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May 1, 2013

Free Agent Watch

National League, Week Five

by Josh Shepardson

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Gaby Sanchez, 1B, Pittsburgh Pirates
Ownership: ESPN: 0.7% Yahoo!: 2% CBS: 5%
2013 Stats: 4 R, 3 HR, 13 RBI, 0 SB, .244 AVG

Sanchez might not be the first name that comes to mind when thinking about lefty-mashers, but he has hit southpaws quite well in his career. He has 465 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers, and in them, he has a triple -slash line of .295/.388/.505. His ability to hit lefties fits well on the Pirates roster, as manager Clint Hurdle routinely wisely sits Garrett Jones against left-handed pitching. Sanchez is making the most of his playing time against southpaws this year, and has already smacked two doubles and three homers in 25 plate appearances against them.

With starting right fielder Travis Snider battling oblique pain, Sanchez could be in line for increased playing time. Snider is currently day-to-day, but should the injury linger, Jones could find himself replacing him in right field often, with Sanchez picking up extra run at first base. He's no great shakes against right-handed pitching, but extra plate appearances would mean increased chances of contributing in the counting stats. He's not a mixed-league option, but Sanchez is a sneaky play in daily games and useful in NL-only leagues.

Kyle Blanks, OF, San Diego Padres
Ownership: ESPN: 0.0% Yahoo!: 0% CBS: 3%
2013 Stats: 4 R, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 1 SB, .281 AVG

Blanks is a repeat visitor to this column, yet he remains nearly universally unowned. He looked the part of someone who was only temporarily rosterable while Carlos Quentin served his eight-game suspension, but manager Bud Black has still gotten Blanks’s bat into the lineup since Quentin's return. Blanks has seen time in left field and has also started in right field, as well. As a converted first baseman, he's also capable of playing there. Blanks isn't getting penciled into the lineup for his glove, and the Padres are starved for offense, ranking 26th in runs. He has received the bulk of his at-bats from fifth and sixth in the lineup and is a cheap source of power numbers if he's able to carve out regular playing time. He doesn't need to be stashed in standard leagues, but he's a gamble worth taking in NL-only leagues, as long as there is a chance he'll be on the diamond somewhat regularly.

Delmon Young, OF, Philadelphia Phillies
Ownership: ESPN: 1.1% Yahoo! 4% CBS: 21%
2013 Stats: 3 R, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 0 SB, .385 AVG (High-A and Triple-A combined)

Young was activated from the disabled list last night, and he immediately started at designated hitter slotting fifth in the lineup. For all of his faults at the plate, namely his propensity for hacking at anything and everything, Young is still a .284 career hitter that packs enough power to have hit 18 homers last season. In spite of his free swinging, Young is able to keep his strikeouts in check (17.5 percent strikeout rate). He hits too many ground balls to fully tap into his power (45.2 percent ground-ball rate over the last three seasons), but his line-drive rate and pop-up rate are good enough to support a batting average projection of .270 or better. The total package isn't great, but he's a playable fifth outfielder in 14-team mixed leagues or larger formats.

Domonic Brown, OF, Philadelphia Phillies
Ownership: ESPN: 18.9% Yahoo!: 23% CBS: 72%
2013 Stats: 8 R, 3 HR, 11 RBI, 0 SB, .241 AVG

Brown's CBS ownership indicates that there are many leagues in which he isn't available. That said, his ownership in ESPN and Yahoo! leagues suggests that there are many leagues, presumably standard mixed leagues, where Brown is toiling in the free-agent pool. A hot spring had talk of a breakout season on the tonguesof many fantasy pundits and gamers alike. A slow start and the pending return of Young may have owners ready to abandon ship.

There are reasons to believe Brown will play better if manager Charlie Manuel exerts a little more patience with the young outfielder. Brown is scalding line drives at a 25.8 percent clip, and his pop up rate is only 6.0 percent, yet his BABIP is .266. If he continues to put good wood on the ball, his BABIP, and subsequently his batting average, will rise. Brown has made contact with 79.6 percent of the pitches thrown to him this year, and that's reflected in his respectable 18.3 percent strikeout rate, both of which bode well for an uptick in batting average. He offers similar power upside to Young, but has much greater stolen-base upside. He's slotting down in the order, and that hurts his run production totals, but if given the choice between Young or Brown, I'm going to agree with the masses and say Brown is the choice. A reasonable ceiling for Brown this year is 15-20 homers, 10-12 stolen bases, and an average around .270 going forward.

Marcell Ozuna, OF, Miami Marlins
Ownership: ESPN: 0.0% Yahoo!: N/A CBS: 4%
2013 Stats: 7 R, 5 HR, 16 RBI, 2 SB, .316 AVG (High-A and Double-A combined)

With Ozuna already on the 40-man roster, it made sense for the Marlins to choose to promote him instead of more heralded fellow outfield prospect Christian Yelich. Mark Anderson and Bret Sayre covered his promotion in a Call-up blog entry, with Bret covering the fantasy side of the coverage. I don't have anything to add to Bret's analysis, so if you're in an NL-only league and in need of power, take a chance on this raw young outfielder that packs some punch. 

Francisco Liriano, SP, Pittsburgh Pirates
Ownership: ESPN: 0.2% Yahoo!: 5% CBS: 20%
2013 Stats: 16.2 IP, 2 W, 27 K, 3.24 ERA, 0.90 WHIP (High-A, Double-A, and Triple-A combined)

Colleague Bret Sayre wrote about Liriano earlier in the week, so I'll keep it brief here. Liriano was sharp in his first extended rehab start last Thursday for Triple-A Indianapolis, pitching five innings, allowing one run on four hits and zero walks with eight strikeouts. He threw 52 of his 79 pitches for strikes, and according to Brian Cartwright, Liriano totaled 13 whiffs with all eight of his strikeouts being of the swinging variety. Yesterday, Liriano was even better in his second Triple-A start. He pitched six innings, allowing one run on four hits, with zero walks and nine strikeouts. Yet again he pounded the strike zone, throwing 60 of his 82 pitches for strikes. Gamers in need of pitching help in all but shallow leagues should add him in anticipation of his eventual activation from the disabled list. 

Kevin Slowey, SP, Miami Marlins
Ownership: ESPN: 1.3% Yahoo!: 5% CBS: 17%
2013 Stats: 29.2 IP, 0 W, 21 K, 2.43 ERA, 1.15 WHIP

Slowey has pitched all or part of five seasons in the majors, and has just one season in which he finished with an ERA under 4.00. In fact, that season came all the way back in 2008, and he barely got under that threshold finishing, with a 3.99 ERA. Slowey failed to pitch in the majors last year, and was roughed up at Triple-A Columbus, but he's gotten back on track this year.

At his best, Slowey pounds the strike zone. He doesn't throw hard—the average velocity on his fastball is just 89 mph—and missing bats isn't his thing, as evidenced by his 6.37 K/9 and 17.2 percent strikeout rate this year. He also has an extreme fly-ball profile. However, his skills fit his ballpark well. Baseball Prospectus's ballpark factors look at both right-handed and left-handed factors, leading to 60 total rankings. Miami's homer park factor to right-handed batters was 87, and to left-handed batters it was 85. Those homer factors ranked 51st and 53rd, respectively. In short, it may be easy to see the seats in Miami since they are unoccupied, but actually finding them as a hitter is quite difficult. Slowey is a decent stream option when at home, and a back-end starter in very large mixed leagues and NL-only formats.

Scott Baker, SP, Chicago Cubs
Ownership: ESPN: 0.0% Yahoo!: 1% CBS: 3%
2013 Stats: Injured

Cubs beat writer Carrie Muskat reported on Twitter on Monday that Baker has resumed throwing. She tweeted that he's tossing from 45 feet. Baker is on the Cubs’ 60 day disabled list, and won't be a factor until after the All-Star break, but news of him throwing again is a positive sign. Coming back from Tommy John surgery feels like it has become the norm, but Baker hasn't pitched in a game since September 24, 2011, and not every pitcher is able to return to pre-surgery form. He's a huge gamble, but owners in large NL-only leagues with an open disabled-list spot have nothing to lose by stashing him in hopes of further good news on the rehab front in the future.

Kevin Gregg, RP, Chicago Cubs
Ownership: ESPN: 27.9% Yahoo!: 27% CBS: 21%
2013 Stats: 5.1 IP, 0 W, 4 SV, 6 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.94 WHIP

Gregg's inclusion in this week's article is meant to serve as more of an update on the state of the Cubs’ bullpen than a ringing endorsement of owning him. Gregg signed a minor-league contract with the Dodgers back in February, but was released on April 4. He then signed a minor-league contract with the Cubs on April 14, and had his contract purchased on April 16. It's now April 30, and Gregg leads the Cubs in saves. Crazy stuff.

Gregg was awful for the Orioles last year, and he hasn't been better than a replacement-level player since 2010. He does have a track record of saving games, though, and he has yet to blow one this year. While manager Dale Sveum hasn't anointed him the closer officially, Gregg's usage suggests he's the preferred choice in Kyuji Fujikawa's absence. Fujikawa threw a bullpen session on Monday, is set to throw another on Thursday, and is expected to begin a rehab assignment with Triple-A Iowa on Sunday. He reportedly didn't look sharp in his bullpen session, but Fujikawa remains my top pick to lead the Cubs in saves by season's end should he avoid a setback. Owners in desperate need of saves can add Gregg, but he's a threat to blow up ratios and may not be long for the closer gig. For those wondering, Fujikawa is owned in 33.5 percent of ESPN leagues, 41 percent of Yahoo! leagues, and 44 percent of CBS leagues.  

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Raising Aces: There's ... (04/30)
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