Homer Bailey (SP - CIN): With two strong starts since being activated off of the DL it's time to change gears from "watching" to "investing" in Homer Bailey. I mentioned in this space a week ago that Bailey's strong close to last season (9.1 K/9, 3.55 ERA/1.27 WHIP over last 10 starts) may have been an indicator that the former top prospect was turning the corner. Bailey increased his chase rate last year to over 29% and saw his contact rate drop for his 3rd consecutive season down to 82%. In his first two starts this season, the contact rate has dropped to 74% and the chase rate has risen to over 31%. He's throwing his slider quite a bit more (26% up from 11-12%), which is good news in the short-term as it was far and away his best off-speed offering. We've seen Matt Garza take a big jump forward in his K Rate thanks to a heavy reliance on sliders against the weak NL Central and perhaps Bailey is following that path. Even more impressive early on has been the strong control. Bailey has thrown 65.7% of pitches for strikes in his first 2 outings after posting a career rate of 62.7%. Now, it should be noted, we're dealing with extremely small samples and both impressive outings have come against the hapless Astros lineup, but the improvements coupled with last year's strong finish have me adding Bailey where available. I suggest you do the same.
Domonic Brown (OF - PHI): It's been about 10 days since our last Domonic Brown reminder and with Charlie Manuel opining for Brown's bat in the major leagues after Tuesday's game, now seems like the right time to check back in. Through Brown's first 9 games at AAA Lehigh Valley he's posted a .353/.425/.588 line that includes 2 HR's (2 2B's as well) and 7 RBI's. He has struck out 8 times in his first 40 PA's and this will continue to be an issue at the big league level, but seeing the power rebound so quickly after the hamate (wrist) injury is a positive sign. The Phillies manager openly calling for Brown to be promoted with quotes like: "I want him knocking the cover off the ball up here"; "What he does down there isn't helping me here"; is an even bigger sign. Stash now and reap the rewards later. We had Brown ranked as a Top 40 OF coming into the season and believe very much in his power/speed combination. His high K Rate will bring about some extended ups and downs, but the overall numbers should be worthwhile once promoted. After writing this blurb news came out that Brown had left Wednesday night's game with a jammed thumb and would be out for Thursday as well. The injury is considered minor, but may push the immediacy of a potential call-up back.
Aramis Ramirez (3B - CHC): Ramirez was a popular bounce-back candidate and one I touted heavily in the preseason. As I, and many of his owners, can attest the .293/.349/.376 with just 1 HR, 8 Runs, and 15 RBI's is leaving a lot to be desired. You don't have to dig too deep into the peripherals to realize Ramirez's issue early in the season is a power outage as evidenced by the .376 slugging % and .085 ISO. A look at Ramirez's swing data does show he's chasing a few more pitches outside the zone, but he's making contact at roughly the same rate on those pitches and his contact rate inside the zone is actually up. The batted ball tells some of the story as Ramirez is hitting 4% more balls on the ground this year, but the real story lies in Ramirez's career numbers. Ramirez has been a historically slow starter, especially in the power department (.473 Slug in 1st half, .523 Slug in 2nd half). Now his numbers are a bit depressed this year from those levels, but given his extended history of 2nd half performance and his ability to replicate that performance just last year, I view Ramirez as a solid buy-low candidate. He's drawing more walks this year and making more contact and the Cubs have found some legitimate OBP threats at the top of their order, which should improve Ramirez's RBI opportunities. I've mentioned in the podcast a few times the unusually cool start to the season in Chicago and the impact its had on the Cubs power hitters. I think Ramirez has also been adversely impacted by the weather and expect him to put up fine numbers from here on out. Stay patient and continue to hold and I believe you'll ultimately be rewarded with above average production at a thin position.
Ubaldo Jimenez (SP - COL): I've been fairly vocal about my concerns with Ubaldo Jimenez via twitter and our weekly podcast and Thursday's outing continued to reinforce those concerns. Jimenez allowed 5 ER's in just 3 2/3 innings, yielding 3 hits and handing out 6 free passes (including TWO to Mets SP Jonathan Niese). Thursday's outing marked the 4th straight start in which Jimenez has walked 4 or more and coupled with the noticeable drop in Ubaldo's velocity this year (avg FB velocity down from 96.1 mph to 92.7 mph), makes me believe something physically isn't right with Jimenez. I said on the podcast on Sunday that I'd take 85 cents on the dollar in a Jimenez trade and I was tempering my expectations down to that of a high-end matchups type. I may have been too optimistic. With 4 or more BB's in 4 straight outings, the matchup doesn't matter if Jimenez can't find the strike zone. He'll be riding my bench until I see an improvement in command and even then without the elite velocity and corresponding GB Rate (dropped to 40% this year, 48% last year), we have to keep our expectations tempered. I would be shocked if he replicated his ace performance level last year and I'm starting to believe its more likely Ubaldo spends significant time on the DL than in owners lineups this year.
Stephen Drew (SS - ARZ): If Drew can just kick this groin strain I think we're going to see a breakout year from the 28 year old. Drew's improved his BB Rate, showing tremendous plate discipline early on (just a 16% chase rate) and cut his K's by 3% thanks to a corresponding 3% improvement in his contact rate. Not to mention he's hitting in the middle of a decent lineup, playing in a tremendous home park with a manager who has been extremely aggressive on the base-paths this year. The counting totals will get a boost from the lineup positioning and the DBacks aggressiveness on the base-paths should help Drew hit double digit SB's again despite the slow start due to the groin. We're a big believer in Drew's talents and view him as a Top 5 SS the rest of the way. While his value has been down early in the season thanks to some bumps and bruises owners should make a play for the ARZ SS who typically heats up as the season goes on (.745 1st half OPS, .817 2nd half OPS).