Hell exists in many worldly incarnations. Dry counties, Celine Dion concerts and Costa Rican jungles filled with reality TV narcissists Spencer Pratt and Janice Dickinson instantly come to mind.
Different from the Noise's perspective, Clay Buchholz's(notes) version of eternal damnation is a rather tranquil location. A town so peaceful it was tabbed earlier this year as one of the "Best Places to Raise your Kids" by Business Week. But despite its delightful artist enclave, Industrial Revolution roots and general East Coast charm, Pawtucket, Rhode Island is a contemptuous city. Don't let the smell of fresh-baked pastries from the Easy Bake Oven headquarters fool you.
For the 24-year-old, residency in Pawtucket represents oppression. Trapped in Triple-A, Buchholz has openly expressed some frustration about his current position, but, for the most part, has remained patient, biding his time for the inevitable hour-long drive up Interstate 95.
Frankly, he has every right to be upset.
Two short years ago, the then top prospect was on the fast-track to fantasy superstardom. In just his second major league appearance, he no-hit the Baltimore Orioles on September 1, becoming only the third pitcher since 1900 to accomplish the milestone in his first or second start. Unfortunately, his success was short-lived. The following season, the burdensome pressures of the spotlight sapped his control and confidence, noted in his reprehensible output – 76 IP, 6.75 ERA, 1.76 WHIP, 1.30 HR/9, 8.53 K/9, 4.86 BB/9, .366 BABIP.
Not exactly the Hart Foundation, the rotation tag-team of Dice-K and Buchholz sadly never materialized. But with the Japanese hurler headed for the cannery, the youngster's chances of escaping Pawtucket purgatory have increased.
"It's not nearly as bad as it was last year [when I was] thinking, 'I can't do this, I can't do that.' Now I'm thinking, my confidence is up, [I'm] throwing pitches with conviction and throwing the pitches I want to throw regardless of the result. I feel more ready now than I was at any point last year. If anything, I think given the spring training I had [in '08 (1-2, 8.2 IP, 11 H, 9 ER)], starting in the minor leagues might have been the right thing for me at that point, but the success from  kind of [prevented] that."
Terry Francona has also noticed Buchholz's major strides:
"Kid's pitching his ass off. That's part of what we tell these guys in spring training. 'Do your job, if you can really help us, you'll help us.' It might not be on your timetable. That's just the way the game is. I think Buck is maturing rapidly, and handling a situation that maybe he wouldn't have been able to in the past."
The deconstruction of Dice-K is one domino Buchholz needed to fall. But due to rampant speculation that Brad Penny(notes) is practically off the trading block and John Smoltz's(notes) imminent return, the scorned youngster will painfully continue to wallow in Pawtucket until an injury arises or an unlikely deadline deal is made. In a way, his situation is strikingly similar to what Nelson Cruz(notes) experienced at Oklahoma City last year.
Though outshined buy a suddenly effective Scott Kazmir(notes) Monday, he clearly has nothing left to prove. It's difficult to ascertain exactly when the 20-percent-owned Buchholz will get another chance, but based on his tremendous strikeout and wins potential, he's a hurler worth wasting a bench spot on in deeper mixed leagues. The future ace definitely has the varied arsenal to be immediately successful – 91-97 mph fastball, 78-82 straight change, plus slider, knee-breaking curve. If his refined control carries over to the senior club, he could easily post numbers comparable to Wandy Rodriguez(notes) or Adam Wainwright(notes).
But buyers beware.
Over his past three starts, the Snellian side of Buchholz has resurfaced. He's surrendered 10 walks in 11.2 innings. If an overanxious Jimmy Fallon-type exists in your league: carpe diem. As we've learned with Matt Wieters(notes), the hype machine's seducing qualities can entice many to overpay. This week he was shipped straight up for J.J. Hardy(notes), Hank Blalock(notes) and George Sherrill(notes) in one-for-one Y! Plus league deals.
The upside is there, but until a promotion is levied, the talented righty will continue to believe 401, not 666, is the Devil's true area code.
Fearless Forecast (with Boston): 11 GS, 68.2 IP, 5 W, 4.34 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 62 K
Here are this week's flames, lames and stars of video games:
|Market Value: Strong Buy (all leagues)|
|Lowdown: Almost in the same baneful category as Russell Martin(notes), Soto has been a perpetual thorn in the side of his keepers. But it finally appears he's starting to turn lemons into lemonade. According to insiders, his bothersome shoulder, which he's nursed since spring training, is finally at full strength. Analyzing his underlying contributions since June 1, he's flashed a keener eye (12.7 BB%) and is driving the ball with more vigor, indicative in his 23.8 HR/FB percentage. The backstop's .255 BA this month is mediocre, but on film the quality of his at-bats have increased. The buy-low window is still cracked, but it won't be much longer. Anticipate a banner July. In one-for-one Yahoo! Plus league deals this week, Soto was dealt for Luke Scott(notes), Matt Capps(notes) and Tommy Hanson(notes).
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 285 at-bats, .287 BA, 14 HR, 55 RBI, 39 R, 1 SB
|Market Value: Moderate Buy (12-team mixed), Moderate Sell (AL-only, deep mixed)|
|Lowdown: Scorching hot over the past two weeks, the Bronze Aged corner infielder has officially entered Dushku territory. Emulating the Splendid Splinter, the Jays three-bagger has accumulated a .397 BA, including 10 multi-hit games, two homers, eight RBIs and 15 runs since June 1. Per Baseball Monster, that output ranks seventh among third basemen for that span. Overall, the former ROY's ascending contact rates (89.1 CT%) and decreasing strikeouts are major pluses. However, his unsustainable 30.4 line-drive rate and brittle past suggest now's the time to sell in deeper formats. Based on his persistent lower back issues, the turf at Rogers Centre will eventually take its toll. Rolen recently admitted his joints have taken a pounding playing on the artificial surface. He's an excellent short-term BA resource in shallow mixed leagues, but the injury imp is bound to strike.
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 216 at-bats, .280 BA, 5 HR, 26 RBI, 31 R, 2 SB
|Market Value: Strong Buy (12-team mixed, NL-only)|
|Lowdown: The former '05 first rounder is arguably one of fantasy's most underappreciated commodities. Establishing a fairly consistent rhythm at the dish this month, the bushy-haired outfielder has stroked a .338 BA with two homers, nine RBIs and 10 runs in 71 at-bats. Attempting to inflict "damage" in each at-bat, he's earned the respect of veteran-loving manager Tony LaRussa. The skipper's growing confidence in him has vaulted the rookie into the two spot, a position he'll consistently appear in against righties. The 22-year-old's aggressive mentality (5.4 BB%, 19.9 K%) will lead to more bust periods, but when penciled in ahead of Albert Pujols(notes), he should be inserted into your starting lineup. Tapping into his mammoth potential, the NL ROY frontrunner could go on the warpath over the second half.
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 252 at-bats, .276 BA, 10 HR, 31 RBI, 38 R, 5 SB
|Market Value: Moderate Buy (14-team mixed), Watch (NL-only)|
|Lowdown: Trade winds have begun to circulate around the KC's firebrand. Scouted this past week by the Atlanta Braves, Guillen could soon be headed to the Dirty South in exchange for perpetual failure Jeff Francouer. He would unquestionably provide an offensive spark, but many Bravos backers are not supportive of the move due to Guillen's burdensome contract and rather irritable personality. Still, a return to the NL would be an early Christmas in July present for "only" players. This year, he's performed respectably, drawing more free passes ('08 BB%: 3.7, '09: 9.4) and harder contact ('08 GB/FB: 1.35, '09: 1.16). On pace for 17 homers and 75 RBIs, his power numbers would improve slightly if shipped to Atlanta. The McLouth-Escobar-Chipper-McCann combination is far more nourishing than what currently sits atop KC's lineup.
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 295 at-bats, .274 BA, 12 HR, 51 RBI, 38 R, 1 SB
|Luis Valbuena(notes)||CLE||2B, SS||847||7|
|Market Value: Moderate MI Stopgap Buy (14-team mixed, AL-only)|
|Lowdown: Filling in for injured starter Asdrubal Cabrera(notes), Valbuena has been muy bueno. Ripping NL pitching in interleague play, the versatile infielder has hammered out five multi-hit games, clubbed three homers and driven in seven in his past seven games. His mediocre minor league track record suggests his recent surge is somewhat fluky, but Baseball America scouts have spoken highly of his line-drive stroke and ability to place consistent wood on the baseball. He can be pull happy and overly aggressive at times, evident in his 30.7 strikeout percentage, but his improved comfort at the dish has drawn praise from Eric Wedge. Obviously, because of his immaturity, consistency won't be the norm, but his 10-15 homer upside is intriguing for deep leaguers. However, once Cabrera is activated, possibly by Sunday, look for Valbuena to slip back into a super-utility role.
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 204 at-bats, .262 BA, 5 HR, 22 RBI, 27 R, 4 SB
|Brandon Morrow(notes)||SEA||SP, RP||873||50|
|Market Value: Moderate Buy (12-team mixed, AL-only)|
|Lowdown: Defecting from the bullpen two weeks ago, Morrow's transition back into the rotation has gone at a snail's pace. Slowly building up arm strength, he's pitched a whopping 9.1 innings since June 9. Though his five walks over that span is very unsettling, his 10.88 K/9 certainly isn't. The rocket launcher's mid-90s fastball is nostril-singeing, but he must add more polish to his secondary pitches, especially his change and slider, to be effective. Similar to how Arizona tutored Max Scherzer(notes) last season, the Mariners will continue to push him to become a more rounded pitcher. Erik Bedard(notes) is expected to be activated sometime next week, which means the rotation will need to be reshuffled. Based on Jason Vargas'(notes) and Garrett Olsen's forgettable recent efforts, its likely Morrow will stick in the rotation. Because of his 0.74 GB/FB and high walks propensity, owners who invest in the youngster should expect turbulent times, but his attractive power arm will occasionally yield sparkling totals.
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 95.2 IP, 6 W, 4.06 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 93 K
|Market Value: Moderate Buy (14-team mixed, NL-only)|
|Lowdown: With Jake Peavy(notes) disabled, Correia has become San Diego's surprise "ace." Prior to his sudden reversal of fortune, the former mediocre Giants prospect posted numbers equivalent to a foul-tasting fish taco. In nine starts over April/May, he emerged victorious just once and totaled a wretched 5.23 ERA and 1.49 WHIP. Since then, he's slugged back Patron shots from Peavy's cup, compiling a 2.90 ERA, 0.90 WHIP and 3-2 mark in five appearances. Bud Black said earlier this week, Correia's ability to "fill the strike zone with good pitches" is the reason for the surge. Because he's surrendered few walks (1.45 BB/9 in June) and coaxed ample weak contact (1.55 GB/FB), Black's observations are spot on. With his confidence soaring, he could continue to shock the world, especially pitching in Petco. But it's imperative his command remains consistent. Roll the dice, deep leaguers.
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 94 IP, 5 W, 4.21 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 71 K
|Market Value: Moderate Buy (14-team mixed), Strong Buy (AL-only)|
|Lowdown: The D-Train's mental derailment has given rise to Detroit's latest pitching project. Evoking the baseball spirit of Jose Lima(notes), the animated righty tossed five quality innings in his MLB debut against Milwaukee on June 20th. Earning the win, he allowed two runs and notched an eye-opening 7:2 K:BB split. Equipped with a blistering 93-98 mph fastball, effective change, curve and slider, Figaro has the varied arsenal and control (2.25 BB/9 at Double-A) to be successful at the big league level. However, based on his 1.06 HR/9 in the minors this year, he's vulnerable to catching gopheritis. Still, due to his quality strikeout totals down on the farm (7.81 K/9) and favorable offensive support, he's deep league acquirable.
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 92 IP, 7 W, 4.66 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 72 K
|Market Value: Moderate Sell (all leagues)|
|Lowdown: This year, baseball's biggest "Rod" might be more overrated than the average looks of a certain Hollywood starlet he's allegedly canoodling. If the K-Hud rumors are true, Matthew McConaughey will surely demand a shirtless flex-off. Drowning in a 5-for-45 slump, A-Rod's BA has plummeted over 40 points since June 8. Admittedly tired, he's clearly been pressing at the dish. More disturbing, his lackluster 1.20 GB/FB shows he's uncharacteristically frightened more ground vermin than bleacher seat patrons this season. Now expected to rest his weary hip once a week through the break, A-Rod hopes the occasional reprieve will help him regain his lost mojo. Still, the dynamite returns we all expected probably won't materialize. Considering the marquee names he's attracted in one-for-one deals this week – Grady Sizemore(notes), Chase Utley(notes) and Justin Verlander(notes) – he's a brand name who should be shopped.
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 275 at-bats, .274 BA, 17 HR, 54 RBI, 53 R, 6 SB
|Market Value: Moderate BA Buy (14-team mixed, AL-only)|
|Lowdown: The former Rambo-haired outfielder has run out of ammo. Given a mental vacation by Jim Leyland last week, the now clean-cut Ordonez was reinserted into the lineup Tuesday. Hitting seventh, he provided loyal owners with little substance (0-2, BB). The $64,000 question still remains: Is Magglio toast? Many faithful Tigers fans want him to permanently disappear.
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 295 at-bats, .301 BA, 8 HR, 48 RBI, 42 R, 1 SB
|Market Value: Hold (all leagues)|
|Lowdown: Arguably one of the greatest baseball card cover athletes of all-time, Larry Wayne has lost some of his gloss. Mired in a 9-for-49 crash – his worst since 2005 – the multi-time All-Star has sliced 30-plus points off his batting average. Additionally, he's failed to homer and has just one run batted in during the swoon. Lining off several catchable shots, Jones and Bobby Cox blame the downturn on unfortunate luck. Based on his healthy 19.1 line-drive rate this month, they're assertion is right. When not disabled, he should be a steady producer. But based on his bland 18-74-76 pace, the 37-year-old's skills might finally be deteriorating. His declining ISO suggests exactly that. He'll eventually recover, but don't bank on a final BA north of .315.
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 245 at-bats, .312 BA, 10 HR, 45 RBI, 43 R, 1 SB
|Market Value: Moderate Buy (all leagues)|
|Lowdown: A blood-sucking batting average leech, Uggla is a category killer. Though sporting his best monthly average of the season (.257), he is still one donut-ridden week away from holding hands again with Mr. Mendoza. But despite his hideous outward appearance, there are noticeable positives brewing underneath his superficial numbers. This month he's dramatically cut down on the Ks (18.9 K%), spiking his walks percentage (14.9) in the process. He's also making harder contact, indicative in his 20.0 line-drive rate. Finally, and most importantly, he's consistently laid bat on ball on outside pitches, a trait he's rarely exuded historically. Of course he'll continue to be fly-ball centric, but his current .223 BA may actually climb in the coming weeks, assuming his June trends persist. Shipped this week for Aaron Harang(notes), Freddy Sanchez(notes) and Clayton Kershaw(notes) in one-for-one Plus league transactions, Uggla is a two-bagger to deal for while his value is slightly discounted.
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 310 at-bats, .261 BA, 17 HR, 51 RBI, 57 R, 3 SB
|Market Value: Moderate HR/RBI/R Buy (all leagues)|
|Lowdown: While serving a one-game suspension Saturday, the slumping Cameron watched his team clash with the Tigers from a local establishment, not the dugout. Glancing at his current 9-for-62 nose-dive, we can only hope he consumed enough Jager shots to kill off the BA bacteria pumping through his veins. After a torrid April and sound May, Cameron, a career .250 hitter, was bound to cool off. His unappealing strikeout total (28.6 K%) and fly-ball skewed GB/FB rate (0.88) were clear harbingers. Now that he's regressed to the mean, it could be an excellent opportunity to buy. At 36, he's not swiping bases with the zeal he once showcased, but his unheralded contributions in homers, runs and RBIs shouldn't be overlooked. On pace for a 27-76-71-6 campaign, he's just as valuable as Ryan Ludwick(notes). Acquired this week for Huston Street(notes), Ervin Santana(notes) and Magglio Ordonez in one-for-one Plus league moves, Cameron is a serviceable fourth outfielder for owners who can stomach his porous average.
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 280 at-bats, .251 BA, 14 HR, 44 RBI, 45 R, 8 SB
|Market Value: Strong Buy (all leagues)|
|Lowdown: Mangers who are true lackeys for Lackey must be disappointed. Through his first eight starts, he's totaled an abhorrent 5.83 ERA and 1.58 WHIP. More concerning, his K/9 has decreased from 7.16 last season to 6.41 this year. On a positive note, he's scaled back on the amount of curveballs thrown, instead featuring his slider more prominently. This altered approach has induced more ground balls, indicative in his 1.50 GB/FB ratio. The righty hasn't befriended Lady Luck this year (.360 BABIP), but looking at his 4.42 FIP, better days are ahead. He's commanded a hefty price tag in recent one-for-one deals – Adam Jones(notes), Chris Carpenter(notes) and Nick Markakis(notes) – but for owners searching for a dependable starter, he's definitely a worthwhile purchase.
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 102 IP, 7 W, 3.56 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 84 K
|David Price(notes)||TB||SP, RP||739||93|
|Market Value: Strong Sell (all leagues)|
|Lowdown: For last year's ALCS hero, the monster expectations placed on him have been hard to shoulder. Since being recalled, his command has come unglued. In his first 30.1 innings, he's notched a repulsive 5.98 BB/9. Adding insult to injury, he's also conceded an unhealthy amount of long balls (1.79 HR/9). As discussed in a MVN post this week, most of his problems can be pinned on poor slider control and location. Not biting like it should, the pitch has been too exposed over the plate, allowing opponents to make crushing contact (24.7 LD%). The strikeouts are there (9.79 K/9), but until his secondary stuff is harnessed, more demoralizing ERA efforts should be expected. Eventually, as noted by Joe Maddon this week, the youngster will make the necessary adjustments, but it's safe to assume Price's road to greatness is still long. Because typical owners slap the wallet for overly-hyped prospects, he's still attracting noteworthy names via trade. In one-for-one Plus league deals this week, he netted Andrew McCutchen(notes), Johnny Damon(notes) and Michael Young(notes).
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 94 IP, 5 W, 4.46 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 95 K
|Chris Volstad(notes)||FLA||SP, RP||893||67|
|Market Value: Moderate Buy (14-team mixed, NL-only)|
|Lowdown: Lately, Florida's Tower of Terror has frightened his owners, not the opposition. Victimized by the Law of Averages, Volstad's fortunate early season BABIP finally caught up to him. But now that he's reached the statistical plateau, he could be a bargain of sorts. After posting back-to-back horrendous outings earlier this month against the Cardinals and Red Sox (14 ER in 9.1 IP), he worked diligently in side sessions in an attempt to rediscover command of his sinker. Coaxing 10 ground-ball outs in six quality innings against the Yankees June 21 (W, 3 ER, 5 HA, 4:1 K:BB), it appears his hard work paid off. Homers have been a bugaboo for Volstad all year (1.41 HR/9), but if he can continue to attract soft contact (1.51 GB/FB) and limit the free passes (2.62 BB/9), an ERA just above 4.00 is achievable.
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 85 IP, 6 W, 4.15 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 63 K
To remind colleagues Jeff Passan and Mark Pesavento of the $50 donation they'll be contributing to the Noise's import beer fund, Nelson Cruz's long-ball tally will be noted each week. Remember, the original bet was over/under 25 homers.
Caribbean Cruz connections since last week: 0
Season total: 18
Moonshots to the money: 8