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June 7, 2011

Value Picks

Second Base, Shortstop, and Catcher

by Michael Jong

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Departures

Danny Espinosa, Washington Nationals (ESPN 56%, Yahoo! 33%, CBS 67%)

Espinosa's ownership shot up again following a .333/.467/.750 week that included a two-homer performance against Cliff Lee. At this point, Espinosa's .219/.325/.449 line looks very similar to the .214/.277/.447 line he posted last season in half the plate appearances he’s had this year. He is looking more and more like a major leaguer who needs only a few more line drives or grounders to sneak through in order to become a real fantasy asset.

Jonathan Herrera, Colorado Rockies (ESPN 7%, Yahoo! 9%, CBS 12%)

Herrera might still have some playing time in his future given the injury to Dexter Fowler, but it is clear at this point that his struggles of late have demoted him to a part-time role in favor of Eric Young Jr. and Chris Nelson, so the future playing time situation looks scarce. You can safely look elsewhere for options.

Daniel Murphy, New York Mets (ESPN 22%, Yahoo! 10%, CBS 31%)

Murphy served as a forgotten man (even by myself) just two weeks ago, and now he is graduating the VP list with a .560/.593/.560 week at the plate. That line itself shows you the potential problems in picking up Murphy: a player who (just barely) has league average power and has below average plate discipline. He is another player who lives and dies by BABIP, though he should continue to have some value as a middle infield selection.

Jayson Nix, Toronto Blue Jays (ESPN <1%, Yahoo! 1%, CBS 2%)
Nix just has not performed since coming off the DL, hitting just .109/.128/.261 since returning. While Nix is getting the majority of playing time at third base right now, Brett Lawrie is due to come up soon, so he’s not long for the starting role.
 

Arrivals

Alexi Casilla, Minnesota Twins (ESPN 9%, Yahoo! 7%, CBS 18%)

Here is what I wrote about Casilla on a Value Picks article before the season began:

 If Casilla can manage a .300 or so BABIP, his high contact style of play (career 11.9% K%) should keep his AVG in the .270-.280 range. Given his .332 career BABIP in the minors and his obvious speed, an average BABIP does not sound like a stretch.

Well, thanks to a blistering two-week run of .432/.509/.591 hitting, Casilla's BABIP has risen to an unsurprising .302 mark, and as a result he has been a fantasy asset in the last two weeks. Casilla is not quite hitting .270 at the moment, but Casilla's current .263 batting average ranks right behind Jimmy Rollins (owned in 100 percent of ESPN standard mixed leagues) and Alex Gonzalez (owned in 42 percent of leagues), and what Casilla lacks in power compared to those two, he makes up for in speed. During his two-week tear, he stole five bases in six attempts, and during the season he has taken off in 15.3 percent of his stolen base opportunities. With those kind of attempt numbers and a career 86.0 percent success rate, picking up Casilla could translate to a lot of steals if he maintains his middle infield job, whether that be at second base or shortstop. His competition was scarce enough to allow him to regain a foothold on the position, and he should be able to hold onto it even once Tsuyoshi Nishioka returns from injury.

Eric Young Jr, Colorado Rockies (ESPN 7%, Yahoo! 6%, CBS 38%)

As one Colorado infielder leaves, another enters. Here is what I said about the younger Young before the season began:

Eric Young Jr. is a speed demon on the bases and an intriguing player in fantasy for that reason alone. He stole 17 bases in 23 attempts last season (a 74 percent success rate) and he took off in a staggering 31.5 percent of potential stolen base opportunities. Despite solid peripherals in terms of walks and strikeouts, Young hit just .244/.312/.285 in his 189 PA in 2010 and displayed no ability to utilize the power boost of Coors Field (.041 ISO, 29.3 percent FB rate). In addition, Young's defense, wherever he was put, was questionable and the Rockies attempted to fill in their second base gaps this season with free agents Jose Lopez and Ty Wigginton.

Since that time, little has changed except for the competition involved. DFA’ed Jose Lopez has essentially been eliminated, and Wigginton has occupied third base with Ian Stewart in the minors. Herrera has been reduced to a bench role due to his struggles, which leaves just Young standing alone atop the second base position. Young struck out just 15.7 percent of the time in his minor league career, which will be important to maintain if he is to be useful in the majors given his generally poor hitting prowess. However, if he can manage the .265 batting average PECOTA pegged for his 50th percentile, the steals he will bring to the table should be enough to warrant some deeper mixed league play and plenty of NL-only action. Young would need just a .312 BABIP to manage that batting average, so it does sound plausible given his minor league career .352 mark and his terrific speed.
 

Incumbents

J.J. Hardy, Baltimore Orioles (ESPN 14%, Yahoo! 14%, CBS 42%)

Hardy's hot .333/.391/.619 week included two home runs along with four runs and four RBI. While this level of power is unlikely to continue, PECOTA thinks nine more homers in 329 PA is likely, and that alongside a .267 batting average would be worth a selection in mixed league formats. Hardy remains a solid option as long as he remains healthy.

Chris Snyder, Pittsburgh Pirates (ESPN 1%, Yahoo! 3%, CBS 14%)

Snyder was supposed to receive a good deal of playing time due to Ryan Doumit's ankle injury, but it seems he actually split quite a bit of it with backup Dusty Brown, which does not bode well for Snyder owners. He did, however, respond well to a return to VP, posting a .231/.444/.462 week that included a homer and four RBIs. Snyder's batting average still has a ways to go down, but his power holds intrigue for deeper mixed leagues and NL-only leagues.

Adam Kennedy, Seattle Mariners (ESPN 12%, Yahoo! 10%, CBS 11%)

Kennedy continues his hot streak, batting .316/.409/.526 while playing second base and batting fifth or sixth in a poor but improved Seattle lineup. As long as he continues to play well, the Mariners will keep him in the lineup, and though he is not likely to keep up this late-career power surge, it would not surprise me to see his batting average settle in the .270 range once again. He is a serviceable enough player, though he is a bit of a tweener at this point in terms of his value being somewhere in between mixed- and single-league value.


AL-only VP

Dustin Ackley, Seattle Mariners (ESPN 1%, Yahoo! 5%, CBS 33%)

The interest in Ackley's arrival is obvious as he has drastically recovered from his early season struggles and is now hitting a Chase Utley-esque .294/.409/.487, albeit within the environment of the Pacific Coast League. Ackley was initially projected to hit just .246/.327/.345 in the majors this season, but his improved performance in the PCL has caught enough attention to be worth storing in AL-only leagues. The consensus seems to be that the Mariners will give him a shot at the major league level in June while moving Kennedy around to multiple positions to keep both bats in the lineup consistently. With a prospect of his pedigree and recent performance, that situation needs to be heeded.
 

NL-only VP

Jeff Keppinger, Houston Astros (ESPN 1%, Yahoo! 4%, CBS 7%)

Keppinger hit .296/.296/.444 in his first full week back from injury, but that is not the most notable news. Instead, the release of Bill Hall by the Astros firmly establishes Keppinger as the second baseman of the team, guaranteeing him playing time. If he plays as he has the last two or three seasons or as PECOTA has him projected, he should garner enough playing time to plug a hole in the middle infield situation of your NL-only league.

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

Related Content:  Alexi Casilla,  Espn

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