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MLB Barometer: An Eye on the Future

Kevin Payne

Kevin Payne

Kevin has worked for Rotowire just under a decade and has covered basketball, baseball and football. A glutton for punishment, he roots for his hometown Bills, Sabres and the New York Yankees. He hosts the RotoWire SiriusXM show every Wednesday and Friday and you can follow him on Twitter @KCPayne26.

The rosters expanded last week and there are now a few more interesting prospects in the big leagues. Iíll talk about a couple in the ďupgradesĒ section, mainly for the many owners who are out of the running this year and are starting to look towards 2011. Some of these players could pay big dividends down the road.

Upgrades:

Danny Espinosa, SS, Nationals - I remember watching a random Nats game last year around this time and the announcers couldnít have been more enamored with some kid named Ian Desmond. If you want this yearís version of Desmond (donít worry Iíll talk about him soon enough), look no further than Espinosa. Espinosa isnít going to battle for a batting average title any time soon (.268 in the minors this year), but his other numbers scream potential fantasy monster for years to come. Espinosa hit 22 homers and stole 25 bases between Double-A and Triple-A this year - quite a rarity for a shortstop Ė and he the improved his batting average following the jump from Double-A (.259) to Triple-A (.295). Thereís nothing keeping Espinosa from playing every day from here on out, and he has already hit safely in each of his first three major league games. Not everything is rainbows and unicorns here; Espinosa did strike out in over 24 percent of those minor league at-bats. However, in the fantasy world, strikeouts rarely do much besides hurt your batting average a bit. Espinosa is a definite keeper prospect and Iím really interested to see how much others bid on him in our staff league.

Ian Desmond, SS, Nationals - Multiple times Iíve written that I see the Nationals winning the NL East within the next two years. Maybe Iím drinking too much of the Kool-Aid Iíve mixed, but the Stephen Strasburg injury hasnít deterred me at all from this prediction. I saw Desmond play in spring training and I couldnít help but think he looked like a young Derek Jeter. More or less Desmond has the same skill set in terms of speed/power; he just needs to brush up on the defense. What you always like to see in a young player is improvement throughout the season, which is exactly what Desmond has done. During June he hit .222, July - .274, August - .374, and he is hitting .615 in September (sample size notwithstanding). Desmond has hit nine home runs and stolen 14 bags, which makes for a nice rookie campaign. Now, thinking about the improvement coupled with a year of experience in the majors, whatís the forecast for next year? I canít think of a team with more upside over the next few years than Washington; and Desmond is a big part of that.

Neil Walker, 2B, Pirates - Iíve been waiting and waiting for Walker to come back down to Earth. The problem is Iíll likely continue to wait. Walker has absolutely raked for the Pirates (another team with nice offensive upside) since being called up. He is hitting .309 with nine home runs in 351 at-bats. Critics will quickly zero in and scream about his .367 BABIP, but his .364 BABIP at Triple-A suggests this isnít a total fluke. I bring up Walker a tad late considering other prognosticators have been backing him for some time. Itís not too late for you to jump on the bandwagon either, since heís only owned in roughly 60 percent of fantasy leagues. Second base isnít quite as deep as we thought during the preseason and Walker will make a nice addition this year and next.

Jenrry Mejia, P, Mets Ė Ah, the wonderful Mets brass. Iím going out on a short limb and predicting that there will be many changes in Met-land this coming offseason. Mejia started as a reliever in the majors this year and was then sent down to work on becoming a starter when it became apparent New York was going nowhere. In the minors he had a 3.40 BB/9 rate, which is mildly concerning. Iíd like to think that was due to working on his secondary pitches, which donít always hit the strike zone deep in counts. However, Mejia also had a 1.49 ERA and 9.5 K/9 ratio in the minors this year. Mejia is back in the majors but he had a shaky first outing, giving up four runs over five innings at Chicago. Iím not giving him an endorsement for this year outside of nice matchups at home. Looking long-term, Mejia is an outstanding pitching prospect with an electric arm who is still just 20. Donít forget about him next year.

Jim Thome, DH, Twins Ė Thome is 40 and plays his home games in a terrible hitterís park, but neither has stopped him. In case you missed it on Saturday, Thome passed Mark McGwire on the all-time home run list with two long balls, the first of which traveled an estimated 449 feet. Thome has gone deep this year once in every 12 at-bats, which is better than Albert Pujols (14.2). Thome will definitely be hitting somewhere next year and should easily surpass the 600-homer mark.

Casey Blake, 3B, Dodgers - After the end of the day on August 1, Blake was hitting .244. Since that time he has caught fire, raising his batting average 18 points and driving in 17 runs during the process. Blake is 6-for-10 in September and makes for a sneaky play this week if you want to roll the dice.

Check Status:

Johan Santana, P, Mets - Iím not sure that thereís another pitcher who has received less run support over the last two seasons than Santana. He has now battling a strained pectoral muscle that could keep him out of Tuesdayís start. Johan has been on a nice run over the last couple of months with a 2.06 ERA in July and an August ERA of 2.72. A lot of this can be credited to his changeup, which has effectively been used as his ďoutĒ pitch. Monitor the news of his bullpen session on Sunday to see if heíll be ready to go on Tuesday.

Josh Hamilton, OF, Rangers - Hamilton is dealing with bruised ribs as a result of crashing into the outfield wall on Saturday, and it looks like heíll miss at least a few games dealing with the setback. Personally, Iím not optimistic about him for the upcoming week with the Rangers well in first place; I plan on benching him in my AL-Only league.

Nick Swisher, OF, Yankees - One of the more pleasant surprises in fantasy baseball this year, Swisher has been dealing with a bruised knee since fouling a ball off it last week. It looks like heíll be back in a few days, but he likely wonít play in all of the Yankees games this week. Iíd look for help elsewhere.

Cory Luebke, P, San Diego - Luebke was knocked around for four runs over five innings in his Padres debut on Friday. Thatís the bad news. The good news is he was stellar in the minors this year and will pitch in arguably the best pitcherís park in baseball. Luebke only has 118 innings on this yearís odometer so heís not going to get shut down. Iíd play the home matchups when heís up against an offensively challenged team.

Downgrades:

Cliff Lee, P, Rangers - Something has not been right with Lee lately and itís likely his balky back. The back issue will likely keep him out of Tuesdayís game, making him a risky start in weekly leagues for the coming week. Before the injury (which may have been bothering him for a while) he wasnít doing much on the diamond, as evidenced by his 6.35 August ERA. The move from Safeco to Arlington isnít going to help any pitcher, but heís more or less done a 180 since the move. A quick side note - watch and see what the Mariners do in the offseason and target any lefty they have in their rotation next year (think past successes like Erik Bedard, Jarrod Washburn, etc.). The Rangers need to keep Lee healthy and effective if they want to make some noise in the postseason.

Jason Bay, OF, Mets - Iím starting to sense a Mets theme in this weekís Barometer. I went back and reread a preseason article this week on how Bay was going to be the Metsí savior this year. He was anything but, and thatís based strictly on his pre-concussion stats. Back in May I talked about how the move to Citi Field wasnít going to help his power numbers and that his strikeout rate was still way too high. The concussion isnít going to help matters and I just canít see him as more than a 20-25 homer guy with a low batting average for the next few years.

Javier Vazquez, P, Yankees - I profiled Vazquez (and teammate A.J. Burnett) in my preseason ďBustsĒ article for the site. Hereís one of the lines I wrote back in February. ďMoving this season to the American League, a tougher division in the AL East and a homer-friendly ballpark will do him no favors.Ē Call me a visually impaired, furry-tailed rodent who has just found an acorn, but this was spot-on. Vazquez has given up a whopping 2.60 HR/9 at Yankee stadium, a stark contrast from the 1.22 HR/9 mark on the road. Vazquezís strikeout rate has declined by more than two strikeouts per nine innings while his walk rate has more than doubled from a season ago (3.70 BB/9). The velocity on his fastball this year (89.0) is down over two mph from a season ago, which could be reason for the decrease in strikeouts. Vazquez just turned 34 and may be feeling the effects of throwing 2,490 big league innings.

Jonathan Broxton, P, Dodgers - Broxton has fallen apart since the All-Star break, sporting a 7.13 ERA with four blown saves and five losses. That being said, Iím only downgrading him because heís not the only closing option right now in LA. All of his peripheral stats are within his career numbers except one: BABIP. Considering that, Iím not too worried about him going forward - his .374 BABIP should head back to his .328 average mark from here on out.