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May 16, 2013

Free Agent Watch

National League, Week Seven

by Josh Shepardson

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Derek Dietrich, 2B (Yahoo! and CBS)/SS (ESPN), Miami Marlins

Ownership: ESPN: 0.3% Yahoo!: 1% CBS: 5%
2013 Stats: 2 R, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 0 SB, .400 AVG

When the Marlins placed Chris Valaika on the disabled list, they needed to fill his roster spot and opted to do so with Dietrich, who was acquired from the Rays in exchange for Yunel Escobar. Jason Churchill wrote about him in December while ranking the prospects that had been traded by that point in the offseason, and in that article, he noted that Dietrich owns a large platoon split. Thankfully, Dietrich hits better against righties, putting him in line for the long end of the platoon, and he has a minor-league triple-slash line of  .294/.365/.524 against them from 2011 through his work to date this year. He has already been shielded from one southpaw, sitting against Dodgers starter Hyun-Jin Ryu.

In an effort to provide a spark to a sputtering offense, Marlins manager Mike Redmond moved Dietrich to third in the lineup in Tuesday's game against the Reds. Dietrich recorded at least one hit in each of his first four games played entering Wednesday's game, and may have some leash as the club's number-three hitter against right-handed pitching. He'll likely sit against tough lefties, but I don't expect him to sit against all of them. That said, if you're able to move someone into the lineup in his place when he's facing a southpaw, you'd be wise to do so. He has played second base exclusively and should gain eligibility at that position in ESPN leagues early next week. Given the lack of offensive talent in the middle infield, Dietrich is worth rostering in mixed leagues that are larger than 12 teams and use a middle infielder. He won't steal more than a couple of bags, at most, but he has enough punch to eclipse double digits in homers with regular playing time.

Darin Ruf, OF, Philadelphia Phillies
Ownership: ESPN: 0.1% Yahoo!: 0% CBS: 6%
2013 Stats: 21 R, 5 HR, 22 RBI, 1 SB, .296 AVG

Ruf had a breakout season in the minors last year, and rode his power outburst all the way to The Show. He smacked three dingers in September, but failed to make the Phillies big-league roster when the club broke camp this year. His natural position is first base, but with Ryan Howard inked to a regrettable contract through 2016 with a club option for 2017, Ruf has been tasked with learning to make the outfield his new defensive home. He has played left field dating back to 2010, but this is the first year that the bulk of his playing time has come there instead of at first base. As one would expect, the transition hasn't been seamless. However, Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan told the Philadelphia Inquirer, when discussing his play in left field, "It's not a concern for me. It's not a concern at all." Improved defensive play in the outfield will help his cause in receiving another promotion to the parent club, where the pressure will be on his bat to keep him in the bigs.

His stats were gaudy last season, but it's important to remember he was old for the Double-A level and that he's not an emerging superstar. Ruf failed to crack the Phillies top 10 prospects, but he was included in the Factors on the Farm section. He has power, and with power always at a premium, Ruf should remain on NL-only owners’ radars. He'll need to prove that he's more than a Quad-A hitter that feasts on mistake pitches, and he'll get that chance sometime this year. That chance could first come as a reserve at first base and in the corner outfield, perhaps platooning with Howard. Howard has walked just one time while striking out 19 times in 42 plate appearances against southpaws. He has a sub-.400 slugging percentage against lefties, and if the Phillies tire of his failures against them, they have a perfect platoon-mate biding his time in the minors. The right-handed-hitting Ruf pummels left-handed pitching.

Delmon Young, Domonic Brown, and John Mayberry are far from locked into regular playing time in the corner outfield for the entirety of the 2013 season, but I think Brown has nearly gotten to that point. Owners with bench flexibility and a need for some power in NL-only leagues should consider stashing Ruf in hopes of him getting a look sooner rather than later.

Jose Tabata, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
Ownership: ESPN: 1.0% Yahoo!: 1% CBS: 5%
2013 Stats: 9 R, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 1 SB, .294 AVG

Travis Snider has played better against big-league pitching this year, but he hasn't run away with the Pirates right-field gig and could be in danger of being supplanted in the starting lineup by Tabata. Tabata has out-hit him this year, and including Wednesday night's game that is in progress while I write this article, he has made consecutive starts in right field. He made the most of the first start, beating up on Kyle Lohse, a pitcher he's had success against in the past.

Tabata flashed fantasy potential in his 441-plate-appearance MLB debut back in 2010, but he's scuffled along the last two seasons. He's an inefficient base stealer, but has enough speed to help fantasy teams in that category. Tabata rarely strikes out, owning a 14.6 percent rate in his career, and he's struck out even less this year. The key to him earning regular playing time for the Pirates and retaining sustainable fantasy relevance will be making productive contact. Simply making contact won't be good enough, as 2011 and 2012 illustrate. During those two seasons his line-drive rate was under 17 percent, and he pounded the ball into the ground over 61 percent of the time. In the very early going, his line-drive rate is up to 18.6 percent this year, and his ground-ball rate is down to 55.9 percent. Tabata rarely pops out, even when he's struggling, and if he can continue to make hard contact, he can be a positive contributor for fantasy teams in batting average. His game doesn't lend itself to hitting homers, so don't be fooled by his two taters hit this year; his single-season best in the majors is only four. His fantasy value is limited to NL-only leagues and mixed leagues of 14 teams or larger that use five outfielders.

Michael Wacha, SP (Yahoo!)/RP (ESPN and CBS), Memphis Redbirds (Triple-A)
Ownership: ESPN: 0% Yahoo!: 1% CBS: 10%
2013 Stats: 40.2 IP, 4 W, 24 K, 1.99 ERA, 0.98 WHIP

When Jake Westbrook hit the disabled list with elbow inflammation, it was John Gast who was called-up to take his place in the rotation. Gast earned a win against the Mets on Tuesday, but the soft-tossing southpaw is unexciting from a fantasy perspective. Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak doesn't believe Westbrook's elbow injury is a big deal, but if it becomes one, Wacha would become an intriguing fantasy option. He isn't piling up strikeouts, but Wacha is getting outs in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.

Jason Cole wrote about Wacha for the Monday Morning Ten Pack. Cole mentioned that his placement in Triple-A to begin the year was aggressive, and Wacha has proven up for the challenge. He suggested that if no rotation openings present themselves to Wacha, he could get an introduction to big-league hitters in the bullpen, much like many Cardinals pitching prospects have in recent seasons. Wacha would have less fantasy appeal out of the bullpen than in the rotation, but his stuff played up in bursts last year working in the pen, and he could still help fantasy teams’ ratios in a middle-relief role. His pitching role in the big leagues will go a long way in determining his fantasy value.

Wacha’s CBS ownership indicates that he is on the radar of more than a handful of serious gamers. BP colleague Bret Sayre didn't rank him among his top 25 stash choices, but did include him in his honorable mentions. My feelings mirror those of Bret, and I don't think he's among the top choices to burn a roster spot on. That said, owners in NL-only leagues with a bench spot to work with could do worse than stashing him.

Chris Carpenter, SP, St. Louis Cardinals
Ownership: ESPN: 4.5% Yahoo!: 1% CBS: 3%
2013 Stats: Injured

Yet again, this week I'm going to include a player that I advise tempering expectations for, and that player is Carpenter. He has thrown bullpen sessions, including an estimated 56-pitch session on Monday at Busch Stadium, and he may pitch out of the bullpen for the Cardinals this season. Of course, he could also suffer a setback and shut it down again. He's a long way off from pitching in big-league games again, and even if he does, it remains to be seen how good his stuff will be. There are many other players I'd prefer use a disabled-list spot on than Carpenter, as the potential payoff for holding onto him doesn't appear to be very high even if he does toe the rubber this year. Let someone else dream on him returning to his previous frontline starter form.

Bold Prediction of the Week: Francisco Liriano was sharp in his first start for the Pirates, fanning nine Mets and walking two in 5 1/3 innings pitched. His fastball maxed out at 95.16 mph that day, and he totaled a staggering 20 whiffs on 90 pitches. He has a tougher task facing the Brewers today. The Brewers lead the league in OPS against southpaws, but I predict Liriano will strike out at least seven batters and allow fewer than three earned runs.       

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