Josh Reddick| Oakland A’s| OF| ESPN: 2.0 percent ownership, Yahoo!: 4 percent ownership
Oliver ROS: .235/.285/.407
He won’t wow you with his power or speed, but Reddick is a perfect example of the importance of lineup position. He has played in 12 games this year, and has been slotted third in the order for nine of them. Put another way, 36 of his 47 at-bats have come hitting third in the lineup. Hitting in the heart of the A’s order should award him the opportunity to be a fantasy contributor in runs and RBIs. His home run total should settle in at season’s end in the high-teens-to-low-20s range. He’s not much of a stolen base threat, but should steal a handful.
The toughest aspect of Reddick’s game to project in fantasy is his batting average. Reddick is a left-handed hitter with a reverse platoon split in his limited time in the majors. Looking back at his minor league splits (2007-2010, 2011) leads to more questions than answers. He has shown standard splits at various times in the minors, while exhibiting the same reverse split he’s shown in the majors in other periods.
The optimistic, and perhaps realistic, conclusion is that he can hit both left-handed, and right-handed pitching well. If that is the case, Reddick is capable of, at worst, not hurting batting average, and at best, helping fantasy teams in the category. Thus far, he is getting good wood on the ball and smoking line drives at a 35.9 percent clip. Last year he did a very good job of squaring the ball up and roped line drives at a 23.3 percent clip. Taking into consideration he makes a lot of contact, and rarely strikes out, a .275-.280 batting average is a reasonable projection going forward.
The one thing that immediately stands out as a red flag, and could derail that projection, is a swinging rate on balls outside the strike zone (o-swing) of 37.7 percent, a rate that is almost nine percent higher than league average in 2012. Last year, his o-swing rate was almost exactly league average, so it is too early to panic. That said, it does warrant monitoring.
Recommendation: Should be owned in all large mixed leagues that start five outfielders, some large mixed leagues that start three outfielders, and all AL-only leagues.
Luke Scott| Tampa Bay Rays| 1B/OF| ESPN: 5.0 percent ownership, Yahoo!: 14 percent ownership
Oliver ROS: .262/.342/.490
Wolverine, I mean, Luke Scott, is making the Rays front office look good for plucking him off the scrap heap. Scott struggled with injuries in 2011, the worst of which were SLAP and posterior labrum tears that required shoulder surgery. When on the field, he failed to sting the ball with the same authority he had in seasons past.
This year, it looks like he has regained much of the punch that made him a safe bet to hit roughly 25 home runs over the course of a full season. He has already found the seats three times for the Rays. He won’t continue to hit home runs at this torrid a pace, but with good health, he should be a cheap source of power. Expect regression to his batting average as the season wears on. He isn’t hitting line drives at a high rate, has historically struggled with left-handed pitching, and will see more of his flyballs stay in the yard, and likely, find mitts. All things considered, his career batting average of .265 is a solid base line with upside of a bit higher, and downside of a bit worse.
Recommendation: Should be owned in all large mixed leagues that start five outfielders, some large mixed leagues that start three outfielders, and all AL-only leagues.
Eduardo Nunez| New York Yankees| 2B/SS/3B| ESPN: 2.1 percent ownership, Yahoo!: 4 percent ownership
Oliver ROS: .276/.313/.375
The Yankees were dealt a blow with Brett Gardner landing on the disabled list Wednesday night. It is unclear how much time he’ll miss, but the hope is that he’ll be ready to return when he’s eligible to be activated from the 15-day DL. Meanwhile, Nunez looks to be the primary beneficiary. Nunez will be practicing in the outfield, and could find himself in the mix for playing time there. He should also see extra playing time as the result of Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones playing left-field, thus, freeing the designated hitter spot to Nunez or some of the Yankees’ veteran infielders.
Nunez is an accomplished base stealer: In 150 games in the majors, he has stolen 28 bases in 34 chances. He has a .273 batting average in 408 plate appearances for the Yankees. His low strikeout rate (9.8 percent) and reasonable .291 BABIP suggest he should continue to hit at roughly that rate. His line drive rate isn’t especially high (18.4 percent), and his pop-out rate is quite high (23.4 percent infield flyball rate), so projecting an uptick in his BABIP is unwise until there is some change to his batted ball profile.
He’ll hit at the bottom of the Yankees order, but should see ample run scoring and run producing opportunities as part of a high scoring offensive club. Further enhancing Nunez’s value is that he holds three infield position eligibility in Yahoo! leagues, and is shortstop and third base eligible in ESPN leagues. That type of versatility can be incredibly valuable in deep leagues that allow daily lineup changes. Given the uncertainty of when Gardner will return, Nunez could be better than your average stopgap speed boost.
Recommendation: Should be owned in most large mixed leagues that use an MI while Brett Gardner is on the DL, and should be owned in all AL-only leagues while Gardner is out.
Denard Span| Minnesota Twins| OF| ESPN: 17.1 percent ownership, Yahoo!: 16 percent ownership
Oliver ROS: .276/.338/.372
As mentioned above in the Reddick write-up, lineup slot can mean everything to a player’s fantasy value. If not for hitting leadoff, Span wouldn’t be much of a fantasy option at all. He doesn’t hit for much pop, and his plus speed has translated to no more than 26 stolen bases in a season (he stole 26 in 705 plate appearances in 2010). However, hitting leadoff helps accentuate his strong on-base skills, and makes him a contributor in runs scored. Pair that with his mid-20s stolen base ability, and you’ve got the foundation laid for a valuable fantasy outfielder.
At his best, Span adds a high batting average to his fantasy profile. He hit .294 in 2008, and .311 in 2009. Unfortunately for Span, his batting average bottomed out to .264 in both 2010 and 2011. The biggest difference between his good batting average seasons and his bad ones has been his BABIP. In 2011, he saw his pop-out rate jump to a career high, but beyond that, his batted ball profile has been relatively static year-to-year.
Span recognizes his game is predicated on speed, and he rarely hits the ball in the air. He makes a ton of contact, and that contact has been hard in the early going this year. He is hitting line drives at a 27.5 percent clip in 2012. Expect some regression, but as long as he is spraying line drives around the diamond, and pounding balls into the ground to take advantage of his speed, Span should be considered a strong bet to be an asset in batting average. You’ll need to find your power elsewhere, but Span makes for a respectable option to round out fantasy outfields.
Recommendation: Should be owned universally in five-outfielder formats, and should be owned in most three-outfielder leagues.
Kelvin Herrera| Kansas City Royals| RP| ESPN: 0 percent ownership, Yahoo!: 0 percent ownership
YTD: 4.05 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 1.35 BB/9, 8.10 K/9, 55.0 percent GB
Oliver ROS: 4.19 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 3.0 BB/9, 6.5 K/9
After years of battling injuries, Herrera made the full-time switch from starting pitcher to reliever and flourished last season. He started the year in High-A, and finished it with two September relief appearances for the Royals, and has since made the team’s bullpen out of spring training for this year. He hasn’t been used in high leverage late inning situations yet, but he has the repertoire necessary to project in that role in the future. Bullpens are volatile, and Greg Holland and Jonathan Broxton, the team’s top late-inning options, can attest to that.
Holland has yet to find the form he displayed in 2011, and Broxton is coming off a shortened 2011 season which saw him undergo surgery in September to take care of a bone spur and loose bodies in his pitching elbow. Broxton’s fastball velocity is back to where it was prior to surgery, and he has been mostly good, save for one disastrous appearance on April 11.
It will take more than a few appearances to prove he’s completely back, and a safe ninth inning option for the entire season. It’s also possible that if he’s sharp, the Royals could look to deal him to a contender at the trade deadline. In short, Mariano Rivera isn’t closing games for the Royals, and it’s not out of the question that Herrera could move up the bullpen hierarchy as the season progresses.
For now, Herrera has a chance to be a source of strikeouts and a ratio helper. Herrera uses a blazing four-seam fastball,which averages 97.5 mph, according to his Brooks Baseball player card, and a wicked change-up to attack hitters. I watched his most recent relief appearance, and came away very impressed. As enjoyable as it is watching a reliever light up the radar gun for triple digits, something Herrera can do, I was more impressed with his change-up, which appeared to have some drop on it. Herrera’s value is limited to leagues that count holds—I play in two and own him in one—and large AL-only leagues for now, but could expand. Keep his name filed away in your memory in the event Holland’s struggles continue and Broxton finds himself out of the Royals closer picture.
Recommendation: Should be monitored in large mixed leagues and AL-only leagues. Should be owned in some leagues that count holds.
Garrett Richards| Los Angeles Angels| SP| ESPN: 0.1 percent ownership, Yahoo!: 0 percent ownership
YTD: 2.14 ERA, 0.76 WHIP, 1.71 BB/9, 9.00 K/9 (Triple-A)
Oliver ROS: 4.87 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 3.4 BB/9, 6.0 K/9
Richards was in a fifth starter battle in the spring with Jerome Williams. He pitched well, but ended up in Salt Lake City anyway. Williams, who began the year on a rehab assignment in the minors, was roughed up by the Yankees after being activated from the disabled list. He doesn’t have any options remaining, and for that reason, the Angels may give him a few more turns in the rotation to prove he can stick. That said, owner Arte Moreno spent a bunch of cash in the offseason, and expectations are high for the Angels. They have come out of the gate sputtering, and one option to spark the team could be to move Richards into the rotation as the fifth starter.
He has been superb in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League in three starts. He has completed 21 innings, striking out 21 batters, walking just four, and inducing groundballs at a healthy rate (1.56 groundball out-to-flyball out ratio according to his MiLB player page). He struggled in his first taste of the majors in 2011, but should be given at least a partial pass because of the small sample size and his prospect pedigree. Baseball America rated him the Angels’ third best prospect in its 2012 Baseball America Prospect Handbook, and Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus ranked him as the Angels’ seventh best prospect in his Future Shock: Angels Top 11 Prospects.
The biggest knock on Richards is that his secondary pitches lag behind his mid-to-high-90s fastball. Of his two secondary pitches, change-up and slider, the slider rates best, and has the potential to become a strikeout weapon. I’ve yet to read how those two pitches looked in his first three starts for Salt Lake, but his strikeout rate is up significantly from his 6.5 K/9 mark in 22 games for Double-A Arkansas in 2011. If the bump is a result of advancements made to one, or both, of his secondary pitches, he could be ready to contribute to the Angels and fantasy rosters.
Even the best young pitchers require an adjustment period to major league hitters, and Richards probably won’t be an exception. With that caveat in mind, Richards has the benefit of playing in the same division as the Oakland A’s and Seattle Mariners, making him a possible match-up play upon promotion. We’re not talking about a Matt Moore type prospect here, but Richards is good enough to merit attention in large mixed leagues and AL-only formats.
Recommendation: Should be monitored in large mixed leagues, and owned in fiercely competitive AL-only leagues where bench space is available.
Tom Wilhelmsen| Seattle Mariners| RP| ESPN: 0.2 percent ownership, Yahoo!: 5 percent ownership
YTD: 0.90 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 2.70 BB/9, 10.80 K/9, 37.5 percent GB
Oliver ROS: 4.51 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 3.7 BB/9, 6.3 K/9
Wilhelmsen has an unusual baseball story, something I discussed here, and here, and will refrain from rehashing. The short of it is that he was suspended in 2004 while a member of the Brewers organization, and walked away from the game at that point. He returned to Independent League ball in 2009, and became a member of the Mariners organization in 2010. He reached the majors last season, and made 25 relief appearances for the Mariners. He missed bats then, and has since settled into the primary setup role for the team.
He has been outstanding this season, striking batters out while refraining from issuing free passes. He has a fly ball heavy approach, but his home ballpark, Safeco Field, should help limit the potential home run damage. He is mostly using a fastball and curveball mix to retire opposing hitters. He has also shown a change-up on occasion, and that pitch has been very effective for him in limited doses this season. All his offerings are capable of generating empty swings, and Wilhelmsen should be expected to continue to strike out better than a batter per inning. He’s already an option in large mixed leagues where non-closer relievers are owned, and he’s the most likely successor to Brandon League for Mariners closing duties should League be dealt to a contender at the deadline.
Recommendation: Should be owned in large mixed leagues where non-closer relievers have value, and should be owned in all AL-only formats.
Brad Peacock| Oakland A’s| SP| ESPN: 0.2 percent ownership, Yahoo!: 1 percent Yahoo! ownership
YTD: 1.42 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 2.84 BB/9, 8.05 K/9 (Triple-A)
Oliver ROS: 4.57 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 3.8 BB/9, 7.0 K/9
Peacock had a rough spring training, and because of that, failed to crack the A’s rotation as the team broke camp. He has pitched very well in three starts for Triple-A Sacramento. Sacramento plays in the notoriously hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, but that hasn’t prevented Peacock from going at least six innings in any of his starts. His walk rate is much better in his second go-round at the Triple-A level, and could portend improved control in his next turn in the bigs.
He’s continuing to strike batters out often, but he gets most of his outs on balls in play through the air, something that could lead to home run problems in the majors. Playing his home games in a pitcher-friendly park will help, but expect some hiccups initially. There aren’t any openings in Oakland’s rotation currently, but the A’s are rebuilding and may wish to have Peacock learn on the fly soon enough.
Peacock’s ability to strike batters out, and his friendly home digs, make him an intriguing fantasy option as soon as he gets a chance to face big league batters again. I expect Peacock to force his way into the A’s rotation before the All-Star break. Just when may come down to how well the current members of the A’s rotation pitch.
Recommendation: Should be owned in some large mixed leagues, and should be owned in most AL-only formats.
Jarrod Parker| Oakland A’s| SP| ESPN: 0 percent ownership, Yahoo!: 2 percent ownership
YTD: 2.50 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 2.00 BB/9, 8.50 K/9 (Triple-A)
Oliver ROS: 4.63 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 4.1 BB/9, 5.9 K/9
Like Peacock, Parker was in the hunt for a rotation spot when the A’s broke camp. Also like Peacock, he didn’t win a rotation spot and was sent down to Triple-A Sacramento. Parker has been nearly as impressive as Peacock, with the major difference being the number of batters who have reached by hit against Parker. Parker has a higher groundball percentage than Peacock, and groundballs have a higher batting average on balls put in play than non-home run flyballs, so it is possible that’s where the difference lies.
The higher batting average on groundballs is a worthwhile tradeoff for inducing them instead of allowing flyballs, because the latter do more damage than the former (something Jeff Sackman Carlos Gomez a little over two years ago”>succinctly pointed out in an article about Carlos Gomez a little over two years ago).
Parker was coming off Tommy John surgery last year, and while the season was a success and resulted in a start for the Diamondbacks in September, it also saw his strikeout rate drop below his pre-surgery level. Prospect guru John Sickels noted in a Prospect of the Day article last September that Parker was throwing his plus slider less often than before his surgery. That helps explain the dip in strikeouts, and the fact that he mentioned Parker regained most of his pre-surgery “stuff” is encouraging for improved future performance.
Parker is off to a good start for Sacramento, and could be racing Peacock for a promotion. Because he has less experience pitching in Triple-A, I believe he’ll be left there to season a bit longer than Peacock. The gap isn’t large enough to completely rule out the possibility of him beating Peacock to the show, though, and it possible both could get back to the majors at roughly the same time. Parker’s immediate upside is comparable to Peacock’s, and his long term upside is slightly greater. Keep tabs on how the A’s starters are pitching and how Parker is pitching in Sacramento, and don’t hesitate to grab him in large mixed leagues or AL-only formats when it looks like he may be nearing a promotion.
Recommendation: Should be monitored in large mixed leagues and AL-only formats.