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MLB Barometer: Digging Deep

Howard Bender

Howard Bender

Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over a decade on a variety of web sites. For more from him, you can find his personal musings on his blog RotobuzzGuy.com or follow him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy. For questions, thoughts or comments you can email him at rotobuzzguy@gmail.com.

As we approach the middle of August, fantasy owners need to stay on top of roster movement more than ever. Here, in the dog days of summer, the injuries start to pile up, non-contending teams start auditioning their younger talent, and players who got hurt early on in the year are suddenly back in the picture and are becoming relevant once again. If youíre looking for that edge to keep you ahead of your competition and in contention for your league title, then you have to dig deep through the daily news feeds and box scores to find out, not just who may be available, but who is actually worth the pick-up. As todayís MLB Barometer will show you, your options are growing.

Rising

Robbie Grossman, OF HOU Ė Few people like to fish off a team with the worst record in baseball, but even the lowly Astros can be a source of help. Grossman is an interesting play for both AL-only and mixed-leagues right now, especially for those in leagues that use on-base percentage in lieu of batting average. The 23-year old switch-hitter is just coming off a 10-game hit streak and has hit safely in 11 of his last 12 with three home runs, nine RBI, 10 runs scored and four stolen bases in that span. He may only be batting .256, but thanks to an 11.5-percent walk rate, heís sporting a .352 OBP. A quick look at his swing rates highlights an uncanny plate discipline for a player his age, and thanks to that patience, he has grown to be a valuable asset at a bargain rate.

Avisail Garcia, OF CHW Ė Having placed Alex Rios on waivers and ultimately sent him packing to Texas, the White Sox are starting to look towards their future and they are officially ready to see the results of the three-team deal that netted them Garcia. Heís proven to be an excellent contact hitter throughout his time in the minor leagues, as evidence by a consistently high BABIP, and while he may not be loaded with power or speed, he could prove to eventually be an outstanding number-two hitter for the Pale Hose as the season runs its course. Heíll get the opportunity to play every day which should certainly help with his development.

Scooter Gennett, 2B MIL Ė With Rickie Weeks landing on the DL and being lost for the remainder of the season, Gennett gets an immediate bump in value as the new Brewers starting second baseman. Heís more for those in NL-only and incredibly deep mixed leagues as he doesnít offer much more than minimal replacement value. You wonít see much in the way of power and the speed is probably more average than anything else, but sometimes a full-time opportunity is all it takes for a youngster to get going. Should you be dealing with injuries or are just in need of some sort of middle-infield stopgap, then Gennett is a low-risk option you can take a flier on.

Will Middlebrooks, 3B BOS Ė After a 45-game banishment to Triple-A, Middlebrooks is getting another shot at the starting third base gig in Boston. Though he didnít show much improvement in the way of power down in Pawtucket, Middlebrooks did nearly everything else right to show he could grow as a player. He doubled his walk rate, cut back significantly on the strikeouts, and consistently made strong contact which has helped increase his on-base percentage. Donít think youíre getting the big power hitter everyone hyped him as during the offseason, but you could be landing just a nice, steady bat at the hot corner; someone worthy of a look at the corner infield position.

Brandon Belt, 1B SF Ė While you may as well stick a fork in the Giants playoff chances, you have to admire the never-say-die attitude that some on the team still have. Belt is a prime example as he knows that he is not playing for pride, but he is also playing to squelch any thoughts Brian Sabean may have with regard to obtaining first base help from outside the organization. Belt currently has a six-game streak working and is batting .476 (10-for-21) with two home runs, four RBI and seven runs scored over that span. Heís been batting third lately which is certainly helping, so should you be in need of some corner infield help, Belt is one to grab right now.

Sonny Gray, SP OAK Ė We talked about Gray a few weeks ago after a brief bullpen appearance, and now his time has finally come as he is the newest member of the Aís rotation. Though he was saddled with the loss, Gray pitched a real strong game in his starter debut Saturday, giving up just two runs on four hits and three walks with five strikeouts over six innings on the road against the Blue Jays. Heís got a mid-90ís fastball, a plus-curve and he is continuously improving his changeup as well. Heís proven to be a strong ground-ball pitcher, has great strikeout potential, and one thing you always love to see is that he can keep the ball in the yard. During his time in the minors, he averaged nearly a strikeout per inning and gave up just five long balls in 118.1 innings in the very hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. You may want to just stream him for now until he gets comfortable, but donít sleep on him for too long.

Ryan Ludwick, OF CIN Ė After an Opening Day shoulder injury that required major surgery, Ludwick is finally ready to get back into the Reds lineup. Though he went just 6-for-44 (.136) between Single and Triple-A during his rehab assignment, he did show some steady improvement and could prove to be a nice power bat to add to your lineup this late in the season. Obviously the nature of the injury inhibits a lot of the power potential he showed as a 25-plus home run hitter, but the benefits of Great American Ballpark and that strong surrounding lineup could make him one of the best late-season bats to add to your lineup.

Staying the Course

Michael Wacha, SP STL Ė After an outstanding spring in which he nearly forced the Cardinals to put him in the rotation from the onset and a decent showing during his mid-season call-up, Wacha is back in action as the Cards were in need of a spot starter over the weekend. He was not mind-blowing by any means, but he did only allow two runs on five hits and three walks over five innings with four strikeouts against the Cubs. However, with word that he will continue to pitch out of the bullpen for the duration of the season, his value remains exactly where it was. Thereís a chance it could improve should he get more starting opportunities, but for now itís status quo.

Fallers

Mark Reynolds, 3B CLE Ė Remember when this guy was consistently banging 30-plus home runs a year? Sure, the average was garbage, but from just a counting stats perspective, he was money in the bank. Well, those times are over now as the Indians designated him for assignment after yet another subpar season. There were rumors that the Angels were going to make a move, but those were quickly dismissed. Obviously thereís a chance someone in need of a power bat could make a move, but sitting and hoping for that will ultimately leave you out in the cold.

Ernesto Frieri, RP LAA Ė After having surrendered 12 earned runs on 15 hits and four walks in 4.2 innings over his last seven appearances, Frieri has officially been pulled from the closerís role and will now only pitch in low-leverage situations until he can work out whatever it is that is affecting his performance. The Angels will turn to Dane De La Rosa for the time being and if he proves to be effective, Frieri may not even see a save opportunity the rest of the way. Itís a terrible time of year to lose a closer, but his 4.69 ERA wasnít exactly helping fantasy owners anyway.

Phil Hughes, SP NYY Ė Forget about the fact that he hasnít registered a win since July 2 as that can be a pretty arbitrary thing, but considering that he hasnít pitched out of the sixth inning in five of his last six starts and has allowed 14 earned runs over his last 11 innings (three starts) with five walks and just five strikeouts, heís been completely ineffective for fantasy owners lately. Maybe the Yankees arenít bumping him from the rotation, but with a match-up against the Angels next week, you probably should.

Rex Brothers, RP COL Ė The clock just may be ticking on Brothersí time as the Rockiesí closer and none too soon as he has now allowed two runs on five hits and a walk over his last three appearances. Couple a series of shaky performances with a soon-to-be returning Rafael Betancourt and we could be looking at another handoff of save chances. The Rockies are also said to be looking to deal Betancourt, so featuring him as the closer once again, even if itís just for three weeks, is probably their best course of action right now. Brothers has decent long-term value, but your needs are probably much more immediate.

Howie Kendrick, 2B LAA Ė While 11 home runs and six stolen bases over 419 at-bats arenít too difficult to replace, Kendrick's .300 average and consistency at the plate just might be, especially at this time of year. Though an MRI on his knee revealed no structural damage, the Angels have been forced to place him on the 15-day disabled list (retro to Aug. 6) and he wonít be available until the middle of the scoring period two weeks from now. The team seems to be downplaying the injury which gives a little bit of hope for fantasy owners, but this is a crucial time for those looking to make a push towards the playoffs in their head-to-head leagues.

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