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AL Player Spotlight

Schuyler Dombroske

Melky Cabrera - Including last night's 0-3, Cabrera is on a little 8-18 streak right now for the Yanks, and without Jason Giambi in the fold for quite some time, Cabrera is basically assured of playing time for the indefinite future. Just for fun, take a look at the most comparable players to Cabrera sometime (among other places, you can find them at baseballprospectus.com with a subscription). There are an awful lot of extremely good players in that group, and when you think about it that makes sense. Cabrera has been able to post close to a 1.0 BB:K ratio in roughly one full season in the majors at age 22. He may never develop the kind of power that we normally associate with an outfielder, but I'm not certain of that either....he doesn't even turn 23 until close to the end of the year. Particularly in leagues that value OBP, Cabrera could offer more than you think. If anyone could be a sleeper in the Big Apple, this is probably the guy.

James Shields - Shields has been on fire for over a month now, posting quality starts in eight out of his last nine outings (including last night). His control seems to get better with each start, and while he is still allowing homers at a better than average pace, he has cut that HR/9 figure by a couple-tenths of a point, and that can make all the difference in the world.....particularly when his walk and K rates are already above average. The remarkable thing about Shields so far this year has been his consistency. In his past nine starts, he has thrown between 7 and 9 innings and 100 and 109 pitches in each outing. He's allowed four runs once...everything else has been three or less. He's walked three men twice....two or less in the other seven. Each start seems to be a near-carbon copy of the others, which is just outstanding. He has already shown me more than I expected this year, and with his emergence the Rays are inching closer and closer to being legitimate competition for the elite teams in the AL. Is Shields a potential long-term ace? Well, two of the recent success stories that he is rather similar to should point you in the right direction: Danny Haren and John Lackey.

Carlos Pena - Pena just keeps on hitting, going 3-3 with two doubles and a homer last night against the Royals to help carry the Rays to a 4-2 win. Pena has always been one of those guys that you felt had more in him: he hit 75 minor league homers by the time he was 23, broke into the majors in 2002 at age 24 with basically average stats.....and then just stagnated for the next four years. He didn't really get worse, but he didn't get better either, and 243/331/459 is sort of marginal production from your first baseman so teams have been happy to give up on him the past few years. Pena is now hitting 313/376/641 for Tampa, and while that's certain to drop over the course of the season (particularly the AVG), there's no reason to think that Pena hasn't made some progress finally. The strikeouts are still a concern though, so expecting Pena to finish with a line of 275/350/525 is probably a lot more likely than expecting this level of performance to continue. Considering Tampa's alternatives at 1B, that's probably A-OK with them.

Casey Kotchman - Four doubles and two homers in his last ten games have helped push Kotchman's season totals up to 309/381/514, and he is among the team leaders in both OBP (3rd behind Vlad and Willits) and SLG (behind only Vlad). Kotchman's control of the strike zone has always been what sets him apart for me (18 BB against 14 K this year), and it's also what makes me think that he could yet be a star in the making. Expecting Jim Thome or Jason Giambi is too much to ask, but (hopefully) a healthier Nick Johnson? I could see that.

Julio Lugo - I wonder if the vultures that were circling Dustin Pedroia a month ago have just migrated a bit to the left, as Alex Cora picked up the spot start for Lugo last night in Oakland. Lugo is hitting only 224/287/327 for the year, including a disastrous 209/241/336 for the month of May. Sure, he's 17 for 17 in steals, but the poor hitting has greatly outweighed the baserunning (paricularly for the Sox). Cora has hit well in limited duty, but just as Pedroia was likely safe during the throes of his slump, Lugo is probably safe now. The steals may make it tough for you to reserve him (not to mention the likelihood that his slump will end at any time), so anyone would understand if you kept plugging with him. In shallow leagues, however, it isn't worth it. His ceiling just isn't high enough to begin with.

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