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August 2, 2011

Value Picks

Second, Short, and Catcher for 8/2/11

by Michael Jong

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Chase d'Arnaud, Pittsburgh Pirates (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0.1%, CBS 2%)

The Pirates made me look foolish last week by promoting and starting Pedro Alvarez after I submitted my article regarding Chase d'Arnaud's last chance at a major league starting job in 2011. It did not help that he went on the disabled list with a fractured right little finger on July 27, dooming any remaining chances of him putting up fantasy numbers for the foreseeable future.

Eduardo Nunez, New York Yankees (Yahoo! 10%, ESPN 33.1%, CBS 41%)
Nunez benefited from a strong .333/.364/.476 week that included five runs scored and a steal, culminating in a spike in ESPN ownership and a subsequent departure from the Value Picks list. His .275/.320/.401 slash line doesn’t appear to be too luck-marred as his .296 BABIP appears more than reasonable for his slap-hitting, groundball style. He remains a good pickup—particularly in single-league play—since his job as Alex Rodriguez’s replacement is safe. Rodriguez should begin baseball activities this week and may get a rehab assignment by the middle of the month, so Nunez still has a little more time to impress in the Yankees lineup.

Jose Altuve, Houston Astros (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN 1.2%, CBS 13%)

Altuve created quite a stir with his promotion, and rightfully so. Altuve is a 21-year-old prospect who was coming off an absolutely brilliant 2011 run in the minor leagues. Not only did Altuve hit a combined .389/.426/.591 with 10 homers and 24 stolen bases in 391 plate appearances between High-A and Double-A as a 21-year-old, he did it with a petite 5'5”, 148-pound frame. His frame is so small and his professional league pedigree so great thus far that it is difficult to find a comparison for him; PECOTA lists only Rafael Belliard and Wally Backman as comparable players.

The good in Altuve's game is self-evident; he seems to bring plenty of pop despite his tiny body, and his career 10.6 percent minor league strikeout rate should help him support a decent batting average. Because we have not seen a player quite like him before, however, it is difficult to tell whether a lot of his minor league skills, particularly that power that makes him so intriguing, will stick in a transition to the majors. So far, he has mustered three extra-base hits (all doubles) in his 41 major league plate appearances, though that early sample says almost nothing about his talent at this point. Looking at his early discipline results, Altuve appears to be attacking very aggressively, swinging at 56.2 percent of pitches and having only seen 3.17 pitches per plate appearance so far. That approach will provide him hits given his ability to avoid whiffs and likely natural BABIP talent (career minor league BABIP of .353).

Altuve's hot start has gotten some notice, and while there is obvious regression coming for the current .359/.366/.438 line, his potential combined with Houston's willingness to rebuild with younger parts should translate to plenty of playing time. The power may not flash this season, but he may be worth an upside selection in deeper or NL-only leagues.

Jason Bartlett, San Diego Padres (Yahoo! 10%, ESPN 7.9%, CBS 36%)

Bartlett was a “miss” for most of the week, collecting only four hits and not stealing a base in 22 plate appearances. As suggested last week, his performance dipped as he went home, and he will be home for another three games this week before traveling for 10 games starting with a three-game set with Pittsburgh over the weekend. As a Jason Bartlett owner, I would avoid the matchups with the Los Angeles Dodgers through the start of this week and feature him starting this weekend in order to avoid the BABIP suppression of Petco Park.

Mark Ellis, Colorado Rockies (Yahoo! 6%, ESPN 3.5%, CBS 15%)
Ellis was 0-for-the week, going hitless and walkless in 16 plate appearances. In any given week, any player might do this, but what was more concerning was the two days of rest given to him by manager Jim Tracy. Tracy has been absolutely inconsistent with his second base playing time, mostly riding the hot hand. Jonathan Herrera has not been on fire, but he has hit .289/.341/.289 during the month. Ellis still has a hold on the job, but his near full-time status may be slipping.

Carlos Guillen, Detroit Tigers (Yahoo! 5%, ESPN 7%, CBS 16%)
Guillen did not have a great week, batting .200/.222/.440 with one showboating homer off of none other than Jered Weaver. Still, this week brought him to a more than acceptable .280/.296/.460 line with an unassuming .286 BABIP. Guillen may not be as good as he used to be, but if the early returns and PECOTA projections (.263/.336/.399) are right, he would not be a bad option for owners in deeper leagues looking for a middle infielder. On the playing time note, Guillen made every start again this week, thoroughly cementing his role as starting second baseman.

Jeff Keppinger, San Francisco Giants (Yahoo! 9%, ESPN 4.8%, CBS 11%)
Keppinger was back to his old ways this past week, hitting .280/.333/.400 with three doubles. The Giants could not produce around him, resulting in just one run scored despite the solid performance, but it was encouraging to see Keppinger back to his usual production after an awful first week with the defending World Series champions. With Freddy Sanchez getting shoulder surgery, he will be out for the remainder of the season, leaving Keppinger as the sole man with the second base job.

Wilson Ramos, Washington Nationals (Yahoo! 9%, ESPN 4.5%, CBS 31%)
Ramos busted his hitless streak with two consecutive hot games at the end of the week, batting .385/.467/.462 in the four games last week. Ramos seems to be losing two starts a week to Jesus Flores, so fantasy owners in daily leagues should keep an eye out on whether Ramos is getting an off day as he will seemingly be getting them consistently regardless of the presence of Ivan Rodriguez.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Boston Red Sox (Yahoo! 20%, ESPN 9.3%, CBS 50%)
Salty had another strong week, batting .294/.333/.588 with a homer and three RBI. For the month, he is hitting .283/.343/.550 with four of his nine home runs, but keep in mind that that has come with a .351 BABIP and a 25.0 percent HR/FB rate. His strikeout rate in July was also very high, reaching 29.9 percent. At this point, however, fantasy fans looking for catching help would be happy with the power production within a jam-packed Boston lineup.

AL-only VP
Jason Kipnis, Cleveland Indians (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 0.5%, CBS 20%)

Kipnis hit his first career home run in an otherwise unimpressive first week in the majors. The only really promising thing of note outside of last week's discussion is the fact that, with Orlando Cabrera all the way in San Francisco, the Indians have no one to block Kipnis's play at second base. His pedigree should be good enough to get him eventual success in the big leagues, so AL-owners should begin swooping in on him now that he has the playing time to afford owners fantasy value.

NL-only VP
David Ross, Atlanta Braves (Yahoo! 6%, ESPN 6.2%, CBS 10%)

Ross may seem like your typical backup catcher with little playing time, so it is easy to forget that since Ross arrived in Atlanta in 2009, he has hit .274/.374/.482 (.294 TAv) with 13 homers in 400 PA. Also before arriving in Atlanta, he spent three seasons playing in a 50/50 timeshare in Cincinnati and hit .226/.322/.453 (.255 TAv) with 41 homers in 826 PA. In other words, before his time as a backup, he was a more than passable starting catcher, and since his time in Atlanta, he has been excellent in his limited role. With Brian McCann's injury, Ross has stepped into the starting lineup, and while the early returns have not been great (.188/.188/.250 since July 27), the success that Ross has shown since 2006—especially in the power department (career 15.2 percent HR/FB rate)—should be enough to get NL-only owners interested.

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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