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June 15, 2011

Value Picks

Outfield

by Rob McQuown

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So much has changed in the weeks since yours truly was last able to write about outfielder Value Picks.  Among players touted here so far, Alex Gordon is still doing well (though he's cooled off), and Mike Morse and Curtis Granderson have done great, as suggested.  Unfortunately, speedsters Peter Bourjos and Julio Borbon haven't lived up to expectations.  Maybe Nyjer Morgan will, if he can ever get enough playing time. 

As far as predicted flops, Brennan Boesch has slumped into irrelevance as predicted here and here and here … wait, he hasn't?  At least the long-awaited severe slump by Ryan Raburn has happened, and there's still time for Boesch to have a bad second half, like last year.

Onward to mid-June Value Picks.  The previous edition was on May 10, by Mike Petriello, to whom many thanks are due for pinch-hitting. 
 

Departures

Jerry Sands, Los Angeles Dodgers (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0%, CBS 12%)

The May 4 synopsis began, “There haven't been many positives so far for Jerry Sands...”  Well, things didn't get much better, and it now seems likely he'll have to batter Triple-A pitching for a while before getting another shot, but file his name away–along with guys like Kyle Blanks of the Padres–as a guy who can hit and keep an eye on possible positional openings on the big league club.  Sands and Brandon Belt are good reminders that sometimes there are bumps in the road to becoming a good Major-League hitter, even for guys who demolish minor-league pitching.

Julio Borbon, Texas Rangers (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN 3%, CBS 9%)

Seemingly a lock to patrol center field and steal about 30 bases in 2011, Julio Borbon was deemed inferior to the platoon of outfielders Texas plays in center field in his stead, led by defensive standout (before he was injured, at least) Endy Chavez.  With a weighted-mean projected on-base pecentage of just .316, Borbon was highly reliant on his defense to earn his playing time.  Mediocre stats (including an ice-cold start to the season) and a hamstring injury led to the Rangers sending Borbon to Triple-A to play full time while Chavez, David Murphy, and Craig Gentry cover center field for the Rangers.  Chavez won't keep hitting .386, and Gentry's skill set is similar to Borbon's, but he's older and not as good.  So keep Borbon on the radar, but don't be surprised if nothing happens for a few weeks.
 

Arrivals

Austin Jackson, Detroit Tigers (Yahoo! 37%, ESPN 49%, CBS 64%)

Austin Jackson is unlikely to be available in many leagues as “stay the course” owners have probably kept him while reactionary owners have noted his recent surge and grabbed him already.  The big question with Jackson is where his BABIP will stabilize.  His .396 mark in 2010 was ridiculous, and he was widely (and rightly) regarded as a candidate to disappoint.  But there's a big spectrum between “disappoint” and “useless”, and A-Jax has quietly pushed his BABIP up to .350 for the 2011 season, bringing his career mark to .383 in 966 plate appearances.  His May stats (.267/.327/.413, 6 steals) are relatively similar to his pre-season PECOTA with a bit more power and speed.  It's reasonable to assume that his power could grow as he's not a small, slap-and-go hitter, and he has actually raised his fly ball percentage from 27 percent to 39 percent in 2011.   Plus, few who've seen him play would doubt that he has 30-steal potential.  He's not likely to make a difference in mixed leagues, but he has job security based on his defense, and his runs and steals should make him a useful backup or situational play (against bad pitchers or batteries who cannot stop the running game).  People who believe in “magic bullet” solutions to hitters’ woes could be even more bullish as he's recently adjusted his swing with the help of hitting coach Lloyd McClendon, leading into his recent hot streak.

Charlie Blackmon, Colorado Rockies (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 1%, CBS 11%)

Charles Blackmon hit .342/.396/.576 for Colorado Springs this year before being called up when Dexter Fowler was injured.  He hit 10 home runs and stole 12 bases there, and hitting in Coors Field is much like hitting in Colorado Springs.  Better still for Blackmon is that Ryan Spillborghs has been struggling to a .245/.311/.355 clip, the team is so disappointed with Fowler's approach from the left side that he's considering scrapping switch-hitting, and the team is talking about eventually making Blackmon the leadoff hitter.  This all sounds wonderful for Blackmon's chances this year, but he's never really showed much promise in the past.  Even with the Coors Effect, his PECOTA is .278/.316/.422, and he'll be 25 on July 1.  Worse, he's struggled out of the gate so far with just seven singles (and no other times on base) in 27 plate appearances.  He has already stolen three bases, so at least the speed has translated, but the team views Carlos Gonzalez as the better option in center field, so don't expect Blackmon to get too long of a leash as the team can play guys like Eric Young or Ty Wigginton in left field if Blackmon doesn't start getting on base soon.

Ben Revere, Minnesota Twins (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN 2%, CBS 12%)

Ben Revere has a minor-league track record of a prototypical, “old school” leadoff hitter, as can be seen from his stats the past three seasons:

2008 Single-A: .433 on-base percentage, 44 steals
2009 High-A: .372 on-base percentage, 45 steals
2010 Double-A: .371 on-base percentage, 36 steals

He wasn't doing as well in 2011 until his recent promotion, hitting .242/.265/.242 in the majors and .303/.338/.364 in Triple-A (with eight steals in 141 PA).  Since his second 2011 promotion, though, he's hit .292/.333/.313 in 51 PA with three stolen bases.  He has enough arm to play right field when Span returns, and there are plenty of openings on the Twins in the short term with all of Span, Jason Kubel, Jim Thome, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, and Joe Mauer still on the shelf.  Revere is a good defensive center fielder, and until Span returns, the team has no other good options to replace him.  After that, he won't need to out-hit the other candidates to earn playing time as his glove adds value (especially over Kubel in right field).  The bottom line is that if he keeps getting on base one time in three, he should stay on the roster and see plenty of playing time, leading to plenty of steals.  Since his PECOTA-forecast OBP was .323, that has somewhat less than a 50/50 chance of happening, but he should have some value in the meantime–at least until the Twins get healthier.
 

Incumbents

Nate McLouth (Yahoo! 5%, ESPN 5%, CBS 25%)

Sure, he's only hitting .238/.332/.341 on the season and has stolen one lone base in 194 plate appearances, and, yes, this is the same guy who hit .190/.298/.322 in 2010.  But, as Mike Petriello pointed out last time, he's a 20/20 threat when he's right (averaged 20 HR and 21 SB from 2007-2009).  With all the Braves outfield injuries, he should get plenty of playing time in the short term to convince the team that he is, indeed, right again.  Given any other good options, however, it's probably better to pick one of them up for the time being–at least until McLouth has a few good games.

Domonic Brown (Yahoo! 26%, ESPN 27%, CBS 69%)

Guys in Domonic Brown's situation shouldn't have weeks where they hit .067/.222/.267 as Brown did last week.  It's just not good for their seasonal outlook.  Lucky for him, the team really has few other options, and, well, Brown is great.  Keep this in mind when making player decisions: Brown hit .327/.391/.589 in the minors in 2010.  In a rehab stint this year, he hit .341/.431/.537 in Triple-A.  The Phillies have been slightly below-average in run scoring so far in 2011, but Utley has begun to hit again, and Brown should reap some of the benefits.  He's hitting .259/.339/.444 against right-handed pitching (with just seven strikeouts in 62 PA), so even given his struggles so far, he has contributed against righties.  It's never certain when a rookie will figure the league out, but Brown is one of the most likely candidates to perform like a star in the second half among all commonly-available players.
 

NL-only VP

Wily Mo Pena, Arizona Diamondbacks

While he purportedly needs an injury to get playing time, the Diamondbacks' three primary left fielders this season have been Gerardo Parra (48 starts, .262 TAv), Willie Bloomquist (9 starts, .215 TAv), and Xavier Nady (4 starts, .250 TAv).  Further, Parra bats left-handed and is hitting an anemic .250/.327/.318 against Southpaws in 2011, consistent with his career splits; meanwhile, Pena has hit .407/.485/1.000 against Triple-A lefties in 2011, an exaggerated reinforcement of his career tendency to hit lefties better.  Jason Collette discussed some of the concerns the team might have with Pena–he has that dreaded “Quadruple-A” tag–but it's not too much of a stretch to envision Pena lucking into some playing time and blasting out a dozen second-half homers this season. 
 

AL-Only VP

Justin Ruggiano, Tampa Bay Rays (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 2%, CBS 3%)

His recent hot streak notwithstanding, Justin Ruggiano isn't good enough to start for a competitive MLB team.  But he can play center field (as well as both side fields) and has amassed 67 home runs and 104 stolen bases in 2041 Triple-A plate appearances in his career.  While it seems likely that Desmond Jennings is going to be starting in left field for the Rays before long, Ruggiano was out-hitting Jennings at Durham before he was called up (.301/.382/.514 v. .285/.379/.475).  With “The Fall of the Legend” (Sam Fuld) hitting just .228/.279/.345 now on the season, Ruggiano probably has a chance to stick as the 4th outfielder (instead of Fuld), and get significant playing time even after Jennings is called up.  Lest his gaudy Triple-A stats lead to misattribution of stardom, Ruggiano's PECOTA projection is .238/.308/.383, consistent with his career line of .248/.295/.388 (in 140 PA).  He's not a star, but the skills he does have can help a fantasy team if he keeps getting playing time.

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:  Justin Ruggiano,  Domonic Brown,  The Who,  Triple-A,  Time,  Steals

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