Back in late April, I beat the drum for Wily Mo Pena while harkening back to my much more accurate breakout of Nelson Cruz from a few seasons back. Pena finally got called up after forcing the issue with insane numbers in Reno, and while he has hit some impressive home runs, he has been the same old Wily Mo Pena. He has 54 plate appearances coming into Tuesday night and has struck out in 21 of them while mixing in just six extra-base hit while still waiting for a pitcher to give him a free pass since he seems unwilling to not swing the bat. While Pena has been a disappointment, two other names that were pretty much afterthoughts on draft day are making big differences down the stretch in fantasy leagues giving us yet another reminder that helps comes from anywhere at any time and sometimes Quad-A players can showcase major league production at opportune times.
Coming into 2011, Mike Carp had two cups of coffee with the Mariners, most of which came during a callup to replace injuries in each of the previous two seasons. In 2009, he handled the bat well hitting .315/.415/.462 in just 65 plate appearances while walking eight times and striking out 10 times. The Mariners decided to bring in Casey Kotchman in 2010 rather than give Carp a chance at the position and Carp returned to Triple-A Tacoma and in his time during a callup and September playing time with the Mariners, hit .189/.268/.512 in 41 plate appearances. It is safe to say that Carp went undrafted in most league formats, especially with Justin Smoak now in the fold at first base and Jack Cust in Seattle to be the designated hitter to start the season. Frankly, it would be tough to criticize that move, even in the deepest of AL-only leagues.
Carp was drafted in the 9th round by the Mets in the 2004 draft, but never took a swing for them at the big league level and was part of the trade that brought Endy Chavez, Jason Vargas, and Aaron Heilman to the Mariners for J.J. Putz, Sean Green, and Jeremy Reed. The big red flag on Carp as he came over in that deal was his inability to hit left-handed pitching. In 2005, he hit .233 against lefties, . 245 in 2006, and .174 in 2007 before sneaking in a .263 in 2008 before being traded. In 2009, he hit .275 against lefties at Triple-A Tacoma, but last season reverted back to his old ways and hit .200 against them in 120 plate appearances. Overall, Carp had put up a .255/.329/.455 slash line in two seasons in the PCL which was not terribly impressive. If you squinted really hard at him, there was some potential for him as a Cust replacement if Cust completely flopped given his ability to hit right-handed pitching in the same mode as Russell Branyan had done with the Mariners in the past.
Carp did not make the team out of camp and went back to Tacoma where he hit an incredible .343/.411/.649 in 286 plate appearances and forced the Mariners' hand to indeed jettison Cust and give him the playing time. Since his recall, he has hit .326/.382/.538 in 144 plate appearances walking 11 times and striking out 38 times. In that time, he has 15 extra-base hits, 15 runs scored, and 26 runs driven in which seemingly represents half of the Seattle offense for the entire season. All of this from a player who has 3,387 plate appearances in the minor leagues and had 1,239 of those in Triple-A at the time of this final promotion. If you looked at his splits this season, you saw a guy that was hitting .350/.421/.699 against righties. PCL or no PCL, that kind of line can find a home on an AL-only roster thanks to the extra bat in the lineup and that eventually happened. I picked him up in early June and immediately flipped him for David Robertson to a contending team as the pickup stuck a $10 salary on Carp, but Robertson was just $1.
The difference for Carp this season in Triple-A was a super-high .361 BABIP when he was typically around .310 and the fact he was making some of the best contact of his minor league career at the time of his promotion. His contact rate has gone down with his promotion to the big leagues, and that is to be expected as he learns the pitchers. In Carp, we have a free -gent pickup making a difference in fantasy leagues right now (just extended his hitting streak to 16 games) and potentially playing himself into a roster spot next season at the age of 25 when he was in danger of becoming yet another guy with the Quad-A label slapped on his forehead that teams and fantasy players ignore. He also has a slightly older counterpart in the National League in Jesus Guzman.
Guzman was not someone overlooked by fantasy players, just the Giants. Guzman became a known fantasy quantity after a terrific 2008 Winter League season and the "Free Guzman!" movement began in San Francisco. Guzman's path to the majors was unique to say the least. He hit .310 with a .836 OPS in the Cal League in 2004 and was sent to Double-A San Antonio by the Mariners in 2005 and 2006 where he hit .258 with a .720 OPS. The team sent him back down to High-A ball where he hit .301 with a .908 OPS. In 2008, he ended up with the A's and across three levels, once again raked to the tune of .349/.404/.545. In 2009, he hit .321/.379/.507 for Triple-A Fresno in between three different callups to the Giants where he hit just five singles in 20 plate appearances. Guzman returned to Triple-A Fresno in 2010 and hit .321/.376/.510 but the eventual World Champs had no room on their roster for his hot bat and iron glove so he never saw any time in the major leagues in 2010. In fact, he was released as a minor league free agent after the season and landed with the Padres' organization in early January of this season.
Adding Guzman was an interesting move for the Padres given the fact they had recently acquired top prospect Anthony Rizzo from the Red Sox and also had Kyle Blanks coming back from injury at the minor league level. Guzman had played both corners at the minor league level and given the fact his defense was the sore spot in his game, it would have seemed more logical to play him at first base. Guzman went to Triple-A Tucson and played mostly third base but while doing so, hit .332/.423/.529. The Padres tried out Jorge Cantu and Brad Hawpe to hold the spot for Anthony Rizzo until the Super Two date came, but Rizzo struggled and the Padres made the decision to give the spot to Guzman in early July and he has not looked back since.
This time around as a major leaguer, Guzman is doing what few have done in San Diego and that is hit the ball with authority and even throw in some steals. Coming into Tuesday night, Guzman had a healthy .344/.386/.565 slash line with nine walks and 20 strikeouts in 140 plate appearances. That slash line included 18 extra-base hits, 21 runs scored, 31 runs driven in, and an amazing seven stolen bases from a first-base eligible player. Simply put, Guzman is arguably one of the more valuable players in NL-only leagues the second half of the season as a guy that was freely available in 99.98% of fantasy leagues unless someone was taking a wild flier looking at his PCL stats and assuming the Padres were going to admit they rushed Rizzo too quickly. Guzman's climb to the majors included 3,818 plate appearances in the minor leagues across eight seasons including 1,343 at the Triple-A level for three different organizations until the Padres finally gave him a chance.
For both Carp and Guzman, it was a matter of producing until the right opportunity came along. Both picked great times to have strong offense years given they were both in two of the most punchless organizations for offense in all of baseball. Both player acquisitions were mere afterthoughts but people that closely followed the production of those players at the minor league level have been rewarded with surprise production down the stretch. The odds of either player sustaining this new found success remains very much in doubt, especially Guzman and his seven steals given he had 41 in his entire minor league career, but the short-term results are rewarding those that had the roster room to take a flier on what came with the Quad-A discount label. While everyone focuses on the production of a Top 100 list, continue to watch the stat sheets in Triple-A to see who is producing for some of the second-division teams that appear to be more willing these days to give guys another chance to shed the Quad-A label. Pena swung and missed often in the opportunity provided him by the Diamondbacks, but Carp and Guzman have been fantasy goldmines in the second half of the season.