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MLB Skinny: Second thoughts

Brandon Funston
Yahoo Sports

The Skinny took the week off last week as the Yahoo! fantasy contingent convened in Santa Monica to map out our fantasy football content plans, work on our shuffleboard skills and run up as many charges on Brad Evans' bar tab as humanly possible – mission accomplished. As Murphy's Law would dictate, it turned out to be a pretty eventful week in my absence, with a major trade (Nate McLouth(notes)) and a couple noteworthy callups (Andrew McCutchen(notes), Gordon Beckham(notes)). With notable debuts coming fast and furious over the past few weeks, the stock of buzz-worthy, major league-ready prospects is getting pretty slim. Of course, that doesn't mean there's nothing left to talk about. Let's get to it …

CORNER INFIELDERS

Three Up/Three Down

Andy LaRoche(notes), Pit, 3B – 21 run: 29-for-80 (.363), 1 HR, 16 RBI, 15 R, 1 SB in past 21 games
Nick Swisher(notes), NYY, 1/O – June boon: 9-for-21 (.429), 2 HR, 6 RBI, 5 R, 6 BB, 8 games
Adrian Beltre(notes), Sea, 3B – Sexy 17: 25-for-72 (.347), 2 HR, 10 RBI, 9 R, 1 SB in past 17 games

Aubrey Huff(notes), Bal, 1/3 – Punchless: 7-for-34 (.206), 0 HR, 1 RBI, 2 R, 0 BB in past 9
Carlos Pena(notes), TB, 1B – Sour 16: 8-for-54 (.154), 2 HR, 4 RBI, 8 R in past 16 games
Miguel Cabrera(notes), Det, 1/3 – Detroit Slump City: 5-for-34 (.147), 1 HR, 2 RBI, 5 R in past 11 games

Wire flier (best pickup among players owned in less than 50 percent of Y! Plus leagues)
Lyle Overbay(notes), Tor, 1B (26%) – At this point in his career, we have a pretty good idea of Overbay's upside. At best, he can spray hits around the park at a .300 clip, push 20 home runs while posting modest run production. That's at least viable if he's hitting on all cylinders. Unfortunately, because of injury and inconsistency the past couple years, we've seen much more of his floor than his ceiling. However, Overbay is back on track in '09, sitting on a career-high pace for home runs (23) and RBI (104). His 24 extra-base hits is more than fellow first basemen Miguel Cabrera and Lance Berkman(notes), and he has recorded a hit in each of the past 15 games in which he has stepped to the plate. As mentioned, there's a Mark Grace-like limit to his upside, but there's something to be said for that type of veteran getting work for the league's top offense (.281 BA). And from his seventh spot in the lineup, he's hitting behind Adam Lind(notes) and Scott Rolen(notes), who follow Marco Scutaro(notes) with the second- and third-best On-Base Percentage marks among Blue Jay regulars – which helps explain his career-high RBI pace.

Prospecting
Justin Smoak, Tex, 1B – While Smoak currently resides on the seven-day disabled list (oblique) for Double-A Frisco, I think he's a pertinent topic in this forum, nonetheless. Rangers first baseman Chris Davis(notes) has managed to cloud every memory of his dynamic '08 debut in a feverish desire to provide air conditioning for the fans in attendance at Rangers games – his 88 strikeouts puts him on a season pace of 255, which would shatter the major league record set a year ago by Mark Reynolds(notes) (205). Davis also has the second-lowest BB/K ratio in the league (0.14), is hitting at the Mendoza Line (.202) and has gone homerless in his past 12 games. This brings us back to Smoak, a former high school teammate of Matt Wieters(notes) who was Texas' top draft choice a year ago. Baseball America draws comparisons with Mark Teixeira(notes) because he's a switch hitter with a nice blend of power and patience. Speaking of Baseball America, one of their analysts, Jim Callis, recently had this to say about the possibility of Smoak seeing time in Arlington this season: "If you'd have asked me this at the beginning of the year as a hypothetical question, I'd have said it wouldn't matter because there was no reason not to let Davis work through his struggles, and no reason to rush Smoak. But with the Rangers contending, they're going to have to look seriously at calling up Smoak if things don't change by the All-Star break. Smoak is tough enough to handle the promotion, and while ideally you'd like to give him more minor league ABs, the Rangers can't take a sub-.700 OPS at first base when they're trying to win." The 22-year-old Smoak would have immediate cachet in mixed leagues if/when he arrives in Texas.

MIDDLE INFIELDERS

Three Up/Three Down

Ian Stewart(notes), Col, 2/3 – No. 1 past week in Y!: 13-for-31 (.419), 4 HR, 12 RBI, 9 R in past 7 games
Clint Barmes(notes), Col, 2/3/S – Fab 15: 24-for-60 (.400), 2 HR, 13 RBI, 9 R, 2 SB in past 15 games
David Eckstein(notes), SD, 2/S – Dandy dozen: 16-for-43 (.372), 1 HR, 9 RBI, 8 R, 1 SB in past 12 games

Brian Roberts(notes), Bal, 2B – Eight to berate: 4-for-34 (.118), 0 HR, 1 XBH, 0 RBI, 1 R, 1 SB in past 8 games
J.J. Hardy(notes), Mil, SS – 6-for-42 (.143), 0 XBH, 2 RBI, 8 R in past 11; 0 HR in past 24
Orlando Hudson(notes), LAD, 2B – 6-for-40 (.150), 1 HR, 4 RBI, 3 R, 0 SB in past 11 games

Wire flier (best pickup among players owned in less than 50 percent of Y! Plus leagues)
Jose Lopez(notes), Sea, 1/2 (51%) – Please forgive me, but I'm going to encroach my ownership percentage threshold by a percentage point here. Lopez has started to turn the beat around after opening the season with a .216 batting average and just three home runs in the first 46 games. His past 10 games – .325, 5 2B, 3 HR, 11 RBI, 4 R – have brought the kind of production that made him a top 100 player in the Yahoo! game last season. And another particularly compelling reason for picking him up now is the fact that he won't face a pitching staff with a team ERA better than 4.40 in his next five series. (Note: Lopez has added two home runs since I started writing this column)

Prospecting
Sean Rodriguez(notes), LAA, 2/S – Rodriguez, a third-round pick in '03, is currently defying middle infield convention by pacing all minor leaguers with 21 home runs. The long ball is nothing new for Rodriguez, as he's now clubbed 42 home runs in his past 122 games at the Triple-A level. The rub is that he strikes out a lot – he's fanned 65 times in '09, second-most in the PCL. Basically, for fantasy projection purposes, we're talking about Dan Uggla(notes) with more upside in steals. LA Times blogger Steve Bisheff reported on Tuesday that Rodriguez got the start in centerfield for Triple-A Salt Lake City on Monday night, leading to speculation that the Angels could be angling away from Gary Matthews Jr.(notes). Of course, the Angels have been suffering at Rodriguez's more natural position, as well, with second baseman Howie Kendrick(notes) sitting on a .235 batting average. Be it in a utility role or a more permanent move to the outfield, expect that Rodriguez will ultimately get the call sometime this month. Talking about Rodriguez, Angels manager Mike Scioscia recently had this to say: "He's really picked it up. He's someone we're paying a lot of attention to. The way he's driving the ball, playing all-around, has been very impressive. [Salt Lake Manager] Bobby Mitchell can't say enough good things about how well he's playing."

CATCHERS

Three Up/Three Down

Pablo Sandoval(notes), SF, C/1/3 – Buzzin' dozen: 16-for-39 (.410), 2 HR, 10 RBI, 6 R in past 12 games
Carlos Ruiz(notes), Phi, C – 16-for-42 (.381), 3 HR, 8 RBI, 7 R, 3 SB in past 15 games
Jason Jaramillo(notes), Pit, C – 8-for-27 (.296), 1 HR, 8 RBI, 5 R in past 7 games

Russell Martin(notes), LAD, C/3 – June swoon: 3-for-21 (.143), 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0 R, 0 SB in past 6 games
Matt Wieters, Bal, C – Wieters of our discontent: 6-for-31 (.194), 0 HR, 0 RBI, 1 R in 9 games
John Baker(notes), Fla, C – Rotting fish: 5-for-32 (.156), 0 HR, 1 RBI, 3 R, 13 K in past 9 games

Wire flier (best pickup among players owned in less than 50 percent of Y! Plus leagues)
Ramon Hernandez(notes), Cin, C/1 (45%) – I think we can freely admit that the catcher position stinks like a kitchen garbage can that wasn't emptied prior to a long summer vacation – I speak from experience. Currently, there are just 10 catchers that rank inside the top 300 in the Yahoo! game – those in leagues of 12-plus teams are likely well aware of this fact. So owners in need of backstop help can't expect a miracle. If Hernandez happens to be available, consider yourself as lucky as you can hope to be. With Joey Votto(notes) out, he's playing nearly every day at first base. Regular playing time has landed Hernandez fifth among all catchers in at-bats (185), giving him an advantage in counting-stat production – he's seventh among catchers with 24 RBI. Ten of those RBI have come in the past 15 games, along with three home runs. Admittedly, the numbers don't blow you away but, as I said, they are about as good as you can hope for.

Prospecting
Adam Moore, Sea, C – The Mariners have issues at catcher, with Kenji Johjima(notes) expected to miss another month with a fractured toe. The team has produced just a .586 OPS from the catcher position, third-lowest in the league. Recently, the club called up Guillermo Quiroz(notes) from Double-A, passing over Moore. Manager Don Wakamatsu explained the move, saying, "Adam hasn't had much time in Tacoma (Triple-A affiliate) yet, and we didn't think it would be fair to bring him up and have him sit most of the time." Moore entered the season as the team's No. 6 prospect, according to Baseball America, after hitting .319 with 14 home runs in 119 games at Double-A in '08. This season, Moore has 21 games under his belt at Tacoma, hitting .308 with a solid .821 OPS. He's considered a complete package at the catcher position and, given that Jeff Clement(notes) has fumbled his few opportunities with the big club, it's now assumed that Moore is the team's catcher of the future. If he continues to hit well at Triple-A, and Seattle continues to get anemic results from the backstop position, Moore's big-league debut may not be too far off.

OUTFIELDERS

Three Up/Three Down

Cody Ross(notes), Fla, OF – 27-for-84 (.321), 4 HR, 17 RBI, 18 R, 2 SB in past 24 games
Laynce Nix(notes), Cin, OF – Red hot: 9-for-28 (.321), 3 HR, 8 RBI, 3 R in past 7 games
Aaron Rowand(notes), SF, OF – Giant streak: 36-for-89 (.404), 4 HR, 15 RBI, 16 R, 3 SB in past 22 games

Alex Rios(notes), Tor, OF – Weak week: 4-for-28 (.143), 0 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R, 3 SB, 8 K in past 7 games
Corey Hart(notes), Mil, OF – Dis-Hart-ening: 5-for-33 (.152), 1 HR, 3 RBI, 2 R, 0 SB, in past 9 games
Adam Dunn(notes), Was, O/1 – Capitol punishment: 5-for-33 (.152), 1 HR, 2 RBI, 3 R, 0 SB, 12 K in past 10 games

Wire flier (best pickup among players owned in less than 50 percent of Y! Plus leagues)
Nolan Reimold(notes), Bal, OF (27%) – Reimold made the "Prospecting" section of this column back in mid-May in the midst of terrorizing International League pitching. And he's hardly skipped a beat since getting promoted to the O's on May 14th. In fact, he's hit in 18 of 23 games for Baltimore, with all seven home runs and 14 of his 16 RBI coming in the past 18 games. There's no need to question the power output, it's legit. In his past 193 games at Triple-A or above, he's hit 41 home runs, including 16 bombs in 54 games this season. In fact, Reimold and teammate Luke Scott(notes) have been carrying the team for the past couple weeks. Since Adam Jones(notes) hit a home run on May 26th, Reimold and Scott have combined for 13 home runs while the rest of the team has combined for zero. If you are looking for an outfield power play, Reimold's your man.

Prospecting
Austin Jackson(notes), NYY, OF – Jackson entered the season as the Yankees' top prospect, according to Baseball America, and although catcher Jesus Montero would probably get the nod now, it wouldn't be because of anything Jackson has done on the field in '09. For Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre, Jackson currently sits tied for third in the International League with a .341 batting average and he's yet to be caught in 11 stolen-base attempts. The main rub with Jackson is his lack of power – he has just one home run in 208 at bats. That said, he's a tremendous athlete and projects to eventually have at least average pop. Jackson made a strong run at a roster spot with the Yankees out of spring training, hitting .333 with three home runs in 23 Grapefruit League games. But the team opted to go with the more experienced Melky Cabrera(notes) and Brett Gardner(notes) in centerfield, and the two have, in fact, held their own. That said, this is the Yankees, and it's coming up on trading season, so any of the three centerfielders could easily be in play in the swap market. In the mean time, Jackson is saying all the right things in regards to his future: "The Yankees haven't really said anything about future plans, but as long as I keep working and keep playing good, I'll put them in a situation where they have to bring me up."

STARTING PITCHERS

Three Up/Three Down

Gavin Floyd(notes), CHW, SP – Past 4: 2-1, 1.82 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 18 H, 8 BB, 31 K, 29.2 IP
Vin Mazzaro(notes), Oak, SP – Debut 2: 2-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 4 BB, 5 K, 13.2 IP
Josh Outman(notes), Oak, SP – Past 6: 4-0, 2.31 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 14 BB, 28 K, 39 IP

Chris Young, SD, SP – Past 3: 0-3, 4.76 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 13 H, 10 BB, 6 K, 17 IP
Randy Wolf(notes), LAD, SP – Past 4: 1-1, 5.68 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 31 H, 6 HR, 4 BB, 16 K, 25.2 IP
Joe Saunders(notes), LAA, SP – Past 5: 1-3, 5.93 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, 35 H, 6 HR, 13 BB, 20 K, 30.1 IP

Wire flier (best pickup among players owned in less than 50 percent of Y! Plus leagues)
Jordan Zimmermann(notes), Was, SP (38%) – It's just a matter of time before things take off for Zimmermann, at least in all things not concerning the Wins category. Yes, he's currently sitting on an unsavory 5.71 ERA, but his K:BB ratio (3.86) is elite level, ranking 11th among pitchers with at least 40 innings pitched – and, believe me, you wouldn't turn away any of the 10 pitchers ranked ahead of him. Unfortunately, his BABIP (.351) is 10th-highest among pitchers (40 IP min.), representing that Zimmermann has been dealt a fairly unlucky hand, thus far. Of course, part of the problem has been that his control has been too good, as he's thrown too many pitches in the fat part of the strike zone. As he learns to toy with hitters a little more, he should see that BABIP and inordinately high LD% (25.5) level off and the ERA will follow. If strikeouts is a need, don't be scared off by the high ratios.

Prospecting
Clay Buchholz(notes), Bos, SP – It's safe to assume that Buchholz doesn't need any more minor league seasoning. With 11 mostly dominating starts at Triple-A Pawtucket this season, he's now logged 28 starts at the Triple-A level, registering a 2.53 ERA and a 157:45 K-to-BB ratio in 149.1 IP. True, there's not much room in the Boston rotation at the moment, but you'd hope that something gives (Brad Penny(notes), another Dice-K injury, Buchholz dealt for a shortstop?) by the July 31st trade deadline. If not, Buchholz, who will turn 25 in August, will continue to be the biggest talent going to waste at the Triple-A level.

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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