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MLB Skinny: Halfway home

Next week marks the unofficial halfway point of the MLB season – the All-Star game. I'll be spending the day with the wife and my two kids, weaving our way across parts of Washington, Oregon and Idaho en route to our vacation destination in Sun Valley. Since I'll be in a car for 12 hours with restless kids (both under six years old) in 90-degree heat next Tuesday, you can count on this column taking full advantage of the mid-summer break. I'll still be on vacation early the following week, but I'll try to get something out the door while I'm away. Until then, here's a look at my fantasy All-Stars for '09, based on production compared to where they were valued back in preseason drafts:

1B: Albert Pujols(notes) – In this case, I don't care that Pujols was a consensus top three pick back in March, he's easily been the best offensive player in '09, and he's currently No. 4 on the Keys to Success list, the list of players who appear most often on the top 500 Public League teams in Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Baseball PLUS. (Honorable mention goes to Russell Branyan, eighth among first baseman in fantasy production despite going mostly undrafted.)
2B: Aaron Hill(notes) – Another oft-undrafted player, Hill sits No. 3 among second basemen in the Yahoo! game, ranking first at the position with 20 home runs and 59 RBI. Things have started trending south, however, as Hill has hit just .221 in his past 33 games. (Honorable mention goes to Orlando Hudson(notes), who has performed roughly 100 spots better than his 220 Y! ADP)
3B: Mark Reynolds(notes) – Taken on average outside the top 200 in Yahoo! drafts, Reynolds sits at No. 10 in the Y! game and is on pace for a .269, 47 HR, 121 RBI, 103 R, 27 SB campaign. (Honorable mention goes to Chone Figgins(notes), who has ridden his three tools (.311, 63 R, 24 SB) to a No. 3 spot among third baseman)
SS: Jason Bartlett(notes), Ben Zobrist(notes) – take your pick of breakout Rays middle infielders. Both draft-day afterthoughts sit among the top four shortstop-eligible producers in the Yahoo! game. (Honorable mention goes to Marco Scutaro(notes), who sits at No. 6 among SS).
C: Brandon Inge(notes) – I'm putting Inge at catcher because that's what most fantasy owners are likely doing, as well. The mostly undrafted Inge has hit 19 home runs and has been one of an elite foursome of catcher-eligible fantasy commodities this season, ranking No. 62 overall. (Honorable mention goes to Pablo Sandoval(notes), who has returned similar 5x5 fantasy value as Inge, but was taken well ahead of Inge in most fantasy drafts).
OF: Adam Lind(notes) – Before he got hurt, this was Raul Ibanez's(notes) spot for the taking. But his injury has allowed Lind to deliver close to Ibanez's first-half fantasy value while typically coming off draft boards (if at all) well after Ibanez's No. 124 ADP. (Honorable mentions go to Ibanez, teammate Jayson Werth(notes), Torii Hunter(notes), Nelson Cruz(notes), Carl Crawford(notes), Justin Upton(notes) and Shin-Soo Choo(notes))
SP: Zack Greinke(notes) – After posting a 0.84 ERA in his first 10 starts, Greinke has come back down to earth a bit, but few would have guessed he'd be cruising into the All-Star break as the No. 3 player in the Y! game – more than 30 starters were taken ahead of him, on average, in Yahoo! drafts. (Honorable mentions go to Dan Haren(notes), Chris Carpenter(notes) and Edwin Jackson(notes)).
RP: Ryan Franklin(notes)Chris Perez(notes), Jason Motte(notes), and Chris Carpenter all gathered more preseason buzz to fill the Cards' closer role than Franklin did. Yet, as of July 7, Franklin is the third-highest rated reliever in the Y! game, thanks to 24 saves and an ERA and WHIP of 0.84. (Honorable mention goes to David Aardsma(notes)).

Alright, I'm sure that'll provide some nice kindling for the feedback fire. But first, let's look at the market movers …

CORNER INFIELDERS

Three Up/Three Down

Derrek Lee(notes), ChC, 1B – July fireworks: 8-for-24 (.333), 5 HR, 14 RBI, 6 R, 6 games
Greg Dobbs(notes), Phi, 3/O – Past 14: 16-for-38 (.421), 3 HR, 9 RBI, 6 R, SB
Scott Rolen(notes), Tor, 3B – Rollin': 37-for-95 (.389), 3 HR, 14 RBI, 17 R, 2 SB during current 23-game hit streak

Adrian Gonzalez(notes), SD, 1B – Past 14: 10-for-57 (.175), 1 HR, 7 RBI, 2 R, 14 K
Carlos Pena(notes), TB, 1B – Past 6: 2-for-21 (.095), 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0 R, 6 K
David Wright(notes), NYM, 3B – Wrong stuff: 5-for-40 (.125), 1 HR, 3 RBI, 4 R, 1 SB, 14 K in past 10 games

Wire flier (best pickup among players owned in less than 50 percent of Y! Plus leagues)
Edwin Encarnacion(notes), Cin, 3B (28%) – Encarnacion's season has been mostly a nightmare up to this point. Before landing on the 60-day DL with a fractured wrist, he opened the season by hitting .127 with just one home run in 19 games. He returned from wrist rehab on July 3, and has two hits in 12 at bats since then. But slow starts are nothing new to Encarnacion, and we're talking about a 26-year-old who is coming off an '08 campaign in which he hit 26 home runs. That was enough to make him almost universally drafted in Yahoo! PLUS leagues coming into the season. It seems a little early to be writing him off. If he were available in the Yahoo! Friends and Family League (14 teams), I'd be trying to find him a bench spot where he could simmer while he works back into mid-season shape.

Prospecting
Brett Wallace(notes), StL, 3B – A little over a year ago, Wallace was wearing an Arizona St. uniform while representing the Sun Devils in the College World Series. Today, he sits one step away from the majors, manning third base for the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds. The Cards' '08 first-round pick is a lethal lefty bat waiting to happen, as Brad Evans detailed this spring when a slight chance emerged that he may break camp with the team after Troy Glaus(notes) underwent shoulder surgery. Called-up to the Redbirds in mid-May, Wallace struggled initially in Memphis, but his smooth stroke is starting to make sweet music once again. In his past 19 games, he's hit .388 and has produced eight doubles, three home runs and a 15-game hitting streak in that span. Glaus is expected to return sometime around August 1, and the recently acquired Mark DeRosa(notes) just hit the DL, so the Cards are back to where they started the season at the hot corner, which is to say, slim pickings. The Cards may just try to bridge the gap until Glaus and DeRosa return with what they have (Brian Barden(notes)), but Wallace certainly hasn't hurt himself by heating up the past couple weeks.

MIDDLE INFIELDERS

Three Up/Three Down

Casey McGehee(notes), Mil, 2/3 – Casey at bat: No. 5 MI in Y! game past month (.388, 6 HR, 21 RBI, 16 R, 25 games)
Elvis Andrus(notes), Tex, SS – Cloud nine: 10-for-29 (.345), 0 HR, 3 RBI, 5 R, 5 SB in past 9
Jimmy Rollins(notes), Phi, SS – Five alive: 10-for-19 (.526), 1 HR, 6 RBI, 6 R in past 5 games

Brendan Harris(notes), Min, 2/S – Past 6: 3-for-27, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R, 0 SB, 10 K
Aaron Hill, Tor, 2B – Seven down: 5-for-29 (.172), 1 HR, 3 RBI, 3 R, 0 SB in past 7 games
Kazuo Matsui(notes), Hou, 2B – Past 5: 0-for-17 (.000), 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0 R, 1 SB

Wire flier (best pickup among players owned in less than 50 percent of Y! Plus leagues)
Martin Prado(notes), Atl, 2/3/1 (34%) – The reigning NL Player of the Week, Prado has supplanted the injured, and mightily-struggling, Kelly Johnson(notes) as the Braves' regular second baseman. His utility-knife skill set, ability to draw walks and minimize strikeouts while not offering much power or speed has a Marco Scutaro feel to it. Prado has been working of late out of the No. 2 spot in the lineup and, in 13 games this season following leadoff, Prado has hit .400 and scored 11 runs – hitting in front of Chipper Jones(notes) has its benefits. Prado has hit over .300 in his 187-game major league career and, so long as he continues to operate near the top of the order, he should provide batting average and runs value for fantasy owners, while offering a nice three-position eligibility.

Prospecting
Scott Sizemore, Det, 2B – Placido Polanco(notes) is in the midst of, perhaps, his worst full-season campaign of his career. He is not under contract for next season, so Sizemore's strong play at Triple-A Toledo for the past month could factor into the Tigers' thought process as they navigate through trade season these next few weeks. Sizemore entered the season as Detroit's No. 7 prospect, according to Baseball America. Ironically, that publication compared him to Polanco for his ability to make contact with a short, compact swing. Relying more on instinct than speed, Sizemore has also proven to be a 15-20 steal threat. This season, split between Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo, he's produced a .308 BA, 11 HR and 8 SB in 289 ABs. He's gone 10-for-21 in his past five games at Toledo, and if his bat keeps sizzling over the next few weeks, Polanco's security could land on very shaky ground.

CATCHERS

Three Up/Three Down

Miguel Montero(notes), Ari, C – Elite eight: 13-for-31 (.419), HR, 4 RBI, 4 R in past 8 games
John Baker(notes), Fla, C – Four of July: 6-for-16 (.375), HR, 4 RBI, 4 R
Eliezer Alfonzo(notes), SD, C – July: 7-for-20 (.350), HR, 3 RBI, 4 R, 6 games

Ivan Rodriguez(notes), Hou, C – Past 6: 2-for-19 (.105), 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R
Jarrod Saltalamacchia(notes), Tex, C – Past 7: 3-for-22 (.136), 0 HR, 0 RBI, 2 R, 10 K
Chris Iannetta(notes), Col, C – Past 8: 4-for-24 (.167), 0 HR, 2 RBI, 2 R

Wire flier (best pickup among players owned in less than 50 percent of Y! Plus leagues)
Miguel Olivo(notes), KC, C (40%) – I listed Olivo in this spot a few weeks back and, as he's still owned in just 40 percent of leagues, I figured he deserved another mention. After all, we are talking about Kansas City's June Player of the Month after leading AL hitters with a .692 SLG% for the month – both facts I gleaned from his Yahoo! player profile. Olivo's 13 home runs rank third among catchers, and he's now hit 25 long balls in his past 141 games with the Royals. John Buck(notes) is back from a herniated disc injury, but he's unlikely to have a major effect on Olivo's playing time. As manager Trey Hillman said (again, a nugget from Olivo's player profile page), "It's tough to sit a guy down who is leading the team in home runs, especially considering how inefficient we are in scoring runs. To take that guy and put him on the bench doesn't make a lot of sense."

Prospecting
Lou Marson(notes), Phi, C – The Phillies' No. 3 prospect, according to Baseball America, entering the '09 season, Marson struggled out of the gate after he broke camp with Philadelphia, hitting just .235 in seven games while helping to fill in behind the plate while Carlos Ruiz(notes) nursed an oblique muscle back to health. Ruiz, though, has hit just .234 in the 51 games since his return, and the Phillies are getting just a .242 batting average contribution from the position for the season. While Marson doesn't offer power, he does possess excellent plate discipline and hit .314 in 94 Double-A games a year ago. Now at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, Marson has found his stroke once again, going 25-for-67 (.373) in his past 19 games. He's considered the team's catcher of the future, and that future probably has major league service time included in it sometime after the All-Star break.

OUTFIELDERS

Three Up/Three Down

Colby Rasmus(notes), StL, OF – Six packed: 10-for-20 (.500), 3 HR, 4 RBI, 7 R in past 6
Marlon Byrd(notes), Tex, OF – Seven up: 9-for-25 (.360), 3 HR, 9 RBI, 7 R in past 7 games
Franklin Gutierrez(notes), Sea, OF – Past 19: 30-for-76 (.395), 5 HR, 10 RBI, 15 R, 2 SB

Michael Bourn(notes), Hou, OF – Past 8: 5-for-31 (.161), 0 HR, 0 RBI, 6 R, 2 SB
Curtis Granderson(notes), Det, OF – Seven down: 5-for-29 (.172), 0 HR, 0 RBI, 3 R, 2 SB, 10 K in past 7
Justin Upton, Ari, OF – Past 10: 5-for-38 (.132), 1 HR, 3 RBI, 4 R, 1 SB

Wire flier (best pickup among players owned in less than 50 percent of Y! Plus leagues)
Gary Sheffield(notes), NYM, OF (38%) – Until he finally retires, I'll never discount a healthy Sheffield. In his past 41 games, Sheffield has been a top 45 offensive force in the fantasy game, producing a .314 batting average to go with nine home runs, 26 RBI and 29 Runs in that span. Even at the age of 40, Sheffield's once blindingly fast bat can still get through the hitting zone with potency. While the club has been dealing with Carlos Beltran's(notes) knee injury, Sheffield has logged regular work at the clean-up spot in the lineup, where he follows David Wright. That's a good spot to earn a living from, and also a nice spot for fantasy owners to mine production from while Sheffield's health holds steady.

Prospecting
Chris Heisey, Cin, OF – The 24-year-old Heisey continues to produce at a level that belies his 17th-round draft selection by the Reds in '06. Already known for strong defensive skills and good speed, Heisey has brought a strong bat into focus in '09. Before a recent promotion to Triple-A Louisville, Heisey was tearing up the Southern League for Carolina, smacking 18 doubles, 13 home runs and hitting at a .347 clip in 71 games. In his first nine games with Louisville, he's added a home run while hitting .313. Along the way, he's displayed excellent plate discipline, walking 35 times compared to 39 strikeouts. A few weeks back, I wrote about Drew Stubbs being one of the organizations' next outfielders in line for a call-up. But Stubbs has struggled recently, hitting .177 with 25 strikeouts in his past 17 games. Because of Stubbs' slump, Heisey may now be closer to Cincinnati than Stubbs.

STARTING PITCHERS

Three Up/Three Down

Ricky Romero(notes), Tor, SP – Past 7: 5-1, 2.22 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 45 K in 48.2 IP
Doug Davis(notes), Ari, SP – Past 3: 0-0, 0.86 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 16 K in 21 IP
Randy Wells(notes), ChC, SP – Past 4: 4-0, 2.36 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 17 K in 26.2 IP

Jered Weaver(notes), LAA, SP – Past 4: 2-1, 7.22 ERA, 1.61 WHIP, 21 K in 23.2 IP
Kevin Millwood(notes), Tex, SP – Past 2: 0-1, 10.32 ERA, 2.03 WHIP, 4 K in 11.1 IP
Johnny Cueto(notes), Cin, SP – Past 4: 2-1, 9.94 ERA, 1.79 WHIP, 17 K in 17.1 IP

Wire flier (best pickup among players owned in less than 50 percent of Y! Plus leagues)
Tim Hudson(notes), Atl, SP (22%) – I'm just lobbing out an early heads up on Hudson, who is set to start a rehab assignment on July 19, which would be nearly one year after he had Tommy John surgery (July 27, 2008). The timetable he's on would have him back in Atlanta sometime in early-to-mid August. Hudson, who has posted a 3.52 ERA or better in eight of his 10 major league seasons, has received very positive reviews from those that watched him throw to live batters this past week. Assuming everything continues to progress in this manner, he'll warrant mixed-universe attention in leagues of 12 teams or deeper.

Prospecting
Chris Tillman(notes), Bal, SP – Baltimore Sun columnist Jeff Zrebiec suggested recently that Tillman was next in line for a call-up to Baltimore if injury or ineffectiveness strike down Rich Hill(notes) or another member of the rotation. Since he wrote that column, Hill went out and allowed six earned runs in 5.1 innings of work against the Angels. You can all but stick a fork in Hill, as that was his third consecutive start in which he's allowed at least six runs. And it was the fourth time in his past nine outings that he has walked four batters. I talked about Tillman being one of the top right-handed arms in the minors earlier this season in this spot. And he's done nothing to diminish his standing as an elite prospect. In 80.1 IP for Triple-A Norfolk, he's produced a 2.69 ERA and has fanned 82 batters. He's also allowed a mere four home runs and has issued more than two walks in just one of his past 13 outings. I have Tillman tucked away on an AL-only roster at the moment, and I suggest you do the same. He'd even warrant strong mixed league consideration, at least in deeper formats, when he finally does get the call – likely within the next couple weeks.

RELIEF PITCHERS

As in the past, I 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. And, of course, all bullpen tremors are recorded in our nightly Closing Time piece.

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