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MLB Barometer: Bittersweet

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.


Well, here we are. September has arrived and we are officially in the final month of the baseball season. It's all a bit bittersweet, is it not? All that offseason research, the countless hours spent on mock drafts and draft prep, the in-season work put in each day, and it all comes down to this. For many of you, your fantasy fate has been determined. Whether it's a roto league or head to head, you have a pretty good idea that your team has reached its ceiling and only a rare and freakish intervention by the universal spirit that ties and binds all things baseball is your only hope. But for those who are still in it, those in a dogfight in their roto standings or have themselves a juggernaut looking to plow through the head to head playoffs, this month will be filled with the highs and the lows and the anxiety and the jubilation that comes with fighting for a championship.
 
It all comes down to this. You've done so much and you've come so far. There's no letting up. Play your waiver wire like a champ. Trim the dead weight and keep your roster flush with hot bats and strong arms. But be smart. Yes, the September call-ups are arriving in droves. But very few of them ----VERY few of them - will see regular playing time that will warrant a starting spot on your roster right now. Be careful who you pick up and, most importantly, be careful who you drop. While you're out there trying to catch lightning in a bottle, your opponents could weather the storm picking up after your mistakes.
 
Now let's take a look at some of the risers and fallers for this week.

Rising

Nick Castellanos, OF DET - He should be one of the hottest waiver commodities right now as the Tigers have openly discussed using Castellanos as their full-time left fielder for the remainder of the year. The team has mixed in a number of different names on the lineup card, so a bit of consistency would certainly benefit the team for the remainder of the regular season and into the playoffs. The young outfielder has done some outstanding things with his first season in Triple-A, most notably are the improved power and improved plate discipline. Castellanos doubled his walk rate from the year before, dramatically cut down on the strikeouts and posted a .276/.343/.450 slash line with 18 home runs and 76 RBI over 134 games. Should he open the month hot, there's a very strong chance that he could be the bolt of lightning you seek.

Chris Colabello, OF MIN - With the trade of Justin Morneau to the Pirates, the Twins are expected to use Colabello almost exclusively at first base for the remainder of the season. He's had his struggles with the sporadic playing time while up with the big club this year but he's shown major power potential as evidenced by his 25 double sand 24 home runs over just 89 games at Triple-A Rochester this season. Even more impressive, and something that should continue to develop with more consistent playing time, is Colabello's plate discipline. He posted a .427 on-base percentage thanks to 43 walks to just 89 strikeouts while down in the minors this season and should be able to channel that now that he knows he's staying in the lineup and doesn't try to do too much.

Blake Wood, SP CLE - The Tribe is still 4.5 games within a wild card spot, but while they know it's an uphill climb, they're still doing what they can to stay in the hunt. With a somewhat shaky back-end of the rotation, Wood, a 28-year old, 6-foot-5 right-hander making his way back from Tommy John surgery, could find himself making a handful of starts down the stretch. He posted a 2.16 ERA with an impressive 23:10 K:BB over 16.2 innings at Triple-A Columbus and has looked strong at every stop along the way in his recovery. Even if he starts off in middle relief and only makes a couple of spot starts, his strikeout rate and impressive ratios should still net him a positive value in fantasy.

Kurt Suzuki, C OAK - Who says you can't go home again? If that were true then we wouldn't be talking about Suzuki and the fact that he is currently enjoying a four-game, 6-for-15 stretch with one home run, four RBI and four runs scored since being reacquired by the A's last week. While his overall production has tailed off over the last few seasons, you can't ignore the rejuvenation a return home can bring you. He enjoyed some incredibly productive seasons in the Bay Area and was quoted as being "very excited to be returning." He may not post numbers that will vault you to a championship, but even a minor boost in your catching totals should be a welcomed addition at this time of year.

Taijuan Walker, SP SEA - After all the preseason hype and anticipation as to when the Mariners would finally bring up their prized pitching prospect, that time has finally arrived. Now, Walker may only get a small handful of starts here in the final month, but better late than never, right? Walker posted a 2.93 ERA with 160:57 K:BB over 141.1 innings between two levels in the minors this year. Upon his call-up, he was eased into the majors with a debut against the Houston Astros, whom he held to one unearned run on two hits and a walk with two strikeouts over five innings. The low strikeouts, especially against the free-swinging Astros, were a bit of a surprise, but baby steps here. Baby steps to mound dominance. He'll face the Royals for his second big-league start, so keep him active.

Dustin Ackley, 2B SEA - That Ackley kid, as J.D. Salinger and our own Jason Collette referred to him as the other day, has done wonders to turn things around for himself in August. He overachieved with a .390 average (thank you, .459 BABIP), but finally showed the power we heard so much about before his major league debut. For the month, he posted a .208 ISO with six doubles, two triple and two home runs. While his walk rate dropped for the month and his strikeouts increased, as Collette pointed out, the slight change in his approach at the plate along with some added patience on those outside pitches he is now poking into left field, have resulted in a positive change. If he can maintain this through September, then you've got a great second baseman (who only plays the outfield now) for your stretch-run.

Emilio Bonifacio, 2B/OF KC - I was originally going to say that it only took four and a half months for the Royals to find their second baseman, but in retrospect, it's tough to remember when the last season was where they actually had some good production out of the keystone. Carlos Feebles? Tony Gaff-anino? Mark Grudziel-is-yuck? Jose Awful-man? Exactly. But suddenly the trade that landed Bonifacio has panned out reasonably well for the Royals as he's been their most productive guy at the position in such a long time. With the Royals, he's currently batting .286 (16-for-56) with five runs scored and nine stolen bases over a span of 16 games. Added speed down is always a strong commodity down the stretch so if he's available to you, it would be a wise move to add him.

Falling

Ed Lucas, 3B MIA - There hasn't been a whole lot to like about Lucas, but NL-only folk who have been squeaking by with him lately are about to lose even his paltry contributions. With the Marlins outfield stocked, former Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan has been exclusively playing third base during his rehab assignment and the plan is for him to take over once he is ready to be activated. Lucas will return to the bench where he will share in some utility work and possible pinch-hitting responsibilities thus ending any remote value he may have had.

Yonder Alonso, 1B SD - Let the end-of-season shutdowns begin. Well almost. Alonso will be shut down for the next seven to 10 days due to soreness in his hand, the same hand in which he suffered a fractured metacarpal bone back in May. He will go for tests on Monday to see if there is any additional structural damage, but considering the fact that the Padres have nothing but pride to play for, they just might consider shutting him down for the rest of the season. It would appear that the primary beneficiary of this would be Jesus Guzman and those who grab him off the waiver wire.

Lance Lynn, SP STL - I had him here in the falling section sometime in late July/early August and while he may have splashed in a decent start here or there, his overall performance in the second half - a 4.91 ERA with a diminishing strikeout rate - has been much less than spectacular. In addition, his walk rate is up, his HR/FB rate is up and the opposition is batting .336 against him. While he would really need to blow up to damage your ratios that badly this far into the season, do you really want to take that chance? I didn't think so.

Miguel Cabrera, 3B DET - I love putting top guys in this section because it inevitably blows up my email with folks who just can't accept the truth. We discuss back and forth for a moment and inevitably I get the, "Oh yeah. I didn't think of it that way." Well here we are with last year's Triple Crown winner and all-around super stud and there should be growing concerns that Miggy could actually see more bench time than field time over the final month of the season. The Tigers have an 8.5 game lead over a middling Cleveland team and Cabrera is now sitting consecutive days with an abdominal issue. Unless the Tigers see themselves in the midst of an unlikely tailspin, is there any reason not to let Cabrera heal and be ready for the playoffs?

Michael Young, 1B/3B LAD - While normally a trade to a contender marks a potential improvement for a player who isn't a closer losing his job, Young is headed to the Dodgers to serve as depth. According to manager Don Mattingly, Young will spend time at both third and first but that Juan Uribe and Adrian Gonzalez would still retain their starting roles. Sure, Young is batting .375 over 16 at-bats at Dodger Stadium, but will he even accrue that many to show us a little something in September? NL-only folk who have been using Young might want to think about that Chris Coghlan investment I mentioned earlier.

Dodgers Outfield - And let's finish things off with the hottest team in baseball who is about to get back one of the more productive players in recent years, Matt Kemp. Sure, he's been a huge disappointment this season and sure, he hasn't hit the ball well at all during this latest rehab assignment, but he's coming back this week and that's going to muck things up for fantasy owners who have been living off the Dodgers outfield recently. In addition to Kemp, the Dodgers have Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford and the always mentionable Yasiel Puig. With no DH or potential position moves, it's going to be awfully difficult to get everyone enough at-bats to be worthwhile for fantasy owners. There's been no indication as to what Mattingly's plans are, but someone is going to be left out in the cold more often than not.