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April 18, 2008

Fantasy Focus

Changes of Scenery, Revisited

by Jeff Erickson

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Last year we discussed players that might benefit from a change of scenery, or at least a significant change within their organization. These players are either languishing in Triple-A, or chained to the bench in the majors. We're going to revisit that topic now, with an eye towards players that could help you out should they ever get an opportunity to play, and are either available right now or can be acquired cheaply. We're going to avoid discussing the elite prospects that haven't made their debuts, players like Jay Bruce (though if Corey Patterson keeps putting up a sub-.300 OBP in the leadoff spot for the Reds through July, Reds fans will be howling much earlier than that) or Colby Rasmus. In most leagues, they're unavailable anyhow.

Josh Fields: Fields lost the spring training battle over the third-base job with Joe Crede after GM Kenny Williams said that, unlike last year, Fields would not play in the outfield if Crede won. Thus, the odds were stacked against Fields to begin with-Crede is in his walk year, so if the White Sox are to get anything out of the veteran in a trade, they have to play him. The big problem for Fields is that with the White Sox winning, Crede playing well, and both the Indians and Tigers off to slow starts, there's less incentive for the White Sox to trade Crede. Fields is off to a lukewarm start at Triple-A Charlotte, hitting .280/.368/.400 with one homer, six walks, and 20 strikeouts in 50 at-bats. The strikeouts are a problem for him; he struck out 125 times last year in his major league debut in just 373 at-bats, but then again, he homered 23 times.

Ben Francisco: If the Indians have a weakness, it's the offensive production that they get from Casey Blake at third base and from their corner outfielders, Jason Michaels, David Dellucci, and Franklin Gutierrez. Francisco can't address the third base woes, but he could eventually provide an upgrade over Michaels in left field, assuming he ever gets a chance. He'll have to start hitting at Triple-A Buffalo first, though-he's been slumping from the start of the season there, hitting .204/.283/.278 in 54 at-bats. Note one other caveat about Francisco: eventually, Shin-Soo Choo will return from the DL, and he's out of options, so he's more likely to get the first shot to replace one of the current corner outfielders. However, if Francisco ever gets a shot, he offers a decent power/speed combination.

Esteban German: German isn't a prospect, but he can help a team needing to add some speed and on-base ability. He's been able to add multi-position eligibility the last couple of years, enough to qualify at both second and third base for 2008. Alas, playing time has been in short supply for German this year-Mark Grudzielanek has remained fairly healthy, Alex Gordon has hit, and the Royals have played Joey Gathright and Alberto Callaspo ahead of German as the top reserve in the outfield and infield spots, respectively. One other potential opportunity for German to land some playing time dried up when Jose Guillen's suspension was rescinded.

Adam Lind: Lind has a couple of things working against him. He isn't a good defensive player, and he went through a prolonged slump last season where he struggled with his plate discipline. His defense is unlikely to improve beyond league-average, but the plate discipline has seemingly been addressed. His ability to hit for power is pretty well established, and the Jays have a need to add more power from the left-hand side. They removed one roadblock in front of Lind this spring when they cut Reed Johnson; now all that's standing in Lind's way is the platoon of Matt Stairs and Shannon Stewart, with the team giving Marco Scutaro a start here-and-there in left field as well. It doesn't take a lot of imagination to foretell a scenario where either Stewart or Stairs goes on the DL, creating an opportunity for Lind. He's currently hitting .360/.411/.640 with three homers at Triple-A Syracuse.

Kendry Morales, Juan Rivera, and Reggie Willits: Torii Hunter's free agent signing put the kibosh on the notion that this trio of hitters would get much of an opportunity to play for the Angels, barring an injury or two to their starting outfielders. The problem isn't necessarily with Hunter's contract, but rather with Gary Matthews Jr.'s contract given the journeyman prior to the 2007 season. Morales seems particularly stymied by the Angels' current set-up; he's not much of an outfielder, so he's more reliant on an injury to first baseman Casey Kotchman to get his opportunity. Both Morales and Rivera could be good power sources if given a stretch of playing time. Willits was sent down to Triple-A Salt Lake earlier this week after getting just one at-bat with the Angels to begin the season. All he did last year was get on-base at a .391 clip, steal 27 bases, and play good defense in the outfield. There are a number of teams that could use those skills; a team like the Twins should be calling the Angels every day about trading for Willits. If an Angel outfielder gets hurt (and between Garret Anderson and Matthews, an injury is a pretty good bet), Rivera probably is first in line to pick up the playing time, followed by Willits, then Morales.

Matt Murton: Murton hits for average, has good on-base skills and supplies a little power, but he apparently doesn't fit into the Cubs' plans. Even an injury and DL trip for Alfonso Soriano wasn't enough to prompt them to recall Murton from Triple-A Iowa. Instead, the Cubs called up Eric Patterson, and will use Mike Fontenot in the lineup, with Mark DeRosa moving to left field whenever Fontenot is playing second. If they're not going to use Murton here, in a situation that's tailor-made for him to be called up, he's going to need a trade to get his opportunity.

Garrett Olson: Many of the players on this list are in organizations that expect to contend and have established veterans ensconced ahead of them. That's not the case with Olson and the Orioles. Sure, he has a veteran blocking him, but that veteran is innings-eater (and that's a term used in the pejorative sense) Steve Trachsel. There are some legitimate reasons for the O's to have Trachsel in the rotation rather than a prospect like Olson, none greater than the fact that they were able to flip Trachsel for Scott Moore and Rocky Cherry last year, and who's to say they can't repeat the feat this season and deal the vet for another package of middling prospects? Olson needs to improve his command (28 walks in 32 1/3 innings with the O's last year), but they really need to see what they have in him sooner rather than later. Fortunately, this is a problem that should get rectified shortly, given the shakiness of the O's rotation.

Steven Pearce: Pearce has to wait for the Pirates to clear the way in the outfield by trading either Jason Bay or Xavier Nady, but their Minor League Player of the Year is ready to produce now. The Pirates have converted Pearce into a full-time outfielder, reflecting the notion that Pearce is unlikely to unseat Adam LaRoche at first base. Pearce has gotten off to a slow start at Triple-A Indianapolis, but rallied in the last week, and he hit his first two homers of the season on Thursday night. Once he gets the call, Pearce could provide some cheap power for his fantasy owners, though he might not hit for a lot of power in his home ballpark, given how tough PNC Park has played on righties over the years.

Ryan Raburn: Raburn was aced out of a roster spot early this season by the Tigers' flavor of the month, Clete Thomas, but recently got called back up and it looks like he might stay when Curtis Granderson returns, with Thomas going down to Toledo. Raburn filled in capably in a utility role last year, and in some leagues might qualify at second base, having played 10 games there last year. With Placido Polanco nursing a lower back injury, Raburn might end up having more opportunities to play second base as well.

Jason Repko: It's hard to criticize the Dodgers for not using Repko. They have three solid outfielders and Juan Pierre ahead of him on the depth chart, plus Delwyn Young is out of options. Nonetheless, Repko could steal a few bags if he gets any playing time, presuming that he's fully recovered from the torn hamstring that kept him out during the 2007 season.

Nate Schierholtz, Dan Ortmeier: Rich Aurilia doesn't have an extra-base hit in 46 at-bats so far this season. This is not exactly the production a team wants out of its first baseman, and with the Giants clearly outclassed in the NL West, they shouldn't be wasting at-bats on Aurilia, but should instead be looking at some of their younger players to see if they have anyone worth keeping. Dave Roberts' injury allows for one such opportunity with Fred Lewis and John Bowker in the outfield, and hopefully Ortmeier and/or Schierholtz gets a chance at first base soon. Ortmeier has a lot of stolen base potential, having multiple double-digit stolen base seasons in the minors, while Schierholtz has a little bit more power upside, though he's not completely devoid of speed either.

Not all of these players are hot right now, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, at least in terms of your attempting to acquire them cheaply before they can help you. Often it's more profitable to try to acquire guys like this than to wait until their opportunity arrives. Use this list as a jumping-off point to find similar players, and hopefully you can land a bargain or two to help you over the long haul.

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Jeff Erickson is the Senior Editor at RotoWire, and the host of XM Radio's "Fantasy Focus." He can be reached here.

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