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MLB Skinny: Happy returns

Brandon Funston
Yahoo Sports

After a welcome three-day rest stop along the six-month fantasy highway, it's time to get back out on the road. The good news, as play starts back up again for the stretch run, is that there are many DL-designated players on the verge of a return to action. In the next week we should see Carl Crawford(notes) (hamstring), Jose Reyes(notes) (hamstring), David Wright(notes) (back), Shane Victorino(notes) (thumb), Martin Prado(notes) (staph infection), Jon Lester(notes) (back), John Danks(notes) (oblique), Carlos Zambrano(notes) (back) and Ryan Madson(notes) (hand), among others, back on the diamond. For many fantasy owners, their returns offer something to look forward to.

Another thing for owners to look forward to is any time they have a pitcher facing the Mariners or the A's. Derek Holland(notes) pitched a complete-game shutout against Oakland heading into the break and pitched a complete-game shutout against the Mariners in his first game coming off the break. And while Holland definitely deserves kudus for his efforts, enthusiasm should be tempered given that those two teams are far and away the worst offenses the AL has to offer. Holland is certainly worth a closer look in fantasy leagues, although I still expect that he'll be a bit of a rollercoaster ride. But the real story here is how stream-delicious Seattle and Oakland have been. Throw San Diego into the mix and you have three teams that you can reasonably expect to award the opposing pitcher with a quality start, if not a win, on any given night, no matter who that pitcher may be.

Alright, here's what's been picking at my brain of late as we get set for the second half:

Note: The Skinny will take next Monday off as I'll be on vacation. I'll catch up with you again right before the trading deadline. In the mean time, I offer you a "meat tornado." Enjoy!

CORNER INFIELDERS
Coming attraction –> Ryan Zimmerman(notes): Between an abdominal injury and subsequent slump, it's been a rough first half for Zimmerman. But he checked into the All-Star break on a nice little 10-for-25 roll (.400). And his owners should be further heartened by Zimmerman's second-half track record – he's been among the top two among third basemen in post AS-break OPS each of the past two seasons. If he struggles over the second half this season, it'll be the first time he's done so in his career.
The waiting is the hardest part –> Ike Davis(notes): Out since May 11 with an ankle injury, Davis is reportedly finally starting to make good progress in his rehab – he's expected to start baseball activities this weekend. But Davis owners will likely have to wait another few weeks before they can start using his services again. "Ike is some time away, and I certainly hope that he's going to be back by the end of July," Mets GM Sandy Alderson said. "But I think, realistically, will Ike have an impact between now and the (trade) deadline? Probably not."
Gathering wood –> Danny Valencia(notes): Over the past two weeks, Valencia has been a top 10 fantasy corner infield commodity. The fantasy foundation at third base has been shaky this season, thanks to many injuries and underperformances. And that, obviously, makes Valencia someone to consider – he's available in nearly 75 percent of Yahoo! leagues. He is short on major league seasoning, but he's held his own in his past 162 games – .270, 17 HRs, 86 RBIs. He makes plenty of contact and hits near the middle of the order, so he should be a steady source of RBIs (he's had the fifth-most ABs among 3B regulars with runners on base). And he's a bigger guy who has been a doubles machine throughout his professional career and, at age 26, it's not hard to talk yourself into believing that Valencia is someone that could start turning those doubles into something deeper and more meaningful – he does has five home runs in his past 21 games. For those in need at the hot corner, Valencia offers every-day play with some upside hope.
MIDDLE INFIELDERS
Keep on a short leash –> Emilio Bonifacio(notes): As much as I try, Bonifacio has been hard to ignore of late. He's riding a 13-game hitting streak. And in the past month, his 13 steals lead all middle infielders. The Marlins have been looking for a leadoff solution, and Bonifacio has been the answer, thus far, sporting a .410 OBP and scoring 20 runs in 26 games atop the order. So long as Bonifacio continues in the leadoff spot, and continues to show patience (he's walked in five straight games), he's certainly got the speed to continue to make a steals and runs impact while maintaining a batting average that you can at least live with.
OUTFIELDERS
Moving on up (maybe) –> Carlos Beltran(notes): Beltran is looking like the top hitting prize on this year's trade market. He's enjoying a solid season that has him ranked in the top 50 in the Yahoo! game at the break. But, should he land with Boston or Texas, as rumors have suggested, there could be top 30 value on the horizon. Those two clubs rank 1-2 in the league in runs scored and it's easy to imagine a spike in production for Beltran – who ranks second in the league behind Ryan Braun(notes) in Inside Edge's Well-Hit Average – hitting in the heart of either of those vaunted lineups.
Lost in the crowd –> Chris Heisey(notes): If the Reds want to be at the table this trading season, it's hard to believe they won't bring some of their left-field cards to play. Cincy's top hitting prospect, Yonder Alonso(notes), is stuck in a holding pattern in Triple-A while Heisey contends with Jonny Gomes(notes) and Fred Lewis(notes) for at bats with the Reds. Something's gotta give. And if it does, and Heisey suddenly finds himself with regular playing time, he becomes very intriguing. In '09, Heisey had a .900 OPS with 22 home runs and 21 steals spread out over 516 at bats between Double- and Triple-A. He has 18 home runs in just 368 major league ABs, and his rate of a HR every 16.7 ABs this season ranks 16th among those with at least 100 ABs. In the right situation (read: most anywhere where Dusty Baker isn't the manager), Heisey is very capable of a 20/20 season with serviceability in the other categories.
Bullpucky –> Colby Rasmus(notes): If I had to pick a side between the bulls and the bears in the Rasmus debate, I'd probably run with the bulls. It certainly seems like the 24-year-old is falling out of favor with many baseball followers after a couple of rough months. And rumors are that the Cardinals are seriously considering trading Rasmus, and that Rasmus, who has consistently locked horns with manager Tony LaRussa, would welcome a ticket out of town. Rasmus has been a streaky player, and I think you can attribute some, if not a lot, of his rollercoaster issues to his personal life, which has included his girlfriend's unplanned pregnancy and a meddlesome father, Tony, who has recently taken over working on his son's plate issues instead of Cardinals batting coach Mark McGwire. "The stuff he's working on is coming from someplace else, and guys are free to do that," said LaRussa. "If you have something or somebody else that you think works, you don't hold a gun to their head and say, 'No, no, you listen to these coaches and nobody else.' It's never worked that way." I think it's fair to say that there's mental forces at play that have factored into Rasmus' slumps. But we've also seen him put together a 9-HR month, and three months with an OPS of .930-plus in his short career. We've seen him evolve from a non-factor against left-handed pitching to be at least serviceable against southpaws. And for all his struggles this season, he's reduced his K rate more than seven percent from last season and he ranks No. 39 in the league in Inside Edge's Well-Hit Average, which suggests that luck hasn't been his best friend. Perhaps a change of scenery would be the best thing for him. But I suspect that his talent will soon rise to the top again regardless of where he's playing.
PITCHERS
Fishing in the stream –> Matt Harrison(notes): Like Holland, Harrison also has the good fortune of facing Seattle in his first post-break outing. The Mariners are hitting a league-low .224 and have scored more than four runs in just one of the past 16 games – just 18 runs total in their past 10 games. To say that the 37 percent-owned Harrison is an attractive streaming option is an understatement. But he might be worth keeping around for more than just a quick hit. Harrison is sporting a 12-to-1 K:BB rate in July (13.2 IP) and his Quality Start% of .76 ranks 15th among starters. Oddly enough, left-handed hitters are giving the southpaw the most trouble this season (.307 BAA), but he held those same hitters to a Batting Average Against of .235 or lower in each of the previous two seasons. Ultimately, his ability to strike out hitters will go a long ways in determining his standard mixed league staying power. To that end, he's throwing his fastball harder than ever (93.1 mph) and his success with that pitch, according to FanGraphs, ranks 23rd among starters, just behind Clayton Kershaw(notes).
Hit the "add" button –> Jonathon Niese(notes): I can't seem to get off the soap box when it comes to the Niese cause. He edges out Harrison, in my mind, as the most attractive starter available in at least 60 percent of Yahoo! leagues. He ranks in the top 25 in Wins (8), top 50 in Ks (92), his K/BB ratio has improved in each month this season, and, although he's an extreme ground-ball pitcher, his BABIP of .312 (17th-highest among starters) feels unlucky when you consider that only Clayton Kershaw and Roy Halladay(notes) have logged a lower Well-Hit Average among starters, according to Inside Edge.
CATCHERS
Shuffle play –> Wilson Ramos(notes): In the past month, Ramos ranks as the No. 5 catcher in the Yahoo! game. And with Ivan Rodriguez(notes) on the DL with an oblique injury, Ramos figures to get a heavy dose of playing time for the rest of the month, at the very least. The Twins' former top prospect, owned in just eight percent of Yahoo! leagues, has the kind of big-time talent that can accelerate the learning curve.
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