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MLB Skinny: Late arrivals

Monday started off with a bang in Wrigley as out-of-the-gate slugs Carlos Gonzalez(notes), Aramis Ramirez(notes) and Carlos Pena each hit two home runs. I had CarGo No. 1 on my preseason cheat sheet, and after a .228 April (1 HR, 3 steals), he's starting to look the part of an elite fantasy talent once again, hitting more than .300 with 11 home runs and nine stolen bases in his past 52 games.

As for the Cubs contingent, Ramirez was someone I was preaching patience for back at the beginning of May. Power outages in April and May are nothing new here. And second-half power surges are the norm. Ramirez now has six home runs in June and I fully expect him to perform to the level of a top 5 third baseman the rest of the way.

As for Pena, he's a much tougher case. He's now hit 16 home runs in a 51-game span, and he definitely needs to be picked up in every league (63-percent owned), great or small. But monster streaks by Pena are almost always bookended by monster slumps. If there's a reason to hope that things will be different this time around it's that Pena is about to spend a summer playing his home games in the summer launching pad of Wrigley Field, which ranked as the fifth-best park in the league for left-handed power in '10 – Tropicana Field was below average in that department. Still, I'm not ready to put Pena among the top 12 at the 1B position, and if I could get a Gaby Sanchez(notes) or Michael Morse(notes) for him, I'd make that deal.

Alright, let's go around the horn and take a look at what else has caught my eye this past week:

Note: The Skinny will take next Monday off as it is the Fourth of July, and I'll be on vacation. Enjoy the fireworks, and your freedom.

CORNER INFIELDERS
Baby monitor –> Lonnie Chisenhall(notes): Monday also marked the arrival of 22-year-old Cleveland top prospect Chisenhall, who didn't exactly set Triple-A on fire after being sent down following a torrid spring that almost earned him a ticket to Cleveland from the start. But since returning to Columbus following a concussion in mid-June, Chisenhall has collected nine hits and 14 RBIs in 21 at bats, and the Tribe felt the time was finally right for a promotion. Chisenhall is highly regarded for his plate recognition skills and his ability to make consistent hard contact to all fields. He's unlikely to have an immediate power impact, but he has future 25-HR upside. But, for the present, he's intriguing enough to make a play on in 14-team leagues or deeper, given his plate potential and the fact that the Indians will play him every day.
Top dollar –> Mark Teixeira(notes): Despite owning the third-lowest BABIP mark among regulars (.218), Teixeira ranks among the current top 25 players in the Yahoo! game. No other player with a sub-.250 BABIP is even ranked in the top 50. Of course, Teixeira is benefitting from a 20.9% HR/FB rate and a career-high 47.0% fly-ball rate, contributing to a league-high 23 home runs. Teixeira's slow starts and strong finishes are well chronicled, and his career BABIP rates for the final three months of the season sit firmly above .300. Teixeira always seems to settle into second-round territory on preseason draft lists, but from where we currently sit until the end of the season, you can argue Teixeira's expected offensive impact against anyone in the game.
Hitting the refresh button –> Todd Helton(notes): Nobody has a higher Line Drive rate in June than Helton. He was 14th in the league in that category in May. And while not among the upper-tier leaders, he also sported a solid 20.6 LD% in the first month of the season. Those reports that Helton was feeling reinvigorated after dedicating an offseason to strengthening his core in an effort to alleviate his back issues have been borne out. Among those with at least 100 at bats, Helton ranks fifth in the league in average of well-hit balls per AB, according to Inside Edge, behind Carlos Beltran(notes), Miguel Cabrera(notes), Joey Votto(notes) and Ryan Braun(notes) – pretty good company, to be sure. Helton's also back in the No. 3 spot in the Rockies lineup, where he owns a .951 OPS in 21 games. There's reason to believe Helton can finish out the year offering Billy Butler(notes) numbers at about half the current ownership rate in Y! leagues.
Make the move –> David Freese(notes): As Freese is set to return following a DL stint for a broken left hand, it is worth reiterating the message of colleague Andy Behrens in Friday's Roto Arcade post. And that is that Freese, owned in about a third of Y! leagues, has a definite place among standard mixed leagues. He's seventh among the 3B-eligible crowd this season in per game fantasy production. And you don't question a player's health when it comes to mid-season waiver wire help. If he's a productive player and he's healthy at the time you need him, you make the move. The time to worry about injury is on draft day or when it comes to making a trade. Same can be said for Scott Rolen(notes), who is similarly owned in Y! leagues and is hitting .358 over the past two weeks. No, Freese and Rolen aren't great health bets for the long haul, but their near-term productivity is a wager you can expect to pay out.
MIDDLE INFIELDERS

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Dynamite –> Danny Espinosa(notes): I didn't have Espinosa high enough on my preseason cheat sheet to land him on draft day. I had him pegged for a low .200s BA, and I've been right on that. But I did not expect his power and speed to be so significant as to render his BA issues moot. His minor league numbers back up the validity of his power/speed prowess, it's just that you don't usually expect minor leagues numbers to translate to the majors so quickly. That said, it's worth mentioning that eight of Espinosa's 14 home runs have been noted by ESPN Home Run Tracker as barely clearing the fence. So perhaps it's fair to expect a slight regression in his top 25 HR/FB rate (15.7%). But he also maintains one of the league's worst LD% rates, and you can also reasonably expect that to improve as the season progresses. And a tradeoff of home runs for more hits should only mean that Espinosa will have more opportunities to steal bases. Espinosa is on pace for 30 home runs and 20 steals. I'm guessing he won't quite meet those marks, but I can buy into, say, 25/17. His future fantasy upside is Dan Uggla(notes) with speed.
Stick a fork in his … –> Chone Figgins(notes): Somehow Figgins is still owned in 36 percent of Yahoo! leagues – he's really still owned in more leagues than Dustin Ackley(notes) and Jemile Weeks(notes)? If you are a Figgins owner, I implore you to drop him right now. He's losing his third base job to Adam Kennedy(notes). He's about as down and out as a player can be right now. There's no hope for a quick recovery – don't be surprised if lands on the DL with a trumped up injury soon.
Bargain shopping –> Orlando Hudson(notes): At five percent owned in Y! leagues, Hudson is a bargain. While you can't rely on his health, the .280/10/10 final line is pretty bankable. And with 11 steals in 43 games for the small-ball Padres, he's running more than ever – only Houston's Jason Bourgeois(notes) has at least as many steals in fewer at bats. Hudson has hit .333 with a home run and a steal in his first seven games back from the DL (groin). Consider him another no-brainer for the Figgins crowd, and a viable option for most anybody else with middle infield needs. Like I said about Freese and Rolen (above), now is not the time to sweat the injury history.
Don't you forget about me –> Mike Aviles(notes): Don't write off Aviles now that he's been banished to Triple-A. He's clubbed six home runs in his past 13 games for Omaha, hitting .358 in that span, and his versatility and plate potential will make him a desirable commodity on the trade market over the next few weeks.
OUTFIELDERS
Summer lover –> Nick Markakis(notes): While he may never live up to the high expectations he created for himself after a .300/23/112/97/18 sophomore campaign, Markakis is a proven .300 hitter who, for his career, tears it up in July and August – batting average at .300, OPS at .900. Despite a current 16-game hitting streak, Markakis is still available in a quarter of Y! leagues. He may not be someone that demands across-the-board ownership in even the shallowest of leagues any more, but it's doubtful if there is any better time to own him this season than right now.
Yo-yo –> Jay Bruce(notes): Bruce has gone 21 games without a home run after hitting 17 in a 44-game span prior to his latest drought. I say latest because feasts and famines are nothing new for Bruce, who went through a 35-game dry spell in '10 that lasted for all of July and the first part of August before he closed out the year with 17 home runs in his final 34 games. Bruce's June has seen a higher rate of walks, strike outs and line drives (fourth-highest LD% in MLB), so he's had fewer balls in play and he's gone line-drive crazy with the balls he has put in play, leading to diminished power numbers. I'd still rate Bruce as a top 25 fantasy commodity, and if a Bruce owner is willing to part with him for something much less than that, you'd be wise to jump on that deal.
PITCHERS
Going up (and up, and up) –> Jonathon Niese(notes): Niese has allowed two earned runs or less in seven of his past eight starts and he's been top 20 in K/9 rate (8.33) among starters in June. In fact, you can't be anything but intrigued when you look at the monthly progressions of his K/9 and BB/9 rates this season. The K rate has moved from 5.94 in April to 7.71 in May to 8.33 in June, and the BB/9 rate has dropped from 3.47 in April to 3.26 in May to 2.01 in June. Niese is also one of 30 starters with a ground-ball rate above 50 percent, and he ranks ninth among those 30 in K/9 rate. The Ks and the ground ball minimize the downside, making Niese a steal of a deal given his availability in two-thirds of Y! leagues.
Bearish thoughts –> Jered Weaver(notes): I'll buy that Weaver is one of the top starters in the league, but it's hard not to think that he's in line for a bit of a second-half regression. His BABIP of .244 is 34 points lower than his career average, and 32 points lower than last season's. His 3.0% rate of HR/FB is the lowest among starters and 4.4% lower than his career norm – he was at 7.8% last season. He also has a LOB% of 80.7, which is about 8-10% higher than the league norm and about five percent higher than his career average. And it's worth noting that after a 9.66 K/9 rate in April, he's been fanning three less hitters per nine innings since then.
CATCHERS
Career life jacket –> Joe Mauer(notes): News from the about-time department is that Mauer has begun fielding balls at first base, a development precipitated by Justin Morneau's(notes) return to the DL after neck surgery. It sounds like Minnesota may look to give Mauer an occasional game at first base to keep his bat in the lineup while giving him a rest from catching duties. But this is likely the first step in a Mauer diamond relocation program. Certainly, the ability to play his bat behind the plate is an advantage Minnesota cherishes. But having that bat available to the Twins for many more years is far more important than the positional advantage, so moving Mauer out from behind the plate at least on a semi-regular basis is a no-brainer. Of course, fantasy owners will continue to use him at Catcher, but the possibility of more at bats and less physical strain on his body should only benefit his fantasy value.
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