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Fantasy Baseball Update - Infielder & Catchers

First off, happy Fourth of July to everybody, I hope everybody has a great holiday. This week I wanted to take a look at some potential sleeper pickups in the infield for the second half of the season. Next week we will take a look at the sleeper outfielders for the second half. As always, please send your questions and comments to the email address below; they are very appreciated. Also, please check out our Monday column of the High-A Top 10 Prospects.


2008 Second Half Sleepers at Infield & Catcher

The players that are recommended first are for the remainder of this year, unless otherwise stated. I wanted to add some players who are bets for this year and beyond which is why I included the other three players at each position. You have to look at your team and league to figure out where you should go with players on this list. If you are looking to the future then there quite a few guys you can look at. However, if you are looking to contend this year, then be careful which players you take a chance on from this list. “Sleepers” are called that for a reason and you cannot expect them to turn your team around. Some of these players can help solidify a team and many are good bets for the future due to their upside.

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Fantasy Tips - Catcher:

Catcher is a tough position to pick offensive sleepers. Catchers are a lot like closers because many of them fluctuate greatly from year to year and even first to second halves. In an unusual twist this year catcher is as loaded with young players who have a chance to make an impact in the second half and beyond as any position in baseball. Below are a few guys who should be claimed or monitored in all formats.

Chris Iannetta (Rockies): Iannetta is a former top prospect at catcher who fell flat on his face in his first major league action. In a similar situation to the catchers below Iannetta should soon be the everyday catcher for the Rockies. Iannetta has as much offensive upside as any catcher in baseball. He is a player that must be grabbed in all keeper leagues, and once named the full-time starter he should be claimed in all leagues.

Other Notes: Miguel Montero (D’Backs) was the D’Backs catcher of the future last year. He struggled in his first full season, and Chris Snyder took over most of the playing time. This year, Montero has hit fairly well since coming back from a spring training injury and will now get a chance to play everyday with Snyder out. He has a real chance to take this job and become one of the better offensive catchers in the NL. Jeff Mathis (Angels) was in the debate with Joe Mauer at one point as to who was the better catcher for the future. Then, Mathis flopped in his first season with the Angels. Lately, he has begun to take a significant amount of at-bats away from Mike Napoli. If Mathis can continue to improve he will have a chance to reach his enormous potential and become the Angels everyday catcher. J.R. Towles (Astros) was recalled this week with the injury to Brad Ausmus. Towles is a legitimate offensive prospect at catcher, and he should bounce back from a dreadful start with the Astros. He put up big numbers in the minors, and should be grabbed immediately in keeper leagues and monitored in all formats.

Fantasy Tips - First Base:

First is a tough position for sleepers because most of the offensive contributors at this position are known commodities. That said, there are a good number of decent chances, but I only see one true “sleeper.”

Billy Butler (Royals): The Royals just recalled him from tearing up Triple-A. He is as good a bet as any young player to break out during the second half. Chances are that he will post a .300+ average and 10-15 homers. If you are in a keeper league he is a definite target, and you should be able to get him pretty cheap if you act quickly.

Other Notes: Chad Tracy (D’Backs) should provide some power for a while at first. Connor Jackson will be playing some left field while Eric Byrnes is out, and the D’Backs need a left-handed bat badly. Carlos Pena (Rays) is somebody that some owners may have dropped or might trade pretty cheaply, if that is the case take him. He should provide good power the rest of the way. The only other player close to Billy Butler’s upside the rest of the way is Chris Davis (Rangers). Davis is a big-time power prospect who should be claimed in all keeper leagues.


Fantasy Tips - Second Base:

Second base is another tough position to find any real players with upside. The problem is that most of the quality offensive second basemen are already known commodities (i.e. Ian Kinsler, Brandon Phillips). That said there are a few players that have a chance to help you if you can get them at the right price, but only one that seems a safe bet.

Alexei Ramirez (White Sox): Ramirez has been red hot since taking over the full-time job from Juan Uribe. He is a quality hitter with good power, and he is in a good lineup. The biggest plus for Ramirez going forward could be his position flexibility as he may end up eligible at SS, 2B, and OF in many leagues next year. I like him quite a bit going forward, and if the White Sox were to move him to the second spot in the order he could easily put up similar or better numbers than Dustin Pedroia.

Other Notes: The best true “sleeper” at second base is probably Jeff Baker (Rockies). Baker has been hot enough lately to ensure a good deal of at-bats the rest of the way. Always a player with solid offensive upside he just needs to beat out Clint Barmes to take the full-time job. Howie Kendrick (Angels) has always had the on-base ability and should develop into a solid hitter. His development depends entirely on his ability to stay healthy. If you are looking for a second baseman with upside for next year Kendrick is worth the gamble. Alexi Casilla (Twins) has been very good for the Twins. He could be a solid pickup for anybody needing some solid numbers across the board, though he will not excel in any area.


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Fantasy Tips - Shortstop:

Shortstop is by far the weakest offensive position in the AL with no real offensive standouts. The NL is almost the exact opposite with some of the strongest young players in the league manning the shortstop position. Despite those facts sleepers at short are fairly prevalent, especially in the AL.

Erick Aybar (Angels): I have liked Aybar for a long time. He has the chance to be a solid all-around player. Aybar has Edgar Renteria type upside (likely with less power). Maicer Izturis failed to win the shortstop job outright while Aybar was hurt, so the Angels will give him every opportunity to take the full-time job now that he is healthy. Aybar is worth picking up in keeper AL only leagues, but take a wait and see approach in mixed leagues as you should be able to get somebody far more established thanks to adding the NL shortstops into the mix.

Other Notes: Mike Aviles (Royals) has come up and hit pretty well for the Royals. I doubt he will keep it up long-term. What he has going for him is that the Royals have no other options that are any better. Jeff Keppinger (Reds) is back for the Reds. He is in a great hitters park and a quality hitter. I think Keppinger is a good bet to put up solid numbers the rest of the way as the full-time starter with Alex Gonzalez done for the year. J.J. Hardy (Brewers) has struggled for most of the first half. The Brewers struggled for most of the first half as a team offensively. Hardy has taken over the second spot and hit better ever since. You can probably still get him pretty cheap, and I would recommend, especially in keeper leagues, that you go ahead and pull the trigger.

Fantasy Tips - Third Base:

Third is as loaded as any position in fantasy baseball. You really should not be looking for a sleeper here if you want any hope of contending. But, there are a couple guys you might be able to get who could help you in the second half.

Ty Wiggington (Astros): Wiggington was hurt for a good bit of the first half. Since coming back he has been very solid. Look for that trend to continue and him to be very valuable in the second half. Wiggington is one of a very few players that could be a significant help the rest of the way who may still be available in your league.

Other Notes: Russell Branyan (Brewers) will hit for power, but do not expect the other numbers to remain as high as they currently are, unless you are looking at strikeouts. Chone Figgins (Angels) is a player you should not be able to pick up at this point. However, due to a prolonged injury he may still be available, if so he should be claimed, especially if you are in need of speed. Andy LaRoche (Dodgers) could have real value the rest of the way for the Dodgers. He should beat out the slumping Blake DeWitt pretty soon and take over the full-time duties at the hot corner. He is an on-base machine who should put up solid numbers across the board without being spectacular in anything except OBP. I see him as a young Kevin Youklis type. If you are in a keeper league and LaRoche is available he is somebody to stash away for the future.


Other Fantasy Baseball Notes:

Damian Easley (Mets) will take over for the injured Luis Castillo. Easley should put up solid numbers for Castillo owners until he comes back. Matt Capps (Pirates) injury will hurt the Pirates and fantasy owners alike. I would not recommend any pitcher in the Pirates bullpen unless you are desperate. Also, keep in mind that losing Capps also hurts the value (what little there is) of the Pirates starters. Austin Kearns (Nationals) is back in the Nationals lineup and should be solid the rest of the way. I would expect a .280/10-15/40 type line out of Kearns the rest of the way. Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers) was sent back to Triple-A with the return of Hideki Kuroda. Kershaw held his own in his first stint in the majors and is clearly the top pitching prospect in baseball. He will be back at some point in the second half. Rafael Furcal (Dodgers) will be out at least two months following surgery on his back. The Dodgers will go with Nomar Garciaparra as long as he can stay healthy, but this is a tough situation that could bring somebody like Juan Uribe to the NL. Jason Bartlett (Rays) is expected to miss at least two weeks with a knee injury, and the Rays called up their top shortstop prospect in Reid Brignac to replace him. Brignac was not tearing up Triple-A, but he does have upside. The Rays were hoping Brignac would replace Bartlett next year, so he is worth monitoring. If Brignac can get hot he could see a good bit of playing time even after Bartlett returns.



By Brian Chmielewski
MLBcenter.com Fantasy Baseball Correspondent

Fans can contact Brian via email at bchmfantasybaseball @ yahoo.com

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