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The Skinny: Anticipated debuts

Matt Romig
Yahoo Sports
CLOSER HOT SEAT
ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS RED HOT
1st Chair: Brian Bruney
2nd Chair: Jose Valverde, Greg Aquino
Skinny: The Arizona Republic reported on Sunday that manager Bob Melvin is open to the possibility of using Aquino in late relief now that the hard-throwing righty has been activated from the DL. Aquino, who saved 16 games as a rookie in 2004, was sidelined by elbow problems after appearing in only one game this season. His return puts even more heat on Bruney. Arizona's interim closer has allowed nine runs on 16 hits in his past 5.1 innings. Meanwhile, Brandon Lyon was placed on the 60-day DL, which means he can return no earlier than July 12. He is expected to be more than a month away, however.
CINCINNATI REDS RED HOT
1st Chair: Ryan Wagner
2nd Chair: David Weathers, Kent Mercker
Skinny: Weathers retired a single batter to record a save on Tuesday, then pitched a scoreless ninth the following night to earn a win. Manager Dave Miley hasn't named a new closer, but he is managing his bullpen like a guy who has lost confidence in Wagner. Mercker and Weathers handled the ninth inning on Tuesday. The Reds haven't faced a save situation since, so Weathers has been idle with the exception of Wednesday's appearance in a tight game. Wagner, on the other hand, has seen plenty of mop-up work. On Sunday, he pitched a scoreless eighth with the Reds leading 10-4, his seventh straight non-save appearance.
ATLANTA BRAVES RED HOT
1st Chair: Chris Reitsma
2nd Chair: Dan Kolb, Joey Devine?
Skinny: Chad Cordero and Huston Street already made the leap – could Joey Devine be the next collegiate reliever to earn a Major League closer job within a year of his final amateur appearance? The Braves selected Devine with the 27th pick in last week's draft and team officials aren't ruling out a 2005 debut for the 21-year-old. As a junior at N.C. State, the sidearmer recorded 12 saves while striking out 72 in 48.2 innings. Reitsma, for his part, isn't exactly giving the Braves a reason to hurry the youngster. Atlanta's fill-in closer hasn't allowed a run in eight innings, yielding only two hits while earning four saves in the process.
TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS RED HOT
1st Chair: Danys Baez
2nd Chair: Lance Carter, Chad Orvella
Skinny: Baez is expected to be available on Monday after shutting down for the weekend due to shoulder stiffness. The discomfort is appropriate, given that he's been pitching like a stiff of late. Tampa Bay's closer has walked a batter in eight of his past nine appearances and both of his June outings have resulted in blown saves. Carter was given a chance to close Sunday's game, but he allowed a pinch-hit homer by Humberto Cota with two out in the ninth. Orvella, regarded as the team's closer of the future, pitched a scoreless 12th to earn his first career save in the majors.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS HOT
1st Chair: Mike MacDougal
2nd Chair: Jeremy Affeldt, Ambiorix Burgos
Skinny: Is this suddenly a hot-seat battle that matters? The Royals are 7-4 under new manager Buddy Bell after losing all but three of their series in the season's first two months. The bullpen beneficiary, thus far, has been MacDougal, who is working on a streak of five straight successful save conversions. Non-save situations haven't been as kind. He surrendered a walk-off homer to Troy Glaus on Friday, then made rookie J.P. Howell sweat by allowing two runs in the ninth on Saturday. The cash-conscious Royals won't overpay for a set-up guy, so look for Affeldt to be dealt if MacDougal can keep his job. Affeldt has struck out five in four innings since returning to the Royals after nearly two months on the DL.
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS WARM
1st Chair: Tyler Walker
2nd Chair: LaTroy Hawkins, Jack Taschner?
Skinny: Taschner was recalled on Saturday from Triple-A Fresno, where he had three saves and a 0.95 ERA in 26 appearances. The lefty, who impressed the Giants with his slider in spring training, is expected to serve in middle relief initially. Save chances have been hard to come by lately, but Walker has been up to the task when called upon. In save situations, the righty is 9-for-10 with a 0.82 ERA. Hawkins, owner of a 21.00 ERA and .467 opponent's average in June, may be pitching his way into long relief.
FLORIDA MARLINS WARM
1st Chair: Todd Jones
2nd Chair: Guillermo Mota, Jim Mecir
Skinny: Though he has 197 career saves and is 11-for-13 in save situations this season, Todd Jones doesn't think he deserves a spot on your roster. "I'm not your best choice for fantasy closer," Jones told MLB.com. "I'm a lunch-pail type closer, I guess." No matter how he totes his grub to the office, Jones is getting the job done. On Saturday, he struck out Mark Teixeira, Hank Blalock and Alfonso Soriano in order to close out a one-run win over Texas. Mota, meanwhile, is a mess. Since returning from the DL, the club's former closer has allowed 12 earned runs in 7.2 innings. The Palm Beach Post speculated that Mota might be on the trading block, but that was before the team failed to sign Danny Graves, who landed with the Mets.
DETROIT TIGERS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Troy Percival
2nd Chair: Kyle Farnsworth, Franklyn German
Skinny: Last week's trade of Ugueth Urbina returned Percival to the closer's chair in Detroit. His save on Saturday was his first since May 7 and just his fourth on the season. Given that an extended stay behind Urbina in the pecking order appeared likely this time last week, Percival owners will take what they can get. Meanwhile, Farnsworth is enjoying his most productive season since he struck out 100 out of the Cubs bullpen in 2001.
OAKLAND ATHLETICS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Huston Street
2nd Chair: Justin Duchscherer
Skinny: Aided by a line-drive double play, Street converted his third-straight save chance on Sunday. For the second time since Octavio Dotel was sidelined with elbow problems, manager Ken Macha signaled for Street in the eighth inning. Both times the rookie responded by striking out the first batter he faced. Street could prove to be one of the most valuable free agent pickups in fantasy leagues if Oakland continues its recent run of success.
PITTSBURGH PIRATES LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Jose Mesa
2nd Chair: Mike Gonzalez
Skinny: Gonzalez is battling arm fatigue and left knee pain, but the lefty continues to get batters out. He pitched a scoreless ninth inning on Sunday in a tie game. Manager Lloyd McClendon is expected to give Gonzalez a taste of closing before the season is done. Historically, the Pirates are sellers at the trade deadline. Mesa is a likely candidate to go if Pittsburgh holds to form as the deadline approaches.
The Skinny has always been a sucker for a good Major League debut. Given a chance to watch a kid break in at the big league level, I'll pass up a marquee matchup to let the channel clicker land in such remote locales as a Tampa Bay/Pittsburgh series or a Saturday night tilt between Kansas City and Arizona. The remote control was busy this weekend. J.P. Howell won his first career start for the Royals on Saturday, striking out eight. Catchers Ryan Doumit and Brian McCann shined, Rickie Weeks was solid in what is being called his second ML debut and we got our first look at Andy Marte. Though there was other action to track, this week's Skinny is dedicated to these prospects:

WEEKEND UPDATE: Need-to-know info from the past few days

  • Early last season, when the buzz surrounding Tampa Bay prospect B.J. Upton was reaching a crescendo, I ran into a trusted source for fantasy news and asked him if he was buying into the hype. "Nah," he told me plainly. "Rickie Weeks is the guy." It was an interesting observation to hear at the time. Weeks was in the midst of a ho-hum .259 campaign at Double-A Huntsville and Upton, the higher ranked prospect, was knocking on the big league door while wearing out Triple-A pitching. Fast-forward now to 2005 and it looks like my source was on to something. Weeks was recalled by Milwaukee on Friday. In 55 games at Triple-A Nashville, the 22-year-old second baseman hit .320 with 12 homers, 48 RBIs and a .435 on-base percentage. He promptly went 2-for-4 with an RBI in his 2005 debut on Saturday.

Weeks needs to be watched closely by fantasy owners. His minor league manager, Frank Kremblas, says the kid has 40-HR potential. His current skipper, Ned Yost, met with the rookie on Saturday and told him the team was committed to giving him a long look. For now, that long look means starting at second base and batting second in the Brewers lineup. Defense has been his Achilles heel. If the glove holds up, he'll have a shot at piling up extra-base hits at the top of Milwaukee's lineup. Expectations for the rest of this year, of course, should be tempered. Weeks looked foolish on several breaking pitches on Sunday, going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in a loss to Philadelphia. Still, the second base position is thin enough on talent that guys like Bret Boone and Luis Castillo are almost universally-owned despite prolonged slumps.

  • Another recent call-up who has fantasy owners buzzing is Pittsburgh's Ryan Doumit. The switch-hitting catcher drove in three runs on Saturday while falling a home run short of the cycle. Back in the lineup on Sunday and batting cleanup for the second straight game, Doumit doubled in his first two at-bats, the first driving in a run. Manager Lloyd McClendon says he doesn't want to bat the rookie fourth, but if the hit parade continues he might not have a choice. The Pirates are expected to use him primarily as a designated hitter on the team's upcoming trip through New York and Boston.

Carrying three catchers is unusual, but Doumit has already logged time behind the plate and in the outfield. If he can hold up under the pressure of playing at Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park, the Pirates will likely find a way to keep his bat in the lineup. He hit .345 with 12 homers and 35 RBIs at Triple-A Indianapolis before getting the call. In his brief big league career he has displayed the ability to use both fields. On Sunday, his first double was a scorcher down the third-base line. His next hit reached the fence in right field. When you consider that only one catcher-eligible player has double-digit HRs and Ramon Hernandez leads all signal-callers with 32 RBIs, Doumit's development may actually have an immediate impact in fantasy leagues.

  • In Los Angeles, rookie D.J. Houlton struck out eight in his second Major League start on Sunday. Too bad nobody noticed. Houlton was upstaged by Dodgers first baseman Hee-Seop Choi, who blasted three homers and now has cleared the fence six times in the past three games. The Skinny has seen this act before from Choi, so I'm taking a pass. He had an extended power slump upon joining the Dodgers, and then hit five homers in a 12-game span beginning in late April. This latest binge comes after a 25-game homerless draught. This is what you get with Choi – a few glimpses of excellence intermixed with extended productivity voids.

Houlton earned another start with his gritty outing on Sunday. Five of his strikeouts came while Minnesota had a base-runner camped 90-feet from home. Though he would give up seven hits, he held the Twins to three earned runs in six innings on a night the ball was carrying. Houlton, who struck out 159 batters in as many innings last year in the Houston organization, is now 2-0 with a 3.18 ERA as a starter for the Dodgers. He'll get his next start when L.A. travels to Chicago for an inter-league series this weekend.

BARGAIN BIN: Top players available in 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues

  • Emil Brown, OF, KC
    Plenty of Kansas City bats have caught fire under new manager Buddy Bell. Mark Teahen has eight hits in his past four starts, Tony Graffanino is batting .500 since May 29 and catcher John Buck is hitting at a .345 clip in June. The team's most consistent performer, Emil Brown, also remains hot. After hitting .313 with 16 runs and 15 RBIs in May, Brown is off to a 15-for-39 (.385) start in June, averaging about a run and RBI per game along the way. Not bad for a guy who spent the last three full seasons with four different organizations without cracking a major league roster.
  • Danny Haren, SP, Oak
    In case you haven't noticed, it is no longer necessary for Oakland starters to pitch shutouts in order to win. Heck, even Barry Zito was beneficiary of some run support on Sunday. One guy who certainly can't complain about getting hung out to dry by the offense is Haren. In his past three starts, all wins, Oakland has scored a combined 28 runs. The bats haven't done all the work, however. During his winning streak, Haren has a 2.78 ERA and a WHIP of 0.75 with only two walks in 22-plus innings. His next start comes at home against the Mets.

PROSPECT WATCH: Top players down on the farm

  • Todd Linden, RF, SF (ETA – July 31)
    At least one more roster move is on the way for San Francisco, but just who will join the club was still unknown as of Monday morning. According to MLB.com, the organization is against promoting its hottest prospect, Todd Linden, who leads the Pacific Coast League in homers (18) and RBIs (58). Linden has five homers in June, but team officials would prefer he play every day, a guarantee he wouldn't have with the parent club. Still, if Sabean's tinkering becomes a full-blown rebuilding effort, look for Linden to get an extended look down the stretch.
  • Jesse Foppert, SP, SF (ETA – Called up Sunday)
    In the first of what general manager Brian Sabean promises will be several moves, the Giants released reliever Jim Brower on Sunday and recalled Foppert from Single-A San Jose. He will start the opener of a three-game series at Minnesota on Tuesday. Foppert, you may remember, went 8-9 as a 22-year-old rookie with the Giants in 2003. He struck out 101 batters in just over 110 innings, but had his season cut short by Tommy John surgery. Recovery doesn't appear to have robbed him of his power-pitching tendencies. In 43 innings of work in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, Foppert struck out 41 batters while compiling a 3-1 record.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Todd Hollandsworth, OF, ChN – One of Chicago's hottest bats, Hollandsworth is batting .429 in June with a HR, three doubles, two steals and nine RBIs. The streak reopens the battle for playing time in left field with rookie Jason Dubois.

Grady Sizemore, OF, Cle – Sizemore's multi-hit game on Sunday was his third straight and seventh in his past eight games. He is batting .444 in June with 13 runs scored and seven RBIs in 10 games through Monday.

Tony Armas, SP, Was – Putting together a 10-game winning streak requires contributions up and down the starting rotation. Washington has received a boost of late from Armas, who is 2-0 in June with a 1.50 ERA. He struck out six in five scoreless innings against Seattle on Sunday.

Randy Winn, OF, Sea – With a pinch-hit single on Sunday, Winn now finds himself batting .450 in June. A lack of productivity above and below him in the lineup is hurting his value, but Winn has chipped in with two steals this month to bring his season total to eight.

Michael Barrett, C, ChC – Like Hollandsworth, Barrett is red-hot. Though he went hitless on Sunday, the catcher is batting .364 in June with two homers and eight RBIs.

Rich Aurilia, SS, Cin – Openly complaining about losing starting shortstop duties to Felipe Lopez isn't winning Aurilia any friends, but his bat is something Reds fans can get chummy with. His home run on Sunday was his third in the past seven games.

Garrett Atkins, 3B, Col – Back in the No. 2 spot in the batting order, Atkins drove in a run on Sunday and now has six runs scored, 10 RBIs and a .349 average in 11 June games.

D.J. Carrasco, SP, KC – Six strong innings were wasted on Sunday, but this righty is 2-0 with a 0.67 ERA in his past four starts. Though he doesn't strike anyone out, he doesn't issue free passes either. Carrasco's WHIP stands at 1.09 through six starts.

Jason Lane, OF, Hou – Could this be Lane finally getting things going? He had three hits and a homer on Sunday, bringing his June totals to three homers and seven RBIs in eight games.

Kenny Lofton, OF, Phi – Lofton is hitting .433 in June with 10 runs scored in nine games. Jason Michaels is hitting near .300 on the season, but is finding it harder to secure playing time as his platoon-mate continues to tear it up.

Ichiro Suzuki, OF, Sea – By going 0-for-5 on Sunday, Ichiro fell below the .300 plateau for the first time since May of 2004. He is batting .167 in June.

Lyle Overbay, 1B, Mil – Overbay hasn't homered since May 10 and is batting just .195 in the past month. The Brewers may give Prince Fielder a shot if Overbay doesn't start producing like a corner infielder.

Al Leiter, SP, Fla – Leiter surrendered his third grand slam of the season on Saturday. The Miami Herald speculated on Monday that the lefty's days in the starting rotation may be numbered.

Travis Hafner, 1B, Cle – The Akron Beacon-Journal is reporting that tricep problems will limit Hafner to DH duties the rest of the season.

Andy Marte, 3B, Atl – Chipper Jones has opted against surgery, meaning he may return to the Atlanta lineup by the end of July. Marte will continue to split time with Wilson Betemit, but neither has long-term value now that Chipper's season appears to be saved.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Eyebrow-raising numbers
9 Total home runs allowed by Washington starting pitchers in 33 home games this season. The stingiest starter has been John Patterson, who has yet to allow a homer in eight home starts.