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Third-base update: Rolen hobbled

7/20/2010

You had to know that a DL-less season from Cincinnati Reds third baseman Scott Rolen was really unlikely. Granted, we don't know yet whether Rolen is headed to the disabled list because of a balky right hamstring, which necessitated a cortisone shot Monday, but based on experience, it's difficult to be optimistic here. The Reds are saying he's out of the lineup "indefinitely." That's a scary word. I'd prefer the "day-to-day" tag.

If Rolen does need a few weeks off, though, fantasy owners will need to learn the name Juan Francisco.

Francisco is an interesting power-hitting prospect currently plying his trade at Triple-A Louisville, and although I don't often wax poetic about hitters with such poor plate discipline -- this guy makes Edwin Encarnacion look like Wade Boggs in terms of patience -- he still is a slugger. Francisco has hit for power at every level of the minor leagues, averaging 25 home runs and 92 RBIs the past three seasons and hitting for a decent average. He doesn't walk too often, averaging 22 of them in those years and totaling 83 free passes in 503 career minor league games, but as a (hopefully) short-term fill-in for Rolen, he'd have value.

Fantasy owners saw a bit of Francisco in the majors last season when he batted .429 in 21 at-bats, including a pinch-hit home run off Florida Marlins closer Leo Nunez. I thought Francisco was a bit buried in the organization, but then the Reds dealt third baseman Adam Rosales (whom I also liked and still do) to the Oakland Athletics during the winter. Even with Rolen signing a two-year contract extension through 2012, it was important to know the team's future at third base, considering Rolen had played an average of 110 games the past five seasons.

Fantasy owners obviously are hoping that Rolen's injury is not serious, but it was hard not to notice that his batting average had dropped from .302 on July 1 to its current .287. He is hitless in his past 13 at-bats and has hit .182 in July, with a low .580 OPS. In June, Rolen hit .337 with a 1.031 OPS. His absence is a big deal to the Reds, who recently have slipped to second place and now are without their cleanup hitter. Miguel Cairo just isn't the same thing.

Often I look at fantasy ownership figures and add/drop figures to gauge what fantasy owners are thinking, and in Rolen's case, owners seem to be fearing the worst, not only in regard to this injury but also in evaluating a sell-high option. Rolen was likely to slow down at some point ... but just like that, his first notable injury and slump of the season have him being dropped in 7 percent of leagues to 92.7 percent overall ownership. That's significant. Rolen, on pace for 31 home runs and 105 RBIs, is the No. 10 third baseman on the Fantasy Player Rater. I'd wait until we know how long Rolen will be out before moving on.

Among the third basemen available in more than half of ESPN.com standard leagues, I'd say the Athletics' Kevin Kouzmanoff leads the list. He's hitting .385 with a home run and seven RBIs since the All-Star break yet is owned in a mere 22.5 percent of leagues. The resurgent Gordon Beckham, very capable Alberto Callaspo, versatile/safe Omar Infante and occasionally productive Jhonny Peralta are other readily available options, as well as Rosales and Felipe Lopez.

A few other brief notes about the third-base position in addition to Tuesday's blog about Brandon Inge and what I wrote about Chris Johnson and Adrian Beltre in Box Score Bits.

&#8226 David Freese, already having a longer-than-expected DL stint because of a sprained ankle, dropped a weight and fractured the big toe on his left foot. Now I doubt we'll see the .296 hitter until well into August. If you're waiting for him in a shallow league, you might want to give up.

&#8226 Lost in Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Chris Capuano first win since 2007 on Monday was that Pittsburgh Pirates rookie Pedro Alvarez walked three times, including twice against left-handers. That's something to watch. We know Alvarez can and will hit right-handers, but when he finally gets comfortable against lefties, watch out. Alvarez isn't ownable in standard leagues just yet, but in keeper formats, get him now.

&#8226 Jake Fox, a third baseman by trade, caught Monday's game and struck out three times. But did you notice that was his 10th game behind the plate? I did! Now we just need him to hit. He should be playing over trade bait Ty Wigginton, who hasn't been valuable for two months. Wiggy is owned in 67.9 percent of mixed leagues, yet he's hitting .202 with one home run since June 1.

&#8226 The Angels activated Maicer Izturis from the DL on Sunday, and I'm guessing he'll play more than Kevin Frandsen at third base. Izturis is better than his .233 batting average indicates, can steal bases and is eligible at both middle-infield spots.