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Di Fino: Four players in search of a team

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Sometimes, there just isn't a way to thematically pull together a group of baseball players that deserve a little more recognition in a Fantasy column.

Sure, we could loosely throw a movie reference in here, or make some punny titles for categories they fall under, but it would just seem forced. So, instead, we're just going to strip it down to the bones -- what follows are a bunch of dudes you should be looking at in deeper leagues. We call it ...

Four players in search of a team

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J.D. Martinez, OF, Astros: For Fantasy Weeks 3-5, Fantasy owners couldn't get enough of Martinez, driving his ownership up to a peak of 93 percent. Nothing could go wrong for the Houston rookie -- he was featured prominently on Roster Trends and he was hitting .385 with three home runs in mid-April. Then things took a rather ugly turn.

On May 21, Martinez saw his average bottom out at .216. He hadn't hit a home run in over a month. It wasn't uncommon for him to strike out multiple times in a game. His Fantasy owners abandoned him as quickly as they picked him up, dropping from 86 percent to 70 percent, to his current level of 52 percent. But if there's one thing about Martinez that we knew coming into this season, it's that he could hit. Over three seasons in the minors, across 1,118 at-bats, Martinez compiled a .342 batting average. The power was developing, and he managed a steal here and there, but his average was eye-popping. He hit .348 in his first full professional season, across two levels. Even in limited action last year, with 208 at-bats, he hit .274. But, with his ups and downs in 2012 so far, he's batting .240.

Interestingly, his OBP has jumped from .319 in 2011 to .341 in 2012. And over his last eight games, he's hitting .313. His five home runs and six doubles aren't the most reassuring of power statistics, but he seems to have his bat going, with the hopes that the power will follow. It's not out of the question to think Martinez could get hot and finish the season with 17 home runs, but it's far more realistic to aim for 12, with a batting average that could hover around .310.

Brandon League, RP, Mariners: We've seen League hit a rough patch like this before. It was actually a year ago, almost exactly to the date. Currently, the former Seattle closer (and there's no indication on how temporary that "former" title may last), is sporting a 3.76 ERA and 1.48 WHIP. He's 0-4 and is currently racking up holds out of middle relief. After three blown saves in a row last year, League saw, on May 13, his ERA jump to 7.31. He then went over a month without allowing an earned run. On July 5, the day he gave up that earned run, his ERA was down to 3.44. By the end of the season, he had a 2.79 ERA with 37 saves.

As of his last two appearances, in which he struck out a combined three batters over 2 1/3 innings pitched, allowing no earned runs, League's ERA is down to 3.76. Already with nine saves, League is on pace for a smaller number than last year, as he had 15 saves by the end of May. There's no guarantee that League will snatch the job back from Tom Wilhelmsen (especially with Stephen Pryor possibly inching his way up the Closer Pecking Order), but if history has taught us anything, it's that League tends to struggle in late spring, then reclaims his swagger and holds on to the role the rest of the year.

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Lorenzo Cain, OF, Royals: There's not a ton we know about Lorenzo Cain right now. He made a huge splash in spring training this year (.371 average, five home runs, five steals), only to play just five games in the regular season before being put on the shelf with a groin injury.

Fast forward to June, and Cain seems almost ready to come off the DL. But what can we expect from an outfielder with just 184 major league at-bats? If we look at his minor league numbers, Cain managed a .294 average over 2,755 at-bats. He has four seasons of 20 or more steals, and twice hit double-digits with home runs. He's one of Kansas City's top prospects, the presumed "centerfielder of the future," and should start most games upon activation.

The interesting thing about Cain, though, is how quickly he has been forgotten by Fantasy owners. Granted, there are roster restrictions that made it tough for a lot of teams to hold on to him, but Cain, in Week 2, was owned in 77 percent of leagues. He has tumbled all the way down to 29 percent ownership. During draft season, he was drafted, on average, at the 270th spot, ahead of Alex Rios, Zack Cozart, Colby Rasmus, and Mike Aviles. Smart Fantasy owners, who have been hoarding closers- in-waiting or seventh outfielders on their bench, might want to consider making a sneaky scoop-up of Cain in the next couple of weeks, before everyone else catches wind of his activation. He likely won't be on the same level as someone like Carlos Quentin, but he could be more valuable to a Fantasy team than a Dayan Viciedo or David DeJesus.

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Daniel Nava, OF, Red Sox: Not sure if anyone's noticed this, but Daniel Nava has been batting leadoff for the Red Sox, the team that currently ranks third in the major leagues in runs scored. Nava has played in six of the last seven games for Boston and has batted first three times, eighth once, and second twice. Among all players with 75 or more at-bats, Nava (.445) ranks fourth, in all of baseball, in on-base percentage, behind Joey Votto (.477), David Wright (.464), and Paul Konerko (.451). Just for fun, looking at Nava's situational stats, we see that, batting first, he has a .458 OBP. He's scored 19 runs on the season, and driven in 18. While his power numbers weren't overwhelmingly impressive in the minors -- Nava's career-high in homers is 12 -- he had a .317 average and .414 OBP over 444 games played. His career minor league OPS is .911.

More importantly, for Nava, it seems like he's earned Bobby Valentine's trust playing the Green Monster in left field. He practices caroms off the wall before the games and has three assists and 30 put-outs in just 26 games so far.

Which, of course, brings up a dilemma: when Carl Crawford shows up in about a month, needing a position, the Sox are going to have to do something with Nava. Perhaps, by that point, the Will Middlebrooks-Adrian Gonzalez-Kevin Youkilis rotation will have figured itself out, leaving right field somewhat open (Ryan Sweeney and Scott Podsdnik also stand in the way of Nava and every day playing time). But the day of Crawford's return still seems distant, and opinions on when it will occur change every day. For now, Nava is a very sneaky and underrated play, especially in points leagues, where Nava, who is owned in just 26 percent of leagues, has scored the 24th-most points among outfielders over the past two weeks. And he jumps up to the sixth-best outfielder in points leagues in the last seven days, despite having fewer at-bats than the top five.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Nando Di Fino at @NandoCBS . You can also send our staff an e-mail at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Diamondbacks' Brad Ziegler to face hitters soon
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(11:33 pm ET) Diamondbacks pitcher Brad Ziegler will face hitters soon, according to FoxSports.com.

Ziegler had microfracture surgery in September, and is working his way back. He threw a bullpen session on Friday, and should face hitters pretty soon. The 35-year-old is expected to open the year in the bullpen if healthy. 

Ziegler posted a 3.49 ERA over 67 innings last season. 


Yankees' Carlos Beltran says his elbow feels fine
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(11:23 pm ET) Yankees outfielder Carlos Beltran said his elbow felt fine after Friday's game, according to the Journal News.

Beltran went 0-2 with a walk during the game, but didn't wear a brace on his arm. He said it's now just a matter of getting his timing down before the regular season. The 37-year-old is expected to open the season as a starter in the outfield.

Beltran hit .233/.301/.402 over 403 at-bats last season. 


Pirates' Jameson Taillon to face hitters next week
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9:50 pm ET) Pirates pitcher Jameson Taillon will face hitters next week, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Taillon underwent Tommy John surgery last April, but is working his way back. Taillon tossed a 30 pitch bullpen session on Friday. He's expected to do it again on Tuesday. If his Tuesday session goes well, Taillon will throw live batting practice on Friday.

Taillon said he's feeling pretty good about his progress. "I'm feeling really strong, throwing the ball cleaner than I ever have," Taillon said. "Everything has been feeling really good. The elbow has been responding really well."

Taillon is expected to open the season in the minors, but could be promoted to the majors if he gets off to a strong start. 


Brewers' Adam Lind dealing with back injury
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9:23 pm ET) Brewers first baseman Adam Lind is dealing with a back injury, according to MLB.com.

Lind's back flared up while taking grounders on Thursday. He was scratched from Friday's game, and is considered day-to-day. Lind was acquired by the club during the offseason, and is expected to see significant time at first base.

The 31-year-old Lind hit .321/.381/.479 over 290 at-bats last season. 


Report: Mets' Daniel Murphy dealing with bruised hand
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9:18 pm ET) Mets infielder Daniel Murphy is dealing with a bruised right hand, according to ESPN.

X-rays reportedly came back "OK," and Murphy shouldn't miss much time. Murphy was hit in the hand during Friday's game against the Tigers. He stayed in the game to run the bases, but was replaced at the start of the next inning. 

The 29-year-old Murphy hit .289/.332/.403 over 596 at-bats last season. 


Diamondbacks' Chris Owings takes batting practice on Friday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9:10 pm ET) Diamondbacks shortstop Chris Owings was able to take batting practice on Friday, according to MLB.com.

Owings is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, and has been limited early in camp. Manager Chip Hale said he was happy with Owings progress, and noted it was a big day for the infielder.

"Everything he's done has been right on time," D-backs manager Chip Hale said. "We've slowed him down, because it's important that that swing is right. This was a huge day for him."

Owings will likely go through another round of BP before he's ready for game action. The team may also opt to give him at-bats in minor-league games before using him during actual spring training games.

The 23-year-old Owings hit .261/.300/.406 over 310 at-bats last season. He's expected to open the year as the team's starting shortstop. 


Angels' Matt Lindstrom feeling 100 percent this spring
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9:03 pm ET) Angels reliever Matt Lindstrom is feeling pretty good after having ankle surgery last season, according to the Los Angeles Times

Lindstrom struggled with oblique and ankle injuries last season, but has drawn some rave reviews during camp. "Right now, his stuff is very similar to when he was throwing the ball well early last year," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "That's exciting. This guy has closer's stuff. It's just a matter of how consistent he is and if he can keep it going."

Lindstrom admitted he came back from ankle surgery too soon last year, and it impacted his numbers. He was able to rehab the injury during the offseason, though, and feels much better now. "I can tell the ball is coming out of my hand better, the way it's supposed to," Lindstrom said. "It wasn't right last year, but now, I don't have any reservations. I can concentrate on getting people out."

The 35-year-old posted a 5.03 ERA over 34 innings last season. He's competing for a role in the Angels bullpen this spring. 


Orioles sign Elih Villanueva to a minor-league deal
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(8:54 pm ET) The Orioles have signed pitcher Elih Villanueva to a minor-league deal, according to MLB.com.

Villanueva has played in just one game in the majors. He gave up eight runs over three innings in a start for the Marlins back in 2011. Villanueva had a strong showing in the Dominican League, leading the circuit with a 2.63 ERA.


Reds' Stephenson hoping to make an impact this season
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(8:49 pm ET) Reds pitcher Robert Stephenson is hoping to make an impact in the majors this season, according to MLB.com.

Stephenson may not open the year in the majors, but is hoping he arrives sooner rather than later. "My goal by the end of the year is to be in Cincinnati," Stephenson said. "It's your dream growing up as a kid. It would be awesome to be there but at the same time, I want to get to a point where I deserve to be there and belong there."

Stephenson is considered the team's top prospect. He dealt with shoulder issues earlier in camp, but is cleared for action now. 

Manager Bryan Price said Stephenson has a few things to work on, but seemed optimistic about his long-term outlook. With Robert, it's command -- not necessarily throwing strikes, but the quality of the strikes," Price said.

The 22-year-old should start the year in the minors, but could earn a promotion based on how well he pitches.


Mariners' Chris Taylor homers, triples on Friday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(8:42 pm ET) Mariners shortstop Chris Taylor hit a home run and tripled on Friday against the Dodgers.

Taylor came into camp competing for the team's shortstop position with Brad Miller. While Miller likely has the upper hand, he's coming off a down season. Taylor, on the other hand, played well in the minors in 2014, and hit .287 in a brief major-league debut. It's believed whoever loses out on the starting role will be sent to the minors. 


 
 
 
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