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Hitters to target for the second half

Senior Fantasy Writer
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For Fantasy owners, the All-Star break is a time for reflection. In a sport that happens every day, six months of the year, it's the rare chance to pause and make sense of what all you've witnessed so far.

So I've done exactly that here, assessing which performances from the first half I trust and figuring out which players to target as a result.

You can call them second-half sleepers or busts if you'd prefer, but I simply identify them as hitters I like and hitters I don't like. Yes, I'm sticking to hitters for now. If you'd like to read up on starting pitchers, be sure to check out the latest from my colleague Al Melchior.

And ... break!

Note: Season-to-date stats are current for games played through Friday, July 11.

Hitters I like

Matt Adams, 1B, Cardinals: Most anyone with a platform to predict such things predicted 30-plus homers for Adams in 2014, which makes the 10 he has heading into the break (or at least the final weekend before the break) a bit of a letdown. But he's looked more like the breakthrough slugger he was touted to be in 26 games since returning from a calf injury in mid-June, hitting seven of those home runs to go along with a .358 (34 for 95) batting average. The last three have come against left-handed pitchers, which is especially encouraging with the Cardinals attempting to fit four players into three spots with Oscar Taveras in the mix. If Adams proves competent against lefties and continues to give the Cardinals the power they've lacked all season, he'll play. I'm a little skeptical of the batting average, as any observer of BABIP would be, but the overall production I'm convinced will go up.

Martin Prado, 2B/3B/OF, Diamondbacks: In Prado's case, I'll admit to having some blind faith. It paid off last year, when he rebounded from an even slower start to hit .324 in the second half. His track record has been too consistent for me to believe he won't do it again. In fact, in terms of batting average, he's been as reliable as any non-superstar over the last four years, the one blip being a .260 mark in 2011 when he battled a staph infection much of the year. His strikeout rate is higher than usual but still above-average for major-leaguers in general, and many of those strikeouts came early. He has just 21 in his last 42 games, batting .294 (48 for 163) during that stretch.

Manny Machado, 3B, Orioles: While projecting first-round numbers for him is something nobody is prepared to do, Machado may have as much raw talent as any player in baseball. It's why those Alex Rodriguez comparisons began when the Orioles selected him third overall in the 2010 draft and why they persisted even as he put up mediocre numbers in his quick climb up the minor-league ladder. At age 22, he hasn't fully capitalized on those talents yet, but he's at the point where any hot streak could signal a breakthrough. And he's on a hot streak now, batting .415 (22 for 53) with five home runs in his last 13 games. After he led the AL with 51 doubles last year, an improved home run total is the logical next step as he continues to fill out. Knowing the upside, I'd be willing to gamble on him while he's still affordable.

J.J. Hardy, SS, Orioles: As much as any player today, Hardy has a knack for cramming an obscene number of home runs into the span of just a few weeks, which seems odd given that he's not a monster home run hitter, having only once hit 30 in a season. But just look at last year as an example. In his first 30 games, he hit three home runs. In his next 29, he hit 10. In his next 53, he hit five. In his next 24, he hit seven. He finished with a thud, hitting zero in his final 23 games. Pretty bunchy, right? It's why I take a glass-half-full approach to him having only three halfway through the season. He has that much more ground to make up (and may have already started to make it up considering all three have come in his last 19 games). It wouldn't be unprecedented. Back in 2008 with the Brewers, Hardy hit two home runs in his first 53 games only to hit 22 in his final 93.

C.J. Cron, 1B, Angels: You think Cron is amped to be playing every day? In 17 games since Raul Ibanez last graced the lineup (he's since been banished to Kansas City), Cron has homered six times in 17 games, demonstrating the raw power that has some comparing him to Mark Trumbo. He may be even more than that. While Trumbo's proclivity for striking out has condemned him to a batting average in the .250 range during his major-league career, Cron maintained a surprisingly low strikeout rate in the minors and has shown his ability to make contact since his promotion. That's not to say he's Victor Martinez at the dish -- and in fact, his strikeout rate has risen with increased exposure -- but a batting average in the .275 range would help make up for his low walk rate, keeping him a respectable utility option in points leagues. His Rotisserie value should be obvious.

Hitters I don't like

Josh Harrison, 2B/3B/OF, Pirates: Harrison himself hasn't done anything to deserve this spot on this list. In fact, he's done all he could to stay mixed league-relevant, first by delaying Gregory Polanco's arrival by playing so well in right field, then by filling in for an injured Neil Walker, then by filling in for an injured Starling Marte. But now that everyone's healthy, he just doesn't measure up in terms of talent, whether compared to Polanco, Walker, Marte, Pedro Alvarez or, of course, Andrew McCutchen. The Pirates have done a pretty good job of keeping him involved by rotating him through the several positions he's capable of playing, but that sort of arrangement can lose momentum quickly, especially if Harrison's production suffers with the inconsistent at-bats. Already, he seems to be feeling the effects with a .242 (8 for 33) batting average in 10 July games.

Casey McGehee, 3B, Marlins: McGehee currently ranks ninth among third baseman in Head-to-Head points leagues and 11th in Rotisserie, convincing Fantasy owners (and apparently Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, who nominated him for the final vote for the All-Star game) he's a legitimate option at the position. But while the reasons for his breakthrough are difficult to identify, the red flags are everywhere. For starters, he has just one home run, losing his most useful skill from his days with the Brewers, Pirates and Yankees. And while he's made up for it with a high batting average, his .371 BABIP -- fourth-highest among qualifying hitters -- suggests it's too good to be true. When it inevitably declines (along with his .398 batting average with runners in scoring position, which accounts for his 53 RBI), he won't have much to fall back on and will quickly become an afterthought in mixed leagues.

Kurt Suzuki, C, Twins: Unlike McGehee, Suzuki's .307 batting average is a little easier to believe thanks to a low strikeout rate that ranks third in all of baseball. But he's always made contact at a high rate, and he hit only .237 from 2010 to 2013. The closest he's ever come to his current mark is when he hit .279 way back in 2008. The "way back" is worth stressing because it's not like Suzuki is some 25-year-old just coming into his own. This much of a transformation this deep into a player's career is reason enough for skepticism. Even Carlos Ruiz showed flashes of potential in the years leading up to his 2012 season, and that was fluky enough. If you're looking for a replacement for Yadier Molina at catcher, Wilson Ramos, Travis d'Arnaud and Stephen Vogt are all better choices.

Erick Aybar, SS, Angels: Aybar has been a useful Fantasy shortstop before, but there's a difference between useful and fourth-best, which is where he currently ranks at the position in Head-to-Head points leagues. It's not like any one thing he's doing is so ridiculously out of character, but everything is just a little too good to be true. He already has 48 RBI after previously never having more than 59 in a season, but that's largely a product of him batting fifth in the order. He's also on pace for career highs in home runs and doubles -- not by a crazy amount, but expecting him to continue to do everything he's done better than he's ever done it before is a bit much to ask. Judging by his game log, he's overdue for a cold streak, having not had one since the first three weeks of the season, and when it comes, I suspect it'll correct his numbers just enough to bump him out of the top 12 at the position. As rapidly as middle infielders decline in the post-steroids era, I wouldn't expect a career year for Aybar at age 30.

Allen Craig, 1B/OF, Cardinals: The funny thing is I still trust in Craig's track record and consider him to be, at his essence, a .300 hitter. Unimpeded, he would probably bounce back with something close to his usual numbers, as I predict for Prado, but he's a victim of timing in this case, the most obvious choice to sit with Oscar Taveras in the mix. With a pronounced righty-lefty split this year, he'll still get a share of the at-bats, but unless the Cardinals commit to playing Taveras in center field every day, which they've been reluctant to do, it won't be enough to save his season. I wouldn't want to drop Craig yet just in case my theory is wrong, but I don't hold out much hope for him.

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Player News
Jason Kipnis not "at full speed"
by Al Melchior | Data Analyst
(2:54 pm ET) One day after serving as the Indians' designated hitter, Jason Kipnis was left out of the Indians' starting lineup for Monday's game at the Royals. Indians manager Terry Francona told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that he had Kipnis batting seventh on Sunday, "because I don't think he's going to be at full speed," as he continues to deal with a hamstring injury.

Kipnis has now started just twice in the last six games.


Wilfredo Tovar getting the call
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(2:47 pm ET) According to NJ.com, the Mets will call up Wilfredo Tovar for Tuesday's game at Washington. They need an extra infielder with Dilson Herrera sidelined by a strained right quadriceps.

Tovar has spent most of 2014 at Double-A Binghamton, hitting .282 with a .690 OPS in 255 at-bats there.


Danny Duffy set for Monday start
by Al Melchior | Data Analyst
(2:43 pm ET) Danny Duffy was in the Royals' starting lineup for Monday's game versus the Indians, as expected. He had his last two turns in the rotation skipped, as he recovered from inflammation in his left shoulder.

Mark Trumbo aiming to elevate ball
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(2:43 pm ET) Diamondbacks first baseman Mark Trumbo homered twice Sunday at Colorado, giving him 11 in 305 at-bats this year. According to the Arizona Republic, he's been looking to improve his home run total by hitting the ball in the air.

"There's no money for me on the ground," Trumbo said. "I need to drive the ball. I need to hit the ball in the air. It's frustrating when you're not doing it, but fortunately today I was able to get a few out there, and that's kind of what I need to do."

According to FanGraphs.com, Trumbo's fly-ball rate is actually a bit higher than it was last season, but fewer of those fly balls are resulting in home runs. The former Angels slugger missed 71 games earlier this season with a stress fracture in his foot.

"Looking at my numbers, if I'm a 30-home run guy, maybe I'm not that far off pace for missing half the year," said Trumbo. "But it feels like this year it's been more frustrating. The balls I've hit hard have been lower for outs. You look around the league, and the guys who are in my same mold probably are getting the ball up in the air. That's what I've got to do, too."


John Jaso, Craig Gentry likely done
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(2:36 pm ET) Athletics manager Bob Melvin acknowledged Sunday that catcher John Jaso and outfielder Craig Gentry are running out of time to return from their concussions and could miss the rest of the season, according to MLB.com.

"With eight games left," Melvin said, "there's always that possibility."

Craig suffered his concussion Sept. 9 after suffering one previously in 2011. Jaso's came way back in August. He was expected to return as a pinch-hitter and part-time DH at one point, but a visit with a concussion specialist Sept. 10 pushed back his timetable.


Jurickson Profar's shoulder still not feeling right
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(2:27 pm ET) Rangers infielder Jurickson Profar, who has spent all of 2014 rehabbing a torn muscle in the back of his armpit, won't play in the Arizona Fall League as hoped, according to the Dallas Morning News, and will instead visit with sports medicine specialists across the country to try and find a resolution to an injury that should have healed long ago.

"He's worked extremely hard, but he hasn't bounced back," general manager Jon Daniels said. "We need to get him right, so we are gathering additional opinions from a number of the best doctors out there. It's been a frustrating case."

Profar was named the top prospect according to Baseball America prior to 2013. His availability for the start of 2015 is at this point unknown.


Orioles shuffle starting rotation
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(2:19 pm ET) The Orioles will start right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez at the Yankees on Tuesday, allowing them to stick to their plan of giving each of their starting pitchers an extra day of rest heading into the postseason.

"There's a fine line between not having enough rest and having too much rest, so we're trying to have every guy that pitches get one extra day before the start," manager Buck Showalter told the Baltimore Sun. “We're going to try to give everybody, so you're not too far away from the ball but you get a little extra rest. They all seem to respond well to that."

While left-hander Wei-Yin Chen will start Monday at the Yankees, right-hander Chris Tillman won't start again until Friday at Toronto. Miguel Gonzalez will start the team's final game Sunday at Toronto.

As of now, Bud Norris and Kevin Gausman are scheduled to start Wednesday's and Thursday's games at the Yankees, but that could change. Jimenez could end up making a second start before season's end.


Derek Jeter will play final seven games
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(2:05 pm ET) Manager Joe Girardi told the New York Daily News that he intends to have retiring shortstop Derek Jeter in the starting lineup for each of the Yankees' final seven games.

"Obviously, some of those days are going to be DH days to keep him going," Girardi said.

Jeter has begun his final homestand with four straight multi-hit games, batting .471 (8 for 17) with a home run and two doubles during that stretch.

"He's hit the ball with more authority," Girardi said. "That's the ups and downs of a hitter. A lot of times, when a guy is older and they're going through it, everyone's ready to write him off. That's what happens. That's the nature of the business. But he's swung the bat extremely well."


Marcell Ozuna's ankle injury does him in
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:54 pm ET) According to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the ankle sprain Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna suffered Sunday against the Nationals is in fact a high ankle sprain that will sideline him for the final week of the regular season.

First baseman Justin Bour could get more playing time with Ozuna sidelined, with Garrett Jones shifting to the outfield.


Domonic Brown looks good for Tuesday
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:28 pm ET) Phillies outfielder Domonic Brown was out of the starting lineup for a third straight game Sunday at Oakland, but his right hand had healed enough for him to pinch hit. He struck out in his only at-bat.

According to MLB.com, he expects to return Tuesday at Miami.

"It's just a bruise," Brown said. "We took the X-ray and everything came back negative. I'm all good to go."


 
 
 
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