Chase Utley (2B - PHI): It's been a while since we checked in on Chase Utley so let's see how his season has developed after missing the first 6 weeks of the season. Utley started slow hitting just .222/.364/.370 through his first 27 AB's in May, but got adjusted in June and has been producing at basically the same level we saw from him pre-injury in 2010. Utley's BB Rate has gapped down a little bit, as has his K Rate, as he's swinging at and chasing a few more pitches overall this year. The good news is his power is right in line with 2010 when he posted a solid .169 ISO. The difficult part for Utley owners and fans is the realization that Utley's 2010 which was the first signs of aging may be the new norm. Instead of OBP's near .400 and Slugging %'s near .500, Utley's settling in at a .380/.460 clip. At 33 (going on 34 in December), Utley's begun to show signs that the elite power he posted in the past is unlikely. He's still plenty elite as far as fantasy 2B go, but with injury issues and age starting to work against him, savvy Utley owners in dynasty formats may consider moving him this year while the excuse of an injury responsible for a slow start can still be used.
Zach Cozart (SS - CIN): With the Reds not getting much out of the SS duo of Edgar Renteria and Paul Janish they decided to turn to their farm system and promote Zach Cozart. Cozart went 1-3 in his debut scoring a run and figures to get the majority of playing time at SS going forward. What can we expect from the rook? The best scouting description I've heard of Cozart is that he's basically Paul Janish with a little more bat. Cozart's career minor league line of .270/.332/.421 leaves a lot to be desired, but he was hitting well at AAA this year: .310/.357/.467. In his 2nd go around at AAA and with power blossoming, the improvement is noteworthy but also somewhat expected. At the MLB level it's always difficult to predict how young players will react, but given Cozart's middling plate discipline I expect there will be some struggles along the way. I think a line similar to Cozart's minor league career line (.270/.332/.421) is possible at the major league level given his performance at AAA this year, but I'm keeping my expectations modest. Hitting low in the Reds lineup (likely 8th), Cozart is just a speculative add for those in deeper leagues. He has the skills to contribute right away, but the odds are against the contributions being significant. In 10 and even 12 team leagues he can likely be left on the wire unless you're really hurting for SS help.
Chris Johnson (3B - HOU): Johnson got the day off on Thursday, something that is becoming more common since Clint Barmes was activated off of the DL. The timing is a bit unfortunate for Johnson as he was starting to come on in June, hitting .298/.333/.468. Johnson's skills aren't particularly impressive. He doesn't walk at all (3.3%) and he strikes out quite a bit (25.4%), but he sprays line drives all over the field. Last year he posted a 24% LD Rate and this year he's once again at a tremendous 23.4%. The interesting thing about Johnson's 2011 season is how vastly different the results have been despite nearly identical peripherals. In 2010 Johnson struck out in 26% of his AB's and walked in 4% while posting a .173 ISO and the afforementioned 24% LD Rate. In 2011 Johnson's K Rate has dropped a point, as has his BB Rate, and while his ISO is legitimately down (.148 ISO), his LD Rate is right in-line. Somehow last year's skill-set that produced a .308/.337/.481 line is turning in a .239/.281/.387 line. The gaping difference in the results can be tied directly to Johnson's BABIP. Last year he posted an extremely fortunate .387 BABIP and this year it's down to a more normalized, but unfortunate for a 23% LD Rate, .298. If we normalize Johnson's BABIP for his LD Rate, we'd get a 40-50 point boost in batting average that would suddenly make Johnson a lot closer to our preseason projections. The big question for Johnson going forward is if the playing time will continue to deteriorate. If Johnson can get consistent AB's I think a .270-.280 average with 6-8 HR's and 30 RBI/Runs the rest of the way is reasonable, but if Barmes and Keppinger continue to eat away at Johnson's playing time it's going to be an uphill battle. Given the Astros should be focused on developing young players like Johnson, you have to expect the playing time will be there. If I owned Johnson in a deep league, I'd continue to be patient.
Stephen Drew (SS - ARZ): Joe touched on the DBakcs comments regarding Stephen Drew and how it may impact his playing time going forward, so today I'm going to touch on some of the numbers with Drew and try to assess what's going on. The first thing that pops out with Drew's peripherals this year is a jump in his K Rate. Typically in the 16-19% range throughout his career, Drew's K Rate has spiked to over 22%. He's not chasing any more pitches outside of the zone, but Drew's contact rate has dipped nearly 2 percentage points. The other area in which Drew's performance is down a bit is in his ISO where a .148 ISO is 25 points below his career average. Considering Drew's not having any problems driving the ball (20% LD Rate), I have to imagine the ISO is being held down a bit by Drew's low 5.7% HR/FB Rate. Given Drew's K Rate has been expanding of late, there's certainly legitimate reason for concern that this could spiral out of control, but considering Drew's history of contact and his history of improved 2nd half performance (.817 OPS vs. .741 OPS career), I think Drew's a nice buy-low target. He still hits in a great home park with a favorable supporting cast. With playing time concerns and extended slump surrounding Drew, I think now may be the low point in his value.
Juan Nicasio (SP - COL): Nicasio got knocked around on Thursday allowing 5 ER's on 7 hits and 3 BB's in just 2 1/3 IP. He did strike out 4, but his command clearly wasn't there as he allowed 4 extra base hits in the short outing. Given how good Nicasio's been early on there might be the temptation to write this one off as one of those starts young pitchers go through, but I'm a bit concerned by his high LD Rate allowed. He entered the game allowing nearly 22% LD's and while his H/9 was down at AA this year, his minor league career H/9 was at 8.9. It's a small thing, but it's a relatively high number for some of the elite pitching prospects and given Nicasio's inexperience (just 9 starts above A ball), makes me believe there could be more bumps in the road. For deep leagues and NL Only his skill-set which can generate ground balls and K's is worth a roster spot, but for those in 10 team leagues and even 12 team leagues I question how well he'll be able to keep the LD Rate under control.