We try to have at least five players on our VP lists, though at times I’ve had as many as seven. Things are a bit leaner now, so I’m cutting back to five again, but there are plenty of gambles to be found in Playing Pepper for owners more desperate for an immediate fix. If you want to talk about some of these players, the Arizona Diamondbacks, Milwaukee Brewers, Asian players (all specialties of mine), or really anything fantasy-related, be sure to come to my first BP chat this Thursday at 2 PM EST (11 AM PT).

Just as Luke Scott (Yahoo! 13%, ESPN 17%, CBS 26%) was rounding into form, hitting .385/.415/.769 over his previous 10 games, he strained his oblique on Friday, an injury that’s growing more prevalent in the majors. The good news is that he’s expected to return soon after the 15-day minimum, hopefully to resume his hot-hitting ways. His patience and power mean he’ll undoubtedly return as a VP when he’s activated, but for now, look elsewhere.

Ownership levels for Luis Valbuena (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 2%) remain low despite his everyday role and occasional bursts of power. Playing time is the most valuable fantasy commodity, especially in deep leagues, and Valbuena has a lock on the Cubs’ third-base spot for now, but he’s only hit .209/.242/.337 in 91 plate appearances as a VP. His .227 BABIP suggests he could get hot, but he’s a known commodity by now, and I offer a higher-ceiling option for NL-only owners below.

Jim Thome (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 0%, CBS 8%) hit his first home run in an Orioles uniform on Friday, passing Sammy Sosa on the all-time homer list, which he celebrated by hitting his second Baltimore dinger on Saturday. He continues to pile up the whiffs—he’s picked up at least one strikeout in all but two of his 14 starts for the O’s—but he’s also complementing them with walks, mitigating the damage of his 32 percent K% with the club by walking 11 percent of the time. That continues to give him value in OBP leagues, but those homers are valuable in any league, and he should keep adding to his all-time total.

Though his batting average has been over .300 far more often than not this month, Jordan Pacheco (Yahoo! 3%, ESPN 2%, CBS 13%) has failed to deliver counting numbers, even for a club that’s fifth in the majors in scoring. But Colorado’s 4.85 runs per game average on the season dipped to 3.56 in July, which hasn’t helped Pacheco to catch up. His three-hit effort in Saturday’s 12-inning battle against the Padres brought him two runs and four RBI; the former is tied for his season high, while the latter is his best performance so far in 2012. He also hasn’t struck out since July 7, bolstering his solid 11 percent K%. How a .300 hitter at the hot corner can go unnoticed in so many leagues remains a mystery for better minds than mine.

Since their peak on June 22, when they were in first place by a game and a half, Cleveland has gone 10-15, sliding back into third place, but that hasn’t been due to offense; they’re scoring 4.44 runs per game while giving up 4.94 over that span. That offense has not come courtesy of Travis Hafner (Yahoo! 5%, ESPN 1%, CBS 11%), though, who has been skidding of late, hitting .179/.289/.333 in 45 July plate appearances whilst slicing 11 points off his batting average and 18 points off his SLG. Nobody expected Cleveland to stick in first place, and nobody expects Pronk to keep hitting this poorly either. He showed some signs of life this week with a two-hit performance on Wednesday, and his July line has more to do with his .179 BABIP than his 20 percent K% or 9 percent BB%, both solid ratios. Expect more turnaround from Pronk, though the platoon he’s in will erode his counting stats.

Yonder Alonso (Yahoo! 15%, ESPN 9%, CBS 36%) has six multi-hit games this month, two of them coming last week. That’s helped him to a .283/.394/.483 line in July, when he’s put up a 14 percent K% and a very patient 16 percent BB%, both improvements on his season ratios. Even better, all of his games last week were played at home, including last Tuesday’s game when he hit his first PETCO dinger of the year, an opposite-field jack that’s a good sign his power is recovering. A lackluster .264/.345/.371 season line is fooling other owners for now, but that won’t last.

Joey Votto’s knee surgery has allowed Dusty Baker to play Todd Frazier (Yahoo! 7%, ESPN 5%, CBS 22%) full time at first base, which will only add to his fantasy value when he adds first base eligibility to his third and outfield qualifications. All six of Frazier’s hits last week were singles, and he could only increase his RBI total by one. That’s about the only bad news for Frazier, though, and his ownership numbers are finally starting to creep upwards; his CBS ownership has doubled in the past two weeks. Get him while he’s hot.

AL-only VP
In his three starts and one pinch-hit appearance last week, Eric Chavez (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0%, CBS 1%) picked up just two hits, both singles. He won’t start every day, but he will pick up two or three starts a week at the hot corner or at designated hitter. Considering his current .276/.331/.487 line is above his 90th percentile PECOTA in SLG and around his 80th percentile in batting average and OBP, we’re apt to see some correction in his stats. Still, he remains a good play in deeper AL-only leagues; even occasional playing time in pinstripes has fantasy value.

NL-only VP
The Diamondbacks have had trouble in recent years finding a consistent bat at the hot corner. Since the departure of the TTO Titan Mark Reynolds, Arizona has leaned on Ryan Roberts, who doesn’t bring enough power for a corner infield spot, and faded veterans like Melvin Mora and Geoff Blum. Arizona gave up on Mora last year and, this last week, released Blum, whose futility at the plate was part of last week’s Playing Pepper. Now, rumors have Roberts potentially being traded.

This week, Arizona looks to another Ryan, Ryan Wheeler (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 6%), who was drafted as a first baseman but shifted across the diamond because of a roadblock named Paul Goldschmidt. The two were actually teammates last year and proved a powerful 1-2 punch for the 2011 Double-A Mobile Bay Bears. Goldy ended up getting promoted, while the 22-year-old Wheeler stuck around for more seasoning. He’s gotten that experience at Triple-A Reno this year, hitting a robust .351/.388/.572 in 399 plate appearances in the high-octane PCL.

As Kevin Goldstein pointed out in his 2010 Top 11 Prospects write-up for Arizona (in which Wheeler ranked tenth): “Wheeler is a professional hitter with a downright pretty swing and above-average power to all fields. His plate discipline is nearly big-league ready, as he rarely swings at a bad pitch and always puts himself into hitter's counts.” That’s why Wheeler shot all the way to Double-A in his second pro season, with an excellent contact rate for a power hitter, leading to Kevin’s ranking. As you can see from the table below, he fell off that prospect list after taking a step backwards in 2010, his first season at third base.








2009/A, A-





























His attention might have been distracted by the change (Kevin also points out that Wheeler is an “average defender at best at first base”), but Wheeler didn’t improve his strikeout rate significantly the following season. His ability to make contact at the minor’s highest levels bodes well for the slugger, but his impatience could catch up to him in the majors. With Arizona’s top third-base prospect, Matt Davidson, still in Double-A, however, Wheeler will be given a chance to show his stuff. Given his advanced bat, whether he sticks or not will come down to his glove, but Arizona has shown with Reynolds that they’re willing to sacrifice leather for wood at the hot corner.

For the near future, Wheeler is in the long half of a platoon with Roberts, but he could certainly seize the third-base reins for a club needing an edge in their NL West pennant race. If he does, he could slide into mixed-league VP status; for now, however, he’s a great add in NL-only leagues for his high-contact plate approach and power.

Playing Pepper
Brandon Belt (Yahoo! 19%, ESPN 17%, CBS 39%) has been on my VP list before, when he was hitting just .239/.350/.343 through his first 80 plate appearances of the season with a 24 percent K%,15 percent BB%, and a .327 BABIP. Through Saturday’s games, Belt has a very similar line: .237/.348/.384 with a 25 percent K%, 15 percent BB%, and a .311 BABIP. He’s not ready for a return to the list—Bruce Bochy says he looks “a little lost” at the plate—but I’ll keep watching him for signs of a turnaround.

Double Disabled List watch: Mitch Moreland (Yahoo! 20%, ESPN 26%, CBS 25%) begins his rehab from a strained hammy this week, while Mike Carp (Yahoo! 5%, ESPN 9%, CBS 6%) has hit .319/.410/.729 over his last 10 games and could be up soon, too.

While Adam Kennedy (.239/.321/.326) and Juan Uribe (.196/.256/.301) have also played at third base for the Dodgers, Jerry Hairston, Jr. (Yahoo! 3%, ESPN 2%, CBS 6%) is the best option there, hitting .295/.367/.420. That’s above his 90th PECOTA percentile, and he’s more valuable as a fantasy middle infield or outfielder, but if he can sustain this performance, he’ll bring value at the hot corner too.

Similarly, Jeff Keppinger (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN 1%, CBS 6%) has been the Tampa Bay third baseman in the absence of Evan Longoria, though he’s more valuable at second base, his other qualifying position. With the recent news that Longoria’s rehab was put on hold, Keppinger should continue to deliver fantasy value. His .325/.394/.438 is supported in part by a .333 BABIP (.290 career), itself supported by a career-best 25 percent line drive rate. You can take him for short-term value, but expect some slippage in that line, which is above his 90th PECOTA percentile in all three slash categories.

There’s still no timetable for Hanley Ramirez to return from an infected hand, and he could hit the disabled list, so Greg Dobbs (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 1%, CBS 1%) will continue to fill in for him. Dobbs’ .383 SLG is right around his 50th PECOTA percentile, but his .303 batting average and .333 OBP are in his 90th percentile, making some regression likely.

Thank you for reading

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"Recent news that Longoria's rehab was put on hold"? That link is over a month old. Not recent at all.
You're right, O'Douls--I was looking for the latest on Longo and read "Jun" as "Jul." That one letter makes a lot of difference :)

Here's a much more recent (and much heavier) bit of news about Longoria, indicating an even worse prognosis:

Thanks for the catch!
Updated :)
Todays transactions:
Carp Up - Smoak down (to AAA) - it will be interesting to see how Seattle juggles AB's among Jaso (hitting cleanup at times), Montero (DH) , and Carp (bad wing DH preference but 1B only)
I expected the Smoak demotion to happen after the ASB (, but they were apparently waiting to trade Ichiro before making the move. Thanks for the update!
Seattle also has a LH hitting possible late bloomer ripping it up at Tacoma - 1B, DH, OF type - Luis Jiminez who is on my radar.
Jimenez has been having a great year, and would be an interesting callup because of his age (30). Some of that age comes from spending 2009 with the Nippon Ham Fighters (hitting .231/.268/.397), but also from never really establishing himself stateside, either. Hitting .286/369/.443 after four seasons in Triple-A has a way of keeping a 1B/DH type down :)

But with Ichiro gone, Seattle can keep rebuilding, and Jimenez is definitely someone they may look at if Carp stumbles (or if Carp keeps hitting like he did earlier this season). Definitely one to watch.

Thanks for the heads-up!