Andrew Cashner | Chicago (NL) | RP (SP eligibility in Yahoo leagues) 1 percent ownership in Yahoo! leagues
YTD: 0.00 ERA, 0.40 WHIP, 7.20 K/9, 0.00 BB/9, 46.2 GB percentage
True Talent: 3.97 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 6.50 K/9, 1.40 K/BB
Andrew Cashner, ranked as one of the Cubs’ top five prospects by Baseball America, was promoted recently and has only thrown five innings to date. While almost all of Cashner’s work in the minors was as a starter, and his future may still lie in the rotation, it appears he will be spending the remainder of the year working out of the bullpen. He features a typical high-leverage-reliever repertoire of a power fastball and slider, but also has a developing change.
In 57 innings of work in Double-A and Triple-A this season, Cashner was able to strike out 59 batters and post a groundball rate of better than 50 percent. I would expect Cashner’s stuff to play up a bit in the bullpen, so he may not see a decline in his strikeout rate, even with the promotion to the majors. Owners looking for some ratio help and strikeouts in deeper leagues may want to give Cashner a look. In leagues with innings caps, and pitching spots segregated into starters and relievers, Cashner has the added benefit of being a starting-eligible pitcher in Yahoo leagues.
Recommendation: Should be owned in some 14-team or larger mixed leagues, should be owned in most NL-only leagues.
Ian Kennedy | Arizona | SP 35 percent owned in Yahoo leagues
YTD: 3.17 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 7.76 K/9, 2.37 K/BB, 37.3 GB percentage
True Talent: 3.88 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 7.4 K/9, 2.13 K/BB
A year removed from surgery to correct an aneurysm in his pitching arm and a trade from the Yankees to the Diamondbacks, Ian Kennedy left many wondering what to expect from him this year. The early results are good, even if they are a bit inflated by his .244 BABIP and favorable 83.1 percent strand rate, and they are reason to buy into Kennedy going forward if he’s available in medium to large leagues. Though I’m usually not a fan of pitchers who give up a high number of fly balls, Kennedy’s current strikeout rate of 7.76 K/9 makes it tolerable, especially since the K/9 looks sustainable. Kennedy’s current swing percentage on balls outside the strike zone (O-swing) is 26.3 percent, and the contact rate on those pitches outside the zone (O-contact) is only 62.8 percent. If Kennedy is able to continue to induce swings on balls outside the strike zone, and hitters continue to not make much contact with those pitches, his K/9 will remain useful.
My biggest concern with Kennedy is that he pitched so few innings last year (23.2 innings) and will likely have his innings monitored by the Diamondbacks as the season progresses, and he could conceivably be shut down at some point in the second half. Going forward, a high-3′s to low-4′s ERA with a useful WHIP in the 1.25-1.30 range seems likely with a K/9 hovering around his current rate of 7.76, making him useful in a large number of leagues.
Recommendation: Should be owned in most 12-team mixed leagues, should be owned in all 14-team or larger mixed leagues, should be owned in all NL-only leagues.
Jeff Francis | Colorado | SP 13 percent owned in Yahoo leagues
YTD: 3.45 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 4.31 K/9, 2.50 K/BB, 51.5 groundball percentage
True Talent: 4.71 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 6.30 K/9, 2.27 K/BB
Jeff Francis missed the entire 2009 season after having surgery to repair a torn labrum in his pitching shoulder. Coming into the season I didn’t have any expectations of Francis being useful given the tricky nature of recovery from shoulder surgery. That said, it appears Francis is fully recovered from the surgery, as his fastball velocity is back to pre-surgery level and his control is at an all-time best (small-sample alert obviously in order).
A current K/9 of only 4.31 means Francis has been lucky to some degree to post his current 3.45 ERA, but his groundball rate of better than 50 percent, an elite 1.72 BB/9, and an xFIP of 4.16 suggest he hasn’t been, to steal a poker term, a luck box entirely. Francis’ current 28.1 percent O-swing with a O-contact rate of 68.0 percent leads me to believe that his K/9 will go up as the season progresses. While the contact with pitches outside the strike zone has likely helped Francis maintain a .290 BABIP, a few more misses on those same pitches should help increase his K/9 to a level closer to his career 6.12 K/9 rate. Owners without an innings cap probably aren’t terribly concerned with his K/9, but those in leagues with an innings cap may want to implement pairing a high-volume strikeout reliever with Francis to help offset his less-than-ideal strikeout rate. Like Kennedy, Francis will likely have his innings monitored closely by the Rockies as the season progresses.
Recommendation: Should be owned in some 14-team mixed leagues and watched closely in the rest, should be owned in medium to large NL-only leagues.
Andres Torres | San Francisco | OF 11 percent owned in Yahoo leagues
True Talent: .249/.314/.400
Let me start by suggesting reading an article written about Andres Torres over at Fangraphs by Pat Andriola. To quickly summarize, the article helps explain why Torres is a late bloomer, and helps support that his finish last year and hot start this year may not be a flash in the pan.
My largest concern, until recently, with Torres was the amount of playing time he’d receive as the season marches along. It appears increasing likely that Mark DeRosa will undergo surgery on his wrist, eliminating one person from a suddenly crowded Giants outfield. Also working in Torres’ favor for extended playing is his excellent defense and his current perch atop the Giants’ order as their leadoff hitter. On the season Torres is sporting a 11.9 percent walk rate and has a .295 average, thanks in large part to a .357 BABIP. While the BABIP likely won’t stay at .357, there is hope it won’t completely nosedive, as his BABIP last year was .347, his speed helps support a high BABIP and his current line-drive rate is 27.6 percent. If Torres is able to continue to get on base, and stay atop the Giants lineup, 25 stolen bases appear to be a slam dunk with hope for more. While Torres doesn’t offer much help in power, his contributions in stolen bases, runs scored and batting average should make him of use to many in five-outfielder leagues.
Recommendation: Should be owned in some 12-team mixed leagues starting five outfielders, all 14-team mixed leagues or larger, and all NL-only leagues.
Jose Tabata | Pittsburgh | OF 5 percent owned in Yahoo leagues
YTD: .500/.600/.500 (5 plate appearances)
True Talent: No projection
While it would have been more helpful to suggest adding Jose Tabata last week before his promotion (something I gave serious consideration to at this time last week, but unfortunately did not follow through with), I’ll jump in line behind others suggesting adding Tabata if you are an owner in need of speed. At the time of his promotion Tabata was slashing .308/.373/.424 in 224 at-bats in Triple-A and posting a walk-to-strikeout ratio of 23:35. Like Torres, and probably more so, Tabata will be of little assistance in the power department, but also like Torres, he should be of help to owners in need of speed. Tabata was slotted atop the Pirates’ order in his debut, a spot the Pirates likely want him to maintain, allowing them to slot McCutchen third, meaning that if he’s able to get on base, steals should be plentiful (25 stolen bases against six caught stealing in Triple-A).
The learning curve and adjustment period for prospects varies widely, but Tabata’s biggest asset, his speed, should translate well, thus hopefully limiting his bumps in the road. Tabata should be allowed to work through any struggles he has, as the Pirates are once again not going to compete for a playoff spot and have little competition for playing time in the outfield, especially if Garrett Jones is moved to first base. While Tabata’s stolen bases will be tied largely to how often he reaches base, and he’s likely to struggle at times, I’m going to say that I believe he’ll steal 20 or more bags this season in the majors, making him a valuable asset in a variety of leagues.
Recommendation: Should be owned in some 12-team mixed leagues starting five outfielders, most 14-team mixed leagues starting five outfielders, and all NL-only leagues.
Michael Stanton | Florida | OF 49 percent owned in Yahoo leagues
YTD: .600/.600/.600 (5 plate appearances)
True Talent: No projection
Michael Stanton, the third-ranked prospect according to Baseball America coming into the season, is likely to see his ownership skyrocket as owners claim him off waivers in leagues that require prospects to play in a major league baseball game before being available in the player pool. I am far from the first person to suggest adding or acquiring Stanton if you are an owner looking for a boost in home runs. However, I feature Stanton this week to caution owners that he is likely going to have his share of struggles early on because of his high strikeout rate in Double-A (53 strikeouts in 190 at bats). If Stanton gets off to a slow start, don’t be one of the owners who panic and cast him off their roster, not immediately at least.
Stanton’s power is unquestioned, as he blasted 21 home runs in just 190 Double-A at bats, as well as 12 doubles and two triples, allowing him to slash .311/.441/.726. His average will almost certainly drop significantly, perhaps into the .250-.260 range as he faces more advanced pitchers who look to exploit his high strikeout rate. He’s also currently going to hit near the bottom of the Marlins’ order, keeping the pressure to a minimum, but also reducing his at-bats and, with it, his counting stats. Thus far the only positive thing I’ve said is that his power is legitimate, but it’s not the only thing that impresses me about Stanton, as I’m also impressed by his 44 walks in Double-A this season. Those in leagues using OBP in place of, or in addition to, batting average should probably consider him more valuable than those in leagues that don’t. What’s also encouraging about his walk rate is that it likely means he’s seeing a lot of pitches, which should also help him wait for his pitch to drive, so to speak (though that is a bit of an assumption on my part, and may be incorrect). Players who make their major league baseball debut before they are legally of age to consume adult beverages are few and far between, and typically special talents, and Stanton doesn’t appear to be an exception to that rule of thumb. Stanton should be a player of interest in all but the absolute shallowest of leagues.
Recommendation: Should be owned in all 12-team or larger mixed leagues starting five outfielders, should be owned in all NL-only leagues.