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April 5, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Value Picks at Catcher, Second Base, and Shortstop

by Michael Jong

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As my colleague Mike Street pointed out yesterday, Value Picks will now shift to a weekly look at players commonly available in the waiver wires of leagues. Our cutoff point, which was decided last season, was 20 percent ownership or less in ESPN or Yahoo standard mixed leagues. As always, Tuesdays will be dedicated to taking a look at players who can fill your up-the-middle positions of catcher, second base, and shortstop.

Russell Martin, New York Yankees

I spoke about Martin before and had this to say:

…but with Martin's lingering health issues and two-year struggles, he seems like a stretch on draft day and more of a candidate to follow as the season progresses.

Martin did not go in every mixed league (he an ADP past 260 in ESPN standard mixed leagues) but is sure catching the interest of players after the first weekend: Martin's ownership in ESPN leagues picked up 12.1 percent after a hot .455/.455/.818 start to the season. The two most encouraging things to note are the fact that he hit a home run and a double along the way and picked up two steals through Monday night. The things that fantasy fans once counted on from Martin were double digit home runs and steals from a .300 hitting catcher. While the .300 batting average may never resurface after two seasons of BABIP in the .280's, it seems the itch to run the bases has returned. While it is still early, Martin has taken off in two of his first 11 stolen base opportunities. It sounds like he is more eager to run as well, perhaps to prove to others that he is healthy.

The truth is that Martin does not stray too far from his career 71 percent stolen base rate and just needs to get the opportunities that he has had in previous seasons. Even in his first bad year in 2009, Martin's eternally high walk rates (career 15.8 percent walk rate) still yielded him almost 250 opportunities to run the basepaths and 11 steals to his credit. Even if the short porch at Yankee Stadium doesn't help his power from 2006-2008 return, a bounce back to double-digit steals in a full season of work and a bit of regression in his average would be worth your investment in mixed leagues. Health is always the ultimate question with Martin, but if you are looking for a stopgap or second catcher in mixed leagues, you should be willing to take the risk for the potential reward.

Ryan Hanigan, Cincinnati Reds

I acquired Hanigan for $2 in my only NL-only league and was happy to have him this weekend when he broke out for a 4-for-4 performance with two home runs, two R and two RBI. Of course, it seems I am a bit biased to include him in this listing, but I also spoke highly of him in the past as a guy who would always maintain a strong batting average because of his superior contact and plate discipline skills. Hanigan's career 9.6 percent strikeout rate coupled with a 12.5 percent career walk rate should keep his batting average high and keep him on the basepaths to potentially score some runs at the bottom of the order.

While clearly he is not going to continue hitting at a pace like this, particularly in his power game, Hanigan's skill set is good for a few categories (think of him as Joe Mauer Lite). Playing time will always be a problem, but a breakout performance like this may help to garner more looks. It was encouraging to see that he got the Sunday start following Saturday night's game, and look for him to continue to get the majority of the plate appearances in the Reds catcher situation and assist NL-only owners. Mixed league interest should still be low (he is owned in only 0.8 percent of ESPN leagues and six percent of Yahoo leagues), but keep an eye on his playing time to judge your interest level.

Danny Espinosa, Washington Nationals

Espinosa got off to a hot start as well, though it seems ESPN players are less willing to buy into his game (6.1 percent ownership is ESPN leagues) as Yahoo owners are (47 percent ownership). Sure, Espinosa had a pair of 2-for-3 games that has his batting average at .444, but that aspect of his game is not what will ultimately catch players' eyes. Like Ian Desmond before him, the interest in Espinosa lies in steals and home run power, two things he has yet to display this season. The power showed last year, when Espinosa knocked six home runs and four doubles in 112 plate appearances, and despite the fact that he has yet to hit a homer this year, two of his four hits were still doubles, displaying a good deal of power.

The speed is the discouraging aspect of his game right now. Last season, Espinosa took off in just two of 31 stolen base opportunities, and so far he has let five opportunities pass by without an attempt. However, some of that may be due to the nature of the early games in which the Nationals have been involved, as at least one affair was a complete blowout during which an attempt to steal would have potentially been frowned upon. That aspect of his game is something to keep an eye on, but if you continue to think of Espinosa as a poor man's Drew Stubbs in the middle infield, you should be happy with his production in mixed and NL-only leagues.

Will Rhymes, Detroit Tigers

I discussed Rhymes two weeks agobefore he was officially named the starting second baseman for the Detroit Tigers, and I pointed out that there was some definite good to be found. Rhymes's skill set of low strikeouts and decent plate discipline should earn him a .280 batting average with relative ease, and his propensity to steal bases in the minors should eventually translate to major league success. He missed a Sunday start due to rest but was back in the lineup Monday night, so there should be little concern about which player will start at the position while Carlos Guillen remains on the DL. Rhymes, at this point, is still a good choice for a stopgap middle infielder with two- or three-category support in AL-only leagues.

Maicer Izturis, Los Angeles Angels

All that I mentioned regarding Izturis last weekremains the same, as he did not disappoint over the weekend in terms of performance (.353/.353/.588, 1 HR, 1 SB). What was important to point out this week was that, in a four-game series versus the Kansas City Royals, Izturis played in all but one game, led off in each start, and played three different positions (second base, third base, and shortstop). If the Angels continue to use these sorts of rotations in season, Izturis could finish the year qualifying at all three positions, bringing his solid batting average and 20-steal capability with a fantasy utility bonus.

Michael Jong is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Michael's other articles. You can contact Michael by clicking here

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