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June 25, 2012

Value Picks

Second, Short, and Catcher for 6/25/12

by Josh Shepardson

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Departures
The Pirates backstop, Rod Barajas (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 0%, CBS 17%), has felt regression, and it has been swift and unkind.  At this point in the year, though, his slash is similar to his career line.  What you see is what you get.

Last week, I was hopeful Devin Mesoraco (Yahoo! 3%, ESPN 0%, CBS 23%) was on his way to shaking full blown shared catcher duties with Ryan Hanigan.  This week, I'm less confident.  In the Reds’ last seven games, Mesoraco has started three times, and Hanigan has started four.  In his three games started, Mesoraco recorded two hits in nine at-bats with one hit being a double and the other a single.  In Hanigan's four starts, he was better, recording four hits in 14 at-bats, adding two walks for good measure.  Mesoraco remains a desirable option to own in long-term keeper leagues, but each week that passes in which he fails to impress he looks less desirable to own in redraft leagues.  His talent and upside make him watch-list worthy, but beyond that, he shouldn't be owned in most leagues. 

My decision to include someone else as this week's AL-only VP has forced Cliff Pennington (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 2%, CBS 14%) to the departures section.  His speed still makes him an ownable option in AL-only leagues, but a 2-for-16 week at the dish gets him the boot in most other leagues. 

Owned in more than half of ESPN leagues, we bid adieu to Yunel Escobar (Yahoo! 44%, ESPN 51%, CBS 61%) for the right reason.  He didn't light the world on fire last week, but he continues to hit line drives at a high rate while making contact often.  Don't let Escobar's season line fool you; he's better than this.

Hanging on by a Thread
He's still healthy and upright, but positives for Brian Roberts (Yahoo! 12%, ESPN 25%, CBS 43%) just about end there.  In 48 plate appearances, Roberts has 11 hits, none going for extra bases.  He has also attempted just only one stolen base, an unsuccessful attempt at that.  The sample size is small, and he's coming off a long layoff, but the negatives outweigh the positives currently.  Peak-years Roberts isn't walking through the door, and if this version of him doesn't start providing reason for ownership soon, it will be time to cut bait. 

Sticking Around
It was a scorching week for Wilin Rosario (Yahoo! 20%, ESPN 9%, CBS 49%), including two home runs, two multi-hit games, and only two strikeouts.  The Rockies’ Opening Day starting catcher Ramon Hernandez remains on the disabled list, and according to Jim Tracy and the team's official website, he doesn't seem to be close to participating in significant baseball activity.  The Rockies are 16 games below .500 and have little incentive to remove Rosario from the starting role even when Hernandez returns.  Rosario is fourth amongst eligible catchers in ESPN leagues in home runs and has earned the distinction of being ownable in one-catcher leagues.  His wretched walk-to-strikeout rate, his six percent above league average chase rate, and his 10.6 percent below league average contact rate are strong indicators that his current batting average is about as good as owners can expect, and there is some danger for a significant drop.  That said, his power is real, and playing his home games at Coors Field should accentuate his offensive calling card.

The return of Salvador Perez (Yahoo! 11%, ESPN 7%, CBS 32%) to the Royals lineup provided an immediate boost, as he went 2-for-4 with a dinger in his season debut on Friday.  He added another hit on Sunday in four at-bats after sitting out Saturday's contest against the Cardinals.  The Royals are nearly certain to give Perez plenty of routine days off, but when he's in the lineup, expect him to perform like a top-flight second catcher in two-backstop leagues. 

A timetable has finally been set for Stephen Drew (Yahoo! 22%, ESPN 16%, CBS 42%), and the Diamondbacks are expected to activate him from the disabled list on Wednesday.  His usage in the field will largely be determined by how his ankle responds to playing on a day-to-day basis.  The team is preparing Willie Bloomquist and John McDonald (both of whom filled in for Drew at shortstop this year) for utility roles, each taking groundballs at third recently.  Ryan Roberts has struggled to duplicate last year's breakout campaign and may end up ceding time to Bloomquist and McDonald if Drew proves he's able to play every day.  That should alleviate some concern that Bloomquist's passable start to the year may result in Drew sitting more often than he otherwise would.  The long and short of it is that Drew is a more talented player than any of the trio of Bloomquist, McDonald, and Roberts, and if he's healthy and playing up to his capabilities, he'll be on the diamond as often as he can handle shortstop duties.

Last Call... For Real This Time
Zack Cozart's (Yahoo! 29%, ESPN 37%, CBS 68%) ownership levels have risen slightly across all fantasy outlets.  Cozart didn't have a banner week, but he also did nothing to change the outlook on the rest of his season.  He offers some pop, makes enough contact to provide a palatable batting average, and is a good source of runs scored sitting in one of the top two spots in the Reds’ batting order for 271 of his 278 at-bats this year.

Arrivals
Since putting together a fantastic rookie season back in 2008, Geovany Soto (Yahoo! 26%, ESPN 15%, CBS 28%) has had up-and-down seasons, leaving many fantasy owners disappointed.  He's hitting a putrid .170/.256/.339 in 125 plate appearances this year, but not all has been bad.  Soto has made the most of his lowly number of hits, slugging five home runs.  He also can't be expected to hit this bad the rest of the year.  His batting average is being sunk by a .165 BABIP, a mark that is 229 points below his career .294 BABIP.  His batted ball data isn't significantly different from past seasons, and in this case, calling his BABIP unlucky is quite accurate.  He is chasing more pitches out of the strike zone than he usually does, but that alone doesn't explain his unacceptably low batting average.  He returned from the DL this past Monday, and he has hit two of his five home runs since then.  Some BABIP normalization will make Soto's batting average easier to swallow and, coupled with his power, make him a solid second catcher in two-catcher leagues. 

The Angels, as a whole, got off to a slow start, and Erick Aybar (Yahoo! 35%, ESPN 35%, CBS 46%) wasn't spared.  Mike Trout is now firmly entrenched as the team's leadoff hitter, meaning that Aybar is slotting in the lower third of the Angels order, primarily hitting eighth.  Hitting lower in the order will result in fewer plate appearances for Aybar, but he's squeezing near-maximum value out of them in the last 30 days.  In that time span, he's hitting a healthy .305/.353/.442.  He understands his game is predicated on speed and has legged out four infield singles while and successfully bunting for a hit seven of eight times in the last month.  He won't hit for much power, and last year's 10 home runs look like an outlier, but he should help owners in runs, average, and stolen bases.

Hitting directly in front of the number nine hitter (often a light-hitting catcher) isn't ideal, but being on base when the lineup turns over should prove fruitful for his runs scored totals.  He stole 30 bases last year and, most importantly, did so efficiently.  This year he has just five stolen bases, but once again, he has been efficient, getting caught stealing only one time.  Manager Mike Scioscia is notorious for his propensity to send baserunners.  According to The Bill James Handbook 2012, Scioscia ranked fifth amongst American League managers in stolen base attempts in 2011 and seventh in all of Major League Baseball.  He may be reluctant to send Aybar with the team's best hitters at the plate, but if he continues to be efficient, there is no reason to believe he won't net 20-25 stolen bases by year's end.  Aybar isn't good enough to start at shortstop in mixed leagues, but he's a fine middle infield option and an AL-only shortstop option.

AL-only VP
Kurt Suzuki's struggles at the plate coincided with a hot start in Triple-A for Derek Norris (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0%, CBS 8%), and the two will now be splitting time behind the dish for the A's.  Norris joined the A's as part of a trade package in which Gio Gonzalez was sent to the Washington Nationals.  He was a Three True Outcomes machine last year at Double-A Harrisburg, tallying a home run, walk, or strikeout in 50.6 percent of his 236 plate appearances.  Unfortunately, one true outcome—strikeouts—aided in sinking his batting average.  Norris hit .210 last year, and Kevin Goldstein noted in his Athletics Top 11 Prospects article that he has contact issues that will probably prevent him from ever hitting for a high average in the majors.  Prior to his promotion, he made big strides in his contact rate with Triple-A Sacramento, reducing his strikeout rate from 27 percent in 2011 to 17 percent this year.  His walk rate and home run pace have dropped as well, but those are worthwhile trades for the uptick in batting average.

Unlike some catchers, Norris isn't a slug.  He stole 13 bases last year and was up to five this season before getting the call-up.  Sharing catching duties with Suzuki and adjusting to big league pitching limits Norris' value to AL-only leagues for the time being, but his power is enough to put him on the radar.  That power was on display on Sunday when he lifted the A's to a win over the interleague rival Giants with a three-run homer off of Santiago Casilla.

NL-only VP
Another week, another Everth Cabrera (Yahoo! 9%, ESPN 10%, CBS 18%) feature as the NL-only VP candidate.  He is still swinging a scintillating stick, and he is still perfect stealing bases this year.  There is really no excuse for him to be available in as many leagues as he is.

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