Matthew Pouliot

Strike Zone

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Mixed Notes: Waiting On Lawrie

Sunday, May 22, 2011

I'm combining the two notes columns this week. AL first, followed by the NL.

The Blue Jays and Mariners are among the teams that appear to be looking forward to the soft June 1 "deadline" for calling up prospects and ensuring that they won't be super-two arbitration eligible.

Brett Lawrie is currently hitting .337/.395/.607 with nine homers and 32 RBI for Triple-A Las Vegas. And while Las Vegas is a hitter's paradise, he's actually doing even better in road games, having hit .372/.430/.615. Defense is definitely an issue, as Lawrie is still working on making the transition from second base to third, but after an early binge of errors, he's committed just two over the last month. He won't be John McDonald at the hot corner, but he's probably already an upgrade over Edwin Encarnacion.

Dustin Ackley struggled in April, but he's batting .342/.442/.570 with four homers and an 8/15 K/BB ratio in 19 games this month. His hot streak led to speculation that he could get the call last week, but the Mariners decided to hold off. The Mariners will take quite a hit defensively when they make the switch from Jack Wilson to Ackley at second base and there's reason to believe Ackley won't last at second for the long haul. Still, the Mariners offense badly needs a lift and Ackley should provide it. He's showing 15-homer power, he's hitting lefties well and he possesses the on-base skills to be an asset in between Ichiro Suzuki and Justin Smoak in the lineup.

My guess is that both will debut in a couple of weeks. I'm skeptical that Ackley will be an asset in mixed leagues right away -- playing for the Mariners doesn't make for good run and RBI numbers -- but Lawrie will be worth taking a chance on in shallow formats, especially in those leagues in which he still has second base eligibility.

American League Notes

- There's no June 1 deadline for the Rays and Desmond Jennings. Since Jennings spent last September in the majors, the Rays would have to wait until July to recall him if they want to prevent him from becoming super-two eligible. I think they'll make the switch earlier unless he goes into a slump. Jennings is batting .333/.417/.619 with four homers in May. He's at .289/.398/.487 for the year, and he's 9-for-9 stealing bases. Sam Fuld's days as a starter should be winding down.

- Danny Duffy was too wild to pick up a win in his major league debut, but there's an awful lot to like here. The 22-year-old is one of the game's hardest throwing lefties, and his curve is a strikeout pitch against lefties and righties alike. While he walked six in four innings in his start against Texas, he totaled just 10 free passes in 36 innings for Triple-A Omaha prior to his callup. There's a real chance he'll be the Royals' best pitcher right away. I don't know whether that will give him value in mixed leagues -- it's best to take a wait-and-see approach -- but he's well worth grabbing in AL-only leagues.

- It appears that the Rangers will activate both Josh Hamilton (arm) and Nelson Cruz (quad) from the DL on Monday. Outfielder Craig Gentry and catcher Taylor Teagarden likely will be demoted to make room. With Hamilton in particular expected to get some DH time initially, the Rangers are giving Michael Young a crash course in the outfield. Mike Napoli and David Murphy are due to lose some playing time.

- Frank Francisco is struggling, and with Jon Rauch in the midst of a second straight bad outing, the Blue Jays turned to Octavio Dotel to close out Saturday's win over the Astros. The Jays clearly prefer Francisco in the closer's role, but he gave up three runs in a loss Friday, leaving him with a 5.56 ERA in 11 1/3 innings since he came off the DL. I wouldn't count on Dotel picking up any additional saves. Jason Frasor actually looks like the Jays' best reliever right now, but at the moment, Francisco and Rauch are the relievers worth owning in mixed leagues. Maybe it will be time to give Frasor a try if Francisco blows another opportunity this week.

- When I wrote last week about Jordan Danks and Dayan Viciedo being possibilities to take over for Juan Pierre, I neglected to even mention Brent Lillibridge's name. Lillibridge was a horrible hitter in parts of three major league seasons entering 2011 (.194/.254/.297 with 85 strikeouts in 273 at-bats), but he's at .325/.417/.650 in 40 at-bats this season. I think it's pretty obviously a fluke, but if the White Sox do decide to sit Pierre -- and they most certainly should -- then Lillibridge is just as worthy of a shot as the other candidates.

- The Angels aren't expecting Vernon Wells back from his strained groin this week. Howie Kendrick will continue to play left field. I still don't imagine we'll see Mike Trout at any point before September.

- Jordan Walden blew his fourth save last week, but he's bounced back with a couple of scoreless innings in non-save situations since. If the Angels are forced to make a switch in the closer's role, it will be to Scott Downs. As well as Downs has pitched, he makes for a pretty good pickup in mixed leagues.

- It doesn't look like Brian Roberts will return from his concussion Tuesday, leaving the Orioles without their left side of the infield. Robert Andino will continue to fill in at second base. With Luke Scott having shifted to first in place of Derrek Lee (oblique) Felix Pie should prove to be a solid option in AL-only leagues for the next couple of weeks. The newly recalled Brandon Snyder doesn't figure to have any fantasy value while getting the occasional start against lefties. Nolan Reimold will also play against southpaws.

- Even though Brian Matusz (back) pitched six scoreless innings for Double-A Bowie on Saturday, the Orioles are leaning towards having him make one more rehab start rather than activating him to face the Royals on Thursday.

- Both Alfredo Aceves and Tim Wakefield should have value in AL-only leagues while filling in for John Lackey (elbow) and Daisuke Matsuzaka (elbow) in the Boston rotation. I like Aceves as the better option. It's possible the Red Sox will return him to the bullpen in a few weeks and give Kevin Millwood a try, but that's hardly worth worrying about at the moment.

- Grady Sizemore (knee) is eligible to come off the DL on Friday, and now that the Indians have the DH spot available for him, it's more likely that he will return then. AL-only leaguers can take a chance and activate him.

- The DH spot is open because Travis Hafner figures to miss at least three weeks with a strained oblique. Shelley Duncan would be the obvious choice to take over there, but he's been slumping badly this month. The Indians just have to hope someone gets hot from the group of Duncan, Austin Kearns and Travis Buck. Buck played the hero Saturday, hitting a two-run homer to give the Indians all of their runs in a win over the Reds, but going into the day, the trio has combined for one homer in 155 at-bats. I'd give Buck the current edge in AL-only leagues, largely because he's the left-handed hitter.

- Alex White's finger injury was another blow, but he was expected to be replaced by the returning Mitch Talbot in Cleveland's rotation anyway. Talbot, who missed a month with a strained elbow, allowed three runs over nine innings in two starts with Triple-A Columbus. He's not recommended in AL-only leagues.

- The Twins will activate both Jim Thome (oblique) and Jason Repko (quad) prior to Monday's game. Some may call for them to start DHing Thome regularly and put Jason Kubel in left field, but I doubt they'll go that route. As frustrating as the Delmon Young experience has been lately, the Twins badly need to get him going.

- The A's had to one-up me. Last week I looked at who they'd go to if they lost another starting pitcher. So, of course, they put two on the disabled list. Guillermo Moscoso figures to step in to one of the openings created by the injuries to Brandon McCarthy (shoulder) and Tyson Ross (oblique). He has a 4.02 ERA for Sacramento, but he also has a 43/13 K/BB ratio and he's allowed just one homer in 40 1/3 innings. With Bobby Cramer nursing an oblique strain of his own, the other pick could come from a group that includes Graham Godfrey, Josh Outman and Travis Banwart. Outman has been struggling with his command since returning from Tommy John surgery, and I think Godfrey will probably be the choice. Alternatively, they could try moving reliever David Purcey back to the rotation. Right now, I think Moscoso is the only one worth picking up in AL-only leagues.

- Andrew Bailey (forearm) made his first rehab appearance Friday, pitching a perfect inning for Triple-A Sacramento. He should be back in a week.

- With Reid Brignac on the bereavement list, the speedy Elliot Johnson should be worth playing in AL-only leagues this week.

National League Notes

- After going four weeks without a homer, Albert Pujols might be a viable buy-low candidate. I'm not sure that I'll have him No. 1 overall again when the June rankings come out, but he'll definitely be in the top five, even with the power outage. I think there's probably some truth to the idea that Pujols has his contract on his mind. Still, it's hard to imagine such a massive talent struggling for six months or even three. He's not striking out any more than usual, and while he is hitting more grounders -- as the league-leading 13 double-play balls attest -- it's not an overwhelming spike. I'd trust him to hit 25 homers and drive in 80 runs over the rest of the season.

- The closer's role in St. Louis now belongs to Fernando Salas after he saved three games and won another last week. Salas can't match the fastballs of Mitchell Boggs, Eduardo Sanchez or Jason Motte, but he has good command and a quality slider, plus his vulnerability to the home run ball is a lesser issue in a big ballpark like Busch Stadium. Don't pencil him in for 25 saves just yet, but I do like him and he might well be the most trustworthy of the Cardinals relievers.

- What makes Bud Norris' strong start all the more encouraging is that he's actually giving up more hits and homers than one would expect given his other numbers (most notably, his strikeout rate of 10.5 per nine innings). Still, I remain somewhat skeptical, mostly because he's a two-pitch pitcher with an unexceptional fastball. Norris still hasn't come up with a decent change, and his 91-95 mph heater doesn't have a lot of movement. His slider has always been great and his command has improved considerably, but I don't think he'll remain useful in mixed leagues all season long.

- With Shane Victorino (quad) on the DL, the Phillies brought Domonic Brown back to the majors. Brown should be up to stay if he hits, and he could steal the right-field job away from Ben Francisco. It's probably time to drop Francisco in mixed leagues. Brown isn't a great add in shallow formats yet, but the power is there for him to hit 15-18 homers over the rest of the season.

- Phillies manager Charlie Manuel confirmed that Ryan Madson would remain in the closer's role following the return of Jose Contreras this week. No surprise there.

- Chase Utley is expected to be activated Monday. He'll probably do a lot of sitting against left-handers initially, but mixed leaguers will certainly want him active right away. Wilson Valdez will lose most of his at-bats.

- Rafael Furcal (thumb) is back as the Dodgers' starting shortstop, and Casey Blake (elbow) could return Friday. That was supposed to force the team to decide whether it's worth sticking with Juan Uribe as an everyday player or if it's time to turn him into a utilityman, but Uribe was placed on the DL with an abdominal strain, making room for Furcal. Uribe is hitting just .220/.293/.333, while Jamey Carroll is at .318/.373/.382 and is the closest thing the Dodgers have to a No. 2 hitter. Carroll should get most of the starts at second base for now. I don't really expect manager Don Mattingly to bench Uribe in the first year of a three-year, $21 million deal, but it'd be the right move.

- With Vicente Padilla on the DL due to a strained forearm, the Dodgers are looking at Matt Guerrier, Mike MacDougal and Kenley Jansen as save candidates. Guerrier and MacDougal both picked up single saves last week, but Jansen is the one that could run away with the job and it'd be best for the Dodgers if he does. He hasn't allowed a run in six innings since returning to the majors, and while his command is spotty, he's certainly no worse there than MacDougal. I think Guerrier is probably the slight favorite for saves at the moment, but Jansen is the one I'd rather own.

- Jordan Zimmermann is still floating around unowned in some mixed leagues, and I don't like it. He's throwing 91-95 mph, the bite on his slider is back and he could easily have a 3.00 ERA right now instead of one slightly over 4.00. In fact, his FIP is 2.68. It's doubtful that Zimmermann will suddenly start racking up a bunch of wins, but I see him being a nice asset in the other categories.

- The Braves' Craig Kimbrel bought himself some more time by picking up a save in a 12-inning game Saturday against the Angels. Manager Fredi Gonzalez is a big fan of set roles, and he pretty obviously doesn't want to make the switch to Jonny Venters unless he has no other choice. Besides, Venters has been extremely valuable as a setup man so far. The Braves likely are better off with Venters occasionally pitching two innings in tight games and Kimbrel handling the leads in the ninth.

- Zack Greinke has had just one quality start in four tries since coming off the DL, but look at the outstanding 29/2 K/BB ratio in 21 innings and not the 6.43 ERA. He makes for a fine trade target.

- It looks like Reds manager Dusty Baker is finally coming around to the fact that Jonny Gomes isn't a great option as an everyday left fielder. Unfortunately, that's still not necessarily great news for Chris Heisey owners. Gomes is an asset against left-handed pitching, and Heisey, a right-handed hitter, might be a weaker complement for him than the lefty swinging Fred Lewis. Lewis is worth grabbing in any NL-only leagues in which he's unowned.

- I'm not expecting anything to come of the report regarding the Rangers asking the Pirates about Joel Hanrahan. In need of the fan support, the Pirates need to hang around the .500 range for as long as they can. They're certainly not going to trade him now, and if he's still succeeding in the closer's role, I doubt they'll move him in July. Perhaps that would change if Evan Meek recovers from his shoulder problems and resumes throwing like he did last year. He's expected back from the DL this week. As is, the Pirates' fallback in the closer's role is Jose Veras.

- The Pirates did the right thing this time and put Pedro Alvarez on the DL with his quad injury. They need to leave him in Triple-A for at least 10 days before they consider bringing him back. Alvarez wasn't hitting at all anyway, so Brandon Wood should be an upgrade at third base for the club. Even if he's just as bad offensively, he is the better defender.

- The Diamondbacks brought back Micah Owings to replace Armando Galarraga in the rotation last week, but that's going to be a short-term situation. Zach Duke (hand) could step in after making one more rehab start Monday.

- There's enough concern about Jason Heyward's shoulder that mixed leaguers might want to sit him down this week. The Braves would have been better off placing him on the DL in the first place.

- If Marlon Byrd goes on the DL after being hit in the face by a pitch Friday, the Cubs could bring Tyler Colvin right back to the majors. That's not an ideal option, but there aren't a lot of alternatives. Fernando Perez has struggled in Triple-A, and Lou Montanez isn't a center fielder. I'd love to see what Brett Jackson could do, but the top prospect has been out the last 10 days with a finger injury.

- Randy Wells (elbow) is expected to return to the rotation against the Pirates next weekend. NL-only leaguers will want him active.

- The Marlins are turning to converted reliever Jay Buente to replace Josh Johnson (shoulder) in the rotation. I wrote about Buente last week as the top candidate to replace Javier Vazquez, and he still might claim Vazquez's spot if he pitches well while Johnson is out. He's not worthy of an immediate pickup, but NL-only leagues should keep an eye on him.

- Angel Pagan (oblique) is expected to rejoin the Mets next weekend, but Ike Davis (ankle) no longer appears likely to return when eligible.

Matthew Pouliot is the Executive Editor of and has been doing the site's baseball projections for the last 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @matthewpouliot.
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