Justin Smoak| Seattle Mariners| 1B| ESPN: 6.4 percent ownership, Yahoo! : 14 percent ownership
Oliver ROS: .232/.321/.383
Before Wednesday’s big power exhibition in which Smoak ripped a double and two home runs, and piled up six RBI in a laugher against his former club (the Rangers), he was quietly putting a miserable start to the season behind him. Jason Churchill of Prospect Insider and Mariners prospect coverage notoriety mentioned a change to Smoak’s approach on Twitter on May 25. He noted Smoak’s load wasn’t as deep and that he seemed to be responding to the adjustment well, and wouldn’t you know it, he hit a home run not long after the tweet.
Smoak followed that up with a home run in his next game as well. In his last 12 games, Smoak has totaled 52 plate appearances and done massive amounts of damage at the dish. In that time span he is hitting .313/.365/.646 with five home runs. He will need to turn some of his ground balls, 56.4 percent, into fly balls if he hopes to continue his power surge, but numbers be damned, he’s locked in.
This isn’t a Chris Shelton where-did-he-come-from situation here either. Baseball America ranked Smoak the 23rd prospect in baseball in 2009, and bumped him up 10 more spots the following year to 13th. He was also the main player headed to the Mariners for Cliff Lee in 2010, to give further perspective on his prospect standing and the expectations of him.
Suffice to say, his .228/.309/.387 slash line in 1,080 plate appearances hasn’t lived up to expectations. If he is figuring it out, and the adjustments are just what the doctor ordered, he will provide value to fantasy owners in leagues of all sizes and scoring formats going forward. Fantasy owners seem reluctant to buy into his big game, as his ownership is still below 20 percent in Yahoo! leagues, and even lower in ESPN leagues—below 10 percent. Find room for him on your roster if you’re playing in a large mixed league or AL-only league and he’s still sitting out on the wire.
Recommendation: Should be owned in all but shallow leagues.
Vladimir Guerrero| Toronto Blue Jays| DH| ESPN: 0.5 percent ownership, Yahoo! : 7 percent ownership
YTD: .400/.400/.867 (High-A)
Oliver ROS: .292/.328/.467
How much Guerrero has left in the tank remains to be seen, but he’s on the verge of answering that question. Guerrero has played in four games for High-A Dunedin, and he is making a mockery of low minor league pitching, as he should. According to Baseball-Reference, Guerrero has played one game in left field for Dunedin, and he hopes to be able to play the field on occasion for the Blue Jays, too.
He’s no longer in physical condition to play the field every day, and the bulk of his at-bats will almost certainly come as the team’s designated hitter, especially with Edwin Encarnacion now playing first base primarily with Adam Lind banished to the minors, but the added eligibility would be nice.
Guerrero was his usual hack-tastic self last year, swinging at pitches 14.2 percent more often than the league average, but just 1.3 percent more often than his career rate. In spite of his free-swinging ways, Guerrero has always maintained a low strikeout rate, and his 9.5 percent rate last year was no different. He still doesn’t walk, but his ability to barrel balls helped him hit .290 for the Orioles in 2011.
His power dropped substantially from his one-year stay with the Rangers in 2010, with his home run total nose diving from 29 home runs to 13 in just 53 fewer plate appearances. If he can find a happy medium between those totals, he could add pop to his already solid batting average fantasy contribution. Of course, this is assuming he isn’t completely washed up at 37, which isn’t a slam dunk.
His timetable for joining the Blue Jays isn’t entirely clear, but there are whispers of June 5 following a short stay in Double-A and/or Triple-A. He doesn’t offer enough upside to stash in standard leagues, but large mixed leaguers and AL-only gamers in need of some hitting help wouldn’t be crazy to add him if they have the bench flexibility.
Recommendation: Should be stashed in some extremely large mixed leagues and some AL-only formats.
Rajai Davis| Toronto Blue Jays| OF| ESPN: 2.7 percent ownership, Yahoo! : 5 percent ownership
Oliver ROS: .271/.314/.397
Coco Crisp‘s elite stolen base skills.”>Last week I gushed about the more widely owned Coco Crisp’s elite stolen base skills. This week I feature a less owned, but more prolific base stealer. Davis had the fourth most stolen bases between 2010-2011. He swiped 84 bases in 106 chances, good for a sparkling 79.2 percent success rate.
The best part is, he didn’t require much playing time to show off his wheels. He was the only player in the top five in stolen bases to receive fewer than 1,000 plate appearances, stepping to the plate 899 times. In the short term, he is in line to be the biggest beneficiary of Eric Thames’ demotion. While most folks relish a trip to Las Vegas, Thames is on a business trip, looking to right the ship at the plate.
Manager John Farrell expects Thames’ stay in the minors to be short, but Davis has shown in the past he doesn’t need much time to move the needle in the stolen base category, making him a must-add for owners in need of speed. He’s a one-trick pony, but this specialist is real good at what he does best.
Recommendation: Should be owned by fantasy gamers in need of steals, regardless of league size.
Francisco Liriano| Minnesota Twins| SP| ESPN: 6.7 percent ownership, Yahoo! : 17 percent ownership
YTD: 7.20 ERA, 1.88 WHIP, 6.30 BB/9, 8.78 K/9, 37.1 percent GB
Oliver ROS: 4.30 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 3.8 BB/9, 8.3 K/9
I half-heartily include Liriano in this week’s column, but his upside and most recent start are too tantalizing for me to completely ignore. On Wednesday, Liriano posted a vintage line, pitching six scoreless innings and striking out nine in a win while walking just two batters. According to his Brooks Baseball game card, he overwhelmed hitters with two varieties of fastballs that averaged around 92 mph, touching 93-94 mph, a change-up, and a slider. His slider was his nastiest pitch, leading the way in whiffs by volume, seven, and efficiency, 25.93 percent.
Playing against the A’s in Oakland has a funny way of bringing the best out of pitchers. The team ranks 29th in runs scored, and is a mostly punchless lineup. The A’s best hitter, Josh Reddick, is left-handed, and southpaw Liriano has always been better against left-handed batters than right-handers. All-in-all, it was a match made in heaven for Liriano’s return to the rotation. He was bad last year, and has been worse thus far this year. It would seem there are more reasons to pass on Liriano than roster him, but that’s not necessarily the case.
Liriano seems to be healthy, throwing his fastball with good velocity. When he’s sharp, he adds a filthy change-up and slider as put-away pitches, and even with the bad start to 2012, he’s striking out a bunch of batters and showing flashes of dominance. There is no harm in rostering him and keeping him benched for a start or two to prove his last start wasn’t a blip on the radar. It’s hard to argue that there is a higher upside pitcher more widely available having seen what Liriano can do at his best.
Recommendation: Should be owned in most large mixed leagues and AL-only formats, and placed on watch lists in shallower formats.
Casey Crosby| Detroit Tigers| SP| ESPN: 0 percent ownership, Yahoo! : Not available in the player pool
YTD: 4.26 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 4.6 BB/9, 10.1 K/9
Oliver ROS: 5.58 ERA, 1.74 WHIP, 6.0 BB/9, 6.8 K/9
Young pitchers are a risky and volatile bunch, and for the most part, it is wise to avoid them in yearly leagues. When you add a history of poor control to the mix, you increase the risk exponentially. Knowing that, Crosby is far from a safe bet to be helpful in yearly leagues. That said, he has an electric arm and may be in the process of putting his wild ways in the rear view mirror.
Crosby boasts a minor league career strikeout rate of 9.1 K/9 in 304 innings, but offsets the good with the bad, a walk rate of 4.7 BB/9. His walk rate this year is nearly the same, 4.6 BB/9. However, his control has been much, much sharper of late.
In his last two starts, Crosby has pitched 15 innings, allowing only one walk, and not sacrificing strikeouts in the process of throwing strikes, having punched out 16 batters. Doug Fister aggravating a previous injury has resulted in another disabled list trip, opening the door to Crosby’s first big league start today.
Crosby’s first start will be a daunting one, facing the Yankees, a top-10 run scoring offense, and one that is adept at working free passes. Sitting him for his first start is the smart move. Seeing how he fares will help provide some clarity as to whether he can help yearly leaguers. Those in dynasty leagues hosted on Yahoo! should make note that he’s not currently in the player pool, and will be added to the database via the waiver process soon. His ceiling isn’t high enough to warrant using a top waiver priority on in most dynasty leagues, but a middle-of-the-pack claim could be worth it when factoring in the expanded player pool this year.
Recommendation: Should be owned in some large mixed leagues and some AL-only leagues.
Roy Oswalt| Texas Rangers| SP| ESPN: 20.5 percent ownership, Yahoo! : 30 percent ownership
YTD: No stats
Oliver ROS: 3.78 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 2.2 BB/9, 6.7 K/9
Ken Rosenthal tweeted about Oswalt throwing bullpen sessions for a few clubs almost two weeks ago. His seemingly imminent return prompted me to speculate on his fantasy value, and look in depth at his performance and PITCHf/x data in recent seasons for Fantasy Baseball 365. Now that a known destination is in place, with news of Oswalt signing a minor league deal with the Rangers, let’s look at what that does to his value.
Oswalt will be trading the cozy confines of the National League for the Junior Circuit, which doesn’t often bode well for pitchers’ strikeout rate. He’ll also be pitching in the home run and hitter friendly Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Pitching in a hitters park is nothing new to Oswalt, so that shouldn’t be as large a concern as changing leagues.
If Oswalt were to lose anything off of his strikeout rate posted in 2011, it would be disastrous to his fantasy value. What should alleviate some of those concerns is that his strikeout rate may have been dragged down due to battling back issues. If he’s healthy, he could be in line for a positive correction to his strikeout rate instead of the dip that is normally associated with changing leagues. Also, while wins are tough to predict, being backed by the offensive machine that is the Rangers lineup is a nice aid to his cause.
Oswalt is a fine stash option for large mixed league and AL-only league owners. Early indications are that he’s going to head right to Triple-A Round Rock to prepare for eventually joining the Rangers rotation. He’s expected to make at least four starts there, making late June the earliest he’ll arrive in Arlington.
Recommendation: Should be stashed in all large mixed leagues with benches and all AL-only leagues.