|Hanley is back, and he's ready to finish of his best year in a long time. (USAT)|
Whew! That was a long couple of days without baseball, or basically any sports whatsoever. We had some exhibition games (or is the All-Star game real? It matters? Chris Sale for ASG MVP!), but real baseball fires back up for the stretch run.
For fantasy purposes that means making massive overhauls to your team and doing your best guessing for how the rest of the regular season will play out. Below is a rundown of some players of the buy-low variety who I'm confident in finishing the season out strong.
C - Mike Napoli, BOS
Napoli led off my stellar group of players I liked back in March, and after a torrid start he's cooled down quite a bit. I'm still in on Napoli. Sure it was nicer when David Ortiz wasn't taking all his RBIs away, but beyond that Napoli's K-rate skyrocketed and he wasn't making solid contact. With only 11 HR thus far, he's not hitting anywhere near where he should be, but in that line-up he'll get his opportunities to out produce a lot of the catchers out there.
1B - Kendrys Morales, SEA
Considering that this is one of the more inundated positions due to multiple players getting eligibility here, the 3-spot has been a total bust. Many of the pre-season Top 10 aren't performing as they should, and that "depth" that is always there is basically made up of Chris Davis, Matt Carpenter, and Michael Cuddyer. So, when we look at Morales it's a guy that has pretty good LHP/RHP splits, has shown some pop, and does have 54 RBI on a below average Mariners offense. Here's hoping he's shipped to say the New York Yankees at the deadline. He hasn't shown the power from pre-leg break, but he's rounding into form. Even if he stays in Seattle, all he needs are the at bats to get to mid-20 homers and push 90 RBI.
2B - Ben Zobrist, TB
Zobrist is not a fun player to own. He has the worst Twitter account ever (seriously, who shares their Twitter with their wife?) You love his position flexibility, but he earns his stats in bits and pieces. Even in an OBP league, this has been a down year for Zobes. I'm sure you won't have to search far and wide for a team that is disappointed in his production thus far. In that same light, Zobrist is consistent. He plays for the Rays who always seem to turn it up this time of year. He won't get to his 20 HR target this year, but he should get to something like a 15/12 end of season number. His best production is in front of him.
SS - Hanley Ramirez, LAD
This isn't a sleeper article or a waiver pick up article. This is a buy low article. Hanley Ramirez has fit the bill of any position player that has had major shoulder surgery. You feel great, you can play, but it really takes about 2 years to get fully back to form (take note: Jacoby Ellsbury, Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez). If you look at ESPN's Top 250 for the rest of the year, Ramirez is plunked at a healthy #27. I have no problem being aggressive on this front. I think he's easily a Top 20 player until the end of the year. Buy accordingly.
3B - Xander Bogaerts, BOS
Yeah, hype train! All on board. Bogaerts emerged as a player ready to roll after his Futures Game performance. By the way, you know you're old and synical about baseball when you prefer to watch the Futures Game over the actual All-Star game. But Bogaerts put fantasy owners on high alert. He could earn a call-up should Stephen Drew get hurt or struggle, but he's in a prime position to use his on-base and power to make a dent in 2013. Beyond that he looks to be something special. Also, I listed Bogaerts at 3B instead of SS (Hanley has 3B eligibility as well so it's a flippable situation) to note that while I think it is unlikely the Sox would move Bogaerts to 3B (a la Machado last year, as Machado is a plus plus fielder) it could happen. So be on the look out how he is deployed.
OF - Jason Heyward, ATL
Heyward's nickname should just be "If Only." If only he can stay healthy, if only he could fix his swing, if only he hit the ball in the air more. These are all issues that have previously and currently frustrated fantasy owners about Heyward. He has everything you could imagine a baseball player to be, except that the slightest flaw in his mechanics send him to a tailspin for a long, long time. It's important to realize he is still only 23 years-old, but as the years drag on it's becoming less and less of an excuse (hear that Johnny Football?). The good news is that Heyward won't miss time due to his hammy injury he suffered right before the All-Star break, and his peripheral numbers look good. He's striking out less, hitting the ball in the air more, and for what it's worth he was flying around the bases before he pulled up lame. If Only he could live up to his potential, we'd have a superstar on our hands.
OF - Ryan Braun, MIL
Here's a guy that has some stuff going on, huh? While Biogenesis is looming, it's pretty evident that no player will be suspended this year, sans some kind of plea bargain. If you're Braun I'm not sure how you accept a 20, 30, 40 game ban with a plea bargain after all of this. Anyway, the more immediate threat to his productivity is his thumb. He's been dealing with this issue for a good part of the season, and after oddly being placed on the bereavement list before the All-Star game he appears back for games starting today. The issue with thumb injuries is the loss of power, which Braun has shown. Also, if he stops running then that's another huge blow to his value. He can still get on base and be a productive outfielder with the potential to regain some of his previous Braun form. If you could get him on the cheap for say a Yasiel Puig, Alex Gordon, Yoenis Cespedes type. I'd do it.
OF - Coco Crisp, OAK
Injuries are always an issue for Crisp. That is a given. The good news for people looking to buy-low is that Crisp has been injured and in a slump recently. Before his most recent hammy injury, Crisp was having a career year. He's batting atop a very good line-up, and although his 14 steals to date aren't what you signed up for, he has it in him to go on a tear to easily double that SB total. All for a guy that won't give you a big goose egg in the homer category, that's value.
SP - Rick Porcello, DET
Like many pitcher suspensions, Porcello's was a non-issue. He served it right before the All-Star break and hardly caused a blip on the fantasy radar by missing a start. He's back in full force post-break with a couple of favorable match-ups out of the gate. His increased K's and decreased walks in 2013 have been a great surprise. Not that chasing wins is a good idea, but being on easily the best team in the division gives him a nice cushion moving forward. He'll have his off nights, but they'll be a lot less frequent ROS.
SP - Corey Kluber, CLE
Already covered here. Some tough match-ups out the gate (again!), but keep an eye on him after those. As a note, when I'm looking to build my staff down the stretch I want pitchers on good teams and pitchers I know will be there for me in the playoffs. Kluber may not necessarily fit either, but it's something to keep in mind. In redraft leagues, Jose Fernandez might make you happy as shit on a pig, but he's carrying the burden of an innings limit on him. Build for consistency and proven history, which leads us too ...
SP - Cole Hamels, PHI
It's been beaten to death, but there's virtually nothing wrong with Hamels. There have been a few more erratic starts this season, but overall, he's the same guy. No injuries, no decrease in anything except for wins.
RP - Steve Cishek, MIA
Losing your closers is also a big fear of fantasy owners down the stretch. Closers are by far the most volatile because other team's (specifically other bad team's) closers are easy to acquire for a few mid-level prospects. Cishek has been brilliant for the past couple of months - minus his implosion in the last game of the first half - so he's certainly on any team's radar that needs bullpen help. The caveat with Cishek is that he's really good, and if you've noticed there aren't a whole hell of a lot of closers with tons of job security. When Cishek does get traded, there is a high likelihood that he will not lose his status as a closer. For a team to acquire the side-winding righty at the Marlins price and simply plunk him in the set-up role would be indulging in a form of luxury that not many teams have the priviledge of enjoying.
RP - Blake Parker, CHN
One player who could very well lose his job is Kevin Gregg. Gregg has been solid, but struggled of late. The Cubs have no reason to hold onto this now valuable asset they picked up off the trash pile earlier this year. Theo Epstein and company will get good value for him, and I certainly envision Gregg not getting handshakes at the end of the night wherever he heads to. Parker has been tabbed as his successor, and with a K/9 inching towards 9.00, previous experience closing games in the minors, and a h/t from manager Dale Sveum, he's a good player to pounce on once Gregg is traded.