Matthew Pouliot

Strike Zone

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AL Notes: Moose Citing in K.C.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

I'm certainly not going to bash the Royals for calling up Mike Moustakas. However, I'm unconvinced that the 21-year-old is ready now or is an upgrade over Wilson Betemit at third base. Whereas Eric Hosmer absolutely tore up PCL pitching for a month, hitting .439/.525/.585 in 98 at-bats, Moustakas wasn't at all exceptional, coming in at .287/.347/.498 in his 223 at-bats.

That gave Moustakas an .845 OPS in a league in which the average hitter has an .804 OPS. Compare that to Betemit, who had a .759 OPS in a league in which the average hitter had a .718 OPS. 41 points of OPS in each case.

I could see a better argument for making the move if Moustakas were a clear upgrade defensively. However, he's another shaky third baseman who might be forced to move to the outfield at some point.

Again, I don't really have a problem here. Moustakas is an excellent prospect, and maybe his overall Triple-A line sells him short, since he did struggle in April. Like everyone else, I'm going to be very curious to see how he performs over the next couple of months. My guess is that he'll post decent power numbers, hitting 10-12 homers, but that the average won't be there to make him a useful mixed-league third baseman.

As for Betemit, well, he has earned his shot to play regularly, and I believe the Royals should have traded him before calling up Moustakas. The deal likely will come eventually, but Betemit doesn't figure to pick up any trade value while starting a game or two a week off the bench.

American League notes

- Aaron Crow never even got a save chance in his brief stint as the Royals' closer. Joakim Soria returned to the role with a shaky outing Thursday and then a much better one Friday against the Angels, earning saves both days. My expectations are that Soria will be just good enough to hold on the role and rack up a solid save total. Maybe he'll get his best stuff back as the year goes on, but I don't see it right now.

- Mike Aviles got the boot to make room for Moustakas, leaving light-hitting Chris Getz as the Royals' everyday second baseman. That's not ideal: Aviles should be up and starting against lefties at least. However, he was in an awful slump for the last month. He'll return once Betemit is traded, if not before.

- New A's manager Bob Melvin appears to be a big fan of Cliff Pennington and Hideki Matsui, installing them as the team's new No. 2 and No. 3 hitters, respectively. It probably won't make either worth playing in mixed leagues, but both should get modest value boosts. That's especially the case for Matsui, who had been sitting against lefties. Matsui has always hit southpaws as well as right-handers, but since he really hadn't been hitting anyone at all this year, old manager Bob Geren had turned him into a platoon player.

- I'm not very optimistic about Oakland's latest rotation stopgap, Graham Godfrey, though anyone who pitches for the A's is worth taking a look at. Godfrey can get it up to 93-94 mph with his straight fastball and his walk rate has come well down last year after a disappointing 2010, but his command is still nothing special and he lacks a plus breaking ball. I don't think he'll last in the team's rotation.

- Ideally, Scott Sizemore and Jemile Weeks would run away with starting jobs after getting their chances last week. I thought Sizemore would have to wait at least another week or two, but the A's installed him as their everyday third baseman and dropped Kevin Kouzmanoff. Weeks' opportunity is the result of a hamstring injury to Mark Ellis, but if he hits and proves adequate defensively, then he'll deserve to keep the job. Sizemore is the better bet of the two in AL-only leagues right now, mostly because he doesn't have to worry about Ellis. Weeks has the higher ceiling.

- The Twins won't say whether they plan to activate Joe Mauer (legs) and Tsuyoshi Nishioka (leg) from the disabled list on Tuesday. Mauer caught three straight games for Single-A Fort Myers and homered on Friday. As little as the Twins are getting from Drew Butera, one would think the team would be eager to bring him back, even if he's going to need frequent days off initially. Still, the Twins won't confirm their plans. I think AL-only leaguers should take the chance on activating Mauer this week. Barring some sort of setback, he'll probably return by Friday.

- It's looking like Wednesday for Nishioka, who is expected to take over as the Twins' shortstop. The team opened the season with Nishioka at second and Alexi Casilla at short, but Casilla will go back to second now.

- Ben Revere has value in AL-only leagues with Denard Span (concussion) on the disabled list. He could take playing time away from Delmon Young in left field after Span returns.

- Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said he won't take Brian Duensing out of the rotation in favor of Anthony Swarzak, even though Duensing gave up seven runs -- three earned -- in two innings Friday to fall to 1-6 in his last nine starts. Duensing's peripherals aren't bad, but the Twins' defense is and I don't have a lot of confidence that Duensing is going to bounce back right away.

- With a 15.15 ERA and a 13/17 K/BB ratio through four rehab starts, Scott Kazmir is on the road to being released by the Angels. Tyler Chatwood, who has the nice 3.79 ERA despite an ugly 34/35 K/BB ratio in 71 1/3 innings for the Angels, has no worries about his rotation spot. I think Chatwood is headed for a fall, though. His strikeout rate will come up and he's a solid enough long-term prospect, but he's due to start giving up more homers and hits.

- Russell Branyan failed to make any real in-roads while Vernon Wells was out and might not be long for Anaheim. It's going to hard to find him at-bats with Wells and Howie Kendrick healthy. Kendrick's new-found versatility is a big plus for the Angels, but it's mostly going to open up playing time for Alberto Callaspo and Maicer Izturis when Kendrick isn't at second.

- Bartolo Colon appears DL bound after straining his left hamstring covering first base on Saturday. My first guess was that Hector Noesi would come up to replace him in the rotation, but now it looks like David Phelps could be the choice. Phelps is 4-4 with a 2.95 ERA and a 66/20 K/BB ratio in 76 1/3 innings for Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes-Barre. His arsenal is pretty average and I'd worry about him giving up homers at Yankee Stadium, but he'd be one to try in AL-only leagues if he gets the call.

- I gave my thoughts on the Yankees' bullpen problems over at HardballTalk.

- Sergio Santos has suddenly lost his slider and given up seven runs in his last two appearances as a result, taking his ERA from 1.24 to 3.23. Santos throws awfully hard, but his fastball is straight and he needs the breaking ball in order to be effective. Santos is just in his third year in the mound, and he's still got plenty to learn about pitching; no one expected him to be so good so fast. If the growing pains continue, the White Sox may have to pull him from the closer's role for a bit. Still, they'd prefer not to go that route. If Santos leaves them with no other choice, then I'd expect Matt Thornton to get the majority of the save chances.

- Rather than call up Lonnie Chisenhall to platoon with Jack Hannahan at third base, the Indians opted to try Cord Phelps last week. Phelps was a full-time second baseman until this year, when he split time between second and shortstop in the crowded Triple-A Columbus infield. Along the way, he hit .299/.391/.488. Phelps does strike out quite a bit, so I'm not sure what kind of average he'll hit for in the majors. However, he's always posted solid OBPs and he should be a substantial offensive upgrade over Orlando Cabrera if the Indians want to try him at second. He's no sure thing, but he's worth a pickup in AL-only leagues.

- The Indians dropped Shelley Duncan from the roster to make room for Phelps last week. One wonders if Austin Kearns might be next to go when Travis Hafner returns from a strained oblique. He hopes to make it back next weekend. There's the chance that could demote Phelps instead, but that'd be counterproductive. They need to give one of their young infielders a chance to make an impact, whether it's Phelps, Chisenhall or Jason Kipnis.

- Dustin Pedroia's knee scope last week might have done him more good psychologically than anything else. Since returning to the lineup on Friday, he's gone 6-for-9 in two games. Now that Pedroia knows there's nothing wrong with the knee than can be aggravated or worsened while playing, he should be more willing to cut loose on the field.

- It looks like the time away did John Lackey some real good. He's no world-beater these days, but his curve has regained some snap and his fastball command is improved. As long as he doesn't regress again, he'll be a nice AL-only starter. It's hard to expect much more than that.

- With the Brett Lawrie callup countdown off for now, the Jays have been sticking with Jayson Nix at third base for the most part. But while Nix got off to a pretty good start in April, he's down to .191 at the moment. Edwin Encarnacion is at .409 with a homer and four walks in 22 at-bats this month, so he's due more playing time. A lot of it will come at DH, but he's likely to get more starts at third, too.

- The Jays confirmed last week that Jon Rauch is back in the closer's role. Now if they could just get him some save chances; they've had only one in two weeks.

- With his ERA up to 4.98 and his K/BB ratio at 43/48 through 68 2/3 innings, Kyle Drabek has put his rotation spot in jeopardy. Jesse Litsch (shoulder) is still at least two weeks away, so Drabek should have a couple of more starts to turn it around. That said, one more disastrous outing would probably get him sent down immediately and replaced by Brad Mills. Brett Cecil has a 6.04 ERA in nine starts for Triple-A Las Vegas and doesn't look like a candidate for a promotion.

- Carlos Peguero and Greg Halman are hitting, and now the Mariners have Mike Carp up, too. It makes one wonder if they'll cut bait on Jack Cust, who is slumping again this month after a solid May. They'll probably want to see more from Halman and Carp first. I don't think Halman is a major league hitter. Carp might be, but he's also a poor defensive left fielder who probably makes more sense as a designated hitter. No one in the group is a great bet in AL-only leagues at the moment, though I would take Carp over Halman.

- Starters don't get much flakier than Colby Lewis has been this season. He was pulled in the second inning Saturday, and he's given up 15 runs over 4 2/3 innings in his last two starts. As a result, his ERA is up to 4.97. Still, I don't think it's cause to drop him in mixed leagues, especially with interleague play coming up. Lewis was 3-1 with a 2.57 ERA against NL teams last year.

- Shortstop J.J. Hardy isn't exactly an ideal option in the leadoff spot, but he'll be a nice play in mixed leagues while the Orioles give him an extra at-bat per game.

- The Orioles will activate Derrek Lee on Tuesday after a short stay on the bereavement list. Brandon Snyder is expected to return to Triple-A.

- Jeff Niemann (back) is expected back in the Tampa Bay rotation next weekend after making his final rehab start Monday. AL-only leaguers desperate for wins could take a chance on activating him for his start against the Marlins. Others should pass. Alex Cobb is likely to be optioned out to make room for Niemann.

- Reid Brignac finally hit his first homer for the Rays on Wednesday and later won the game with a squeeze bunt. Hopefully for him, the Rays remember that when they activate Elliot Johnson (knee) from the disabled list, which could happen Sunday. Sending Brignac back to Triple-A is something they could consider in light of his .180 average and 32/4 K/BB ratio.

- The Tigers are expected to activate Magglio Ordonez (ankle) from the DL on Monday. Mixed leaguers should wait as long as possible to activate him. He might not be worth keeping around in shallower formats.

- Finally, here's a quick look at some interleague ramifications with play starting again Friday. The Angels, Blue Jays, Orioles, Rangers, Royals, Tigers, White Sox and Yankees will have three games in NL parks next weekend.

The Angels will likely play Bobby Abreu in the outfield at least once, with Peter Bourjos and/or Wells getting a day off.

Juan Rivera will sit for the Jays, making him a weaker play in AL-only leagues.

Vladmir Guerrero isn't expected to see any outfield time, so mixed leaguers should go in a different direction.

The Rangers will play Michael Young in the field, giving Mitch Moreland less value.

The Royals are going to have to bench either Eric Hosmer or Billy Butler each game. My guess is that Hosmer sits twice, with Butler taking a seat once.

The Tigers will have Victor Martinez catch once or twice in Alex Avila's place.

Although he's swinging the bat a whole lot better, Jorge Posada doesn't figure to do any catching for the Yankees, making him a weak play in mixed leagues.

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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