Skinny: A Lastings impression

The Skinny has typically been a weekend wrap-up designed for those who tune out on Friday afternoon and check back in Monday morning. But, this season, the Closing Time feature of the Yahoo! fantasy blog, Roto Arcade, is doing the job (on a daily basis) of dispensing the need-to-know details about closer situations and injury and roster developments. So, this Skinny will defer to the Roto Arcade for the latest breaking news and stick to the market movers, bargains and prospects going forward. Let's get to 'em:

BARGAIN BIN: Top players available in 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues
Edinson Volquez, Cin, SP
Volquez just barely qualifies here at 49 percent ownership as of Sunday. The former Texas Rangers top prospect has been delivering on his promise from the moment he arrived in the Queen City in exchange for Josh Hamilton. After a spring in which he whiffed 26 and walked just four, Volquez has been nasty in his two '08 regular-season outings, allowing one run with nine strikeouts in 10.1 innings combined. If this was Homer Bailey, he'd be universally owned at this point. But I think he's been tainted by some ugly numbers he posted in Texas when he was getting his feet wet. The 24-year-old, armed with a plus fastball and an even better changeup, looks poised to turn the page. Forget about the stench from his time with the Rangers. He's about to blossom into a Red rose.

Lastings Milledge, Was, OF
I find myself liking this guy more and more. He's not long from being a seriously disruptive force for opposing teams. The 23-year-old is hitting .308 out of the gates in '08 with a home run, a steal and a respectable eight runs in 13 games. Given his power/speed potential, he created a healthy amount of buzz with a strong spring and I watched him go for outrageous sums in a couple auction drafts. That's why I'm a little surprised that he's only currently owned in 36 percent of leagues despite a solid start to the '08 regular season. Find a way to at least stash this guy on the bench.

PROSPECT WATCH: Top players down on the farm

  • Ian Stewart, Col, 3B (ETA – late May)
    Stewart, the Rockies' No. 2 prospect according to Baseball America, is on a roll for Triple-A Colorado Springs, hitting .318 with three home runs, 12 RBIs, 10 runs and two steals through 11 games. His path to Denver is complicated by the fact that he plays the same position as Garrett Atkins. He auditioned at second base this spring, but Colorado opted for the better defensive option in Jayson Nix. If Nix continues his sub-Mendoza Line ways, perhaps the Rockies will decide that Stewart's bat could win them more games than his glove would lose. If not, he, or Atkins, will need to be dealt to open up playing time. At 25, with nearly a full season of Triple A already under his belt, Stewart deserves a shot. If he continues to hit like he has, push should come to shove within the next 4-6 weeks.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Casey Kotchman, LAA, 1B (39 percent owned) – A 10-for-22 week has boosted Kotchman's season average to .370. He's Mark Grace-ian in that his home run upside is likely capped at 20, but he definitely has the hitting skills to continue producing at a .300-plus clip. And, at No. 6 in the lineup (following Vladimir Guerrero, Garrett Anderson and Torii Hunter), he's in a nice RBI spot.

Raul Ibanez, Sea, OF (97%) – With three doubles, a triple, and four home runs, Ibanez led all players in total bases (27) for the past week.

Mike Jacobs, Fla, 1B (37%) – Jacobs is on an eight-game roll in which he's hit .361 with five home runs and 10 RBIs. He has 25-30 HR upside, but to reach that level he'll have to avoid injury and the month-long slumps that have plagued him in the past. It's not yet time to think of him as anything more than a stop-gap corner in mixed leagues.

Fred Lewis, SF, OF (1%) – Lewis is an intriguing blend of decent power and speed. His minor league resume suggests .280 upside to go with the potential for 15 home runs and 25-30 steals. He's playing regularly in left field at the moment with Dave Roberts out (knee). In his past four games, Lewis is 9-for-17 from the leadoff spot, with seven of those hits going for extra bases (six doubles, triple). Roberts is out for three months, and Lewis certainly has the opportunity to make his eventual return moot. Consider Lewis an attractive flyer in all deeper-than-the-norm leagues.

Luke Scott, Bal, OF (4%) – At 29, and currently hitting .361, Scott qualifies as a post-hype sleeper. The fantasy community got excited about this guy in '05 when he hit 31 home runs in 103 games for Houston Triple-A affiliate Round Rock. And while he never busted out for the Astros in two partial seasons in '06 and '07, he wasn't so ineffective that his talent should be written off. He was a key piece of the deal used to acquire Miguel Tejada and Baltimore has plans to play him every day this season. In his past 481 big-league at bats, Scott has hit .268 with 25 home runs and 91 RBIs. Slide that batting average up a few points and it's not a bad '08 projection.

Howie Kendrick, LAA, 2B (99%) – Kendrick was on fire when he landed on the DL with a thumb injury a couple weeks back and he returned with the same scolding bat. In his two-game return this past weekend in Seattle, he went 3-for-4 in both contests, with a combined three doubles. Unfortunately, he tweaked his hamstring on Sunday and is expected to miss another few games. This guy could be a future batting champion if he ever figures out how to stay healthy.

Wandy Rodriguez, Hou, SP (16%) – For Wandy, it's all about the home cookin'. Last season, he was the NL's version of Ervin Santana, posting a 2.94 ERA at home and a 6.37 mark on the road. This season, he debuted in San Diego, allowing four runs in five innings. But his past two starts have been back at Minute Maid Park, and he brought it home with a combined 14.1 innings in which he allowed just one run (a solo shot by Florida's Josh Willingham). Rodriguez is above average in the strikeouts department, and his mere two walks in 19.1 innings is encouraging. At 29 years old, and closing in on 500 career innings pitched, he's a prime breakout candidate. The road woes are a mental hurdle he's going to have to work through. If he makes progress in that department, in addition to keeping the free passes in check, 12-14 wins, 170 Ks and an ERA right around 4.00 is a very likely return.

Greg Maddux, SD, SP (72%) – Maddux is baseball's Nicole Kidman, still sexy into his 40s. After shutting out the Dodgers for five innings to earn the victory on Sunday, the 42-year-old is 2-0 with a 2.00 ERA in three '08 starts. In his past 18 regular season starts, he's 9-4 with a 3.43 ERA.

Brian Bannister, KC, SP (84%) – Brad Evans' newest man-crush – he passes along a new fact to me about Bannister almost daily, like, "Did you know he graduated magna cum laude from USC?" – is 3-0 with a 0.86 ERA. Evans will go into greater detail about Bannister later this week, so I'll just recite some of his career numbers through 224 innings pitched: 17-10, 3.66 ERA, 1.21 WHIP. Not unlike the 42-year-old above, he's an intelligent finesse pitcher worthy of a spot in all but the smallest of mixed leagues.

Joe Saunders, LAA, SP (75%) – Saunders' stuff isn't anything special, but he's fearless and savvy. He started strong in '07, posting a 2.97 in 30-plus innings before the break, but his average stuff gets figured out pretty quickly. That was evident when looking at how he fared against the AL West last season. In his first outings with Seattle, Texas and Oakland, he combined for a 2.70 ERA in 16.2 innings. He subsequently pitched four more times against those division opponents, combining for a 6.56 ERA in 23.1 innings. If you own Saunders, try to sniff out someone in your league who might be buying on his hot start. If there's no takers, just be ready to cut loose when the water starts getting choppy.

Jake Westbrook, Cle, SP (29%) – I'd much rather have Jake Westbrook than Joe Saunders, even though the Yahoo! ownership numbers don't agree. With his sinking fastball, curveball, changeup repertoire, Westbrook is cut from the same cloth as Jon Garland – a steady, if not-so-overpowering, innings eater. Both pitchers have fared well when backed with a solid offense. In the three seasons prior to '07, Westbrook averaged 15 wins, a total he could easily reach again this season. His strikeouts are sub-par, but he should continue to returns wins with an ERA that holds to the high 3s or low 4s.

Carl Crawford, TB, OF – Through his first 53 at bats, Crawford has yet to collect an extra-base hit. In his past 60 regular-season games, he has just one home run. That's great fodder for those who refute expert claims that Crawford has a home run ceiling that extends to 20-plus. But as rough as his start has been (.208 BA), he's still sixth in the league in runs (11) and stolen bases (4). Forget about 20-plus home runs for now and be happy with what will likely be a .300-plus, 100-plus run, 50-plus steals return.

Hunter Pence, Hou, OF – A slumping Pence was dropped to seventh in the Astros' order this past weekend and was given a day off on Sunday. In 50 at bats, he has yet to hit a home run and has driven in just one runner. He showed remarkable consistency as a rookie in '07, so this is new territory in his brief Houston career. I wouldn't worry about Pence yet. Manager Cecil Cooper is just looking for ways to get Pence out of his own head and relax. He's never hit below .283 in any professional season and it's only a matter of time before things click.

Prince Fielder, Mil, 1B – Before you start sweating Feilder's current 12-game homerless streak, know that he had four streaks of at least 10 games without a home run in his 50-home run campaign a year ago, including a 13-game drought in early April. He also produced three different months with at least eight home runs, so his power is microwaveable.

Delmon Young, Min, OF – Young resided near the tail end of my expanded (top 100) Big Board throughout the offseason and spring, but he has yet to start delivering on his ample promise. Through 45 at bats, he has just one extra-base hit and, despite hitting fifth behind Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau with Michael Cuddyer on the DL, he has a mere three RBIs to go with a .244 batting average. I don't generally make rash judgments about slow starts from guys with so much upside, but I'm getting a sense that ranking him in my preseason top 100 was a premature. He is only 22 years old, and I'm starting to lose confidence that he'll start tap heavily into his power well any time soon.

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