FOXSports.com writer Joel Beall examines the fantasy baseball world as the second half of the Major League Baseball season begins.
By Joel Beall FoxSports
The start of the second half has always been a bummer to me. Growing up, my beloved Redlegs were typically an extraneous entity in the NL Central race by mid-June, leaving the Midsummer Classic as the last significant affair on the baseball calendar. The closing of the All-Star Game seemed to signal the end of summer was approaching, as nearly all of the season’s celebrations (NBA Finals, U.S. Open, Independence Day, Home Run Derby) were in the rearview mirror. Sure, a few trips to the pool remained on the slate, but with a journey for school supplies in short order, it seemed like I’d be only days away from sitting in homeroom, gazing out the window wondering where the hell my vacation went.
In theory, this adolescent outlook should have subsided. I’m 25, making “summer sabbatical” an imaginary concept along with such outlandish ideas as “Santa Claus” or “unbiased All-Star manager Tony La Russa.” The Reds have been relevant on the Senior Circuit recently, meaning I don’t have to spend the dog days of August watching the Little League World Series. Yet on Tuesday night, as we waved goodbye to Kansas City, a familiar disheartenment washed over me, as I knew the sun was setting on more than just the Paris of the Plains. So instead of warning you of a reverse in fortune for Chris Sale, Austin Jackson and Josh Hamilton, or giving the heads-up on breakouts like Ike Davis, Josh Johnson and Adam Wainwright, let me enjoy these fleeting days of summer. Lord knows they go quick.
C: Salvador Perez, Royals Activated off the DL on June 22 from a meniscus injury, Perez has proven his late-season tear in 2011 (.331 average, 21 ribbies in 39 games) was no fluke. In 13 games in return, the Kansas City catcher is raking, going 18-for-47 with four bombs, eight RBI and nine runs. The catalyst for Perez’s success lies in his tendency to produce line drives, which also explains his relatively high .357 career BABIP. He won’t be one to accumulate walks, and his run production won’t be great in his current placement in the bottom of the Royals lineup. Yet as he’s illustrated in the minors (.287 batting mark in 352 games), the man knows how to handle the stick.
1B: Tyler Colvin, Rockies The former first-round selection is showcasing the talents that earned the 26-year-old inclusion on Baseball America’s exalted Top 100 Prospects list in 2008. In the last 11 games before the break, Colvin launched six shots into the bleachers and kept a .341 batting average. Before you cold-hearted cynics respond with, “So what? It’s Colorado” contempt, it’s worth noting that five of these blasts came away from the cozy confines of Coors Field. Though technically labeled as a reserve for the Rockies, Colvin will see enough ABs rotating between the outfield and first base to remain fantasy relevant in the second half. His .346 BABIP indicates his .305 batting figure is a mirage, but evidenced by the 20 homers he launched in 2010 for the Cubbies, expect the long-ball bombardment to continue for Colvin.
2B: Neil Walker, Pirates Hard to believe Walker, who enters the second half as the sixth-ranked second baseman, is owned in only 62.5 percent of FOXSports.com leagues. Granted, Walker fell somewhat off the radar after a pedestrian performance in the first two months of the season, yet his stat line has been enhanced by superior play since June (.338 average, .412 OBP, four homers, 24 RBI, 29 runs and five steals in past 34 games). Hitting in front of All-Star Andrew McCutchen has its benefits, making the infielder a viable source of runs, and though PNC Park’s voluminous dimensions have done a number on his home output (.265/.335/.408 in the Steel City), Walker’s work on the road (.315/.376/.426) more than offset this shortcoming.
3B: Logan Forsythe, Padres For the record, I think “Logan Forsythe” is more apropos for a wilderness surveyor rather than a ballplayer. Then again, if Forsythe continues his offensive onslaught, his name will be known across the baseball landscape. A foot injury triggered a belated start to the season, but Forsythe owns a .302/.362/.453 slash in just under 100 plate appearances. Alexi Amarista will snipe the occasional start from Forsythe, yet the likely trade of Chase Headley should open up opportunities for Forsythe the rest of the way home.
SS: Alexei Ramirez, White Sox With more than a third of the season in the books (62 games), the South Siders shortstop brandished an embarrassing .215 average, .238 OBP and one measly homer. However, in 21 contests since that juncture, Ramirez is hitting .423 with 17 RBI and 13 runs. There remains cause for concern, such as Ramirez’s career-low outputs in walks (just a 2.7 base-on-balls percentage) and homers (two dingers in 2012 after averaging 17 jacks in his first four seasons), though with a shortage of practical shortstops still available, Ramirez, possessed in 60.5 percent of FOXSports.com leagues, could be in for second-half prosperity.
OF: Delmon Young, Tigers Most Young proprietors discarded the Motown outfielder after an ugly off-the-field incident in April led to a seven-game suspension, and a middling May performance (.247 average in first 25 games back) did little to entice the fantasy community. It may be time to give Young a second chance, as he’s recently resembled the player that averaged a .292 batting mark from 2006 to 2010, hitting .300 over his past 35 games. While his on-base percentage is nonexistent, Young has rediscovered his power stroke, logging four round-trippers in his last four games, and should see amplified ribbie possibilities batting fifth behind Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder.
P: Freddy Garcia, Yankees Hey, someone is going to be the recipient of the Bronx Bombers’ run support, so why not Garcia, who submitted two strong outings against division foes Tampa (5 1/3 innings, two runs) and Boston (6 2/3 innings, one run) before the break. Though Garcia’s scheduled to face the scorching Angels on Saturday, a decent showing will keep the Chief in the rotation over New York neophyte David Phelps, meaning a matchup with the lowly A’s late next week.
C: Jesus Montero, Mariners Rarely do we see a trade backfire for both teams, but the early returns from the Montero-Michael Pineda offseason swap indicate as such. While Seattle would seemingly win Round 1 by default thanks to Pineda’s inactivity due to a labrum tear, Montero’s .245/.281/.376 line with a meager 28 RBI through 73 games doesn’t exactly herald victory for the M’s. The highly-touted prospect has especially struggled in recent days, recording only four hits in his last 12 contests. Safeco Field hasn’t done the catcher any favors, as Montero is batting .209 in the Emerald City compared to a .279 mark on the road.
1B: Ryan Howard, Phillies Howard returned last week, smacking two hits in his season debut before an o-fer in his following game. Alas, despite Howard’s reassurance that he hasn’t experienced any pain in his Achilles and the temptation of a weekend series at Coors Field, keep the 2006 MVP on your bench for another week or so until he gets his legs back under him, as Howard didn’t appear quite back to speed in his emergence last Friday.
2B: Jose Altuve, Astros Altuve’s early-season sabermetrics suggested regression was on the horizon, and it appears that vista has been reached, as the Houston second baseman ended the first half with a .216 average in his final 13 games. He maintains decent value in NL-only leagues thanks to his speed (15 swipes), but there’s a lot to dislike with Altuve, including a lackluster walk rate, high strikeout percentage and still-robust BABIP. Speaking of underperforming Astros…
3B: Jed Lowrie, Astros Oh Jed, the future seemed so bright a month ago: 12 homers, 28 RBI, 27 runs and an impressive .297/.373/.547 row after 51 games, earning top-5 fantasy status at the position. But my, how turbulent the tides can turn in just four weeks. In his last 27 games, Lowrie has been stuck on the interstate, hitting .159 with just two four-baggers and eight RBI. In his defense, a 20.1 line-drive percentage against a .269 BABIP implies Lowrie hasn’t been as bad as advertised, and his 11.8 BB percentage is respectable. Nevertheless, as Lowrie has dropped in the Houston batting order, so has his fantasy worth.
SS: J.J. Hardy, Orioles Not the first time Hardy’s been mentioned in the Sit ‘Em space. Of course, maybe if he stopped swinging like Ray Liotta in Field of Dreams he wouldn’t take residence in this area. Since June 15, Hardy is writhing to the tune of a .106 average, with just one homer and a .136 OBP in this span. To his credit, Hardy was already able to shrug off one slump this season, launching seven long balls and hitting .312 in a 35-game spurt this spring after starting the year’s first 26 games under the Mendoza Line. However, hard to endorse a supposed slugger that’s sporting a sub-.270 OBP and, well, not slugging.
OF: Drew Stubbs, Reds This marks the second straight campaign of setback for Stubbs, and, turning 28 in September, time is running out to right this wayward ship. The Cincy center fielder’s most recent swoon (.145 average in the past 24 games) has dropped his 2012 line to an underwhelming .215/.286/.367, managing only 21 RBI and 41 runs despite competing in one of the league’s most offensive-minded parks. Stubbs’ speed is the only stimulus for a roster spot at this point, but even that asset will lose its’ shine if Chris Heisey begins to take more reps in center.
P: Heath Bell, Marlins We knew Bell was in for a slight deterioration in 2012, as his production the past three seasons was aided by Petco Park’s pitcher-friendly proportions, though never thought the carnage would carry to this extent. Bell blew his sixth save of the season last Sunday and has surrendered runs in four of his last nine appearances, rocking a bloated 10.80 ERA in that span. Now “flaunting” a 6.75 ERA and 1.82 WHIP in just under 35 innings this year, don’t envision Bell’s opulent contract saving him from demotion to a smaller bullpen role. In fact, this provides a perfect segue into America’s favorite running gimmick…
PEN-demic Update Who would have guessed this closer contagion would still be wreaking havoc after the All-Star break? Bell’s implosion leaves Miami with the dreaded “closer-by-committee” situation, as the Marlins will deploy Steve Cishek and Randy Choate to try and slam the door shut in the ninth. Likewise, keep an eye on Juan Carlos Oviedo, a.k.a. Leo Nunez, when he returns to the team later this month. In other bullpen drama, San Francisco has assured that Sergio Romo will stay in the set-up role, but it’s going to be a tough sell if Santiago Casilla (conceded runs in four of his past six appearances) continues to serve as a batting practice machine for opponents. Minnesota’s Glen Perkins has struggled in the past week; however, pump the breaks in trying to attain Jared Burton, as Matt Capps should be activated from the DL shortly. And though his scintillating first-half performance would seemingly equate to job security, it will be interesting to see if Washington keeps Tyler Clippard in the fireman role once Drew Storen is ready to roll.
Waivers Watch: Adam Lind, Blue Jays At first glance, Lind’s .206 average, seven homers and 20 RBI hardly convey a candidate worthy of a roster spot. Yet since being recalled from Triple-A Las Vegas on June 25, Lind has muscled four jacks, nine RBI and a decent .262 average in his return. For any owners who harbor imaginations of a Lind rejuvenation to 2009 (35 bombs, 114 RBI, .305/.370/.562 slash) best keep those dreams right there, but the Blue Jay basher did manage 49 homers the past two seasons in Toronto. For those needing help in the HR column, Lind, owned in 36.6 percent of FOXSports.com leagues, is your man.
Trade Talk A handful of recognizable relief names (Jonathon Broxton, Huston Street, Matt Capps, Brett Myers) may be on the move as baseball’s trade deadline nears. If you own one of these commodities, it would befit you to be proactive in dangling these arms out to your league, as a change in scenery could correlate to a change in relief roles. As saves are at a premium this year, you should find suitors for Ox or Street despite a possible duty switch to a specialist or set-up role in the event of a trade. By selling now, you’re insuring return on your investment. Better yet, odds are you’ll be able to snatch up and store guys like Aaron Crow or Luke Gregerson, hurlers that are projected to be firemen near the end of the season, to augment any loss of saves.
Rookie Review: Yasmani Grandal, Padres The No. 12 overall draft pick in 2010, Grandal became the first player in Major League Baseball history to have his first two hits come as homers from both sides of the plate when he accomplished the feat on June 30. The San Diego catcher has added two more long balls this month, giving Grandal four taters and six RBI through his first 35 major-league at bats. While all four came away from hitter-hostile Petco Park, there’s no doubting the plate proficiency of the Padres backstop, who entered the season as the No. 53 prospect according to Baseball America. Boasting a .314 average and .415 OBP in three seasons of minor-league ball, Grandal’s a smart investment in keeper leagues and NL-only formats.
The Real Debate Kansas City received rave reviews as host of this year’s All-Star festivities; unfortunately, some in the media have taken umbrage with the city’s treatment of Robinson Cano, who was routinely booed for excluding hometown hero Billy Butler from the Home Run Derby. However, the discussion shouldn’t center on a possible rule change ensuring each presenting town is represented in the fireworks contest; rather, the Real Debate should be this: why are we making such a big deal out of a player getting heckled? Newsflash, uptight writers and talking heads who thought the taunting made a mockery of the celebration: Cano has been booed before. The cat plays for a squad unsympathetically known as the “Damn Yankees,” after all. And let’s not act like this is a prestigious event on par with The Masters or Wimbledon. It’s supposed to be a guilty pleasure, a fan-fueled revelry. If anything, the fervor displayed by the Kauffman faithful was refreshing, and made for the evening’s most entertaining episode. Also, it’s not like Cano is innocent in this incident. Don’t mislead an entire fanbase by promising to select a Royal then fail to follow through, cowboy.
This Week in Sam LeCure Bit of a roller coaster ride for Yosemite Sam the past few weeks. LeCure was lit up by the Giants on June 28, relinquishing three hits, a walk and two runs in an inning of work, followed by granting the walk-off hit to the Padres on July 5. However, the facial-hair aficionado was instrumental in Cincinnati’s 4-2 win last Sunday over San Diego, shutting the door with a strikeout in a bases-loaded situation in the sixth inning. In a related note, was thoroughly disappointed to see that LeCure is not in The Expendables 2 trailer. It’s already a leap of faith to believe Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jean-Claude Van Damme and the like can still walk, let alone engage in blood-busting battles with the world’s most highly-trained assassins. But to somehow suppose a group of rag-tag warriors would not include LeCure? Sorry, too big of a plot hole to buy into the premise.
Big League Chew Player of the Week: Melky Cabrera, Giants Nice to see the Melk Man getting some love after being released and left for dead in the fall of 2010. Not turning 28 until August, the best could still be yet to come from the deft-hitting switch-hitter.
Spit Your Tobacco at: Justin Verlander, Tigers No, not for his tumultuous showing in the All-Star Game, but for his excuses afterward that the nosedive was a byproduct of trying to throw too hard for the fans. Man up and admit you got rocked by some of the game’s best, son. Although, really, how much can you hammer a guy who’s dating Kate Upton, right?