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July 19, 2011

Value Picks

Second, Short, and Catcher for 7/19/11

by Michael Jong

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Departures
Orlando Hudson, San Diego Padres (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 2.3%, CBS 16%)

Hudson was conspicuously absent last week despite not being officially removed from the list, but this week he receives his pink slip. The concern is that Hudson will not steal enough bases to be worth his currently poor batting average, and unlike fellow Padre and Value Picks member Jason Bartlett, he does not have the history of stolen base attempts that would support him continuing to grab bases. For now, we'll look at more interesting names here at Value Picks.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Boston Red Sox (Yahoo! 8%, ESPN 1.5%, CBS 28%)
Salty's value has not really changed despite his hitless few games (though he did hit a home run last night). He is being demoted not due to a lack of production but rather due to an increase in recent options that have come available. He is more of a borderline option for mixed leagues given his worse-than-average playing time share with Jason Varitek, but he still remains a good option for AL-only leagues.
 

Arrivals
Zack Cozart, Cincinnati Reds (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 3.2%, CBS 20%)

Cozart made his long-awaited MLB debut last week, though his debut was less “long-awaited” because of his amazing prospect status and more because of the awful duo the Reds had been boasting at shortstop prior to that. Cozart was decently ranked within the Reds' system: the 7th best prospect on the team, according to Kevin Goldstein. Here is what Kevin had to say about the shortstop:

The Good: Cozart has a rare set of skills for a middle infielder. He has at least average power, slugging 17 home runs in 2010, but he's also an above-average baserunner, stealing 30 bases. He also has outstanding defensive fundamentals, with extremely soft hands and a solid arm.
The Bad: Cozart is neither an adept or patient hitter, so he'll likely always have low batting averages and OBPs. He's a low-error shortstop in the mold of an older Derek Jeter or Cal Ripken, in that he makes the play on every ball he gets to, but his range is average at best.

In the mold of other good, underrated Reds like Chris Heisey and Drew Stubbs, Cozart is the rare up-the-middle defender with power and speed as his primary tools. He has averaged roughly 14 homers per 600 PA in the minors and 15 homers per 600 at Triple-A. In addition, Cozart stole 30 bases in 34 attempts at Triple-A last season, adding on nine more swipes in 11 attempts this season, indicating perhaps a new focus on speed in his game. The power may translate to the majors (he has already picked up his first home run of his MLB career), but the steals have yet to show up in 15 stolen base opportunities so far in the majors.

The negatives Kevin mentioned are real concerns in terms of fantasy baseball. Cozart is a career .270/.332/.421 hitter in the minors, but his batting average is likely to drop as his 16.5 percent minor league strikeout rate inevitably increases in the majors (PECOTA projects a 20.7 percent rate). His 7.2 percent walk rate in the minors indicates that he will not be putting himself on base as often as you would like, leaving him a little worse than guys like Stubbs in terms of stolen base opportunities. His defensive problems, however, will likely be overlooked by the Reds for the remainder of the season given their lack of other realistic options. Right now, he is best as an NL-only pickup but should get play in deeper mixed leagues given the paucity of talent at shortstop.

Carlos Guillen, Detroit Tigers (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0.4%, CBS 5%)
The last time Guillen was hitting major-league pitching, he was finishing up an injury-shortened 2010 season batting .273/.327/.419. It didn’t seem like much of a performance back then, but it ended up being league average for the season (.260 TAv). In fact, Guillen has not had a below average hitting season since his first year as a starter back in 2001 as Mariner.

We know he has a history of good hitting, but the big question now is how microfracture surgery to his left knee will affect his game. We should expect some early problems with Guillen's game, but consider that from 2008 to 2010, Guillen consistently hit right around his .269/.352/.426 average despite suffering from various injury problems such as pinched nerves, left shoulder impingements, and left thigh strains. The fact that he has returned from each and been a remarkably similar player throughout his career could indicate his ability to properly handle his latest injury. PECOTA seems to think that he will be his old self again, projecting a .265/.340/.404 line for his 50th percentile projection.

Guillen is now the starter at second base and number seven hitter in the Tigers' lineup, but that comes with the caveat that he should receive plenty of rest:

[Manager Jim Leyland said] "I'll play [Guillen] a few days, give him a blow. He hasn't played for a year, roughly. So I'll definitely watch him. But he feels good right now, real eager to go and everything.”

If Guillen hits as projected and plays four out of every six games, AL-only and deeper mixed league owners should be pretty happy with his performance. Double-digit homers and decent counting stats are not out of reach, and if he displays enough health to spare the Tigers from their current debacle at second base, fantasy owners should reap the benefits.
 

Incumbents
Jason Bartlett, San Diego Padres (Yahoo! 8%, ESPN 5.2%, CBS 32%)

Bartlett added five hits and two steals over the weekend, pushing his batting average up to .244. It should still have a little more upside going forward despite Petco Park, but the real reason to own Bartlett continues to be his aggressiveness on the bases. He already has five steals in six attempts this month with 11 games to go until the end of July. As long as he continues to provide good speed numbers, owners will swallow their pride in terms of his batting average, figuring regression should come soon enough.

Mark Ellis, Colorado Rockies (Yahoo! 9%, ESPN 11.8%, CBS 17%)
It might not last forever, but Ellis's .302/.351/.566 run with the Rockies has been a lot of fun for fantasy owners. Finally, a second baseman has been able to take advantage of Coors Field and hit well for the Rockies in 2011. So far this season, Ellis is batting an absurd .429/.448/.893 with two homers and seven doubles in Coors Field. As such, it appears that Ellis's power surge is largely Coors-derived, but his BABIP is realistic enough that he should provide solid production even while on the road.

Jeff Keppinger, Houston Astros (Yahoo! 7%, ESPN 2.5%, CBS 11%)
Keppinger displayed some power in the Pittsburgh series, hitting two homers and driving in four runs en route to a .462/.462/1.077 series. This sort of power is not expected to continue from Keppinger, but it should be noted that he has hit grounders in only 40 percent of his balls in play so far—a career low. If he lofts enough balls, maybe we can expect a couple extra home runs over the course of the season to go along with the likely high batting average, but it’s also possible his batting average drops if he lofts the ball too much. Still, Keppinger has only struck out six times in 166 PA this season, a sure-fire way to keep your batting average high despite a perfectly unassuming .305 BABIP.

Wilson Ramos, Washington Nationals (Yahoo! 13%, ESPN 8.5%, CBS 35%)
Ramos is benefitting from the playing time gained from the Ivan Rodriguez injury, even though he missed one of the three games in the series versus the Atlanta Braves. Of course, he made up for the missed game by hitting a home run in the second game of the series, continuing his strong campaign and his power streak. Consider his status unchanged and still very favorable going into this week.
 

AL-only VP
Eduardo Nunez, New York Yankees (Yahoo! 8%, ESPN 13.8%, CBS 41%)

Nunez is getting a lot of fantasy attention as the man who is replacing Alex Rodriguez at third base while he is on the DL. Nunez has not had much time as the third baseman yet, collecting just three hits in 16 PA over the weekend against the Toronto Blue Jays. The book on Nunez remains the same—batting average and steals are his major contributions to fantasy owners—though having the New York Yankees lineup around him certainly doesn’t hurt.
 

NL-only VP
Chase D'Arnaud, Pittsburgh Pirates (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0.3%, CBS 3%)

D'Arnaud cannot catch a break offensively, hitting .158/.200/.158 over the weekend with only one steal to show for it. He is currently hitting just .277 on balls in play, which is low for such a speedy player. The 20.5 percent strikeout rate seems real (PECOTA projected a 19.8 percent rate), but the walk rate is sure to go up, even if d'Arnaud's plate discipline is not very advanced.

His demotion to NL-only status has more to do with impending playing time concerns than anything else.  With the Pirates in the mix for the NL Central, the team may not be able to put up with d'Arnaud's performance if other options become available. When Ronny Cedeno returns from his concussion, the team will have to decide between d'Arnaud or Pedro Alvarez at third base, and Alvarez has the advantage with a more successful minor league hitting career despite his 2011 struggles.

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:  ESPN New York,  Espn,  Batting

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Premium Article Future Shock: Monday-M... (07/18)
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