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June 15, 2011

Value Picks

Second Base, Shortstop, and Catcher

by Michael Jong

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Departures

Alexi Casilla, Minnesota Twins (ESPN 27%, Yahoo! 14%, CBS 25%)

ESPN owners may have jumped on Casilla because of his recent hot streak (.337/.402/.421 since May 14), but it seems Yahoo! and CBS owners are a little more cautious about his recent success. Sure, his .386 BABIP during that same time period is unsustainable, but his current .304 mark looks very sustainable going forward, and with a league average OBP he could muster plenty of steals the rest of the way. He is still a better AL-only option and only a marginal choice for mixed league play.

J.J. Hardy, Baltimore Orioles (ESPN 57%, Yahoo! 31%, CBS 61%)

With Brian Roberts on the disabled list, Hardy appears to have taken over the leadoff spot and is doing a pretty good job with it. Since returning to the lineup on May 10 from his latest DL stint, Hardy is hitting a 2008-esque .298/.372/.482, including six home runs in 130 plate appearances. With a pretty normal-looking .304 BABIP in that time span and a walk rate (10.0 percent) very close to his strikeout rate (13.1 percent), Hardy's game has improved tremendously. He is hitting fewer ground balls this season than he ever has and has taken advantage of his home park, batting .310/.396/.488 with four of his six homers in Camden Yards. He is once again a good option in mixed league play as you can expect a decent power showing and a return of normal luck for Hardy after two struggling seasons.

Chris Snyder, Pittsburgh Pirates (ESPN <1%, Yahoo! 1%, CBS 7%)

Snyder's back surgery had him placed on the 60-day DL, essentially knocking him out for the rest of the season. The Pirates are hoping for a late-season return, but at this point fantasy owners should obviously move on.

Eric Young Jr., Coloardo Rockies (ESPN 1%, Yahoo! 3%, CBS 22%)

Colorado continues to remain fickle with their middle infield talents. The speedy Young was seemingly ejected from the lineup in favor of outfielder Charlie Blackmon with Carlos Gonzalez being shifted to center field. Young made just one start last week and did not hit well in the process, and with his playing time cut out, another name in the Colorado second base/third base mix has risen as the favorite.
 

Arrivals

Chris Nelson, Colorado Rockies (ESPN <1 percent, Yahoo! 1%, CBS 3%)

Last week, BP readers xavier and Scott44 both inquired about Nelson, who was at the time serving in an unspecified but increasing role for the Colorado Rockies. Here was my response about Nelson's possible impact:

As for Nelson, it's hard to tell. Right now, he has some playing time available to him with Dexter Fowler's injury and Ian Stewart's, well, whatever's happening with him. He's had two straight seasons in which he's been very good, though part of that is the PCL and Colorado Springs's effects. PECOTA likes him for an above league average slash line (inflated by Coors), and he's the only one of the three potential second base options who actually can provide power.

This was before we knew that the Rockies were going to start Nelson in all but one game during the week, shoving early season upstart and former VP Jonathan Herrera completely aside. Nelson has made eight straight starts at second base for the Rockies, batting .296/.286/.481 along the way. Oddly, despite a good enough SLG, he has only picked up one RBI along the way, but outside of the lack of walks, Nelson’s game should bring about good things.

Nelson was hitting .310/.341/.497 in Colorado Springs before being promoted this season, and last year was his best ever season at the plate, batting .317/.379/.498 last season at the same level. PECOTA is sufficiently convinced, projecting Nelson for a .269/.323/.414 line before the season began. His career 8.1 percent minor league walk rate should be indicative of some bounce back from his current walk-less state.

What may be more encouraging is that Nelson–the only Rockies middle infield option with the potential to hit double-digit home runs (PECOTA projected 11 in 450 major league PA)–seems to have the team's trust. Right now, Dexter Fowler's injury has created a lineup spot for both Nelson and Young (if he can outplay Blackmon) but with the way Young is playing, Nelson has likely overtaken him for the permanent job at second base when Fowler returns and center field is once again occupied full-time. If you were to bet on one Rockies middle infielder not named Tulowitzki, it seems like Nelson is your man.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Boston Red Sox (ESPN 2%, Yahoo! 11%, CBS 33%)

Is it possible that, after seeing Salty fail for three seasons and go through what amounts to a catching existential crisisin throwing the ball back to the pitcher, he has figured it all out? Since dipping below the Mendoza line on May 5 he has hit .305/.370/.589 for the Red Sox. The power that scouts raved about (.187 career minor league ISO) returned, and he finally seemed to get it, right?

Well, not entirely. His BABIP was a very high .340, but that is (to some degree) expected when playing half of your games at Fenway Park. His walk rate of 8.6 percent was around the norm for his career (8.4 percent). The strikeouts were noticeably down since May 5, down to a rate of 22.2 percent from a career 27.3 percent. But, oddly enough, his rate of swings and misses has remained mostly static; in parts of three different seasons in Texas, Salty swung and missed on around 27 to 28 percent of his swings, and his 2011 rate of 26.4 percent mirrors those rates. Given the similarities in whiff rate and his continued hacking approach (he has swung at 51 percent of pitches in 2011), one would suspect that strikeout rate to increase as the season progresses.

The only major change has been in the power department. Has his batted ball spread been any different?

2009:                                                                                      

2011:

These comparisons obviously are not quite apples-to-apples, but it does appear as if Saltalamacchia is going the other way a little more often this season, spreading out his balls in play rather than clumping them to right field. For what it is worth, his few home runs have mostly had plenty of distance according to Hit Tracker Online with four of the five being classified as either “Plenty” or “No Doubt.” Due to the highest fly ball rate of his career (46.0 percent), his HR/FB rate is actually at a pretty normal 9.8 percent, which may be one of the most positive signs of Salty's “true” power showing.

At this point, Salty has done enough to get notice in mixed league play. He has made 58 percent of the Sox's starts at catcher, a rate that has been steady throughout the year. The team seems committed to making him work, and at this point he is earning just enough benefit from playing with a good Boston offense that he deserves a look in deeper mixed leagues. The batting average should fall, but if the power proves sustainable, he will be a viable mixed league play.
 

Incumbents

Adam Kennedy, Seattle Mariners (ESPN 14%, Yahoo! 17%, CBS 17%)
Kennedy had a bit of an empty week batting .208/.269/.333, but he did record a stolen base alongside three runs and two RBI. As long as Dustin Ackley continues to be simply “waiting in the wings” with regards to a call-up, Kennedy will keep playing. The Mariners will cross the bridge of what to do with the two of them once they both reside in the majors–which could be very soon –but until then, owners can benefit from Kennedy's solid but unspectacular performance.

Dustin Ackley (ESPN 2 percent, Yahoo! 7%, CBS 39%)

Ackley has been upgraded to a possible mixed league option after another strong week in the minors. He is now batting .297/.415/.487 in Triple-A, and it is likely the Mariners have seen enough of his hitting to pull the trigger on a call-up. Unfortunately, they still are not sure about his defense, and given the potential of Super Two status, the Mariners should err on the side of caution. With each passing week, it becomes more likely that Ackley receives the call, and with his recent hitting display, mixed league owners should be aware when the call is made.
 

AL-only VP

Jemile Weeks, Oakland Athletics (ESPN 2%, Yahoo! 3%, CBS 20%)
Weeks has received less attention than Ackley despite having already been called up to the majors, and he had a very strong opening week performance, batting .333/.364/.571. Do not get too excited about the power from the first week, though, as much of his SLG came from two triples. And while his 2011 Triple-A season does seem quite impressive (.321/.417/.446), it is riding on a .371 BABIP.

What Weeks has going for him is some of the stuff that his elder brother Rickie Weeks never really did; while the younger Weeks is not much of a power hitter (16 career homers in 1018 minor league PA), he does not strikeout as much as the elder Weeks (career 13.1 percent minor league), which means he will serve as more of a speedy contact hitter in the majors. The good plate discipline would be beneficial to someone who stole more bases, but it seems Weeks has yet to develop the knack for swiping bags, having successfully taken just 41 out of 55 attempts (75 percent) in the minors.

Right now, Weeks is serving as Mark Ellis's injury replacement, but Ellis was so bad while healthy this season (.211/.245/.287) that the team may not be so quick to place him back in the lineup when he returns in about a week. It is also important to note, however, that Weeks is not likely to continue this pace, and PECOTA does not see being much more than a .235/.297/.331 hitter. Right now, Weeks is earning playing time and has been hot all season, so he gets the nod here, but beware his history of mediocre plate production before this year.
 

NL-only VP

Jeff Keppinger, Houston Astros (ESPN 1%, Yahoo! 3%, CBS 7%)

It was a mediocre week for Keppinger, who hit .269/.321/.269 while scoring three runs and driving in one. His approach and performance at the plate was on par with what was expected, and he remains a fill-in option for NL-only teams with middle infield gaps, at least until someone else exciting comes around.

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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