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Don't give up on now-healthy Bartlett

6/16/2010

Jason Bartlett was activated from the disabled list Wednesday, and according to manager Joe Maddon, the Tampa Bay Rays shortstop should be in the lineup immediately, with no restrictions. Bartlett has missed the past few weeks because of a right hamstring pull, but given the poor season he has been having at the plate, some time off was probably a good thing.

Bartlett remains owned in more than 60 percent of ESPN standard (10-team) mixed leagues, which is a bit surprising considering his .231 batting average and lack of overall production. Then again, he was a terrific fantasy option in 2009. So which Bartlett can we expect from here on out?

Like most evaluative situations, the answer is somewhere in between. I can't imagine many people expected Bartlett, mainly known for his defense prior to 2009, to hit .320 again with 14 home runs and 30 stolen bases. Stranger things have happened, especially with the Rays, who have featured a number of breakout performers in the past few seasons. I felt Bartlett, who finished No. 34 overall on the 2009 Player Rater, and fourth at shortstop, came at a rather nice discount in 2010 drafts, just outside the top 100 in ESPN average live drafts. However, his performance hasn't even warranted that draft position, or even close to it. He's currently 32nd among shortstops on the Player Rater, behind such juggernauts as Ronny Cedeno, Jamey Carroll and Edgar Renteria.

I'd call the next few weeks pretty much "put up or shut up" time for Bartlett from a fantasy aspect, and I expect he'll begin raising his batting average right away and stealing bases. Bartlett's 2009 campaign featured a lofty .368 batting average on balls in play, but other than that and a crazy home run rate, I didn't feel his season was that far out of line. Bartlett hit just one home run in 2008, his first season after the trade from the Minnesota Twins, but he did bat .286 with 20 stolen bases in 128 games. In his last year with the Twins he swiped 23 bases. The speed is there, as is the potential for a helpful batting average.

And this is why Bartlett seems like the perfect replacement for those who have been relying on Los Angeles Angels shortstop Erick Aybar, who injured his left knee in Monday's game when Milwaukee Brewers third baseman Casey McGehee slid into him to break up a double play. Aybar owners have been rewarded with a pace for 27 stolen bases and 101 runs scored, and a top-10 shortstop rank on our Player Rater, but I think it's obvious that a DL stint is pending. The team reports that he suffered meniscus damage, and surgery remains an option. Regardless, I'd find it hard to believe he'll play anytime soon, and since speed is such a major part of his game, don't expect stolen bases. If he was a big power guy, maybe I'd wait, but batting average and stolen bases? I feel like that's always sitting there on free agency.

Among shortstop-eligible players available in at least half of ESPN's standard leagues, I like Yunel Escobar of the Atlanta Braves the best as a pickup. Like Bartlett, he cannot be as bad as his numbers suggest, so even if he doesn't reach his 2009 standards, he'll still improve. Ian Desmond of the Washington Nationals is capable, yet unspectacular, and I'd also recommend Maicer Izturis and Mike Aviles. Izturis likely will replace Aybar for the Angels, and considering he has a similar skill set, he could actually see leadoff at-bats as well. Aviles, as noted in Wednesday's Box Score Bits, had four hits and four RBIs on Tuesday, and is capable of similar performances. Bartlett and Orlando Cabrera are owned in more than 50 percent of leagues, but not by much.