Alcides Escobar (SS - KC): Escobar continued his hot streak with a game-tying HR in the 9th inning off of Fernando Salas in a 2-3 effort that raised his average to .255. Escobar has now hit safely in 11 of 12 games and picked up multi-hit games in 9 of those contests. Like a few of our other writers I was mildly optimistic on Escobar coming into the season. He had shown improvements in his BB Rate, his K Rate, his LD Rate, and his ISO last year but suffered from some horrendous fortune on balls in play (.264) that kept his average under .240. His BB Rate, ISO, and LD Rate have all taken steps backwards this year, but Escobar's improved fortune (.280 BABIP) has helped keep his average in the .250's. A career .293 hitter at the minor league level, I still think Escobar can improve to be a .270's major league hitter. He makes enough contact and has shown the ability to post strong LD Rates (career 19.7%). His willingness to run more this year has positively influenced his fantasy value as he's on pace for a 25-30 SB season to go with 70 Runs. He doesn't benefit from the hitting environment a guy like Elvis Andrus has in Texas, but the skill-set between the two isn't that different. With Escobar getting hot of late there's some hope things are finally clicking for the 24 year old. In mixed formats he's still not much of an option with the exception of 16 team leagues and deeper, but for those in AL Only formats or those extremely deep leagues, Escobar's an intriguing target for me. He's demonstrated better skills in his major league career than his performance would suggest and while many may write the recent hot streak off as a short-term fluke, I'm optimistic it may be a sign things are starting to click. His ceiling is still that of an Elvis Andrus type, but Andrus currently ranks as the #3 fantasy SS on the player rater. Will Escobar turn into that? Probably not, but he has enough skills to be a Top 15 SS the rest of the way and I'm certain he's not viewed that way.
Brennan Boesch (OF - DET): I am annoyed by Brennan Boesch. Last season Boesch defied all of his peripherals on the way to a .342/.397/.593 first half line that had him looking like an MVP. In the 2nd half of the season Boesch's middling peripherals caught up with him and his performance came crashing down (.163/.237/.222). So when Boesch got off to a hot start this year (.841 OPS in April) only to come crashing down in May (.551 OPS), I experienced it as the "same deal as last year". I figured the approach had been figured out and Boesch's streakiness wasn't worth trying to time. Sure enough Boesch has rebounded with a magnificent June that was only strengthened by a 3-4 effort with a HR and 3 more RBI on Sunday. For the season Boesch has shown pretty legitimate improvement in his skill-set and approach at the plate. He's chasing 34% of pitches outside the zone which is still high but cut down from his 41% rate last year. In addition to chasing fewer pitches outside the zone, he's making more contact overall (80% this year, 78% last year), which when you put it all together has allowed Boesch to cut his K Rate from 21% to under 18%. Those improvements have also come with a slightly improved BB Rate (8.3%, up from 7.8%) and a higher ISO (.178 vs. .159). Now it's possible these improvements are being exaggerated by Boesch's recent hot streak, but the K Rate is in-line with his minor league track record, indicating the improved contact may be legitimate. What is in question is whether the power is legitimate. Boesch posted just a .434 minor league slugging % for his career, but did flash great minor league power in one AA season before being called up (.510 slugging %). Can Boesch maintain a .482 Slugging %? I'm skeptical, but the improvements in plate discipline gives him a better chance than before. I still don't think we have enough of a sample size to know whether Boesch is going to suddenly fall off a cliff like he did last season, but the indicators are improved and he's worth riding while hot.
Jemile Weeks (2B - OAK): Weeks continued his big debut with a 3-4 effort that included a 2B, Run, and SB in Sunday's 2-1 win over the Giants. Weeks is now hitting .364 through his first 12 games, while contributing 7 Runs, 6 RBI's, 2 SB's, and 7 XBH's. When asked about Weeks value over twitter earlier this week I described him as someone who doesn't do anything particular in fantasy to knock you away and I questioned his long-term PT with Mark Ellis rehabbing. Clearly if Weeks is going to hit he'll continue to play as the A's are in need of offense and in need of a spark in the clubhouse. Looking at Weeks career minor league performance (.286/.372/.420) with 162 game averages of: 97 R, 12 HR, 79 RBI, 30 SB (note: minor league SB #'s are always inflated, guys run much more often to practice getting jumps and catcher's aren't as efficient in throwing out runners), you can see why nothing really "jumps out at you". He posts good enough OBP skills to get on-base and contribute in the Runs category, but with Oakland's shaky scoring environment his contributions there will be limited and his power-speed combo will probably play something more like 7-10 HR, 20 SB's at the big league level. This isn't meant as a knock on Weeks, who is legitimately a valuable prospect, it's meant more as a knock against his fantasy value. If you're thin at 2B or MI, Weeks is worth a speculative pickup in all formats, but I'm not dropping guys like Gordon Beckham or Aaron Hill who have shown periods of fantasy success (and borderline stardom for Weeks). For me, Weeks is a better option in 14 team leagues and deeper as a 2B option than in standard 10 and 12 team leagues, where he'll likely serve more as a MI. He's a fine speculative pickup, but keep expectations tempered on his long-term value.
Grady Sizemore (OF - CLE): Things are starting to spiral out of control for Sizemore. He struck out in 4 of his 5 AB's on Sunday and now has struck out a whopping 25 times in 62 June AB's (40%). This is Adam Dunn/Mark Reynolds territory for Sizemore. The scary thing for Sizemore is the increased K Rate isn't coming with more chases, but simply less contact. This is a pattern that started last year prior to Sizemore's knee injury when his contact rate dropped from 83% to 73%. At that point there was hopes that it was just a small sample issue, but with the contact rate this year at 72% it's starting to look like a legitimate deterioration in skill. Even amidst Sizemore's great start in late April/early May I was banging the drum on Sizemore as a sell-high candidate, not only because of the potential that Sizemore had transitioned from a 5 category player to a 2-3 category player but because of the potential for health setbacks. So far we've seen both and with the K's mounting Sizemore's value is dropping. The Indians face a tough stretch this week of high strikeout pitchers, including 2 LH's. With Sizemore struggling to make contact and posting a .645 OPS against LHP, he belongs on the bench this week.
JJ Hardy (BAL - SS): Hardy's been phenomenal since returning from the disabled list at the beginning of May, hitting .297/.357/.500 with 14 XBH's in just under 140 AB's. He added to those totals on Sunday with a 2-4 effort that included his 8th HR of the season and 11th 2B of the season while scoring twice and driving in one. At 28, Hardy's power has blossomed thanks to an improved ability to generate loft on the ball. He entered the season with a career FB Rate of just 38%, but has elevated it to 45% and all of a sudden Hardy's best skill has been allowed to shine. In addition to the improved power rates Hardy's shown improvement in his contact rate, tying a career high 86.7% rate. Hardy looks to be back to the player that swatted 50 HR's over two seasons with the Brewers and perhaps an improved version thanks to the better contact rates. He should be owned in all formats and is rewarding those owners who made a speculative add on Hardy's power potential.