March 23, 2011
Value Picks in the Outfield
Friday: “Marc H. Springer is tearing up the Cactus league and is a lock for the fourth outfielder job, and has a chance to win the left-field job outright, as manager Frank Fickle maintains that it's an 'open competition', and incumbant Don T. Forgetmysalary is showing his age, hitting .059 this spring.” - Fake News, Inc.
Saturday: Savvy FNI follower grabs Springer in the late rounds, declaring that he's pwn'd his slower league-mates, who probably don't even know what “pwn” means.
Tuesday: “OF Marc H. Springer optioned to Triple-A.” - Fake News, Inc.
How does a fantasy owner avoid the pitfalls of hyper-vigilant news reading during spring training? The short answer? It's not possible. There are some things to keep in mind, however:
Enough generalities! Who is hot or cold this spring, and how could that impact playing time – at least in April?
Dave Sappelt – Kevin Goldstein summed him up after 26 at-bats in his Future Shock Blog, and he's gone 4-for-7 since then. Ironically, while he's competing with Chris Heisey for the fifth outfield job (behind Lewis/Gomes in left field, Stubbs in center field, and Bruce in right field), his best chance to play is if Heisey impresses some team enough that they are convinced he should be a full-time player. If the Reds are impressed, they may decide to let Heisey play full-time in Triple-A. Sappelt stole 47 bases in 2009, though his lack of success may give even Dusty Baker pause. Craig Brown also discusses Sappelt today, allowing Baseball Prospectus to single-handedly match his 2010 season total for mentions.
Mitch Maier – The most-frequent Royals center fielder from 2010, Maier was in danger of not making the club in 2011 as the Royals brought in Jeff Francoeur, Lorenzo Cain, and Melky Cabrera. Spring stats may not count, but hitting .467/.568/.700 this spring should keep Maier's service time accruing. With a .245 projected TAv, there's little danger of him getting 400-plus plate appearances again in 2011, however. Brett Carroll has been traded, so there's one less player in the mix.
Cabrera, as Brown mentions, has dropped some weight, and was promised playing time when he signed. With his massive spring stats, that playing time seems certain to come at the expense of Lorenzo Cain for at least a couple months.
Eric Patterson may be second-base eligible, with 14 games there in 2010. He's generally been even more of a disappointment at the plate than his brother Corey, but he has swiped 27 bases in 471 plate appearances. He's nursing a bad hammy, so don't be alarmed by the fact that he's not showing up in box scores. But don't be overly impressed with his .438/.486/.813 batting line this spring, including seven doubles so far, either. He's not displacing any of the outfield starters but should find his way into 300 PA anyhow.
Mark Shapiro was in the booth the other day discussing the value Travis Buck brings by being able to play all three outfield spots. Michael Brantley and Grady Sizemore are the presumed left field and center field starters, but Brantley is struggling this spring and has options remaining, while Sizemore's recovery from microfracture surgery is untested so far. In this column, written at the time he was acquired, it was noted, “Travis Buck has [...] worn out his prospect status, and both Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley would have to flop in Cleveland to make him relevant.” If the team really does feel comfortable with Buck in center field, his .435/.469/.783 batting line this spring makes a “third option” for relevancy. While it's difficult to picture the ex-first-baseman being adequate in center field, it has also been difficult to picture him failing to hit for this long, as his pedigree was that of a “sure thing” at the plate. As a righty, Austin Kearns makes more sense for playing time if the three starters are healthy, so don't over-react to Buck's hot spring. It is always good to keep an eye on guys who have shown high-level hitting skills in the past (such as Buck's rookie year, when he hit .288/.377/.474 in 334 PA while calling Oakland his home park).
Scott Hairston is hitting .425/.500/.725 this spring, and has long been undervalued as a hitter due primarily to playing in parks where home runs are suppressed significantly. (Even working against his parks, Hairston has clouted 68 homers in 1856 PA in his career.) He's mostly a lefty-killer, though, and is again trapped in a big park. He is Probably pbest in NL-only leagues as a handcuff for the Carlos Beltran owner.
Jason Michaels has always been a bit of an enigma, able to play all three outfield spots, but never hitting enough to be considered a starting-quality corner, or fielding enough to warrant a full-time center field job. He has a .341 career on-base percentage, and has hit .284/.361/.446 against lefties, though, skills that make him almost ideal for the fourth outfielder in Houston. There will be games where the team is behind and is willing to pinch-hit for Michael Bourn against a lefty (defense doesn't matter nearly as much when trailing, obviously), and other – much more frequent – times when Carlos Lee's glove needs replacement in late innings. Expect his 357:208 PA:G rate of the past two seasons to increase somewhat this year, and for him to push 300 PA, now that Lance Berkman is gone (this only helps Michaels if Carlos Lee plays some first base, as he did in 2010).
Alex Gordon, outfielder, ex-third-baseman, and constant tease (just ask Craig “In my local league, I made an early play for Alex Gordon prior to his debut in 2006. I’m still trying to live that one down.” Brown) is hitting .349/.500/.651 this spring. He's belted three homers and been caught stealing three times. Not that being caught stealing is helping anything, but it suggests he's playing with aggression, at least. If survival instinct helps, Gordon could be playing for his future as a starting position player this season, with the Thundering Herd of Royals prospects on the way, and his name no longer written in ink on their future lineup cards. Still, for now, he has a starting job, albeit for a team in a tough hitter's park which will require Kila Ka'aihue fulfilling PECOTA's wildest dreams to score an average number of runs.