When I was a sophomore in college, I was convinced I would never graduate. The University of Kansas required all journalism students to take two years of a foreign language, and I had already failed my first go-around with Spanish 101; I could not wrap my head around the idea of verb conjugation. I wouldn’t get into the J-school, I would be booted off campus, and I would live out my days as a bartender in a dusty hole-in-the-wall on the Iron Range in northern Minnesota.
But then I was apprised of this opportunity to go on vacation for two months and earn a year’s worth of Spanish credit while spending scant time in a classroom: They called it “study abroad.” Throughout spring semester, whenever my mind wandered, it traveled to Costa Rica, a country with a name that promised a good time. By the time I was finally set to leave in June, my expectations were downright unrealistic: This would be the greatest two months of my life.
Confidence of this magnitude always leads to disappointment—not only have you wasted precious time in your past by lusting after a utopian future that didn’t materialize, but now you must judge the reality of the present not as it exists, but against your unrealistic presumptions. It rarely ends well.
In the case of Costa Rica, it did. I spent more time on the beaches or in the bars than I did in the classroom. I met several friends that I stay in touch with to this day, including current UFC fighter Andrew Craig (who at the time was just a gangly, good-natured Texan who loved the old prank call Comedy Central show “Crank Yankers” and would always say “You’ve got mail” in the voice of a character at inexplicable times, such as when the Spanish teacher began a new classroom activity). And a funny thing happened: With little effort, I could engage in Spanish conversations with locals by the time we left. Turns out my brain never had to understand conjugation; it just had to hear it a whole lot.
Cardinals fans know what it’s like to wait in eager anticipation. In the case of Oscar Taveras, they waited years. And on Saturday, they discovered the pleasure of gratification when it’s been delayed for so long: Taveras belted a 418-foot home run in his second at-bat, pushing St. Louis to a 2-0 win over San Francisco (he finished 1-for-3).
Taveras was considered by many the best prospect in the game heading into last season. Injuries restricted him to just 47 minor league games in 2013; they also probably contributed to his first sub-.500 slugging percentage. Prospect experts forgave him, ranking Taveras as a consensus top-10 selection over the winter. The 21-year-old, recalled Saturday to replace the disabled Matt Adams (calf) on the roster, slashed .325/.373/.524 with seven homers and 40 RBI over 49 games at Triple-A earlier this season.
Baseball Prospectus’ Jason Parks giddily wrote after the promotion: “Getting to watch Taveras take rips in the batting cage is like getting to watch Hemingway drink … The hit tool could end up being a true 80 on the 20/80 scale, which suggests that he could be a perennial batting title contender and one of the best pure hitters in the game.” Parks compared Taveras to a left-handed Albert Pujols.
Taveras’ talent is such that he’ll be a must-start in all formats as long as he’s in the majors. If I knew he was going to get everyday at-bats from now until the end of the season, I’d prefer to own Taveras over George Springer. But that’s no guarantee: If Taveras can’t hack it in center, where St. Louis wouldn’t lose much sleep benching Jon Jay and Peter Bourjos, the Cardinals would have to bench Adams (upon return) and shift Allen Craig to first to make lineup room.
- Baseball is suddenly teeming with ridiculously promising young outfielders. While we wait for the imminent promotion of Pittsburgh prodigy Gregory Polanco and look forward to the arrival of All-World Minnesota talent Byron Buxton, Houston’s Springer seemingly went from struggling-to-figure-out-big-league-pitching to All-Star overnight. I remember imploring owners in this space a few weeks back to exercise patience with Springer, column space I felt compelled to devote after I saw the rate at which he was being released in ESPN and Yahoo! leagues. I won’t have to convince anyone to roster Mr. Springer this time around.
Springer slashed a lousy .182/.262/.218 with zero homers and four RBI in 55 April at-bats. He did a bit better in May: Springer hit .306/.398/.673 with 10 homers and 25 RBI over 98 at-bats. The 24-year-old outfielder has been the best fantasy outfielder in baseball over the past 15 days, and he’s No. 4 over the previous 30, according to ESPN.com’s Player Rater. There isn’t much fantasy advice to dispense here, except this: Springer is going to fall into a slump sometime over the next month or two—his long swing can get unruly for stretches. When that happens, pound his owner with buy-low offers. You don’t have that opportunity now, but you will.
- Carlos Santana took a foul ball off the mask last Sunday and has been on the disabled list since. He’s eligible for activation Monday, but Cleveland won’t rush him. The 28-year-old is batting just .159 with a .628 OPS. For some fantasy owners, that injury was the last straw—Santana was dropped in a smattering of leagues and is currently owned in less than 90% of ESPN formats. If a reactionary owner in your league was foolish enough to pull the plug on Santana, do yourself a favor and add him. Santana was starting to play better before the injury, and he’s been horribly unlucky with a .177 BABIP. He boasts a spectacular walk rate, and a look at his isolated power and fly ball rates show that he’s still muscling near his career norms. Add in Santana’s dual eligibility, and he’s well worth owning in any format.
Lonnie Chisenhall will continue to receive everyday at-bats at least until Santana and Nick Swisher return (and probably after, too), making him a must-add in all formats. Chisenhall, who went 2-for-3 with a homer and three RBI on Saturday, has been about as lucky as Santana has been misfortunate, riding a ridiculous pre-Saturday .427 BABIP to a .369 batting average. Chisenhall, a former top prospect just now putting everything together, only has three homers and 15 RBI, but the power will come even if the evening of luck comes with it. Hold onto those two Indians, though you shouldn’t have any loyalty towards Swisher, another disabled Cleveland batter whose struggles this year can’t be blamed on bad luck. Cut away.
Too much Cleveland talk for one column. As with everything else, I blame Johnny Football’s Vegas trip. Guess it’s time for the Week that Was speed round:
- Edwin Encarnacion went homerless in his last two games of May, which means he only hit 16 round trippers last month, matching Mickey Mantle’s American League record for May and coming up one short of Barry Bonds’ May 2001 for the MLB record. The 31-year-old was slashing just .260/.345/.430 with two homers through April 21, a sluggish start for a guy who batted .276/.377/.546 between 2012-2013. In the 38 games since, he’s hitting .285/.372/.741 with 18 homers and 43 RBI in 164 plate appearances. That’s just silly. I have nothing to add. Silly.
- Aaron Hicks gave up switch-hitting and will only bat right-handed from here on out. I remain more bullish on Hicks’ long-term potential than logic dictates—I own him in a dynasty league and nobody is knocking down my door to trade for him—but he won’t be a fantasy contributor this year.
- Josh Beckett hurled a no-hitter against the Phillies since we last spoke. After Friday’s loss to the Pirates, Beckett now has a 3-1 record, 2.43 ERA and 1.02 WHIP over 10 starts. This is the time where I tell you to sell high. But you’d absolutely be correct to ask: Who would buy high on Josh Beckett? If you’re a Beckett owner, you’re probably stuck with him, so cross your fingers.
- Carl Crawford is out indefinitely with a knee injury.
- Mark Teixeira left Saturday’s game and won’t play on Sunday or Monday due to lingering soreness in his problematic right wrist. Bench him next week; if he isn’t pain-free on Tuesday, New York will ship him to the disabled list.
- Ryan Zimmerman (thumb) played five innings in left field for High-A Potomac on Saturday. It appears as though the Nationals will get creative with Bryce Harper out for at least another month, playing Zimmerman primarily in left and keeping Anthony Rendon at third and Danny Espinosa at second. It’s not out of the question that Zimmerman could be fantasy eligible at three positions—3B, LF and 1B—by September. These are the things that get me excited.
- Prince Fielder underwent season-ending neck surgery on Tuesday. Texas is now forced to count on Mitch Moreland as a run producer (at least until they sign Kendrys Morales!). Moreland has enough talent to be addable in mixed leagues. The 30-year-old Fielder is still owed approximately $144 million through 2020. Maybe he can do some good in his newfound free time and buy the state of Texas some water. We’ve got plenty in Minnesota. One million gets you all the tap water the Nystrom home’s faucets can produce in 24 hours, Prince. I counted on you in an AL-only league, man. Least you can do. Hello? Hello? (Dial tone).
- Michael Pineda was shut down over the weekend due to lower back inflammation. Best case, he’ll probably return right after the All-Star break. I cut him in a 13-team mixed league last week. You shouldn’t feel compelled to do so, but if you need the roster space, Pineda can go in mixed leagues.
- The Red Sox invented a knee injury to get Clay Buchholz out of the rotation. Whatever works: Buchholz has been one of the worst pitchers in baseball thus far, posting a 7.02 ERA in 50 total innings over 10 starts.
- Speaking of Boston, Garin Cecchini is headed to the big show. The 23-year-old is a top third base prospect, but he’s not ready to produce at a mixed league level, and he likely won’t be around long enough to matter in AL-only leagues (though that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t burn a roster spot on the slim chance he sticks, or the better chance that he’ll have an opportunity to play later this year). Cecchini will probably head back to the minors in a day or two when Stephen Drew is summoned.