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Stealing Steals With Xavier Avery

The Orioles are one of the biggest surprises in baseball this season, sitting atop the AL East with a 24-14 record and a +16 run differential. Most of that success stems from a pitching staff that owns the second best ERA in the American League (3.42), but they've also received larger than expectated offensive contributions from players like Adam Jones (12 HR), Matt Wieters (.851 OPS), and Nolan Reimold (.960 OPS). Reimold has been on the disabled list for the last two weeks though, and he recently told Peter Schmuck and Dan Connolly of The Baltimore Sun that he's made very little progress coming back from a neck problem.

“It's frustrating,” said Reimold, who is on anti-inflammatories and recently received an epidural that may be the first in a series of three injections. “I don't know if I'll have a little improvement every day or wake up one day and have it be gone.”

Reimold was eligible to come off the 15-day DL yesterday but that obviously didn't happen. Sometime in June is a more likely target according to Schmuck and Connolly, creating an opening in the outfield. Players like Endy Chavez, Wilson Betemit, and Bill Hall have gotten reps in left field during Reimold's absence, but the recently recalled Xavier Avery has settled into the job of late. The 2008 second round pick was called up over the weekend and has five hits and a walk in 20 plate appearances so far (four games), but his fantasy value lies not in his bat, but his legs.

Baseball America ranked the 22-year-old Avery as Baltimore's ninth prospect before the season, saying he's "an above-average runner" who "has improved his bunting to make better use of his speed" in their subscriber-only scouting report. He has yet to swipe a bag as a big leaguer, but he did steal eight (in eight attempts) in 33 games at Triple-A before being recalled. Avery has stolen at least 30 bases in each of the last three seasons in the minors, including 36 and 38 steals in the last two seasons. It is worth noting that he's not the most efficient base-stealer, with a 75.3% success rate that is above the break-even point (68-70% these days) but on the low side for most true speed threats.

Buck Showalter seems committed to playing Avery early on, even starting the left-handed hitter against CC Sabathia earlier this week. With Reimold out for another few weeks, Avery's spot in the lineup seems secure for the time being and should allow him to provide fantasy value as a temporary but cheap source of stolen bases. A 30-steal pace works out to something like three steals for every two weeks for most everyday players, so another month on the shelf for Reimold could mean another 6-8 steals for your fantasy club. Don't expect many homers or a great batting average, Avery figures to be a one-category contributor for the next few weeks. Keep his relatively low stolen base success rate in mind if you place in a net steals league.


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