Under The Radar: Perez emerging as latest boost to Royals future
The All Star Game was played in Kansas City Tuesday night and one of the subjects of this week's look at overlooked players has a long history in the midseason classic (with the game played 20 days after the start of a 90-day summer the term "Midsummer Classic" is a misnomer) while another, one of the host team's rising young stars, most likely has a bright future in the game.
All eyes were on Kansas City, but many fantasy owners are overlooking a major player in the city of barbecue and fountains. Take a look at the available catchers in AL-only leagues and you'll see that in nearly half of them you can find Perez just sitting there waiting for the taking. What's the problem, people? Perez, 22, has made a triumphant return from a nearly half-season stint on the disabled list necessitated by spring knee surgery. While his playing time has been limited since coming off the DL, his productivity has been tremendous. Since he has been back, he's tied for the big league lead in home runs among catchers with four, is tied for fifth in RBIs, and his .702 slugging percentage ranks third in the AL over that span, trailing only Home Run Derby captain Robinson Cano (.706) and resurgent White Sox right fielder Alex Rios (.734). Just 22, he is another cog in the Royals' impressive rebuilding offense, and should be a fixture behind the plate -- and in future All Star Games -- for years to come. His playing time will increase as the summer rolls on and should be starting in every AL-only league and most mixed leagues. Right now he's a steal.
Toronto's starting rotation was crushed by injuries in the first half with Brandon Morrow, Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison all hitting the DL with various ailments. In scrambling to find able bodies, manager John Farrell has stumbled upon former long reliever Carlos Villanueva, who has been solid in his first two starts. Villanueva has posted a combined 11 innings against the Angels and Royals while allowing just three earned runs and 12 base runners while striking out 13. Until this season his career record as a starter was 11-15 with a 4.92 ERA and .281 opponents' batting average, so there is cause for concern. However, with the exception of two bad outings earlier this season when he allowed a combined eight earned runs in 1.2 innings, he had become one of the more reliable middlemen in the AL. Just 2.5 games out of a Wild Card spot at the break, the Blue Jays will be looking for starting pitching if they can stay in the race. That might put Villanueva's spot in the rotation in jeopardy, but with one or more good outings he's going to be noticed, especially by those who need strikeouts. I'd take a wait-and-see approach with him, but wouldn't wait too long if he strings together some more success in the rotation.
Nobody in the Sunshine State should be happy about Giancarlo Stanton being sidelined until August following arthroscopic knee surgery, but you'll have to forgive Ruggiano, 30, if he suddenly has a bit more bounce in his step these days. Trapped behind a litany of top prospects and budding stars in the Dodgers and Rays organizations, the former Texas A&M Aggies star has never had more than 105 at bats in any big league season since he debuted with the then-Devil Rays in 2007. Now he's being asked to be a stopgap in the absence of the Marlins budding star, and luckily for Miami, he's one of the hottest players in the big leagues, racking up nine multi-hit games since June 20, while blasting four July home runs. Given his minor league history, Ruggiano is capable of a 20-20 season while playing quality defense at any of the three OF spots. While he won't approach those numbers this year, he's more than an adequate temporary fantasy replacement for those owners in need of a short-term outfield/utility bat over the next six weeks.
It's always difficult for fantasy owners to control themselves when a big name becomes available in free agency, especially one who is just 33-years old and will be pitching for a contending club in a pitchers division. But in the case of Sheets, it's probably better to proceed with caution, if at all. Once considered one of the most promising pitchers in the game, the four-time All-Star and 86-game winner with the Brewers is attempting a comeback with Atlanta after having been sidelined for all of 2009 and '11 due to elbow injuries (sandwiched around a very mediocre 2010 season (4-9, 4.53 ERA, 1.39 WHIP) for the A's). With velocity reported in the low 90s, Sheets is nearly back to where he was two years ago for Oakland, but even at his peak, he was neither a big winner nor a big strikeout pitcher. R.A. Dickey has proven that you never know where a great pitcher will come from, but I believe picking up Sheets and throwing him into the fire of a hotly contested fantasy race is probably not the smartest thing you can do. One bad game will hurt you as easily as a couple of mediocre ones could help.