Hot Spots hasn't gone anywhere, dear reader. Rather, it has reverted to its previous title of Value Picks, the most recent iteration of which you happen to be reading right now.
For readers new to this column, a queue of players to review has been drawn together from reader comments, and everyone is welcome to continue that trend and add to the list of requests. This is in addition to the column's main purpose, to cover players who have changed addresses this offseason and merit a look from a fantasy perspective. In general, each day is used for one positional grouping; however, the “First Base, Third Base, and Designated Hitter” column (usually Mondays) has been combined with “Outfield” (Wednesdays) until around the time that pitches and catchers report.
Usually, some analysis will accompany the image from Graphical Player 2011, or a comment with a link to redirect. But fantasy drafters and experts alike have and will disagree about where to draft Austin Jackson in 2011, so he deserved more than a cursory referral to previous analysis. This schism regarding Jackson can be seen by his average draft position, or ADP, of 319 so far in mock drafts (at mockdraftcentral.com): he's been taken as early as 140th (in the FSTA draft Jason Collette reviewed, nonetheless), yet has gone undrafted in 57 percent of drafts. Since everything Marc Normandin wrote about him in September still applies–including the sense of ambivalence about where to draft him–-a link to his article will take the place of further analysis here.
Year after year, analysts write about impending doom for Cubs third-sacker Aramis Ramirez. In 2009, he propped up his stats with a career-best .331 BABIP, and missed enough time that his line couldn't even out back to his .287 career level, events that did little to soften his detractor's stance. Aramis entered the 2010 season coming off a run of six strong seasons that combined for a line of .303/.368/.551. This slugging percentage tied him with Lance Berkman for seventh in this span among batters with 3,000 or more plate appearances, and he was also top-17 in all of batting average, HR, and RBI. Yet, the expectations of a collapse continued to be written.
In 2010, the doom-and-gloom crowd was right. Aramis whacked 25 homers and drove in 83 runs in just 124 games, but his batting average cratered to .241, following the sinking of his BABIP to .245. He was pressing at the plate and trying to adjust for injuries during the first half of the season–his late surge accounted for almost all his production, as he was slugging under .300 as of July 5. It's not clear that he'll rebound fully to his 2004-2009 levels, but finishing the season with a .294/.338/.583 batting line for the final 68 games he played–including 19 home runs in just 272 PA-–certainly suggests that it's far too early to write him off. His BABIP is likely to rebound to career levels, and that should be enough to keep his batting average out of the negative impact territory. The injuries are supposedly behind him, but having missed time in two consecutive seasons, it would be wise to temper playing time expectations somewhat. When healthy, though, he'll again provide very good power for a third baseman.
Danny Valencia was lucky in 2010. No surprises there, and Kevin Goldstein and Marc Normandin both called his performance “fluky” and not “legit”, respectively. But keep in mind that this is a guy who exhibited a .338-plus BABIP at six of his minor-league stops before his MLB debut in 2010, and every scouting report commented on how he slashed line drives around the field. Goldstein ranked him ninth on the Twins prospect list last year, with this note: "The Good: Valencia is a mature product who is nearly big league-ready. He rifles balls into both gaps with his quick swing, and he has enough power to hit 15 home runs annually. He's a solid defender at the hot corner with a plus arm.” PECOTA projects his BABIP dropping to the sub-.320 range and his batting stats to be .273/.321/.421 with 13 HR in 528 PA. At those levels, he's already quite valuable, as third has become a weak fantasy position after the upper tiers. He'll be a cog in the high-powered Twins offense, and should exceed that playing time estimate, and it's not completely unreasonable that he'll post another high BABIP-– leading to better rate stats as well.
Pablo Sandoval left his BABIP at Buca di Beppo in 2010, but winning is the great deodorant, and not much was made of the fact that his girth occluded his stats in 2010 (though he lost playing time down the stretch and in the postseason). Even after filling 616 PA with empty calories (.268/.323/.409) and watching his GDP total bloat to a league-leading 26 in 2010, he's still a career .305/.356/.484 hitter who just turned 24 years old in August. That means that it's still possible to get excited thinking of how great he could still be if he recovers the line-drive power stroke he had in 2008-2009, when he racked up 6.8 WARP in 878 plate appearances. He does need to hit the ball hard and often to help a team, as he's not fast, nor a good fielder, and doesn't draw many walks. For now, his chances of ever hitting .330 again seem unthinkably low, but he's reportedly lost some weight over the winter, and if he's seen in spring training looking (relatively) svelte and running wind sprints, remember that walks and defense don't mean much in most fantasy formats, and hope that his latest visit to an Italian eatery was just to recover his BABIP from their lost-and-found.
Casey Kotchman signed a minor-league deal with Tampa Bay and has an outside chance to win the first base job in Tampa Bay, with his biggest competition coming from Dan Quad-A Slugger Johnson (who the team maintains is the lead candidate to start at first base). Both men have battered Triple-A pitching over the years, though Johnson's .307/.420/.560 line in 1990 AAA plate appearances dwarfs even Kotchman's good line. Kotchman is younger, plays much better defense, and has the pedigree of being in the top 22 on Baseball America's top-100 prospect list four years in a row (while in the Angels system). Kotchman has played 2328 plate appearances in the majors and has hit .259/.326/.392, which isn't good enough to carry even his great glove at first base. But until 2010, there were almost always reasonable explanations for lackluster performance–-be it illness, injury, or whatnot. Part of his 2010 struggle can be attributed to his home park, but .217/.280/.336 for 457 PA by a first baseman is one of the worst offensive seasons in recent memory. Unless one of Matt Joyce, Ben Zobrist, or Sean Rodriguez brings a first basemen's mitt to camp, it appears that Tampa Bay will be rolling the dice with Johnson and Kotchman, though, and the best advice at this point is that if you have either in an AL-only league, handcuff your position with the other on your bench.
Rays expert-–and new BP Fantasy contributor!–Jason Collette, is even less optimistic about Kotchman's chances:
… both Friedman and Maddon said that everything was up for grabs coming into camp and neither wanted to pigeon hole anyone. Additionally, Maddon LOVES being able to use multiple guys at multiple positions. That said, the job is Johnson's to lose as the organization loves him. If Kotchman makes the club, something has gone terribly wrong. […] I think Johnson gets first crack to lose the job with Sean Rodriguez or Zobrist playing 1B against tougher LHP. I'm also not going to be shocked to see Damon get a crack there every now and then if he wants to maximize his defensive outfield with Joyce, Zobrist, and BJ.
I would trust Jason's advice here, but am glad that my AL Keeper fantasy league is drafting late in March, as I have Dan Johnson and want to see how things shake out.
Jorge Cantu was signed by the Padres. He once was a nice, cheap, fantasy second base option, but now he's not playing second base and is mired in a terrible park. With utility guys like Eric Patterson and Kevin Frandsen bouncing around, the team likely won't need him in the middle infield, though it's possible he'll see some action at third base, as Chase Headley hasn't hit lefties very well. It's hard to picture him getting much time at first base, as Brad Hawpe has hit lefties well enough in his career, and Kyle Blanks should be getting healthy at some point. Barring injury reports in spring training, Cantu should probably just be avoided.
There are still five requests queued from last week's comments, which will be covered on Wednesday. Keep the requests coming!