Asdrubal Cabrera (2B - CLE): Asdrubal Cabrera sure had a day on Sunday. Cabrera went 5-5 with 2 HR's, 2 Runs, 5 RBI's, and even stole a bag. The big outing raised his 2011 line to .302/.363/.522 which looks like something that the name Chase Utley should be tied next to, not Asdrubal Cabrera. We touched on Cabrera back in early April with our own Mike Leone highlighting him as a great sleeper option this year and myself chiming in on the more power-oriented approach Cabrera was showing early on. Back then Cabrera was sacrificing some contact for the extra power, opening up his stance, and chasing more pitches. Since then though it appears he's found the perfect middle ground. Cabrera's cut his K Rate in May back down to 11%, while maintaining that great ISO improvement (up at .186 coming into yesterday's game and sure to climb). Back in April when I touched on Cabrera I noted he looked much bigger to me than I remembered and at age 25 it wouldn't be surprising to see him maturing a bit more physically. Cabrera's last full season at AAA he posted a .475 Slugging %, the same rate he entered Sunday's game with. While it's hard to imagine Cabrera finishing at a near .900 OPS, a mid .800's OPS certainly seems within reason.
Adam Jones (OF - BAL): In a world in which information travels instantaneously around the world, we sometimes have trouble exhibiting patience. This can often be the case with young players who we want to see development not only early on, but in a linear pattern. We expect to see incremental improvements every year and that's not always the case with young players. So last year after Adam Jones showed improvement in 2009 by cutting his K's, improving his BB's and showing more pop, fantasy owners got frustrated when the BB Rate and power came back and many owners wrote off Jones as a player that had plateau-ed. Well at just 25 (going on 26), Jones is showing he has more room for improvement. He's brought the BB Rate back up to 2009 levels and cut his K Rate even further, down below 18%. The power hasn't quite come back yet, but the improved contact is helping Jones get on-base more and keep his batting average above .285. The power won't come until Jones becomes more selective at the plate and adds loft to his swing. He's still generating a very high 49% GB Rate and chasing over 43% of pitches outside the zone, but the improvements in Jones contact rates reminds us he's not quite done growing. He's on pace for another 18-20 HR, 12-18 SB, 85 R, 90 RBI type season as he quietly turns himself into a poor-man's version of Torri Hunter.
JP Arencibia (C - TOR): Back on April 18th I noted that JP Arencibia was making some pretty strong improvements in his skill-set at the plate and it was flying under the radar because of a platoon situation that was costing Arencibia playing time. Fast forward to May 22nd and Arencibia's begun separating himself as the everyday catcher. He's started 16 of the last 19 games and is already approaching the same number of AB's he received in all of April with 8 more days left in May. On Sunday he launched his 8th HR of the season in a 2-4 effort that raised his batting average to .244 and represented his 19th RBI of the season. The extra playing time hasn't impacted the early improvements Arencibia demonstrated in his peripherals. In fact, he's actually showing more improvement. His K Rate in May is down to a very manageable 20%, his BB Rate is up to 9% and his ISO remains above .250. A .195 BABIP in May has hindered Arencibia's results and a .250 BABIP overall for the season has robbed Arencibia of 20-30 points on his batting average. He's currently on pace for over 25 HR's and 60 RBI's, which would easily make him a Top 10 catcher. Considering the playing time is improving and the batting average is likely to get a boost as the season wears on, I think Arencibia's a pretty nice buy-low target as a Top 10 C that isn't viewed as one.
Francisco Liriano (SP - MIN): I noted (on twitter) during Liriano's last outing against the Mariners that his command of his slider looked much better and while his fastball velocity still wasn't there he was flashing some of the strikeout upside we've seen in the past. I also noted that we should take it with a grain of salt since it came against the Mariners. On Sunday, we saw something in-between Liriano's solid outing last time out and his season. He once again flashed the good slider, but this time his FB velocity and command was still lacking enough that he got into trouble. He finished the outing allowing just 6 hits and 2 ER's over 6 innings, but walked 4 and struck out just 4. In addition he recorded just 3 ground outs, relying heavily on fly balls. The outing was Liriano's 3rd quality start in his last 4 outings, a stretch that has dropped his ERA from 9.13 to 5.73. Unfortunately much of this recent hot streak has been aided by good fortune. Liriano's posted just a 16:14 K:BB Ratio in the 25 IP. His 1.04 WHIP during the 4-start stretch has been largely influenced by a .106 BABIP. While he's done a good job limiting line drives (just 11%), he'll continue to have a hard time being successful with a 5.67 K/9, 5.04 BB/9 skill-set that he's posted during this "hot-streak".
James Shields (SP - TB): So everyone had James Shields as the best pitcher in baseball coming into the season right? Shields continued his phenomenal 2011 campaign with perhaps his best outing of the season. Shields allowed just 3 singles and a walk over 9 shutout innings, while striking out a whopping 13 Marlins. It marked Shields 3rd CG of the season and his 2nd shutout. He's now posted quality starts in 9 of his 10 outings and is AVERAGING 7 2/3 IP per start. Shields has made a number of meaningful improvements this season. He's inducing more ground balls (up to 45%), which is helping to limit the HR issues he struggled with so mightily last season and he's maintained the improved K Rate he demonstrated last year getting it back above 8.0 K/9 to go with his usual great command (sub-2.0 BB/9). But perhaps the most meaningful improvement Shields has made this year is something he has no control over whatsoever: his luck. Shields entered Sunday's contest with a .256 BABIP allowed (career .305, .356 in '10) and his LOB% has been a rather ridiculous 86% (career 72%). This isn't to say Shields is going to fall off the map completely, but his skill-set is more of a solid #2 fantasy SP, someone with a mid 3's ERA and a 1.20 WHIP, not someone with a 2.00 ERA and 0.93 WHIP. Putting out feelers to potentially sell-high would be a solid play.
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