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May 11, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Value Picks in the Outfield

by Mike Petriello

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I’m filling in for Rob again this week, and since I have the rare opportunity to talk about bats rather than arms, I’m going to take advantage of this captive audience to point out that in my main league, I came out of the draft with an offense featuring Josh Hamilton, Jason Heyward, Carl Crawford, Adam Dunn, and Rafael Furcal. At the time, I was pretty thrilled with that. At the moment, I’m in dead last. Fantasy baseball sucks sometimes.

Departures

Here is where we say goodbye to a few friends who are either far too popular or, in one case, unable to stay healthy for three straight games at a time.

Matt Joyce, Rays (66.5 percent ESPN / 25 percent Yahoo)
As Sam Fuld has inevitably regressed from “folk hero” to “fourth outfielder”, the magical outfield powers in Tampa have been passed on to Joyce, and he has more than delivered.  Joyce has hit in ten of his last eleven games–delivering multiple hits in seven of those games–and has increased his batting average over 60 points in two weeks. He also crushed another homer last night in Cleveland, and it’s safe to say the secret is out.

Peter Bourjos, Angels (31.1 percent ESPN / 27 percent Yahoo)
Bourjos is the only member of the Angels in the outfield (yes, sorry, I regret that immediately) not struggling to start the year, and the recent injury to Vernon Wells solidifies his spot in the lineup even further.  Fantasy players are starting to take notice, as his ownership levels are increasing. Though he is still stuck at the bottom of the lineup more often than most would prefer, there is plenty of potential for further growth from the young centerfielder.

David Murphy, Rangers (23.9 percent ESPN / 32 percent Yahoo)
What is the best way to get dropped off the Value Picks list? That would be to be owned in enough leagues where you’re not really a value and to not take advantage of the opportunities that are presented to you. With Josh Hamilton on the shelf and Nelson Cruz joining him earlier this week, there is plenty of playing time to be had in the Texas outfield, but Murphy has just a 644 OPS with two homers and two steals over the last thirty days, entering Tuesday. That is not enough to stick with a guy who doesn’t even have center field eligibility in ESPN leagues, unless you say a prayer and promise to only play him at home, where he has been acceptable (819 OPS) as opposed to execrable (559 road OPS).

Seth Smith, Rockies (31.9 percent ESPN / 15 percent Yahoo)
Smith has been mired in a slump, with just three hits over the last seven days entering in Tuesday and seven hits in the last fifteen days, with just one being more than a single. His ownership has plummeted by nearly 20 percent in part to the downturn. Those in daily leagues might want to hang on to Smith, if only to platoon him against righties while keeping him away from lefties at all costs.

Nyjer Morgan, Brewers (4.2 percent ESPN / 10 percent Yahoo)
Morgan returned after missing several weeks due to a thigh injury, and lasted all of seven plate appearances before breaking his finger on a bunt, landing himself right back on the disabled list. He is expected to miss two to four weeks, thus dooming the Brewers to more Carlos Gomez in center field. Morgan has been surprisingly effective in the rare times he has been healthy this year, and it’s unlikely that Gomez suddenly turns into Joe DiMaggio between now and Memorial Day, so Morgan may yet regain fantasy relevance in the weeks to come.

Incumbents

Jerry Sands, Dodgers (1.1 percent ESPN / 3 percent Yahoo)
The numbers haven’t yet been there for Sands, hitting just .203/.273/.305 entering play on Tuesday. Regardless, the struggling Dodgers don’t appear inclined to cut back on his opportunity, particularly with no obvious alternative in left field and with first baseman James Loney doing his best to set records for ineptitude. That alone is enough to make him intriguing, though it’s not completely out of the question that he gets a Triple-A refresher course at some point if he doesn’t turn it around.

Arrivals

Julio Borbon, Rangers (19.2 percent ESPN / 7 percent Yahoo)
With Cruz and Hamilton injured and Murphy not seizing the day, there is plenty of opportunity in the Texas outfield, and that is why our attention shifts to Julio Borbon, who batted leadoff for the first time this season on Tuesday night. Borbon didn’t do much for most of April, but has kick started his season into gear, taking a nine-game hitting streak into Tuesday and hitting .381 over his last fifteen games. Though Borbon is never going to offer any power, he has managed to grab six steals over that stretch, and if can stick at the top of the Texas lineup, he is in a prime position to score runs ahead of Ian Kinsler, Michael Young, and Adrian Beltre.

Nate McLouth, Braves (17.9 percent ESPN / 12 percent Yahoo)
After a completely lost 2010, Nate McLouth is starting to show some signs of life in Atlanta, particularly since he was bumped from the #2 spot down to #8 in the lineup midway through April. No, really–in 14 games batting second, he produced just a .216/.286/.275 line; in 15 games in the eight hole, he has put up a line of .396/.525/.625. Small sample size warnings abound of course, but McLouth looks to have found his comfort zone hitting behind the big guns in the Atlanta lineup.

At his peak, McLouth was a decent bet for 20 homers and 20 steals. He is only 29, so there is still a chance those days aren’t over. We’ll of course need to see it over more than a few weeks after how bad his 2010 was. Still, that kind of production from a center fielder isn’t easy to find in a world where 77.6 percent of ESPN owners have Melky Cabrera on their rosters, so the potential for upside is more than worth keeping an eye on.

Domonic Brown, Phillies (3.0 percent ESPN / 23 percent ESPN)
Look at the Phillies outfield, won’t you? Shane Victorino is fine, but Raul Ibanez is a step away from the glue factory and Ben Francisco entered Tuesday with one hit in the last week. To say there is opportunity in the post-Jayson Werth outfield is a mild understatement. Meanwhile, Domonic Brown is proving his health while rehabbing from hand surgery, with seventeen hits (and four homers) in twelve minor league games. It’s hard to see how the Phillies keep him on the farm for too much longer, and even harder to see him not getting regular playing time when he is recalled. Don’t be fooled by the somewhat underwhelming debut last September–there is a good reason why Brown was a consensus top-five prospect last year. The talent is there, the health seems to be there, and the opening in the Philadelphia outfield is certainly there. He should be there soon, too.

AL-Only Deep Pick

Conor Jackson (0.5 percent ESPN / 1 percent Yahoo)
There was a time when Conor Jackson seemed like a rising star in Arizona, with TAv marks of .285, .289, and .291 in his age 24-26 seasons, from 2006-08. But he largely fell out of the spotlight with two seasons lost almost entirely to Valley Fever and thigh/groin injuries, in addition to a trade to Oakland. Finally healthy, Jackson is seeing something of resurgence and is leading the A’s in OBP.  The Oakland offense on the whole has been abysmal, so Jackson will have no problem finding time if he is producing. He has never been much of a power hitter, and that is unlikely to change now, but in OBP leagues, you could do worse than someone this freely available.

NL-Only Deep Pick

Jason Pridie, Mets (0 percent ESPN / 1 percent Yahoo)
Our deep picks are often unheralded guys who are handed an unexpected opportunity, and the situation longtime minor leaguer Pridie finds himself in is no exception. Angel Pagan was off to a horrendous start before injuring his oblique, and none of the other New York backup outfielders–Scott Hairston, Willie Harris, & Lucas Duda–are offering anything near adequate production. Pridie, a veteran of ten minor league seasons with just six MLB plate appearances under his belt prior to 2011, has seized the opening and has become essentially the regular center fielder over the last three weeks.

His minor league record suggests that we need not expend too much energy searching to find his PECOTA projection (hint: it’s a .227 TAv), but with few other alternatives, the Mets look likely to play him as long as he is producing. In deep, NL-only leagues, Pridie may be worth a shot as a zero-cost center field-eligible with some small power (three homers so far) and possible speed (four minor league seasons with 20-plus steals).

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

Related Content:  Conor Jackson,  Espn

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