In this week's edition of Bats and Balls, we'll focus on a handful of lesser-known recent minor league callups, as well as a handful of non-stars who have seen their fantasy values trend up in recent days. Many of these players have taken advantage of injuries to teammates and/or have seen their organizations increase their playing time as teams look toward the future.
Here are a few such players:
Yan Gomes (CLE) - Gomes is batting a healthy .310/.353/.532 with 10 home runs, but due to a bit of a roster crunch, he's managed to accumulate just 187 at-bats. Gomes, though, has started three of the last four games, and with the release of Mark Reynolds, he will see an uptick in playing time the rest of the way. He still doesn't have a clear position, but Gomes likely will start one or two days a week behind the plate, perhaps a day at first base and the rest at DH. Gomes doesn't draw as many walks as we'd like to see, but compared to last year's 28.8-percent strikeout rate in 111 plate appearances, this year's 17.6 percent represents vast improvement in his contact ability. I wouldn't expect anything near a .310 average the rest of the way, but the power is real and how can you not root for MLB's first Brazilian-born player?
Welington Castillo (CHC) - Castillo and Dioner Navarro have pretty much split the catcher at-bats 50/50, but Castillo is batting .275/.358/.376 and Navarro .285/.356/.494. Castillo is the superior defender and Navarro is batting just .237 against right-handed pitchers, so it's possible we could see Castillo get maybe a 60-percent share.
Brayan Pena (DET) - With Alex Avila dealing with a concussion, Pena has seen a few starts recently and has taken advantage, going 9-for-20 the last couple weeks. For the year, Pena is up to .298/.324/.417 with four homers in 168 at-bats. Pena has the speed of a Benji Molina, so there won't be any steals in his future, but he does have some pop and is getting playing time. Of course, Pena has just a .652 OPS for his career, but even when Avila returns, he will still have value. Pena is a switch-hitter batting .337 versus right-hand pitching, so seeing him poach the occasional start from Avila once he's back would not be a big surprise.
Andrew Albers (MIN) - Remember the days back when the Twins used to develop good starting pitching? I'm talking about Brad Radke, Frank Viola and, if you want to go back a bit, Bert Blyleven. Those days appear long gone, as pitchers like Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey have disappointed and moved on, and others have been hurt and/or disappointing (that's you, Kyle Gibson). Enter Andrew Albers. While it's hard to get excited about a 27-year old who has just two big-league starts under his belt, they are two pretty good starts - 17.1 innings, no runs, one walk and just six hits. Sure, the four strikeouts are a bit troublesome, but Albers did have a respectable 7.9 K/9 in Triple-A prior to being recalled, so he should be good for an increasing strikeout rate. That said, Albers' average fastball in those two starts clocks in at just 86.7 mph, and he allowed nearly a home run per nine innings in Triple-A, so there are likely some struggles forthcoming. Soft-tossing lefties can have success at the big league level, but just be careful when slotting Albers against tougher offenses.
Brandon Beachy (ATL) - Beachy is likely to be far more reliable next year after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2012, but might his last start (8 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 6 K) against the Marlins offer hope that he can be a top starter THIS year? Maybe, but I would note that Beachy faced a team whose No. 2 hitter (Adeiny Hechavarria) is carrying a .273 OPS and whose cleanup man is Placido Polanco. Beachy's velocity has actually dipped in each of his last two starts (91.3 mph, 91.0, 89.9), but he's never been a flamethrower, so this isn't a big concern just yet. I would take a flier just because he was so good in 2011, but one excellent start against the Marlins isn't quite enough to persuade me that he's going to perform at an elite level the rest of the way.
Jacob Turner (MIA) - I am loathe to give up on former top-10 picks, particularly those who are still just 22 but have logged more than 100 big-league innings. Turner's 2.95 ERA is a bit deceptive, as his 6.6 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 rates are rather modest, and he's yet to really follow up after allowing just one run over nine innings June 29 against the Padres. Turner has seen his velocity tick up a couple notches this year, so if he can improve his control and keep the ball in the park, he has No. 2 upside.
Sonny Gray (OAK) - The 23-year-old Gray was the No. 18 overall pick in 2011, and after a pair of excellent relief outings, Gray allowed four runs (two earned) over six innings in his major league debut Saturday in Toronto. Gray posted excellent ratios for Triple-A Sacramento this year - 9.0 K/9, 3.0 BB/9 - before getting the call. Gray averages 94.1 mph with his fastball, so the strikeout potential is intriguing. Go ahead and grab him in deeper leagues, as Gray appears posted to stick in the rotation.
Brett Oberholtzer (HOU) - This ex-Braves prospect has really grown his game this year, taking a 4.37 ERA in Triple-A to the big leagues where he's impressed with a 2.57 ERA in 28 innings to go with an 18:4 K:BB. The southpaw doesn't throw overly hard, but after coming from the Braves in the Michael Bourn deal, Oberholtzer has a chance to top out as a No. 4 starter, perhaps a tick higher.
Brian Dozier (2B/SS-MIN) - At this rate, the 26-year-old Dozier could go down as the best Dozier in major league history. In keeping second base warm for top prospect Eddie Rosario, Dozier is batting .245/.315/.428. With 12 home runs and nine stolen bases, he's been a valuable AL-only option despite the low batting average, but mixed leaguers should also take note if a fill-in is needed. In his last seven games, Dozier is batting .379 with three home runs. Notably, Dozier has improved his BB:K ratio from .28 to .44 compared to 2012 and is hitting for more power. One thing he'll need to correct if he wants to be a future regular is his platoon splits. Dozier is batting .310 against left-handed pitching but just .226 versus righties. He's also a good defender, so he'll play every day as long as he's hitting at a decent clip.
Nolan Arenado (3B-COL) - Arenado is batting just .267/.306/.412 in an up-and-down rookie season, but he's getting hot. In his last 14 games, Arenado is batting .391 and entering Tuesday's action, he's hit in nine straight. The 2012 Arizona Fall League MVP and former top prospect is still just 22, so it's not too surprising that he's required some time to adjust to big-league pitching. I'd like to see higher than 5.1 percent for his walk rate, but the fact that he's so young and has struck out in just 12.3 percent of his plate appearances is quite impressive. Arenado could be available in 12-team mixed leagues and would be worth a look as a third base/corner infielder.
Grant Green (2B-LAA) - In what might (sadly) be Angels GM Jerry DiPoto's best trade, Green arrived from the A's last month in the deal involving Alberto Callaspo. Through Tuesday's action, Green is batting a modest .206/.300/.206 in 34 big-league at-bats, but he has some potential. Green was a 2009 first-round pick who batted .325/.370/.500 for Triple-A Sacramento, though given the hitting environment, that's less impressive than the numbers suggest. Howie Kendrick is probably at least 10 days from a return from a knee injury, so Green should get plenty of playing time in the meantime. Once Kendrick returns, Green could stick around as a utility guy, though a few hits over the next few games wouldn't hurt.
Wilmer Flores (3B-NYM) - At 21, Flores might need a couple years before we really see what he can do at the big-league level, but as long as his ankle injury isn't a DL situation, he's worth a look in a lot of leagues this year. Flores is batting .259/.310/.407 with a 2:2 K:BB in 29 big-league plate appearances. After signing at age 16, Flores has been a bit of a disappointment as a prospect, but he broke out a bit at Triple-A in 2013, batting .321/.357/.531 with 15 homers and an impressive 36 doubles. Flores is thought of as the team's second baseman of the future, so if he can hit between now and the time David Wright returns later this month, Flores could stick around for the rest of the year. At minimum, Flores is clearly worth a grab in NL-only and deeper league formats.
Adam Eaton (ARI) - After missing most of the season with an elbow injury, Eaton returned and got off to a slow start, batting .196 through his first 56 at-bats. Lately, though, Eaton has come on, going 8-for-21 with his first home run to push his batting line to .247/.333/.338. Eaton has also walked in 10.3 percent of his at-bats and has true lead-off ability after having posted a .381/.456/.539 line last year for Triple-A Reno. It appears that Eaton will get the good slide of a platoon with A.J. Pollock, but Eaton hit lefties at a .369 clip a year ago, so it's possible he could start to steal time from Pollock, who has a .299 OBP.
Leonys Martin (TEX) - Martin has yet to develop quite like the Rangers had hoped, but despite a so-so .278/.326/.407 line, he has plenty of fantasy value. Martin is batting .333 in his last six games and given he's batting .233 versus lefties, Martin is ripe for being platooned. Still, while he may not play every day, Martin's stolen bases give him quite a bit of relatively cheap value, and who knows, perhaps more of the talent that got him a five-year $15.5 million contract as a Cuban defector will start to surface.
Nate McLouth (BAL) - McLouth has had little fantasy value since the 2009 season, but now at age 31 in his first full year with the Orioles, McLouth is batting a surprising .284/.352/.418 with seven home runs and a career-high 28 stolen bases. It's possible McLouth is available in shallower fantasy leagues. He'll be on the bench versus the occasional lefty, but like Martin above, he's a sneaky source of steals.
Robbie Grossman (HOU) - Grossman is batting a modest .244/.337/.348, but in 164 at-bats, he does have six steals and three home runs, giving him AL-only value. Grossman is walking at a solid 11-percent clip, but if he wants to make a serious case for being a 2014 starter, he's going to have to cut down on that 24.1-percent strikeout rate. Grossman has stolen as many as 35 bases in a season while posting .370-plus OBPs, so at 23, he is still a candidate for future leadoff status, but the final six weeks of the season are critical for his future.