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August 13, 2014

They Hold No Quarter

First Base

by BP Fantasy Staff

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If there’s anything we love more than baseball around here on the fantasy staff, it’s collaborating with each other. So, at the behest of myself, we’re going to be doing one final group series of the year to close out the last seven weeks of the season. For this series, we will each select one player who is below 25 percent owned in either ESPN or Yahoo! leagues who could be someone to consider grabbing before the end of the season with an eye toward a keeper spot. Now, given the depth we’re dealing with here, these recommendations are not for owners who can keep five or seven players from season-to-season. They’re more for those of you who play in leagues where keepers take up more than half of your roster (and possibly more, in the case of some recommendations contained within).

Yonder Alonso, San Diego Padres
“There was a point, earlier this season, when Alonso was just about the worst player in baseball. It’s not that hard to pinpoint either. On May 8, Alonso went 0-for-4 against the Marlins to sink his batting line to a cringe-worthy .157/.183/.217. That’s terrible for the best fielding shortstop you’ve ever seen, and Alonso is certainly not that. However, what he’s done since will probably surprise you, since he’s been left for dead in just about all fantasy leagues (including Mike and my LABR team) for the last three-plus months. In the 48 games he’s played in since that fateful day that his OPS touched .400 (he was sidelined for over a month with a wrist injury, Alonso has been exactly the player the fantasy owners who drafted him in the pre-season had hoped—hitting .303/.353/.533 with seven homers, 20 extra-base hits and four steals in 152 at-bats. Project that out over the course of a full season, and you get a little tingly inside when you hit the “add” button in your deeper mixed league.” —Bret Sayre

C.J. Cron, Los Angeles Angels
“Sure Cron's 47-to-7 K:BB ratio belies an ultra-aggressive and likely unsustainable approach at the plate. And his approach has been pretty terrible throughout his ascent to the Major Leagues without showing much in the way of growth. But his .199 ISO on a probably-BABIP-inflated .270 average is very interesting. It checks in 15th among first basemen with at least 200 plate appearances, and that's an eyebrow-raising performance by a rookie. Low average/big power guys like Cron are increasingly valuable in fantasy baseball, and if you're in a deeper league and you're looking for one guy with the possibility to bring 30-homer power into games the 24-year-old Cron makes for a nice target.” —Wilson Karaman

Prince Fielder, Texas Rangers
“Owned in just 18 percent of ESPN leagues, Fielder is probably already spoken for in keeper leagues where 60 or more players are retained. But he's been out for so long this year that there's a chance Fielder has slipped through the cracks in your league, and if he has, you should rectify the situation. Fielder's "down year" in 2013 saw him post a .279/.362/.457 line with 25 homers and 106 RBI in a less-hitter-friendly environment than Texas. He'll be 31 next season, he has the physique of a TINO member (non-Bret division), and neck injuries are pretty scary. But there's also very attainable 30-homer, 100-RBI upside here, and that's extraordinarily rare in today's game. Go get Fielder if he's out there, and if the team holding on to him is in contention right now, see if you can grab him for 50 cents on the dollar.” —Ben Carsley

James Loney, Tampa Bay Rays
“Particularly useful in points leagues, thanks to a microscopic (for 1B) strikeout rate, Loney certainly deserves to be unowned in shallower contexts. For mid- or deep-leagues with CI spots, he's worth a look. He won't hit for power (five HR, .376 SLG as of writing), but his .288 average is actually a big plus compared to the league average of .252 or the league average 1B at .255. There's also hope for a bit more power for Loney, as his .088 ISO is well below his career figure of .131. If he can maintain his lofty averages while being a 12-15 home run candidate, that should carry plenty of value in deeper mixed and -only leagues.” —Craig Goldstein

Kendrys Morales, Seattle Mariners
“Picking off the scrap heap at first base is a sad exercise in humility. The power crust at the top of the positional rankings only illuminates how wide the gulf can get between the haves and have-nots at the position. If you’re here looking for advice, you’re desperate. In light of your desperation lets think outside the box and consider picking up a player who lost a whole chunk of the season thanks to the CBA and whose numbers are deflated enough that he’s freely available in a ton of leagues. Let’s pick up Kendrys Morales. He’s going to be 32 next year and he’s going to be a free agent again in 2015. He’s a Boras guy, but I think this time around he’ll sign ahead of spring training and return to being the .270 hitter with middling power, which is what he was for the two years leading up to 2014. Morales has a deflated walk rate that sits at 3.9 percent and his line-drive rate is down at 16.8 percent. The gamble here is in thinking that the rust is to blame for his numbers and a full slate of spring training reps will get him right again. It’s not a safe play by any means but you’re not here to play it safe. You’re desperate, so it’s okay to gamble big.” —Mauricio Rubio

Jonathan Singleton, Houston Astros
“Perhaps it’s difficult to advocate for targeting Singleton for the 2015 season. After all, he’s hitting under the Mendoza Line and is striking out 35.6% of the time. That’s not a recipe for success. However, the 6-foot-2 slugger has three things going for him. First, he has a history of struggling after a promotion, only to adjust the following season and mash. Look at his Triple-A performance in 2013 and then in 2014. Don’t be surprised to see that trend continue. Secondly, he’s hitting .278/.333/.574 against lefties, which is a wonderful sign for such a young hitter. Finally, and most importantly, Jon Singleton offers plus-power and that’s becoming more and more rare in today’s game. His .191 ISO would currently rank 12th among qualified first baseman—higher than Adrian Gonzalez, Justin Morneau, Matt Adams, and Mike Napoli. He’s not even 23 and already flexing his muscle against big-league pitching. The batting average may always lag due to contact issues, but he’ll potentially offer 25-plus homers annually and will benefit from an Astros’ lineup that will only get better in upcoming years. While there’s risk in the overall package, the power production is real and has a chance to grow. That’s plenty valuable in all fantasy formats, especially when he’s quietly sitting on the waiver wire in the vast majority of leagues.” —J.P. Breen

Kennys Vargas, Minnesota Twins
“How about the life of a 1B “prospect”? All he did was hit as he moved through the minors, but it was rarely overwhelming (one stop over .900 OPS, but never below .800 after his 2009 debut) and he was always about right for his level age-wise. It’s hard to really stand out as such without just incredible hitting skill and so Vargas didn’t quite make it on the radar this spring. Part of that was also due to the fact that the Twins’ system is just so deep that some worthwhile names didn’t make the top 10 lists across the industry. That said, Paul Goldschmidt was never a top 100 prospect, either. It’s just different at first base. After six years of steady hitting and bypassing Triple-A, Vargas is in the majors making an early impact with hits in six of his first seven games. The Futures Game participant is out of the gate with a .297 AVG and .771 OPS in his 41 PA, and he’s ready to help your pennant run as an Eric Hosmer or Brandon Belt replacement—or if you’re looking for a reason to finally move on from a Logan Morrison or Mark Reynolds corner-infield type.” —Paul Sporer

Christian Walker, Baltimore Orioles
“In a different era, Walker’s relatively small size combined with his defensive limitations would have trapped him in Triple-A indefinitely. However in today’s environment, it is entirely possible that Walker will push his way into the mix for a starting job in Baltimore as soon as 2015. Walker’s reputation entering this season was that he didn’t possess enough power to be more than a second division regular and from a fantasy perspective this would definitely hamper his value. However, he has quietly put together a breakout year in 2014, swatting 24 home runs in a little over 500 plate appearances between Double-A and Triple-A. Chris Davis has struggled mightily and with another expensive arbitration payday coming he might not be in the Orioles plans next season. Walker would make for an affordable option, and a 15-20 home run season with a decent batting average in hitter-friendly Camden Yards wouldn’t be out of the question. Walker is a deep league target, but if you have the ability to stash him in your AL-only before he is called up to the majors, he is worth a reserve spot just in case.” —Mike Gianella

BP Fantasy Staff is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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Related Content:  First Base,  Fantasy,  Keeper Leagues

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