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April 15, 2013

Free Agent Watch

National League, Week Three

by Josh Shepardson

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Martin Maldonado, C, Milwaukee Brewers
Ownership: ESPN: 0.1%  Yahoo!: 0%  CBS: 1% 
2013 Stats: 1 R, 0 HR, 3 RBI, 0 SB, .182 AVG

Maldonado is a catcher that has value in leagues in which any catcher with a pulse and playing time is rosterable. Injuries have hit the Brewers’ corner infield hard, prompting them to carry three catchers and start Maldonado at first base from time to time. He hasn't exactly made the most of the opportunity, but he has enough power to reach the seats on occasion. From 2010-2012, Maldonado hit 22 home runs in 863 plate appearances at Double-A and Triple-A combined. In his first exposure to regular playing time in the majors last season, he popped eight homers in 256 plate appearances. His batting average is likely to fall short of his .266 mark in the majors last year, but it should come in a small enough volume that it won't hurt fantasy teams too much.

Yonder Alonso, 1B, San Diego Padres
Ownership: ESPN: 7.7%  Yahoo!: 10% CBS: 60%
2013 Stats: 4 R, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 0 SB, .295 AVG

Alonso's calling card as a hitter has never been power, but failing to even reach double digits in homers last year overstated his below-average power at the first-base position. What Alonso did do well last year was work walks (10 percent walk rate) and square up baseballs (21 percent line-drive rate and just a 4.9 percent pop-up rate) Alonso's strong walk rates and low strikeout rates go back to his trek through the minors. He already has two homers on the season, and one was hit at home. As a left-handed batter, Alonso should benefit from the changes in dimensions at Petco Park more than his right-handed teammates. Alonso shouldn't be counted on to morph into one of the game's elite sluggers, but 15-20 homers with an average north of .280 are possible. Alonso is even more appealing in leagues that use OBP, as his outstanding walk rate is recognized in those formats. Finally, Alonso got a huge boost to his fantasy value in leagues that require only one appearance at a position to gain eligibility. Last Wednesday, Alonso saw time at both second base and third base in a strange inning for the Padres.  

Cliff Pennington, 2B/SS, Arizona Diamondbacks
Ownership:  ESPN: 0.9% Yahoo!: 4%  CBS: 10%
2013 Stats: 3 R, 0 HR, 3 RBI, 0 SB, .267 AVG

A lot was made of the Diamondbacks acquiring shortstop Didi Gregorius this offseason, but the organization also dealt for Pennington as well. Like Gregorius, most of Pennington's value is tied to his glove, which means squat in standard fantasy games. However, Pennington is no stranger to stealing bases, and that's where his fantasy value lies. Pennington stole 15 bases last season despite playing for a manager, Bob Melvin, that ranked near the bottom of the heap in Derek Carty's study of a manager's impact on stolen-base chances. Diamondbacks' manager Kirk Gibson ranks just below the middle of the pack in that study, but that's at least a step in the right direction for Pennington. Until Gregorius reaches the majors, the everyday shortstop duties belong to Pennington. Gregorius has gotten off to a good start for Triple-A Reno, but in the meantime, Pennington represents a fill-in option at the middle-infield spots in 14+ team mixed leagues and large NL-only leagues.  

Travis Snider, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
Ownership:  ESPN: 0% Yahoo!: 1% CBS: 7%
2013 Stats: 4 R, 0 HR, 3 RBI, 0 SB, .304 AVG

My refusal to give up on the allure of this once-promising prospect has been detrimental to more than one of my fantasy teams in the past, yet here I am again touting Snider as a player worth owning. Snider is a big-league veteran of over 1,000 plate appearances, yet he's still only 25 years old. Many optimists, such as myself, believe that while Snider is unlikely to reach the lofty ceiling once bestowed upon him, steady playing time will be the key to him finally making the necessary adjustments to find some success in the bigs. Pessimists point to his repeated failures on the biggest stage and are sick of his struggles being excused as a product of inconsistent playing time and youth. It's once again time for Snider to put up or shut up, so to speak—not that I'm accusing him of being brash.

Snider has flashed above-average power in both the minors and the majors, but it hasn't been sustainable. His power reached all-time low points in each of the past two seasons in The Show, but it was on display in the high-octane Pacific Coast League last season. While playing for Las Vegas last year, it wasn't just his power that created optimism for Snider finally having turned the corner. Snider's walk rate was at an all-time high there, and his strikeout rate of 17.1 percent was only bested by a 15.9 percent rate in a 277-plate-appearance stint in Triple-A back in 2011. Everything was clicking, but once again it didn't carry over to the majors. This year, he began the season on the pine after a poor spring. Gaby Sanchez played himself out of regular playing time quickly, though, and Snider has gotten new life. The sample size is tiny, miniscule in fact, but Snider has struck out just five times in 26 plate appearances and added three walks for good measure. If he continues to avoid the strikeouts that have plagued him in the past, and he taps back into the power he's previously shown, he'll have fantasy value in large mixed leagues starting five outfielders and NL-only leagues.    

Kyle Blanks, OF, San Diego Padres
Ownership:  ESPN: 0% Yahoo!: 0%  CBS: 1%
2013 Stats: 7 R, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 0 SB, .296 AVG (Triple-A)

Carlos Quentin's eight-game suspension has prompted the Padres to promote Blanks from Triple-A Tucson to add outfield depth to their active roster. Blanks was a player that I highlighted as someone to watch in spring training. He played well in the spring, but beyond being more encouraging than him playing terribly, that isn't very predictive of anything. He has followed up his hot spring with a good start in the minors. Blanks has a ton of power, and has averaged one homer per 24.4 plate appearances in his limited time in the bigs. Playing time could be sparse, but if he hits, the Padres will do what they can to get his bat in the lineup. Blanks is worth owning in large mixed leagues with a handful of bench spots as well as in large NL-only leagues.    

Francisco Liriano, SP, Pittsburgh Pirates
Ownership:  ESPN: 0.4% Yahoo!: 4%  CBS: 16%
2013 Stats: Injured

A few weeks ago, I made my case for stashing Liriano on the disabled list to start the season. His inclusion serves as an update on his health, so those of you that are interested in knowing why I believe he should be rostered are encouraged to read the linked article above. Liriano is scheduled to pitch three innings for High-A Bradenton today. He remains on track to join the Pirates in late April or early May.

Tony Cingrani, RP, Cincinnati Reds
Ownership:  ESPN: 0.3%  Yahoo!: 8%  CBS: 43%
2013 Stats: 14.1 IP, 1 W, 0 SV, 26 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.35 WHIP (Triple-A)

Cingrani has baffled Triple-A hitters this year. He was removed early from his start Sunday, and with Johnny Cueto headed to the disabled list, looks to be in line to fill Cueto's spot in the rotation. Cingrani ranked third on the Reds top 10 prospect list. Jason Parks placed above-average grades on both his fastball and changeup, but described his slider as a fringe pitch. He also cautioned that his fastball is more of a deceptive offering than a true blazer. Cingrani's high strikeout rate this year is nothing new to him: He posted gaudy rates in his climb to the majors last year as well. The perception of Cingrani might be greater than the player he is, and it is worth shopping him while the buzz about him is high. If the right offer isn't available, rostering Cingrani in large mixed leagues and NL-only leagues and seeing how he fares against big-league hitters is a nice fallback option.  

James Russell, RP, Chicago Cubs
Ownership:  ESPN: 7.0%  Yahoo!: 9%  CBS: 9%
2013 Stats: 4.0 IP, 0 W, 0 SV, 5 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.25 WHIP

As I was preparing this week's piece, I'd also included Shawn Camp. Unfortunately for Camp, and those that speculated on him as a saves option, he did what Cubs closers have done this year and melted down in a save situation. Camp served up a game-tying homer to Hunter Pence in the top of the ninth, balked in a run in the 10th, and allowed two more earned runs on a pair of hits. In all, Camp allowed five hits and four earned runs on 39 pitches 1 1/3 innings. The next time a save opportunity presents itself, Russell is a good bet to get the nod to close the door.

Russell doesn't throw hard, sitting in the upper 80s with three variations of fastballs (four-seam, sinker, and cutter). He also leans heavily on his slider while sprinkling in some changeups and curveballs. Russell's pitch mix has led to low ground-ball rates, and thus could result in homer problems. What he won't do is get into trouble with walking batters. He has a career walk rate of 2.27 BB/9. It's not the most glamorous closer profile, but saves are saves. His ownership will skyrocket quickly, and owners in need of saves should add him where he's available regardless of league size and format. 

Related Content:  Ownership,  Kyle Blanks,  Triple-A,  Tony Cingrani,  Time

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