Is this All-Star break long enough for you or what? Two days without baseball is just cruel and unusual punishment.
As many people have mentioned, it would be cool to see the Futures Game on Monday, the Home Run Derby on Tuesday, and the All-Star Game on Wednesday. This way, the Futures Game isn't competing with regular season baseball games and we would only have one day before the season resumes. It would also open things up for Sunday pitchers to pitch in the All-Star Game. And if we're really going with the "This Time It Counts" thing, shouldn't the best players be in the game?
While we're in the middle of the most boring two days of the sports calendar, it does give us an ideal opportunity to take a look at our fantasy teams and recognize ways to improve. With that in mind, I have decided to dig extra deep this week for some players of interest for the "second half."
By the way, if you ever wanted to match wits with Rotoworld writers, we're doing a really fun thing to kick off the second half. You can play in a FREE one-day fantasy baseball challenge this Friday on FanDuel for a chance at $300 in prizes. It's really easy to sign up and play. As a bonus, the top free finishers will also receive a copy of the 2013 Rotoworld Fantasy Football Draft Guide. I'm hoping for a big rebound performance from Bud Norris coming out of the break.
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Edwin Jackson SP, Cubs (Yahoo: 25 percent owned)
Jackson's tenure with the Cubs has gotten off to a rough start, but he has finally begun to turn the corner of late. Coming off seven scoreless frames against the Cardinals last week, the 29-year-old right-hander has a 3.46 ERA and 31/11 K/BB ratio in 41 2/3 innings over his last seven starts. That's a bit closer to what we were expecting coming into the season. Jackson's xFIP and secondary numbers are very comparable to where he's been over the past three seasons, but the main difference is that he has the worst strand rate among all qualified starters. With a little more luck, he should be able to help in all fantasy formats moving forward.
Michael Brantley OF, Indians (Yahoo: 24 percent owned)
When I last mentioned Brantley on Waiver Wired back on May 23, he was owned in just 22 percent of Yahoo! leagues. The 26-year-old has compiled five home runs, 24 RBI, eight stolen bases and 23 runs scored in 47 games since, yet his ownership has barely moved at all. I understand that Brantley doesn't excel in any one category, but he helps just enough in each of them to be both relevant and useful in most leagues. He should reach new career-highs in home runs, RBI, and stolen bases this year with relative ease.
Neil Walker 2B, Pirates (Yahoo: 44 percent owned)
Out since July 6 with an oblique strain, Walker hopes to return shortly after the All-Star break. The 27-year-old switch-hitter is coming off a disappointing first half where he batted just .244 with six home runs, 26 RBI, and one stolen base in 72 games, but he showed from 2010-2012 that he is capable of much better. Walker's BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is down a bit from his career norm, but that's partially because of a big increase in infield fly balls. Hopefully he won't continue to be an easy out during the second half.
David Hernandez RP, Diamondbacks (Yahoo: 10 percent owned), Brad Ziegler RP, Diamondbacks (Yahoo: 3 percent owned)
With Heath Bell being, well, Heath Bell, and J.J. Putz a little slow to come along after an elbow injury, Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson has relied on Hernandez and Ziegler for his last three save chances. Ziegler got two of them, so he might deserve to be the favorite in the short-term, even if his strikeout rate (4.87 K/9) doesn't scream closer. However, with his ability to induce ground balls in big spots, Gibson would likely prefer that somebody else step forward. Hernandez is certainly capable, but he has had a really hard time keeping the ball in the ballpark this year. Still, I think both pitchers should be owned in most mixed leagues until there's some clarity in the late innings. I wouldn't be surprised by a trade before the deadline.
Shopping at the five-and-dime:
(Players owned in under 10 percent of Yahoo! leagues)
Chris Archer SP, Rays (Yahoo: 5 percent owned)
Pushed into the Rays' rotation because of injury, Archer has been nothing short of excellent lately. After being knocked around for five runs over four innings in his season debut on June 1, the 24-year-old right-hander has a 2.27 ERA in eight starts since. The most impressive one was on Sunday against the Astros, as he struck out eight batters in his first career shutout. The velocity has always been intriguing, but he has been showing improved control and command over the past month. Archer will face some tougher competition coming out of the All-Star break, but he's making a case to keep a rotation spot even after Alex Cobb returns.
Justin Smoak 1B, Mariners (Yahoo: 3 percent owned)
Could we be witnessing a mini post-hype breakout here? Maybe. Smoak has been very productive since returning from an oblique strain last month, hitting .333 with five home runs, 14 RBI, and a 1.018 OPS in 22 games. The 26-year-old now owns a solid .272/.372/.431 batting line for the year. While his .331 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) indicates that he could be the beneficiary of some good luck, he's swinging at fewer pitches outside the strike zone and hitting more line drives as a result. Don't sleep on him if you need to fill a CI (corner infielder) spot.
Erasmo Ramirez SP/RP, Mariners (Yahoo: 4 percent owned)
Ramirez was a popular pickup in fantasy leagues last week, but he stumbled in his season debut against the Red Sox, giving up seven runs on six hits and four walks over just 4 2/3 innings. The Mariners sent him down to Low-A Everett to stay on his regular turn, but he should be back with the big club shortly after the All-Star break. I wouldn't overreact too much to one bad start, as the shoddy control was uncharacteristic and Ramirez showed down the stretch last year that he is capable of making an impact in mixed leagues. Keep an eye on him at the very least.
Gordon Beckham 2B, White Sox (Yahoo: 7 percent owned)
Another post-hype option, Beckham has been red-hot since missing two months following hamate bone surgery, hitting .338 with 12 extra-base hits (two home runs), 12 RBI and five stolen bases in 37 games. The 26-year-old has at least two hits in eight of 12 games this month. Beckham isn't taking many pitches these days and I don't think he can maintain his .383 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) for an entire season, but his new crouched stance has resulted in more line drives and fewer infield pop-ups. I'd be willing to sacrifice some batting average during the second half if the power begins to resurface after surgery.
Josh Phegley C, White Sox (Yahoo: 0 percent owned)
After a breakthrough season with Triple-A Charlotte, Phegley has arrived in the majors with a bang, producing three home runs and nine RBI in his first eight games. This includes a go-ahead grand slam against the Tigers' Anibal Sanchez last Thursday. The 25-year-old backstop took a foul tip off his right index finger on Sunday, but he's expected to be ready to go right after the All-Star break. Phegley should have the edge in playing time over the disappointing Tyler Flowers moving forward, which makes him relevant in two-catcher formats.
Ivan Nova SP, Yankees (Yahoo: 6 percent owned)
Nova was overvalued in fantasy leagues after he won 16 games as a rookie in 2011, but he is quickly gaining momentum for all the right reasons. Highlighted by an 11-strikeout performance against the Orioles on July 5 for his first career complete game, the 26-year-old right-hander has a 2.45 ERA and 28/6 K/BB ratio in 29 1/3 innings over four outings since returning from Triple-A. We're talking about a small sample here, but Nova has adjusted his arsenal this year, relying more on his sinker and getting a tremendous amount of whiffs off his curveball. He has also added some velocity. We need more data to see if he has truly taken a step forward as a pitcher, but he's making a case to keep a rotation spot, even with David Phelps working his way back from a forearm strain and Michael Pineda biding his time in Triple-A.
Luke Scott 1B, Rays (Yahoo: 5 percent owned)
One of the streakiest players in the game, Scott has gone on a ridiculous tear over the past month, hitting .367 with five home runs and 16 RBI in 24 games. The 35-year-old went into the All-Star break with a 10-game hitting streak. His .838 OPS is now 15th-highest among first base-eligible players with at least 200 plate appearances. As it usually goes with Scott, the party could end at any time, but he's well worth owning as a CI (corner infielder) option while he's hot.
Darin Ruf 1B/OF, Phillies (Yahoo: 1 percent owned)
Ryan Howard is expected to be on the shelf until late August or early September following knee surgery, so Ruf should get an extended chance at first base in the interim. With a mediocre .749 OPS in 83 games this season in Triple-A, Ruf hasn't been able to replicate the surprising success he had in Double-A last year, but there's enough pop in his bat for him to be on your radar in deeper mixed formats. However, with his penchant for the strikeout, just don't expect much help in the batting average department.
Chris Carpenter SP, Cardinals (Yahoo: 3 percent owned)
It wasn't too long ago that it looked like Carpenter may have thrown his final pitch in the majors, but he could be in the Cardinals' starting rotation in the very near future. The 38-year-old allowed three runs (two earned) on six hits and a walk over 2 2/3 innings Monday in his first minor league rehab start with Double-A Springfield, but the good news is that he was reportedly hitting 95 mph with his fastball. The former Cy Young Award winner will likely most of his 30-day rehab window to get ready, but a return in August is possible. Keep your expectations in check, but there's enough upside here to stash him in an open DL spot in deeper mixed leagues. By the way, keep an eye on young fireballer Carlos Martinez (Yahoo: 2 percent owned) if there is any sort of setback.
Danny Espinosa 2B/SS, Nationals (Yahoo: 22 percent owned)
Placed on the disabled list early last month due to a fracture in his right wrist, Espinosa was formally optioned to the minors after he got off to a miserable start during his rehab assignment. However, something has clicked for him recently, as he's hitting an even .400 (18-for-45) with seven extra-base hits (two homers) and two stolen bases over his last 12 games. Finally healthy? Maybe. Anthony Rendon is holding his own as the Nationals' starting second baseman and deserves to keep the job, but we could see Espinosa in a utility role soon if he keeps it up. There's even a chance the Nationals could use him as trade bait leading up to the deadline. Watch him.
Julio Borbon OF, Cubs (Yahoo: 0 percent owned)
Borbon hasn't seen much playing time since being claimed off waivers from the Rangers in April, logging just 104 plate appearances in 62 games, but he is 7-for-8 in stolen base attempts. The rebuilding Cubs are clearly in sell-mode, with Scott Hairston already out the door, and fellow outfielders like Alfonso Soriano, Nate Schierholtz and eventually David DeJesus also available in trades, so Borbon could be an excellent source of speed down the stretch. Stash him away now.
Jesus Montero C, Mariners (Yahoo: 18 percent owned)
Montero was demoted to the minors in May after hitting just .208 with three homers in 29 games and required left knee surgery less than three weeks later, but he has begun playing in rehab games with the Mariners' rookie league team and should return to the Triple-A level by the end of the month. The Mariners have a ton of potential trade candidates, including Kendrys Morales, Mike Morse, and Raul Ibanez, so there should be at-bats for Montero out of the DH spot down the stretch. His days as a regular catcher are almost certainly over, but he's still eligible at the position in fantasy leagues. There's enough upside here to take a chance with an available bench spot.
Pedro Ciriaco SS/2B/3B, Royals (Yahoo: 3 percent owned)
After being designated for assignment for the second time this season, Ciriaco was claimed off waivers by the Royals earlier this week. His role isn't exactly clear, but the Royals have struggled to get much production out of second base between the likes of Chris Getz, Elliot Johnson, and Johnny Giavotella. Don't expect anything close to his production with the Red Sox from last season, but Ciriaco has enough speed to be useful, even in a part-time role.