Add Billy Burns right now 

July, 29, 2014
Jul 29
9:39
AM ET
Billy BurnsAP Photo/Gregory BullThe rumors about Billy Burns' speed are true: He has 51 steals in 56 attempts in the minors in 2014.
The best team in baseball promoted one of the best base stealers in the minor leagues Monday, and I, for one, couldn't be more pleased! I remember watching the ridiculously speedy Billy Burns back in March while at spring training in Arizona, and instantly labeled him one of the sleeper stolen base options for this season. The truth on Burns is that he's probably not ready for regular duty in the big leagues, but I haven't forgotten what a smiling Oakland Athletics spokesman said with pride in the press box that sunny March afternoon when I marveled at Burns' aggressiveness: "Yeah, he runs every time he gets on base."

I was hooked!

And now you too can join in the fun, because Burns is on the Athletics.
Josh Harrison, Stephen StrasburgAP Photo/Gene J. PuskarJosh Harrison has six home runs and 13 steals this season, along with extensive positional eligibility.
A few weeks ago, Pittsburgh Pirates utility player Josh Harrison was one of the rare hitters chosen as an All-Star that fantasy owners could still find in free agency in many leagues. Harrison remains available in roughly half of ESPN's standard leagues -- which might make some question why he was in Minneapolis for the Midsummer Classic in the first place -- but on the positive side, his selection also should have steered fantasy owners into seeing if he could help their teams. After all, Harrison is a useful and versatile player. On Sunday, he contributed four hits -- including a home run -- and stole a pair of bases for the awesome combo meal in a 7-5 win at Coors Field; he's now hitting .294 this season.

This isn't meant to convince anyone that Harrison is a must-own, but it should be noted he's pretty much a regular player these days, with outfielder Starling Marte on the disabled list for a concussion and third baseman Pedro Alvarez not able to hit left-handed pitchers and finally seeing the bench because of it.

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Dale ThayerBrace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty ImagesDale Thayer has some closing experience and relatively balanced splits in his career.

In the past week we've seen one established closer moved from the NL to the AL where he gets to continue closing (Huston Street), while on Wednesday another ninth-inning option stayed in the AL but saves don't appear to be close to his immediate future (Joakim Soria). This is obviously a big deal for fantasy owners. No longer do we want Soria and Joe Smith, and suddenly we do want Joaquin Benoit and Neftali Feliz. But for how long? And more trades involving relief pitchers figure to be on the horizon for the next week, with the non-waiver deadline coming on the final day of July.

Here are 10 names of players not currently earning saves that I'm looking at to potentially get saves. It could start in the next week or happen in September or perhaps not until 2015, for you dynasty- and keeper-league owners.


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J.D. MartinezEd Zurga/Getty ImagesJ.D. Martinez revamped his swing over the winter, and it's led to a higher contact rate in 2014.
Many fantasy owners pay attention only to the offensive statistics that directly affect them, from home runs to stolen bases, but analytical folks look at far more items that matter, one of them being contact rate. When a hitter makes contact, good things tend to happen. Big seasons occur. Not all the time, but a high contact rate can tell us quite a bit about what a player is doing and how sustainable his performance is, and it works the other way as well. We're nearly four months into the season. If a guy isn't making contact, surely compared to previous rates, it's often not a good idea to invest.

There are multiple services that provide hard-hit data to teams, and ESPN colleague Mark Simon from the Stats & Information group keeps a careful eye on the information and regularly tweets about it. It's not information available to all, but I'm certainly paying attention, and he's sharing the goods here. Mark contributes to a variety of areas at ESPN and ESPN.com as well as our Fantasy Focus podcast (listen Friday as he co-hosts with me!), and fantasy owners should give heed. Click here for his recent list of players with the biggest increase in contact rate from last season and click here for the list of largest decliners. Pretty telling, I'd say.

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Chase HeadleyAP PhotoChase Headley has a .286/.360/.444 slash line away from Petco Park in his career.

Fantasy owners seem awfully excited about Chase Headley being traded from the San Diego Padres to the New York Yankees on Tuesday, as he vaulted onto the most-added list in hours. While it does free up a potentially valuable player to provide fantasy value again, let's not get too crazy here.

I was a Headley owner for the magical second half back in 2012, when Headley all of a sudden became a monster power hitter, but here’s some news nobody wants to hear: Headley hasn't done so much since, and it hasn't been all due to the spacious, challenging dimensions of beautiful Petco Park. The fact that Headley knocked in the winning run Tuesday/Wednesday around midnight ET, hours after the trade and after not starting his first Yankees game, only heightens the hype.


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Dustin PedroiaAP Photo/Michael DwyerIt's definitely time to trade struggling second baseman Dustin Pedroia, if you can find a buyer.
The fourth-most owned Boston Red Sox hitter -- and seventh-most owned Sox player -- is Brock Holt. Think about that for a minute. These are the defending World Series champions, a team that scored by far the most runs in baseball in 2013, and Holt -- a spunky, versatile overachiever who was never really a prospect -- has forced fantasy owners to love him, as much of the team's offense has disappointed. The Red Sox, meanwhile, throttled the slipping Toronto Blue Jays 14-1 on Monday night for their fifth consecutive win, and the offense looks somewhat rejuvenated. Or is it?

Designated hitter David Ortiz and second baseman Dustin Pedroia are the lone Sox owned in 100 percent of leagues. Pedroia did nothing Monday, while Big Papi homered twice and knocked in four. It's hard to complain about Ortiz, on pace for 36 home runs and 111 RBIs, but Pedroia has been a major disappointment, on pace to combine for 10 home runs plus stolen bases. The third-rounder and No. 3 second baseman off the draft board isn’t among the top 15 at his position on the Player Rater, and it's fair to wonder if he has become overrated and is living off his reputation. Perhaps a bruised right hand remains the main issue at the plate, but that doesn't explain him being a brutal 2-for-8 on stolen base attempts. I'd try to sell on Pedroia's name if you still can, but definitely buy a big second half on Ortiz.

It's possible the Sox demoted their best outfielder to the minor leagues over the weekend when Shane Victorino was activated off the disabled list. Yeah, I think Mookie Betts is going to be a terrific big league hitter.

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Odrisamer Despaigne Denis Poroy/Getty ImagesOdrisamer Despaigne has held opposing hitters to a .177 average in his first five big-league starts.


His name is Odrisamer Despaigne, and you're forgiven if you don't know much about the Cuban right-hander that toils for the San Diego Padres. The franchise that has never had a no-hitter in its history (7,264 regular season games) came close Sunday afternoon. That's right, the Padres have a spacious ballpark and have had some pretty good pitching in their 46 seasons -- from Randy Jones to Bruce Hurst and Jake Peavy -- but San Diego has never had a pitcher toss what San Francisco Giants right-hander Tim Lincecum has done twice versus the Padres in just the past year. Despaigne, a 27-year-old defector who signed a minor-league deal in May, nearly made history in his fifth big-league start, falling four outs short.

Alas, New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy ruined the fun with a two-out, eighth-inning double to left center field and then spoiled Despaigne's chances at a win when he scored on a David Wright single, but let's examine this pitcher. After all, Despaigne boasts a 1.31 ERA and 0.90 WHIP after 34 1/3 innings, but that's not nearly enough to know if there's a fantasy monster lurking. My immediate take the past few weeks has been that he is not someone to invest in due to his paltry strikeout rate. Despaigne has whiffed 17 hitters in a month, so he's not helping anyone there. Good innings matter, but if he's not going to win much -- Sunday was a great example as the offensively inept Padres scored once in eight innings -- and he's not adding strikeouts, that's a problem.

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Prince FielderAP Photo/Tony GutierrezPrince Fielder doesn't have any fantasy value in 2014, but he could be a real hit in 2015.

Myriad fantasy baseball owners already have turned their collective attention to that other sport, the one that schedules its meaningless preseason games in August and then gives us four months of intense games mainly on Sundays and Mondays. However, that doesn't mean those in baseball keeper/dynasty formats should stop paying attention to the summer sport. This is precisely the time where owners with non-contending teams should look to the future and not only sell off useful parts to teams that desire them for future value, but stash away potential keepers for their teams for next season and beyond.

Ownership numbers in ESPN standard formats can tell us only so much, and those are redraft leagues anyway. So rather than look at what’s available on free agency as our guide, here are the different classes I see of occasionally forgotten keepers. I’m not saying they’re all out there in your dynasty league. Perhaps everyone in your keeper league is really, really smart and none of them are. But perhaps that's not the case, too! Whether you’re signing these guys as free agents or offering up an older but valuable player such as Justin Morneau or Francisco Rodriguez in trade, don't stop thinking about the future even if the present isn't much fun.


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Robinson CanoElsa/Getty ImagesRobinson Cano isn't hitting many homers this year, but he's still a real help in batting average.

MINNEAPOLIS -- The 85th All-Star Game has come and gone, and while it was clearly a night to honor and celebrate New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter in his final midseason classic, on occasion we certainly see eager fantasy owners assign altered value to their players and those they might want to acquire because of events like this. Same thing tends to happen in the playoffs with draft position the following spring. Well, let me tell you while I fully enjoyed the All-Star festivities this week, from the Futures Game to the Home Run Derby to Tuesday's game, which the AL won by a 5-3 score, I can't find fantasy implications. I just can’t.

For example, Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig certainly struggled, striking out in all three of his at-bats, a night after he hit nary a home run in the derby where that is exactly the goal, but that shouldn't be read into as anything analytically predictive. He's hitting .298 in July. He's capable of a big power month without warning, like May when he clubbed eight. If Puig's value is perceived to have dropped by his owner in your league, pounce and make an offer. I wouldn’t worry about St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright or Boston Red Sox lefty Jon Lester, the pitchers who combined to allow five runs in their respective innings of work, either. Wainwright might or might not have really grooved a pitch or two to Jeter -- I seriously doubt it -- but a lot of pitchers have trouble with Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout and Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera.


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Todd FrazierAP Photo/Al BehrmanIn just 94 games, Todd Frazier already has a career high in steals, tied his best in homers and is close to doing the same in runs scored.


MINNEAPOLIS -- What a week it's been for Cincinnati Reds third baseman Todd Frazier! What a season, really. Let's just say few would have guessed that if the Reds were going to have an offensive breakout performer this season, that Frazier, who entered the season with a career .244 batting average along with modest power and little speed, would have been it. Frazier ranks 17th on the overall Player Rater after finishing 17th at his position last season. He's already tied his career best with 19 home runs, and surely more shocking has been the .290 batting average and 14 stolen bases.

Put simply, when compared to what the draft day investment was -- if there was one at all -- the case can easily be made he has been the fantasy MVP at the All-Star break. Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout and Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve top the Rater, but one was a top 2 pick at worst in all leagues and the other was a top 100 player all along. Frazier barely cracked the top 250. Frazier, Cleveland Indians outfielder Michael Brantley and Minnesota Twins second baseman Brian Dozier are excellent fantasy MVP candidates, considering their value based on investment.

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Brian DozierJeff Curry/USA TODAY SportsBrian Dozier, one of this year's biggest surprises, got to compete in the Home Run Derby.

MINNEAPOLIS -- One of my favorite players to watch this season has been Minnesota Twins second baseman Brian Dozier, in part because his excellent performance, at least to this level, was unexpected. After all, Dozier was a 20th-round selection in ESPN live drafts, and he’s currently one place behind Detroit Tigers star Miguel Cabrera for the No. 25 Player Rater spot. Think about that! Way back in 2011 I saw Dozier play shortstop for Double-A New Britain (not far from ESPN studios in Bristol, Conn.) and there certainly didn’t appear to be a fantasy monster lurking. Well, there clearly was!

The same Dozier who never reached double digits in home runs in a minor league season has 18 blasts at the All-Star break, and earned a position in Monday’s Home Run Derby, where the hometown favorite smacked only two home runs in an early, and, to some, predictable exit. Dozier, one of the real bright spots for the Twins this season, seemed genuinely honored -- not that other fellows weren’t, but still -- and humbled to be included in the same company as some of baseball’s top power hitters, but when I caught up with him during a media session he attributed this "new" him to deliberate changes in approach, which clearly have been working.

“A couple of years ago I made a big adjustment to try to create more power,” said Dozier, who is second to Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki in homers by a middle infielder, and since the start of June 2013 he ranks tied for 16th among all players in the statistic. Nobody ahead of him in home runs since then plays middle infield. “You have to find out what kind of hitter you are and whatever that is, and if it’s power, then OK. It’s been night and day for me from since New Britain, and I've learned a lot of things up here. But I would have laughed if you told me two years ago I'd be in the Derby today!”


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MINNEAPOLIS -- Let's get this out of the way right now: Colorado Rockies first baseman Justin Morneau might not have a spectacular second half in the power department, but you're kidding yourself if you think it's because his swing "got all out of whack" at Monday night's Home Run Derby at Target Field in Minneapolis. Yes, there have been occasions when players performed like Derby champs -- Bobby Abreu in 2005, Morneau himself in 2008 -- and then had miserable second halves, but presuming that was caused by a mid-July exhibition performance is a stretch. The players know it, even the ones who opted out for various reasons.

I asked several players at Monday's media sessions what they thought of the impossible-to-prove theory that participating in the Home Run Derby creates bad habits and ruins a swing, and got pretty much snickers in return. Colleague Jayson Stark says when he asked Giancarlo Stanton this question, the powerful Miami Marlins slugger looked at him like he was nuts.

[+] EnlargeBrian Dozier
AP Photo/Paul SancyaWill Brian Dozier fall apart in the second half due to his Home Run Derby participation? Dozier himself explains why you shouldn't be concerned.
That's how Seattle Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano acted with me Monday. I asked Cano, who participated in the past three Derby competitions and certainly didn't struggle after those All-Star breaks, if the Derby messes up a swing, and he flatly replied, "No. It didn't happen to me." Minnesota Twins second baseman Brian Dozier, making his surprise debut in the event, also made his response rather clear: "Personally, I do not feel it messes with anything. Each and every day we have a couple rounds of batting practice, and that's all we're trying to do, hit home runs. It's not a new thing."

It should be noted that we're past the halfway point of the season, so doubling anyone's home run total is a risky proposition to begin with.

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Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all redraft our fantasy baseball teams today, knowing what we know now? Perhaps the first-place teams would stick with what they've got, but then again, some of those ladies and gents might have used a first-round pick on Baltimore Orioles disappointment Chris Davis or a second-rounder on injured Texas Rangers first baseman Prince Fielder. It’s more likely that some last-place teams chose them. Plus, you bet Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve, previously known for his stature over performance, would be held in far higher esteem today than the ninth round, and he wouldn't be alone among top-10 Player Rater surprises.

Regardless, my awesome colleague Tristan Cockcroft produces rankings every week and on occasion we discuss them on the daily Fantasy Focus 06010 podcast. Well, often it’s me asking "what were you thinking!" on this player or that one, but I acknowledge the job of ranking players that often is a challenge, especially when these guys play every day. Things, important things, literally change a few hours after posting. Tristan does a terrific job and he’s done so again here with the midseason rankings but, alas, there are a few things I would do differently if redrafting today.

Players I’d rank a bit better

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MINNEAPOLIS -- Sunday's All-Star Futures Game at beautiful Target Field showcased plenty of power-hitting prospects on the rise, with myriad reporters congregating around the lockers of Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant and Texas Rangers third baseman Joey Gallo, and for good reason. Those guys project to be fantasy stalwarts in the home run department, likely as soon as next season.

It's probably going to take Cincinnati Reds outfield prospect Jesse Winker longer to make his mark in the major leagues, but when I caught up with this natural hitter prior to the game Sunday, won 3-2 by the USA Team, all he wanted to discuss was fantasy football, as he recognized me and the other significant sport I cover at ESPN.

"I'm a big fantasy football guy, playing in a league with my family, and the guys down at [Double-A Southern League] Pensacola put together a league, and I want to let everyone know that Sammy Watkins is going to be the real deal this year," said Winker, 20, and a lifelong Buffalo Bills fan and native of Niagara Falls, New York.

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Earlier this week, the popular injury for preseason top-five first basemen Edwin Encarnacion and Joey Votto was the quad. On Thursday fantasy owners got a few more jolts of bad news with thumb ligament injuries to St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina and Cincinnati Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips. Neither was having a season commensurate with last year’s production or this spring’s average draft position, but still, they were worth owning, and it’s not like there’s much out there to replace them, even in the shallow leagues, at catcher or middle infield. Happy weekend! Please try to stay healthy, quads, thumbs and everything!

When it comes to catchers, here’s my current top 10 for the rest of the season, and unfortunately for Molina owners, these guys are owned in all leagues, or darn close to it. In order, I’d go Jonathan Lucroy, Buster Posey, Salvador Perez, Carlos Santana (yes, still), Devin Mesoraco (yes, top five now, by default), Wilin Rosario, Yan Gomes, Evan Gattis (but be careful here), Miguel Montero and Brian McCann. Molina is surely off the list. Just drop him when you can. Joe Mauer is on the DL, with no timetable for return. Derek Norris is my No. 11 catcher, then Mauer, and available options I’d recommend include the platooning Norris, brittle Wilson Ramos, batting-average killer (with pop) Mike Zunino, intriguing yet brittle youngster Travis d’Arnaud and versatile Stephen Vogt. I’m sure Adam Wainwright will love throwing to A.J. Pierzynski. Perhaps John Buck instead.

With Phillips, who has hit seven home runs just like Molina, it’s a similar situation. Move on. Phillips isn’t expected to miss quite as much time, though, so it’s understandable if you decide to wait, but make sure you’re aware of his numbers. They’re not special. Plus, neither Molina nor Phillips was hitting for much power prior and each has stolen only one base. At least Molina was among my top-five catchers still. Phillips has been out of my top-10 second basemen all year. The list, to be thorough, would be: Robinson Cano, Ian Kinsler, Anthony Rendon, Jose Altuve, Brian Dozier, Jason Kipnis, Dustin Pedroia, Dee Gordon, Daniel Murphy and Matt Carpenter. Phillips wasn’t 11th, either. He had a long run of success but, the massive and misleading RBI total last year notwithstanding, regression hit him hard.

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