MLB Skinny: Youth is served

Brandon Funston
Yahoo Sports

The June youth movement is underway. MLB's amateur draft kicked off Monday afternoon, with Gerrit Cole going No. 1 to the Pirates and top hitting prospect Anthony Rendon falling to Washington at No. 6 – Stephen Strasburg(notes), Bryce Harper(notes) and Rendon in the past three years is some serious good fortune for the Nats.

Also, the Dodgers called up Dee Gordon(notes) on Monday. He's nowhere near the most-anticipated of the expected post-Super Two arrivals, but at least it's a start. As colleague Andy Behrens notes, Gordon has plenty of speed to offer from a premium position, but perhaps not much else at the moment. It could be as soon as next week that we are talking about the arrivals of Brett Lawrie(notes), Dustin Ackley(notes) and Anthony Rizzo(notes), among others. Rob Steingall has all the top on-the-verge prospects laid out in his NL and AL call-up primers.

While we wait for more of the youth infusion, let's take a look at what grabbed my attention this past week around the majors:

CORNER INFIELDERS
Utility vehicle –> Ty Wigginton(notes): Things are starting to click for Wigginton. Since opening 8-for-40 for Colorado, he's hit .292 with five home runs in his past 27 games. Slow Aprils are typical for Wigginton, but so are .275, 20-plus HR campaigns, and there remains little reason to expect anything different in the best hitting environment of his career. He's available in more than 80 percent of Yahoo! leagues and, with CI, MI and OF eligibility, he's a rock-solid utility tool to have in your back pocket as injuries continue to mount through the summer months.
Don't count on it –> Casey McGehee(notes): Last season, McGehee finished No. 82 in the Y! game. But take away RBIs as a category, and he ranked outside the top 130, as none of his other four categories were particularly special. This season, his ground-ball tendencies have risen to a top 15 level (53.8%), and trust me when I tell you that high ground-ball rates from a player with little speed are not good for the roto profile. Manager Ron Roenicke has brought McGehee off the bench in two of the past four games in an attempt to give him a mental break. Said Roenicke of his struggles, "It's something that players go through. I don't know why it is. Confidence starts to come into play. You see it with everybody. I saw it in Anaheim with guys who had been five- and six-year all-stars. Then one year, they have no confidence. It's like, 'I don't know if I can still do this.'" In shallow leagues, I'm not sure I'd wait McGehee out too much longer. He has only moderate power – abysmal of late (just 1 XBH in past 18 games) – and his speed is non-existent. The upside is just not as high as many would like to believe. Frankly, I don't see a big difference between Wigginton and McGehee.
Powering up –> Michael Morse(notes): No corner infielder has been hotter in the past two weeks than Morse, the No. 2 Y! player in that span (behind Carl Crawford(notes)). Going back to '09, Morse has hit .291 with 26 home runs in his past 447 at bats. That rate of 17.19 ABs per HR is elite – a mark that would typically land in the top 20 neighborhood among regulars in a given season. Morse is catching on in fantasy leagues, but he's still nearly 50 percent available. With regular playing time and no platoon issues, it's hard to make a case that Morse doesn't have a place in even the shallowest of leagues.
Raining on the parade –> Anthony Rizzo: It's fun to look at Rizzo's PCL numbers as we wait for his imminent arrival in San Diego. But in trying determine Rizzo's rookie impact, it's important to note that the PCL is ridiculously hitter friendly. There are currently 39 regulars in the PCL hitting .300 or better, which is about double MLB's current rate. Rizzo's production has been huge, but he's been only slightly better than retreads like Bryan LaHair, Wily Mo Pena and Mike Carp(notes). Expect Rizzo to have a bit of a rude awakening in Petco Park, a place that made Adrian Gonzalez(notes), arguably one of the league's top five hitters, look almost ordinary. My expectation is that Rizzo makes an impact on par with what we've seen from Atlanta rookie Freddie Freeman(notes), who has finally come alive in the last couple weeks, which puts him on the bubble of standard mixers.
MIDDLE INFIELDERS
Craig's list –> Allen Craig(notes): Among players with 100-plus at bats, Craig ranks 13th in the league with a .937 OPS. I'm not going to belabor the Craig point too much because he's been mentioned plenty of times in this space in the past. But now that he has 2B eligibility, I'm not sure there are 12 players at that position right now that I would rather have. And yet he's only 23 percent owned. It doesn't add up.
Power limits –> Yunel Escobar(notes): Escobar sits fourth among SS with a .818 OPS (four points better than Troy Tulowitzki(notes)). This jibes with the .800-plus OPS he produced in his first three seasons in Atlanta before last season's sub-.700 trip-up. The rub, though, is that he's an extreme ground-ball hitter with a current HR/FB rate that is about six percent higher than his career average. Because of his solid contact skills and his spot atop a healthy Blue Jays offense, Escobar can definitely continue to be a positive impact in the Runs and BA categories. But don't expect the 20 home run pace to continue. His 4-HR May was only the second 4-HR month of his career.
Thumbs up –> Freddy Sanchez(notes): In his Pittsburgh prime, Sanchez had back-to-back .300-plus, 80-RBI campaigns. Shoulder injuries robbed the excellent contact hitter of his fantasy relevancy the past couple seasons, but he's been relatively healthy for the Giants this season and in the past 19 games he's looking like his former Pirate self, hitting .358 with eight doubles, a home run and 12 RBIs. Sanchez isn't a good bet for more than 10 home runs, but when he's right, as he is currently, he's a doubles machine. And with Buster Posey(notes) out for the year, Sanchez has hit third in the past seven straight games. He hit mostly third for the Pirates when he had those back-to-back 80-RBI seasons. Available in 75 percent of leagues, Sanchez is a .300 hitter who should deliver solidly to both Runs and RBIs for as long as he can stay healthy.
OUTFIELDERS
Left turn –> Jay Bruce(notes): Although he struggled against southpaws early in his career, Bruce is having no problems with lefties these days. In fact, among left-handed hitters who have had at least 25 ABs against southpaws this season, only Jim Thome(notes) has produced a higher OPS (1.269) than Bruce's 1.199 mark. He now has a Jose Bautista(notes)-esque 32 home runs in his past 91 games dating back to mid-August of last season. He continues to push for first-round consideration in '12 drafts.
Flushable –> Delmon Young(notes): The write up for McGehee (above) applies here, as well. Like McGehee, Young's roto value was highly inflated because of his 100-plus RBIs in '10, but his power was nothing to write home about and he no longer has any interest in running. With all the Twins' offensive struggles and injuries, RBI opportunities have been hard to come by this season. Young could turn things around in the BA department, ultimately, but his counting stats won't likely be better than pedestrian. He's been cut loose in half of Y! leagues, and if you are one of those hanging on to him while someone like Angel Pagan(notes), Andres Torres(notes), Mitch Moreland(notes), teammate Denard Span(notes), to name just a few, sit unowned, you need to make a move.
PITCHERS
Climbing the charts –> Jonathon Niese(notes): Among those owned in less than 40 percent of Y! leagues, Niese is at the top of my list of starter targets. In his past four starts, he owns a 1.38 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 26 IP. According to FanGraphs, his curveball has produced the second-most positive results among starters. He's also getting positive results from his fastball for the first time in his career. And his career-best ground-ball rate (50.2%) is 27th-highest among starters.
A closer look –> Jonathan Papelbon(notes): Papelbon was a hot topic in our Sunday night live chat, as he's given up seven runs in his past 5.1 IP, and Daniel Bard(notes) was brought in to close things out on Sunday. But Bard was used because Papelbon had pitched both Friday and Saturday, not because he's in danger of losing his job. Despite a 4.32 ERA, there's plenty to suggest that Papelbon's arsenal is as good as ever. Among the 43 pitchers with at least two saves, Papelbon is one of only five with a FIP of under 2.00. His K/9 (12.24) and BB/9 (1.44) are both the second-best rates of his career, his velocity is in line with career averages and only Koji Uehara(notes), Mariano Rivera(notes) and Ryan Madson(notes) have induced more swings at pitches outside the strike zone among those with at least 10 IP. Papelbon's BABIP of .369 is nearly 100 points higher than his career average, and this is truly a case where bad luck has reared its ugly head. While most owners are sweating Papelbon's current state, now is not a bad time to pitch a modest offer.
CATCHERS
Shuffle play –> Miguel Olivo(notes): Olivo is learning to be patient in Seattle, as his current 8.2 BB% is nearly double his career rate. If his extra walks aren't proof enough that he's seeing the ball well right now, his .365 BA in his past 15 games is. He has five home runs in that span, including a homer in three straight games over the weekend at pitching-friendly Safeco Field, which is extremely tough on right-handed power. If Olivo, who is available in more than 80 percent of Y! leagues, can maintain his .250-ish BA, he'll continue to be very productive. He's getting regular at bats in the middle of the Seattle order and only Yadier Molina(notes) has come to the plate more often with runners on base this season among catchers.
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