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July 25, 2013

Free Agent Watch

Week 17

by Mike Gianella and Bret Sayre

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12-Team Mixed

Justin Smoak, 1B, Seattle Mariners

A common piece of fantasy advice is to take strong Septembers with a grain of salt; generally speaking, this is good advice. Once in a while, though, a strong September is a harbinger of a positive change, and this is what we’re seeing with Smoak. His improved patience has been noted by others, but Smoak is also having more success this year as a left-handed batter with pitches on the outside part of the plate and just outside the zone. The result isn’t a great player but a viable mixed-league option against right-handed pitchers. In OBP leagues in particular, Smoak is a must-own as long as he stays hot. —Mike Gianella

Comparable Player: James Loney, but trending in the other direction

Tommy Milone, SP, Oakland Athletics

Milone is one of those pitchers with a high ownership percentage about whom I scratch my head. He’s fine in AL-only and even in deeper mixed but in standard mixed his home-run tendencies make him a risky start. His home/road splits appear to be their usual favorable selves this year, but his 3.20 home ERA is undermined by a 4.86 FIP. His K/9 has dipped in the last two months, and Milone’s soft-tossing repertoire is fooling even fewer hitters than usual. He’s a tempting spot start due to his reputation at home, but recent trends point more to a wait-and-see approach, especially in shallow formats. —Mike Gianella

Comparable Player: Miguel Gonzalez

Deep Mixed

Devin Mesoraco, C, Cincinnati Reds

Sometimes old adages are old adages for good reason. Everyone seems to be in agreement that even the best catching prospects tend to take time to develop into the players they were meant to be. Not everyone can be Buster Posey right out of the gate. So when Devin Mesoraco struggles in his first few tastes of the big leagues, people may forget about his potential, but you shouldn’t. At the end of June, Mesoraco had a .666 OPS, but since then, he has been hitting the ball extremely well. In July, he’s hitting .349/.396/.558 with a couple of homers in just 13 games (11 starts). With the back-end of the catching pool being very weak, riding the hot hand can be a good strategy—especially when that hot hand is attached to a former top prospect. —Bret Sayre

Comparable Player: Jonathan Lucroy

Alex Wood, SP, Atlanta Braves

The Paul Maholm injury may have opened the door for Wood to enter the Braves’ rotation, but the Tim Hudson injury on Wednesday night kicked it wide open. The left-hander, who was having a breakout season in the minor leagues (1.31 ERA, 62 strikeouts and 17 walks in 62 innings between Double-A and Triple-A), is getting his first start since June 18 on Thursday against the Mets. In his brief major-league stay, he’s struck out 26 batters in 22 innings while maintaining a ground-ball rate above 60 percent. And even though he’s mostly put up those numbers coming out of the bullpen, that’s going to come in very handy as he tries to stick in the Braves’ rotation for the rest of the season. There’s a non-zero chance that Wood becomes the most valuable fantasy starter in Atlanta from here on out. —Bret Sayre

Comparable Player: C.J. Wilson

AL ONLY

Kevin Pillar, OF, Toronto Blue Jays

Yes, you read that correctly, it’s Pillar with a P. Despite being one letter away from screaming “Got Heeeeem” at a crowd of children, Pillar continues to fight and claw through the minors, making the most of his tools along the way. While the Blue Jays’ outfield is full right now, there are plenty of scenarios that could pave the way for a Pillar promotion from Triple-A, including a Melky Cabrera suspension. The 32nd-round pick from 2011 is taking the Adam Eaton approach to the minors, as he has done nothing but hit since getting into pro ball. He’s a career .326 hitter in the minor leagues and has never hit below .300 in any of the five levels he’s been at. If he were to get the call, he could provide help in the batting average category, some stolen bases, and a handful of everything else—which could make him a nice target in AL-only formats. —Bret Sayre

Comparable Player: Norichika Aoki, if you squint really hard.

Bruce Chen, SP, Kansas City Royals

The sentence “Bruce Chen is back in the Royals rotation” is not the sort of sentiment that will lead to a round of high fives, but in AL-only leagues attention must be paid. His numbers always appear to leave a lot to be desired, but even with his lackluster ERA/WHIP in 2012, Chen earned $8 in AL-only 5x5. The guy will eat innings at the back end of your AL-only rotation and he strikes out enough hitters to avoid being a total waste. If this sounds like damning with faint praise, it isn’t; rather, it’s an acknowledgement that in AL-only in late July, the pickings are slim and Chen isn’t utterly useless —Mike Gianella

Comparable Player: Jeremy Hefner

NL ONLY

Khris Davis, OF, Milwaukee Brewers

Suddenly, the Brewers outfield is a breeding ground for potential playing time with the news of the Ryan Braun suspension. And while Logan Schafer and Caleb Gindl appear to be getting the first cracks at the left field opening, neither of them is exactly lighting the world on fire. Enter the 25-year-old Davis, who has gotten the reputation as a hitter with no real position on the field during his minor-league career. In 415 career minor-league games, Davis has hit .288/.392/.506, and any chance that it carries over to the bright lights is worth a gamble in a single-league format. —Bret Sayre

Comparable Player: Kyle Blanks

Charlie Morton, SP, Pittsburgh Pirates

It’s rare to find a member of a contender’s starting rotation who falls under the radar in NL-only, but it’s possible that Morton is one of those rarities. Morton remains a ground-ball machine and while he has a very high HR/FB percentage for a ground-ball pitcher, the old adage applies: it’s hard to hit a ball out of the park if you can’t get it up in the air. The thing that is intriguing with Morton is his 2-3 MPH increase in velocity coming back from Tommy John surgery. It’s only a few starts, so the small-sample-size caveats loom large, but if Morton’s control remains solid he could be a solid buy in NL-only. —Bret Sayre

Comparable Player: Wily Peralta

Mike Gianella is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Mike's other articles. You can contact Mike by clicking here
Bret Sayre is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Bret's other articles. You can contact Bret by clicking here

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Fantasy Article Bullpen Report: On the... (07/25)
<< Previous Column
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