a decent NL-only pickup.

Chris Getz, Kansas City Royals(1 percent ESPN / 14 percent CBS)

Getz had a bad week hitting, batting just .182/.333/.273, but two notable things coming out of it still have to keep potential mixed league owners interested. First, Getz is continuing a trend of newfound plate discipline, drawing four walks and mustering a league average OBP despite a poor BABIP week. Combine that with the one strikeout and you have to feel good about his chances of maintaining a high average and getting opportunities to steal. Secondly, Getz actually got some steals in, swiping three bases this week with no caught stealing. As long as he keeps getting on base in any way, he should be in line for plenty of opportunities to swipe bases even while batting ninth.

Orlando Hudson, San Diego Padres (20 percent ESPN / 38 percent CBS)

Hudson did not have an impressive week, racking up only one hit. However, he also drew four walks and took advantage of his few appearances on the bases by stealing his seventh base of the season. The batting average should climb as his BABIP stabilizes, though you should expect a lower average than in year's past due to Petco Park's hit-suppression effects. As long as Hudson is getting on base, it seems like Bud Black is letting him take bases to assist the pop-less San Diego lineup, a fact that mixed league fantasy fans should take advantage of if they need middle infield assistance.

NL VP

Chris Snyder, Pittsburg Pirates (<1 percent ESPN / 10 percent CBS)

Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee Brewers (2 percent ESPN / 15 percent CBS)

These are two catchers who have grabbed the reins of their respective starting jobs after coming off of injuries. Both Snyder and Lucroy were out with injuries to start the season but both have opened hot: Snyder is hitting .348/.407/.435, while Lucroy is batting .355/.417/.484. Neither could ever hope to keep up these paces, as they are both thanks to BABIP mirages, but of the two, Snyder has the more likely potential to contribute strongly in other categories, as he is a double-digit home run threat over the course of the season.

Lucroy is more of a play for playing time, as backup catcher Wil Nieves is awful at the plate and the Brewers seem to have little confidence in George Kottaras. If you want the bigger risk/reward, both in terms of performance and in injury, Snyder is your choice; his high strikeout rates guarantee a low batting average, but the home run power from the Arizona days is still there. The safer, lower-upside selection ironically lies with the younger Lucroy, whom BP's Team Injury Projections labeled a minimal risk to miss 15 or more games but whom PECOTA projects to not excel in any one category over the course of the season.

AL VP

Hank Conger, Los Angeles Angels (<1 percent ESPN / 19 percent CBS)

We all thought that the second Jeff Mathis had a clear, unobstructed path to be the primary starter in Los Angeles, manager Mike Scioscia would gladly hand him the keys. Yet, prospect Hank Conger has actually invaded into Mathis's playing time in the same way Mathis once invaded Mike Napoli's time behind the plate. It is not as if Mathis did not deserve decreased playing time: he was hitting .214/.227/.381, after all. But to see Conger get nine starts to Mathis's 11 seems especially strange given that Conger is primarily known for his bat and not his game-calling or defense.

If Scioscia continues to split time between the two and give Conger more of an opportunity to take over the role, fantasy owners should be happy. Conger is currently hitting .281/.361/.500 with two early home runs and a non-distinct .304 BABIP. The power is obviously not this good; the two homers gave him a 20 percent HR/FB rate to start the season. However, his minor league career ISO of .168 suggests double-digit home run strength to go along with a solid track record for avoiding strikeouts and maintaining a high batting average. Keep an eye on the Los Angeles catching situation and stash Conger away if possible on a bench slot.

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

Related Content:  Time,  Mike Aviles,  Espn

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