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MLB Skinny: Birds on the wire

Brandon Funston
Yahoo Sports

This will be my last Skinny column written at the spry, young age of 38. This Memorial Day my biological clock ticks one notch closer to the big Four-0. I'll celebrate the occasion by logging a weekend softball tournament, which means that, come the following Tuesday, when I sit down to write the next of these columns, I'm sure to be feeling every bit my age. But, when that time comes, I'll turn to Steve Finley(notes) and Pete Rose for inspiration – the only two players in major league history to play a full 162-game slate at the age of 39. Unfortunately, no 40-year-old player has ever played 162 games, but I'll worry about that next year … Enjoy the holiday weekend ahead, folks …

CORNER INFIELDERS

Three Up/Three Down

Casey Blake(notes), LAD, 1/3 – Lucky 13: 18-for-46 (.391), 4 HR, 11 RBI, 13 R in past 13
Andy LaRoche(notes), Pit, 3B – Sweet 16: 16-for-53 (.302), 2 HR, 10 RBI, 10 R in past 16
Nick Johnson(notes), Was, 1B – Elite 8: 12-for-27 (.444), 2 HR, 12 RBI, 8 R, 8 BB, 4 K in past 8

Jorge Cantu(notes), Fla, 1/3 – May(day): .197, 1 HR, 11 RBI, 4 R in 17 May games
Garrett Atkins(notes), Col, 1B – Not so sexy 17: 5-for-53 (.094), 0 HR, 3 RBI, 3 R, weekend-benching in past 17 games
Chad Tracy(notes), Ari, 1B – (dis)May: 0-for-26 in May

Wire flier (best pickup among players owned in less than 50 percent of Y! Plus leagues)
Billy Butler(notes), KC, 1B (39%) – Brad Evans' man-crush won't be accused of being a fast starter any time soon – in his two-plus years in the majors, he's averaged a home run every 76 at-bats before July, and one every 30 at-bats from July forward. But he is starting to percolate a bit early in '09. In his past 19 games, he's 26-for-73 (.356) with 3 HR, 16 RBI and 15 R. And he was recently promoted to the No. 3 spot in the Royals' lineup, where he has averaged an RBI per game (6-for-6), thus far. In fantasy, you don't often get the chance to add No. 3 hitters – players hitting in a spot with such ripe production opportunities are rarely so widely available. Butler has a strong pedigree and about the right amount of major league seasoning to make a next-level type jump this season.

Prospecting
Jake Fox(notes), ChC, 1/O – If the season ended today, Fox would undoubtedly win minor league POY honors. His numbers at Triple-A Iowa are beyond ridiculous. Even though he turns 27 this summer and might be considered a Quadruple-A player by some for failing to solidify himself in the Cubs' future plans after getting a cup of coffee in Chicago in '07, you simply have to stop and consider the magnitude of what he has accomplished for Iowa through 35 games – 17 home runs, 50 RBI, .431 BA, .513 OBP, 1.467 OPS (all PCL-leading numbers). And the right-handed slugger is actually hitting well above .400 against right-handed pitching. A classic "Three True Outcomes" player, you ask? Hardly. Currently, 39 PCL players have fanned more than the 26 whiffs that Fox has accumulated. Unfortunately, Fox is, by all accounts, a lousy defender and the Cubs can't figure out how he fits into their equation. Said general manager Jim Hendry: "I feel bad for him. He's swinging the bat as well as anybody in professional baseball. But if there's not a place for him, you can't do much about it." Except trade him to the American League, perhaps?

MIDDLE INFIELDERS

Three Up/Three Down

Adam Kennedy(notes), Oak, 2/O – 6-packed: 11-for-24 (.458), HR, 3 RBI, 3 R, SB in past 6
Adam Everett(notes), Det, SS – May(flower): 16-for-42 (.381), HR, 11 RBI, 7 R, 2 SB in 12 May games
Erick Aybar(notes), LAA, SS – 17-for-43 (.395), HR, 4 RBI, 8 R, SB in past 13

Rafael Furcal(notes), LAD, SS – 19-for-87 (.218), 0 HR, 4 RBI, 10 R, 0 SB, 18 K in past 20
Jose Lopez(notes), Sea, 2/1 – 8-for-53 (.151), HR, 2 RBI, 6 R, 0 SB in past 13
Howie Kendrick(notes), LAA, 2B – Dirty dozen: 9-for-44 (.204), 0 HR, 2 RBI, 6 R, 2 SB in past 12

Wire flier (best pickup among players owned in less than 50 percent of Y! Plus leagues)
Ben Zobrist(notes), TB, S/O (45%) – Zobrist's ownership rate of less than 50 percent in Yahoo! Plus leagues has me completely perplexed. Currently the 10th-ranked SS-eligible player in the Yahoo! game, Zobrist has delivered an OPS right at 1.000 in both April and May. While not a home run hitter during his minor league career, he certainly had the frame and plate command skills to validate his sudden surge in power – his seven home runs on the season brings his total to 22 over the past 149 games for the Rays. While not a regular at any one position, his versatility – he's played every spot on the diamond other than pitcher, catcher and first base this season – has allowed him to see regular at-bats. In fact, it probably won't be long before he gains 2B-eligibility, and he has a fair chance to land a hot corner designation before all is said and done in '09.

Prospecting
Alcides Escobar(notes), Mil, SS – With Rickie Weeks(notes) out for the season following surgery on a torn sheath in his wrist, the logical train of thought for baseball fans in the know was that the Brew Crew should give shortstop prospect Alcides Escobar a trial-run at second base. Escobar's skills were held in high enough esteem by Baseball America heading into the '09 season that it listed the speedy defensive dynamo as the organization's top-ranked farmer, ahead of lauded talents like Mat Gamel(notes), Brett Lawrie and Jeremy Jeffress. Turns out Milwaukee is going to give Escobar a look at second base at Triple-A Nashville. And I'm sure, given his glove-wielding prowess, he'll prove a quick study on the right side of the field. More questionable will be whether his bat is ready for a promotion, regardless of where he lands in the field. For a more advanced look at how Escobar's bat might play in Milwaukee, check out RightFieldBleacher's blog on the topic. For fantasy purposes, Escobar's impact would be felt most on the bases – he's second in the Pacific Coast League with 18 steals. Those with a need for speed and a willingness to roll the dice at your middle infield spots will want to follow this story as it develops.

CATCHERS

Three Up/Three Down

Geovany Soto(notes), ChC, C – Welcome back: 8-for-27 (.296), HR, 6 RBI, 3 R in past 8
Rod Barajas(notes), Tor, C – 26-for-68 (.382), 8 2B, HR, 15 RBI, 11 R in past 20
Nick Hundley(notes), SDG, C – 10-for-30 (.333), 2 HR, 3 RBI, 3 R in past 8

Yadier Molina(notes), StL, C – 4-for-25 (.160), 0 HR, 2 RBI, 2 R in past 8
Jarrod Saltalamacchia(notes), Tex, C – 8-for-35 (.229), 0 HR, 4 RBI, 3 R, 10 K in past 10
Gerald Laird(notes), Det, C – 6-for-52 (.115), 0 HR, 5 RBI, 4 R in past 17

Wire flier (best pickup among players owned in less than 50 percent of Y! Plus leagues)
Ivan Rodriguez(notes), Hou, (40%) – This is Pudge's 20th season in the majors, so I'm not going to be able to tell you much about him that you don't already know. That said, I wonder how many realize that he ranks fifth among catchers with a .817 OPS. He also sits among the top five in RBI (19), top six in home runs (5) and top seven in runs (15). For 12-team mixed leagues, he's been rosterable in arguably every season he's played save his first two years with Texas and last season's split campaign between Detroit and New York. Pudge has kept himself in solid shape and, without any real competition behind the plate in Houston, he's seen the sixth-most at-bats in the league from the backstop position, thus far. As long as he can keep his batting average at its current level (.276), the counting numbers should play just fine for owners.

Prospecting
Matt Wieters(notes), Bal, C – Patience, people, patience. We'll soon be past the "Super 2" stage with Wieters. For those unfamiliar with the term "Super 2" and its ramifications to the baseball arbitration process, here's a link that helps explain it. Basically, the O's just want to make sure that Wieters doesn't get to credit '09 as part of his service time required to reach arbitration eligibility. That said, Baltimore is likely as excited as anyone to get Wieters in an O's uniform. Their Gregg Zaun(notes)/Chad Moeller backstop duo (hitting for a combined Mendoza Line) offers about as much credibility at the plate as Milli Vanilli frontmen Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus did as pop artists. After a sluggish start, Wieters is starting to hit more like expected for Triple-A Norfolk, with three of his four home runs and nine of his 21 RBI coming in the past week. It should only be a couple more Skinny columns before I have to start looking for other minor league catchers to write about.

OUTFIELDERS

Three Up/Three Down

Gary Sheffield(notes), NYM, OF – Cleaning up: 10-for-26 (.385), HR, 3 RBI, 9 R, SB in past week
Gerardo Parra(notes), Ari, OF – Smashing debut: 7-for-17 (.412), 2 3B, HR, 6 RBI, 3 R in past 4 games
Michael Bourn(notes), Hou, OF – Bourn again: 23-for-66 (.348), 0 HR, 6 RBI, 13 R, 7 SB in 16 May games

Corey Hart(notes), Mil, OF – 5-for-39 (.128), HR, 4 RBI, 5 R, 0 SB in past 10
Matt Kemp(notes), LAA, OF – 16-for-72 (.222), HR, 9 RBI, 9 R, 3 SB, 19 K in 18 May games
Vernon Wells(notes), Tor, OF – 4-for-34 (.118), 0 HR, 0 RBI, 3 R, 2 SB in past 9

Wire flier (best pickup among players owned in less than 50 percent of Y! Plus leagues)
Jack Cust(notes), Oak, 1B (44%) – The moral of the Billy Butler blurb (above) applies here: not too often is a No. 3 hitter available on the waiver wire. Cust was already the top-ranked outfielder in the Y! game among the less than 50 percent-owned pool before recently unseating Jason Giambi(notes) as the team's No. 3 hitter. Admittedly, he hasn't exactly taken off in his new spot (2-for-16 in past four games), and his career numbers in the three hole aren't inspiring, but I wouldn't put too much weight in those facts. The important thing, as manager Bob Geren mentioned when he made the switch, is that Cust will often see an extra plate appearance that he wouldn't have hitting further down in the order. The batting average is going to be tough to stomach no matter where he hits, but if his expected 30-plus home runs come with RBI and runs numbers closer to 100 than the 77 of last season because he's hitting higher in the order, it makes the .250-ish BA much more palatable.

Prospecting
Andrew McCutchen(notes), Pit, OF – With more than 700 at bats, a .288 batting average and a 109:86 K-to-BB ratio at the Triple-A level, McCutchen has definitely proven himself deserving of finally getting a taste of major league pitching. In his past seven games for Indianapolis, McCutchen is 13-for-30 (.433), including his International League-high eighth triple. Speed's the name of the game here, as he also paces the IL in Runs (32) and is seventh in stolen bases (9 SB in 10 attempts). It's time to end the Brandon Moss(notes), Craig Monroe(notes), Delwyn Young(notes), Eric Hinske(notes) outfield shuffle. C'mon, Pirates, move Nate McLouth(notes) to right field and promote McCutchen already!

STARTING PITCHERS

Three Up/Three Down

Manny Parra(notes), Mil, SP – Past 5: 3-1, 2.79 ERA, 17 BB, 28 K, 29 IP
Matt Harrison(notes), Tex, SP – May: 3-0, 0.78 ERA, 0.70 WHIP, 1 BB, 15 K, 23 IP
Ubaldo Jimenez(notes), Col, SP – Past 3: 2-0, 1.35 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 17 K, 20 IP

John Danks(notes), ChW, SP – Past 4: 0-3, 8.82 ERA, 1.91 WHIP, 31 H, 18 K, 18.1 IP
Randy Johnson(notes), SF, SP – Past 3: 1-2, 11.04 ERA, 2.05 WHIP, 3 BB, 12 K, 5 HR, 14.2 IP
Jarrod Washburn(notes), Sea, SP – Past 2: 0-1, 8.18 ERA, 1.82 WHIP, 14 H, 6 BB, 9 K, 11 IP

Wire flier (best pickup among players owned in less than 50 percent of Y! Plus leagues)
Koji Uehara(notes), Bal, SP (30%) – If we can agree that, much in the same way we treat a NL pitcher that has to toe the rubber in Colorado, we look the other way when an AL pitcher is forced to the mound in Texas, then Uehara has been very impressive this season. Tossing out the seven earned runs allowed at Texas in his first major league road start back on April 13th, Uehara has compiled a 3.37 ERA and has a sensational 32:5 K-to-BB ratio in 42.2 IP over his other seven starts. In a recent outing against the Yankees in which he had a no-decision despite pitching six innings of one-run ball, New York's Johnny Damon(notes) said about Uehara, "He had me guessing and chasing all day long. I wasn't too happy with that." His K:BB ratio of 3.89 lands him among the top 12 starters in the league, and not one of the other 11 starters among that group is owned in less than 97 percent of Yahoo! Plus leagues. If nothing else, that number alone warrants a speculative play on the Japanese import.

Prospecting
Chris Tillman(notes), Bal, SP – Worst rotation ERA in the AL? Raise your hand, Baltimore. The O's combined 5.76 ERA among starters is highest among all major league teams save Philadelphia (6.30). Mark Hendrickson(notes), Adam Eaton(notes) and Brad Bergesen have been the most generous of the group, and Hendrickson recently ceded his spot to Rich Hill(notes). Could Eaton and/or Bergesen be next? They should be considering the way Tillman is laying waste to International League hitters at the moment. The team's top pitching prospect (and one of the top arms in all of the minors), is 5-0 with a 2.25 ERA and a 42:13 K-to-BB ratio for Triple-A Norfolk. Tillman has not walked more than two batters in any of his past five outings, which is encouraging considering command was the biggest issue he needed to work on this season. As the O's slide further out of the race, Tillman's major league ETA draws nearer.

RELIEF PITCHERS

I'll always defer to my colleague, Andy Behrens, on this one. He puts out an excellent bullpen roundup – "Closing Thoughts" – each Monday in the Roto Arcade blog.

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League type:
Free Yahoo League
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Draft time:
Sep 3 9:00 am
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