April 13, 2010
Hot Spots: Catcher, Second Base, and Shortstop
Hot Spots is now transitioning into discussing undervalued players who could be good buys on the cheap. With the season underway, waiver wire scouring will once again be a daily routine, and for many fantasy teams, that routine will include looking for decent players to fill holes in those premium defensive positions "up the middle." This week, we start off with a few guys who have recognizable names but are being overlooked by many fantasy teams for various reasons.
Chris Iannetta cannot catch a break with the Rockies. Last year, he was a decently above average hitter (.274 TAv) at catcher and still lost playing time at the end of the year to Yorvit Torrealba (.257 TAv). This year, manager Jim Tracy came out and said prior to the start of the season that Iannetta would split time with Miguel Olivo (.261 TAv in 2009). What does Iannetta have to do to secure a starting gig? It would help if he could hit a little better than his career .240 AVG and that abysmally low .228 he hit last year. Iannetta has obvious contact issues (career 72.9 percent contact rate), but if he climbs up to PECOTA's projected .251 mark, he can easily pick up the playing time he needs to get 15-20 HR and 60-70 runs/RBI. He is available in close to 93 percent of ESPN leagues, so stash him on the bench and be the guy who reaps the benefits of a home-run hitting catcher in Coors later in the year.
Jeff Clement brings one thing to the table that few catchers can offer: if he is healthy and effective, he should gather over 600 PA. That is because Clement is not expected to catch at all this season; Heater expert Matt Bandi expects Clement to make the vast majority of starts at first base. With that kind of playing time, the question then becomes whether Clement can shed the label of Quad-A? Most projection systems have him as an average hitter with a low AVG carried by an excellent walk rate. With many of his PA coming from the middle of the Pirates' order, Clement is line for RBI, especially with his projected power. Right now, he is only owned in 2.6 percent of ESPN leagues, making him a decent stash pickup as you wait and see how he handles big leaguers for the first time since 2008.
With the recent rash of injuries to premium second basemen, fantasy players may need to dig through the junk pile for starters who could fill in for one DL stint. Clement's teammate in Pittsburgh, Akinori Iwamura, could be useful in that regard. Manager John Russell has Iwamura batting leadoff, guaranteeing him PA hitting ahead of star Andrew McCutchen. In Iwamura's time with the Rays, he was always able to pick up runs due to a solid .280-.300 AVG and around a 10 percent BB%. While the Pirates' lineup is not nearly as intimidating as the Rays' of 2007 and 2008, he should still be able to rack up passable run totals as you wait for your starter to heal. Tack on the fact that he can help your rate stats and you have a decent available player (owned in 2.1 percent of ESPN leagues) for benches of NL- and deeper mixed leagues.
The same can be said of the Twins' Orlando Hudson for the AL side. "O-Dawg" projects as a bit better than average by PECOTA, but he has few outstanding fantasy skills. His AVG is a good bet to stay solid, but he does not project for good counting stats despite decent projected playing time, and he's never been a threat to steal bases. However, with an improved lineup behind him, Hudson should score more runs than last season given similar playing time. He is not slow (speed score of 5.3 last season and 5.3 career) and Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Jason Kubel are not lacking in contact or power skills. At age 33, Hudson will not contribute much with his already-poor power skillset, and injuries are always a concern, so he does not come without downside. But for a short stretch during the first half, before another wrist injury saps his second half, he is a worthwhile play.
Cliff Pennington is not going to light up your world, but chances are he won't ruin it either. While he is really only an AL-league option, his PECOTA projection resembles that of Padres' shortstop Evereth Cabrera. Pennington can get you steals, and you could do worse going with a shortstop who can provide a good one-category boost. Pierzynski is the anti-Iannetta in that he excels in nothing but making contact. However, it seems many fantasy teams are either filling their starting roles with younger catchers or figuring Pierzynski will decline like PECOTA expects. Pierzynski's classically good contact rates, however, should prevent a serious downfall barring a BABIP collapse.
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