June 15, 2010
Hot Spots: Catcher, Second Base, and Shortstop
Value Picks again makes one change for the week, as long-time VP member Ian Desmond graduates past the 20% ownership mark in ESPN mixed leagues and moves on in terms of value. Desmond maintained his slash line during the week, keeping his AVG above .270. With a believable .315 BABIP, you should expect to see that AVG stick throughout the season. And while Desmond will never be confused with Nick Johnson in terms of plate discipline, he's made for that a bit with his decent pop. Desmond ranks third among NL shortstops in RBI (33) and fifth in ISO (.143), so owners are getting decent value right now. While Jhonny Peralta still remains below the ownership threshold in ESPN mixed leagues, it is likely that most readers of Fantasy Beat are more than aware of Peralta's value as an average hitter in the hitting-poor shortstop position. As a result, he'll "graduate" with the caveat that he remains a solid choice for AL leagues.
First up, replacing Desmond on the list is a former top prospect with the Pittsburgh Pirates who, in recent seasons, has fallen on hard times. Neil Walker was once a first round draft pick and a prized prospect for Pittsburgh, starting off as a decent hitting catcher in the minors. However in 2007, after injuries and defensive ineffectiveness moved him out from behind the plate and to third base, the luster began to fall off. Walker had a miserable campaign in his first tour in Triple-A, batting just .242/.285/.414 (.231 TAv based on his Eq slash line). His plate discipline was awful, as he walked just 29 times in over 500 PA. In addition, with the rise of 2008 first-rounder Pedro Alvarez and the presence of former prospect Andy LaRoche in the majors, Walker's future at third base seemed murky as well.
However, Walker's subsequent stints in Triple-A did not end as badly. He put up a .264/.311/.480 slash line (.266 TAv) in 2009 andin 2010 he raked, batting .321/.392/.560 and displaying more plate discipline (10.0% UIBB%) than he had ever shown. His performance, combined with the absolute fallout of Akinori Iwamura at second, prompted the Pirates to give Walker a look at the keystone. So far this season, he has not disappointed, batting .286/.342/.429 (.279 TAv). The AVG is supported by a high .339 BABIP, compared to his minor league career mark of .302. However, even at a decent .260-ish AVG, Walker can still be valuable due to his power. PECOTA projects another nine home runs for the year in 353 PA, putting him at double digits for the (short) season. None of the major projection systems think his walk rate will be all that impressive (PECOTA projects a 7.2% rate in its weighted means line), and hitting at the bottom of the Pirates' order (3.2 R/G) isn't helping in the runs category either, but you would be hard-pressed to find an available second baseman who could hit with the kind of projected power Walker has and maintain a passable AVG. Walker is taken in only 4.2% of ESPN mixed leagues and, given his playing time (projected 90% of the 2B PA according to Heater expert Matt Bandi), is a good pick for NL-only leagues.
Sean Rodriguez makes the AL side of Value Picks an all-Tampa affair, and with good reason. The Rays, despite a bit of a slide, are still quite potent offensively, and as R.J. Anderson pointed out yesterday, Rodriguez may be one of the most interesting players in that lineup. Right now, his stellar .288/.328/.472 line is a mirage; Rodriguez has struck out in 30.6% of his PA and has an unsustainable .400 BABIP to support that AVG. Rodriguez has only made contact on 72% of pitches he has swung at, and with an average approach at the plate, this will lead to continued strikeout issues and a significantly lower AVG. However, his plate discipline in the minors has always been stellar (11.0% UIBB%) and you would expect that to translate to some degree at the major league level. In addition, Rodriguez' calling card of power has already been on display so far this year. His current .184 ISO is right in line with PECOTA's projection in Tampa (.187 ISO), and his HR/FB% of 12.1% does not seem anomalous for an above average power hitter. Rodriguez can also supply the speed on the basepaths, having stolen over 100 bags in the minors in his career. Before the season, Hot Spots had an eye on Rodriguez, claiming that even in part-time play, his power numbers and counting stats would be good if you could handle his AVG. Heater expert Ricky Zanker has Rodriguez playing full-time for the Rays, split between second base and right field, until Jason Bartlett returns from injury. If you can withstand a .230-.240 AVG, expect good things from Rodriguez.
The remaining players on Value Picks have some semblance of playing time and performance stability right now. John Jaso and Reid Brignac are slowly regressing to the mean after their hot starts, but with their current full-tome gigs, they remain solid plays in AL-only leagues. Similarly, Ronny Paulino remains the man behind the plate for Florida, as John Baker suffered a setback in his rehab stint and remains unavailable to the major league team. Paulino's AVG should regress down to his norm of .260-.270, but expect a better power output going forward. Felipe Lopez had an average week and maintained his spot. Despite the solid week, he did not rack up the counting stats, picking up only two runs and two RBI amidst a poor week for the Cardinal's offense.