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June 22, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Outfielders

by Rob McQuown

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Last week's NL pick was promoted Tuesday... to be a DH. If Wily Mo Pena hits a little bit, he could keep a roster spot, and it's difficult for a manager to pass on so much power potential. He's up to 5% ownership in CBS leagues, so get him now, before Interleague games are finished. Even happier, two of last week's additions have been picked up in enough leagues to graduate, making room for even more players for shrewd owners to pick up.
 

Departures

Austin Jackson, Detroit Tigers (Yahoo! 39%, ESPN 69%, CBS 68%)

Austin Jackson had his work cut out for him this week, considering he had three games in Colorado. Despite that, he scored five runs and swiped three bases. He should continue to score runs and steal bases, and enough owners have picked him up that he's graduating from Value Picks. Happy Trails, Austin.

Charlie Blackmon, Colorado Rockies (Yahoo! 22%, ESPN 54.3%, CBS 41%)

Charles Blackmon hit .476/.522/.524 in 23 PA this week, scoring six runs and driving in four while stealing two bases. That will certainly help him get a longer “leash,” and as an astute commenter pointed out last week, Jim Tracy loves him. Then again, managers are prone to fall in love with guys who can bunt for hits, as Blackman has done already. He's a much better player than Sam Fuld, and Colorado will help his stats, so even if he does revert to statistical expectations, he could still help a fantasy team. With 12 of his next 18 games on the road, don't expect his red-hot hitting to continue unabated, but he's still valuable enough to pick up. Join the masses on this one as Blackmon also graduates from The List, due to his popularity. But keep a careful eye on him, and remember that he has a long track record of mediocrity.
 

Arrivals

Jon Jay, St. Louis Cardinals (Yahoo! 7%, ESPN  14.6%, CBS 15%)

PECOTA projected Jon Jay to hit .268/.324/.371 in 2011 with just five home runs and eight stolen bases. That's a .253 TAv, for the record. Considering he was coming off a .300/.359/.422 season which began with so much promise (he was hitting .396/.447/.604 on July 30, 2010 - Ryan Ludwick's last game in a St. Louis uniform), the PECOTA outlook seemed rather bearish to Cardinals fans. His batting line of .313/.364/.436 so far in 2011 would support the PECOTA naysayers, at least superficially. He's already hit four home runs and stolen five bases, despite accumulating only 179 plate appearances. And now, with Albert Pujols out, Jay will again get a chance to play full time.

So, why are upwards of 85% of fantasy players in shallow mixed leagues staying away?  Jay has hit left-handed pitching in his career, though he cuts down his swing and becomes more of an “on-baser” than hitter (.316/.393/.347). He's also hit right-handed pitching well (.301/.351/.449 career with eight home runs and stolen seven bases in 502 career plate appearances). So, why not jump on a .300-10-10 guy who's supported in the lineup by stars like Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman, and Colby Rasmus?

The good news is that Jay is unlikely to face more tough lefties than before. Tony LaRussa will always sit a player against a pitcher he doesn't believe he can hit, so Jay has seen only 24 starts against left-handed starting pitchers in his career (nine games started out of 20 lefties faced this year). But with Andrew Brown on the roster, don't expect Jay to start more games against lefties.

A player with 500 plate appearances in his career is very difficult to project when his performance doesn't mesh with his minor-league track record. Of course, the obvious expectation would be that his BABIP would return to Earth with a “thud” (it's .370 so far in 2011 and .357 for his career) and Jay would transform into the hitter PECOTA predicted, more-or-less. The flip side is that Jay has good contact skills, striking out 82 times in those 502 PA (16%) after striking out in just 12% of his PA in the minor-leagues. He seemed to be making a breakthrough in 2010 even before his call up, hitting .321/.394/.491 in Triple-A. This year, his stolen base rate is up, as is his home run rate. It would be folly to ignore the warning signs of his statistical past, his high BABIP, and his collapse last season when given a full-time job. But 502 MLB PA is starting to achieve some statistical significance, and he should have a job for a couple months, at least.

Roger Bernadina, Washington Nationals (Yahoo! 6%, ESPN  9.4%, CBS 18%)

Summarily dismissed in the offseason–with nothing more than “doesn't look very good”–Bernadina has had quite a week, hitting .375/375/.938 with the three homers–half of his PECOTA seasonal expectation. He's an apt defender, has some power and speed, and it appears he's beaten out the competition for playing time... for now. Syracuse (Washington's Triple-A affiliate) is playing .397 ball, and retread Michael Aubrey is their best hitter, though Chris Marrero is their best prospect. Despite this, with Adam LaRoche out for the season, Bernadina would have to go into a deep tailspin to lose his job. Not likely to make much impact in standard leagues, he could be a decent option in deeper leagues and NL-only leagues.
 

Incumbents

Ben Revere, Minnesota Twins (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN 2.7%, CBS 12%)

Ben Revere has led off for the Minnesota Twins the past 14 games, during which time the team has gone 12-2. If these things worked like the “win” stat for pitchers, Revere would have racked up some serious +/- based on his “contributions” to all this winning. Sadly for Revere fans and owners, it doesn't. And Ben hasn't figured it out yet, hitting an anemic .222/.263/.278 the past week (20 PA). He's scored once, driven in a run, and stolen a base.

Though Michael Brantley is much taller than Ben Revere and has a little more power, Brantley's 2010 struggles suggest that it may take Revere more than a few games to become good enough to warrant a job. Time and again last year, Brantley was recommended in this column for his speed and great contact rate. Revere has stolen even more bases (89 in 1064 PA from 2009-2011 in the minors, compared to 87 in 1323 PA from 2008-2010 for Brantley), and has a similarly great contact rate (just 86 K in those 1064 PA, good for an 8% strikeout percentage). Regardless, expect Revere to be riding around the bases rapidly and frequently at some point, though it may not be in 2011 unless he has a hot streak before the disabled list starts returning players to the Twins.

Nate McLouth, Atlanta Braves (Yahoo! 5%, ESPN 5%, CBS 25%)

Sure, he's only hitting .238/.332/.341 on the season and has stolen only one lone base in 194 plate appearances. And, yes, this is the same guy who hit .190/.298/.322 last season. But, as Mike Petriello pointed out in this space earlier this season, he's a 20/20 threat when he's right (averaged 20 HR and 21 SB from 2007-2009). With all the Braves outfield injuries, he should get plenty of playing time in the short term to convince the team he is indeed right again. Given any other good options, though, it's probably better to pick one of them up for the time being–at least until McLouth has a few good games.

Domonic Brown (Yahoo! 24%, ESPN 18.6%, CBS 69%)

The two home runs Domonic Brown hit while this column was being written last week were his only real contributions for the week, and the Phillies have some tough pitching coming their way with a trip to St. Louis and series each against Oakland and Boston. Still, it might be a good time to pick him up in shallow leagues, as he's been getting cut in some.
 

AL-Only VP

Josh Reddick, Boston Red Sox

Jarrod Dyson has been called up this week, for those in daily-move leagues needing a steal here or there. But he was covered already, so Carl Crawford's injury replacement, Josh Reddick, gets the nod today. The Red Sox have shown that they believe in keeping their players healthy, so Crawford may end up missing more time than a typical grade 1 sprain victim. And while it's early, it appears that Terry Francona wants Reddick to start against right-handed pitching with Darnell McDonald going against Southpaws. A double and a triple off of Mat Latos Tuesday will help him keep getting starts, and a change in approach this season has led him to draw walks at a much higher rate than in previous years (33 BB in 231 PA in Triple-A so far in 2011, compared to 114 unintentional walks in 1963 PA before 2011). Despite his unreasonably high .474 batting average in a few MLB at-bats, his .230 Triple-A batting average suggests that he's not making solid contact as often as you’d like to see. Still, his minor-league slugging percentage stands at .500 even, and there's every indication he'll continue to supply power.  AL-only owners could do much worse for the next couple weeks.
 

NL-Only VP

Emilio Bonifacio, Florida Marlins (Yahoo! 3%, ESPN 1.3%, CBS 9%)

It can't really be said that Emilio Bonifacio is a good hitter, but he can still help both fantasy and real-life teams. It remains to be seen what his role will be under new manager Jack McKeon, but his PECOTA projection is for an awful .228 TAv. Despite that, he does have game-changing speed (44 SB and 18 triples in 1158 career PA despite an OBP of just .311), and also positional flexibility; with these, the uncertainty over his role becomes a positive (as it's not certain he'll be on the bench). With Chris Coghlan playing like the second half of 2009 was just an oasis in a desert of futility punctuated with injuries, and DeWayne Wise being, well, DeWayne Wise, it's possible that McKeon will install Bonifacio and let him play. More likely, he'll continue to honor Willie Bloomquist by emulating his career as closely as possible.

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

Related Content:  Ben Revere,  Triple-A

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