Phantasy Impact: The Bruce is Loose

June 8, 2008

The Mighty Bruce is Loose (Barbour/flickr)

Bruce has given much cause for celebration to teammates, fans and especially fantasy owners. (Barbour / flickr)

[Welcome to the first edition of “Phantasy Impact” where we will take a look at fantasy baseball with stories, news, tips and more. In this column I will be using a percentage owned stat which is taken from ESPN reflecting how many leagues across the board a player is owned in. This should be very similar to whatever website you use for your league. This will be a periodic feature as I want to make sure not to tip off anyone in my keeper league. If you ever have any questions, don’t hesitate emailing me at any time and I will be happy to help.]

[TOP STORY]
The Bruce is Loose

The world of fantasy wheeling-and-dealing is much like that of the stock market. When a player is playing at his peak, try to get as much as possible for him (sell high). When a player is playing like garbage, try to steal them away for as little as possible (buy low). With this in mind, there will always be exceptions to the rule.

One such exception is a player who has been the golden child of the fantasy year thus far. Cincinnati Reds centerfielder Jay Bruce sat on many team’s benches (including mine) all season just waiting for the Reds front office to pull the trigger on giving him his rightful throne in center. When that day finally happened, any league in which he wasn’t already owned became a feeding frenzy of owners trying to snatch him up.

Since then Bruce has had a monumental introduction to the Major Leagues hitting a gaudy .463/.569/.756 with 14 runs, 3 HR, 10 RBI, and 2 SB in his first 41 at-bats. Those are rookie level video game-esque type numbers.

Of course from there the lucky yet greedy owners of Bruce came out of the woodwork looking to trade him while the iron was hot. Normally this logic makes sense, but certainly not in this situation.

Jay Bruce is an extremely special player, one you don’t see come around too often. Bruce has been a monster at every level he has played and now plays in the hitter friendly Great American Ballpark. Trading him in a normal league is bad enough but if you traded him in a keeper league, well then you need your fantasy privileges taken away. Take a look at a brief scouting report of mine on Bruce who is the number one ranked player in my top 25 prospects list:

Bruce is a monster of a prospect and a five tool player to boot who can impact the game with his power bat, speed, and defense. He has a powerfully lofted swing with fantastic bat speed which gives him the ability to hit for power and average. He needs to work on his plate discipline and he also tends to struggle against lefties and off speed pitches which racks up his strikeout total. If he can learn these items the next few years and combine that with his current skills, he will be a monster with 35-40 HR in the hitter friendly Great American Ballpark.

With that glowing report along with his past and present track record there is no reason to trade him unless the other guy is throwing half his team at you. Bruce is going to be one of the top two or three players drafted next season in fantasy leagues everywhere. Take advantage of the steal of the century you got from this kid now before he becomes virtually unattainable for years to come.

I know I did.

[KEEP AN EYE ON]

Big Branyan (jodieandlarry/flickr)

Big Branyan is now flexing his muscles on a more full time basis. (jodieandlarry / flickr)

Russell Branyan, 3B MIL (10% owned)
Yes surprise, surprise Russell Branyan is still floating around out there but it shouldn’t come to too big of a shock. Branyan has always supplied whatever his team of the moment is with a lot of raw power, particularily as a pinch hitter. This year with the Brewers isn’t any different. In fact, he’s pretty much won the third base job for any time his club is facing off against a right handed pitcher. Hitting .323/.447/.871 with 5 HR and 6 RBI on the season in 31 at-bats has to be noticed. While his average probably won’t stay up that high (career .230/.329/.484 hitter), he will add some pop to your lineup if you are hurting for it. Key Stat: Branyan has three of the four longest homers ever hit in Miller Park.

Cody Ross, CF FLA (11.4% owned)
I’ve stayed away from Cody Ross all year long as his AVG (.217) and OBP (.292) have been miserable. While his power numbers were there (10 HR), it just wasn’t worth taking a hit in the other categories. However over the past two weeks we have seen a new side of Mr. Ross. Over that span Ross has hit .282/.364/.692 with 5 HR and 10 RBI. It’s worth keeping an eye on him and how he progresses as we move deeper into the season. Key Stat: Ross had 14 hits in the month of May with 10 of them being homers.

Kyle Lohse, SP STL (13.7% owned)
Kyle Lohse seems to have found his groove with the Cardinals this season. After bouncing around the past couple of seasons he has begun to find success in St. Louis. Over the past two weeks he’s posted a 3-0 record with a 1.06 ERA and 0.94 WHIP. While he has only racked up 7 strikeouts over this stretch, he is a pitcher you may want to keep an eye on if you are in need of some wins. Be careful though, as a lifelong Twins fan I can tell you that Lohse has some pretty violent ups and downs and this will eventually catch up with him as he doesn’t have a lifetime 4.77 ERA for nothing. Key Stat: Lohse has a 5.06 ERA on the road the past three seasons.

[DUMP ‘EM]

Edgar Renteria, SS DET (100% owned)
After a fantastic 2007 season (.332/.390/.470) in Atlanta, Edgar Renteria has been a huge letdown to owners all over fantasy world. Coming into Saturday the veteran was hitting .262/.303/.354 with 4 HR, 25 RBI and 1 SB. This is painful in a league like mine that includes OBP and SLG as a stat category. Now I know my stance on “Dump ‘Em” is probably not one many would agree with (try to trade him away if you can), but realistically there are a lot of other options that could fit the bill depending on what stat you need the most. One nice option is Texas Ranger Ramon Vazquez (owned in 0.7%) who is eligible at both shortstop and third base. Now that he’s been inserted as an everyday player, he’s even more valuable with his .317/.390/.480 line with 2 HR and 14 in only 123 at-bats. While Renteria definitely has the chance to turn things around in a potent Detroit lineup, in a fantasy season you don’t always have the time to play the “wait and see” approach.

[Grab ‘Em Now Player of the Week]

Ryan Spilborghs, OF COL (19% owned)
This opportunistic Ryan Spilborghs has done a fantastic job filling in for Matt Holliday and Brad Hawpe while they’ve been nursing injuries on the DL. But unfortunately for Spilborghs both men are set to rejoin the team very soon. But reports are starting to trickle out of Colorado that Spilborghs may start seeing a lot of time in centerfield once the corner outfielders are back. Willy Taveras continues to play himself out of a job and will start to see his playing time drastically disappear. Luckily for Spilborghs he has been playing wonderfully for the Rockies (.312/.421/.496, 4 HR, 23 RBI) while the rest of the lineup has been slumping. Also working on his side for playing time is the fact that it is looking more and more likely that Matt Holliday will be traded before the deadline on July 31. With little or no contract talks thus far and a snake of an agent (Scott Boras) it appears as if Holliday’s days are numbered in a Rockies uniform. So snatch this guy up quick before he’s gone.

I hope you all enjoyed the first edition of “Phantasy Impact.” It will pop up every now and again with different variations so let me know how you liked it and if its something you’d like to see more often. Again, any questions please don’t hesitate emailing me or posting a comment below.

By Matthew Whipps
The Diamond Cutter
Major & Minor League Baseball Columnist
mlbdiamondcutter@gmail.com | thefranch15e

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The Best NL Prospects You Don’t Know

June 7, 2008

Top Cubs prospect Josh Vitters shows his mighty bat (mwlguide/flickr)

Cubs top prospect Josh Vitters may be the best prospect you don’t know. (mwlguide / flickr)

By now, everyone has heard just about everything there is to know about some of the biggest prospects in the game. There probably isn’t too much new I can tell you about guys like Jay Bruce, Joba Chamberlain, Clay Buchholz or Evan Longoria. There has been so much media attention given to the top tier of prospects (more than I can ever remember) that there is a whole gang of young players that are constantly overlooked and forgotten.

So with that being said, I have decided to put together a collection of prospects called “The Best Prospects You Don’t Know” for both leagues comprising of the top prospect at each position (and here’s the key) who you may not know much about. Below is the National League team I have compiled of all the best who you may have never heard about. As always let me know what you think and if I have missed anyone you think deserves to be on here.

CATCHER: J.R. Towles, HOU
After flying through the Minors in 2007 and joining the Astros by year’s end, it gives you a good idea of how good of a young catcher this kid is. Towles is a very good hitter who can hit for average and has above average power (for a catcher) thanks to his very good eye at the plate. He’s a dead pull hitter (which is fine in Houston’s ballpark) but he does need to learn to hit to other fields to be successful in the big leagues. Last season he had 40 at-bats with Houston and hit .375/.432/.575 with 12 RBI. Defensively he is rather quick behind the plate and calls a good game but he could use some work in a few areas such as throwing out base runners. Otherwise projects to be an above average everyday catcher in the Majors.

FIRST BASE: Steve Pearce, PIT
Thus far Steven Pearce has had success at every level in his professional career. Pearce’s greatest asset is his strong offensive abilities. He has the bat to hit for both average and power and has an excellent eye at the plate which will really help with his on base percentage. In fact he put up some impressive numbers last season hitting .334/.400/.586 in AA, .320/.366/.557 in AAA and .294/.342/.397 in 68 at-bats with the Pirates. Defensively he’s nothing to get excited about as once again, he’s in the lineup for his bat, not his glove. He, along with McCutchen and Walker, seem to be the only bright spots in the Pirates thirsty Minor League system.

SECOND BASE: Matt Antonelli, SD
Matt Antonelli has the defensive skills that would make him an asset at any position for the Padres. He has a strong arm and good speed which has some people projecting him as a future center fielder. While he doesn’t have much power, he does make excellent contact thanks to his bat speed plate discipline. Last season he hit .312/.407/.494 in A+ and .294/.395/.476 in AA. I project him as having the ability to hit for a high average and possibly develop some gap power. As I mentioned, he doesn’t look to have much home run power which will even be more evident in pitcher friendly San Diego.

SHORTSTOP: Chin-Lung Hu, LAD
Chin-Lunh Hu seems to have a lot of people that feel he won’t pan out as a major leaguer. He has a small frame but is very strong and quick. After struggling at the plate in 2006, he made great strides which helped quiet many of his critics. In 191 at-bats for AAA Las Vegas last season he hit .319/.337/.508 which is a huge improvement from the year before. His strongest asset is by far his defensive prowess as he is a gem in the field. Hu has great range and soft hands but only appears to have an average arm. If he can continue to carry over his plate success to the majors, he may be able to find a job at second base as Jeff Kent’s replacement if he retires next season.

THIRD BASE: Josh Vitters, CHC
Vitters was the best high school hitter in this past year’s draft. What makes him so special at the plate is his uncanny hand-eye coordination, fast wrists, and beautiful, fluid swing. He has great bat speed with a short, compact swing that generates incredible home run and gap power. He had an unimpressive start to his pro career and ended up only getting 30 at-bats in Rookie ball hitting .067/.094/.067 and .190/.261/.190 in 21 at-bats in A- ball. It’s hard to believe he’s only 18 years old, but considering his 6-foot-3 build, he still has a lot of potential to add mass and in turn adding more power. Vitters should be a huge addition to the Cubs roster in the next few years.

OUTFIELD: Jason Heyward, ATL
Talented young outfielder has harnessed very strong plate discipline with huge power potential. Looks to be a potential 30-35 home run hitter. Has the tools to be a star in the Majors and will shoot through the Atlanta system fairly quickly. In the GCL last year he hit .321/.375/.571 in 28 at-bats with one homer and 6 RBI. While he is a plus right fielder he may slide over to first base with Jeff Francoeur holding down right field for the foreseeable future.

OUTFIELD: Matt LaPorta, MIL
Probably the best known on this list, this former catcher is a big, strong power hitter who made a big name for himself in college. LaPorta has an easy loft to his swing and a strong, powerful frame which still has room to add some muscle. He has fantastic plate discipline and can flat out hit for power to all fields in any stadium. LaPorta had a nice year at A ball hitting .318/.392/.750 with 8 doubles, 10 homers and 27 RBI in only 88 at-bats. He is a better fit at first base but that spot is already anchored down on the Brewers by Prince Fielder. It appears as if the Brewers will continue on with playing him in left.

OUTFIELD: Michael Burgess, WSH
Another big bat is in Washington’s future with Burgess. The future corner outfielder has tremendous bat speed and hand-eye coordination. This coupled with his incredible raw power potential has the Nationals excited. Spending most of 2007 in Rookie ball, he hit .339/.444/.622 with 8 homers and 32 RBI. Good defensively with a very strong arm that will fit in nicely in right field.

PITCHER: Jarrod Parker, ARI
Parker has all the makings of being a top of the rotation starter for Arizona. He has a great combination of skills with fluid mechanics, smooth delivery, fantastic command and very strong mound presence. His pitch arsenal includes a big fastball sitting 94-97 mph with pretty good movement and excellent command as well as two potentially plus pitches in a changeup (low-80’s) and curveball (high-70’s). Both of those should improve as he continues to work on them. He’s very confident on the mound and is an outstanding athlete.

PITCHER: Jair Jurrjens, ATL
Picked up in a trade with Detroit, Jurrjens is an athletic youngster has two plus fastballs and a strong change up that he has excellent command of. Last season he went 7-5 with a 3.20 ERA and 20.0% K/PA in AA and 3-1 with a 4.70 ERA and 10.7% K/PA with Detroit in 7 appearances. Has an incredible make up and has a great chance to make the Braves rotation this year if he can harness his control and consistently throw strikes. Look for him to be a big impact with the Braves this season.

PITCHER: Sean Gallagher, CHC
Gallagher has the mentality that the plate belongs to him and not the hitter. With this fearless attitude, Gallagher isn’t afraid to come inside on batters which is incredibly important, especially for a youngster. His repertoire includes two fastballs – one in the low-90’s with good sinking movement and the other a few mph faster that rises, a stellar curveball, a change and a very successful slider all of which he has very good command of. In AAA Iowa Gallagher went 3-1 with a 2.66 ERA and 22.7% K/PA in 8 games in 2007. It’s not often you see a pitcher this young with so many pitches at his disposal and such strong poise on the mound.

PITCHER: Chris Volstad, FLA
Volstad is a tall, lanky righty who is a groundball pitcher with a low-90’s sinking plus fastball to go along with a plus curve and very strong changeup. Very good make-up on the mound with great control of his pitches. Volstad went 4-2 with a 3.16 ERA in 7 games for AA Carolina. Needs to find a way to finish hitters off better as he tends to struggle with this. With some tinkering in approach could be a frontline starter very quickly.

As you can see there is a huge crop of talented young prospects that tend to be forgotten about by the media. Hopefully this helped shed a little light on these players and what makes them so special. Stay tuned as I will soon unveil this same list but highlighting the American League prospects that need a little extra attention.

By Matthew Whipps
The Diamond Cutter
Major & Minor League Baseball Columnist
mlbdiamondcutter@gmail.com | thefranch15e

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Volquez Has Hitters Seeing Red(s)

June 5, 2008

Coming into this season the Reds had two young pitchers that everyone was excited for. One was Homer Bailey and the other was Johnny Cueto. So how is it possible that Edinson Volquez has emerged as not only one of the best in the bunch, but also one of the best in the league?

The young righty always had the potential to have great stuff but not many expected to see him do this well this quick. In fact, Volquez still hasn’t been figured out by hitters this season and has even tied John Tudor’s National League record for most starts (12) to begin a season allowing two earned runs or fewer. Volquez currently is boasting an 8-2 record, leads the majors in strikeouts (91), has an impressive 1.32 ERA and has allowed three home runs all season. That’s impressive for anyone let alone a 24-year old pitching in one of the best hitter’s parks in all the land.

While I did make the prediction that Volquez would have a big season stating “look for a big season from Volquez as he has looked fantastic this spring” in my NL Central Division prediction column this past Spring, even I had to admit I didn’t see him coming on this strong.

If Volquez can continue on this tirade, Johnny Cueto can regain the form he had to start the season and the two veterans Bronson Arroyo and Aaron Harang can pitch like they have the past couple of seasons, then this Reds club can make a run at the playoffs. This is especially true with the huge season Adam Dunn is having and the unshackling (finally) of mega-prospect Jay Bruce.

They definitely have the ability to catch fire as a team as they have showed it before. But now with all the fresh young blood it isn’t so much a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.

By Matthew Whipps
The Diamond Cutter
Major & Minor League Baseball Columnist
mlbdiamondcutter@gmail.com | thefranch15e

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