This week's look at fantasy baseball's lesser-owned talents include the early successes of two starting pitchers who have cracked the rotations of contending teams, a veteran outfielder who is due for a good break, and a youngster waiting for a chance to shine.
One upon a time, while a young member of the Dodgers organization, Gutierrez was thought to have the potential of a young Vlad Guerrero. While those projections haven't panned out in his eight big league seasons for the Indians and Mariners, Gutierrez is a quality major league outfielder who has met with some bad health the past two seasons, suffering from a stomach ailment, a torn pectoral and plantar fasciitis in his right heel that cost him all but 97 of the last 231 Mariners games. Much more gifted with the glove than the bat (he led the AL in defensive WAR in 2009), Gutierrez has some value at the plate, and in a good season is a candidate for 10-15 home runs, 50-60 RBIs and 15 stolen bases as a regular member of the Mariners offense. It's taking him a while to get back into a groove (he's batting .188 with one extra base hit in five games after hitting just .211 in 10 rehab assignment games for Tacoma), but with over 90 games left in the season, it's quite possible for him to make a significant fantasy contribution, especially in stolen bases in AL-only leagues. That is, of course, if he can manage to string together a few months of good health.
Through no fault of his own it appeared that Richards was ticketed to return to Salt Lake City this week as the corresponding move for Jered Weaver's return from the disabled list. However, news on Tuesday that Jerome Williams, the man who beat Richards out for the Angels' fifth starter job in spring training, was hospitalized with shortness of breath after an abbreviated outing on Monday, opening up a spot for Richards. That's good news for a pitcher who followed up his first two strong starts with an eight-inning scoreless four-hit gem over the Diamondbacks. Should the Angels choose to be cautious with Williams, owner of a 4.46 ERA that's risen in each of his last three starts, Richards (2-0, 0.86 ERA) would remain in the rotation. And the way he's been pitching (.183 opposing batting average) of late, he'll have a good chance to claim the spot permanently. Either way, there's no reason to wait. He's a great pickup, and now with a likely reprieve from his expected move to the minors, is likely more readily available than had he simply been guaranteed another start.
When a team is enjoying success like the Nationals are this season they usually can point to contributions from players 1 through 25. In Moore's case he's much closer to 25 than one, but that doesn't mean that he doesn't have value to a fantasy team. One of the most successful power hitters in the minor leagues the last two seasons, Moore clubbed 31 home runs in 2010 for High-A Potomac and followed that up with another 31 for Double A Harrisburg, slugging .552 and .532, respectively. This year he was off to a torrid start in his first taste of Triple A, slugging .660 with nine home runs in just 100 at-bats for the Syracuse SkyChiefs, prompting the Nats to summon him. While his playing time has been sporadic since his initial late-April call-up and subsequent recall in May, he's shown flashes of why he has a bright future.
Last week against the Blue Jays, the former Mississippi State star, who was selected three different times as an amateur by Washington, had his biggest day as a big leaguer, with two home runs and five RBIs in an interleague romp, the first multi-homer day for a Washingtonian since Michael Morse last Sept. 5. That was one of just two times Moore has played an entire game this season, and he's appeared just once since. Clouding his long-term outlook is the presence of '06 first-round pick, Chris Marrero, who should be in position to inherit first base from Adam LaRoche sooner rather than later, in essence relegating Moore to an unnatural outfield spot if he manages to stay in Washington. His day in Toronto is tantalizing enough to stash him on a bench if that's allowed in your league. Should LaRoche miss any significant amount of time, Moore's value, at least in the short run, would skyrocket.
When the Cardinals needed to bolster the rotation when Jaime Garcia went on the D.L., they summoned Kelly, the hottest starter at Triple A. In his final three starts for the Memphis Redbirds, Kelly pitched a combined 22 innings, allowing one earned run in each and just 20 total base runners. Kelly, 25, was drafted as a reliever out of Cal-Riverside, where he served as almost exclusively out of the bullpen, saving 24 of the 62 games he pitched for three years but showed enough life in his arm that the organization converted him to a starter. Although his 2-5 record wasn't special on the surface, his 2.86 ERA in 12 starts ranks second among all qualifiers in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.
Not a huge man at 6-1, 195 pounds, Kelly generates tremendous power with his right arm and has regularly been clocked near 100 mph as a reliever, although as a starter his gas falls a bit to the low to mid 90s, but it's the sinking motion of his fastball that makes him so tough to hit. One of the rules of fantasy pitchers is go after the good arms and Kelly has one of them. If his first two starts are any indication (2.98 ERA, 7 Ks in 9 1/3 innings) he should be able to hold onto the spot for the defending world champs while Garcia sits out for at least a month nursing his shoulder strain, which makes him a viable option for fantasy owners.