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July 6, 2011

Value Picks

Outfield for 7/6/11

by Rob McQuown

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Listen my children and you shall hear

Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,

On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;

Hardly a man is now alive


Who remembers that famous day and year.

Thus penned Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his classic poem describing how Revere portended the British invasion. As if celebrating our nation's birthday, Paul's namesake Ben Revere issued his own “cry of defiance, and not of fear” when booted from the Value Picks list last week.  He only hit .273, but logging four steals in seven days is, well, revolutionary.
 

Departures

Chris Heisey, Cincinnati Reds (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 4.5%, CBS 9%)

While on the topic of bad things happening to Redcoats, it was also an ill-fated Fourth of July weekend for at least one who wears a Reds uniform.  As the three-homer game and interleague matchups (with a designated hitter spot available for Jonny Gomes) become distant memories, Chris Heisey again slips back into his fourth-outfielder role (or fifth-outfielder if you count the Fred Lewis and Gomes platoon as two separate players).  Nothing has really changed with Heisey since last week–he's still pretty much above-average across the board with some additional upside potential in home runs–but he's not worth owning until some more playing time opens up in Cincinnati (or elsewhere in case of a trade).

Nate McLouth, Atlanta Braves (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 4.7%, CBS 21%)

Not that another week of exactly .400 on-base percentage is bad, mind you, but McLouth only hit .200 and seems to be leveraging his decent batting eye to get on base a lot from the #8 spot in the lineup.  Good for Atlanta, bad for fantasy owners.  Even the extra times on base are of limited value in standard leagues as he's not going to attempt to steal very often if the pitcher is bunting, nor with two outs and the pitcher at bat.  McLouth may rebound strongly, so keep an eye on him, but as a passive #8 hitter, he's no “value” for now.
 

Arrivals

Eric Thames, Toronto Blue Jays (Yahoo! 8%, ESPN 12%, CBS 23%)

For the second week in a row (last week was Travis Buck, a former AL-Only pick at DH), “Outfielders” is picking up a castoff from Mike Street's DH column, this time Toronto's Eric Thames.

The 2008 version of the Baseball America draft preview had this to say of Eric Thames:

As a pro, Thames profiles as a potentially heavy-hitting left fielder with average to slightly below-average non-hitting tools.

Starting his full-season professional experience at High-A (skipping the normal, short-season Single-A leagues), Thames showed enough of that heavy hitting in 220 plate appearances at Dunedin in 2009 to earn a promotion to Double-A in 2010.  In a pitcher's league, he hit .288/.370/.526, belting 27 home runs in 573 plate appearances.  This season, he convinced the Blue Jays to designate Juan Rivera for assignment by hitting .352/.423/.610 in 241 plate appearances at Las Vegas. 

Don't take the gaudy batting average in Las Vegas or in Toronto thus far seriously, though, as he had a .406 BABIP in Las Vegas and has a .426 BABIP so far in the majors.  The power is very real, however, and his home ballpark will augment that power.  While his expected strikeout rate of more than 25% is going to suppress his batting average once the balls in play start bouncing normally again, he'll draw enough walks to warrant a decent spot in the batting order.  For fantasy purposes, he should collect plenty of runs and RBI in a potent Toronto lineup which is already fourth in the American League in runs per game and could step up even more if Travis Snider hits and Brett Lawrie is promoted.

Speaking of Travis Snider, consider Value Picks to be “twice shy” on him for now, though – as noted repeatedly in 2010 – he has about as much raw power as you'll ever find on the waiver wire.  The February 2 coverage was the last time he was reviewed in this column.

Magglio Ordonez, Detroit Tigers (Yahoo! 16%, ESPN  8.8%, CBS 28%)

When a batter nears the end of the line due to age, some symptoms are common.  They often see a spike in walks.  Opposing pitchers tend to throw more fastballs.  One or both of their power and batting average dry up.  They strike out more.  Their speed score craters.  Etc. etc.

Magglio Ordonez is no spring chicken as this is his 15th major-league season, played at the ripe old age of 37.  And, clearly, with just two home runs and a .209 batting average, his batting average and power both seem to have dried up.  His speed score is an astonishingly low 1.2, compared to 3.0 or higher each of the previous two seasons. 

To be fair, he has had an ankle injury.  That sort of thing will sap a player's speed and potentially his power.  His BABIP is an unreasonably low .229, compared to .316 for his career.  This is in keeping with being slower and not hitting the ball with as much authority.  Pitchers haven't written him off yet, though, as he's still seeing the same percentage of fastballs.  His walk rate is almost exactly his career norm, and his strikeout rate (13.1%), while higher than his 2010 rate (11.8%), is lower than every season from 2006-2009.  He's hitting .278/.381/.370 since returning from the DL on June 10. 

Despite some of these encouraging signs, Maggs still isn't the best of fantasy players anymore.  He hit 21 home runs in 2008 and then a combined 21 HR in 2009-2010, although he does have very good contact skills for a power hitter.  Even when he does have two healthy ankles, though, he has very little speed.  So the question is whether his power–preferably home run power, but other extra-base hit power as well–will return.

About this time in 2009, in a similarly-themed column, this author received some scathing commentary for suggesting that Ordonez might not be done yet.   He'd hit .260/.330/.343 in the first half and had a vesting option on his contract based on plate appearances, which everyone assumed Jim Leyland would prevent from engaging.  It later turned out that he was facing some serious personal trials off the field which were likely undermining his ability to bat in the first half.  He went on to hit .375/.438/.540 in the second half. 

He's two years older now, and injuries have a way of lingering in a way that off-field issues usually do not.    Further, July will be a tough month for Tigers hitters, with two series apiece against the Angels and White Sox (the second and third best teams in the AL in TRA).  Depending on league format, however, it might be right to pick up Ordonez right away, or at least to keep an eye on him.

Raul Ibanez is on Ordonez's list of comparable players, though he's been the lesser hitter by far (.294 career TAv for Ordonez to .284 for Ibanez) and strikes out in 5% more of his plate appearances than Ordonez (leading to a career batting average 27 points lower).  And, even being the lesser hitter, Ibanez was able to post a good season at age 37.  It's always difficult to discern between slumps and skills degradation at advanced ages, but there's at a decent chance that Maggs will rebound strongly in the second half, as unlikely as that may seem from looking at his surface stats.
 

Incumbents

Alex Presley, Pittsburgh Pirates (Yahoo! 7%, ESPN  6.9%, CBS 16%)

It's natural to wonder if a young player is being over-billed when he's a no-name guy like Alex Presley, and considering that Presley hadn't shown much at all before the 2010 season, it was tempting to pen his name under “NL-Only”, but the upside of a speed guy like this is just too huge, and his hitting skills are much more mature than, say, Ben Revere's.  Not that small sample size means much in terms of evaluating talent, but a week where Presley hit .364/.421/.606 is a nice reward for early adopters and gives him some assurance of playing time for the near future.

He should have another week of Tabata-free time before he'll be in the mix of Pirates competing for at-bats (assuming they don't send him down to give him more playing time).  As usual, don't get carried away with the hot week–Presley is will probably always have to fight for playing time in his career–but he's good enough that he shouldn't embarrass either his fantasy managers or MLB managers when he gets it.

Roger Bernadina, Washington Nationals (Yahoo! 11%, ESPN  42.4%, CBS 29%)

The problem with trying to play “trends” in fantasy baseball is that more often than not, players get picked up after a hot streak and cut before the next hot streak.  Roger Bernadina is the same player he was two weeks ago.  He could have a two-homer/two-steal game tomorrow, or he could struggle for another week as he did this past week (.143/.250/.286).  The fact that he's a marginal shallow-league player remains unchanged.  For a team that can sustain the low batting average, he's not awful, and he has a series against the Astros coming up July 18-20, and those are usually good news for hitters.

Jon Jay, St. Louis Cardinals (Yahoo! 8%, ESPN  14.8%, CBS 19%)

Well then.  Albert Pujols seems to be healing miraculously, and his return will cut into Jon Jay's playing time dramatically.  Don't be shy about cutting him if you’re in need of a slot, but he did hit .286 last week with a homer in 32 plate appearances.  He remains a “Value Pick” for now, just until it's determined that the Pujols news isn't a clever smoke screen by the Cardinals.  Being “available to pinch hit” and then not pinch hitting Tuesday seems mildly suspicious, though he's probably fine and will be starting today.  Either way, the mystery should be cleared up by next week.

Domonic Brown (Yahoo! 20%, ESPN 10.6%, CBS 64%)

“Series’ against the Blue Jays and Marlins in early July might help [Domonic Brown] get untracked” was suggested last week.  While Brown may not have homered against either team, he did record hits in each of the three Toronto games and two apiece in the first two Florida games.  For the week, he posted a line of .333/.391/.571 in 23 plate appearances and even stole a base.  He may or may not be figuring it out, but his name value is such that if he's not grabbed immediately, he could get taken by someone else.  That said, other than the Cubs (and perhaps the Pirates, depending on how legitimate one views their 2011 performance), there aren't any easy pitching matchups in July.
 

AL-only VP

Andy Dirks, Detroit Tigers (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN  1%, CBS 2%)

Probably already gone in most AL-only leagues due to getting lots of playing time, Andy Dirks still is far from a household name but is one who's worth paying attention to.  Two comments by Kevin Goldstein give some insights:

Monday Morning Ten Pack, May 2:

Dirks is hardly a traditional stud prospect. He was an eighth-round pick in 2008 after an impressive college career, but he's still a smallish corner outfielder who doesn't really have a plus tool. At the same time, everything plays up because of effort and baseball intelligence. He became a Jim Leyland favorite this spring while almost breaking camp in the big leagues, and Leyland just might get him on the roster soon—after a six-hit weekend, he's batting .340/.400/.617 in 25 games for the Mud Hens. His power is no more than average, yet he has six home runs. He's not much of a runner, yet he has 10 stolen bases in 10 attempts and can hold his own in center field. His greatest strength might be a lack of weaknesses, and there are plenty of players who have carved out long careers with similar profiles.

Detroit Tigers Top 11 Prospects:

16.               Andy Dirks, OF: He's more of a grinder than a tools guy, but he keeps hitting at every level.

In keeping with his well-rounded skill set, Dirks is the first option for a replacement outfielder against right-handed pitching in almost all instances.  That should amount to a decent amount of playing time as long as he continues to perform adequately with the bat... and given his past, there's no reason to think he won't.  For reference, PECOTA projected him to hit .264/.310/.374 this season, good for a .245 TAv.
 

NL-only VP

Kyle Blanks, San Diego Padres (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN  0%, CBS 7%)

Kevin Goldstein notes in Future Shock Block that “there are many ways to read into the fact that the last four games he's played have been at first base.”  Blanks is up to 15 games at first base now, and Anthony Rizzo is hitting just .174/.321/.348 in 84 plate appearances.  On February 2, yours truly predicted a scenario which very well may end up coming to pass, as Brad Hawpe and Jorge Cantu are already out of the picture:

Assuming the best for Blanks–and a return to his natural position of first base will help with that optimism–the one-year deals to Brad Hawpe and Jorge Cantu won't be enough to keep him out of the lineup.  As an "if I had to guess" prediction, Blanks spends a few weeks in June hammering Triple-A pitching and GM Jed Hoyer makes an unblocking trade if necessary (if Hawpe or Cantu is doing too well to bench).  With Hawpe's ability to play the outfield and Cantu's to “play” other spots in the infield, there are lots of possibilities– involving trades or no trades—to make room for Blanks after the All-Star Game.

Blanks began at Double-A, but after being promoted to Triple-A, “hammering” may be understating his performance as he has a .411/.477/.884 batting line so far in 107 plate appearances.

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

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