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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
Ottavino seeking opinions; Axford, Betancourt could close for Rockies
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:32 pm ET) Rockies closer Adam Ottavino, who could be facing Tommy John surgery, is expected to receive "another opinion or two" on his injured right elbow, manager Walt Weiss told MLB Network Radio on Wednesday.

"Tough news for us and tough news for Adam, we still are getting another opinion or two, but doesn't look great," Weiss said.

Ottavino was placed on the 15-day DL last week with a right triceps injury. Weiss indicated that John Axford and Rafael Betancourt are two options for the Rockies in the ninth inning in Ottavino's absence.

"We have Axford and he's closed a lot of games in this league," Weiss said. "We still have Betancourt as well"


Rockies' Weiss not seeing same production from Carlos Gonzalez
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:32 pm ET) Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez hasn't quite figured things out at the plate to start 2015. Gonzalez is hitting just .200 with two home runs and six RBI in 85 at-bats this season, something manager Walt Weiss is a bit surprised to see happening, according to MLB Network Radio.

"We haven't seen him clicking like he has in the past and we're hoping that's right around the corner," Weiss said.

Gonzalez is currently hitting for the worst average of his career after hitting over .300 in 2012 and 2013.


Rangers' Josh Hamilton expected to start rehab assignment next week
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:26 pm ET) Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton is scheduled to play his second extended spring training game Wednesday after getting a day off Tuesday, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Hamilton, who is currently on the 15-day DL with a shoulder injury, is expected to begin his rehab assignment with Triple-A Round Rock next week.


D-Backs switch Mark Trumbo, A.J. Pollock in batting order
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:25 pm ET) Diamondbacks right fielder Mark Trumbo will bat second for the first time in his career in Game 1 of Wednesday's day-night doubleheader against Colorado.

Trumbo, who is hitting .083 through his first three games in May, will flip spots in the batting order with A.J. Pollock. Pollock, who is hitting .071 (1 for 14) over his last four games, will bat cleanup.

Arizona is considered an underdog (+115) in Game 1, according to VegasInsider.com.


Cardinals OF Randal Grichuk (back) takes BP Tuesday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(12:24 pm ET) Cardinals outfielder Randal Grichuk took batting practice on Tuesday for the first time since going on the disabled list on April 17 with a back injury. The next step for Grichuk is to head to the team's training facility in Jupiter, Fla. to play in extended spring training games starting Friday, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Grichuk will likely head to Class A Palm Beach for a quick rehab assignment before returning to St. Louis, though he may be able to skip that step if all goes well. It has not been announced exactly when the Cardinals expect Grichuk to be activated from the DL.


Angels SP Tyler Skaggs (elbow) hoping to throw off mound by July
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(12:16 pm ET) Angels starter Tyler Skaggs, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery, has been taking a planned week off from his rehab, and will resume throwing on Monday. He's currently slated to start having bullpen sessions by July 1, according to The Orange County Register.

Skaggs made 18 starts for the Halos last season, going 5-5 with a 4.30 ERA before going down with an elbow injury in August. He is not expected to return to a big-league mound until 2016. 


Dodgers' Kenley Jansen could join the club early next week
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:15 pm ET) Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen, on the disabled list recovering from left foot surgery, could be ready to join the club as early as next week, depending on how he responds to back-to-back outings, according to the Orange County Register.

Jansen, who tossed a scoreless inning of work on Sunday, will make his third appearance with Class-A Rancho Cucamonga on Wednesday, and is scheduled to pitch again on Thursday.


Dodgers OF Yasiel Puig still not cleared to run the bases
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:11 pm ET) Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig has yet to receive clearance to run the bases as part of his workouts in Los Angeles, manager Don Mattingly said Tuesday, per the Orange County Register.

Puig has been on the 15-day disabled list since April 26 with a hamstring injury. He won't be able to start a minor-league rehab assignment until he can run the bases.


Yankees' Pirela could eat into playing time of Drew, Gregorius
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(12:10 pm ET) Yankees infielder Jose Pirela is expected to be activated from the disabled list on Wednesday, and that could be bad news for Stephen Drew and Didi Gregorius, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman. Pirela has been out since he suffered a concussion during spring training.

And, despite the fact that Pirela has just 24 big-league at-bats on his ledger (all coming at the end of the 2014 season), Heyman believes he could cut into the playing time of Drew and/or Gregorius, each of whom have gotten off to slow starts this year. 

Drew is hitting just .167 on the year and Gregorius has committed four errors at shortstop. 

Meanwhile, Pirela was hitting .579 (11 for 19) at Triple-A this season as part of his rehab. He had a home run and four doubles as well and could see time at both middle-infield positions for the Yankees.


Red Sox OF Hanley Ramirez hopes to be ready in a couple days
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:09 pm ET) Red Sox outfielder Hanley Ramirez is still feeling the effects of running into the right field wall Monday, but is feeling better, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman.

Ramirez, who has been out of the lineup since crashing into the wall, hopes to be ready in a couple of days. Ramirez is hitting .283 with 10 home runs and 22 RBI in 92 at-bats this season.


 
 
 
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