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May 29, 2013

Free Agent Watch

National League, Week Nine

by Josh Shepardson

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Logan Morrison, 1B/OF, Miami Marlins
Ownership: ESPN: 0.6% Yahoo!: 5% CBS: 22%
2013 Stats: 0 R, 0 HR, 3 RBI, 0 SB, .174 AVG (High-A)

Morrison played in his first minor-league rehab game this season with High-A Jupiter on May 20. He has played in six games for Jupiter, and he served as a designated hitter in three of those games and played first base in the other three. He took the next step in his rehab assignment by moving up to Double-A Jacksonville on Tuesday. Morrison is recovering from surgery on the patellar tendon in his right knee, the second time he has undergone that type of procedure on it. In the spring, I wrote about him being worthy of a disabled-list spot. At the time, I was optimistic he'd be playing for the Marlins at this point, but alas, he is not. Morrison doesn't have an exact target date for his return, but Joe Frisaro reports that it could be around June 10.

Morrison is now back at his natural position, first base, full time. Playing a position that is less strenuous on his knee will hopefully help keep him healthy. Morrison was once a heralded prospect, but injuries haven't done him any favors in cashing in on his promise. He has shown flashes of what he can do at the big-league level. Morrison demonstrated patience, walking at a 14.3 percent clip in his 287-plate-appearance rookie season in 2010, when he also hit for a solid .283 average. His over-the-fence pop was lackluster that year, though, as he hit just two homers. His walk rate dropped to 10.3 percent in 2011, which is still a very good clip, and his average dropped to .247, but his homer total jumped to 23 in 525 plate appearances. Last year was a nightmare. His walk rate dropped yet again, as did his average to .230, and he didn't hit for as much power. All hope is not lost for Morrison, and his dual eligibility helps his fantasy value if he can recapture, or improve upon, his previous form. There is some post-hype potential here. Morrison is still worthy of a disabled-list spot, or a bench spot in leagues with medium-to-large benches, in 12-plus-team mixed leagues and in NL-only leagues.     

DJ LeMahieu, 2B, Colorado Rockies
Ownership: ESPN: 3.9% Yahoo!: 4% CBS: 24%
2013 Stats: 2 R, 0 HR, 3 RBI, 2 SB, .294 AVG

Many fantasy owners were shocked and disappointed by Josh Rutledge's demotion to Triple-A last Thursday. The demotion of Rutledge has opened up regular playing time to LeMahieu, and given the dearth of offensive talent in the middle infield, that is newsworthy. In his first extensive part-time work in the bigs last year, he hit .297 for the Rockies, but provided almost no home-run power or stolen-base speed. Even without power or speed, a hollow average plays at the middle-infield position in large mixed leagues or NL-only formats.

The key to determining whether or not LeMahieu will maintain his modest value is figuring out if he can continue to hit for a high average. Last year, he had a 20.8 percent line-drive rate and a miniscule 2.6 percent popup rate on 192 batted balls. This year, he has just 22 batted balls, but of those 11 have been hit for line drives and zero have been popped up. Even if you combine last year's and this year's work, the sample is tiny, but it certainly appears he can square up a baseball. In over 1,600 minor-league plate appearances, LeMahieu hit .321. Playing for a team that has scored the fifth most runs this year, and playing his home games in hitter-friendly Coors Field, should help LeMahieu chip in some runs and RBI to his high batting average contribution to fantasy squads. He won't post the type of numbers that will make him rosterable in shallow mixed leagues, but he should be owned in larger leagues as long as he is getting steady playing time. 

Chris Coghlan, OF, Miami Marlins
Ownership: ESPN: 0.0% Yahoo!: 0% CBS: 1%
2013 Stats: 3 R, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 0 SB, .250 AVG

The Rays and Marlins are playing as I write this, and Coghlan's stat line doesn't reflect his homer and triple on Tuesday night, but he was going to be included even without his big night. The Marlins offense has sputtered all season, and manager Mike Redmond is doing everything in his power to put a roster out there able to scrape together runs. Part of that is rotating players into and out of the lineup. Coghlan has started in five straight games, and has a modest four-game hit streak if you include Tuesday night. Coghlan won the NL Rookie of the Year back in 2009, and that was by far his most productive fantasy season to date. His ceiling was never high, but he's still been a disappointment since then.

At his best, Coghlan uses a high-contact approach and works walks with regularity. His batting average has fluctuated wildly from season to season, following along with his BABIP. Not all contact is created equal, and Coghlan needs to make hard contact to have any fantasy value, since he won't hit more than a handful of homers and is unlikely to exceed a dozen stolen bases even with regular playing time. He's smoking line drives currently, so ride his hot hand in NL-only leagues, but let him remain in the free-agent pool in all but extremely large mixed leagues.

Cameron Maybin, OF, San Diego Padres
Ownership: ESPN:  13.4% Yahoo!: 13% CBS: 20%
2013 Stats: 3 R, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 0 SB, .091 AVG (MLB)/1 R, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0 SB, .375 AVG (Triple-A)

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my reasons for liking Maybin coming into the season, and I suggested he made a good disabled-list stash, but vented my frustration with his lack of a timetable for a return to the Padres. Barring a setback, that timetable has become clearer. Maybin is now playing in rehab games for Triple-A Tucson, where he is expected to need about 30 at-bats to get back into the swing of things. If that number proves accurate, he should rejoin the Padres sometime next week. Corey Dawkins cautioned that players often need surgery for a wrist impingement, and that makes Maybin a dicey gamble. That said, he stole 26 bases last year and 40 the season before, and his speed alone makes him a gamble worth taking in all but shallow leagues. If his wrist proves to be fully functioning and doesn't hinder his play, there is untapped upside for more.

Carlos Martinez, SP/RP (ESPN) RP (Yahoo! and CBS)
Ownership: ESPN: 0.2% Yahoo!: 1% CBS: 11%
2013 Stats: 8.0 IP, 0 W, 0 SV, 9 K, 4.50 ERA, 1.50 WHIP (MLB)/11.2 IP, 1 W, 9 K, 2.31 ERA, 1.03 WHIP 

Michael Wacha is slated to make his big-league debut on Thursday against the Royals. Meanwhile, Martinez has been demoted from the Cardinals bullpen to the Triple-A Memphis rotation. Manager Mike Matheny indicated that the club envisions him as a starting pitcher, but more interestingly, Matheny noted that, "He's a guy we'd like to have built up to use as an option later." The Cardinals rotation depth has been tested of late. Jaime Garcia has been lost for the season due to a labrum tear, Jake Westbrook is recovering from a sore elbow, the club is slowing down Chris Carpenter's throwing program, and rookie John Gast is on the disabled list with a lat strain.

Martinez’s demotion, oddly enough, could eventually lead to more fantasy value for him this year. Martinez's upside was limited to large leagues that use non-closing relievers when he was working in the Cardinals bullpen in middle relief, but his potential to help fantasy teams is greater if he's able to return to the squad as a starter over the summer. It's possible Martinez remains in the minors the rest of the year, but NL-only leaguers and owners in large mixed leagues with a bench spot to work with are encouraged to wait and see how he pitches for Memphis and how Westbrook fares in his return from elbow soreness.     

Ricky Nolasco, SP, Miami Marlins
Ownership: ESPN: 5.6% Yahoo!: 13% CBS: 38%
2013 Stats: 69.0 IP, 3 W, 56 K, 3.65 ERA, 1.14 WHIP

Nolasco has long been a fantasy tease, with peripheral stats that suggested he was unlucky and due for positive ERA correction. Sadly for those that invested in that correction, it never came. Poor strand rates, high BABIPs, and, occasionally, homer troubles plagued Nolasco. Some of that may have been bad luck, but it's unlikely all of it was. Nolasco bears at least some of the blame for failing to deliver. Quietly, after failing to live up to expectations year after year, he's turning in a solid campaign.

Nolasco isn't striking out as many batters as he was when he was at his bat-missing best, but he is hovering around the league average. He still possesses a very strong walk rate—1.83 BB/9—is doing a better job of stranding runners, and isn't allowing as many hits. It might be nothing more than a run of good fortune, but gamers in need of pitching help in large mixed leagues should take a chance that Nolasco is finally improving as a pitcher. He's almost certainly long gone in NL-only leagues, but if Nolasco has burned his owner in the past, the Marlins' hurler might be acquire-able at a slight discount.       

Daniel Hudson, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks
Ownership: ESPN: 0% Yahoo!: 2% CBS: 14%
2013 Stats: Injured

Hudson pitched in an extended spring training game on May 17, threw 75 pitches on May 22, and he's expected to pitch in another extended spring game today. There are hurdles left for Hudson to clear, namely a rehab assignment, but a return around the All-Star break is looking likely. There isn't presently a rotation opening, and Tyler Skaggs pitched well filling in for an injured Ian Kennedy in the first game of a doubleheader on Monday, but things could clear up by the time Hudson is ready to be activated from the disabled list. Hudson was an honorable mention in Bret Sayre's The Stash List column that was posted here yesterday. Unlike some of the other player's on Bret's list, Hudson is on the disabled list. Gamers in leagues that have disabled-list spots have the benefit of stashing Hudson without using a bench spot. Those in large mixed leagues or NL-only formats with an open DL spot should add Hudson and see how he pitches on his rehab assignment.      

Bold Prediction of the Week: Justin Morneau struggles with southpaws. Joe Mauer is much better against right-handed pitchers than left-handed pitchers. Ryan Howard is a mess against lefties. I'm sure if I dug deeper, I could find more batters that the Brewers will have to deal with in the next week that struggle with lefties. With Jim Henderson on the disabled list, the Brewers don't have a set closer. Many folks consider Francisco Rodriguez to be the favorite to close games for them in Henderson's absence, but I'll predict that another former closer, Michael Gonzalez, leads the team in saves in the next week.     

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