Now is the perfect time for a little bottom-feeding. No, I'm not talking about sneaking a trade with the last-place team past your league mates before the trade deadline, or any other definition of the term, for that matter. We're talking about finding fantasy value on the rosters of non-contenders. Let's face it, contenders aren't going to spice up a pennant race by auditioning unproven prospects. The also-rans, however, have nothing to lose this time of year. We start our look back at the weekend with a couple of these very situations:
WEEKEND UPDATE: Need-to-know info from the past few days
- Note to National League pitchers: Do not try to sneak a high fastball past Brad Eldred. Victor Zambrano tried Thursday and the result was a moon shot that cleared the left-field wall at Shea Stadium with room to spare. Eude Brito must have missed the highlights. Sunday's starter for the Phillies got one up and over the plate, and Big Country sent it into orbit. Featured here last week in the Bargain Bin, Eldred now has five homers in his past 33 at-bats. In case you think he can't possibility sustain a power streak like this, remember that the Pirates recalled him from Triple-A Indianapolis in July after a ridiculous 10-game binge that saw him blast 10 homers.
We could be looking at this year's Bucky Jacobsen – only better. Jacobsen hit nine homers in his first 38 games with the Mariners last year to garner some fantasy attention. Eldred is owned in only a fraction of Yahoo! leagues, but that all should change soon. He's been battling Daryle Ward for playing time, but manager Lloyd McClendon recently told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he would stick with Eldred in the cleanup spot, even after Craig Wilson returns from the DL. Hitting behind Jason Bay makes that a run-producing position. The knock on Eldred is that he strikes out too much. Who cares? He's averaging a home run every 11.7 at-bats over the past two professional seasons. The Pirates will live with his 25/3 strikeout-to-walk ratio. So should you. Raw power like this is hard to come by.
- Edwin Encarnacion continues to work on his game. At Triple-A Louisville this season, he hit .314 with 15 homers and 54 RBIs in 78 games. He also made his share of errors. Struggles with the glove followed him to the big leagues. In 25 games at third base, he has six errors. The Reds have been patient with him, however, and that patience has been rewarded lately. The rookie homered Sunday, his fourth of the season and his third in his past nine starts. He has 11 RBIs in 16 games this month.
The Reds aren't going anywhere this season, but the emergence of Encarnacion along with the development of shortstop Felipe Lopez have the organization feeling good about the future – even as they desperately search for a number one starter. Unlike super-prospects B.J. Upton and Delmon Young, Encarnacion is being allowed to mature under relative anonymity. He should be considered a top sleeper candidate for the rest of 2005 and into the 2006 draft season.
- Lew Ford has been a Skinny favorite ever since an ankle injury ended Torii Hunter's season. Sunday, Ford homered for the third straight game in Minnesota's 8-3 win over Seattle. He's far from a one-category wonder, however. Ford had stolen bases in back-to-back games before the power surge kicked in. He now has a home run or a stolen base in five straight and eight of his past 15. At least for this month, he's Willy Taveras – only with power. Taveras is batting .333 in August with one stolen base, 12 runs and four RBIs. Ford is also batting .333, but with five steals, 13 runs, three homers and 12 RBIs. Don't forget that as a full-time player in 2004, Ford was 18-for-18 on stolen base tries in one three-month stretch.
Ford remains available in roughly 80 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Now is the time to micro-manage for category gains and Ford is a guy that can help you make a late-season run in the stolen base department without sacrificing production elsewhere on the board. Dealing with the loss of Scott Podsednik or tired of waiting for Corey Patterson to turn his season around? Give Ford a shot. When he plays every day, he produces. That was the case in 2002 when he hit 20 homers and stole 28 bases in the minors. He also delivered last season with 20 steals and 89 runs scored. He'll keep getting the job done this year even if it won't be enough to get Minnesota into the postseason.
BARGAIN BIN: Top players available in 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues
- Clint Barmes, 2B, Col
This might be a stretch of the criteria here, as Barmes was owned in 100 percent of leagues after his torrid start. A two-and-a-half month stint on the DL can wear you down, however, and Barmes is now available in roughly one-half of Yahoo! leagues. Now might be a good time to scan the waiver wire. According to the Rocky Mountain News, Barmes will begin an injury rehab assignment at Double-A Tulsa. If all goes well, he and his .390 home batting average could be back in the lineup by September.
- Jason Vargas, SP, Fla
Maybe Vargas can finally decorate his locker. Projected to have a ceiling of high Class-A this season, Vargas broke all the way through to the majors by going 7-4 with 118 strikeouts in 108 innings at three minor-league stops. Since joining the Florida rotation after Al Leiter was demoted, the 22-year-old lefty has won three of four starts while striking out 21 batters in 25.2 innings. He went the distance Sunday against the Dodgers, allowing only one run on six hits to improve to 4-1 with a 2.86 ERA on the season. He's been displaying Zach Duke-like poise on the mound for Florida – only with more strikeout potential and for a better team.
PROSPECT WATCH: Top players down on the farm
- Mike Jacobs, C, NYM (ETA – Aug. 21)
Even before he made a splash in his Major League debut Sunday, Jacobs had put together some eye-popping numbers. Check out these totals from Double-A Binghamton: .321, 25 homers, 93 RBIs, 37 doubles. All this from a guy who doesn't register as one of the top 10 prospects in the Mets organization according to Baseball America. In case you missed it, Jacobs homered Sunday in his first big league at-bat. He's not expected to be around long, but merits watching as a candidate for a September call-up.
- Edwin Jackson, SP, LAD (ETA – Aug. 22)
It seems like a lifetime ago that Jackson celebrated his 20th birthday by beating Randy Johnson in 2003. Regarded at the time as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, he is now no longer the top prospect in the Dodgers organization. He was demoted all the way to Double-A Jacksonville this season. It was there that he began to turn things around, going 6-4 with a 3.48 ERA in 11 starts. He walked only 18 in 62 innings after issuing 37 free passes in 55 innings at Las Vegas. Just how much progress has he made? We'll find out Monday when he starts for the Dodgers against the Marlins.
MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values
Jayson Werth, LF, LAD – Who knew this kid could run? Well, the Blue Jays did. He stole 24 bases in their system back in 2002. The Dodgers are beginning to figure it out, too. Fresh off a stint on the DL, Werth has four steals in nine games to go with a homer and six RBIs.
C.C. Sabathia, SP, Cle – Sabathia is holding up well – improving even – under the dueling glares of summer heat and wild card pressure. He pitched eight strong innings Sunday and is now 4-0 with a 3.00 ERA in his past four starts.
Carlos Pena, 1B, Det – After hitting .311 with 12 homers and 45 RBIs at Triple-A Toledo, Pena returned to the Detroit lineup over the weekend and homered three times, driving in six runs. He'll need to keep up that type of production to wrestle at-bats away from Chris Shelton.
Austin Kearns, RF, Cin – Kearns' third straight multi-hit game was capped by his 12th homer of the season Sunday. He has 21 RBIs in 27 games since returning from his Triple-A stint.
Ryan Doumit, C, Pit – Doumit's still hitting, and manager Lloyd McClendon says he wants to get the rookie more at-bats. Doumit singled twice Sunday to improve to .461 with 10 RBIs in 14 August games.
Vicente Padilla, SP, Phi – The first thing that jumps out at you is Padilla's 1.55 season WHIP. Not very appealing, but the bulk of the damage was before July when he was trying to pitch his way out of the rotation. Check out his numbers in seven post-All Star starts: 2.14 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, .190 opponent's average. Now if he could just get some run support …
Jason Lane, LF, Hou – Lane continues to tease – this time with homers in back-to-back games against Milwaukee. He now has 15 RBIs in 15 August games, and the scary part is that he hasn't come close to putting it all together yet.
Casey Kotchman, 1B, LAA – Seeing more time while Garrett Anderson is on the mend, Kotchman is batting .291 in August with five homers, nine runs and nine RBIs in 16 games.
Jason Giambi, 1B, NYY – He's hitless in his past 20 at-bats, and hurting to boot. He sat Monday to rest a sore calf muscle.
Carl Crawford, LF, Tam – Crawford owners probably don't need to be reminded that he hasn't attempted a steal in 20 games. Tampa Bay seems content to let Joey Gathright and Julio Lugo do all the running.
Yahoo! Experts League Update
Team Funston's only weaknesses can be found in the wins and strikeouts categories. Help could be on the way there – as Roy Halladay could return soon. Guru continues to fight the good fight – Noah Lowry his latest significant addition – but it looks like the real battle might be for second place.