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June 1st: T-minus 9 Hours

Ranking “Super Two” Call-ups in order of likelihood starting, now:

T1. Brett Lawrie (2B/3B) – The centerpiece of the Shaun Marcum deal, this kid has absolutely killed the ball in Triple-A.  The most telling stat of why the Blue Jays will look to bring him up as soon as the clock strike 12am?  “The Blue Jays’ third basemen have gone an astounding 0-for-45 over Toronto’s past 13 games” (Rotoworld).  So, it’s not just those who still believe in Eddie Encarnacion as a legitimate fantasy third baseman who’re ready to gauge their eyes out… it’s the entire Toronto organization.

Yet, you sit there and wonder to yourself, “Brian… this isn’t enough, I need more.”  Well, doubter, here’s his most recent stat line from Triple-A as of May 31, 2011: .349/.420/.746.  His power is also coming at the right time as he’s already slugged 7 more home runs than all of last year (8).  Want more?  And, sure, this is on the peripheral, but nevertheless: HE’S CANADIAN!  Yes, a Canadian who’s the Blue Jays’ top hitting prospect.  I feel perfectly safe having him tied for the first position on this “likely-to-be-called-up” list.  In the end, The Blue Jay Hunter expects a call-up for Lawrie in the immediate future.

T1. Dustin Ackley (2B) – Another second baseman.  That said, Lawrie’s the one to own of these two.  Ackley, the Mariners’ top hitting prospect, is playing in a pitchers park, whereas Lawrie will get a bulk of his ABs in Toronto’s hitter-friendly home park.  That said, I’ve heard from multiple outlets what Ackley is going to be a guy who’s a very nice player in “real” baseball, but now “fantasy” baseball.  A few guys who fit this mold are any of the current Angel middle infielders (sans this year), someone like Jose Vidro, or Dustin Pedroia.  Yes, please take the time to shake your head, wipe your eyes, refocus, and read that last name.  If Ackley were playing in a home park like Dustin Pedroia’s, I’d be much more excited to see his potential for operating a “laser show” like DP’s.  However, he doesn’t play there, he’s not particularly fast, he doesn’t hit of a lot of power, and, as a Seattle Mariner, he won’t alter the landscape the way someone like Lawrie will.  Not right now, anyway.

That all said, he’s still much, much better than Jack Wilson.  The Mariners are a cheap organization, they can’t afford a lot of players who come through their system.  The latest examples of this will be Felix Hernandez and, potentially, Michael Pineda.  Post-June 1, Ackley will receive a bulk of the starts at 2B.  If you own someone like Neil Walker, don’t drop him for Ackley as, in a best case scenario, Ackley is Neil Walker.

2. Desmond Jennings (OF) – Sam Fuld.  That’s basically what it comes down to.  When I asked Jason Collette about Matt Joyce’s breakout forcing the Rays to keep Jennings in Triple-A, he wasn’t sold.  So, while Sam Fuld’s latest “superman” antics have been a nice addition to the Rays’ lineup, he’s not an everyday player his second time around the league.  Jennings, ranked in the top-10 prospects for 2011, is, however.  After a painful April, Jennings’ splits are much more attractive in May with a .286/.369/.551 line.  On top of that, his HRs in May (6) more than doubled his April total (2).

Now, his power may not translate immediately in the majors, but Jennings’ fantasy appeal all comes down to opportunity.  Joe Madden, who’s trying anything to get his franchise player, Evan Longoria, to breakout of his season-long slump.  Perhaps Jennings is the catalyst Long’s needed over the past few weeks.

T3. Mike Moustakas (3B) – At this point, I will not be held accountable for the guys at #3 being called up.  Because, while the first three options I feel very strong about, I’m not really the most confident on the #3’s.  That said, everyone loves Mike Moustakas.  He had an awful April as a follow-up to his 40+ HR season in the minors last year.  Once Eric Hosmer was called up to the bigs, a switch went off in Moustakas’ head and he absolutely exploded in May offering a .317/.381/.529 line.  While his home runs have remained consistent for both months (4 in each) his doubles have soared between April (1) and May (11).

So the power’s rounding into form.  I’m just not sure if the Royals want to expose someone who’s batting .278 on the season to major league pitching.  Especially when that person may actually make you weaker defensively.  With Billy Butler clogging up the DH slot for the Royals, it might make more sense to hold the “Moose” down in Triple-A until injuries strike for the team.

T3. Jesus Montero (C) – This all comes down to Jorge Posada.  He seems to be turing it around a bit over the past month.  This kid had a great April with the bat, but his OBP was nearly equal to his BA… meaning he’s not taking pitches.  The Yankees are not going to promote someone who doesn’t practice patience and some self control.  I put Montero here because I believe he’ll hit the majors in another team’s uniform when other starting pitchers become available come July.  Don’t expect to see a 22 year old DHing for the Yankees… especially with the way Russell Martin’s been playing this season.

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Streaking through the quad with Carlos Quentin

Full disclosure, I was the guy in your fantasy league who picked Carlos Quentin in 2008 and reminded you on a some-what-daily basis that you could’ve claimed him on waivers but chose not to because you suck.

Then Carlos Quentin reminded me that I suck because I trusted him to carry his ungodly 2008 into 2009.

Then, despite his batting-average dropping almost 50 points to .236, I trusted him to “rebound” in 2010… except Carlos Quentin hates me (or this was a weird karmic response) and decided to deliver a mediocre .250ish/25ish/90ish stat line.

So, for 2011, Carlos Quentin was dead to me.  I let anyone who was willing the opportunity to draft him because, if history has taught me anything, it’s perfectly acceptable to hold an unfounded grudge in fantasy sports… even if there’s a chance the guy actually has a bounce-back year because he’s actually healthy for the first time in 2+ years.

Yes, Carlos Quention hates me.  But there’s a significant chance he loves you.  Let’s graph:

Yikes, a graph!  Okay, so the HRs have been pretty consistent, which we knew already.  He’s what’s looking up for my arch-nemesis, CQ: batting average is definitely on the up-swing, and his OPS is, once again, in that aforementioned “ungodly” territory.  So all signs point to Quentin regaining some of that .280ish/35ish/100+ish form that made me the luckiest girl at the prom in 2008.  So, if you were lucky enough to grab this guy for cheap in a auction or, who knows, maybe the pick RIGHT AFTER ME in a draft, congrats.  Ride him ’til the shows over… or until he breaks his hand by punching a wall in frustration after striking out (see 2008’s version).

Side Blurbs:

Ryan Raburn, OF/2B* — Still striking out a ton (25K’s in 65 ABs), but he’s potentially on the cusp of one of those 2010 “Ryan Raburn Hotstreaks” with 2 HRs in 2 days.  Couldn’t hurt to throw him in at 2B in daily leagues if you have that options.  God knows most people dumped him already (available in 65% ESPN leagues).

Jose Bautista, 3B/OF — Joey Bats needed a single for the cycle.  He didn’t get it.  I don’t care, I still have a huge man-crush on him and his nickname.

Anibal Sanchez, SP — Almost pitched his second no-hiter before turning 28, meaning he’s already eclipsed anything I’ll do and he’s spotting me 2 years.  I don’t like him and it’s not because he’s making me feel down-and-out about my own accomplishments… it’s mainly because he has a girl’s name.

Bizzaro-Cole Hamels, SP — Bet you didn’t think it was possible for Hamels to grow facial hair, huh?  Well, he can and he pitches better with it.  I hope this inspires him to go off the deep-end and challenge himself to grow a Danny Haren-esque, disgusting, mangy beard.  8 innings, 8 K’s.  But it was against the Padres.  My prediction?  He shaves and goes back to a 6IP, 7K, 3BBI next time.  No W promised.

Brandon League, RP — Are the Mariners on a hot streak?  Yes.  Will it continue?  Probably not.  Should I ride their closer until next week?  Yes.  Do it now!

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The Mets Jon Niese & BABIP

With Week 3 coming to a close, typically I like to take a look at who has been a particularly unlucky starter at this juncture of the baseball season. To date, one name keeps popping up as not only being “unlucky,” but routinely unlucky during each of his first 4-5 starts: Jonathan Niese.

As any Mets fan will tell you, ticket advertisements attempted to bring fans back to the ballpark by promising baseball played “the right way.” Fans will also tell you that these ads were bold faced lies as the Mets are, once again, on of the most fundamentally UNsound teams in the majors. This is where our boy Jon Niese comes in:

In 23 innings, he’s rocking a .333 BABIP. Your average starter should probably have this number be closer to the .290 area. The further below .290 you go, the (seemingly) luckier a starter has been. In the case of poor Jon Niese, he’s been almost 40 points deep into unlucky territory. Now, this isn’t entirely attributed to just plain “bad luck.” Niese is averaging almost 4 walks per 9 innings pitched, which, to be blunt, sucks. What saves that number from delivering a Oliver Perez-like outcome is his ground-ball percentage (GB%) and strand-rate (LOB%). In 2011, Niese’s GB% sits on the good-side of 50% at 56%. His strand rate, however, leaves something to be desired as it registers in the mid-60’s.

Here’s the good news on Niese: If he walks fewer batters and his luck improves, you could be looking at a pretty undervalued SP for June, July, and (maybe) August. The bad news: his walk rate has always been God-awful. His minor league stats have always painted him a bit more unlucky than most, and I’m beginning to believe that, despite my beliefs in “universal balance,” Jon Niese is exactly what we’re seeing every fifth day this April.

My diagnosis: let someone else buy into the awful BABIP on this guy while you take a chance on a trendy Justin Masterson who’s at least shown he has major league quality skills at some point in his past.

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>Press Box Notes (Mets-Twins)

>Tonight I attended my first-ever game at Shea Stadium as a member of the working media. Ironically, I sat alone. Yes, apparently XM Radio (despite having ‘radio’ in its name) has a private seat in the press area. I am sure that others agree that watching a baseball game can be awfully lonely. You go to these games for the sporadic big plays that take about 30 seconds, only to talk about them with those around you for the next 20 to 30 minutes.

As I sat alone watching John Maine masterfully shut down the Minnesota Twins, I glanced over the scoreboard and noticed that the Red Sox were losing to the Braves and the Phillies were losing to the Indians. To a normal human being this is just an out of town score noting that the Mets (by now leading the Twins four-nothing) would maintain their one-and-a-half game lead over the the Braves and gain a game on the Phils.

To me however, I think to my fantasy baseball team. The “Guns of Navarone” had sent out Curt Schilling and Cole Hamels on this night to pitch against the team that had topped us in the championship last September. In other words, this is a huge week. Seven game winning streak on the line against my team’s most bitter rival, this game has all the makings of an ESPN Sunday Night Baseball Prime time match up.

By the 5th Inning, both scores read six to one in favor of both the Braves and Indians. I have never hated Native Americans more in my life. Both Schilling and Hamels were being destroyed by the red man and I need to talk about it. My girlfriend tolerates my fantasy griping for the most part, but this was going to take a while I couldn’t bring myself to put her through it. Next in line: the big guy, Dad.

I noticed that he too would have things to talk about tonight. Josh Johnson, just getting over elbow problems, was losing to the White Sox two-nothing for his team this week. For the majority of the 2007 season, his pitching staff has struggled mightily. His first selections for starting pitching this year (Brett Myers and Jeremy Sowers) have been converted into the bullpen and demoted to the minor leagues respectively.

With my Dad’s “New York Dynasty” experiencing similar problems this evening I knew that he would be my go-to-guy this evening. As I said earlier, I made this call during the 5th Inning and was on the phone until the 8th griping about how horrible my pitching was and how I was going to get owned this week in embarrassing fashion. I only cut the call short because this was my first game at Shea and I wasn’t sure about the etiquette for post-game procedures and the like. Not off the phone for all of five minutes, WFAN’s Mike Mancuso shouts from the broadcast reports press box asking “what girl I was talking to for so long?”

Isn’t that hysterical? Ironically, I felt like a total tool because I was talking about fantasy baseball (not even the real thing) to my Dad instead of my beautiful girlfriend about anything except fantasy baseball. However, that feeling came and went almost immediately as I decided that fantasy baseball is that important to me. I would gripe about my starter’s bad outings, my slumping bats, and my poor decisions as a GM for hours at a time if I could. Trades, line up adjustments, and add/drops are a part of my everyday life during baseball season. I’ve had teleconferences in the press box at Yankee Stadium discussing a necessary trade of Brad Hawpe for Bill Hall at the end of last season (the deal would help me but blow up in my face the last week of the season as Hall went about 1-30 during the early part of September).

So here’s the point of this post: it is stupid to ever be embarrassed about something you care about. I love fantasy baseball. I don’t know what my summer would be like if I couldn’t complain about Carlos Beltran, Cole Hamels, and Curt Schilling. Being a Yankee fan can only get me so far; the hybrid of stats and scouting fills my days and nights.

When I got a chance to talk to Mike after venturing down to the Metslocker room, we talked about fantasy baseball (which is code for talking about individual players) and how guys my age focus too much on the player than the team. He pointed out that so many people can recite what Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols, and David Ortiz did on a given night but could never tell you what the Yanks, Cards, and Sox did.

“I’ll tell you one thing,” I said, “the Sox and Philles definitely lost tonight, and it’s because of Curt Schilling and Cole Hamels.” I had another go-to-guy.

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