The first weekend after the All-Star break each season is generally notable for important players coming off the disabled list, and certainly fantasy owners had much to think about the past few days, with numerous key hitters reappearing in lineups. Boston Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury might not be the biggest name of the bunch (there's a certain Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder as well), but in Ellsbury's case, his actual fantasy value likely elicits mixed feelings.
Ellsbury finished last season second on the ESPN Player Rater, and fantasy owners seem far more confident in that fellow (Matt Kemp) than Ellsbury. For one, Kemp at least has some interesting numbers this season, with 12 home runs and a .369 batting average in 38 games. Kemp missed six weeks because of a hamstring injury, and while it likely will restrict his stolen base potential -- he's a mere 2-for-5 in attempts this season anyway -- his owners don't seem concerned about his power or batting average. They're just elated to have him back.
With Ellsbury, fantasy owners don't seem to know what they have, what they are trading for, or what type of numbers he'll provide. After all, his 2011 campaign was so different from the rest of his career. Ellsbury didn't start 2012 particularly well before suffering a severe shoulder injury that cost him three months, as he hit .192 with nary a home run or stolen base in seven games. It's a ridiculously small sample size to determine anything. Ellsbury had three hits Sunday against the Tampa Bay Rays, raising his batting average from .229 to .275 in one afternoon. That happens with a mere 40 at-bats.
However, I do have concerns about Ellsbury being able to provide large power totals. While his shoulder might be fully recovered today, or feel well enough to play, it's wishful thinking to presume all his strength is back or fatigue won't become an issue. Plus, as we saw with Kemp's hamstring, there's a greater threat of re-injury. I like Ellsbury quite a bit, but I'm looking at his 2008-09 statistics for guidance, not expecting a return to last year's form, when he mashed 32 home runs. A healthy Ellsbury should hit for average, steal bases -- perhaps at a greater rate than in 2011, when he swiped roughly six per month -- but treating him as a top-10 player the rest of this season, as he was on draft day, seems optimistic knowing what we know about his shoulder injury.
There are roughly 10 weeks left of the 2012 regular season. I think Ellsbury can remain healthy, as this injury and the one that ruined his 2010 campaign were awfully fluky. But I'll predict he finishes the year with only 10 home runs, 19 stolen bases and a .276 batting average. That would make him a top-20 outfielder the rest of the way, and worth trading for, within reason. It just doesn't make him top-10 overall.
As for the other hitters that returned to action Friday, I don't think Kemp will steal bases. He wasn't running before when healthy, and the risk of re-injuring the hamstring and the monster effect his absence has on an otherwise brutal Dodgers lineup is enough to make him cautious. I think he'll hit .300 the rest of the way with big power, though. I'd prefer Kemp to Ellsbury for the rest of 2012, and beyond.
Meanwhile, Miami Marlins outfielder/shortstop/third baseman Emilio Bonifacio doubled and walked Sunday, reaching base five times and stealing a base in three weekend games. Bonifacio hadn't played in eight weeks, yet his 21 stolen bases are eclipsed by only five players, a testament to just how eager he was to run when he was healthy. Bonifacio, who had thumb surgery, isn't 100 percent owned, but he should be.
Be aware that the Marlins might not re-install Bonifacio into the No. 2 lineup spot anytime soon, and perhaps fantasy owners would prefer he settle in lower in the lineup. After all, Bonifacio is hitting .240 with no extra-base hits over 27 games and 122 plate appearances in the No. 2 spot . I'm not reading much into that, as he also stole 15 bases there, but the Marlins might leave Omar Infante and the extra-base power (23 doubles, seven home runs) he brings splitting Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez.
The Baltimore Orioles welcomed back outfielder Nick Markakis on Friday, but to a strange role. Markakis, out since May with a wrist injury, was hitless in four at-bats Sunday, but hit four doubles and scored twice over the weekend. What's interesting is that Markakis and his career .363 on-base percentage hit leadoff this weekend, a first for him. Markakis, still available in many leagues, has hit for power this year, though it should not be expected to continue after his wrist injury, and he is capable of stealing double-digit bases. If the lineup oddity continues -- the Orioles lack alternatives with Brian Roberts out again -- he'll score more runs as well.
Lance Berkman didn't start Friday for the St. Louis Cardinals, but he did pinch hit Saturday and then was in Sunday night's lineup. Berkman missed eight weeks after knee surgery, and as with Ellsbury, it's folly to expect monster 2011 numbers again. That said, Berkman can still hit. Expect the Cardinals to sit him more than in the past, perhaps against left-handed pitchers in a platoon with Allen Craig. Berkman and Craig can be top-100 players the rest of the year, though. Look for Craig to also see time in right field in lieu of Carlos Beltran.
Finally, much of the talk with the Kansas City Royals' lineup centers around the power-hitting prospect that has yet to be promoted to be a part of it. Eventually, Wil Myers will be a big leaguer. For now he waits for Jeff Francoeur to be traded. Myers is capable of playing center field, but the Royals aren't likely to push matters; Myers profiles as a corner outfielder. Lorenzo Cain is the center fielder of the future the Royals acquired in the Zack Greinke deal, and he performed well at Triple-A Omaha last season. Like all the others in this blog entry, Cain came back Friday (from a torn hip flexor), but he's not at a similar level for fantasy prowess. Cain, owned in 5 percent of ESPN leagues, is more likely to hit lower in the Royals' order and be eased back into regular duties. The 16 home runs and 16 steals he produced for Omaha might be overrating the expectations somewhat.