July 06, 2010

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Even though the days leading up to the All-Star Game are usually a dead zone for fantasy managers, it's a good time to take stock of your team's needs and prepare for the rest of July. The trade deadline looms at the end of the month, and this presents several opportunities for the smart fantasy manager.

Even now teams are beginning to bring up reinforcements from the minors to replace injured players. But the games played immediately after the All-Star break through the end of July are when we see many teams bring up minor leaguers to showcase them for scouts from teams in the trade market; whether they are buyers looking to load up for a pennant run, or sellers that are throwing in the towel on 2010 and hoping to gather some prospects to rebuild for the future.

So this is a great time to pay close attention to those players coming up. Minor league players are often still developing their power, with many of them still a year or two away from stroking home runs on a regular basis. But these young players can often run like the wind. In fact, I rarely draft speed at the beginning of the season, because speedy players are usually brought up during this part of the season. So watch out for speed coming into the league. In fact, I'll preview one speedy player that has already arrived, and another that is on the way, right here in this edition of NKOTD. So let's get on with it already.

Josh Bell (3B, Orioles) -- Bell fell out of favor in the Dodgers organization, where he was until last season, when they traded him to Baltimore to obtain George Sherrill. The primary issue with Bell has been a lack of discipline at the plate and a troubling knee injury that cost him much of '08. Bell had a strong '09, with 48 percent of his hits going for extra bases, including 20 HRs, showing that his power had developed well despite the missed time the previous year. He continued that trend this year with 10 homers in 287 at-bats for Triple-A Norfolk. He's still striking out a bit much and may struggle to adjust at the major league level, but he's probably the Orioles' third baseman of the future, and with little to lose in '10, the future may as well be now. So Bell will likely play every day, and could deliver some decent power for the rest of the season at a position that's been very thin in fantasy this year.

Travis Wood (SP, Reds) -- Since battling shoulder problems a couple of years ago, Wood has turned his fortunes around and is considered one of the Reds' better left-handed pitching prospects. He's regained most of the velocity he lost and is now throwing his fastball in the 89-91 mph range. Wood's curveball is considered just average, but he has a plus-plus changeup, and a recently added cutter has really helped him move right-handed hitters off the plate. He was recently given a start with the major league club, in which he held the Cubs to just two runs on two hits and three walks with four strikeouts. Down at Triple-A Louisville he's been especially effective against lefties, holding them to a .188 batting average. His 8.56 K/9 rate and 1.07 WHIP show that while Wood is considered just a fourth or fifth starter, he has the ability to be a very effective pitcher. Wood will be good for a couple of spot starts against the right opponents, but his tenure in the majors may be brief. Once Edinson Volquez returns from the disabled list, Wood may be headed back to the minors.

Dexter Fowler (OF, Rockies) -- After a solid '09, in which he batted .266, stole 27 bases, and had 43 extra base hits, Fowler struggled to adjust in the early months of '10. At the end of May, Fowler was batting just .219 for the season, with 35 strikeouts. While his OBP of .327 wasn't too awful, it was nowhere near his .363 rate of last season, plus he was caught stealing in four of 10 attempts. The Rockies decided that a trip to the minors was warranted to give Fowler a chance to regain his plate discipline. Although he struck out 25 times in 28 games, Fowler's average soared to .340 with the Sky Sox and his OBP was a lofty .435. In addition, he regained his stroke, with a total of 36 hits, 16 of them for extra bases. Since returning to the Rockies, Fowler has shown far better plate discipline, and is hitting the ball and getting on base at a .576 clip over his first six games. He should be a good source of runs and stolen bases over the second half and is worth a spot on rosters in any Fantasy format.

Michael Brantley (OF, Indians) -- There were many folks around baseball who felt Brantley should have been with the team right out of spring training. His .332 batting average, 26:28 K:BB ratio, and .405 OBP during the 59 games he's played with the Triple-A Clippers clearly show that he has little left to prove in the minors. The only knock on Brantley is his lack of power to date. He's big enough (6-2, 200 lbs.) to have some pop, but he doesn't use his legs in his swing much and doesn't drive the ball with authority. However, he has great speed and is a very disciplined hitter. So his on-base skill and speed make him perfectly suited to be the Indians' lead-off batter. The injury to Shin-Soo Choo has created the opportunity for Brantley to play every day, and he'll be of help to fantasy managers seeking speed and on-base percentage in leagues that utilize those statistics.

Tanner Scheppers (P, Rangers) -- Scheppers is not your typical draftee/prospect in that he turned down the team that drafted him (Pittsburgh) when they balked at a shoulder injury. Then he opted to rehab his overused shoulder and work his way back by playing independent league baseball. The Rangers grabbed him because of his electric fastball, which he throws anywhere from 93-99 mph, and a complimentary curveball that has good potential if he can refine it with experience. He struggles with his command, not an unusual trait in such a hard thrower, but the Rangers believe he can be a frontline starter or hard throwing closer if he reaches his full potential. He could be brought up in the coming weeks for a spot start if the Rangers need it, but he's likely being showcased, as the team needs starting pitching right now to contend. Keep an eye on this flamethrower that many compare to Brandon Morrow.

Dan Hudson (P, White Sox) -- Rather than trade for pitching for the stretch run, the White Sox will likely try to secure a designated hitter and use Hudson as the bait. Hudson has been very effective at Triple-A Charlotte, striking out batters at a rate of 10.4/9IP while exhibiting very good control and command of his secondary stuff. The knock on him is the tendency of his pitches to flatten out and become fodder for long ball hitters to take him deep. That's going to be a problem at Cellular Field, thus the White Sox decision to move him. Wherever he lands, he will likely get a chance to pitch in the majors, given the needs of most teams. He has a deceptive fastball, a plus change-up, and a less than effective curve. Hudson makes his hay by pounding the zone with his fastball, then dropping in the change-up to fool hitters. Given his strikeout rate, it's fair to say he does a good job missing bats. He could provide some nice strikeout numbers in August and September for a contender near you.

Dellin Betances (P, Yankees) -- Betances fell short of the organization's innings goals for him in '09 and struggles to stay healthy due to mechanical quirks that can affect his arm as well as his control. He throws a nasty fastball than can reach 97 mph, which he complements with a curveball that can freeze hitters when it drops off as intended. He's only notched five starts in High-A ball this season, but he's been almost unhittable and is showing improved command and control. He could be on track for a promotion to Double-A, and could rise as high as Triple-A by season's end if he can finally stay healthy while running up some decent innings totals.

Matt Moore (P, Rays) -- Moore has the stuff to be a top line starter in the majors; the only thing missing is the ability to locate and work both sides of the plate. His fastball normally ranges from 91-94 mph and can touch as high as 97 with good movement. He also features a curveball that can fall off the table and generate embarrassing misses from hitters. He struggles with his command and walks too many batters, but his strikeout ability and poise when in a jam have shown good improvement this season. He'll move up in the organization quickly if he can improve his location, and the sky is the limit if he ever figures it all out.

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