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June 18, 2012

Value Picks

Second, Short, and Catcher for 6/18/12

by Josh Shepardson

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Departures
What will nine hits, five of which were home runs, in 22 at-bats get you? In Trevor Plouffe's (Yahoo! 59%, ESPN 91%, CBS 74%) case, a spot in the departures section of this article. In one week, his ownership has risen 50 percent or more at each of the major fantasy host sites. Adios, Plouffe.

Sticking Around
There is no news of Ramon Hernandez swinging the bat, and that's good news for Wilin Rosario (Yahoo! 17%, ESPN 10%, CBS 49%). Rosario's strikeout rate will likely keep his average below .250, but his power continues to make him a useful second catcher in NL-only leagues and larger mixed leagues that start two.

Rehab is going well for Salvador Perez (Yahoo! 6%, ESPN 1%, CBS 22%), but Royals manager Ned Yost doesn't anticipate him joining the club for their upcoming series in Houston. He's catching on consecutive days now, though, as he did on Saturday and Sunday, and he's hitting for average (.310 in 45 plate appearances for Triple-A Omaha). The power isn't there, but a healthy Perez will be worth rostering for his average alone in large two-catcher mixed leagues and AL-only leagues.

Hanging on by a Thread
The other shoe has dropped for Rod Barajas (Yahoo! 5%, ESPN 1%, CBS 20%), who had just one hit in 19 at-bats last week. As I said last week, Barajas has an established level of talent, and he's a guy fantasy owners are constantly looking to replace. He provides a bit of pop, but his value is largely derived from his unquestioned starting catcher status. In mixed leagues where 24 catchers or more are rostered, Barajas remains viable, but it's safe to cut bait in shallower leagues.

Last Call
A hot June continues for Zack Cozart (Yahoo! 28%, ESPN 30%, CBS 66%). At roughly the midway point of the month, his triple-slash stands at .356/.397/.525 in 63 plate appearances, and he has smacked a pair of home runs while also adding a stolen base for good measure. Perhaps most important for his sustained fantasy relevance, though, is his drop in strikeouts from May to June. In May, he sported a 25.5 percent strikeout rate. This month, it has dropped to 15.9 percent, a rate that's more in line with his career marks. He's not going to continue to be this hot, but his ownership grew a bit this past week; expect it to continue to grow as his sortable “last 30 days” stats look rosier as some of his May clunkers start getting wiped off the slate.

For the first time since suffering a spiral fracture last July, Stephen Drew (Yahoo! 23%, ESPN 15%, CBS 42%) played in three consecutive games at shortstop while rehabbing with Reno. Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson hasn't released a timetable for Drew's return, but he's optimistic that it will be soon. Drew is sizzling for the Aces, hitting .292/.346/.542 with one double, one triple, and one home run in 26 plate appearances. He may have some rust to shake off in the majors, and the club may choose to handle him with kid gloves initially given the severity of the injury he suffered, but Drew's ownership levels will skyrocket when he's activated from the disabled list; now is the time to get him.

Brian Roberts (Yahoo! 15%, ESPN 22%, CBS 45%) has graduated from the AL-only VP designation. With a 21 percent ownership increase at ESPN in the last week, it's clear people haven't forgotten about this name-brand second baseman. Roberts is now 34 years old and coming off two seasons that were mostly lost to concussion issues, so caution should be exercised. The Orioles have inserted him into the leadoff spot, and he's held his own by hitting .318/.304/.318. He'll need to improve on those numbers, but considering the circumstances, it's a good start. He's worth taking the plunge on in AL-only leagues and large mixed leagues starting a middle infielder, but beyond that, take a wait-and-see approach.

Arrivals
On the wrong side of split catcher duties, Devin Mesoraco (Yahoo! 3%, ESPN 1% CBS 23%) has almost certainly disappointed fantasy owners who were hoping for a big rookie season from him. Setting aside the fact that having huge expectations for Mesoraco with the capable Ryan Hanigan still in the fold was wishful thinking at best and foolish at worst, he may be on his way to claiming a larger share of the proverbial pie. In his last 10 games played, Mesoraco has begun to flash thump, ripping three home runs, including this towering shot, and one double. He hit 15 home runs in 499 plate appearances last year at Triple-A and 26 home runs spread across three minor league levels the season before, so power is clearly a part of his game. While his .205 average this season might seem to suggest he's been outclassed by major league pitching, his .203 BABIP and stellar walk (12.6 percent) and strikeout (15.5 percent) rates indicate that's not entirely true. After a very productive May, Hanigan is cooling off in June. If Mesoraco can turn this into a 50/50 time split instead of the roughly 60/40 one it is now, or better yet, if he can flip it to 60/40 in his favor, he'll have a chance to be a top-20 catcher going forward.

The surface stats say one thing, but the underlying stats say Yunel Escobar (Yahoo! 45%, ESPN 51%, 63%) is approximately the same player this year as he was last. Escobar rarely lofts the ball, instead hitting with a line drive and groundball approach. He has hit more groundballs this year than in any previous season, but he still isn't popping the ball up much, and his line drive rate is a carbon copy of each of the last two seasons. His groundball rate has dropped in consecutive months, and his line drive rate has hovered in the 19-20 percent range over the last month and a half. With a contact rate seven percent better than the league average, expect him to make the most of his healthy line drive rate and find more holes. He's a career .286 hitter, and I'd guess he hits closer to that average than his currently dreadful .250 mark the remainder of the year. The Jays have been slotting Escobar sixth in the lineup of late behind a trio of hitters that are capable of getting on base at a high clip: Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Kelly Johnson. He should have ample opportunities to drive in runs and add a handful of home runs to further provide reason for his ownership.

AL-only VP
Cliff Pennington (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 1%, CBS 14%) is back to doing Cliff Pennington things after sitting on the Mendoza-line to start June. His average is now up to .219 on the year, which isn't good but is a step in the right direction toward his .254 career average. His career batting average should serve as a good barometer in terms of projection the rest of the year. In addition to not helping in batting average, Pennington isn't going to add much to the home runs category for fantasy gamers either. There are really only two reasons to own Pennington: his durability and his stolen base prowess.

Pennington has seen the field a ton each of the last two seasons; more specifically, he played in 148 games last year and 156 in 2010. This year is no different than the past two years in that regard; he is second on the A's in games played, trailing only Josh Reddick, who has played in two more games. More importantly, he is impacting fantasy games by efficiently swiping bases. Last season, he inefficiently finished the year with 14 stolen bases in 23 chances. This year, he has 11 stolen bases in 13 chances and is on pace to threaten his career high of 29 stolen bases (in 2010). In the last 30 days, he is tied with a handful of others for eleventh in stolen bases amongst middle infielders. He's not a game changer, but he doesn't need to be in order to have value in AL-only leagues.

NL-only VP
Returning as the NL-only VP, Everth Cabrera (Yahoo! 6%, ESPN 7%, CBS 15%) continues to play at a level that is disproportionate to his ownership level. He can wreak havoc on the base paths, and in the last week he has done just that, stealing four bases. He is up to nine stolen bases in the majors after swiping 15 at Triple-A before his promotion, never being caught at either level. He is tied for second in stolen bases amongst middle infield-eligible players at ESPN over the last 30 days. Don't expect him to qualify for NL-only VP status next week.

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