Bringin' the Noise: Cruz directive

If his name was embroidered on the back of a polyester jersey in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Washington, Cleveland, Seattle or San Diego, Nelson Cruz would be fostering man-crushes across the fantasy universe.

Balls have been giant boulders to Cruz this year

Instead, baseball's most remarkable Four-A player continues to obliterate minor league pitching in relative obscurity.

The Texas Rangers product is quite possibly the best player you've never seen.

In 336 at-bats at Triple-A, Oklahoma's Boomer Sooner has accumulated numbers that could spontaneously cause retinas to detach from owner eye-sockets: .342 BA, 37 HR (12 in past 65 at-bats), 98 RBI, 93 R, 24 SB, .434/.710/1.144. Based on those ridiculous totals, it's no wonder players are comparing him to the Great Bambino. As Rangers catcher Gerald Laird, who briefly played alongside Cruz while on a rehab assignment in July, told the Dallas Morning News on July 27:

"He's the Babe Ruth of the Pacific Coast League. He's loose, having fun and having great at-bats. He's the best hitter I've ever seen at Triple-A."

Just two years ago, Cruz was Ruthian in hype only. The then eighth-ranked prospect in the Milwaukee system was immature physically and mentally. His frame was 55 pounds lighter. His buggy-whip swing more violent. And his eye less discerning.

Repeatedly bewildered by offspeed junk, the right fielder piled up abundant whiffs. The mammoth holes in his swing stymied his development, placing him far behind Corey Hart on the Brewers depth chart.

Traded to Texas in the blockbuster Carlos Lee deal, Cruz was absorbed by an organization willing to give him an opportunity. Unfortunately, he failed to seize the moment. In 437 combined at-bats with the Rangers in '06 and '07, he compiled an unimpressive .231 BA, 15 HR, 45 RBI and 3 SBs. Despite occasionally exuding terrific raw power and superb glove work, his overt aggressiveness at the dish (27.3 K%, 6.4BB%) made him incredibly vulnerable to crafty pitchers, overshadowing the positives.

Now 28, the 2008 version of Cruz, who could be Abraham Lincoln's Hispanic twin, is heftier, humbler and hungrier. Although he's still zealously attacking baseballs (22.9 K% in '08), he's become more selective, as evidenced by his keen-eyed 15.2 BB%. That cerebral growth has allowed Cruz to harness his natural talents, unleashing the statistical beast within.

For many "advanced" aged prospects that thrive at Triple-A, being trapped in the minors can be psychologically taxing. However, Cruz's laid-back, jovial attitude has kept him upbeat and focused:

John Wilkes Booth wouldn't roster Cruz

"If they have the opportunity to bring me up, they're going to do it," Cruz said. "I'm not going to worry about things I don't have control over. I wish I could be there, but I don't have any control. I can't pick when the right time is to bring me up."

If his last name was LaPorta, Rasmus or Gamel, the fantasy and standard baseball establishments would view him with mouth agape and tongue unfurled. But, despite his astonishing transformation, Cruz is unfairly tagged a "failed prospect." However, the miraculous rises of former farm darlings Jack Cust in '07 and Ryan Ludwick this season are two reasons why the Rangers front office should give Cruz another shot.

Even though he's currently on the 7-day DL nursing a minor left quadriceps strain, opportunity could knock at the Dominican Destroyer's door soon. Current Rangers right fielders Marlon Byrd and Brandon Boggs have been inconsistent since the break and DH Milton Bradley could be headed to the DL with a quad injury of his own.

Because Cruz is out of options, Texas management has to be committed to the slugger. According to Jon Daniels they're open to giving him another audition, as the GM noted to the Dallas Morning News two weeks ago, "he'll likely get one when we have an opening."

If Cruz can remain healthy, he could provide a significant power spark in September, similar to Rick Ankiel last year. Given his colossal across-the-board improvements, the Rangers' loaded lineup, his career 44.9 FB% and Rangers ballpark's hitter-friendly environment, the 99.8-percent available outfielder could do substantial damage with regular playing time.

Once the Rangers' seamstress sews his name with blue block letters, deep-thinking fantasy owners (14-team mixed, AL-only) should be prepared to purchase a ticket for the Caribbean Cruz.

Here are this week’s flames, lames and stars of video games:

Fantasy Flames
Player Team Pos Y!RK Y!%
Gio Gonzalez SP 546 0.27
'08 Stats (Triple-A):123.0 IP, 8 W, 4.24 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 128:61 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Buy (deep-mixed), Strong Buy (AL-only)
Lowdown: Andale! Andale! Arriba! Arriba! Owners scurrying for strikeouts need to cannonball into the free agent pool for Oakland's Speedy Gonzalez. The 22-year-old southpaw, who was Billy Beane's centerpiece in the Nick Swisher deal with Chicago back in January, is one of baseball's brightest power pitching prospects. Earlier this season with the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats, Gonzalez was wildly inconsistent. However, in five starts prior to his promotion, the flamethrowing hurler notched a 1.79 ERA, 0.91 WHIP and 9.74 K/9 in 35.1 IP. Erratic control has been a bugaboo for the youngster (3.85 BB/9 with Sacramento), but his explosive 93-96 sinking fastball, plus curve and change are devastating when on. A's manager Bob Geren gushed about Gonzalez's upside to August 5, remarking "He has electric stuff. He's young and just needed to sharpen up a couple different parts of his game [in the Spring]. But his fastball and curveball and everything were well above the Major League average. It was outstanding. He needed a little bit more seasoning, but obviously he made a real good impression with everyone." Along with the walks, excessive fly-balls have occasionally plagued him (0.61 GB/FB ratio at Triple-A), which suggests his road splits could be hideous. Still, fantasy fanatics who are desperately seeking punchouts should seek the widely available Gonzalez's services promptly. But be prepared to stomach potentially queasy WHIP numbers.
Fearless Forecast (Remaining games): 50.1 IP, 3 W, 3.96 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 46 K
Josh Johnson SP 455 14.5
'08 Stats: 29.2 IP, 2 W, 3.34 ERA, 1.52 WHIP, 23:12 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Buy (all leagues)
Lowdown: Johnson is a fantasy phoenix. Rising from the ashes after undergoing Tommy John surgery over a year ago, the intimidating 6-foot-7 righty is starting to exude pre-knife form. He has pounded the strike zone and challenged hitters with growing intensity in each start. In fact, his heater's velocity has increased from an average speed of 92.4 mph in '07 to 93.3 this year. Through five starts, he's amassed a respectable 3.34 ERA and 6.98 K/9 in 29.2 IP. Yes, his WHIP, spawned by exorbitant walks (3.64 BB/9), is nauseating, but Johnson's ample run support (4.62 RS/9), stellar 1.50 GB/FB ratio (44.8 GB%) and very unfortunate .331 BABIP are indicators that plenty of wins and an ERA decline are on the horizon. Johnson, dished straight up for Hunter Pence, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian Wilson in solo Y! Plus league swaps this week, is someone to acquire via trade or wire in deeper 12-team mixed leagues. Excluding WHIP, he'll likely post appreciable numbers in several key pitching categories down the homestretch.
Fearless Forecast (Remaining games): 53.2 IP, 5 W, 3.29 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 41 K
Kelly Shoppach C 373 26.5
'08 Stats: .287 BA, 12 HR, 35 RBI, 36 R, 0 SB, 73:17 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Buy (all leagues)
Lowdown: Shockingly, Shoppach, not the vanquished Victor Martinez, has been Cleveland's statistical giant at catcher. Capped by a five extra-base hit game – he's the eighth player in MLB history to accomplish the feat – the 28-year-old has slapped a .384 BA with five homers, seven doubles and 15 RBIs since the break. Shoppach ferociously attacks pitches (33.6 K%), which, when coupled with his lowly 67.1 CT% (contact), implies he's streaky. Still, when he has applied bat to ball the results have proved very fruitful, obvious in his career-best 18.8 HR/FB%. Indians skipper Eric Wedge told on August 4 Shoppach's success is primarily due to "sticking to his approach." Even though V-Mart is scheduled to begin a rehab assignment by the end of the week, it appears Wedge is committed to Shoppach at catcher. However, given his No. 3 backstop ranking in Y! leagues over the past 30 days, it's wise to deal him while his value is at its apex. High strikeouts combined with low contact numbers arrow to future negative returns.
Fearless Forecast (Remaining games): 168 at-bats, .258 BA, 5 HR, 22 RBI, 22 R, 0 SB
Brandon Moss OF 1242 0.24
'08 Stats (94 at-bats): .298 BA, 3 HR, 14 RBI, 8 R, 1 SB, 33:10 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Buy (deep mixed), Strong Buy (NL-only)
Lowdown: Wearing Dave Parker's old No. 39, Moss has evoked the baseball spirit of the former Buccos great, minus the well-groomed beard, sparkling ear ice and dugout Marlboros. Coming over from the Red Sox in the three team Jason Bay/Manny Ramirez exchange, the powerfully built 24-year-old has played surprisingly well in his new digs. In his first 16 at-bats, Moss has laced five hits, including a homer, with three RBIs. A wide receiver and safety standout in high school, the lefty-swinger is athletic and strong-handed. Those physical gifts coupled with his tireless work ethic suggest he could produce fruitful totals in homers and RBIs for deep-thinking owners down the fantasy straightaway. Scouts forecast future 20-25 homer returns from the left fielder, but his career 71.1 CT% and 32.8 K% point to marginal BA totals (.265-.275). In statistical potential he's similar to another former Red Sox prospect, David Murphy. If your outfield is extremely thin in 14-team and deeper mixed leagues, Moss should definitely be someone of interest.
Fearless Forecast (Remaining games): 190 at-bats, .266 BA, 7 HR, 21 RBI, 18 R, 2 SB
Emilio Bonifacio 2B 1157 0.17
'08 Stats (34 at-bats): .294 BA, 0 HR, 4 RBI, 7 R, 2 SB, 10:0 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Buy (deep mixed), Strong Buy (NL-only)
Lowdown: Bonifacio is a bona fide base burglar. An undisciplined slapper, the diminutive 23-year-old is a mixture of Carlos Gomez and Luis Castillo. In order to fully maximize his rubber-burning wheels, Bonifacio pounds the ball into the ground, indicative in his 58.3 GB%. That coupled with his 73.7 CT% implies that a BA near .300 is sustainable. However, the infielder's suspect strike-zone recognition (0 BBs in 34 at-bats) and general impatience (29.4 K%) suggest otherwise. Still, splitting time between Triple-A affiliates Tucson and Columbus, he swiped 21 bags in 92 games. Manny Acta is enamored with the youngster's tenacity, telling the Washington Times on August 5, "he continues to be a spark offensively and defensively. He puts a lot of pressure on the other team when he's on base." With Acta's backing and Felipe Lopez now a Cardinal, Bonifacio will be a fixture atop the Nationals lineup the remainder of the season. Owners in deep leagues looking to make up quick points in steals should add the Nationals' racer.
Fearless Forecast (Remaining games): 200 at-bats, .277 BA, 0 HR, 13 RBI, 24 R, 11 SB.
Fantasy Lames
Player Team Pos Y!RK Y!%
Lance Berkman 1B, OF 1 99.9
'08 Stats: .332 BA, 22 HR, 76 RBI, 88 R, 15 SB, 72:66 K:BB
Market Value: Strong Buy (all leagues)
Lowdown: The King slip n' sliding on the Wrigley Field tarp was symbolic of Fat Elvis' waterlogged bat. After a legendary power explosion in May, Berkman was on pace to obliterate his previous career benchmarks in homers (45) and RBIs (136). Now, it's questionable whether or not he'll reach last season's 34 HR, 102 RBI output. Mired in a serious round-tripper funk, the Big Puma has not gone yard since June 30. Equally maddening, he's knocked in just eight runs in his past 95 at-bats. Physically, Berkman appears healthy, but, mentally, he seems exhausted. A mere 4-for-25 since July 28, the 'Stros All-Star has seen his BA plummet 12 points, largely due to a spike in GB% (55.0). Yes, he ranks behind outfield monoliths Gregor Blanco, Estban German and Ross Gload in Y! leagues over the past 30 days, but this is still one of virtual baseball's most prolific scorers. Eventually, his smooth swing will resurface. Berkman, traded this week for Edinson Volquez, BJ Upton and Dan Uggla in Y! Plus league one-for-one transactions, is one cat to pounce on before the discount opportunity disappears.
Fearless Forecast (Remaining games): 185 at-bats, .298 BA, 10 HR, 33 RBI, 36 R, 4 SB
Garrett Atkins 1B, 3B 69 99.9
'08 Stats: .294 BA, 15 HR, 68 RBI, 68 R, 1 SB, 61:26 K:BB
Market Value: Strong Buy (all leagues)
Lowdown: Atkins has officially gone "Code Blue." A frigid 5-for-35 since July 28, the Rockies' hot corner has sliced 13 points off his average. Road wimpy (.249 BA away), Atkins' troubles could intensify over the rest of August as the Rocks play over half their remaining games on the road. However, because Colorado plays 15 of their final 24 at Coors Field, he's someone worth chasing with his value swooning. At home this season he's roped a ridiculous .345 BA. When faced with similar skids in his career, Atkins, as he told on July 30, focuses on simplicity, "It works out well when you can draw back on things. You know that no matter how bad your numbers are and how bad you're struggling, you know your good swing is not too far off. You've just got to get back to basics and think back to what's helped you get out of slumps in the past." Given his terrific 87.7 contact percentage, improved eye ('07 K%: 15.9,'08: 13.6) and RBI-robust fifth spot in the order, he should rebound in a big way come September. Shipped for AJ Burnett, Bobby Abreu and Joakim Soria in Y! Plus league one-for-one deals this week, Atkins is one name BA-minded owners should explore. Once Colorado finishes their road-heavy slate, he'll yield bountiful numbers.
Fearless Forecast (Remaining games): 185 at-bats, .311 BA, 7 HR, 31 RBI, 29 R, 0 SB
J.J. Hardy SS 383 96.7
'08 Stats: .279 BA, 15 HR, 49 RBI, 53 R, 2 SB, 63:36 K:BB
Market Value: Strong Sell (all leagues)
Lowdown: Anyone who uses Moby as their at-bat theme music deserves a lame designation. Eminem would agree. After ripping opposing hurlers for a combined .327 BA with 13 homers and 33 RBIs in June/July, Hardy has left owner mouths parched. Since July 29, he's collected just two hits in 30 at-bats, trimming 18 points off his average. Throughout his career, the 26-year-old has been the epitome of boom or bust. Similar to last season, pitchers have bewildered Hardy with outside breaking balls, his most glaring weakness. His extraordinary 83.9 CT% indicates a rebound is possible, but if he continues to drive the ball into the ground (58.3 GB% in L7) and doesn't lay off the corner cheese, his BA will dip further. Because shortstop is the shallowest position in fantasy, he should yield a fair trade return. Over the past week he's been dealt for Brian Fuentes, Jorge Cantu and John Danks in Y! Plus league one-for-one moves.
Fearless Forecast (Remaining games): 185 at-bats, .268 BA, 5 HR, 19 RBI, 23 R, 1 SB
Justin Duchscherer SP, RP 334 98.4
'08 Stats: 127.2 IP, 10 W, 2.33 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 78:31 K:BB
Market Value: Strong Sell (all leagues)
Lowdown: It appears the intimate relations between Duchscherer and Lady Luck have ceased. Quite possibly the luckiest pitcher in the bigs, Oakland's ace has posted an unsustainable .225 BABIP this season. Inevitably that number, along with his ERA, will rise. More worrisome, Duchscherer has tossed 31 more innings this year than his previous career high, a sign fatigue could become problematic. After getting crushed by Texas on July 26th (6 IP, 8 ER, 9 H, 6:2 K:BB), he did rebound nicely at Boston August 1 (6 IP, 1 ER). He also continues to limit the self-inflicted damage (2.19 BB/9). But his 20.2 LD%, 1.00 GB/FB ratio and BABIP are worrisome. Since his superficial numbers are still gaudy, it's sage to profit now before the market price plummets. Duchscherer was swapped straight up for Adam Dunn, Matt Garza and Vladimir Guerrero in Y! Plus league transactions this week.
Fearless Forecast (Remaining games): 47.0 IP, 3 W, 4.56 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 29 K
Manny Parra SP, RP 374 51.1
'08 Stats: 125.0 IP, 9 W, 4.18 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 103:62 K:BB
Market Value: Hold (12-team mixed), Moderate Buy (deep mixed, NL-only)
Lowdown: The real reason why Prince Fielder attacked Parra in the Brewers dugout earlier this week: he's never been fond of the southpaw's House of Pain appearance. In his past two forgettable starts, the Parrhana has been guppy meek, surrendering 11 earned in 11.1 IP. The culprit behind the hard-thrower's deplorable efforts is walks. As he told on August 5, free passes "kill you." He's yielded 6.49 free passes per nine since July 30. Despite the slide, Parra's myriad of weapons – 91-94 mph fastball, plus curve, change, splitter, slider – has consistently coaxed weak contact (51.4 GB% in back-to-back losses), an excellent indicator that he should recover quickly if his command sharpens. Due to Parra's quality K numbers (7.42 K/9) and plentiful run support (5.47 RS/9) he's someone to pursue at a slashed price in deep mixed leagues. Over the past three days, he's attracted Tim Wakefield, Gio Gonzalez and Juan Pierre in Y! Plus league one-for-one deals.
Fearless Forecast (Remaining games): 50.2 IP, 5 W, 4.09 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 43 K

Don't know what FB% means? Check out our sabermetric glossary.
Y!RNK - Overall player ranking in Yahoo! leagues
Y!% - Percentage owned in Yahoo! leagues
- All stats listed are for games played through August 5

Upset you don't have a forum to express your disdain for drafting Joe Borowski? Do you question why on earth you're not a fantasy expert? This is the place for you to vent your thoughts, tirades and frustrations. Can you bring the noise?

I get a laugh out of Steve from Columbus, among others, that are blaming you for their fantasy season's going down the drain. I would like to raise my glass for a toast, to the owners out there who have the marbles to make and be accountable for their own decisions with their fantasy teams, without waiting for the weekly 'Bringin the Noise' to determine which add/drop to make. I make decisions from time to time almost solely based on the word of Funston or Yours Truly; some worked, while others not so well. One thing I can say is that is that I won't be looking for your head on a platter if Billy Butler happens to cool off ;). Keep up the good work!!Clint, New Brunswick, Canada

Uugghh! Cubby word Vomit! All I'm reading is nothing but good things about all the Cub players in The Noise this week and it's disgusting. Jeff Samardzija should not be on the Flames list, He's going to be nothing but a middle relief pitcher during the next two months, he has great upside, but he doesn't have the stuff to be a quality starter yet and he's not going to pass up Carlos Marmol or Kerry Wood in the setup and closer roles. I'd hate to use this Spiderman Reference but here goes: "With great power comes great responsibility" and unfortunately somebody somewhere gave you your own column, which means some people (not me) actually listen to your advice. Stop spreading all your Cub love on everybody else, just tell it like it is.Alex, Bakersfield, Calif.

Noise: Alex, did you relish convening with other sexually repressed superhero nerds at this year's Comic-Con? I'm sure seeing the LEGO Batman, unattractive Princess Leah impersonator and that Asian dude from "Heroes" fulfilled your wildest fantasies.

It's hard to fathom why so many people are anti-Samardzija. Is the disdain due to his Notre Dame past, puffy mullet or impossible to spell last name?

You're right. He indeed has "great upside," but to say that he "doesn't have the stuff to be a quality starter yet" shows you're unobservant. Sure, in a shallow mixed 10-team league he probably wouldn't warrant a roster spot, but for those who actually play challenging fantasy, thoughts of the "Shark" moving into the Cubs rotation is interesting to say the least.

Command over his secondary pitches – splitter, change – has improved with each outing. If he can continue to locate his offspeed stuff consistently, he could be lethal in a starting role given his 96-99 mph gas, 1.29 GB/FB ratio and presumed run support. Marmol will receive the bulk of save opportunities until Wood is ready to reenter the role, but even as a middle reliever Samardzija will yield significant value in strikeouts, ERA and WHIP. Alex, it's not spreading "Cub love," it's encouraging owners to invest in quality talent.

Uhh Brad, Really?! Jamie Moyer a strong buy in shallow mixed 12 leagues? Now I'm a Champaign and Cubby guy through and through but I'm losing a little faith here. To say that Moyer is a strong buy is like telling me that Funston's Big Board is a useful tool. I agree that if you are chasing wins and you have some wiggle room on both sides in ERA and WHIP while also having Lincecum and Rivera on your squad, it's a good move. Otherwise...ehh...solid stuffRob, Baltimore, Md.

Noise: Look, the Moyersaurus may peddle around in a bottomless car, attend regular meetings at the Water Buffalos Lodge and play golf with granite mallets, but he's not prehistoric in fantasy terms.

As mentioned repeatedly in this space, many soft tossers (K/9 under 6.00) like Moyer are unjustly criticized by the fantasy masses. Although they contribute little in strikeouts, their consistent production in ERA/WHIP, and in 45-year-ancient Moyer's case wins, are priceless. Hell, Moyer hasn't allowed more than three earned in a start since June 1.

Here's something else to chew on. The Philadelphia geriatric (26.0 IP, 3 W, 2.42 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 18 K) has outscored your boy Tim Lincecum, along with other power arms Johan Santana, Justin Verlander and Scott Kazmir in Y! leagues over the past month. To say he's not 12-team mixed league worthy is like suggesting Funbags' Big Board is complete fluff.

Wow Evans, get off Billy Butler, he is not even a backup fantasy 2B, and wont' be by the end of the season. He is at best a poor man's Todd Walker, and that is being generous. So, how is Butler doing compared to Dustin Pedroia? You have embarrassed yourself enough, so find a new man-crush!Steve, Lynnfield, Mass.

Noise: To classify Butler, who is a tender 22-years-young, as the "poor man's Todd Walker" is slightly premature. Yes, barring a miracle, the Noise's man region will uncomfortably squeeze into a women's one-piece come year's end, but give the Big Donkey some credit. Over the past 30 days in Y! leagues, he's ranked ahead of notable boppers Cory Hart, Pat Burrell and Rick Ankiel. Since the break he's recorded seven multi-hit and six multi-RBI games. The dude is seriously locked in.

For comparison's sake, take a look at the post-break totals between Bulter and Pedroia:

Butler: 65 at-bats, .323 BA, 5 HR, 20 RBI, 12 R, 0 SB
Pedroia: 74 at-bats, .324 BA, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 11 R, 2 SB

Come on Steve. Caress the Ass-O-Meter.

Programming Note: Once my wife gives birth, which will hopefully be any second now, the Noise will take a brief siesta. When I return, expect the format to change over to football. Sorry diamond fans, but pigskin pays the bills. However, the Weekly Rundown will continue to quench rawhide thirsts every Saturday through the first Sunday of the NFL regular season.