William Middlebrooks| Boston Red Sox| 3B| ESPN: 3.3 percent ownership, Yahoo! : 13 percent ownership
Oliver Rest of season: .255/.298/.448
Baseball America rated Middlebrooks the top prospect in the Red Sox organization coming into the year. It should be noted that his high prospect standing is based in large part on stellar scouting reports of his defense. That said, his ranking was also aided by projection of future offensive growth. While his defense means nothing in standard fantasy baseball leagues, we are seeing that offensive growth in full force this season. Middlebrooks was tearing the cover off the ball for Pawtucket, hitting .333/.380/.677 with nine home runs in 100 plate appearances. That line translated to a .316/.359/.612 MLE. His walk rate remains on the low side, but his strikeout rate was also quite low for a player producing the type of power numbers he was.
His hot play, and a stiff lower back that sent Red Sox starting third baseman Kevin Youkilis to the disabled list, prompted a promotion. He has played in one game for his parent club, recording two hits and a walk in four plate appearances.
For all of the Red Sox’ faults, their ability to put crooked numbers on the scoreboard isn’t one of them. The team ranks fourth in the majors in runs scored, and Middlebrooks should benefit from the club’s ability to score runs even if he remains in the bottom third of the order (he was eighth in the lineup in his major league debut). Youkilis has struggled to stay on the field in recent years, and hasn’t played in more than a 140 games since 2008. It looks like Middlebrooks’ stay in the majors will be brief, but if he makes a good first impression, or Youkilis suffers a setback with his stiff back, he could find himself in line for more playing time than initially expected.
His impatience could lead to some early struggles if pitchers are able to exploit it, but his power potential is worth gambling on. The hot corner has been ravaged by injury of late, leaving many scrambling to the waiver wire for help. Middlebrooks is a good speculative plug and play. If he comes out of the gates on fire, his prospect buzz makes him a strong sell candidate. For now, give Middlebrooks a look if you have a roster spot to play around with, or are one of the unlucky owners of an injured third baseman.
Recommendation: Should be owned in most large mixed leagues, and most AL-only formats.
Eric Thames| Toronto Blue Jays| OF| ESPN: 1.1 percent ownership, Yahoo!: 5 percent ownership
Oliver ROS: .267/.326/.464
Travis Snider breathing down his neck a few weeks back”>Since I speculted that Thames may be on thin ice and feeling Travis Snider breathing down his neck a few weeks back, he has made me look a bit foolish by finding his groove at the dish. He is playing every day of late, and that can probably be attributed in large part to his new-found success against southpaws. While the obligatory small sample size warning is in order, he is hitting .313/.389/.438 against left-handed pitchers in 16 at-bats with two walks and just three strikeouts. He is showing improved control of the strike zone this season by both walking more frequently and striking out less often.
His power is down a bit this year, but he has shown enough pop in the past to suggest he’ll finish the year with around 20 taters with full time work. The Blue Jays lineup is scoring runs in bunches, ranking sixth in the majors in runs scored, in spite of Jose Bautista‘s early season struggles. There are counting stats to be had investing in the Blue Jays offense. Owners in need of someone to round out their fake team’s outfield would doing themselves a favor turning to the widely available Thames.
Recommendation: Should be owned in all leagues that start five outfielders, and most that start three outfielders.
Travis d’Arnaud| Toronto Blue Jays| C| ESPN: 0 percent ownership, Yahoo! : 0 percent ownership
YTD: .274/.346/.421 (Triple-A)
Oliver ROS: .247/.295/.424
My high opinion of d’Arnaud’s future fantasy value is previously chronicled by his ranking ninth on the Top-100 Fantasy Baseball Prospect list. His season line is weighted down by a slow start, but he has heated up in his last 10 games, hitting .349/.396/.535 with five doubles and a home run in 43 at-bats. Blue Jays starting catcher J.P. Arencibia has been cold to start the year (of course, as I type this, he sends a Dan Haren offering into the seats for a three run shot), which could open the door to a d’Arnaud promotion.
When that promotion comes likely hinges on both d’Arnaud continuing to hit and Arencibia continuing to struggle. If Arencibia rights the ship, the organization will have little incentive to bring up d’Arnaud and prevent both catchers from playing on an everyday basis. Owners in one-catcher mixed leagues formats shouldn’t be too concerned with d’Arnaud this season. He remains a good keeper league and dynasty league prospect in those formats, but his value will be limited to two-catcher leagues and AL-only formats this season. That said, owners in those deeper formats where putrid offensive options are owned should be quick on the trigger if there are so much as whispers of d’Arnaud reaching The Show.
Recommendation: Should be stashed in some large mixed leagues that start two catchers as well as some AL-only formats.
Rafael Soriano| New York Yankees| RP| ESPN: 0.7 percent ownership, Yahoo! : 11 percent ownership
YTD: 2.25 ERA, 2.00 WHIP, 6.75 BB/9, 9.00 K/9, 29.2 percent GB
Oliver ROS: 3.54 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 3.2 BB/9, 9.0 K/9
On Thursday night, Yankees closer Mariano Rivera was injured shagging flyballs. An MRI revealed the team’s worst fears, he tore his ACL and will miss the remainder of the year. Awful news for a pitcher who is considered by most, and rightfully so, to be the greatest closer of all time. I hope this injury won’t be the end of Rivera’s career; it would be a shame for him to have to hang up his cleats on such a down note.
It feels cold to address the aftermath of the injury, but alas, the Yankees will be tasked with doing so, and fantasy owners will be reacting to the injury as well. With that in mind, only two players are realistically in the hunt for save opportunities in the Bronx.
David Robertson is clearly the Yankees’ best reliever (and owned as such, with a 46 percent Yahoo! ownership rate), but the best reliever doesn’t always get the closing job.
Soriano owns a distinct advantage in career saves over Robertson with 90 to Robertson’s three. If manager Joe Girardi believes in “closer mentality,” Soriano has shown the ability to nail down games, and Robertson hasn’t (through no fault of his own).
Soriano is no longer the elite reliever that his numbers with the Rays would lead one believe he was. His fastball is down a few ticks from his peak velocity days, and his swinging strike rate has dropped a bit in recent years. That said, he continues to get more empty swings than the league average pitcher. His flyball-heavy approach will be put to the test in homer-friendly Yankee Stadium, but saves are saves, and he shouldn’t be a complete disaster. If given the choice between Robertson or Soriano, I’d choose Robertson, but many won’t have that luxury, and grabbing Soriano is a solid alternative.
Recommendation: Should be owned by all save-starved owners regardless of league size and format.
Kyle Drabek| Toronto Blue Jays| SP| ESPN: 21.4 percent ownership, Yahoo! : 29 percent ownership
YTD: 2.40 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 4.50 BB/9, 7.80 K/9, 51.9 percent GB
Oliver ROS: 5.27 ERA, 1.60 WHIP, 4.8 BB/9, 6.0 K/9
Drabek was wretched in 2011. There is no way to positively spin that season, and for all intents and purposes, it was a lost year of development. Back from the dead, Drabek is pitching much better this year. He remains a work in progress, with a poor walk rate and a first pitch strike rate of just 54.1 percent (league average is 59.2 percent this year), but there are reasons to be optimistic. He is inducing ground balls at a high rate, and displaying bat-missing stuff.
Drabek, according to his Brooks Baseball player card, is mixing three varieties of fastball (four-seam, sinker and cutter) with a curveball and change-up. All but the four-seam fastball are generating a whiff/swing rate well above his pitching peers marks.
He was especially tough to barrel up in his last start against the Rangers. In that game he threw 104 pitches and earned whiffs on a staggering 18 of them. Looking at his inning-by-inning breakdown, you’ll see his ability to throw strikes waned late, but he still finished with an impressive final line against a potent Rangers lineup.
His next start comes Saturday against a struggling Angels offense that ranks 21st in runs scored. There is blow-up potential if he struggles to throw strikes, but he has allowed no more than two runs in any of his five starts, making him a strong match-up play, and possibly much more. Drabek’s upside is worth gambling on, and he has earned a bit of leash should he struggle in a start or two.
Recommendation: Should be owned in all large mixed leagues and AL-only formats, and some shallower leagues.
Joel Peralta| Tampa Bay Rays| RP| ESPN: 0.9 percent ownership, Yahoo! : 5 percent ownership
YTD: 5.56 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 3.97 BB/9, 11.12 K/9, 33.3 percent GB
Oliver ROS: 3.10 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 2.3 BB/9, 8.8 K/9
The Rays continue to impress with their ability to grab relievers off the scrap heap and thrust them into late-inning roles. Last year Kyle Farnsworth turned in a banner season as the club’s closer, and this year, while he is on the disabled list, the team is getting more than it paid for from Fernando Rodney.
Rodney is perfect in nine save chances, and his formula for success is clear. He is throwing strikes (something he has struggled to do throughout his career), striking batters out at a high rate, and getting the opposition to pound the ball into the ground. Unless the wheels completely fall off the Rodney bus, he’ll be closing games until Farnsworth is activated from the DL, and perhaps beyond that.
What is lost in the outstanding pitching of Farnsworth last year, and Rodney this year, is just how good Peralta has been. After a sensational 2010 season with the Nationals in which he posted an ERA just above two, the club surprisingly non-tendered him. The Nationals’ loss was the Rays’ gain, as he went on to post a 2.93 ERA as one of manager Joe Maddon’s favorite eighth inning options in 2011. He got off to a rough start this year, allowing earned runs in three of his first four appearances, including a disastrous four earned run performance in which he didn’t record an out against the Red Sox on April 13.
Since that game, he has appeared in 10 more, and the results are eye-popping. In that span, he has pitched 9.2 scoreless innings, allowing one walk, three hits, and striking out 11. The result is a 0.00 ERA, 0.41 WHIP, 0.93 BB/9 and 10.24 K/9 in his last 10 appearances. He has vultured one save, and is the most likely candidate to record a save when Rodney is unavailable. He’s a great LIMA (low investment mound aces) option, and is quite valuable in leagues with low innings pitched limits. The volatility of relievers is evident, but with consecutive seasons of outstanding work, and a string of dominant relief appearances, Peralta is one of the safer options going.
Recommendation: Should be owned in all leagues where non-closing relievers have value as well as all leagues where vulture saves are at a premium.