Jay Bruce (OF - CIN): Bruce's potential breakout was the talk of the fantasy landscape back in May, but since then he's struggled to live up to owners' increased expectations. After hitting .342/.402/.739 in May, Bruce has slumped to .235/.330/.390 as he's lost seemingly all the big power he posted in May. Looking back at Bruce's perpherals in June and July we get a bit of a mixed bag. In June his K Rate expanded to over 30% while his LD Rate also exploded to over 30%. He didn't get the positive BABIP effects you'd expect with that LD Rate, but suffered the decreased power rate you'd see. In July, Bruce got the K's back under control and started to BB quite a bit more, as well as hitting the usual 40+% FB Rate that we've become accustomed to. Still, the production didn't follow as Bruce hit just .256/.363/.442. The good news is in the very small sample size early on here in August, the peripherals continue to show strength. Bruce is neither as good as his May numbers suggest or as bad as his June and July, but the numbers suggest things are about to improve. For the season Bruce's performance looks identical to last season which may not be the direct upward trajectory path that owners were looking for from the breakout candidate, but also suggest there's little to worry about. Look for Bruce to get back to a more moderate pace of production and the numbers to start picking up soon.
Jonathon Niese (SP - NYM): I touched on Niese two weeks ago in this space, noting that his improved command and increasing strikeout rates had me intrigued, but ultimately I questioned whether he could maintain them. Niese's big improvement in command is unusual for a pitcher that's throwing fewer pitches inside the zone and for a pitcher who demonstrated shaky command throughout his minor league career. That said, since I touched on Niese he's racked up two more starts with 2 BB's or fewer, extending his streak to 10 straight outings. It's a pretty significant mark of longevity and consistency regarding the command and it's come against some pretty imposing offenses: Tex, Phi, Nyy, Stl, and Cin. One of the sayings about LH's is that they tend to develop later and that may be the case with Niese's command. A few weeks back I was speculating whether Niese's growth was legitimate, but after two more strong outings with the command, I'm starting to believe. The improved command has also come with an improved K Rate and while Niese's propensity for giving up LD's is leaving his WHIP a bit higher, he's showing enough growth to be considered a legitimate mid-rotation fantasy starter. He should be rostered in all formats.
David Wright (3B - NYM): To those David Wright owners that took my advice and sold for whatever you could get when the initially injury dignosis broke... I apologize. My lack of faith in the Mets training staff didn't lead me astray this year with Ike Davis, but it sure did with David Wright. Wright missed two full months of action, a significant blow to owners value, but since he's returned he's done everything he could to make up for it right away, going 20-47 with 10 Runs and 12 RBI's in 13 games. He's been spraying LD's all over the field, posting a 30+% rate in July, and as a result enjoyed a .474 BABIP. He hasn't drawn many BB's, but the solid LD Rate has come with a whole lot of contact as well. Clearly Wright can't keep this pace up, but it is good to see the strong contact rates early on. A consistent .300+ hitter through the early part of Wright's career, he'd lost quite a bit of batting average the last few years as his contact rates deteriorated. For the year his chase rate has come back down (24%) and his contact rate is back up (80%), which has allowed the K Rate to come back down into the low 20's. As Wright continues to work his LD Rate back up into the 20's, career 22%, the improvements in his zone command will start to shine through in the batting average. Wright's strong start since returning from the DL is not only a reminder that he's healthy but is coming with peripherals that suggest his batting average skills may be returning as well.
Paul Goldschmidt (1B - ARZ): We've talked about a whole lot of rookies throughout the course of the year and for the most part, few have made an immediate impact at the big league level. This morning we're going to touch on one that I think can. Whenever I talk about prospects coming up, I focus on a few key things: 1) experience 2) plate discipline/EYE, and 3) situation (lineup support, home park). Paul Goldschmidt certainly doesn't have experience in his favor, just 450 PA's above A-ball, but he does have the latter two categories in spades. Goldschmidt posted a 0.89 EYE at AA Mobile this year, thanks to an 18% BB Rate that was a bit inflated by the league giving him a bit of the Barry Bonds treatment. For situation, well you can't get a much better one than hitting in Chase Field in Arizona within a pretty deep lineup that the Diamondbacks have. Goldschmidt has a skill that plays at any level, big time power, and given the ballpark should enhance the power I think he's in a near perfect situation. While contact may be a problem, similar to his predecessor Brandon Allen, I like Goldschmidt's approach at the plate a bit better than Allen (only a 23% chase rate), which I think will help him adjust to major league pitching quicker. To give owners an idea of what I'm expecting from Goldschmidt, I added him across the board in 10-team leagues. I think the batting average will be a risk, but 10-15 HR's in the final two months with a quick 30-40 RBI's seems possible. Goldschmidt's AA numbers compare somewhat favorably to Mike Stanton. He doesn't have quite the same power Stanton has and he's a bit older, but I think Goldschmidt can produce in a similar way to how Stanton produced upon his call-up last season.
Rafael Furcal (SS - STL): I noted a few weeks back that while I've been very pessimistic on Furcal's ability to stay healthy that his skills actually looked pretty close to in-line with his performance in 97 games last season when he hit .300/.366/.460. The move to the Cardinals high-powered offense only boosts Furcal's value even further and all of the sudden he's gone from waiver wire fodder, to must-own player in 10 team leagues. The health will always be a potential risk, but finding a SS option that can produce above average production in avg, runs, sb's, and even contribute a little bit of pop is unusual. Since coming over to the Cardinals he's already scored 4 Runs in his first 4 games (driving in 4 too). As long as he's healthy he needs to be owned.
Geovany Soto (C - CHC): Back at the beginning of July I alerted owners that it looked like Geovany Soto was starting to turn the corner and the production was likely to follow soon. Since that point Soto has hit .280/.343/.398 showing some recovery in the batting average, but leaving owners wanting a bit more in the power. On Thursday night he gave a little more in the power department, knocking out his 11th HR of the season in a 1-4 effort. Since I started praising Soto, his peripherals have deteriorated considerably. His K Rate in July balooned to over 30% and all of the sudden he stopped drawing BB's (under 5%). As the plate discipline eroded, Soto's power fell off a cliff and he started hitting more balls on the ground. While the results since the prediction that a hot streak was coming have been OK, the peripherals have been downright ugly. Since the calendar has turned to August, Soto's drawn a few BB's, so hopefully this is behind him. But keep an eye on those BB's, when they start to drift off so will Soto's power.