Eric Mack
Friday July 29th, 2011

It is a season of distractions. The NFL is stealing headlines with its busiest offseason in history wrapped in a weekend. Baseball's own trade deadline is making news and churning the rumor mill.

Yet, some of the season's biggest news is coming down behind it all.

Let's get caught up here with the biggest game-changing news that can carry through the final two months of the season and through fantasy baseball crunch time. It's time to push for a title ... or you're going to be spending your free time preparing you fantasy football cheat sheet.

1. Desmond Jennings is a beast

We all tend to ask what is taking a team so long when it comes to elite prospects. Jennings is looking like he belonged in the majors months ago.

While some of the other early season call-ups are scuffling, Jennings just might be justifying the Rays' patience. They seemed to know when he was about to scorch.

He has stolen four bases in his first six games and hit his first homer, already driving in seven runs and making five-category contributions you had to figure would take years to develop. His ownership has doubled to 76 percent in the past 10 days and his production makes him a must-start in all leagues already. Yes, he is a must-start.

2. Middle infielders say uncle, err, ankle

Rickie Weeks (ankle) might come back in September, while Stephen Drew (ankle) will not. It is a tough position to replace on the high end, even more costly than losing a Colby Rasmus in NL-only leagues or Edwin Jackson in AL-only.

The Brewers and D'backs won't have great replacement options for their table-setting middle men, but fantasy owners have the luxury of some choices in mixed leagues:

• Houston's Clint Barmes is a streaky player who has gotten hot, so consider his mere 13 percent ownership an opportunity to buy extremely low.

• Teammate Jose Altuve is the real deal. After hitting a ridiculous .389 with 10 homers and 24 steals in 87 games between high Class A and Double-A, the 21-year-old Venezuelan has incredibly hit the ground running. He hit in his first six games before going hitless Thursday (.367). Pick him up in any format and consider him a future star at second base now. Somehow the hype has missed him and he is owned in only nine percent of leagues.

• Sticking with prospects, behind the huge dividends of arrivals Jennings and Altuve, Brett Lawrie (wrist) is back off the DL in Triple-A and is raking. He has hit .395 with 10 RBI in his past 10 games, including a two-homer effort Wednesday. It shouldn't be long before he joins the youth movement in Toronto. Oh, and he still qualifies at second base (his 2010 position) in leagues. There are still 33 reasons (his ownership percentage) he is the fourth-most owned minor-leaguer in fantasy.

• Jemile Weeks (.302 with 10 steals) is holding his own in Oakland and warrants starting in all Rotisserie formats.

• Carlos Guillen is off the DL and starting at second for the Tigers. There is still pop in his bat and he has proved he can hit when healthy. He is a nice fill-in at just 13 percent ownership.

3. Going Old school: Streaking!

Dustin Pedroia got off to a slow start this season, but he has hit in 25 consecutive games and has whipped right past everyone on the way to becoming the best second baseman in fantasy. We called that one (see our season preview). Read all about it in a few of our favorite categories of finding players who are going to outperform their draft position: Injury-risk sleepers and 27-year-olds poised to breakout.

Yeah, we are very proud of Mr. Pedroia, and ourselves.

What we couldn't have seen coming is the career breakthrough of Emilio Bonifacio. He is a game ahead of Pedroia with a 26-game hitting streak. The steals and versatility are Bonifacio's greatest assets, but his scorching bat has gone ridiculous.

Old Trader Jack (McKeon) isn't going to get credit for leading the Marlins to the World Series title like he did back in 2003, but his arrival has roughly coincided with Bonificio's arrival as a must-have fantasy star. He was hitting just .248 with three starts through June 8. Since then, he has been the most valuable infielder in Rotisserie leagues.

Bonifacio has hit .360 with 20 steals -- starting every game -- since McKeon took over the flounders, err, Marlins amid their June swoon. You might not be a believer in Bonifacio's long-term projectability, but he looks like a poor man's Jose Reyes.

Cameron Maybin? Yes, welcome to The Show. Sure, he has been in the league for years -- or at least parts of them -- but he is proving to be a fantasy gem now. In Week 16, he hit .539 and stole eight bases, putting him on pace for 35. This is the production we thought he could provide years ago. At just 24-years old, Maybin should only get better. Maybin is on a ridiculous roll that could lead him to elite status eventually. He has hit .368 with 11 steals in 13 games after the break, as opposed to the .259 with 12 steals in the 74 games before it. He has outperformed even Pedroia and Bonifacio.

Past players of the week: 16. 15. OF Nick Markakis, BAL; 14. OF Jose Bautista, TOR; 13. 3B Aramis Ramirez, CHC; 12. SP Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers; 11. SP Justin Verlander, Tigers; 10. 1B Prince Fielder, Brewers; 9. 1B Albert Pujols, Cardinals; 8. SP Yovani Gallardo, Brewers; 7. SP Michael Pineda, Mariners; 6. OF Jose Bautista, Blue Jays; 5. SP Francisco Liriano, Twins; 4. 2B Ben Zobrist, Rays; 3. SP James Shields, Rays; 2. SP Dan Haren, Angels; 1. SP Jered Weaver, Angels.

Now, on to next week's two-start pitchers and the weekly fantasy baseball roster trends ...

1. OF Desmond Jennings, TB 2. OF Josh Reddick, BOS 3. OF Dexter Fowler, COL 4. OF Cameron Maybin, SD 5. RP Javy Guerra, LAD

Jennings and Maybin are becoming 20-plus players for 2012 fantasy baseball auctions with their simultaneous "arrivals." Fowler, too, has arrived (returned) after the break, hitting .375 with eight RBI and 12 runs in 13 games. Reddick is proving to be the Red Sox's answer in right, while so many teams consider dealing their future stars for veteran outfielders at the trade deadline. And ... forget about Jonathan Broxton, Hong-Chih Kuo and Ramon Troncoso with the Dodgers. Guerra is the stopper now.

1. SS Stephen Drew, ARI| 2. SP Phil Hughes, NYY 3. SP Jason Vargas, SEA 4. SP Carlos Carrasco, CLE 5. OF Alex Presley, PIT

Hughes isn't generating any confidence right now, but fantasy owners have been far too quick to give up on him. He really has had only one stinker since his return from the DL. He is easily the one of this most-dropped list that doesn't belong here. He is a great addition -- not drop -- for fantasy owners. Capitalize right away on his availability in 31 percent of leagues.

1. OF Desmond Jennings, TB 2. OF Conor Jackson, OAK 3. SP Edwin Jackson, STL 4. 1B Mark Trumbo, LAA 5. OF Colby Rasmus, TOR 6. SS J.J. Hardy, BAL 7. SP Johan Santana, NYY 8. 1B Daniel Murphy, NYM 9. OF Jon Jay, STL 10. 3B Emilio Bonifacio, FLA

Buried in so many of the distractions we outlined above was the quiet start to a rehab assignment of the Mets' Santana. Shoulder injuries are notoriously devastating for pitchers, but Santana's issue wasn't with the rotator cuff or the labrum. That gives him a chance. He was able to get up to 90 mph in his three-inning rehab start in high Class A, allowing just two hits in three shutout innings. He is targeting an Aug. 28 return to the Mets rotation. Pick him up right now. Seriously, stop reading and go do it, just in case. He can give you a chance to close the deal in your league come September. He can pitch even if his velocity hovers around 90 mph.

Eric Mack will round up the fantasy baseball movers and shakers every Friday the rest of the season at You can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice on Twitter @EricMackFantasy.

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