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Another day, another blown save for Jim Johnson. The Orioles' closer blew his third straight save in yesterday's 14-inning loss to the Diamondbacks. After going 51-for-54 in save chances last season, he's just 39-for-48 this year. His nine blown saves are the most in the majors and put him in danger of tying or surpassing the record of 14 before the year is out.
Johnson has always walked a fine line since he doesn't get as many swings and misses as your prototypical closer-type, but while his strikeout rate is up a bit this year, his walks also are up and opposing batters are making more solid contact against him this year than they did in 2012 or 2011. So when you look at his .321 BABIP (batting average in balls in play), this isn't just about bad luck.
Some have suggested that Orioles manager Buck Showalter should turn to Tommy Hunter or even Francisco Rodriguez for the closer role. Both are acceptable options if you are desperate for saves in fantasy leagues, but Showalter hasn't shown any signs of making a change. Despite his struggles, Johnson still leads the majors in saves and he had a 1.35 ERA in his last 29 games prior to this recent rough patch. But let this serve as a warning about closers who don't miss a ton of bats. A lot can go wrong when the ball is put into play.
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Brandon Belt 1B, Giants (Yahoo: 38 percent owned)
Belt was recently benched for a few games, but he has responded with a vengeance, hitting .412 (14-for-34) with three home runs and seven RBI while compiling a nine-game hitting streak. He's now batting .273/.351/.471 over 405 plate appearances and has already doubled his home run total from last year. There appears to be something behind this modest power progression, as his fly ball rate has increased from 36.6 percent last season to 43.9 percent this year. He's still mostly a corner infielder (CI) option for me in mixers, but he'll carry some momentum going into 2014. Remember, he won't be 26 until next April.
Brandon Beachy SP, Braves (Yahoo: 46 percent owned)
Beachy's return from Tommy John surgery got off to a bit of a bumpy start, but he has allowed just two runs in 14 innings over his last two starts. His velocity is a tick below where it was prior to surgery, but his swinging strike rate is still above the league average. And while some pitchers struggle with their control and command coming back from Tommy John surgery, Beachy has walked just four batters in 24 innings. The Braves might use a six-man rotation down the stretch, but he's a must-own the rest of the way and should be on quite a few sleeper lists going into 2014.
Christian Yelich OF, Marlins (Yahoo: 16 percent owned)
Yelich has held his own in his first taste of the big leagues, batting .286/.337/.347 with five extra-base hits (one home run), five RBI, two stolen bases and 11 runs scored in 22 games. Granted, the 21-year-old has a .357 BABIP (batting average on balls in play), but his sweet swing results in plenty of line drives and he's showing encouraging plate discipline at a young age. Marlins manager Mike Redmond is obviously impressed, as he has installed him as the leadoff man in each of the last 14 games. It might be a little while before we see Yelich's power develop, but he should do enough in all categories to be useful in five-outfielder formats. He's someone I'll be targeting in the mid-to-late rounds of mixed league drafts next spring.
Ricky Nolasco SP, Dodgers (Yahoo: 42 percent owned)
Nolasco has been very solid since joining the Dodgers last month, posting a 2.97 ERA and 29/13 K/BB ratio in 39 1/3 innings over seven starts. While he has struggled to work deep into games, he has still managed four victories. Hey, pitching for the hottest team in the universe has its perks. Nolasco is probably already owned in most deeper leagues, but he's a must-start in all formats this weekend for a start against the scuffling Phillies in Philadelphia.
Rajai Davis OF, Blue Jays (Yahoo: 26 percent owned)
The Blue Jays are dealing with injuries to both Colby Rasmus and Melky Cabrera at the moment, which means that Davis should continue to get significant playing time in the outfield over the next couple of weeks. That's good news for fantasy owners, as Davis is tied for fourth in the majors with 34 stolen bases, despite appearing in just 77 games. When he plays, he runs. Pretty simple. Pick him up if you are playing catch up in the speed department.
Will Middlebrooks 3B, Red Sox (Yahoo: 29 percent owned)
While many of us are waiting for a potential Xander Bogaerts callup, the Red Sox are currently giving Middlebrooks another opportunity at third base. The 24-year-old is 6-for-14 (.400) with two doubles and two RBI since returning to the majors, but he still owns an ugly .206/.246/.399 batting line on the year. I wouldn't count on much help in the way of batting average, but he's absolutely capable of providing some thump from the third base position. The Red Sox would probably prefer that he keeps the job for the rest of the year, but keep an eye on Bogaerts if he struggles.
Juan Francisco 1B/3B, Brewers (Yahoo: 12 percent owned)
Francisco has quietly been very useful with the Brew Crew, batting .257 with 12 home runs, 29 RBI and an .865 OPS in 56 games. This includes his two-homer game against the Rangers on Wednesday night. Only 16 players have hit more home runs since Francisco joined the Brewers on June 4 and nearly all of them (Raul Ibanez being the exception) are owned in more than 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Granted, the 26-year-old still strikes out at an alarming rate, but the power should make up for the batting average risk. The playing time should be there, so he's worth a look if you need help out of a corner infielder (CI) spot.
Gerardo Parra OF, Diamondbacks (Yahoo: 29 percent owned)
Parra's role was diminished somewhat when Adam Eaton came off the disabled list, but he should find more playing time now that Cody Ross is done for the season with a fracture in his right hip. The 26-year-old has four multi-hit games in his last five and now owns a solid .272/.333/.407 batting line to go along with eight homers, 30 RBI, nine stolen bases, and 62 runs scored. We could see more of Martin Prado in the outfield once Eric Chavez comes off the disabled list, but Parra should be a solid option in five-outfielder leagues as long as he's in the lineup.
Shopping at the five-and-dime:
(Players owned in under 10 percent of Yahoo! leagues)
Oswaldo Arcia OF, Twins (Yahoo: 4 percent owned)
Since being recalled from Triple-A Rochester earlier this month, Arcia has nine extra-base hits (including four home runs) in 13 games. Of course, he has also fanned 22 times in 57 plate appearances during that timespan and owns a 30.1 percent strikeout rate during his rookie campaign. The shoddy plate discipline puts a dent in his value in the short-term, but it's hard not to be intrigued by his power potential. Arcia has bounced back and forth from the majors to the minors a couple of times this year, but the Twins appear committed to playing him everyday down the stretch. As they should be. He's worth a flier as a fourth or fifth outfielder for the rest of the season and I see 20-plus homer potential for 2014.
Jenrry Mejia SP, Mets (Yahoo: 9 percent owned)
It wasn't too long ago that Mejia was a popular name in prospect circles, but his stock has dropped in recent years due to arm problems. It might be time to give him another look. While the 23-year-old only has one win to show for it, he has posted a 2.22 ERA and 22/3 K/BB ratio in 24 1/3 innings over four starts since joining the Mets' rotation last month. Just icing on the cake, he's also inducing a ton of ground balls. It's worth noting that Mejia has bone chips in his elbow which will require offseason surgery, something that recently caused him to stop throwing as hard, but the Mets don't see it as something that requires a shutdown. Give him a try this weekend against the Padres in San Diego and keep him on your radar as a sleeper going in 2014.
Avisail Garcia OF, White Sox (Yahoo: 4 percent owned)
Acquired from the Tigers in the three-team Jake Peavy trade, Garcia is poised to receive regular playing time in right field now that Alex Rios has been dealt to the Rangers. The Venezuela native owns an underwhelming .270/.313/.355 batting line and a 36/8 K/BB ratio over 163 plate appearances in the majors so far, but he just turned 22 in June and aggressiveness is nothing new with a player at that age. The White Sox believe his plate discipline will improve in time, but his pop and speed should be able to help in deeper mixed leagues right now.
Travis d'Arnaud C, Mets (Yahoo: 4 percent owned)
D'Arnaud's long-anticipated major league debut could come any minute now, as he is expected to be called up once John Buck leaves the team for the birth of his child. The 24-year-old backstop is now fully healed from a broken bone in his foot back in April, hitting .303/.410/.545 with two homers and a 15/12 K/BB ratio in 19 games since returning to action. Acquired from the Blue Jays in the R.A. Dickey deal during the offseason, d'Arnaud is considered the catcher of the future for New York, so there's a good chance he'll be up to stay. Now is the time to stash him in two-catcher formats.
Andrew Lambo OF, Pirates (Yahoo: 0 percent owned)
Lambo got the call to the big club this week after hitting .284/.350/.576 with 31 home runs in 117 games this season between Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis. The hope is that he'll be able to provide some offense out of right field, which has been a trouble spot for the first-place Pirates. It's worth noting that the 25-year-old also struck out 25 percent of the time in the minors this season and has never hit more than 18 home runs in a full season before, so it remains to be seen whether this is just a career year or a legitimate breakthrough. I see him as more of a desperation play in deeper mixed leagues if you need power, but the upside makes him a must-own in NL-only formats.
Jake Arrieta SP, Cubs (Yahoo: 0 percent owned)
Acquired from the Orioles in the Scott Feldman deal back in July, Arrieta was impressive in a spot start last month and will get an extended opportunity in Chicago's rotation beginning this weekend. The 27-year-old right-hander owns an ugly 5.39 ERA through 364 innings in the majors, but the rebuilding Cubs still think he has the potential to be a useful starter in the long run. He has the velocity and the arsenal, so stranger things have happened.
Wilson Betemit 1B/3B/OF, Orioles (Yahoo: 0 percent owned)
Out all season with a PCL tear in his in his right knee, Betemit is batting .379 (11-for-29) with two doubles during his minor league rehab assignment and moved up to Double-A Bowie on Wednesday. If all goes according to plan, he should be activated later this month. Orioles' designate hitters are batting just .210 with a .657 OPS this season, so Betemit could provide a nice boost against right-handed pitching at the very least. Stash him if you have an available DL spot.
Todd Redmond SP, Blue Jays (Yahoo: 1 percent owned)
Redmond has been pretty solid when called upon this season, posting a 3.62 ERA and 40/11 K/BB ratio in 37 1/3 innings over six starts and three relief appearances. This includes 5 1/3 innings of scoreless ball against the Red Sox on Tuesday night. With Josh Johnson and Brandon Morrow both on the disabled list, there's a real chance he could keep a rotation spot for the stretch run. The 28-year-old right-hander is more of a journeyman than a long-term piece, but his knack for limiting walks could come in handy.