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June 21, 2011

Value Picks

Second Base, Shortstop, and Catcher

by Michael Jong

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Departures

Dustin Ackley, Seattle Mariners (Yahoo! 32%, ESPN 36.4%, CBS 68%)
After two weeks waiting in the wings of Value Picks, Ackley finally received the call and fantasy owners noticed as his ownership rates skyrocketed. He was not bad in his first series out there, batting .272/.272/.727 with a homer and a triple in 11 plate appearances. Ackley's amateur pedigree out of University of North Carolina and his early performance in the minors speak for themselves, but if you needed any more reason to own him, here is Baseball Prospectus prospect guru Kevin Goldstein on Ackley's 2011 capabilities:

He's not a very good second baseman, but he's fine there, he doesn't have a ton of power, but there will be plenty of doubles and the occasional ball flying over the fence. He's not a burner, but he's fast enough to steal 15-20 bases a year. His minor league career line of .280/.387/.435 looks just about right to me as far as a big league projection goes, and while he might not be the superstar some projected for him out of college, he's going to represent a major upgrade in the middle of the infield for Seattle.

He is off to a good start and should be owned in all AL-only leagues and deeper mixed leagues.
 

Incumbents

Adam Kennedy, Seattle Mariners (Yahoo! 13%, ESPN 7.3%, CBS 15%)

Kennedy has not hit well lately, batting .194/.237/.278 in his last 39 PA, but that is obviously below his level of play, and he should be able to right that ship soon enough. The concern is that the Mariners will not give him the playing time to do sp, but it sounds like manager Eric Wedge will attempt to get Kennedy playing timeregardless of the infield situation. All of these concerns have placed Kennedy on the hot seat for the time being, but if he keeps getting a fair bit of playing time and performs to his typical, mediocre level, he should at least be worth a look in AL-only formats.

Chris Nelson, Colorado Rockies (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 1.5%, CBS 6%)

Fantasy owners have not warmed to Nelson despite another solid week worth of 22 PA and a .238/.273/.571 slash line. Nelson hit two home runs and drove in four runs while scoring three as well. Right now, things are going well for him, and last week's recommendations regarding Nelson's power potential in Coors Field and the team's confidence in him still hold true. He should continue playing at a decent enough level according to PECOTA's .266/.320/.408 updated projection to earn the majority of playing time and the trust of fantasy players.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Boston Red Sox (Yahoo! 13%, ESPN 3%, CBS 32%)

Salty hit .214/.267/.357 for the week but has had a decent month overall, batting .333/.395/.564 during June. He still strikes out too much to be a good play in mixed leagues given that his batting average is likely to remain low, so right now he is best placed as a deeper mixed league or AL-only option.
 

Arrivals

Dee Gordon, Los Angeles Dodgers (Yahoo! 18%, ESPN 17.2%, CBS 46%)

Here are two shortstops in whom fantasy fans showed a strong interest when they first made their debuts in the majors:

Player

 

PA

AVG

OBP

SLG

Player 1

Minor League (Double-A)

121

0.376

0.421

0.569

Major League

506

0.300

0.347

0.408

Player 2

Minor League (Triple-A)

220

0.315

0.361

0.370

Major League

48

0.298

0.313

0.340

Obviously one of the two players is Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Dee Gordon, who has been given regular opportunities at shortstop with the extended absence of Rafael Furcal and other Dodgers infielders due to injuries. The other shortstop was a player who made his debut last season and had a similar skill set in terms of low power and low strikeout and walk totals.  That player is Starlin Castro.

The comparison is not all that far off, as evidenced by some of their minor league peripherals.

Player, minor league

K%

BB%

(2B+3B)%

HR%

ISO

Gordon

13.9

6.6

4.7

0.4

0.084

Castro

11

6.8

6.0

0.8

0.111

Castro was obviously slightly better, but that should not be of any surprise given his pedigree; after motoring through the minors in 2009, Castro came into 2010 as the 16th ranked prospect in the country according to Baseball America. In comparison, after a bad 2010 in Double-A, Gordon came in as “only” the 29th best prospect in baseball. Nevertheless, both players employed a similar approach at the plate, one that eventually becomes highly dependent on BABIP for success and is thus vulnerable to “streakiness.” If, as a fantasy baseball owner, you were looking forward to owning Starlin Castro when he first arrived on the scene last year, you should be equally interested in Gordon.

One other skill that Gordon has that Castro has yet to display is an acute ability to steal bases. Two years ago in the Midwest League, Gordon stole 73 bases in 98 attempts. He followed that up with 53 steals in 73 attempts in Double-A, and he was well on pace for another strong season on the basepaths in Triple-A this year, having taken bases in 22 of 25 attempts. Gordon has already taken off in 25 percent of his stolen base opportunities this season, and with his known skills, the Dodgers should allow him to continue to run wild. Even with a paltry .246/.278/.302 projection at his 50th percentile, PECOTA still sees Gordon stealing 33 bases in 505 plate appearances, which could yield you almost 20 steals by the end of this season. Consider him a strong NL-only and deep mixed league option for now, and keep an eye out in more general mixed league play.
 

AL-only VP

Jemile Weeks, Oakland Athletics (Yahoo! 7%, ESPN 5.8%, CBS 35%)

Weeks had another hot week, batting .391/.391/.609 with three doubles and a triple. At some point that .400 BABIP will fall and we will see where Weeks's true talent lies this season, but right now you can take his playing time and potential steals for your AL-only team while waiting for regression in other departments.
 

NL-only VP

Jeff Keppinger, Houston Astros (Yahoo! 3%, ESPN 1.2%, CBS 8%)
Keppinger hit .333/.357/.367 in 31 PA last week, once again displaying the only things he does well: remain in the Houston starting lineup and hit for average. His strikeout rate in his first 90 PA is a mere 5.5 percent, ensuring a decent batting average with anything remotely considered a normal BABIP. As long as he continues to do that and bats at or near the top of the order (he has batted second or third in his last five starts), he should continue to hold good value in NL-only leagues.

Orlando Hudson, San Diego Padres (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 2%, CBS 17%)

For similar reasons, NL-only owners should look to Hudson, who was a VP member recently before succumbing to injury and going on two separate DL stints. Hudson's return is hopeful for two reasons: a regression in his currently enormous and highly uncharacteristic 23.1 percent strikeout rate and a return to the early season aggressiveness on the bases for Hudson. He has been swinging at pitches at the same rate he has for much of his career (41.7 percent in 2011 versus 43.3 percent career), but he has whiffed on a career high rate of 20.4 percent of his swings, explaining his strikeout woes. As for the basepaths, much of his early season value came from his 10 stolen bases in a little over one month of play, and NL-only owners are hoping for more of the same and a better batting average going forward.

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:  Starlin Castro

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