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March 6, 2006

Fantasy Focus

Future Fantasy Free Agent Battles: Hitters

by Jeff Erickson

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In our last article we talked about a couple of pitcher job battles that wouldn't necessarily get resolved in spring training, but that were almost certain to change at some point during the season. Last time we looked at two pitching situations where you could find some value; for this article, we'll look at two hitting situations.

Marlins OF:

Take a quick look at the Marlins' depth chart on MLB.com, paying particular attention to their outfield. Jeremy Hermida is set in right field, so no problems there. However, currently listed as the starters in center and left field are Eric Reed and Chris Aguila, with Reggie Abercrombie as their only backup. What's especially strange is that the Marlins haven't brought in many veteran free agents on minor league deals to compete for the jobs--only Matt Cepicky and Mark Little. While it's important to acknowledge that they're retooling for the future, the above outfielders really don't qualify as prospects at all. Looking at them individually:

  • Reed: Reed has evinced comparisons to Juan Pierre inside and outside the organization, both because of his speed and because of his complete lack of power, an issue that will only be exacerbated in Florida's spacious home park. While his speed and stolen base potential are attractive from a fantasy standpoint, he has two big problems. He's had a hard time staying healthy and, more importantly, he does a poor job of getting on base, making his speed less of an asset. His brief campaign at Triple-A Albuquerque last year is especially galling--only three walks in 171 at-bats.

  • Aguila: Of the three outfielders listed for the two open spots, Aguila might be the most promising, having put up some gaudy batting averages at his last three minor league stops. He doesn't really have the power one would like from a corner outfielder, but at least he can take a walk and hit for average. We don't project him to hit .300 with the Marlins, however. He's also too old to be considered a legitimate prospect, having turned 27 in February.

  • Abercrombie: Given the nickname "Tools" by a few of us at the Arizona Fall League Symposium last November, Abercrombie looks good in a uniform and impresses observers with his raw physical skills. Alas, his performance has never really matched his potential. He's never been able to conquer Double-A, despite three separate attempts. Last year with the Marlins (split between high-A Jupiter and Double-A Carolina) Abercrombie drew only 25 walks while striking out a whopping 127 times. This is not the profile of a hitter ready for the major leagues.

Compounding the Marlins' problems is that they have very few promising outfield prospects. Kris Harvey is probably the best of the bunch, but he was just drafted in the second round of the 2005 draft and will only begin the year in low-A ball. Jai Miller hasn't panned out so far, and the clock is starting to tick for him. They're really left with few in-house options. One possibility is for them to move Josh Willingham out to left field, in order to get his bat in the lineup every day.

Otherwise, don't be surprised if they trade some of their pitching prospect depth away to get help in the outfield. One name mentioned frequently this offseason has been Joey Gathright of the Devil Rays. The Rays have a glut of outfielders and need pitching help. However, their decision to try out Aubrey Huff at third base again might open up a spot for Gathright, plus it gives them a little more negotiation leverage in trade talks. So far the two sides haven't come that close on a potential deal.

Indians 3B/1B/RF:

If there was a reason the Indians fell short in their attempt to make the playoffs last year, it was that they got below average production from their third base, first base and right field spots. Aaron Boone, Ben Broussard and Casey Blake all had poor 2005 seasons:

Player        AVG/HR/SB     OPS    VORP
Boone        .251/19/13    .677     4.7
Broussard    .265/16/3     .770    17.1
Blake        .241/23/4     .746    12.7
All three players were better fantasy players than they were in real life for the Indians, especially Boone, with his 13 stolen bases. Jacobs Field played as a fairly significant pitcher's park and has for the last couple of years, but that doesn't explain all of their respective struggles. Both Boone and Blake are also both past their prime ages, and Broussard is already 29, so much improvement from him is unlikely.

The Indians could address their problems at each position internally this season if there isn't much improvement. The obvious replacement option for one spot is Andy Marte, acquired in the Coco Crisp deal. He'll likely begin the year in Buffalo, but a quick promotion wouldn't be shocking. When Marte does get the call, it'll be to play every day. Other internal options include Ryan Garko at first, and either Franklin Gutierrez or Brad Snyder in the outfield. Marte is the closest to being ready, both offensively and defensively. Garko's bat is probably ready right now, but he needs to improve his defense before the Indians are willing to give him the job at first base. Gutierrez has been slow to develop both in terms of plate discipline and power. Snyder, the Indians' first-round pick in 2003, had career highs in the power categories upon making the leap to Double-A last year, but lost some of his plate discipline in the process. He's probably still a year away.

Jeff Erickson is the Senior Editor at RotoWire, and the host of XM Radio's "Fantasy Focus," heard every weekday at noon ET on XM Channel 175. He can be reached here.

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Premium Article Under The Knife: The S... (03/06)
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Fantasy Article Fantasy Focus: Endgame... (03/15)
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Premium Article Future Shock: State of... (03/06)

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