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June 5, 2013

Free Agent Watch

National League, Week 10

by Josh Shepardson

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Carlos Ruiz, C, Philadelphia Phillies
Ownership: ESPN: 4.6% Yahoo!: 9% CBS: 31%
2013 Stats: 5 R, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 1 SB, .235 AVG

Due to a 25-game suspension and a hamstring injury, Ruiz hasn't had much of an opportunity to demonstrate whether or not his 2012 power breakout is even remotely sustainable. He should have a chance soon, though. Todd Zolecki of MLB.com reports that Ruiz hopes he'll be able to begin a rehab assignment next week, and then rejoin the Phillies on June 17.

Expecting the 34-year-old catcher to duplicate his power output from last year would be foolishly optimistic, but he could plausibly retain some of his gains. Chooch is a .274 hitter in his career, and he has bested a .300 average in two of the last three years thanks in large part to making a ton of contact, with a good line-drive contact to boot. PECOTA projects Ruiz to hit .265 the rest of the year, but I believe he'll hit around .275. Chooch won't provide enough offense to project as a starting catcher in single-catcher, 12-team, mixed-league formats, but if he was cast aside in two-catcher formats, now is the time to grab him since he is an above-average second catching option.

Anthony Rendon, 3B, Washington Nationals
Ownership: ESPN: 0.4% Yahoo!: 10% CBS: 35%
2013 Stats: 2 R, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 0 SB, .240 AVG (MLB)/19 R, 6 HR, 24 RBI, 1 SB, .307 AVG (Double-A and Triple-A combined)

Yesterday, colleague Bret Sayre pointed out that Rendon had two errors at second base in just three games played at the Triple-A level. With that in mind, it is a bit surprising that the club promoted him to the majors yesterday. I, like Bret, expected more patience from the Nationals. Regardless, he's up, and he needs to be nearly universally owned.

Rendon's bat is big-league ready, and it will play very nicely at the keystone position. He may not play at second base everyday, and a few fielding gaffes could relegate him to a part-time role or a demotion, but for now it appears he'll get a steady diet of playing time with Danny Espinosa on the disabled list. Rendon's patient approach makes him extremely valuable in leagues that use OBP, but his ability to reach base could also prove helpful to standard leaguers if it allows him to move into a run-producing spot in a Nationals lineup struggling to score runs. He is a talented enough hitter to perform like a top-10 player at either third base or second base from now until the end of the season.

Juan Francisco, 3B, Milwaukee Brewers
Ownership: ESPN: 2.6% Yahoo!: 5% CBS: 9%
2013 Stats: 10 R, 5 HR, 16 RBI, 0 SB, .241 AVG

It didn't take long for Francisco to find a new home. The Braves designated him for assignment last Thursday, and the Brewers agreed to a deal to acquire him on Monday. He started at first base and was slotted sixth in the lineup for Tuesday's game against the A's.

The reason for owning Francisco is simple: He can hit for substantial power. He had hit five homers in just 115 plate appearances entering play on Tuesday night. His power comes at a cost, though, and he has 43 strikeouts as well. Francisco's power should play up in Milwaukee. Miller Park had the highest home run factor for left-handed hitters in 2012, and has ranked ahead of Turner Field in left-handed homer factor two of the last three years. He's only a temporary NL-only league option, though, as Corey Hart is nearing a rehab assignment.

Cameron Maybin, OF, San Diego Padres
Ownership: ESPN: 13.1% Yahoo!: 13% CBS: 19%
2013 Stats: 3 R, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 0 SB, .091 AVG (MLB)/6 R, 3 HR, 4 RBI, 1 SB, .323 AVG (Triple-A)

A major-league-caliber player hitting three homers in 31 at-bats in the Pacific Coast League isn't noteworthy, unless that player is rehabbing and attempting to prove his wrist is healthy. Of course, Maybin is attempting to show that his wrist is healthy enough for him to play regularly and help the Padres, so his work on his rehab assignment is encouraging and noteworthy. I have repeatedly stated the case for stashing Maybin, such as in this column last week, and before that back in early May. There is little I can add to those write-ups, and I'd suggest re-reading why I believe Maybin is worth rostering in all but extremely shallow formats.

Gerrit Cole, SP, Pittsburgh Pirates
Ownership: ESPN: 0.2% Yahoo!: 5% CBS: 33%
2013 Stats: 61.0 IP, 4 W, 44 K, 3.25 ERA, 1.11 WHIP

Cole is a perfect example of a player that fantasy owners need to step aside from the low strikeout rate and realize that the scouting reports, such as Mark Anderson's eyewitness report, are much more important. Zach Mortimer also wrote about something I firmly believe in—the light switch going on for certain talented prospects once they reach the highest level. Cole's stuff is excellent, and that's the key. As fantasy gamers, and fans in general, it is important to remember that we aren't privy to details such as what the Pirates are asking Cole to work on. For instance, the club tasked their other elite pitching prospect, Jameson Taillon, with working on his fastball and limiting his curveball usage in his pro debut back in 2011. Anderson also noted something else that's interesting and easily overlooked in his eyewitness account of a Cole start, and that was an umpire being fooled by Cole's slider on multiple occasions. Big-league umps are less likely to be fooled by a backdoor slider catching the plate for a strike.

With all of this in mind, the time for Cole to pitch in the Pirates rotation is likely near, and that's really exciting. Bret wrote about the inexact science of projecting the Super Two cut-off date, but also pointed out that we're nearly at the point that teams can breathe easy when promoting a player and not worry about dealing with an extra year of arbitration in the future. With Jeanmar Gomez on the disabled list, and uncertainty about how well Charlie Morton will pitch for the Pirates when he returns from his rehab assignment, an opening could soon present itself to Cole. The top prospect in the Pirates system has the upside to help teams even in shallow mixed-league formats, and he's a must-stash for owners with bench space to spare in larger leagues.

Luke Gregerson, RP, San Diego Padres
Ownership: ESPN: 47.8% Yahoo!: 39% CBS: 33%
2013 Stats: 25.2 IP, 3 W, 1 SV, 19 K, 1.05 ERA, 0.66 WHIP

Gregerson has been long gone all year in deep leagues where ratio-boosting middle relievers and closer handcuffs are owned, but with a strained left calf muscle earning Huston Street a disabled-list stint, Gregerson is now a must-own universally. The fact he isn't even owned in the majority of leagues on any of the major fantasy baseball host sites is the reason he is included in this article.

Gregerson isn't missing as many bats as he did last season, and the slider-throwing machine's fastball velocity continues to slide again this year. He is still inducing ground balls at a high rate, though, and he rarely issues walks. To say he is going to regress from his 1.05 ERA is quite obvious, but he'll struggle to keep his ERA under 3.00 the rest of the year if he doesn't start striking out more batters. Savvy owners are in a great position to turn a tidy profit dealing him now. Because Gregerson is only filling in for Street, there is a limit to what he can be dealt for. If I were a Gregerson owner and didn't have a specific need to address, I would be looking to package him with a middle-tier closer for a closer from the next tier up.

Bold Prediction of the Week: Scooter Gennett, whom you can read more about here, was promoted to serve in a platoon with Rickie Weeks at second base for the Brewers. Gennett is slated to get the heavy side of the platoon, facing right-handed pitchers, with Weeks drawing the short straw and facing southpaws. Weeks had a modest seven-game hit streak from May 22 through May 30, but raised his batting average only 12 points. His batting average remains below .200 this year, but he did club a homer and a triple in his last start before Gennett's promotion. The Brewers are scheduled to face just one southpaw in the next week, but I predict Weeks will reclaim his everyday starting role at second base by next Wednesday. He got off to a dreadful start last year, and the presence of Gennett should serve as a wake-up call to Weeks that his job isn't as safe as it was in 2012. His fantasy ownership has rightfully plummeted of late, and now is the time to kick the tires on a second baseman that is looking to hit over 20 homers for the fourth straight season.

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