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On Deck Circle – Hitter Top 75, Week 1

The injuries are starting to pile up.

We are barely into April and it seems that a lot of players are already on the disabled list to start the 2010 season. For me, it’s the injuries that I look for in spring training, not the stats. I’ll take Raul Ibanez hitting .145 in March over Josh Hamilton who can’t stay on the field for more than a week because guys like Ibanez know what the season is about, and spring training is more to work the kinks out rather than impress the manager. Either way, the important lesson here is to not overreact to just one month of play, especially when the games don’t even count. Players have gone on to do great things despite slow starts (i.e. rookie Dustin Pedroia).

That being said, let’s get started on the first of many weekly installments of the On Deck Circle, released every Tuesday.

Surging

(Three players whose value has risen in the past week.)

B.J. Upton, OF, Tampa Bay Rays

Upton is one of the biggest mysteries in fantasy baseball and it all boils down to his power. In 2007, he hit 24 home runs in 129 games as a 23-year old but then combined to hit just 20 home runs in 289 games during his 2008 and 2009 seasons. However, in between his 2008 and 2009 seasons, Upton hit seven home runs in 16 postseason games when everyone thought his power was a fluke. So what do we make of Upton in 2010? Well, it’s a known fact that Upton was hurt in 2008 and was still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery in 2009 so he became a different hitter to compensate. Upton hit three home runs in 61 at-bats this spring so I’m willing to take the chance he approaches 20 home runs with the potential to one day hit 25-30. Call me optimistic.

Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Detroit Tigers

Is it possible to underrate a player like Cabrera? Well, he was once touted as a top-five fantasy player, but alcohol issues and a semi-down 2009 season dropped him in drafts, sometimes out of the top 10. Well I’m going to tell you that there is nothing to worry about here, and after Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, Cabrera is the clear-cut winner. He is basically Pujols without the steals and if you can get him in the second round, consider yourself lucky. He batted .356 and hit 12 extra base hits in 73 at-bats during the spring and is off the hooch. Everything points to him having a monster 2010 season.

Billy Butler, 1B, Kansas City Royals

Butler is a guy I seem to draft on every team of mine and it’s for good reason. He has hit around .300 at every level he has played, and his 2009 season was in no way lucky as his .328 BABIP was right in line with his minor league numbers. He hit 21 home runs and a whopping 51 doubles. He approached 100 RBI on a very bad Royals team, and did I mention he is only 24-years old? There’s a lot to like about Butler and if he can turn some of those doubles into home runs we are looking at a future .300/30/100 guy.

Falling

(Three players whose value has dropped in the past week.)

Jose Reyes, SS, New York Mets

Is it fair that we keep picking on poor Jose Reyes? Probably not, but we here at Baseball Professor do not baby professional athletes and Reyes is no exception. The main thing that worries me about him is that hamstring/groin problems tend to linger, and if a guy’s not completely healed by the start of the season then you will probably never see him completely healthy. For a player who depends on his speed for a lot of his value, this worries me a lot. Health has always been an issue for Reyes and he may never see the glory days of 2006-2008 ever again in his career. He’s officially on my won’t-touch-until-he-proves-it-for-a-season list.

Lance Berkman, 1B, Houston Astros

Another guy whose stock has fallen through spring training thanks to injury. Berkman is getting up there in age (34) and will no longer provide those cheap steals that we all grew to love. There are reports that he will not be ready to play once he is eligible to come off the 15-day DL so maybe his severe drop in ADP is warranted. He could make for a nice buy-low candidate – I think he could still hit around .290 with 25 home runs and 90 RBI – but make sure you’re prepared for him to miss significant time as well.

Brian Roberts, 2B, Baltimore Orioles

We continue with the injured theme in this section because, well, it’s really the only thing that hurts a player’s value to me in spring training. I’m not one of those guys who sees a .145 spring training average and panics, but if the words “herniated disk” are thrown around I start sweating a little. Roberts’ steals were declining without injury, so while I did say that Roberts was a lock for 35 steals this season, that was before this news came out. Right now, I will definitely downgrade that prediction considerably. Back injuries could flare up at any moment so keep a close eye on Roberts, especially in April as it will be interesting to see how he plays with the lingering issue.

Players to watch

(Whether it be playing time, job security or any other rumors, keep an eye on these players)

Colorado Rockies’ outfield

Ryan Spilborghs, Seth Smith, Dexter Fowler, Carlos Gonzalez and Brad Hawpe. That’s five guys for three spots in the Rockies’ outfield, so if you own one of these players you should be prepared for them to sit every once in a while. The safest bet to get 600 plate appearances is Dexter Fowler because he is the most natural center fielder and has shown a great ability to get on base as a young hitter. However, Gonzalez is a very promising prospect and Smith is a great hitter as well. It’s a very crowded situation and one that should be monitored very closely.

John Bowker, OF, San Fransisco Giants

Bowker absolutely raked in the spring and was actually able to earn himself a starting gig because of it. He led the team in home runs (6), RBI (23) and had a strikeout to walk ratio of 11-to-10. It’s uncertain how long of a leash he will have, and if he struggles out of the gate the Giants could send him back to the minors and plug Nate Schierholtz back in right field, but Bowker has shown a lot of power potential in the minors. The Giants may want to see what they have in him and let him ride it out for a while. Either way, watch this situation because if Bowker does get off to a hot start he may just be in it for the long haul.

On the mend

(One player to watch coming off the disabled list)

Ian Kinsler, 2B, Texas Rangers

Surprise, surprise! Ian Kinsler has landed on the DL yet again, but this time it’s at the beginning of the season rather than the end. Could be good news for fantasy owners as Kinsler could possibly be around for the playoffs, especially in head-to-head leagues, but it’s definitely not encouraging when your second- or third-round pick is on the DL to start the season. It has yet to be determined whether Kinsler will be ready on April 10, but he should be ready to go by mid-to-late April and fantasy championships are never won in the first month of the season. I can still see Kinsler as a 25/25 player and he should bounce back to hit for a better average this season as he will probably hit second, fifth or sixth in the Rangers’ lineup.

Down on the Farm

(One player in the minors who could make an impact soon.)

Logan Morrison, 1B, Florida Marlins

Morrison won’t blow you away with his power as his 25-plus home run potential is merely average at the position, but he is very capable of hitting for a high average and getting 10 steals as a first baseman. His 2009 was hampered by injuries and he appeared in only 79 games. If Gaby Sanchez continues to disappoint at the major league level, don’t be surprised if the Marlins give Morrison a chance at the first base job.


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About the author: George graduated with a degree in Journalism, but instead of walking at his graduation, he walked down the aisle at his wedding. He’s been playing fantasy baseball for over a decade and his interest and knowledge in the sport is as big and growing as his eyebrows are bushy…and growing. (@BaseballProf)

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