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NL Outfielders: Day Three
by Tim Polko

Today's Fantasy Rx

National League Outfielders with Positive Draft Value

Quick Key to the tables:
AB = At-bats.  H = Hits.  BA = Batting Average.  HR= Home Runs.
RBI = Runs Batted In.  SB = Stolen Bases.  R = Runs.  B = Bats.  T = Throws.
Pos = Position qualification based on 20 appearances or max. # of games in 2005.
Age = Player's Age as of October 2, 2005.
4x4 = BA, HR, RBI, and SB in 12-team, $260 leagues with 23-man rosters in 2005.
5x5 = BA, HR, RBI, SB, and R in 12-team, $260 leagues with 23-man rosters in 2005.
RAR = Runs Above Replacement in 2005; Adjusted RAR = RAR modified to
consider a player's 2005 defensive rating in Scoresheet fantasy baseball.

We ranked players in order from the highest draft value in a 4x4 league to the lowest. As the majority of fantasy leagues allow you to keep anyone traded to the other league, we listed each player in the league where he started the season.

Jason Michaels28988.304431354O
PHI Phillies4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 29B:R    T:R9910.711.4

The Indians' new everyday left fielder now owns .291/.380/.442 career averages in 808 AB, as well as a .14 walk rate, a .77 contact rate, 4.06 #P/PA, and a 1.07 G-F. Departing one of baseball's best batters' parks for the American League's best pitchers' park could create plenty of problems as Michaels gains his first full-time job, however I see no fundamental reason for him not to provide an OBP at least comparable to that of Coco Crisp. My major concern involves his meager quantitative contribution, so given a virtually certain BA drop, nothing here provides any reason to expect Michaels to hit double-digit value. Let the Indians' fan in your league take this gamble unless OBP factors in your scoring.

Jason Ellison35293.2644241449O
SF Giants4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 27B:R    T:R99-7.6-7.6

More than two solid seasons at AAA Fresno justified the Giants' decision to keep Ellison at the end of camp. Injuries quickly pushed him into a starting role, where he compiled a .277/.335/.402 first-half performance with eleven steals in fourteen attempts. However, he completely collapsed in the second half once he moved back to the bench, even earning a brief demotion in August. The key to his season rests in his extreme platoon split. Ellison posted a .328/.375/.454 against southpaws while falling below a .600 OPS against right-handers. Teammates Steve Finley and Todd Linden actually suffered from similar problems, but I believe Ellison's speed gives him an edge for that last spot on the bench. Nabbing him during the endgame should add a dozen steals to your team at a surprisingly reasonable price.

Ryan Church26877.287942341O
WAS Nationals4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 26B:L    T:L888.58.5

This forgotten rookie sensation spent two months absolutely abusing big league pitchers and finished the first half with a .325/.381/.544 line in 160 AB despite an awful April that pushed him to the edge of the minors. Church emerged following Terrmel Sledge's season-ending injury, but he unfortunately suffered a shoulder strain of his own at the end of June. Upon his return, Church simply was not the same player, losing at-bats to a plethora of teammates despite the promise he displayed in the spring. While the Brad Wilkerson trade seemingly vaults Church into the starting lineup, his uncertain playing time diminishes his likely value below his 2005 earnings despite his respectable patience and power potential.

J.D. Drew25272.2861536148O
LA Dodgers4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 29B:L    T:R8820.621.4

Drewmonia, (Drew moan ya), n. 1. Fantasy disease characterized by the sudden urge to bid excessively on a fragile player and caused by observation of said player's impressive skill history. The only known cure for Drewmonia involves hiring a partner to muzzle you when anyone says "Nineteen dollars" during the bidding on an injury-prone star, a fair price for anyone capable of earning $0 or $40 yet most likely to return $10 or $30.

Wily Mo Pena31179.2541951242O
CIN Reds4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 23B:R    T:R7746.3

Even though he suffered both from injuries and terribly inconsistent at-bats, I only observed slight backsliding from Pena in his second season as a semi-regular. Now he enjoys his first unquestioned starting job and an extremely comfortable spot in the middle of a loaded lineup. The twenty-four-year-old certainly owns the skills necessary for a 30/100 season, so take advantage of any lull in the bidding here. Spending about fifteen on Pena should net you an ideal third outfielder, possible All-Star, and at least an excellent long-term keeper.

Victor Diaz28072.2571238641O
NY Mets4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 23B:R    T:R775.85.1

I can't fathom why Omar Minaya hates Diaz so much, but see tremendous upside here. The former to prospect just turned 24 in December and posted a .300/.353/.541 performance with 10 HR, 34 RBI, and a 14:47 BB:K in the 170 AB he saw for AAA Norfolk(IL) when a roster crunch forced Diaz to the minors. However, he also compiled a .329 OBP and .468 SLG for the Mets, along with a .11 walk rate, .71 contact rate, and a 1.40 G-F. Further improvement in his contact rate will push Diaz from interesting youngster into an everyday player with an OPS approaching .900. He similarly will benefit when his fluke platoon split reverses. Only the whims of Willie Randolph stand between Diaz and a $20 season, so while he might need one more change of scenery before the anticipated breakout, Diaz appears on track for roto stardom in the surprisingly near future.

Ryan Klesko443110.2481858361O
SD Padres4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 34B:L    T:L675-0.8

Reemerging contact problems kept Klesko from repeating his 2004 numbers, and we could see his RBI drop even lower if he spends all season in the #2 hole as expected. Not only shouldn't he start against right-handers with Doug Mirabelli and Mike Piazza both available, Adrian Gonzalez stands just behind Klesko salivating at the nearly-available first base job. I see no indication that Klesko will return to double-digit value, so while he'll possess decent value in sim leagues due to his respectable OBP, he doesn't rate roto attention as more than an outfield afterthought in the late rounds.

Matt Murton14045.321714219O
CH Cubs4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 23B:R    T:R6511.411.4

Many Cubs' fans view Murton as the best chance for Dusty Baker to prove he doesn't hate rookies despite Baker's refusal to bat the kid in the logical #2 hole when Murton's OBP might have saved Chicago's season. The good news is that Murton simply demolished the Southern League, registering a .342/.403/.498 with 8 HR, 46 RBI, an 18/23 SB%, and a 29:42 BB:K for AA West Tenn, thoroughly earning his mid-season promotion. Yet he didn't match Ronny Cedeno's accomplishments at AAA Iowa and won't receive a long leash as Baker tries to earn an extension this spring. A 2.55 G-F similarly gives me pause here, so although his consistently impressive BA indicates good upside, Murton appears far more likely to struggle to emerge as a productive regular. Let someone else spend the ten bucks or more likely required to obtain his services.

Chris Burke31879.2485261149O
HOU Astros4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 25B:R    T:R56-9.1-5.3

One of the biggest sleepers in the game, Burke slipped from Rookie of the Year favorite to fantasy obscurity until a series-ending home run of Joey Devine ended one of the best playoff games in history. He started throughout the NLCS before returning to the bench against Chicago, whereupon the Astros' offense badly sputtered. Burke quietly posted a .270/.335/.446 following first-half difficulties. Adding four homer and three steals to those averages certainly indicate he still owns plenty of roto upside, and with Craig Biggio likely headed toward retirement at year's end, Burke should requalify at second base while beginning to emerge as Houston's future #2 hitter. Almost any price in single digits looks like a bargain in standard keeper leagues.

Brad Hawpe30580.262947238O
COL Rockies4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 26B:L    T:L552.6-0.7

Almost certainly stuck in a platoon with Ryan Shealy or Eli Marrero, Hawpe simply failed to fulfill the promise of his minor league numbers. A strained hamstring sidelined him for several weeks in the second half just as he seemed to hit his stride, and then he completely flopped upon returning in December. Of course, Hawpe still remains a primary starter in Colorado, set to bat behind Helton, Holliday, and Atkins. He hit .295/.368/.464 with 8 HR, 39 RBI, and a 27:48 BB:K in 224 first-half at-bats, so I see no reason why doubling those numbers won't give us a fair baseline for Hawpe in 2006. Bid into the teens without hesitation.

Jose Cruz, Jr.37093.2511850046O
Age: 31B:S    T:R5513.210.5

I see no need for another outfielder in Los Angeles after the club re-signed Cruz to cover left field while Jayson Werth recuperates. Although he failed to live up to the hype lavished on him in the Mariners' system, Cruz owns solid all-around skills and certainly deserves regular at-bats. Last season started with a trade to Arizona for Casey Fossum in a steal for Tampa. Cruz then moved to Boston at the end of July for a couple of lesser prospects, unsurprisingly failed to impress the Red Sox in the twelve at-bats he received, and then moved along to Los Angeles for a PTBN. He rewarded the Dodgers for their faith by pounding the ball for the last six weeks of the year, earning his contract extension with a .301/.391/.532 performance in 156 AB. With plenty of patience and decent power potential, Cruz should prosper this year, meriting bids around ten bucks from any club with a strong BA foundation.

NL Outfield Week continues tomorrow.

Today's Fantasy Rx: Brad Hawpe, Wily Mo Pena, Chris Burke, and Victor Diaz easily stand out as the best gambles here due to their combination of youth and skill histories. Any team that rosters two or more of these guys at the expected conservative draft prices could land a couple of tremendous bargains and tremendous trade chits in any long-term league.

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