Matthew Pouliot

Strike Zone

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AL Notes: Waiting On Viciedo

Saturday, June 18, 2011

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen reiterated Friday that he'll keep hamstringing his team by playing Juan Pierre in left field and letting him lead off. Apparently the only way that's going to change is if GM Ken Williams releases Pierre in order to make room for 22-year-old Dayan Viciedo on the roster.

Viciedo is hitting .393 in Triple-A this month and is up to .324/.369/.538 for the year. Strike zone judgment remains an issue, and Viciedo would be something of a liability defensively if handed the left field job. Still, the power figures to translate to the majors pretty well and it's hard to see how he could be a downgrade from what Pierre has given the team this year.

Plus, the White Sox would have Brent Lillibridge available as a fallback. All Lillibridge has done as hit .273/.375/.568 this year. Even as he's cooled off lately and taken a seat on the bench as a result -- he hasn't started since last Saturday -- he still has an .817 OPS in June.

So, we just need to wait and see if Williams decides to pull rank. Pierre is hitting .212/.281/.269 this month, and the White Sox have scored a total of two runs while losing their last three games. Something needs to be done, and if releasing Pierre is the only way to get him out of the leadoff spot, it's the move Williams needs to make.

American League notes

- Rant aside, Pierre has actually been a lot more valuable offensively than Alex Rios this season. The two players have .298 slugging percentages, and Pierre has a 60-point advantage in OBP (.318 to .258). Rios at least has his glove to fall back on, but 67 games into the season, his struggles can no longer be treated as a mere slump. I can't advise giving up on him in mixed leagues, yet I don't see the light at the end of the tunnel with the way he's swinging now. It's just weak at-bat after weak at-bat.

- It appears that the White Sox will activate Jake Peavy (groin) in time to start him Wednesday against the Cubs. There's been some speculation that they wouldn't go back to the six-man rotation they used before Peavy got hurt, but the current plan calls for them to stay the course. If they do drop a starter, it will probably be Edwin Jackson, even though he has a nice 3.51 ERA and 41/13 K/BB ratio in 51 1/3 innings since the beginning of May.

- The Mariners couldn't find a taker for Jack Wilson, but they brought up Dustin Ackley to play second base anyway. I don't see Ackley becoming a force in mixed leagues right away. Maybe he'll move up to the two hole if he gets off to a hot start, but runs and RBI will be hard for him to come by while he's hitting seventh. Wilson becomes the last man on the Seattle bench now, while Adam Kennedy will probably begin to cut into Chone Figgins' playing time at third.

- Mike Carp is getting most of his playing time in the DH spot since coming up, which makes one wonder how much longer Jack Cust's tenure in Seattle will last. Cust followed up an ugly April by hitting .276/.375/.447 in May, but he's just 2-for-23 so far during June. It wouldn't be surprising to see him get released within the next couple of weeks. I'm not certain Carp is an upgrade, but he does have pretty good power and he's worth adding in AL-only leagues.

- Two years ago, it looked like Felix Pie might be ready to break through and become a decent regular. He hit .266/.326/.437 in 252 at-bats for the Orioles as a 24-year-old in 2009 and .274/.305/.413 in 288 at-bats last season. Back on the bench once again as a result of the Derrek Lee and Vladimir Guerrero signings, he's hitting .253/.260/.313 in 100 at-bats this year. He's striking out less than usual, with just 15 K's so far, but only on Saturday, when he was called on to replace an injured Luke Scott, did he finally draw his first walk of the season.

Unfortunately, it looks like the Orioles have held on to him for too long. He might have some trade value for teams looking for center field possibilities a year ago, but I don't think anyone would give up a quality prospect for him now. Maybe the Nationals could give him a try; he's better defensively than Roger Bernadina, though the offense might be a wash. The Orioles could free up some additional at-bats for Nolan Reimold by moving him, but since Reimold isn't much of a center fielder and there's no one else around to back up Adam Jones, they might opt to keep him for the rest of the year.

- Brian Matusz's velocity was somewhat better Saturday against the Nationals, as he was more frequently at 87-88 mph with his fastball. Still, that's down significantly from the 90 mph he averaged with his heater last year. The hope is that his arm strength will come back the further removed he gets from the strained ribcage muscle that cost him the first two months. I still expect him to emerge as a solid mixed-league starter in the second half, but since he's not 100 percent, he's a shaky play right now.

- Jeremy Guthrie is iffy to make his start Tuesday because of a strained back. If he can't go, then Brad Bergesen will likely face the Pirates.

- Andrew Miller will make his Red Sox debut on Monday after striking out 10 over 5 1/3 innings in his final start for Triple-A Pawtucket. He's had a fine ERA all season long, but he walked 34 over 47 1/3 innings during April and May. This month, he has an exceptional 22/1 K/BB ratio in 18 1/3 innings. Miller's start this week will come in Clay Buchholz's place as Buchholz recovers from a back injury, but if he pitches well, he should stick in the rotation in Tim Wakefield's spot. Given his upside, he has to be picked up in AL-only leagues. It's not hard to imagine him walking five in 1 1/3 innings in his start Monday, but it's also entirely possible he'll spend the rest of the year as an above average starter.

- Carl Crawford's hamstring strain wasn't supposed to be too serious, but the Red Sox placed him on the disabled list anyway. With Mike Cameron struggling, Josh Reddick could get the majority of the starts in left field for now. He makes for a decent pickup in AL-only leagues. Darnell McDonald could also have a little value.

- Marco Scutaro will be Boston's starting shortstop for the next two weeks after Jed Lowrie was placed on the disabled list with a shoulder injury.

- I was looking forward to see if David Phelps could make it as the Yankees' fifth starter, but the team instead went out and signed converted outfielder Brian Gordon. Gordon used a slider as his second pitch when he got a brief look with the Rangers three years ago, but he's come up with a pretty good curveball since. That and excellent command of a 90-mph fastball allowed him to thrive in Triple-A for the Phillies. I don't think it will be enough to allow him to survive as a starter in the American League, and I wouldn't recommend him as a fantasy pickup.

- While there's been some talk of Jorge Posada perhaps coming into a game as a catcher, manager Joe Girardi doesn't intend to give him any starts there during interleague play. That's too bad, because with the way Posada has heated up, he's back looking like a nice mixed-league catcher.

- Eduardo Nunez should maintain a little value in AL-only leagues until Derek Jeter returns from his calf strain at the end of the month.

- Figuring they'd just pick a stopgap with Jesse Litsch (shoulder) about ready to begin his rehab assignment, I was quite surprised to see the Jays go to Zach Stewart as the replacement for Kyle Drabek last week. Stewart wasn't having a whole lot of success as a Double-A repeater, having gone 4-3 with a 4.39 ERA in 12 starts. Of course, the only reason he was in Double-A is because the Jays didn't want to expose him to the harsh conditions at Triple-A Las Vegas. That's also why they never put Drabek in Triple-A last year.

Stewart, the top property to come over from the Reds in the Scott Rolen deal, has a nice fastball-slider combination, but he still hasn't picked up a quality changeup. He began his pro career as a reliever, and while he does have potential as a starter, I think he is going to end up back in the pen. He might be a long-term closer, though. The Jays have decided to go slow with Litsch, so it looks like Stewart will make at least three more starts before his place in the rotation is reexamined. He's worth having stashed away in AL-only leagues, though I would take Miller over him.

- Jon Rauch hadn't blown a save since May 20, but Frank Francisco was manager John Farrell's choice to close on both Wednesday and Friday and got the job done both times. It's frustrating for fantasy leaguers, but Farrell is smart to ride the hot hand given that he lacks a true stopper at the back of his pen. Rauch, who took a loss on Thursday after entering a tie game and giving up two singles and a fielder's choice, is a little off at the moment and he lost his gig as a result.

- It's only 16 at-bats over six games, but the Indians have yet to get any production out of Cord Phelps since calling him up to challenge Orlando Cabrera at second base. If Phelps doesn't pick it up this week, maybe they'll try Jason Kipnis instead. Kipnis is hitting .328 with three homers this month and .298/.370/.517 for Triple-A Columbus overall. He's also 10-for-10 stealing bases. Kipnis, a converted outfielder, does struggle some at second base and may be left in Triple-A all year as a result. His bat is very promising, though, and he could emerge as a top fantasy second baseman down the line if he's able to stick at the position.

- Travis Hafner (oblique) returned Friday, but he's only looking at three starts this week as the Indians go on the road to play in San Francisco over the weekend. He's not expected to see any time at first base at all, even with Matt LaPorta (ankle) shelved.

- It sounds like Carlos Santana will get plenty of playing time at first base in LaPorta's place, opening up at-bats for Lou Marson behind the plate. Travis Buck could play first base the rest of the time, giving him value in AL-only leagues.

- The Tigers got creative to start interleague play, sticking Alex Avila at third base in order to keep both of their catchers in the lineup. Avila made an error, but it didn't sound like that'd stop Jim Leyland from trying the alignment again. Brandon Inge (mono) is due back sometime this week, but he won't necessarily be a full-timer at third base.

- The Royals sat Eric Hosmer, playing Wilson Betemit instead, on Thursday in anticipation of starting him every game this weekend in St. Louis. Manager Ned Yost apparently has no intention of giving Billy Butler any time in the field during interleague play. Now Butler is no Gold Glover at first base, but he did start 269 games there between 2009 and '10, plus eight more at the beginning of this season. To commit to him as a full-time DH and rob the Royals of their best hitter nine times per year makes very little sense.

- It looks like both Bruce Chen (ribcage) and Kyle Davies (shoulder) will rejoin Kansas City's rotation this week. Barring a poor showing Sunday, Danny Duffy seems likely to stick, so expect Felipe Paulino to return to the pen and Vin Mazzaro to head back to Triple-A.

- There's not a whole lot left to say about Scott Kazmir. Releasing him was the right move for the Angels, and as off as his delivery is right now, there's no hope that he'll be of use to a major league team within the next month. Maybe some pitching coach will get him straightened out to the point at which he could be an adequate fifth starter down the stretch, but his upside is mostly gone.

- There's no one in the Minnesota system capable of replacing Danny Valencia, so the Twins will stand by him even though he's hitting just .216/.278/.339 for the season. Luke Hughes is the team's next best option at third base, but Valencia is still the better bet offensively and Hughes would be a downgrade defensively. It's highly unlikely that they'll attempt to trade for a third baseman.

- Joe Mauer and Tsuyoshi Nishioka are back, but the Twins are expected to be without Jason Kubel (foot), Denard Span (concussion) and Jim Thome (quad) for at least another week. Justin Morneau (wrist) is eligible to return Saturday, but it'd be a surprise if he makes it back then.

- Oakland's Mark Ellis (hamstring) will return from the DL when eligible on Wednesday, but he shouldn't have a starting job waiting for him. The A's appear better off with Jemile Weeks at second base right now, what with Weeks hitting .361 with three triples and just two strikeouts in 36 at-bats to date.

- If Weeks does stay, then it could well be Daric Barton who goes. The A's don't have anyone else they're likely to send down. Barton is hitting just .211/.326/.263 and has been losing playing time to Conor Jackson. Jackson hasn't been so good himself at .265/.349/.331, but he'd be the everyday first baseman if Barton goes. I think that's probably the right move for Oakland; send Barton down for a few weeks and then hopefully trade Ellis to make room for him to return sometime around the All-Star break.

- Josh Willingham is day-to-day after aggravating an Achilles' tendon injury Friday. Mixed leaguers using him should turn to an alternative this week.

- While we've seen Ackley and Mike Moustakas promoted this month, the Rays have kept Desmond Jennings in Triple-A. The 24-year-old is up to .283/.378/.465 in 254 at-bats for Durham, and he's stolen 12 bases in 13 attempts. Still, the Rays held off all May long, even though Sam Fuld was really stinking up the joint, and now they have Fuld and Justin Ruggiano splitting time in left. It doesn't look like Jennings' opportunity will come before the end of June.

- Jeff Niemann (back) will make his return to Tampa Bay's rotation Monday against the Brewers. I'm kind of nervous about that one, but since he'll have two starts this week, he needs to be activated in AL-only leagues.

- The Rangers could soon give either Scott Feldman (knee) or Tommy Hunter (groin) a chance in Derek Holland's rotation spot. Holland flashes big-time talent, but he remains too inconsistent at age 24. Wednesday's loss to the Yankees marked three times in his last eight starts that he's walked at least five, and it was the fifth time this season that he's allowed at least five runs. He has a fine 5-2 record anyway, but the Rangers are 7-7 in his starts. While I doubt Feldman would prove to be an upgrade, the Rangers might as well give him a couple of starts to see if he can recapture his 2009 magic. If he fails, then he can be sent to the pen and Hunter can take over.

- In case you missed it, I posted the NL notes early this week.

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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