Monday, February 25, 2008

Down on the Farm: Around the Infield

This week on "Down on the Farm" we are going to take a look at what infielders have a chance of cracking big league rosters this season.

(1) Evan Longoria-3B Tampa Bay Rays: With only one full season of minor league baseball under his belt Longoria looks to be ready to take over third base duties for the Rays. The former 1st round pick looks to be next in line in the crop of young talented third basemen we have seen enter the league in the last few years. Between AA and AAA last season Longoria batted .299 (AVG)-26 (HR)-95 (RBI) with a .402 (OBP) in only 485 AB's pretty good numbers for your first extended taste of professional baseball. The Rays who insist that they aren't handing the job to Longoria, moved their incumbent third baseman Akinori Iwamura to second this off season making the road for Longoria pretty clear. While there is a chance that the team may take a more cautious approach, similar to what the Brewers did last season with Ryan Braun, and start Longoria out in the minors. Don't let that fear temper your expectations for him too much, because even if starts in there, AAA won't hold him for too long. My guess is Longoria makes the team out of spring training, with the Rays finally showing promise it makes sense to put your best players on the field and stop worrying about the future. If Longoria is there all season I would say a .290-30-95 line would be very likely and with a good lineup around him those numbers could be even higher.

(2) Andy LaRoche-3B Los Angeles Dodgers: Two years ago many people in baseball thought that LaRoche was among the greatest third base prospects in the game and while no one is going to label him a bust his star has fallen somewhat. LaRoche has watched more heralded prospects like Braun and Alex Gordon pass him in the eyes of most baseball pundits. Last season LaRoche hit .226-1-10 in 93 AB's last season with the Dodgers, that followed a .309-18-48 campaign in AAA in only 265 AB's. LaRoche is battling Nomar Garciappara for the starting third base job in Spring Training, and while it won't be easy LaRoche should win the job and get the majority of AB's this season. Since LaRoche has struggled thus far in his major league career while other third basemen have flourished, he will be over looked come draft day. Use this to your advantage, while he probably won't be your starter in most leagues LaRoche could be a steal as a Utility or IF type player in your league. LaRoche should flirt with batting .300 as a rookie and I think he will give you solid power number in the 20-25 HR range

(3) Daric Barton-1B Oakland Athletics: A's fans have been awaiting Barton's arrival in Oakland since the team acquired him in the 2004 trade with the Cardinals for Mark Mulder, and given his success in his September call up it seems as though Barton is here to stay. While this is a bit of a stretch to say Barton is in a position battle as the A's don't have much legitimate competition for him in camp, Barton must continue to produce to keep the starting job. Last season in his call up Barton hit .347-4-8 in only 72 AB's, this followed a minor league year where he hit .293-9-70 in 516 AB's. Barton's biggest value is his batting eye as he walked more times then he struck out (78-69) in the minors. The negative for Barton is contrary to his call up numbers Barton is not likely a 30+ HR first baseman. So while a fantasy owner needs realize his limitations, don't write off Barton to be Sean Casey just yet. So consider Barton to be a solid Utility option on your team that will help in Average, Runs, and RBI.

(4) Brandon Wood- SS/3B Los Angeles Angels: Wood like LaRoche was on top of the prospect world back in 2006 but now has slipped under the radar somewhat. Wood who last season moved over to third base, is being asked this season to switch back to shortstop as the Angels traded Orlando Cabrera in the off season and have an open position battle under way. Wood will have to battle Maicer Izturis and Erick Aybar for the starting job, Izturis is the most known commodity of the three but doesn't have the offensive potential of Aybar or Wood. Between Aybar and Wood, Aybar is probably the better defender and has good speed with the ability to steal 35-40 bases, he lacks the one thing that Wood has that the Angels desperately need; power. In 2005 Wood hit .321-43-115 in 536 AB's in High-A ball, since then Wood has hit .276-25-83 in 2006 and .272-23-77 last year in the minors. During his time with the Angels last season he struggled hitting just .152-1-3 in 33 AB's. Don't let the decrease or his small sample of big league numbers scare you, Wood is a middle of the lineup hitter who can hit 30 HR's and steal around 15 bases a year. Though Wood might not win the starting job in camp the Angels will need his bat in their lineup if they are to compete with the Indians, Tigers and Red Sox. I think Wood is starting by May and keeps that job for the next 10 years, you could do a lot worse then a shortstop who hits .280-25-90 for your fantasy team.

Next week we will take a look at some outfielders looking to win a starting role. Have a great week.

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