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July 27, 2011

Value Picks

Outfield for 7/27/11

by Rob McQuown

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With several outfielders involved in trade rumors, it's a week for fantasy owners to stay on their toes.  Carlos Beltran, B.J. Upton, Colby Rasmus, and even Carlos Quentin could be playing elsewhere next week, and that opens up playing time for their replacements. 

Departures
Roger Bernadina, Washington Nationals (Yahoo! 7%, ESPN  13%, CBS 24%)

A terrible week for Roger Bernadina as he hit .067/.176/.067 and had only 17 plate appearances.  He did, at least, steal a base.  He's a marginal fantasy player and should be kept in mind in case of emergency.  But—despite the fact that he's capable of posting some huge weeks along the way—cutting him is no great loss.  A reminder from last week is that starting August 4, he gets four games in Coors Field followed by three games in Wrigley Field. 
 

Arrivals
Desmond Jennings, Tampa Bay Rays (Yahoo! 41%, ESPN 62.3%, CBS 74%)

The “slow and steady injection of nectar to prospect enthusiasts” (thank you, R.J. Anderson) has led to some blooming love for Desmond Jennings in fantasy leagues of every format.  As with Mike Trout last week, it's impossible to categorize Jennings as a “Value Pick” inasmuch as everyone knows he's going to be a fantasy force.  Unlike Trout, Jennings has shown every indication of being 100% ready for major-league baseball.  Unless a team's outfielders are something like Matt Holliday, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Lance Berkman in a league where only three can be active (as this author’s are), it's hard to imagine not picking up Jennings, based on the hype.

But wait a minute.  Jennings was allowed to accrue 992 plate appearances at the Triple-A level between 2009 and 2011.  And while he's done well and stolen bases at an Uptonian (B.J., that is) clip (69-for-76 in those 992 PA), a .283/.375/.431 Triple-A hitter doesn't usually set the major leagues on fire.  Jennings' rest-of-season PECOTA projection indicates a .257 batting average, two home runs, and 13 steals in 210 plate appearances.  Given his torrid start, recency bias is going to make that almost impossible to believe, but even giving it a “bump”, that sounds a lot more like what one would expect from Nyjer Morgan or Rajai Davis than from Matt Kemp.  Additionally, consider that while 69 steals in 992 PA is a lot of stolen bases, Jennings had swiped only 17 in 398 PA in 2011.  So expecting RoS PECOTA's 13 steal projection to be fulfilled may even be optimistic.  All-in-all, Jennings is a fine ballplayer and a definite keeper-league asset, but expecting a mixed-league impact player for 2011 is setting the sights a bit too high.

Cameron Maybin, San Diego Padres (Yahoo! 42%, ESPN 68.4%, CBS 56%)
Cameron Maybin might be considered “Desmond Jennings, version 1”.  Last a Value Pick late in 2010 when he was traded, Maybin was rated a top-10 prospect by almost all sources every year from 2007 to 2009.  As with Jennings, he showed great speed (87 steals in 1804 minor-league plate appearances), some power (44 home runs), and some ability to hit for average and get on base in the minors (career minor-league batting line of .305/.393/.477) to go with good center-field defense.

Traded to the Padres for a pair of relief pitchers, the surface stats don't suggest that Maybin is much closer to realizing his expected vast potential (.283/.337/.418).  He does play home games in Petco, though, so that's really a much better batting line than it seems.  And he's stolen 22 bases so far in 341 plate appearances (being caught just twice). 

Maybin's .357 BABIP may be a little high to be sustained, but—like Austin Jackson—he profiles to have a much higher than average BABIP.  For fantasy teams with some roster flexibility, he's hitting .320/.369/.500 in road games, so examine the upcoming slate carefully before putting him on your active roster.
 

Incumbents
Dexter Fowler, Colorado Rockies (Yahoo! 20%, ESPN  23.1%, CBS 31%)

Congratulations to you, owners who picked up Dexter Fowler this past week.  He hit .462/.548/.769, stole two bases, and scored five runs, just like a good leadoff hitter should.  Oh, by the way, he also drove in eight (!) runs. Last week, it was “probably time to give up on him developing into a big stolen base threat”, but this past week is a reminder that he's still a very fast player and is still learning the craft of stealing bases.  It's not something to bank on, but it's an avenue of upside potential that shouldn't be ignored completely.

Eric Thames, Toronto Blue Jays (Yahoo! 12%, ESPN 25.6%, CBS 31%)
With only four home runs, Eric Thames isn't living up to his pedigree as a good power source, but  he turned in yet another solid week, hitting .304/.346/.478 and driving in five runs.  He's a very safe play, but keep in mind that the batting average is likely to be an illusion, though the power should improve somewhat.  It would not be surprising to see his early-career numbers turn out similar to fellow lefty power bats Adam Lind (.274/.325/.477 career-to-date) and Jason Kubel (.274/.337/.463 career-to-date).  His minor-league power, strikeout, and bases on balls rates suggest this sort of future, though he's played so little professional baseball that a growth spurt isn't out of the question, either.

Magglio Ordonez, Detroit Tigers (Yahoo! 16%, ESPN  9.7%, CBS 28%)
Magglio Ordonez hit .321/.355/.321 over the past week, scoring five runs and stealing a base.  These sound like leadoff hitter stats—look out, Austin Jackson!  The three-time Silver Slugger hasn't gotten his slugging going yet, but Jim Leyland still has him batting third in the dangerous Tigers lineup.  Don't be surprised if his slugging re-emerges down the stretch.  The facts that he's playing every day now and still batting third suggests that the old (former) Magglio Ordonez may supplant the old (chronological) version sometime soon.

Alex Presley, Pittsburgh Pirates (Yahoo! 8%, ESPN  11.3%, CBS 23%)
Not that there's any reason to think a “bruised thumb” is going to end the season of exciting Alex Presley, but if his season were to end today, he'd have a very nice bench card for Strat-O-Matic with his .365/.459/.481 batting line against right-handed pitching.  While x-rays found no break, the talk of possible nerve damage cannot be good news.  It's premature to give up on his season, though, at least until more information is revealed.  Speaking of Strat-O-Matic, Matt Diaz and his career .329/.367/.513 batting line against left-handed pitchers will now form a platoon with Xavier Paul, who keeps closing doors in the face of opportunity every time it knocks.  But for every door that closes, a window opens.  Or an air-conditioning duct.  Or a peephole.  At some point, he's going to run out of chances, but running into extra-inning wins, as he did on Sunday, will help push back the day when all apertures are shut to him.

Jon Jay, St. Louis Cardinals (Yahoo! 8%, ESPN  12.8%, CBS 18%)
For anachronistic fantasy leagues which still use batting average, Jon Jay is a nice contributor, and if Colby Rasmus is dealt, Jay should keep getting full-time duty.  His batting average could drop some but is likely to stay at or above .300.  With an occasional home run or stolen base and a nice surrounding cast, he won't hurt a team in any categories while helping with batting average.
 

NL-Only VP
Collin Cowgill, Arizona Diamondbacks (Yahoo! N/A, ESPN  N/A, CBS 10%)
He has the gritty style of play that endears him to managers, and enough bat speed to spray line drives from gap to gap with a wood bat.” That’s what Baseball America had to say about Cowgill before the 2007 draft, where he fell to the fifth round due to a broken hamate bone, making his Junior season at Kentucky forfeit.  He also has a stat line at Reno (Triple-A) this season which suggests that there's a lot more than “grit” to his play.  Hitting .354/.430/.554 with 13 home runs, 24 doubles, and eight triples in 456 plate appearances sounds like a case of “why didn't they bring this guy up already?”  Add in the fact that he stole 30 bases in that time, and fantasy owners are salivating. 

The problem is that Reno is a great place to hit.  As in the team batting line this year is .314/.394/.530.  Sean Burroughs (remember him?) hit .412/.450/.618 in his time there.  Part of that is good personnel, as the batting line in 2010 was just .277/.359/.442, and 2009 (the year the park was built) was similar.  The pitchers have a 5.89 ERA this year in Reno, though, so the 2011 version seems to be playing like a different environment, though if there was construction on the park in 2011, it was not well-publicized.  All said, Cowgill could be a fantasy asset, but don't assume that he's going to push Gerardo Parra completely out of the picture.  Parra's a very good defender and a lefty bat, so the two may end up platooning frequently.  But Parra's not good enough to withstand a hot start by Cowgill, so picking him up for a couple weeks could be a good strategic move.  With his speed, he could quickly assert himself on the mixed-league Value Pick list if he keeps getting playing time.
 

AL-Only VP
Dayan Viciedo, Chicago White Sox (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN  0%, CBS 16%)

Dayan Viciedo has completed his transition to outfield well enough that the team views him in their outfield of the future now.  He's slumped lately and hurt his thumb Saturday (though he didn't go on the DL), but he's still hitting .307/.365/.500 for the season at Triple-A and will provide a nice power source off the bench in September, as a worst-case scenario.  Best-case (for him) is if Kenny Williams follows through on his threats to blow up the team, as it seems impossible that non-contributors Juan Pierre and Alexis Rios will survive that explosion, and for some reason, rumors of Carlos Quentin being traded have circulated since before the 2010 season and won't go away.  This season, Viciedo has learned to draw walks at an acceptable rate, which is a gigantic step forward in his development (for contrast, he drew his first major-league walk in his 28th game last year, in his 83rd plate appearance).  Crazed White Sox fans who are comparing Viciedo to Frank Thomas are in for a rude awakening, but Viciedo does have fantastic raw power.  He's also just 22 years old, so further refinements to his game are likely, and he should be an impact power bat for many years.

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:  Triple-A,  Jason Jennings,  Espn,  Dayan Viciedo,  Batting

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