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By the Numbers: Will the hits keep coming?

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Justin Upton has been a riddle to his many owners this season, so why not start things off with a Justin Upton-related riddle?

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What do Upton, Josh Thole and Darwin Barney all have in common? When you drafted Upton, you were probably hoping the answer was "nothing." Unfortunately, all three hitters share a paltry 4.6 Runs Created per 27 Outs (RC/27). That's a pretty good catch-all measure of offensive value -- or lack thereof -- but if you break it down to smaller components, the picture for Upton doesn't get any prettier. He is walking and stealing bases, but otherwise, there is little that is separating Upton from a bevy of light-hitting catchers and middle infielders.

It's no secret that the 24-year-old has been been one of the hugest disappointments over the first two months of Fantasy, but that doesn't mean that his season is a lost cause. Actually, if you dig deep into Upton's stats, there are some promising signs. That makes him one of the best buy-low candidates in Fantasy right now.

In this week's review of top buy, sell and hold candidates, we'll uncover those hitters who look like under- and overachievers in the batting average category. Each hitter featured here has a BABIP rate that looks primed for a major shift, though in a few cases, that appearance could be deceiving. Whatever impact an adjustment in BABIP would have for each hitter's overall batting average, it should also make a difference in his other Fantasy stats as well.

Here are this week's top buy, sell and hold targets. All stats are current for games through Wednesday, June 6.

Top buy candidates

Justin Upton, OF, Diamondbacks: Upton's struggles at the plate have gotten so bad that he has been benched, and Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson told the Arizona Republic that Upton may sit for as many as four or five consecutive games. If he's not playing, he's not helping Fantasy owners, but once Upton regains regular starts, there are reasons for optimism. While Upton is striking out more often this year than last, he should be making up for it with the more favorable line drive and popup rates he has been posting. Instead of improving on last season's .322 BABIP, Upton's rate is just a middling .305. Owners should expect a surge in batting average, and better yet, if Upton eschews liners and reverts back to being more of a flyball hitter, his power numbers should soar, as his home run per flyball ratio is solid at 10.4 percent.

Ben Zobrist, 2B/OF, Rays: Even though he is hitting for good power and making contact at a decent rate, Zobrist has fallen below the Mendoza Line yet again with a .199 batting average. While a 15 percent line drive rate and an 8 percent popup rate don't portend for a decent BABIP in the .280-.320 range, the BABIP gods have bestowed a .219 mark on Zobrist, which seems more than a little punitive. Even though he's not getting many hits on balls in play, Zobrist has already managed to clout 10 doubles and three triples. Once hits start falling in at a higher rate, the extra bases could start coming at a fast and furious pace. Zobrist will come much more cheaply now than after a power surge comes, and that explosion could happen at any time.

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Logan Morrison, OF, Marlins: Since May 1, Morrison has hit just .171, and a .203 BABIP is largely to blame. His batting average wasn't undeservedly low, as Morrison's line drive rate has taken a dip since the season's first month. However, owners should put more stock in Morrison's longer-term track record of reliable gap power than in a five-week slump. Persistent soreness in his right knee may have something to do with his struggles, but according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, team trainers have said that Morrison could be fully healed within a few weeks. If you buy Morrison now, you may subject yourself to more of his struggles in the short term, but he could provide a windfall at some point in the not-too-distant future.

Jemile Weeks, 2B, Athletics: Weeks has been slow to rebound from a miserable April, but even in his difficult early weeks, he's been making frequent contact. The problem has been in an unexpected area: getting hits on ground balls. Weeks is speedy enough to hit over .300 on grounders, just as he did in his rookie season, but he's been held to a .221 average so far this year. Weeks has been slowly bringing that average up, so if you're going to deal for him, it's best to do it quickly before his overall batting average starts to take off.

Marco Scutaro, 2B/SS Rockies: Scutaro has been a good doubles hitter the last few years; Coors Field is a great doubles park. The move to Colorado looked like a brilliant one for Scutaro, but with just eight doubles and two triples through his first 54 games, the returns have been a bit of a letdown. With only 16 strikeouts in 213 at-bats, contact hasn't been a problem, but a .272 BABIP has likely robbed Scutaro of five or six additional base hits. Given that he owns a 23 percent line drive rate, that estimate may even be conservative. However, if we give Scutaro just five more hits, he's batting .282 instead of .258, and a couple of those hypothetical hits would be hypothetical doubles. Scutaro looks like he's just a tweaked BABIP away from matching or exceeding his typical numbers from the last three seasons.

Top sell candidates

Jimmy Rollins, SS, Phillies: With a .371 batting average over his last eight games, Rollins is starting to rebuild his value. It's the perfect time to sell the veteran shortstop, as there are still a number of troubling trends in his stat lines. Over the last couple of seasons, we have witnessed the gradual but steady deterioration of Rollins' plate discipline, as his strikeout, walk and outside-the-zone swing rates are all going the wrong way. Rollins' .247/.295/.344 slash line is distressing enough to his Fantasy owners, but it could actually be a lot worse. He has propped up his batting average and slugging percentage with a near-normal .285 BABIP, but his 27 popups (and 14 percent popup rate) to date are anything but normal. Barring an overhaul of his approach at the plate, Rollins' streak probably won't last long, so look to deal him as soon as possible.

Carlos Ruiz, C, Phillies: With a .358 batting average, 8 homers and 32 RBI, Ruiz has become an unlikely hero for the Phillies. However, he has just one home run over his last 16 games, and he is far from a lock to hit over .300 from here on out. Ruiz continues to be a superb contact hitter, but that skill has carried him to just a career .273 batting average. A .365 BABIP has launched him to the upper echelons of the batting average leaderboard, but he doesn't have an exceptional line drive or popup rate to support it. With no clear improvement in his skill set, look for Ruiz to hit more like himself over the rest of the season.

Michael Saunders, OF, Mariners: In three partial seasons before this year, Saunders had never hit higher than .221. So what's so different in 2012? He has improved his contact rate markedly, but that only goes so far in explaining his current .277 average. Saunders is hitting .350 on balls in play, but he is still profiling more like the hitter who posted sub-.270 BABIPs in each of the last two seasons. As has been the case throughout his career to date, Saunders is posting a below-average line drive rate, and roughly one in every eight hit balls has been a popup. Saunders' 20-20 potential makes him Fantasy-relevant, but his batting average and run production are likely to be less enticing to owners going forward.

Rafael Furcal, SS, Cardinals: Furcal still has wheels, so it would be easy to assume he can get hits on balls in play simply by virtue of his speed. His 15 percent line drive rate is not far out of his recent norms, but a .310 batting average on grounders has lifted his BABIP to .339 and his overall batting average to .313. As speedy as Furcal is, he has not hit above .275 on ground balls in any of the last three seasons. Though he has three .300-plus seasons in his past, Furcal now profiles more like someone in the .270-.280 range for overall batting average.

Mike Moustakas, 3B, Royals: The last time I wrote a Buy/Sell/Hold column on hitters, Moustakas made the "Sell" list, and he's back for a second helping. In the previous column, I had some doubts about his doubles power. In the three weeks since then, Moustakas has hit .237 with just three doubles. His .241 BABIP over that span is more fitting for his flyball-hitting style than the .345 rate he carried into mid-May. Moustakas' ownership and activation rates have actually grown during his three-week correction period, so owners have hardly been deterred by the slippage in his batting average. He's still cranking out homers, but owners impressed by his power may be overestimating his value. See if you can find one and deal him before his perceived value drops.

Hold these hitters

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Melky Cabrera, OF, Giants: I doubted Cabrera's apparent breakout last season because I didn't think he'd be able to carry over his .309 batting average on grounders to this season. Apparently, Cabrera was just warming up last year, because he's hitting .357 on ground balls so far in 2012. While his 2011 mark didn't match up with his averages from prior seasons, Cabrera does possess the speed to leg out infield hits (he already has 16 this year, compared to last season's career high of 28). Once again, I don't expect Cabrera to keep up his incredible pace, but even if he "regresses" to last year's level, he's worth hanging on to unless you can get proven elite talent in return.

Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Diamondbacks: Goldschmidt is no stranger to the strikeout, so owners might view his current .288 batting average as a fluke, especially since he hit just .250 last year. However, it might be his 2011 average that was the aberration. Goldschmidt hit well above .300 as a minor leaguer, as he posted high averages on balls in play. Over his first 96 big league games, the slugger has done a consistently good job of avoiding popups, and in this season in particular, he is showing the line drive power that he displayed in Double-A. Especially after struggling early, Goldschmidt might look like a sell-high, but he is actually just settling into the potential that he showed during his meteoric rise as a prospect.

Erick Aybar, SS, Angels: Like Cabrera, Aybar has enough speed to collect some infield hits, but as an extreme ground ball hitter, Aybar has not been an especially good hitter on balls in play. This year he is outdoing himself -- though not in a good way -- putting 62 percent of his hit balls on the dirt, while scorching less than 10 percent of them for line drives. Maybe Aybar can re-establish his prior level of line drive power, modest as it was, but at least for now, owners can know that his .219 batting average and .281 slugging percentage are not products of bad luck.

Ichiro Suzuki, OF, Mariners: Ichiro is the anti-Melky. Whereas Cabrera defied his track record by hitting for a high average on grounders last year, Suzuki broke a long-standing pattern of high ground ball batting averages by hitting just .263 on wormburners. Rather than reverse the trend, Suzuki is now the owner of a subpar ground ball batting average (.185). He may turn things around somewhat, but it's hard to ignore that he has lost at least 40 points off his ground ball batting average in each of the last three years. This just might be as good as it gets for Suzuki.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Al Melchior at @almelccbs . You can also e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Francona: Indians taking no chances with Brantley, out a few more days
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1:52 pm ET) Indians manager Terry Francona said Friday the team is taking no chances with outfielder Michael Brantley, who still had back soreness Friday, per MLB.com. Francona said Brantley is likely to miss a few more spring games and has no specific game in mind for his return.

Brantley, who is coming off a breakout season in 2014, is batting .321 (9 for 28) with one double, two runs, two RBI, two walks and three strikeouts in 10 spring games.


Red Sox's Victorino confident he can play every day in the field
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1:46 pm ET) Red Sox outfielder Shane Victorino said emphatically Friday he is capable of playing every day, just six months removed from back surgery and having to abandon switch-hitting due to durability concerns.

"Just because I haven't done it here doesn't mean I'm not ready," Victorino said, per CSNNE.com. "[Thursday] was my best day, physically. I feel like everything's going in the right direction, physically -- my legs, running. I feel like I can go everyday, but obviously I have to show it here or show the consistency of it.

"We've only got, what nine days or so [remaining], so I'm sure the next week or so is going to be a test. But I feel I can do it. I kind of turned the corner in the last few days, from a physical standpoint. I'm starting to feel good. The last few days have meant big strides in terms of bouncing back and feeling good the next day.''

Victorino has played back-to-back days this spring just once, and the second day he was the DH. Victorino is aware he needs to show manager John Farrell he can handle playing in the field on consecutive days without any issues.

"I'm not going to go in there and say, 'John, I need to go from Game 1 to Game 162,'' Victorino said. "But I've got to prove in these next 8-9 days. I've got to prove I can go back-to-back days or three in a row. That will be a test for myself, too.''


White Sox SP Chris Sale could pitch in minors game in five days
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:26 pm ET) White Sox pitcher Chris Sale (foot), who threw a short bullpen on Wednesday, threw a 75-pitch simulated game on Friday, according to Comcast SportsNet Chicago. Sale is rehabbing from a broken foot, and called his outing a "big confidence builder." He could start in a minor-league game in approximately five days.

Alex Hassan available Friday; Josh Reddick could be back Sunday
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:22 pm ET) Athletics outfielder Alex Hassan was deemed available to play off the bench in Thursday's Cactus League game against the White Sox, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Hassan has been sidelined since March 11 due to the issue. Outfielder Josh Reddick, who was shut down earlier in March due to an oblique strain, could return as early as Sunday.

Cubs' Kris Bryant on Opening Day status: 'Why not me?'
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:17 pm ET) Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein has never started a rookie on Opening Day. Kris Bryant wants to be change that trend this season.

"I look at it as why not me?" Bryant said Friday, per MLB.com. "I think I'm the type of guy who can go out there and do it. I've made it a point of mine to show them that I can."

Bryant is in the midst of a scorching hot spring, with nine homers in 32 at-bats. On Thursday, the 23-year-old also showed some versatility by starting in left field against the Jered Weaver and the Angels.

"Yesterday was good for me to go out there and face a pitcher like Jered Weaver who has incredible stuff,” Bryant said. "He's a different type of pitcher and it was really good for me to go out there and struggle a little bit, see what he’s going to throw me and learn from it. I took it as a learning experience."

Bryant has three multi-home run games this spring. He is hitting .406/.472/1.313 in 12 Cactus League games.

New MLB commissioner Rob Manfred told reporters that Bryant's agent, Scott Boras, should not be involved in Chicago's roster decisions, even when it comes to Bryant, per the Chicago Tribune.

"Look, I don't think the Cubs decision on what’s going to happen to Kris Bryant is really any of Mr. Boras' business," Manfred said. "I think the Cubs -- I know the Cubs -- will make decisions that are best for the long term competitiveness of the club. And focusing on whether a particular player has played, or is with a club on a day, or days, I don’t think is a fair evaluation of what the club is up to.

"The club is in the best position, and the Cubs are in the best position, to decide what's going to make them the most competitive over the longest period of time."


Brewers' Khris Davis crushes grand slam to continue torrid spring
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1:02 pm ET) Brewers outfielder Khris Davis made a statement with his first home run of the spring Thursday against the Mariners, connecting for a grand slam off Roenis Elias in the first inning.

Although it took Davis 14 games to connect for his first spring home run, it's not like he is having a poor spring at the plate. Davis is batting .389 (14 for 36) with six doubles, seven runs and 12 RBI.

“He’s driving the ball; he’s having great at-bats,” manager Ron Roenicke said, per the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “I love what he’s doing right now. I couldn’t care less about home runs. If he continues this through the season, he’s going to have some big numbers.”

Davis has been working with hitting coach Darnell Coles this spring on making adjustments at the plate.

“I think last year I tended to get away from pulling my hands in but I can’t really explain it,” Davis said. (The change) is something that makes me more comfortable. It’s helping me be more consistent.

“I feel pretty lucky right now with a lot of broken-bat base hits and flashes of some hard-hit balls. I feel like I’m still 20 or 30 ABs from being where I’m ready for the season. I still want to do some things up there. Right now, I’m in the right place at the right time (to get ready for the season).”


White Sox's Nate Jones has 'pen session scheduled Wednesday
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:48 pm ET) White Sox reliever Nate Jones is scheduled for a bullpen on Wednesday, according to Comcast SportsNet Chicago. Jones is working his way back from Tommy John surgery last July. He will  likely stay in extended spring training through May, and is targeting a mid-season return.

Nationals' Williams continues to speak highly of Dan Uggla
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:42 pm ET) Nationals second baseman Dan Uggla continues to make a strong push for a roster spot, as he is batting .323 (10 for 31) with two home runs, two doubles and six RBI in 15 spring games.

"I just think his direction is good," manager Matt Williams said, per MASNsports.com. "It has been good, the fact that he's just taking balls to right field. He's shown some power the other way in spring, which is good. For him, that's key.

"I know that he feels good about where he's at, I know he feels good about seeing the ball. And the results are showing so yeah, I think he's performed really well. He's been a joy to have around. He's a veteran guy, understands the whole process of spring training, but he's worked really hard, too. So for me he's been real good."


Salazar demoted; McAllister, House, Tomlin will compete for final spots
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:40 pm ET) The Indians have optioned right-hander Danny Salazar to Triple-A Columbus, just a day removed from a dreadful Cactus League outing, according to the Plain Dealer.

Salazar coughed up seven runs -- six earned -- on six hits and no walks while striking out six over 3 1/3 innings of work against the Reds. The 25-year-old posted a whopping 8.18 ERA through 11 innings this spring.

"I don't know. The stuff is definitely there. It's not there yet consistently, whether he's locating or following a pitch up with two pitches in a row," manager Terry Francona said after Salazar's outing on Thursday. "Again, we'll keep working at it -- that's for darn sure -- but the results weren't the kind of what we're looking for."

The demotion narrows Zach McAllister, T.J. House and Josh Tomlin down to the two final spots in the rotation. House and Tomlin have options, while McAllister is out of options and could be in line for one of those two spots, per the Plain Dealer.


Reds' Marquis happy with way he is throwing baseball post-surgery
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:30 pm ET) Reds starting pitcher Jason Marquis hasn't made a start in the majors since 2013 while working his way back from Tommy John surgery. But the 36-year-old pitcher has had a career resurgence this spring and is on track to open the season in the Reds' rotation.

"The ball is coming out of my hand in a way it hasn't the last five years," Marquis said, per MLB.com. "I've gotten some velocity back, but that's not the big thing. There's just more life on the ball.

"I'm throwing the ball instead of pushing it, guiding it. I think maybe I developed bad habits over those years to protect the elbow so I can pitch. More than anything, that's what I'm happiest with."

Marquis is 2-1 with a 3.15 ERA in five spring starts.


 
 
 
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