D.J. Short

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Rebound for Rasmus?

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Since I last left you last Thursday, Johan Santana threw the first no-hitter in Mets history. You might have heard about it. As a lifelong Mets fan, I can assure you that I haven't been able to get it off my mind. You see, I'm too young to remember 1986, so it was the closest I've felt to the team winning a World Series. No-hitters have almost become old hat in recent years as offense has declined around the league, but this one was pretty special.  

Getting that first one out of the way was obviously a monkey off the back for the franchise, but it also allowed many fans to turn the page on Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS. Adam Wainwright started opposite Santana, Carlos Beltran hit the liner down the third base line that was ruled foul and Yadier Molina hit the fly ball to left field which was tracked down by Mike Baxter, a 27-year-old from Queens who just happened to grow up a die-hard Mets fan. An elaborate series of coincidences? Almost certainly. But if that's what it takes for Mets fans to move forward, I'll take it.

I'll be honest when I say that I wasn't expecting anything from Santana coming into the season. Actually, it was hard to find many who did. He was almost going into uncharted territory following anterior capsule surgery. However, the veteran southpaw has bounced back with an incredible 2.38 ERA and 68/21 K/BB ratio over 68 innings. This includes back-to-back shutouts and a strikeout rate of 9.0 K/9, his best since 2007 with the Twins.

The fanboy inside me says Santana will be just fine after the extra rest and continue this incredible ride, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't concerned about the career-high 134 pitches he needed for the no-hitter. His surgically-repaired shoulder will always be in the back of my mind. And it should be for fantasy owners, too. Given the minimal investment needed to secure Santana on draft day this year, exploring sell-high opportunities might not be the worst idea.


Colby Rasmus OF, Blue Jays (Yahoo: 38 percent owned, ESPN: 47.6 percent)

Is there a more frustrating talent in the game than Rasmus? If not, he's pretty darn close to the top of the list. Since entering play on May 20 with a lowly .203 batting average, the 25-year-old Georgia native is hitting .344 (21-for-61) with 11 extra-base hits (four homers), 11 RBI, two stolen bases, 12 runs scored and a 1.075 OPS. Is this indicative of anything moving forward? Given Rasmus' ups-and-downs, it's anybody's guess. But he plays a ton of games in environments which are very friendly to left-handed power (Rogers Centre, Yankee Stadium, Oriole Park at Camden Yards) and he could score a ton of runs if he continues to hit No. 2 in front of Jose Bautista. The opportunity is there, so he's worth a look in most formats.

Gordon Beckham 2B, White Sox (Yahoo: 24 percent owned, ESPN: 48.4 percent)

Beckham has been a tremendous disappointment since his promising rookie campaign back in 2009, but he's at least showing signs of usefulness in the early part of 2012. The 25-year-old has already collected eight home runs in 54 games, just two shy of his total from all of last season. The only second base-eligible players with more home runs are Jason Kipnis, Robinson Cano, Kelly Johnson and Dan Uggla. I'm truly skeptical whether the power spike is for real, as his current fly ball rate (40.1 percent) isn't any different than his career rate (40 percent), but it helps that he hits in the best home ballpark for right-handed power. And his improved contact rate (81.3 percent) at least gives hope for some improvement with his batting average moving forward. He's still not a strong play in shallow mixed leagues, but he should be owned in deeper formats.

Brian Matusz SP, Orioles (Yahoo: 11 percent owned, ESPN: 6.5 percent)

Excuse the arbitrary endpoints, but Matusz has a very solid 2.87 ERA and 28/9 K/BB ratio in 31 1/3 innings over his last five starts. His success goes back a bit further, though. While there was a seven-run clunker against the Rangers mixed in, the 25-year-old left-hander has allowed three earned runs or less in seven out of his last eight starts and hasn't walked more than three batters in any of them. And these aren't bad offenses he's holding down. Sure, two of those starts were against the Royals, but he also faced the Rays, Red Sox, Yankees and Blue Jays. Pretty impressive. I'd need to see a bit more before investing in shallow mixed leagues, but it's clear he has turned a corner from his historically bad 2011 campaign.

Jason Bay OF, Mets (Yahoo: 15 percent owned, ESPN: 4 percent)

I know, I know. Bay has a disappointing .251/.335/.391 batting line since signing his four-year, $66 million contract with the Mets in January of 2010. It's pretty well documented. But that doesn't mean he can't be useful in fantasy leagues. The 33-year-old outfielder had three homers in just 57 plate appearances prior to suffering a non-displaced rib fracture in April. That's a quarter of his home runs from all of last year. And while the power hasn't been there during his tenure in New York, he has stolen at least 10 bases in six out of the last seven seasons. There are better options available in shallow mixed leagues, but those in deeper formats should speculate that the new dimensions at Citi Field will give him a lift.

Jemile Weeks 2B, Athletics (Yahoo: 45 percent owned, ESPN: 46 percent)

Weeks was a popular sleeper pick in drafts this spring after hitting .303 with 22 stolen bases and 50 runs scored in 97 games last year, but he's hitting just .223/.307/.325 over his first 232 plate appearances this season. What gives? It appears the 25-year-old has been the victim of some bad luck, as he has a .256 BABIP, despite a solid 21.3 percent line drive rate and 87.6 percent contact rate. With his speed, I fully expect things to turn around in the days ahead. Besides, it hasn't been all bad for Weeks this season. He has already walked 23 times in 52 games after walking just 21 times in 97 games last year. If an impatient owner has given up on him, be sure to take advantage.

Trevor Cahill SP, Diamondbacks (Yahoo: 47 percent owned, ESPN: 16.4 percent)

Cahill hasn't had much trouble surviving in the desert, posting a solid 3.45 ERA over his first 11 starts as a member of the Diamondbacks. While his walks are up (3.71 BB/9) and his strikeouts are down (6.01 K/9), his 63.5 percent ground ball rate is a career-high. In fact, only Derek Lowe (63.9 percent) has a higher ground ball rate among qualified starting pitchers this season. The 24-year-old sinkerballer tossed his second career shutout Sunday against the Padres and has a favorable matchup this weekend against the Athletics, his former team, during interleague play.

Mark Reynolds 1B/3B, Orioles (Yahoo: 39 percent owned, ESPN: 31.8 percent)

There isn't a lot of upside with Reynolds, as he is mostly who is he is at this point, but I do expect his power numbers to increase as the season moves along. While his fly ball rate is down a tad (43.8 percent) from his career norm (47.7 percent), his home run per fly ball rate is down to 9.4 percent from his career average of 20.5 percent. He hasn't had home run per fly ball rate lower than 18.2 percent in a full season, so odds are we'll some correction in the days ahead. You're obviously sacrificing some batting average due to his free-swinging ways, but his power potential makes him a palatable option in most leagues.

Matt Harrison SP, Rangers (Yahoo: 39 percent owned, ESPN: 36.2 percent)

Harrison isn't a sexy name, but he continues to get the job done. The 26-year-old lefty is tied for the AL lead with seven wins while posting a 4.37 ERA over his first 11 starts. That ERA doesn't exactly scream must-own, but he has allowed three runs or less in eight of his starts this year, including four in a row. And while his strikeout rate (5.66 K/9) isn't all that special, his outstanding command (2.31 BB/9) and ground ball tilt (48.2 percent) should make him a safe option in most matchups. Hey, it doesn't hurt that he has the majors' best offense supporting him, either.

Trevor Bauer SP, Diamondbacks (Yahoo: 18 percent owned, ESPN: 3.3 percent)

I really mean it this time. Bauer has continued to knock on the door for a possible promotion to the majors by posting a 2.52 ERA and 31/12 K/BB ratio in 25 innings across his first four starts with Triple-A Reno. Walks have been an issue for him during his brief pro career (4.5 BB/9), but it's clear to see that he's been dominant. The 2011 No. 3 overall pick has averaged 11.2 K/9 in 12 starts between Double- and Triple-A this year while holding opposing batters to a measly .202 batting average. There's no clear opening for him in the Diamondbacks' rotation at the moment, but that could change at any time and without warning. Stash away if you have the roster flexibility. It shouldn't be much longer.

Shopping at the five-and-dime:

(Players owned in less than 10 percent of Y! and ESPN.com leagues)

Scott Hairston OF, Mets (Yahoo: 3 percent owned, ESPN: 1.5 percent)

Hairston has really taken advantage of limited playing time this season by socking eight homers and driving in 24 runs in just 106 plate appearances. Only 15 players (with at least 100 plate appearances) have a higher OPS than his .966 mark this season. Not surprisingly, he has done most of his damage against left-handed pitching, collecting seven homers and 17 RBI. The return of Jason Bay complicates things a bit, but Hairston could start splitting at-bats in right field if the struggling Ike Davis is eventually demoted and Lucas Duda is moved over to first base. He makes for a solid short-term play in five-outfielder formats at the very least, as the Mets will have the benefit of the DH this weekend against the Yankees.

Salvador Perez C, Royals (Yahoo: 5 percent owned, ESPN: 1.3 percent)

Remember this guy? Yeah, well, he's set to begin a rehab assignment Thursday after beginning the season on the disabled list following March surgery to repair a left lateral meniscus tear. If all goes well, Perez should be back in the Royals' lineup by the end of the month. The 22-year-old batted .331/.361/.473 with three homers, 21 RBI and an .834 OPS in just 158 plate appearances after making his major league debut last August, so he's worth stashing away in two-catcher formats. Just keep in mind that he benefitted from a .362 BABIP in his small sample of success last year, so don't look for him to maintain such a lofty batting average over the long haul.

Bobby Abreu OF, Dodgers (Yahoo: 5 percent owned, ESPN: 2.2 percent)

Perhaps Abreu isn't done being a fantasy asset. In his first 29 games with the Dodgers, the 38-year-old outfielder is hitting .316/.438/.443 with one home run, nine RBI, two stolen bases and an .881 OPS. He's done it on the strength of a .387 BABIP, which almost certainly won't continue, but his incredible 32.9 percent line drive rate tells you that he has mostly earned it. And while he's striking out more often this season (22.8 percent), he's also drawing walks at a higher rate (15.4 percent) than his career average. Abreu's days of double-digit homers are behind him, but he should be able to post a solid batting average and OPS while swiping a few bags. That's plenty useful in five-outfielder formats.

Brian Roberts 2B, Orioles (Yahoo: 4 percent owned, ESPN: 0.7 percent)

After missing a year with concussion symptoms, Roberts is finally inching his way back to the majors. The 34-year-old second baseman is hitting .267 (8-for-30) with a homer and five doubles during his minor league rehab assignment and is on track to return to the Orioles when his 20-day rehab window expires next Tuesday. It may take him a little while to shake the rust against major league pitching, but he should have value in most mixed leagues if he can stay on the field and avoid any setbacks. He's a worthy DL-stash if you need help at second base or a MI (middle infielder) spot.

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D.J. Short is a Rotoworld baseball editor and contributes to NBCSports.com's Hardball Talk blog. You can also find him on Twitter.
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