Matthew Pouliot

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NL Notes: Taking On Bruce

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Even my mother wrote me last week to take issue with Jay Bruce's placement in last week's outfield rankings. I didn't think listing him 21st was an insult. Certainly, no one complained when he was ranked 28th in the outfield after April. Should a 12-homer month really change everything?

It's fair to say I have a history of being slow to react to both cold and hot streaks. I need to see a real change if I'm going to overhaul my evaluation of a player during a season. Injury issues or changes in playing time or lineup position, those get my attention. But when someone just sucks for a month or plays out of his mind for a few weeks, my opinion isn't likely to be swayed a great deal. Now, if one can give me a reason for a performance change, that's something worthy of notice. Derek Jeter trying a new batting stance, Pablo Sandoval dropping 30 pounds, Adam Dunn having big problems adjusting to a league switch, Brian McCann dealing with eye issues… those are things that would cause me to reevaluate my take.

With Bruce, I don't see it. I think he was a good player having a great month. Maybe it was a legitimate step forward, but I won't simply take it for granted.

And I think it's well worth noting here that for three years, Bruce was a very disappointing fantasy outfielder, even as he was putting up generally solid numbers for the Reds. He didn't hit for a decent average until last year, and even while batting .281 with 25 homers last season, he still finished with just 70 RBI. His career high for steals is five. When Bruce isn't going good, he's a one-category player and not even all that good in the one category.

I don't want to slam Bruce. I projected him to blow away his previous career highs by finishing with 31 homers and 92 RBI this year. Now it seems like a very good bet that he'll finish with at least 35 homers and 100 RBI. But I'm not convinced he's a top-tier fantasy outfielder yet.

And that's why I ranked him 21st. Of course, he's been so good so far that even if he is merely the No. 21 outfielder the rest of the way, he'd likely finish the year as around the 10th-12th best outfielder overall. Which sounds about right to me. The homers will be there in the end, but I don't think he'll keep up his current pace in any category.

National League notes

- I probably should have dropped the Mets' Jason Bay further than 50th in the outfield rankings. After an 0-for-20 start to June, he was benched Thursday and Friday. Upon returning Saturday, he went 1-for-4 with two strikeouts. Bay does have a tendency to look worse than most when he slumps, and I wondered if he'd ever pull out of it during the stretch for the Red Sox in the summer of 2009 when he hit .185 over 124 at-bats. Still, this isn't just a slump; it looks like lingering residue from last year's concussion. I honestly don't have a clue if he'll go back to being useful in mixed leagues. His average will come up, but the power might not be there at any point.

- Tim Lincecum hasn't been the same since his 133-pitch shutout of the A's on May 21, and he hit a new low in giving up seven runs over four innings in a loss to the Reds on Saturday. He maintains that there's no injury, though. From here, it looks like he's struggling with his release point. The catcher change to Eli Whiteside could be another factor, though probably not a big one. I'm not particularly concerned about him, and I certainly wouldn't recommend selling.

- Giants manager Bruce Bochy spoke last week about Pablo Sandoval doing some catching after returning from his broken hamate bone. However, after the subsequent Freddy Sanchez injury left them even more short-handed in the infield, I think it's less likely they'll go that route. They need Sandoval healthy and in the middle of their lineup, and having him catch, even if it's just once or twice per week, would put him at risk. As nice as it would be if Sandoval had catcher eligibility, I'd be surprised if it happened right away.

- The Giants did add Bill Hall after losing Sanchez to a dislocated shoulder. The apparently minor groin setback Mike Fontenot suffered on his rehab assignment made that pickup even more necessary. Sandoval is still expected to be activated Tuesday, but Fontenot probably won't join him. That would leave the Giants with Hall and Emmanuel Burriss at second, Brandon Crawford at short and Sandoval at third this week. Miguel Tejada is expected to get a crash course at second, but he could be limited to playing shortstop against left-handed pitchers for now.

- Barry Zito (foot) was pretty good in his second rehab start Saturday, allowing two earned runs and six hits in seven innings for Single-A San Jose. He's probably due two more starts in the minors. The Giants have no intention of pulling Ryan Vogelsong out of the rotation, so unless someone gets hurt over the next couple of weeks, Zito will likely return as a reliever.

- The Dodgers made some changes last week, calling up top prospect Dee Gordon, demoting Jerry Sands and introducing Rubby De La Rosa to the rotation.

Gordon is getting his chance to act as the Dodgers' shortstop after being bypassed initially after Rafael Furcal returned to the disabled list. He'll amass some fantasy value in NL-only leagues by stealing bases, but he's not ready to hit in the majors yet.

Sending Sands down looked like the wrong move to me. He was hitting just .200 in 125 at-bats, but his strikeout rate wasn't excessive and he did have 10 doubles and 17 walks. The homers and singles would have come with a little more patience. Now Don Mattingly is going back to Tony Gwynn Jr. in left field, and we already know how that will work out. Gwynn has a little value in NL-only leagues, but only a little. Maybe Trent Oeltjen will get a chance to challenge him for at-bats, but Oeltjen doesn't have much upside either.

I was more intrigued by De La Rosa as a potential closer candidate, at least for the short term, but he's worth playing in NL-only leagues as a starter. He'll have to bring out his slider more frequently while in the rotation, and he is prone to hanging the pitch.

- The Reds have turned things around a bit over the last week, easing the pressure on Dusty Baker to make a change at shortstop or in left field. I think it is time for them to give Zack Cozart a try, though. Cozart has been red-hot of late, hitting .490 with two homers and three steals for Triple-A Louisville this month. Overall, he's at .328/.365/.504 in 232 at-bats. He's not the defender at shortstop that Paul Janish is, but he's certainly not bad and he's the better bet of the two to serve as Cincinnati's long-term regular. Edgar Renteria has offered the Reds little offense, average defense at short and no versatility for a bench player. Dropping him to make room for Cozart wouldn't cost them much of anything.

- There's also been speculation that the Reds could trade Ramon Hernandez and pair top prospect Devin Mesoraco with Ryan Hanigan behind the plate. That would cause a whole lot more upheaval, given that Hernandez has been on the team for three years now and does a pretty good job of handling the pitchers. Plus, he's been extremely productive this year, hitting .310/.371/.527 in 129 at-bats. As risk averse as teams are these days, I really don't see the Reds making that change.

- The Marlins will activate Hanley Ramirez (back) from the disabled list on Tuesday. As poorly as the shortstop has played this year, some might be tempted to leave him reserved for the week. I wouldn't recommend it, though.

- Leo Nunez missed out on a save chance for the Marlins on Friday because of a stiff back. That ended up going to rookie Steve Cishek, who turned in a scoreless ninth against the Diamondbacks. Nunez might be ready to pitch on Monday.

- 21-year-old Brad Hand turned in a strong major league debut Tuesday against the Braves before faltering a bit Sunday versus the Diamondbacks. A left-hander with an 89-93 mph fastball, a nice curve and a change that's progressed from poor to average over the last two years, he might have a future as a fourth starter for the Marlins. Control is an issue, so he's not a great bet for short-term success. He's OK to have stashed away, but NL-only leaguers need not rush to add him.

- In his first three major league games, Anthony Rizzo homered, tripled, doubled and walked four times. It has me wavering on whether he might turn out to be a decent mixed-league first baseman after all. Petco Park puts him at an obvious disadvantage, and he's not going to have as many runs scored and RBI as he should. Still, he's so talented that he might be able to overcome it all and put up nice numbers as a rookie. He's worth using in mixed leagues this week with the Padres on the road.

- The Padres could activate Cameron Maybin (knee) from the DL and send third catcher Kyle Phillips down Monday.

- Orlando Hudson (groin) won't be ready until Friday at the earliest. Once he's back, the Padres are expected to drop rookie Logan Forsythe.

- The Nationals will get Ryan Zimmerman (abdomen) back on Tuesday. Brian Bixler will likely be sent down, and Jerry Hairston Jr. and Alex Cora figure to lose a lot of playing time.

- With neither Roger Bernadina nor Rick Ankiel showing any signs of life, the Nationals are still looking at center fielders, with B.J. Upton serving one possibility if the Rays make him available. Gregor Blanco has hit just .198 in 81 at-bats for Triple-A Syracuse since the Nationals picked him up from the Royals, so he's hardly pushing for a callup. There aren't any other internal options worth trying. Perhaps they'll start playing Hairston there against lefties.

- Tom Gorzelanny (elbow) is likely to rejoin the Nationals' rotation next weekend if his rehab start Monday goes well. He'll replace Yunesky Maya.

- The Rockies put Dexter Fowler (abdomen) on the disabled list instead of sending him down, but he might yet be demoted to Triple-A in the end. The Rockies weren't just thinking about a short-term switch when they opted to move Carlos Gonzalez back to center field. Charlie Blackmon has some value in NL-only leagues.

- While the outfield is looking more settled at the moment, the Rockies are still trying to figure out how best to work in Jonathan Herrera, Chris Nelson, Ty Wigginton and Eric Young Jr. between second and third. I like what Nelson is doing so far -- he's struck out just four times while hitting .324 in 34 at-bats -- and he seems to be the latest preferred option at second. Wigginton is mostly hitting lefties and appears miscast as a regular, but he's starting at third most days. Young has started just three games so far this month, same as Herrera. Manager Jim Tracy has been sticking with the hot hand and that's Nelson right now.

- Kyle McClellan (hip) will come off the DL and start for the Cardinals on Wednesday, and it looks like Matt Holliday (quad) could be back a day later. Holliday's return was set to cut into Allen Craig's fantasy value, but Craig just went on the DL on Sunday with a bruised knee. Holliday can be activated in NL-only leagues this week. Mixed leaguers may want to hold off since he'll only play in three or four games.

- Those Mark Melancon owners who feared the Astros might put Brandon Lyon back in the closer's role obviously have nothing to worry about at the moment. Lyon has allowed five runs while getting just three outs in his first two appearances back from the disabled list. Melancon has given up six earned runs in 32 1/3 innings for the season.

- Jordan Lyles' latest solid outing Saturday against the Braves should see to it that he sticks in the rotation over Aneury Rodriguez with Wandy Rodriguez (elbow) coming back Monday. It'd be quite disappointing if the Astros sent him back to Triple-A.

- As a result of Martin Prado's staph infection, the Braves' entire starting outfield is on the disabled list. However, there is a chance that Nate McLouth (oblique) and Jason Heyward (shoulder) could be activated on Friday. McLouth looks like the better bet at the moment.

- Brandon Beachy (oblique) is slated to make the first of three minor league rehab starts this week. His replacement, Mike Minor, should have value in NL-only leagues through the end of the month.

- The Cubs are expected to activate Alfonso Soriano (quad) from the disabled list on Wednesday. With Darwin Barney slumping, it will be interesting to see if the Cubs start giving Blake DeWitt playing time at second base against right-handers. DeWitt is a defensive downgrade there, but he is hitting pretty well at the moment. The one issue there: DeWitt, a left-handed hitter, actually has a reverse platoon split in his career. The right-handed-hitting Barney has a subpar .663 OPS against righties this season, but DeWitt hasn't really been any better at .672.

- Jeff Baker (groin) and Reed Johnson (back) are likely to be activated Monday, and the Cubs could send Tyler Colvin right back to Triple-A. Baker will go back to being the right fielder against left-handers, and Johnson will probably get most of the starts in center field until Marlon Byrd (face) returns. Tony Campana should lose what little fantasy value he had.

- The Pirates are down to their fourth and fifth catchers on the depth chart after Chris Snyder required back surgery and joined Ryan Doumit (ankle) and Jason Jaramillo (elbow) on the disabled list. Fortunately, they did have about as good of a fourth catcher as a team can possess in Dusty Brown. However, they are looking to acquire some help there. Snyder is expected to miss at least two months and could be forced to sit out the rest of the season. Doumit isn't expected back until after the All-Star break.

- 23-year-old first baseman Paul Goldschmidt is up to 21 homers in Double-A, but with Juan Miranda sporting a solid .813 OPS and Xavier Nady starting to warm up as a starter against left-handers, the Diamondbacks haven't been tempted to make a switch yet. If Miranda falters, I imagine they will give Goldschmidt a look at some point. He's been tremendous in hitting .344/.465/.687 for Double-A Mobile. Against left-handers, he's batted .433 with 10 homers and a 6/15 K/BB ratio in 60 at-bats. No one is penciling him in as a long-term regular just yet, but he's done everything he can to earn a look.

- The following NL teams will be playing in the road in AL parks next weekend: the Brewers, Giants, Marlins, Padres, Phillies and Pirates. Let's look at the ramifications:

The Brewers are expected to call up Mat Gamel to help out as a DH against right-handers. The former third baseman and now full-time first baseman has hit .303/.374/.522 with 11 homers in 228 at-bats for Triple-A Nashville. There's no real role for him on the team apart from the DH games, so he's not going to have any long-term value in NL-only leagues.

The Giants aren't going to have Brandon Belt (wrist) back yet, so Pat Burrell should be the regular DH, making him worth using in NL-only leagues. How Burrell performs will likely determine whether he stays on the roster after the AL games are over.

The Marlins will likely use Greg Dobbs at DH a couple of times, with Emilio Bonifacio starting at third base.

The Padres should stick Brad Hawpe at DH against righties and use Chris Denorfia and Will Venable in right field. Jorge Cantu will DH when the lefties come up.

The Phillies can use the DH spot to rest Chase Utley's knee a couple of times. Ben Francisco will also pick up some extra at-bats when Raul Ibanez DH's.

Unless they decide to call up Alex Presley and give him a shot against righties, the Pirates are going to be reduced to giving Xavier Paul and Matt Diaz extra at-bats.

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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