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August 31, 2011

Value Picks

Outfield for 8/31/11

by Rob McQuown

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Value Pick outfielders performed like they'd been hit by a hurricane this past week, but the batter Ozzie Gullen calls “The Tank” (Dayan Viciedo) is up, causing belated relief in Chicago as Adam Dunn hasn't been striking out for a few days now. And this author risks becoming “Rocket Man” as yet another Astro gets featured in Value Picks. But really, who outside The 610 Loop has paid any attention to the Astros recently, anyway? And a lack of attention often leads to value.

Arrivals
Dayan Viciedo, Chicago White Sox (Yahoo! 10%, ESPN 5%, CBS 30%)

A month ago, Dayan Viciedo was an AL-Only VP, with this prediction:

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.

It's not a conspiracy to poach Mike Street's best DH candidates, but the timing of his promotion and the fact that he's replacing an injured outfielder (Carlos Quentin)—not to mention the fact that this author is based in Chicago—makes a compelling reason for adding him now, so weekly-move owners can make informed decisions.

To level-set expectations, Viciedo is very unlikely to provide a positive on-base percentage this year. He's almost as unlikely to hit for a plus batting average, despite the fact that he was hitting .296 in Triple-A Charlotte before his promotion. His long-term power potential, however, is near the top of the charts, and he has struck out just barely over 20% of the time in two seasons at Triple-A (250 strikeouts in 1408 plate appearances). Considering that he was ages 21 and 22 for those two seasons, his upside potential is enormous. It would be tempting to compare him to a young Wily Mo Pena, who clouted 26 home runs in 264 plate appearances at age 22, but Viciedo is starting from a more polished skill level with fewer holes in his swing, allowing him to strike out much less.

He's also taken to coaching quite well, and his long-term outlook has improved in 2011 despite the fact that his Triple-A stats didn't take a huge step forward (.296/.364/.491 compared to .274/.308/.493 in 2010). For single-year leagues, he represents one of the best potential sources of waiver-wire home runs, along with past Value Picks Wily Mo Pena and Nolan Reimold. Since he had a hot start, it's likely he'll keep playing regularly the rest of the season.

Jordan Schafer, Houston Astros (Yahoo! 3%, ESPN 2%, CBS 9%)
There's really not a lot to write about Jordan Schafer. He's a formerly hot prospect, based on speed, defense, and somewhat advanced hitting skills. Years and years of injuries have retarded his hitting skills, but he's as fast as ever and has been more effective at stealing than he was before. After stealing just 12 bases (with 10 times caught) in 2010 in the minors, he's stolen 27 between the minors and majors already in 2011. He has the “gamer” attitude which endears him to manager Brad Mills, and Mills likes to have his players steal bases (the run expectancy lost from being caught stealing is a lot less than on good offensive teams, so it's certainly defensible). Expect Schafer to keep leveraging his speed into a playably scrappy batting average and on-base percentage, at least against right-handed pitchers, and to keep racking up the steals.
 

Departures
Josh Reddick, Boston Red Sox (Yahoo! 7%, ESPN 10%, CBS 29%)

Last week's warning for Josh Reddick was:

J.D. Drew is expected back on September 1, so this next week will be critical for Reddick to convince manager Terry Francona that he should keep starting upon Drew's return. Going .133/.188/.200 the past week isn't sending the right message.

If the previous week was the wrong message, this most recent week may have been a disconnection. Reddick managed just .176/.222/.294 this week, and though no new faces have appeared in Boston, J.D. Drew is due to return Thursday and is the favorite to reclaim his starting job with Reddick's struggles. For people who think that only high-K hitters can be streaky, Reddick appears to be joining fellow moderate-K slugger Aramis Ramirez as a very streaky hitter—or at least one with that reputation.

Brandon Belt, San Francisco Giants (Yahoo! 5%, ESPN 3%, CBS 30%)
Doggedly sticking with promising prospects when they are having slow starts may almost always turn out in long-term dynasty leagues, but it's certainly frustrating in single year fantasy formats. Belt is following in the footsteps of elite prospect Domonic Brown, hitting .200/.259/.280 this week. And, despite the fact that the Phillies aren't the high-octane offense of years past, Belt's situation is much more dire than Brown's ever was; the Giants have a weak offense, a pitcher's park, and many other candidates for outfield time (when everyone is healthy). Depending on your team's situation, he deserves more of a chance than this, but sometimes it's best to just cut bait. Or maybe that's “cut Belt,” in this case.
 

Incumbents
Ben Revere, Minnesota Twins (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 7%, CBS 23%)

Ben Revere continues to do what he does, stealing two more bases this past week but hitting just .259. He scored only one run for the low-scoring Twins, but playing time looks to be a non-issue as the Twins are seeing what they have in the speedy center fielder. What you see is what you get.

J.D. Martinez, Houston Astros (Yahoo! 11%, ESPN 19%, CBS 36%)
J.D. Martinez had a bad week, hitting just .217/.231/.304. He collected another five RBI, a surprise on the low-scoring Astros. With the mediocre week, he's slid to 50th on the rookie batter VORP list, making him a more tempting buy-low candidate for continuing leagues.

Trayvon Robinson, Seattle Mariners (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0%, CBS 9%)
A bit of double-counting of last Tuesday's great game shows Trayvon Robinson as having a .350/.381/.500 week, though he failed to homer or steal a base; it still remains to be seen how many bases he'll steal with the Mariners. His speed is down in 2011 (nine minor-league steals after swiping 47 and 38 the previous two years with zero in 69 PA since his promotion), and Mariners manager Eric Wedge tends to suppress steals by 18 percent. Long story short, be very careful about planning on stolen base contributions from Robinson.

Dexter Fowler, Colorado Rockies (Yahoo! 23%, ESPN 24%, CBS 34%)
Dexter Fowler hit .222/.300/.407 for the week with no home runs and just one stolen base. He remains a solid outfield option, though always keep in mind that he hits much better at home. As a reminder, the two week span from Monday, September 5 through Sunday, September 18 seems like a very appealing time frame in which to own him—the Rox have 10 home games and their only two road games are in Milwaukee. His recent struggles should make him more likely to be available.

Eric Thames, Toronto Blue Jays (Yahoo! 5%, ESPN 7%, CBS 20%)
Ho hum; Eric Thames hit .276/.276/.517 for the week. That was bad enough to reduce his ownership percentages slightly. Other than six more games against Baltimore (including Tuesday-Thursday this week), he faces some of the league's best pitching staffs the rest of the way but should have great ballpark adjustments to help to cancel them out a bit, with his home park being a good park for his power plus favorable series at New York, Baltimore, and Chicago.
 

NL-Only VP
Carlos Gomez, Milwaukee Brewers (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN 3%, CBS 6%)

Carlos Gomez hasn't developed as a hitter, but he's due back from injuries and can help with steals. Here at Value Picks, there's been somewhat of a love affair with Nyjer Morgan, baffled why Gomez was playing ahead of him earlier in the season. Still, Gomez has some potential. Given his lack of development, a preseason blurb still sums up who he is:

“I don't like Gomez”, quipped a fantasy expert who shall remain anonymous. Said expert isn't alone, as Gomez has gone from a two-time BA top-100 prospect for the Mets to a player so miscast in Ken Macha's “system” that one has to wonder how the two survived the season together. Oh, wait: they didn't. On the other hand, during his brief stop in Minnesota, Gomez made such an impression on Ron Gardenhire, that Gardy still speaks highly of him. It would be simple to dismiss Carlos Gomez as a “glove” and expect that someone like Chris Dickerson or Brandon Boggs would push him aside. After all, he's never had a season in which he's posted even a .300 on-base percentage, despite getting 1420 career plate appearances so far.

But let's don the rose-colored glasses for a bit. Before 2010, yours truly suggested that Gomez could rack up 40 steals, given full-time duty. This was purely fantasy with Ken Macha around, but he's gone now. And Gomez “improved” his ground ball rate to a career-high 48 percent in 2010, and his BABIP predictably rose with it (to .313). He's not a good contact hitter, which is frustrating for someone with his wheels, so the batting average will always be a problem. Rostering him in an OBP league would be akin to punting that category. But the speed remains. His speed score was 7.5 in 2010, despite being held back by his manager. He stole five of his 18 bags coming off the bench, so it's not as though he was close to that pace in 2010, but his 79 stolen base opportunities could more than double in 2011 (he had 186 in 2008), with just a modest OBP increase and more playing time. In short, if he's playing well enough to keep playing, 40 steals is still a very reasonable expectation. Considering how overlooked he's likely to be on draft day (Marc Normandin rated him as a one-star centerfielder, for example), there's a wealth of possible “profit” here.

AL-Only VP
Leonys Martin, Texas Rangers (Yahoo! N/A, ESPN N/A, CBS 10%)

Kevin Goldstein included Leonys Martin on his midseason top 50 prospects list (what more can you say):

37. Leonys Martin, OF, Rangers (Preseason: NR)

Has played fewer than 40 games as a pro, but has already showcased plus hitting skills, gap power, good wheels, an outstanding approach, and good defense. Could play a big role in a pennant race come September.

And who better to comment on toolsy outfielders (in an article written at the time he was signed in May) than former GM Jim Bowden, now with ESPN.com:

OFFENSIVELY: Line-drive hitter with sweet spot contact. Has good strike zone awareness. Stays back well on secondary pitches. Not a lot of preliminary movement and has direct path to ball. Knows how to work counts and can draw walks. Has pull power that has the potential of developing in time. Potential leadoff hitter who can steal bases.

Follow Nelson Cruz's health carefully—Martin could end up playing more than any expect.

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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