April 30, 2010

With "Man in a Box" hitting the virtual newsstands twice a week, we're going to change the focus. Monday's column will dissect the pitching performances from the previous week, while Thursday's edition will focus on the offensive end of things.

Talk about a jinx. No sooner had I finished hyping Neftali Feliz, telling owners not to worry about that first cheap blown save, and what does he do? He blows another opportunity, giving up two bombs in the process. While my confidence in him is unbroken, my confidence in the Rangers sticking with him is wavering. Let's hope my praise does not have the same effect on the hitters I'm covering in this column. If so, I'm hoping to grab as much attention as the infamous Sports Illustrated cover jinx or the Madden Curse. If you're going to mess something up, make it big. Enough with the curses; I'm a Cubs fan so I don't believe in them anyway. We covered pitching on Monday, so it's time to get offensive.

Don't look now, but Josh Hamilton seems to be heating up. In his last seven games, he's hitting over .300 (.333 as of press time), with three HRs and seven RBIs. It's popular to trash Hamilton, but if your team is struggling and you're looking to shake things up, Hamilton offers incredible upside that you can probably get on the cheap. Sure, he carries plenty of injury risk, but he'll come at a discount because of it.

Another upside target in the mold of Hamilton is Carlos Quentin. His .183 average is scaring owners off, but his 17 RBIs show just how productive the White Sox lineup can be. Quentin is bound to heat up and if you can sneak him away from a frustrated owner, you'll get the best part of his season.

Laugh if you want, but I'm saying Scott Rolen is mixed league viable right now. Yeah, more injury issues will undoubtedly arise, but Great American Ballpark has done wonders for his power. Rolen's five homers have only accounted for 10 ribbies, but that Reds lineup is going to start producing and he's hitting in the four-hole, just waiting for someone to knock in. While everyone else is knocking the old has-been, scoop him up and enjoy whatever he's got left in the tank.

While a guy like Rolen gets no love, every year, fantasy owners are tripping over themselves to proclaim it the year of Alex Gordon. Give it up already. The guy is an injury-prone, career .249 hitter. Want a little perspective? Put Gordon's numbers over the last three years next to those of Geoff Blum; it's hard to tell whose is whose. Yeah, Geoff Blum.

Another player who gets way more hype than deserved is Nick Markakis. A few years ago, he got the rep as a five-tool hitter who might be the next big thing. Problem is, at the tender age of 26, his tools have been dwindling. He just hit his first HR and has yet to steal a base. If you're thinking he's a buy-low candidate, I hope you buy real low. Right now, he's nothing more than a Mark Grace that plays in the outfield. Those types of players are excellent baseball players, but remember, we play fantasy.

So why are we not hearing about the great bounce-back season Geovany Soto is having in Chicago? Mostly it's because the Cubs have him batting eighth. His .361 BA and two long balls have netted him a whopping six RBIs. It's hard to get completely on board, but keep an eye on his situation. If he starts moving up the batting order, it's time for you to make a move on Soto.

After another 0-for-2 on Wednesday night, Justin Smoak is now 1-for-15 since his call-up. Despite his obvious struggles, his OBP is a decent .348. The Rangers will give Smoak more time, but it is worth noting that Chris Davis went down to Triple-A and is hitting .417, with six RBIs in his first three games. With the Texas offense desperate for a spark, a change is not out of the question if Smoak continues to struggle for another week.

There's no way of knowing what the Rockies will do when Brad Hawpe comes off the DL, but right now, Eric Young is getting at-bats and making them count. He's played both right field and second base, and has gone 5-for-10 with two steals. The Colorado outfield is loaded, but Clint Barmes has been horrific with the bat so far. In the two games Young has started, the Rockies have scored 12 and 11 runs, respectively. That's a spark.

The Jason Heyward train has come off the tracks. Heyward is in the midst of a 1-for-21 slump that has his average down to .223. He got the day off Wednesday to clear his head. The average will likely rebound, but Heyward has been extremely fortunate in the power department. His HR/FB percentage of 36.4 is outrageously flukish. Remember, this is a player who has never hit more than 17 HRs in a minor league season. The power is there in BP, but it's a lot different when a major league pitcher is doing the tossing. He'll have his moments, but Heyward is a borderline mixed league option right now.

With stolen bases making a comeback, it might be time to bench Rajai Davis on your fantasy squad. The A's did it three straight days in real life. If Davis doesn't start hitting, his value will absolutely plummet. If Michael Taylor gets it going in Triple-A, Davis' owners should start sweating. Despite recent trends, Oakland doesn't value the stolen base very highly; especially when it comes attached to an extremely poor OBP. You have been warned. Davis is in a very precarious position right now.

Another player in danger of losing at-bats is Kyle Blanks. With the surprising Padres leading the NL West, San Diego may feel pressure to send Banks down and give Scott Hairston and Tony Gwynn Jr. more at-bats. Blanks got the night off Wednesday and needs to start producing or his value for the current season could vanish. Keep him in your NL lineups until that happens, but Blanks is struggling too much to have mixed league value right now.

It's only 47 at-bats, but Austin Kearns is suddenly looking like the solid hitting prospect that came up with the Reds in 2002. Kearns has battled numerous injuries and was terrible the last two seasons, but right now, he's getting full-time at-bats and is currently batting cleanup. It's hard to have faith in Kearns after the last few years, but if he can keep up even a moderate amount of production, the RBIs will be there. The Indians don't have any great options to hit number four, so Kearns could stay there all year.

Look for Man in the Box next Monday, when we'll toe the rubber and take a look at the pitching side of life.

* All statistics current as of April 28.

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