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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Fantasy Baseball: The Stud Call-Up Season Is Here


It is my favorite time of the fantasy baseball year and where my usually title contending teams separate from the pack if I hit on the right player.

It is rookie stud call-up season.

Now, you might be thinking that September is really call-up season. While that is the 40-man roster expansion date and picking up some rookies then can help your team down the stretch, usually by September you are pretty entrenched into you position in your fantasy league and that little extra boost will do nothing for 95 percent of fantasy owners. Also, the difference in the late-May, early-June call-up season and September is that the guys coming up earlier in the year are the studs who were sent down at the end of Spring Training either for a little extra seasoning or two set their arbitration clocks back and keep them from becoming Super Two category players. The players coming for September are on either end of the spectrum – the older veteran free agent waived in mid-August or the too-young-to-be-MLB-ready youngster ending minor league years but played well enough for a cup of coffee.

For instance, when Dustin Pedroia got his initial call-up in September of 2006 for a Red Sox team that had fallen out of contention. He got 98 plate appearances and had a .191 batting average, .258 on-base percentage and .303 slugging with two home runs, seven RBI and no stolen bases. The next two years, “Laser Show” Pedroia was the Rookie of the Year and the American League Most Valuable Player. It was much better to pick him up in late May of 2007 when he got hot (and has pretty much stayed hot) as opposed to grabbing him the previous September when there was hype about the Sox bringing up a solid second round second baseman.

So, depending on the service time of the player, this is the time of year that they are being brought up. My guess is that a fair amount of you reading this either already have Stephen Strasburg stowed away or someone on your league does, so I will avoid the obvious. Yet, 2010 is shaping up to be a great year for young talent outside Strasburg and Jason Heyward and picking these guys up or keeping them on your radar could be the difference from fighting for position come September or watching as the big boys battle it out while you are trying to figure out who the backup running back to Darren McFadden will be.

There are some imminent arrivals on the horizon:

Outfielders –
Mike Stanton – Florida
Jose Tabata – Pittsburgh
Desmond Jennings – Tampa Bay
Michael Taylor – Oakland

Third Base –
Pedro Alvarez – Pittsburgh
Josh Bell – Baltimore

Catchers –
Buster Posey – San Francisco
Carlos Santana – Cleveland
Tyler Flowers – White Sox

Pitchers –
Kyle Drabeck – Toronto
Chris Tillman – Baltimore
Jake Arrieta – Baltimore
Jeremy Hellickson – Tampa Bay
Tanner Scheppers – Texas

Note: These are all players who are still in the minors but should find space on their major league rosters sometime within the next month-and-a-half. There are a couple other players in this rookie group that deserve some attention as well such as Drew Storen who has the potential to close for the Nationals, Starlin Castro at shortstop for the Cubs. It is also worth it to take major looks at Mike Leake of the Reds and Wade Davis of the Rays as starting pitchers who began the year with their big league clubs and are having strong starts to their seasons.

But, back to the potential call-ups. The biggest names on that short list there are Posey, Stanton, Drabeck and maybe Tillman. Few scouts have doubts that these players will sooner than later be impact major leaguers and all but Tillman should get regular time once they get the call (the Orioles bullpen is so woeful that Tillman and Arrieta are probably headed there before getting thrown to the Camden Yards fire).

The reason that Stanton, Drabeck and Posey will be immediate starters (probably on your fantasy team as well) is because their parent teams have glaring weaknesses at their positions. The Giants cannot hit a lick and Posey lengthens their lineup well while probably kicking Aubrey Huff out of the lineup or to the outfield. The Marlins have atrocious numbers from their corner outfielders (looking at you, again, Cameron Maybin) and Toronto needs pitching to go with a surprisingly strong offense.

Let’s take a closer look at each of those players. Stanton was a second round pick by the Marlins in 2007 and is 21 in November. A lot of player development professionals want to see young hitters play well in the minors for about 1500 plate appearances and as of Saturday Stanton had 1338 from rookie league to double-A Jackonsonville in 310 games. This year through 39 games he has 17 home runs and 43 RBI with a .313/.446/.741 line, exceptional in everyway after struggling initially with Jacksonville in a mid-season promotion in 2009. Given that little bit of history, the Marlins might like to see how Stanton does at triple-A New Orleans but at this point the clock is set to “when” not “if” for this season.

Posey has already got the call-up to the Giants and has 40 innings behind the plate under his belt with 17 plate appearances. With a -38 OPS+ rating, he has not done much yet but there is a good chance he will find his groove this year and be a semi-productive catcher at one of the weakest positions in all of fantasy baseball. He had 723 plate appearances in his minor league career with a .328/.423/.534 line and in 41 games at triple-A Fresno this year had 181 plate appearances with a .333/.431/520 line with five home runs and 28 RBI. That is a major-league ready catcher if there has ever been one and it is worth keeping a close eye on him when his bat catches up to big league pitching.

Drabeck probably will not set the league on fire but has the potential to be a stabilizer. This year in double-A New Hampshire he is 5-4 with 48 strikeouts, 3.59 ERA and 1.424 WHIP in nine games started and 52.2 innings pitched. Those are not particularly great numbers, especially considering his peripheries of 4.1 walks per nine innings, and 2.00 strikes per walk but his 8.7 strikeout per nine innings is promising and should not fall below 7.00 or so when he comes to the majors. If he can cut down on his wildness, especially in the big leagues, it is not out of reason to assume that he can stay around his minor league levels of 3.68 ERA and 8.2 strikeouts per nine with a much more respectable 1.286 WHIP.

Perhaps Tillman or Scheppers are more to your liking on the pitching front or you are higher on Jennings than Stanton. The point is that these are potential impact players in reality that means they could definitely be difference makers on your fantasy roster very soon. Keep an eye out on the transaction wire in the next month so you can be the first to lock them down when the time comes.

Dan Rowinski is a Fantasy Baseball Columnist for Rotoinfo.com. If you have any questions or comments feel free to e-mail him at danrowinski@rotoinfo.com. You can follow him on Twitter at Dan_Rowinski.

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