Miguel Montero (C-Diamondbacks) –Generally, fantasy owners fall into three different categories. You’ve got one type who have assembled their All-Star team and will ride that team ‘til the end, win or lose, with the belief that the cream will rise to the top and they will stand victorious at the pinnacle of that fantasy baseball mountain. Then there is the owner who loves to wheel and deal. He’s making the trades for the hot players, dropping the cold players and watching the waiver wire as if his very existence depended on it, ready at any moment to pick up that player who is the flavor of the day. And then finally, you have the owner who takes a hybrid approach, ready to deal, but also ready to take a back seat and stand pat with what he has. All three can be winners but if you are the second option, you may want to try your hand with Miguel Montero. The Diamondback backstop (say that 10 times fast) has been on an absolute tear since the end of June hitting .400 with 5 HR and has a July OPS of 1.125. Now before you get all giddy and start clapping your hands together in fits of joy, Montero’s overall numbers are good, but not great at .289/.357/.479 much of which has been helped by this recent hot streak. Montero had spent the first three months of the season with a BA lingering in the .230 area and being a .255 career hitter, there is no reason to believe that this hot streak will continue to have legs that will sustain the long run. Having said that, it’s not recommended to drop Joe Mauer for Montero, but if you are one of these type A fantasy owners who love to mix it up and you need help at the catcher position, I’d grab Montero while he remains hot. If he is able to keep this streak going, kudos to you but you should be prepared to have a backup plan for your backstop.
Yunel Escobar (SS—Braves) In only his third year in the big leagues, Yunel Escobar is throwing his name into the hat as one of the top shortstops in the N.L. Last week he was the player of the week and has continued with a hot bat into the first part of this week as well. For the month of July, Escobar is batting .400 and is not only hitting for a solid average but has also developed the power side of his game. He is on a pace to hit 15-18 home runs which would be a career high and has an XBH% of 8.9%. While those numbers do not put him in the same class as the top sluggers in the league, it is an improvement over his past seasons and certainly is more impressive when compared amongst other shortstops. In the past 30 days, Braves manager Bobby Cox has moved Escobar down in the batting order to 5th and 6th spots rather then hitting in the two hole. By hitting lower in the batting order Escobar now has the opportunity to drive in more runs. Since that move Escobar has 20 RBI in 19 games so the move seems to be paying off. The downside of that move is that he doesn’t seem to be taking as many walks this season possibly due to his changing role as a run producer. But with this new role, his value should rise. Escobar should no longer be looked over and at the age of 26 needs to be considered a must-have shortstop that appears to be still be developing his game and improving with every season.
Adrian Gonzalez (1B—Padres) To say that Adrian Gonzalez has cooled off would be putting it mildly. If fact, he makes a penguin look warm. OK, that’s an exaggeration but since the beginning of June, the Padres star player has a BA of .203 and has averaged 1 home run every 37 plate appearances. But what is really interesting is that Gonzalez has an OBP of .383 during this span while having a SLG of .377. It’s pretty rare to see a player’s OBP greater than their slugging, but this happens to be the case for Gonzalez during this period. One could look at it that Gonzalez is getting a lot of walks--which would be true. He has worked out 43 walks since June which illustrates the respect he has from opposing pitchers as the only true Padre threat in the lineup and his excellent season EYE of 1.042. One could also looked at it as though Gonzalez is struggling, expanding his strike zone, pressing, and feeling like he has to do too much since he is the only true threat in the Padre lineup. Whichever way you look at it, he only has an OPS of .760 since June which not what we expect from a player the caliber of Gonzalez. But fortunately to get the complete picture, you have to look at the season as a whole. Gonzalez has hit 25 HR to date and has a season OPS of .910 which if the season were to end today would be a career best. Looking for more positive indicators as Gonzalez continues to sludge through this downward trend? His BHIP is very low at .246 which means that he is due for an upward swing. Despite the problems, Gonzalez is just too good to sit so you will have to ride out this period. But no doubt that he will put together a solid season as he continue to be considered a must start option.
Adam LaRoche (1B—Pirates/Red Sox) How do you spell INSURANCE? Well, the Red Sox spell it L-A-R-O-C-H-E, as in Adam LaRoche who has left the Steel City for a cup of chowda. From a baseball standpoint, it makes a lot of sense for the Red Sox to acquire LaRoche. They didn’t give up much, and they have a left handed bat should Mike Lowell go down with an injury or Big Papi comes up small the rest of the season. From a fantasy standpoint, this looks like it could be a slight decrease in value for LaRoche. It’s true, he is going to a more potent lineup with the Red Sox and it should offer him better pitches to hit and more run producing opportunities. Also, LaRoche is a notorious second half bloomer who usually steps it up after the All-Star break. But the main problem from a fantasy standpoint is that LaRoche is probably going to be seeing more time on the bench than he did in Pittsburgh as he will have to share time when Youkilis, Ortiz or Lowell need a rest. Now the fact that there is so much flexibility within the Red Sox lineup may bode well for LaRoche but be prepared for less plate appearances. LaRoche’s line has been less then impressive at .247/.329/.441. While he has 12 HR this year, his OPS is at a less than average .722. LaRoche also has been striking out 22% of the time and his CT% has gone down 6% from last season and now stands at75%. But, again, he is a second half bloomer and normally it would be prudent to keep an eye on LaRoche as he starts to heat up, but with his playing time seemingly compromised in Boston, his value may have dropped some.
Josh Willingham (OF—Nationals) After starting off July blistering hot going through the first 11 games with .366/.458/.683 line, Josh Willingham went just as cold. He was 0 for 14 in his last few games before breaking out Wednesday with a 4 for 4 performance that included a home run, 2 doubles and 2 RBI. After starting off the season on the slow side, Willingham is turning out to be a nice fantasy sleeper. He has a good EYE at 0.72 and a strong CT% of 81% which has lead him to a very good OBP of .406. But if anyone hasn’t been keeping tabs, Willingham has a terrific OPS of .942 and an XBH% that is over 11%. This is probably a surprise because playing for the Nationals, Willingham is probably not getting the attention he rightly deserves. And one other stat that needs to be pointed out is that Willingham is averaging a home run every 17.1 AB’s. If we at look at Ryan Braun’s home run average, he is only hitting a home run every 20.8 AB’s. Yes, Willingham is knocking them out of the park at a faster clip than Ryan Braun. If Willingham is available in your league, give some serious consideration to finding him room in your lineup because he is quietly becoming a must-start option in all leagues.