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MLB Skinny: Next big thing

Brandon Funston
Yahoo Sports

I had my wife's 40th birthday party to attend to this past weekend in addition to an NFL Draft that turned out to be a Seahawks fans' dream, so I'll admit it's been tough to keep my focus on the diamond these past few days. But I have a last-place Yahoo! Friends and Family League team to dig out of a hole so I can't afford to tune out major league action even if I wanted to. It's time to get back to work. Here's what's on my diamond mind this week:

CORNER INFIELD

Last week, we saw Justin Smoak(notes) and Ike Davis(notes) punch their major league tickets. So who's the next prize down-on-the-farm corner to get the call? Pedro Alvarez(notes)? Perhaps. His start at Triple-A hasn't been too shabby (.254, 4 HR, 12 RBI, 17 games). But with Lyle Overbay(notes) (.538 OPS) struggling mightily out of the gate for the Jays, you have to start taking a pretty hard look at Brett Wallace(notes). He already has a PCL-leading 7 HRs (thanks to an increased FB%) and a 1.048 OPS at Triple-A Las Vegas through 18 games. That puts his overall career Triple-A line at .296 with 22 HRs in 124 games. Because of his defensive liabilities at third, Wallace has spent all his time at 1B and DH for Las Vegas. He's likely to be manning those spots for the Jays sometime in May.

Only a few corners have had a hotter week than Scott Rolen(notes) (29 percent-owned in Y!). Since opening the season just 2-for-15, Rolen has hit .342 over the past 11 games, including .381 with 2 HRs for the week that followed on the heels of a three-game hiatus because of a sore back. And that's been the rub with Rolen, who hasn't been able to play 130-plus games in any of the past three seasons – his back his been his most recent burden going back to last season. Said Rolen about his latest layoff, "A ground ball kind of backed me up, locked me up a bit when I bent over. It happens once or twice a year, probably. About the same area locks me up." I think you can agree that's not exactly the most encouraging comment considering how often a third baseman is required to bend over. It's understandable if you are either currently leaning on Rolen for help, or plan to in the immediate future. His setup is nice hitting in the No. 5 spot in a park where he enjoys success (.913 OPS career at Great American Ballpark. Just know what you are getting into. You don't want to leave Rolen on an island unto himself in your third base slot.

Deep leaguers should give Gaby Sanchez(notes) (6%) a look. He was bumped up from the batting order basement to No. 2 in the lineup over the weekend before returning to No. 8 on Monday. Obviously, he looks much better hitting in front of Hanley Ramirez(notes) than he does hitting in front of Josh Johnson(notes). He's produced an .844 OPS out of the gate after beating out top prospect Logan Morrison(notes) in spring training. And he'll have to keep producing if he wants to hang on to the job because Morrison is breathing down his neck at Triple-A New Orleans (.983 OPS). Said manager Fredi Gonzalez about the team's first base gig a few weeks back, "Gaby won that competition and is going to start the season with us. Now he's got to produce. If it doesn't happen, which I hope it doesn't happen, Logan Morrison is a pretty good backup plan." In this case, competition should be a good thing for Sanchez fantasy owners.

David Wright(notes) is striking out at a career-high clip (38%), but he's also walking at a career-high pace (22.6%). It's hard to know what to make of it, though hitting coach Howard Johnson think he's just pressing too much after his struggles last season and now the Citi Field boo-birds starting to make their presence felt. Said Johnson, "He's just in a funk. It's a matter of relaxing a little bit. The pressure was on him all winter – he's heard so many things. He feels it. Hey, he's human."

Wright is swinging at more pitches out of the strike zone this season as he's seeing more breaking pitches, but I'd be inclined to take HoJo at his word for now. The one thing that seems like a legitimate worry, though, is his declining success against right-handed pitching. He's gone from a .929 OPS vs. RHP in '06 to .908 in '07 to .835 in '08 to .754 in '09. And he's currently sitting on a .743 OPS mark vs. RHP this season (.191 BA). What we learned last year is that we can't just write off his early season struggles. If his problems carry into mid-May it's fair to start formulating exit strategies.

Adam LaRoche(notes) is a career .205 hitter in April, so his current .278 mark for Arizona is notable. One encouraging sign is that he has the third-lowest percentage (11.9%) in the league in terms of swinging at pitches out of the strike zone (O-Swing%). That's about half of his career mark in the category (22.4%). He's also seen a big jump in his FB%, although the power numbers haven't followed suit. He did finally hit his first home run as a Diamondback on Friday, and I wouldn't be surprised if this is just the start of a nice power surge for LaRoche. Everyone knows that you trade for LaRoche in July, but it might not be a bad idea to see if he comes a bit cheaper in late April/early May.

MIDDLE INFIELD

Eric Young Jr. (1%) has been perfect since being recalled from Triple-A Colorado Springs, albeit in the smallest of sample sizes, going 1-for-1 with a stolen base in his first 2010 appearance for the Rockies on Sunday. With second baseman Clint Barmes(notes) struggling and outfielder Brad Hawpe(notes) on the DL with a strained quad, there should be regular opportunities for Young, who can fill in for either player. Manager Jim Tracy said earlier this spring that Young would prove to be an important part of the Rockies this season and even said he could have an impact similar to what Carlos Gonzalez(notes) did for the team after he arrived from the minors a year ago. That's a strong statement and if you are taking him at his word, you should expect Young to get more than piece-meal work from the get-go, and there's a good chance he could work out of the top end of the batting order. If you need steals, few offer Young's speed.

After hitting .291 with 16 HRs in 113 games for Detroit last season, Ryan Raburn(notes) was on his share of deep sleeper lists for 2010. He's right at the Mendoza Line in 25 at bats this season, but he's just one start shy of qualifying at second base in Yahoo! leagues. This development is not an immediate threat to rookie Scott Sizemore(notes), as he's done a serviceable job so far. This is just manager Jim Leyland's attempt to find more opportunities for Raburn, who was one of the hottest hitters in the majors the final two months of '09. Raburn has averaged 29 home runs per 162 games in his career at the Triple-A level, so if he can acquire 2B-eligibility along with more regular playing time, he becomes very interesting. Deep leaguers should at least keep tabs on the situation.

In the past, Cristian Guzman(notes) has been a hollow .300 hitter for the Nationals, typically hitting out of the No. 1 or No. 2 spot in the lineup. He doesn't run anymore, he has little power to speak of and the Nats haven't often had much firepower behind him in the order. But if Ryan Zimmerman(notes) can't get his hamstring right this week and has to go on the DL, Guzman hitting out of the No. 3 spot (as he's been doing with Zimmerman out) makes him much more intriguing, if only for a week or two.

OUTFIELD

How can I start the OF segment with anyone other than Andruw Jones(notes)? It was quite the week that was for the former superstar as he hit 3 HRs (including two on his 33rd birthday) and recorded 2 SBs on his way to finishing No. 7 at his position in fantasy for the past seven days. Can you buy into this hard charge out from the opening gun by Jones? After all, we saw something very similar last April before he started heading rapidly south. I thought FanGraphs' R.J. Anderson tackled the Jones topic pretty well today. He seems to think that while it's entirely possible that he could hit 25 home runs, the .292 batting average is a complete mirage. And I'll subscribe to that. But one thing I will say that is that Jones really does look like he's in his best shape in years. He's only 33. And he's hit between No. 3 to No. 5 in the order in all of his games save one. I can understand, given the prolific decade he enjoyed at the start of his career, why people may be worked up about him at the moment.

If you cut Julio Borbon(notes) after his 1-for-25 start – judging by his 45 percent ownership in Yahoo! leagues, many of you did – you may want to see if he's still available. Borbon is hitting .281 in his past nine games with 6 Runs and 4 SBs. He's been a consistent .300 hitter in his professional career and the expectation is that he'll reclaim his leadoff role once he's washed the stink off from his nasty start.

Juan Pierre(notes) always gets the red-headed stepchild treatment on draft day. Even now, with 9 SBs from the top spot in what should ultimately prove to be a pretty decent batting order in Chicago, Pierre finds himself owned in just 35 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Sure, he's a complete non-factor in the HR and RBI categories, but how much different is he than the 83 percent owned Michael Bourn(notes)? I'm not so sure I wouldn't rather have Pierre right now as I think the White Sox offense will be much better than Houston's over the long haul.

CATCHER

Carlos Santana(notes) – when, Cleveland? When? Here's what Indians farm director Ross Atkins has to say on the subject: "Carlos has made incredible progress since he converted to the catching position. But only time will tell [when he's ready]. He's certainly benefiting from being around more veteran pitchers, having to be a leader in a division that demands it. He's benefiting greatly from his Triple-A time. How much time? It really is going to be dictated by his performance. The more Carlos is exposed to down there, the better. That's just less he'll have to learn at the major-league level. That way, when we do bring him up, hopefully he's in a position to stay and not have to transition back to work on a few more things." Blah, blah, blah … that's just a whole lot of rhetoric.

Over the weekend, Cleveland Plain Dealer's MLB writer Paul Hoynes broke down all the potential reasons for why Santana remains in Triple-A, terrorizing poor young pitchers, but I'm subscribing to just one of those bullet points – the arbitration clock. That reason doesn't play well with fans, of course. I'm just not buying the idea that the positives of Santana's bat against the negatives of his defense compared to what Lou Marson(notes) is currently bringing to the table doesn't make Cleveland a better team right now.

Jake Fox(notes) (2%) is 7-for-24 (.292) with a HR and 6 RBIs in his past nine games. I mentioned him last week in this space because he'd made a couple starts at catcher. This past week he made a couple more, which puts him one start shy of C-eligibility in Y! leagues. Fox owns a 1.034 OPS mark in 99 career games at the Triple-A level and he'd be a lot more attractive flier than the typical waiver trash you find at catcher in deeper leagues. If you are in one of those leagues, you probably want to make a move now.

After homering in each of his past three games, Miguel Olivo(notes) is ranked behind only Joe Mauer(notes) at the catcher position in the Yahoo! game. If Olivo is available in your league and you're holding on to a higher-owned commodity like Mike Napoli(notes), Ivan Rodriguez(notes) or Yadier Molina(notes), I'd make the switch. Outside the top eight catchers or so, loyalty is a fool's game. The payoff you get isn't worth ignoring someone on a tear like Olivo. The Rockies offseason acquisition has a career-best FB% (44.4) going and it's paying off nicely at Coors Field, where he has 3 HRs and a .417 BA. Olivo has also thrown out a league-high seven would-be base stealers. Meanwhile, Chris Iannetta(notes) is hitting a miserable .133 and manager Jim Tracy recently admitted it was going to be hard to keep Olivo out of the lineup.

STARTING PITCHER

On the rehab front, Cliff Lee(notes) (abdomen) and Daisuke Matsuzaka(notes) (neck) are slated to make their first starts of the season during their upcoming weekend series. Lee threw six shutout innings for Triple-A Tacoma on Sunday and Dice-K had a successful simulated game outing on Monday.

Clay Buchholz(notes) will hold on to his rotation spot when Dice-K returns, as Tim Wakefield(notes) is headed to the pen. Smart move, Boston. Buchholz, owned in less than half of Yahoo! leagues, has an ERA under 3 (2.70) and has fanned more than a batter per IP (18 in 16.2). Dating back to August 8, Buchholz is 7-5 with a 3.53 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 72 Ks in 89.1 IP. It's interesting to note that Buchholz, who owns the hardest slider (89 mph) in the league, is throwing the pitch seven percent more than he did a year ago.

Jake Arrieta(notes), arguably the O's top minor league pitching prospect, is blowing away International League hitters (0.36 ERA, 0.92 WHIP in 25 IP). Had Brad Bergeson not executed a recall-saving performance on Sunday for Triple-A Norfolk (7 IP, 2 ER), Arieta might have been in line for a weekend call-up when the team next needs a No. 5 starter.

Jeremy Hellickson(notes) is another AL East top pitching prospect. He belongs to the Rays, and he's been nearly as dominant as Arietta (3-0, 2.38 ERA, 22 K, 22.2 IP). Unfortunately for him, the Rays staff does not possess one starter with an ERA above James Shields'(notes) 3.96 mark. Unless there's in injury or trade, Hellickson is going to have to bide his time for Triple-A Durham.

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