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MLB Barometer: Changes In Minnesota

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.

This week I'm going to start an "injuries" section, eliminating placing players in the "downgrades" section when they get hurt. I'll provide some simple commentary and encourage everyone to check out a more comprehensive assessment when Jeff Stotts comes out with his column on Wednesdays - it's a must-read. Onto this week's Barometer.

Upgrades:

Josh Beckett, P, BOS - If I was drafting again today, I think I'd treat Beckett as a top-15 pitcher and that may not be ranking him high enough. I'd even go as far to say there could be a good argument as to who will be better by season's end - Beckett or Jon Lester. That's something I wouldn't have fathomed before the season started. Beckett has been filthy over the last week, throwing 15 innings of one-run ball, striking out 19 and walking only three in the process. The key to his success? His curveball. While his fastball's velocity is down a tad, I can't remember the last time I saw his curveball have so much break on it. More than once in the game against Toronto Saturday afternoon, hitters backed off the plate like they were going to be hit by his curve only to watch the ball break perfectly into the strike zone. While there's a lot going wrong for the Red Sox thus far, Beckett is one of the few bright spots on the team.

Lance Berkman, OF, STL - Honestly, I didn't see this one coming at all. Berkman, reportedly in outstanding shape compared to a year ago, has caught fire early with his new team. He's gone 10-for-21 over his last five games, swatting six home runs and driving in 12 runs. That being said, St. Louis is far from being a hitter's park and at 35 with a recent injury history, Berkman is your perfect sell-high player if you own him. Maybe he keeps up for the rest of the season but that's a pretty big gamble in my opinion.

Matt Joyce, OF, TB - Even though his power hasn't been there yet, Joyce has started heating up at the plate. Since last Sunday morning, he's gone 11-for-21 at the plate, raising his batting average from .050 to .293. It's easy to forget that he's only 26 and at age 23 he blasted 12 home runs in 242 at-bats for the Tigers. He'll stay in the upper part of the Rays lineup and it'll only be a matter of time before the power comes around. He's worth a look if you need outfield help.

Hank Conger, C, LAA - Conger has quickly become an attractive option in leagues that start two catchers after hitting his second home run Saturday. His only barrier to playing time - Jeff Mathis - is off to a poor start as his .192 batting average indicates. This shouldn't be a surprise as far as Mathis is concerned; he batted .195 over 205 at-bats last year with the Angels and has shown little upside at the plate during his career. Conger on the other hand has hit at least .295 over his last three levels of minor league ball while hitting double-digit home runs. Look for Conger to receive the lion's share of playing time behind the plate for the Halos.

Jonny Gomes, OF, CIN - I for one, have been waiting for Gomes to implode or slump at the plate, in anticipation of grabbing Chris Heisey as a clever pickup. The problem is Gomes has shown no signs of slumping and is even showing an improved batting eye at the plate. What's surprised me the most about Gomes is he's drawn 15 walks in 57 plate appearances (26.3%); his career mark is 9.6%. He's slugged five home runs now, leading to a .415 ISO, which obviously won't last. However, his .268 batting average while mediocre is solid considering his .222 BABIP (his career mark is .295). The key to Gomes' success has been laying off bad pitches. His O-swing percentage has dropped from 37.7% to 15.5% from last year to this season. At this rate, Heisey will have to be patient and wait for an injury to open up playing time.

Travis Snider, OF, TOR - Yes, I know he's batting .170 but his .200 BABIP shows he's been unlucky to this point. The batting average will come around as his power; he hit 14 homers in only 319 plate appearances last year. What has intrigued me is his five stolen bases. Before you write this off as fluky (two were against Jason Varitek Saturday), the Blue Jays seem to be running more this year - see Aaron Hill. It's possible we could see a 20/20 season from Snider this year.

Grady Sizemore, OF, CLE - He's back in the lineup Sunday and appears to be healthy for the first time in quite a while. Remember that he's only 28 and was a legit 30/30 option when healthy. Get him activated if he's on your bench.

Check Status:

Roy Oswalt, P, PHI - OK, he probably should have landed in the "injuries" section but cut me a break. Oswalt left Friday's start with back spasms and is a question mark for the upcoming week. Personally, I'd bench him in weekly leagues with his status up in the air since he may not pitch or be limited if he does.

Frank Francisco, P, TOR - Francisco could return early this week after dealing with a pectoral issue. He looked solid in his last minor league outing, striking out three of the four batters he faced. Jon Rauch may still close for the upcoming week while Francisco gets his feet wet but he should handle the ninth inning duties before long.

Alex Rodriguez 3B, NYY - Rodriguez is dealing with a tight back which may cost him a game or two in the upcoming week. It's a shame as he was off to a hot start, sporting a 1.324 OPS over 12 games. One of the keys in the limited sample size has been his patience, sporting a 4:9 K:BB rate. No, he isn't going to hit 50 or more home runs again but he is still capable of finishing as a top-10 fantasy player.

Carlos Gonzalez, OF, COL - Gonzalez is dealing with a stiff back but expects to play Sunday. He's too good to leave out of your lineup this week, just realize he's not 100 percent.

Chase Utley, 2B, PHI, Kendrys Morales 1B, LAA - Both players have started running and appear to be a few weeks away from returning to the lineup. Monitor their status in the upcoming weeks before activating.

Injuries:

Josh Hamilton, OF, TEX - Hamilton will miss the next 6-8 weeks with a small break in his humerus bone. Let me take this opportunity to voice my displeasure after Hamilton had no problem throwing third base coach David Anderson under the bus. Let's go back and start with second chances. Hamilton was given one after going through the downward spiral of drugs and tattoos landed with the Rangers and resurrected his career. Then certain pictures of him came to light, in a bar with coeds doing body shots. Now Hamilton blames his third base coach for the break? I'm quite sure Anderson (who made the correct call in my opinion) didn't say "make a run for it and slide head-first even though there's an increased chance you get hurt and break your humerus." Anyways, I'd wait a couple of weeks in weekly formats and throw an offer out to Hamilton's owner and try to acquire him for 70 cents on the dollar; he is the reigning AL MVP. David Murphy (one homer, four steals in 30 PAs) is the player to target here if you're looking to replace Hamilton.

Rafael Furcal, SS, LAD - Furcal will miss the next four-to-six weeks with a broken thumb. With all due respect to Jamey Carroll, would it make too much sense to trade for Marco Scutaro (free Jed Lowrie!)?

Barry Zito, P, SF - The Vernon Wells of the National League (as far as contracts go) was seen on crutches with a swollen foot after leaving Saturday's game early. Look for him to miss at least this week's start and possibly more time.

Joe Mauer, C, MIN - Mauer has been dealing with soreness/weakness that looks to be the result of a viral infection. While this doesn't sound good, it seems that modern medicine should be able to clear up his condition and owners should be thankful it's not a structural injury that could cost him significant time.

Mitch Talbot, P, CLE - Talbot was off to a solid start, allowing only two earned runs over 12.1 innings, striking out 11 in the process. An "elbow strain" has landed him on the DL and he's expected to miss up to a month.

Philip Hughes, P, NYY - Did I mention last week that Hughes needed to build up arm strength and work on some long-toss to address his drop in velocity? Hughes landed on the 15-day DL to work on just that and hopefully will right the ship as a result. I'd view now as a good time to buy-low on him.

Wilton Lopez, P, HOU - A strained elbow has landed Lopez on the DL and now makes Mark Melancon the defacto closer if Brandon Lyon loses the role at some point.

Downgrades:

Derek Jeter, SS, NY - Jeter made the dubious distinction of being listed in my preseason "busts" column for the site. I was concerned that everyone dismissed the possibility that he could be on the decline after last year's (a contract year) horrible output. Jeter has done nothing to show last year was an anomaly, posting a .240 batting average thus far. Even more worrisome is the fact that he's gotten one extra base hit - a double- through his first 57 plate appearances. This has led to a paltry .020 ISO stat for you advanced numbers guys. Jeter has been a ground ball machine at the plate, hitting 77.8% of balls in play on the ground. Conversely, his line drive rate has dipped the previous two seasons until this year from 20.3% to 16.1% to 8.9%. Brett Gardner's slow start is the only thing keeping Jeter at the top of the lineup but that will change if Jeter keeps up his out-inducing ways.

Joe Nathan, P, MIN - Nathan suffered back-to-back blown saves against Tampa Bay and doesn't look to be all the way back from Tommy John surgery. His average fastball is down to 91.3 mph, which is 2.3 mph less than he was throwing in 2009 when he was healthy. As a result, Matt Capps has been named in closer for now while Nathan works out his problems.

Kevin Kouzmanoff, 3B, OAK - Kouzmanoff is a perfect example of why you shouldn't put too much stock into spring stats. After hitting .413 in the spring with two home runs, Kouzmanoff has only batted .182 with a 7:0 K:BB ratio to start the season. As a result he's started to lose playing time to Andy LaRoche for the A's. Aside from the fantasy perspective, he's got the second worst fielding percentage (.895, four errors) at the hot corner in all of baseball. Don't be surprised if he loses more and more playing time to LaRoche.

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