Outfielders


2013 Position Rankings: Outfielders

That's right, it's finally here: RotoAuthority's 2013 Position Rankings! Yeah, we're excited. So excited that we're kicking it off with the outfield, just to be that awesome. After a team discussion, featuring Tim Dierkes and the entire RotoAuthority staff, we've prepared tiered rankings that go 60 players deep. The players are divided into groups of similar value, and tiered by where they deserve to be drafted in a standard league. If you're bidding in an auction, consider players in the same tier to be of similar price. If a player has other positions in parentheses, that means you can draft and start him there. That's enough discussion--I mean, you probably skipped this paragraph and went right for the rankings anyway.

Early 1st Round

1. Mike Trout, LAA
2. Ryan Braun, MIL

These guys should be pretty obvious. What might be less obvious is how far they are from anyone else.

Mid-Late 1st Round

3. Andrew McCutchen, PIT
4. Giancarlo Stanton, MIA

I know Stanton's a bit against the grain here, but he's got so much power I don't care. In a better lineup, he'd be up with Trout and Braun.

2nd Round

5. Jose Bautista, TOR
6. Carlos Gonzalez, COL
7. Matt Kemp, LAD
8. Jason Heyward, ATL
9. Bryce Harper, WAS
10. Adam Jones, BAL
11. Justin Upton, ATL

Bautista's great...but in only three categories, while CarGo's perpetual small injuries really hurt his overall stats. Kemp lost speed last year and I'm not 100% confident that he'll get it back right away; combined with October shoulder surgery, that keeps him out of my first round. Heyward and Harper could take huge steps forward. So could Upton, but he's proved capable of taking big steps back too. No matter who you take, a lot of OF's are going in this round.

3rd Round

12. Matt Holliday, STL
13. Curtis Granderson, NYY
14. Josh Hamilton, LAA
15. B.J. Upton, ATL
16. Jay Bruce, CIN
16.5 Adrian Gonzalez, LAD (1B--18 games in OF)

Holliday is pretty underrated--sometimes consistency can keep your price down, I guess. If Granderson's lousy batting average was a BABIP lull, this will be a bargain. If it was a portent of decline, this could be way too high. I think his power is worth the risk. Hamilton is set for a decline, but his 2013 forecast looks better than his keeper future.

4th-5th Rounds

17. Yoenis Cespedes, OAK
18. Mark Trumbo, LAA
19. Shin-Soo Choo, CIN
20. Jacoby Ellsbury, BOS
21. Allen Craig, STL (1B)

Cespedes did a bit of everything last year, and it wouldn't surprise anyone if he improved on that performance. Especially with a little more health. Trumbo could rack up some huge RBI totals hitting in the lower half of the Angels' lineup, while Choo should score a ton or runs leading off for Cinncinnati. Ellsbury's 2011 power surge seems like forever ago, but the real risk for him is health. Healthy, and he's an elite OF even without the power. Craig carries health risks too, and it took until his late 20's for him to break out. I'm not screaming "fluke," but I do think there's plenty of downside to go with the potential.

6th-7th Rounds

22. Carlos Beltran, STL
23. Alex Gordon, KCR
24. Nick Swisher, CLE (1B)
25. Austin Jackson, DET
26. Josh Willingham, MIN
27. Ben Zobrist, TBR (2B/SS)
28. Michael Bourn, CLE

Beltran is totally underrated, but he isn't healthy or young, so I can understand some caution. What he is, though, is very, very good, so draft him anyway. If Gordon puts a few more of those 50 doubles over the wall, this could be well under his value. If it doesn't you'll wish you waited a couple rounds on him. Swisher is Matt Holliday lite--he does the same thing every year, therefore impressing no one and keeping his price down. Jackson's always-high BABIP keeps him useful; his wheels and his place atop the Tigers lineup make him very valuable. 

8th-9th Rounds

29. Desmond Jennings, TBR
30. Chris Davis, BAL (1B)
31. Alex Rios, CHW
32. Melky Cabrera, TOR 

Jennings is a good bet for steals and a decent bet for some improvement. Rios's up-and-down history keeps me scared away--which means he could be a great value for anyone braver than I am. What will a post-juice Cabrera do? Probably rack up runs and RBI's playing for Toronto.

10th-11th Rounds

33. Hunter Pence, SFG
34. Nelson Cruz, TEX
35. Angel Pagan, SFG
36. Shane Victorino, BOS
37. Alfonso Soriano, CHC
38. Norichika Aoki, MIL
39. Torii Hunter, DET

 A lot of people think Pence is on the way down, and AT&T park isn't helping. There's upside in going against the grain, but don't reach. Cruz didn't switch ballparks, but he has that PED clinic thing hanging over his head. Don't look now, but Soriano had a very productive year at the plate. Maybe it's time to stop punishing him for taking all those big checks from the Cubbies. I'm not overly optimistic about Hunter, but I think he'll see plenty of RBI opportunities.

12th-13th Rounds

40. Josh Reddick, OAK
41. Martin Prado, ARI (3B)
42. Andre Ethier, LAD
43. Nick Markakis, BAL
44. Ryan Ludwick, CIN
45. Coco Crisp, OAK
46. Ben Revere, PHI
47. Alejandro De Aza, CHW

Ludwick has a lot of power, and, if healthy, he could be one of the outfield's best bargains. Crisp and Revere make great late round speed grabs. A little good luck, and they could give you nearly all the value of higher-priced speedsters at a fraction of the cost.

14th-16th Rounds

48. Mike Morse, SEA
49. Carlos Gomez, MIL
50. Ichiro Suzuki, NYY
51. Jayson Werth, WAS
52. Adam Eaton, ARI
53. Carlos Quentin, SDP
54. Wil Myers, TBR
55. Carl Crawford, LAD
56. Cameron Maybin, SDP
57. Starling Marte, PIT

You know who I never thought would impress me? Carlos Gomez. But check it out, speed and power. Ichiro isn't who he used to be, but don't be shocked if he helps out in runs and steals without hurting in average. Werth's power disappeared last year, so this is purely an upside play. Eaton and Myers have impact-level talent--the only question is when they come up to the Show. Should Myers win the job out of camp, move him up this list. When will Crawford get back? What will he be like when does? I don't know, so I'm not going to count on him for anything.

17th-18th Rounds 

58. Jason Kubel, ARI
59. Dexter Fowler, COL
60. Michael Cuddyer, COL
61. Denard Span, WAS

Yeah, you get a free bonus player--I just couldn't kick Span off the list. Kubel and Cuddyer could do a lot for your power, but they have a lot of health questions. Fowler does everything--except rack up big totals in homers or steals.

Bench OF's to Target (19th Round and Beyond):

Depending on how deep your league goes, you might need to reach a little further into the pool. Instead of taking whichever random guy is next on your draft website's list, grab a bench player to suit your real needs.

Power: Dayan ViciedoGarrett JonesRyan Doumit (C), Jeff Francoeur,  Chris YoungMatthew Joyce

Speed: Brett Gardner, Juan PierreDarin MastroianniPeter BourjosDrew Stubbs

Youth/Upside: Justin RuggianoBrandon Moss (1B), Lorenzo Cain,  Oscar Taveras, Leonys Martin

Balance: Michael SaundersCorey Hart (1B), Cody RossLogan Morrison, Colby RasmusDavid Murphy

As always, the outfield is deep. Your best strategy will depend on how many  OF's your league requires you to start each day. If you start five, then you should start grabbing them early. If you only play three, you can afford to get premium players at other positions and fill in your outfield a little later. In either case, I always like to get some extra steals towards the end of the draft and the outfield is a great place to find them.



Draft Round Battles: Alex Rios Vs. Hunter Pence

Alex Rios was considered to have one of the best bounce-back seasons of 2012, and Rios' "bounce" actually took him to some of his highest levels yet in terms of 5x5 productivity.  Rios posted career highs in batting average (.304), homers (25) and RBI (91), and scored the second-most runs (93) of his career while also adding a healthy 23 steals.  Keeper league owners who hung onto Rios through gritted teeth after his terrible 2011 season were nicely rewarded for their loyalty.

Hunter Pence owners see Rios' situation as a best-case scenario for their guy.  Pence's 24 homers, 104 RBI and 87 runs in 2012 actually topped his 2007-11 career averages but he hit only .253/.319/.425 for the lowest OPS of his six-year career.  This number was largely fueled by the .671 OPS he posted in 248 PA after being traded to San Francisco, plus a lackluster postseason that saw Pence produce more in clubhouse motivation than he did at the plate.  

It was easy to predict some regression for Pence following his .361 BABIP-fueled 2011 campaign but still, this was a troubling drop for a player who had been a very solid fantasy outfielder over the previous five years.  Pence had just a .743 OPS with the Phillies as well, so you can't blame the move to AT&T Park on his down season...though I am going to use the ballpark as an excuse to avoid Pence in my 2013 fantasy draft.  With Petco Park and Safeco Field both moving their fences in next season, AT&T might cement its place as the most pitcher-friendly stadium in baseball.  Frankly, I'm hesitant to take any Giants hitter besides Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval, and even the Panda is a bit of a risk given how his consistency seems to yo-yo from year to year.

Pence will be a free agent next winter and has more incentive than ever to put up a big season, but I'm not really a big believer in the "contract year" phenomenon, especially when more evidence seems to exist that Pence might be starting his decline just before he hits the open market.  Pence struck out a career-worst 21.2% of the time in 2012 and he stole a career-low five bases.  Not that he was ever a big speed guy to begin with (he averaged only 12 swipes a year from 2007-11) but it's another sign that Pence might be turning into a one-dimensional player who relies on home runs to be successful, and that's not a winning formula for a guy who spends half his year trying to hit in a homer-dampening park.

Rios, in contrast, plays in hitter-friendly U.S. Cellular Field, so he's already got an edge on Pence from the get-go.  I'm admittedly not 100 percent sure on Rios in 2013 since he may be due for another one of his down years.  If Sandoval was kind of a yo-yo in terms of consistency, Rios is basically Harvey Lowe.*  Rios had put together three solid years in Toronto before plummeting to a .691 OPS in 2009, playing so poorly that the Jays just outright let Rios (and his hefty contract) go to the White Sox on waivers that August.  Rios rebounded for a .791 OPS/21 HR/88 RBI/34 SB season in 2010, then hit the skids again in 2011 before coming back in 2012.

* = if this isn't the most obscure link in Roto Authority history, then I give up

You simply don't know which player is going to show up from year to year when you draft Rios.  The outfielder just turned 32 yesterday, so it seems unlikely that he'll get better than he was last year, and all you can hope for is a repeat performance or only a minor dip.  Not only could there be a natural decline at the plate at Rios' age, but the advancing years will eventually take a toll on his speed; that'd be a big loss for a player whose fantasy value is given a nice boost from his stolen bases.

As indicated by Mock Draft Central's latest average draft position reports, Rios (82.12 ADP) is being taken roughly a round ahead of Pence (97.43 ADP) in most drafts, which seems fair given their 2012 numbers.  I tend to agree with the mock drafters.  Rios showed signs of growth as a batter, hitting more line drives (21.8% of all balls hit into play) and making more contact (86.9% of all swings) in 2012 than ever before in his career.  Those numbers allow Rios to take full advantage of his ballpark, whereas Pence will be hard-pressed to regain his stroke in San Francisco.  Since Barry Bonds left after the 2007 campaign, no Giants hitter has hit more than 26 homers in a season and only six Giants overall have reached the 20-homer plateau.  Pence has solid power but isn't a big slugger --- it's easy to imagine him failing to hit even 15 long balls in 2013.

I don't mind Rios as a second outfield choice and I like him a lot as the third outfielder, though most fantasy owners don't have their starting OF set by the eighth or ninth round.  While Rios certainly has his question marks, I wouldn't be worried if he fell on my roster on draft day.  I'd hesitate to take Pence altogether, and if I did end up drafting him through clenched teeth, he's the kind of player I would try to unload for an upgrade before Opening Day.  Unless Pence shows up at my front door and delivers a phenomenal speech to change my mind, Rios is the better option of the two.



Draft Round Battles: Jason Heyward Vs. Adam Jones

Taking a page from the Columbo book of storytelling, I'm going to remove the suspense early: I favor Jason Heyward ahead of Adam Jones in 2013 fantasy drafts.  My usual strategy is to take a more established player over a promising but semi-unproven one but in Heyward and Jones, I feel better taking Heyward's upside ahead of Jones' solid but not quite elite game.

It's a bit of a bold statement on my part since Jones projects as a stable bottom-of-the-second-round choice in most fantasy drafts.  The Orioles center fielder was an all-around fine fantasy performer in 2012, delivering career highs in homers (32), runs (103), batting average (.287), slugging (.505), steals (16) and he even threw in 82 RBIs to boot.

A lot of nice numbers, indeed, but there was one career-best that Jones couldn't top.  His .334 OBP in 2012 fell short of the .335 OBP he posted in 2009.  I don't care that he fell short of the mark; I care that in five seasons as a Major League regular, Jones hasn't been able to do better than a .335 OBP.  Walks have always been an issue for Jones and his career 0.25 BB/K rate may be the only thing holding him back from being a truly elite outfielder. 

It's almost a Moneyball cliche at this point but I always hesitate before drafting a hitter who doesn't have a solid OBP.  Heyward, to be fair, also had a .335 OBP in 2012 and only a .319 OBP during his 2011 season, a year marred by nagging injuries and perhaps just an old-fashioned sophomore slump.   What did catch my eye, however, was Heyward's .393 OBP over 623 PA in his 2010 rookie season, which was part of an .849 OPS that happened to top any of Jones' seasons.  Heyward only did it once, but a .393 OBP at any age is very impressive, and doing it in your age-20 season was off the charts. 

Fans and pundits had high expectations of Heyward in his rookie year and he delivered, though his mediocre 2011 and a Jones-esque 2012 have served to lower expectations slightly...if you call being the 32nd player taken overall in Mock Draft Central's latest average draft position rankings as "lowered expectations."  Still, there's just a bit of post-hype malaise surrounding Heyward, as is the fickle nature of fantasy owners towards any heavily-touted rookie that doesn't immediately start rattling off the Cooperstown-caliber seasons.

I referred to Heyward's 2012 year as Jones-esque because...

Jones: 697 PA, 32 HR, 82 RBI, 103 runs, .287/.334/.505, 16 steals,, 125 OPS+, .361 wOBA, 126 wRC+

Heyward: 651 PA, 27 HR, 82 RBI, 93 runs, .269/.335/.479, 21 steals, 117 OPS+, .351 wOBA, 120 wRC+

Jones had the better season but the gap was closer than you might have thought.  Heyward's rebound from his tough 2011 campaign somewhat flew under the radar, while Jones leading the Cinderella Orioles back to relevance understandably drew a lot more attention.

Now, I will freely admit that the "post-hype malaise" I mentioned earlier could also easily apply to Jones as well.  He was a former first-round sandwich pick in the 2003 draft and ranked 28th on Baseball America's list of the game's 100 best prospects heading into the 2007 season.  Jones, though, is only breaking out now, at age 27.  It's possible this is his ceiling, or it's also possible that he's already hit his ceiling and he'll perform closer to his pre-2012 norm (a 101 OPS+) in 2013.

What it all boils down to is that I just think we've yet to see the best of Heyward, whereas I think Jones may have already peaked.  If the two players produce the same offensive numbers in 2013, I really believe that would represent a worst-case scenario for Heyward.  It's easy to see him exploding for a .900 OPS or better, whereas I'm not sure what more Jones can do to improve unless he suddenly gains a lot more plate discipline.  They may have a 10+ point gap in ADP now, but I see Jones and Heyward both still sitting on a lot of draft boards by many a third round, and if you're faced with a choice between the two, go with the younger option in this case. 



Go Bold or Go Home: Go Old in the Outfield

"Be afraid of the old, they'll inherit your souls." --Regina Spektor, Apres Moi

Fear drives so many human decisions, fantasy baseball and otherwise, and drafting outfielders is no exception. Every player carries a certain amount of risk, few moreso than the youngest and oldest players. A rookie might not pan out; a veteran might finally slip past the even horizon of age and see his production crumble into dust. Not every player can be in his prime, and those players get distributed pretty close to evenly. Leagues are won and lost on risky choices.

Fantasy managers aren't exactly out to simply mitigate risk, though--the timid win few championships, after all. That's probably why we see players like Bryce Harper and Justin Upton going in the second round: age is on their side and the real risks they represent can be glossed over in the sensible hope that they'll follow predictable growth curves and improve or rebound, as the case may be. There's another phenomenon at work though, and that's the desire in all of us to show off what we know, to be the first one to call out that prospect's name, to stake our league-wide reputation on the Brett Lawries and the Eric Hosmers of the world and say forevermore, "I had him when...."

Personally, I still remember calling out Tim Lincecum's name in 2007, to a chorus of "Who? How do you spell that?" It's a good memory, but it's not one I'm looking to repeat. I got pretty lucky, and I spent a couple months playing a man down.

If fantasy managers were totally rational actors, maybe this sort of thing wouldn't happen. Maybe the risks of exciting new prospects and (proverbially) fair-haired twenty-somethings would be weighted properly against the hoary, graying veterans we've known for years. In short--there's value missing, and several older (not even that old!) outfielders have ADP's well below where they probably should.

Matt Holliday ADP: 56.96 (4th round), 19th OF

Holliday started out cold, but turned around quickly with a blistering May-July. He faded again down the stretch, and had what amounts to half a great season, and half a fairly disappointing one. The results still gave us 27 HRs, a .295 average, 95 Runs, and 102 RBI's--good for 5.1 WAR, if that's how you roll. He's only 33, so he's not exactly Jamie Moyer, and the wheels don't exactly seem to be falling off. He was a second or third rounder last year, and I don't see why he should be relegated to the end of the 4th round. He had a better season than plenty of outfielders ahead of him on the draft boards--grab him over Yoenis Cespedes, Melky Cabrera, Jay Bruce, B.J. Upton, Harper, Upton (yeah, him too), Jason Heyward, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Josh Hamilton. Or, at least think about it, because his performance puts him right with the best of those guys.

Carlos Beltran ADP 110.17 (9th round), 31st OF

There's a big jump between Holliday and Beltran, and it's one I understand to a certain extent. Beltran's never been the healthiest of guys, even at his best. He isn't the speed demon he once was, either, but he can still hit. Last year was his healthiest in a long time and anyone who drafted him loved his 32 HRs. His overall numbers are buoyed by his torrid May, and he faded pretty hard in July and August, batting near the Mendoza Line, so I'm not recommending you draft the 36-year-old as your first OF. But he's going after most teams have their third OF, and his upside is still worth more than that. Consider drafting him over PED-implicated Nelson Cruz, BABIP superstar Torii Hunter, mercurial Alex Rios, and probably Austin Jackson and Mark Trumbo too. That puts him somewhere more like the 6th or 7th round, which seems a little more fair.

 Nick Swisher ADP 130.27 (10th round), 40th OF

Swisher is getting almost-old, though he won't turn 33 until after the season, and it seems like he's been around forever. Except for a terrible batting average in 2008, he's been a seriously consistent producer of around 25 HRs with a decent-ish average and the runs and RBI's that go with that sort of player. He's the opposite of a risky pick, though the move to Cleveland won't do wonders to those team-dependent stats. For me, Swisher represents the ideal third OF on my team--he doesn't hurt me anywhere and he hits a few homers. Consider drafting him a little higher, ahead of Ben Revere, Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth, Martin Prado, Alejandro De Aza, Norichika Aoki, and Mike Morse. So, basically where Beltran is getting drafted now--a round early but ahead of several outfielders.

 Alfonso Soriano ADP 186.46 (15th round), 48th OF

Poor Soriano has had the misfortune of signing a huge contract that has weighed his Cubbies down like a nine-figure anchor for as long as anyone can remember. Not only that, his days of challenging the 40/40 club are long past and basically, everyone hates him now. At least money buys happiness. By the way, your draft pick can buy a player who hasn't exactly been consistent for the past few years, but he has had his uses. His 32 HRs of 2012 probably won't return (but we didn't think they'd show up in the first place), but something near 25 seems likely. He won't be helping your average, and his teammates probably won't be scoring constantly, but he's a respect-worthy power hitter being drafted really low. In fact, as the 48th OF, he's the last 4th OF to go--a bench player in some leagues. If your OF goes to five, though, than you can appreciate Sori's value. Grab him if you need some extra power over Aoki, Morse, De Aza, and Revere.

Ichiro Suzuki  ADP 201.26 (16th round), 57th OF

Ichiro isn't one of the game's top outfielders, that much is certain. In fact, he looked all but dead in the water until an apparently-revitalizing trade to the Yankees last summer. I'm not going to bore you with splits you can look up on your own, but he was a lot better. Enough to give us good reason to think he's got something left in that tank. With a low pick, he's a lot more reward than risk, since outfielders who steal bases and don't hurt your average don't grow on trees. You can't count on him to carry you in those categories anymore, but then, you don't have to make him your top OF anymore either. Take him over fellow speedsters Brett Gardner, Juan Pierre, Carlos Gomez,  Revere, and the unproven Starling Marte.

Cody Ross ADP 261.60 (21st round), 77th OF

The D-backs traded away an early second-r0under to make room for Cody Ross, and while that might make them sound crazy, it also makes Ross sound pretty good. He missed some time with injury, but ultimately put together a pretty useful season for Boston. Now, he'll be moving to the weaker league, to another hitters' park, and to a team that went way out of their way to acquire him. To me, this sounds like a great situation. I'd draft him where Ichiro and Soriano are getting drafted, and I'd expect to get the value side of the deal. Take him over Lucas Duda, Delmon Young, Chris Young, Denard Span, Logan Morrison, Tyler Colvin, Michael Brantley, Michael Saunders and plenty of other guys.

With the exception of Ichiro, these aging outfielders are all power hitters, most from the mistily remembered days of the early 2000's. Power was the game then, so it's no wonder that these guys still bring the homers, even though their best seasons are behind them. Go grab some young players if you want, but these six make a pretty good and very affordable outfield all by themselves.



Three September Call-Ups To Watch For

The calendar turns over to September this Saturday, meaning clubs will expand their rosters and call-up extra players for the stretch run. Most September call-ups are spare parts - third catchers, extra left-handed relievers, etc. - but every so often a team will bring a top prospect to the big leagues and give him a month's worth of playing time. David Price and Francisco Rodriguez are the two most notable September call-ups in recent memory, as both went on to become key components of a deep playoff run. Impact like that is the exception though, not the rule. Here are three high-end prospects who could make their way to the big leagues next month and actually have some fantasy value...

Jurickson Profar | SS | Texas Rangers

The 19-year-old wunderkind from Curacao has emerged as baseball's top prospect this summer. Profar has hit .280/.367/.452 with 14 homers and 16 steals in Double-A this season, which is insane production given his age relative to the competition. It's worth noting that he's played some games at second base lately and in each of the last two games, he was used off the bench as a pinch-hitter. It's very possible the Rangers are preparing him for a call-up, though Jeff Wilson of The Fort Worth Star-Telegram says it may not happen until the end of the Double-A postseason.

Fantasy owners should keep the plight of Mike Olt in mind when considering Profar's fantasy impact. Texas called up their other elite prospect in early-August and he's gotten just 32 plate appearances so far, including only six starts in 26 team games. Perhaps things will be different later in September after the Rangers clinch a playoff berth, but I would be skeptical right now. Profar is a definite keeper long-term, but his 2012 impact may be severely limited.

Wil Myers | OF | Kansas City Royals

After starring at the Futures Game in Kansas City and for most of the season in Triple-A, the 21-year-old Myers may finally get a chance to crack the outfield in Kauffman Stadium next month. He's hit a whopping .307/.384/.589 with 35 homers in 568 total plate appearances, pretty much confirming that he's ready for the next level. Calling up Myers could require the team to either finally bench Jeff Francoeur or sit Lorenzo Cain, the latter of whom might actually have a future with the team. If he does get the call and does play everyday in some outfield position, Myers could be a nice little late-season boost for fantasy owners, potentially chipping in something like 5-6 homers the rest of the way. That's nothing to sneeze at.

Shelby Miller | SP | St. Louis Cardinals

Earlier this week Joe Strauss of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported (on Twitter) that there is a "strong sentiment" within the organization to promote Miller, the 21-year-old flamethrower who's pitched to a 4.89 ERA with 10.4 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9 in 130 2/3 Triple-A innings this year. Those numbers aren't all that impressive overall, but the right-hander has a 57/4 K/BB in his last eight starts and seems to have figured some things out.

If the Cardinals do recall Miller next month, they'll have the option to use him out of the bullpen or instead of Joe Kelly in the rotation. I wouldn't count on him replacing Jason Motte as closer, so he would have the most fantasy value as a starter. The September schedule is loaded with intra-division games as always, meaning a whole lotta games against the lowly Astros and Cubs. St. Louis also has a West Coast swing through San Diego and Los Angeles on their slate, adding two top pitcher's parks into the mix. Miller definitely offers some impact potential going forward, assuming the club actually decides to call him up and insert him into the rotation down the stretch.



Cubs Turn The Reigns Over To Jackson & Vitters

The Chicago Cubs started a new era in franchise history when the Theo Epstein-led regime took over this past offseason, and they've systematically started a rebuilding process by trading veterans and acquiring young talent. Players like Sean Marshall, Carlos Zambrano, and Ryan Dempster were traded for prospects and/or salary relief in recent months, and youngsters like Anthony Rizzo and Darwin Barney were eased into the starting lineup. Following the trade deadline, the Cubs recalled two of their highest profile prospects and have handed them regular playing time. Let's look at their fantasy value.

Brett Jackson | OF

Jackson, 24, was the 31st overall pick in the 2009 draft and steadily climbed the minor league ladder before making his debut. He's only hit .188/.257/.281 in 35 big league plate appearances so far, but he's a .282/.379/.488 career hitter in the minors with 10+ homers and 20+ steals in each of the last three seasons. Jackson also provides a lot of value with his center field defense, but that's irrelevant in fantasy.

The biggest problem with the outfielder is, by far, his knack for the swing and miss. Jackson has whiffed on 24 of the 159 pitches he's seen in the big leagues, a tidy 15.1%. The league average is slightly more than half that at 9.0%. He's struck out 18 times with the Cubs already, and in the minor leagues more than one-quarter (26.4%, to be exact) of his plate appearances ended with strike three. That's astromical for a top prospect and a massive hole in his game that could be his ultimate downfall. Jackson will get a chance to play for the rest of the season, but outside of a handful of steals and maybe a few homers, his fantasy value is nil until he can put the ball in play consistently.

Josh Vitters | 3B

The third overall pick in the 2007 draft, the 22-year-old Vitters took a little longer to get to the show than first overall pick David Price and second overall pick Mike Moustakas. The third baseman has produced just a .103/.100/.138 batting line in 30 plate appearances since being recalled, though he put together a .304/.356/.513 performance in Triple-A earlier this year. He's a .283/.327/.455 career hitter in over 2,100 minor league plate appearances.

While Jackson is prone to swings and misses, Vitters is the polar opposite. His problem is that he makes contact a little too easily, and often puts pitches in play that he shouldn't be swinging at in the first place. The ability to get the bat on the ball is why he was drafted so high, but the lack of plate discipline has kept Vitters from realizing his full potential during his climb up the minor league ladder. That doesn't mean things won't click in the future, but for 2012 we have another guy with little to no fantasy value. The Cubs are headed in the right direction and have done a smart thing by giving Jackson and Vitters an extended look at the end of the season, but unfortunately neither player is worth a fantasy roster spot at this point of their careers.



Squeezing Steals Out Of Anthony Gose

Injuries have defined the Blue Jays' season so far, with the pitching staff feeling the brunt of the impact. The injury bug leaked over to the position player side of things on Monday night, when Jose Bautista came up holding his left wrist after pulling a ball foul down the line in a game against the Yankees. He left the game and x-rays were negative, but an MRI revealed what is either inflammation or a strain depending on who you ask. It's probably a little of both, the two can be related. Either way, Bautista has been placed on the DL and will miss at least two weeks.

To take his spot, Toronto recalled top outfield prospect Anthony Gose from Triple-A. He was hitting .292/.375/.432 with 18 doubles, ten triples, five homers, and 29 steals in 436 plate appearances for Las Vegas at the time of the recall. The left-handed hitting Gose sat on Tuesday night - understandable against CC Sabathia -  before making his first start and going 0-for-3 with two strikeouts yesterday. He is expected to be the everyday right fielder during Bautista's absence with the occasional game on the bench against tough lefties.

The 21-year-old Gose is well traveled already, going from the Phillies to the Astros in the Roy Oswalt trade before being flipped to the Jays for Brett Wallace. ESPN's Keith Law ranked him as the 59th best prospect in baseball before the season, noting that Gose now "stays back better and repeats his swing in a way he couldn't before, resulting in higher-quality contact and the chance for average power." His outfield defense - he's a true center fielder playing right in deference to the incumbent Colby Rasmus - is excellent and enough to keep him in the lineup even when he's struggling at the plate, and playing time is always a concern for fantasy rookies.

Triple-A Las Vegas is one of the most extreme hitters' environments in baseball, inflating offense by almost ten percent according to the park factors at StatCorner. It would be easy to write off Gose as a product of that ballpark if he had a huge home/road split, but this year it was actually a reserve split. He hit .259/.351/.395 in 46 home games compared to .313/.397/.469 in 46 road games before the call-up. Besides, we're not looking at Gose as someone who can come up and mash, adding homers and RBI to our counting stats. He's a steals candidate.

Gose has swiped at least 45 bases in each of the last three seasons - including two 70+ steal seasons - and is likely to get there again this year. He's efficient (74% success rate) but not insanely successful in his stolen base attempts, so keep that in mind if you use net steals. Bautista isn't expected to miss too much time but Gose could still force his way into the regular lineup with an assist from Rajai Davis' recent slump. If he proves useful over the next two weeks, the at-bats will be there for him in left field. You might take a hit in batting average and almost certainly will get no help in the power or run production departments, but steals can be hard to come by this late in the season and few players offer as much stolen base potential as the guy Toronto just called up.


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Four Prospects To Watch In The Second Half

As we come out of the All-Star break, we're going to see a number of top prospects join their big league club down the stretch as they push for a playoff spot. Some may have a huge impact like Mike Trout has already had for the Angels while others may just be complementary pieces shoring up the bench or bullpen. Here's a look at four high-end prospects who could assume important roles in the second half and have real fantasy value. I've including their ranking among Baseball America's Top 50 Prospects midseason update for reference.

Matt Harvey | SP | Mets | Baseball America: #34

The Mets got some unfortunate news earlier this week when right-hander Dillon Gee had to be placed on the disabled list after feeling numbness in his fingers. He was diagnosed with a blood clot in his shoulder and may still need surgery. The team has yet to announce his rotation replacement, but right now it seems like the immortal Miguel Batista will be a temporary solution. With Harvey tearing up Triple-A, he becomes the prohibitve favorite to fill Gee's spot if he misses an extended period of time.

Harvey, 23, has pitched to a 3.39 ERA in 18 starts and 98.1 innings for the club's Triple-A affiliate this season. His strikeout (9.3 K/9) and walk (3.8 BB/9) rates are very good, though they're better measured in terms of percent of batters faced -- he's struck out 24.2% while walking 10.0% of the hitters to step in the box against him this year. The walks are a bit of a concern because they will boost his WHIP, but Harvey can miss bats and that will cure a lot of ills. Throw in a pitcher friendly ballpark and you're looking at a potential fantasy weapon down the stretch.

Wil Myers | OF | Royals | Baseball America: #3

The 21-year-old Myers has had a busy week, first starring in the Futures Game before winning the Triple-A All-Star Game MVP Award last night. He's hit a combined .327/.403/.676 with 27 homers in 363 plate appearances split between Double and Triple-A this season, and in reality he probably should have been up a few weeks ago. Lorenzo Cain is just coming back from a groin strain and Jeff Francoeur has been unable to replicate last season's success, so the Royals can make room for Myers if they really want to get him in the lineup. Either way, expect him to rake and become an instant fantasy starter as soon as he's recalled and given an everyday job.

Mike Olt | 3B | Rangers | Baseball America: #11

Olt, 23, has had a huge year - .292/.403/.574 with 22 homers in 348 Double-A plate appearances this summer - and he doesn't figure to need much Triple-A time before being big league ready. The problem is that there's no obvious opening for him in Texas with Adrian Beltre manning the hot corner, though they've had him work out at both first base and right field this season. Of course that also makes Olt one of the very best pieces of trade bait in the game. The Rangers could go big game hunting - Zack Greinke? Cole Hamels? Justin Upton? - with their top third base prospect going the other way. That could land Olt in the big leagues down the stretch and third base is a sneaky shallow position. Keep an eye on Texas and their trade deadline dealings, because they could have big fantasy implications for more than the obvious reasons.

Tyler Skaggs | SP | Diamondbacks | Baseball America: #7

The arrival of Trevor Bauer has been a little underwhelming so far, but he's not the only high-end pitching prospect the D'Backs have on the cusp of the show. Skaggs, a 21-year-old southpaw, pitching to a 2.84 ERA in 13 Double-A starts before jumping to Triple-A and making two starts. His strikeout (8.7 K/9 and 23.2% of batters faced) and walk (2.6 BB/9 and 7.0%) rates are excellent, it's just a matter of making room for him in the rotation. Daniel Hudson's injured elbow opens a starting job that will likely be filled when Joe Saunders comes off the DL (Josh Collmenter is filling in for the time being), but the veteran southpaw always seems to be involved in trade rumors. Skaggs probably has the most to overcome to reach the show in the second half, but he has fantasy impact potential once he does arrive.



Finally Healthy, Kalish Back In Boston

Carl Crawford (elbow) and Jacoby Ellsbury (shoulder) have been two of fantasy baseball's top outfield producers over the last few seasons, but the duo has played just seven total games -- all by Ellsbury -- for the Red Sox this year. Boston has been forced to use a dozen different outfielders to cover for their injuries so far, but it wasn't until this week that they were finally able to call on their top internal option: Ryan Kalish.

Kalish, 24, missed most of last season and the start of this season with a pair of surgeries: one for a bulging disc in his neck, the other for a torn labrum in his left (throwing) shoulder. He raked in 15 minor league games after coming off the DL -- .345/.449/.655 with five homers -- and has three singles in 12 plate appearances since being recalled three days ago. Kalish has started each of the last three games in center field and the plan is to keep running him out there over the next few weeks.

This isn't Kalish's first time in the show. He played 53 games for the 2010 Red Sox and hit a respectable .252/.305/.405 with four homers and ten steals (in eleven chances) in 179 plate appearances. The power-speed combination was his calling card all throughout the minors and is part of the reason why Baseball America considered him one of the game's top 100 prospects prior to the 2008 season. Kalish has 93 steals (in 113 chances) and 45 homers in just over 400 career minor league games, though a broken hamate bone in his wrist sapped his over-the-fence power for a few years earlier in his career.

Ellsbury took batting practice the other day for the first time since getting hurt and Carl Crawford recently started a throwing program, so those two are on the mend. Their returns are not imminent though, so Kalish's job is safe for the time being. I wouldn't expect a ton of homers just because they're hard to hit, even in Fenway Park, but Kalish has real sleeper potential in the other four traditional 5x5 scoring categories. He should hit for a solid average but even if he slumps into the .250-range, there will still be stolen bases, runs scored, and runs driven in to count on. Those last two categories are a gimme given the lineup around him. I'm a fan and although Kalish technically isn't a prospect, he's a young player with upside and a lot to offer fantasy owners.


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Recent Call-Ups: Conger, Kirkman, Moore

Let's round up three recent call-ups and their fantasy impact. Two hail from the AL West, the third from the NL East.

Hank Conger | C | Angels

Had it not been for an elbow strain earlier this season, Conger would have been up a long time ago. Chris Iannetta broke his wrist in early-May and the Angels had to turn to Bobby Wilson and John Hester to replace him while their top catching prospect was out. Now that he's healthy -- and Bobby Wilson is on the 7-day concussion DL -- Conger is in the big leagues but playing second fiddle to Hester. He's only started three of eight games since being recalled, including just one of the last six. Hester's solid batting line -- .256/.333/.349 with one homer in 48 plate appearances -- is a hindrance, as is manager Mike Scioscia's affinity for defense-first catchers.

Conger, 24, is seen as an offense-first backstop with a line drive swing from both sides of the plate according to Baseball America. He has more over-the-fence power from the left side and his minor league plate discipline rates -- 14.4% strikeouts and 8.7% walks -- are evidence of his contact-oriented approach. This isn't another Mike Napoli situation but it's similar, the Angels are focused more on defense than offense behind the plate and that works against Conger. With Wilson expected back as soon as this weekend, Conger might find himself back in Triple-A. He's a fantasy non-option until we know he's going to get regular at-bats.

Michael Kirkman | RP | Rangers

The Rangers have lost Derek Holland (shoulder), Neftali Feliz (elbow), and Alexi Ogando (groin) to the disabled list in recent weeks and with Roy Oswalt still a few weeks away, they had to dip into their farm system for a replacement starter. Kirkman, 25, has 29 appearances and 48 2/3 big league innings to his credit already, but all of them have come in relief. He's worked primarily as a starter in Triple-A but his performance hasn't been anything to write home about: 5.25 ERA with 9.0 K/9 and 5.8 BB/9. The walks are a problem now and have been throughout his career based on his 4.9 BB/9 in over 600 minor league innings.

I like Kirkman -- who Baseball America ranked as the teams 28th best prospect coming into the season -- more than most because he's a four-pitch lefty with some funk and deception in his delivery. He's slated to start at home against the Astros on Saturday, making him a fine end of the week candidate if you're desperate for counting stats or need to roll the dice on someone for help in the rate categories. Kirkman might not be long for the rotation with Holland reportedly on the mend, but if he sticks around he'll pick up SP eligibility soon enough.

Tyler Moore | OF | Nationals

Bryce Harper garners all of the attention and rightfully so, but the 23-year-old Moore has two straight 30 homer seasons to his credit in the minors and tagged Triple-A pitching to the tune of .310/.372/.660 before being recalled. He hit two homers yesterday -- the first two of his big league career -- and has started three of Washington's last five games after coming off the bench for the previous month. Baseball America only ranked Moore as the team's 16th best prospect coming into the season because of his high strikeout rate (23.5% of all minor league plate appearances) and defensive shortcomings, but they do acknowledge that his right-handed pop is very real. He's totaled at least 70 extra-base hits in each of the last two minor league seasons.

With Steve Lombardozzi starting to come back to Earth a bit -- .238/.289/.333 in the last 33 team games -- Moore could see more time in left field, particularly against left-handers. He's not going to give you much average or even OBP, but Moore will hit some homers and drive in some runs if given the playing time. Keep an eye on their lineups the next few days, if Moore starts to see more and more playing time, grab him if your team is power-starved.





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