- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
While the baseball world anxiously awaits the return of Manny Ramirez -- I sense the fantasy baseball world is less bullish on this comeback -- there are bigger and more pertinent stories happening with the Oakland Athletics lineup. Sure, Cuban import Yoenis Cespedes has done some nice work and should again when he comes off the disabled list, but if we had told you a month ago that a member of the Athletics entered the final days of May on pace for a whopping 46 home runs this season, my guess is you wouldn't have believed it.
With his three homers in the past four games, including Monday's blast at Minnesota's Target Field, that's exactly what's going on with Athletics outfielder Josh Reddick. He might not have seemed like a critical part of the December 2011 trade that sent closer Andrew Bailey to the Boston Red Sox, but check out the leaderboards and there's Reddick with 14 home runs, a figure topped by only five players, while Bailey still has nary a save nor inning pitched for his new team. The Red Sox have used 12 outfielders this season, including Adrian Gonzalez and Scott Podsednik, so I'm sure they don't miss Reddick, right? Those many outfielders have hit 15 home runs.
Reddick, meanwhile, has smacked 10 home runs in May alone, one behind Josh Hamilton, Adam Dunn and Giancarlo Stanton, each of whom has delivered major power numbers in the past. Reddick, 25, hit seven home runs for the 2011 Red Sox in 87 games, and over August/September hit .235 with three home runs in 136 at-bats. He didn't walk much and, frankly, didn't look like much of a factor leaving cozy Fenway Park for spacious O.com Coliseum and a similarly crowded outfield situation in Oakland. Instead, Reddick had a big spring and has batted third in 44 of the team's 49 games, and he's fifth in the majors in isolated power.
Reddick's Monday blast came on a hanging curveball up in the strike zone. According to ESPN Stats & Information, all 10 of Reddick's home runs this month and all but one of his 13 extra-base hits have come on pitches at the belt or up in the zone. He's hitting .327 and slugging .927 on those pitches in May. In April, he hit .254 and slugged .444 on belt-level or high pitches, so it appears that clearly the batter has made some adjustments. Overall, Reddick is hitting .275 in May and slugging .659.
When I look closer at Reddick's stats, I also like the 15 walks this month; in March/April with more at-bats he drew a total of two
walks. Sure, some of the reason Reddick is getting walked might be that pitchers don't fear the uninspiring lot following him in the lineup, especially with Cespedes and his strained hand muscle on the DL. Cespedes and Jonny Gomes are second on the club with five home runs. Reddick is the lone Athletic batting better than .245, so this really has been an impressive solo act largely being overlooked because the team is 22-27 and has lost six consecutive games.
Of course, fantasy owners want to know if the 100 percent-owned Reddick is legit. Reddick did hit for modest power in the minor leagues, and judging him solely on his work for the Red Sox, over 403 plate appearances in three seasons, is unfair. In the minors, Reddick wasn't posting prominent batting averages or on-base percentages. He wasn't a base stealer. In 2011 for Triple-A Pawtucket, he smacked 14 home runs over 52 games, perhaps quietly turning a corner for power potential and plate discipline (33 walks, 39 strikeouts), but the .230 batting average overshadowed things. Clearly the Athletics saw something. The question is how much of this breakout can be maintained.
A month ago, I would have labeled Reddick an obvious sell-high, but now that there's an actual walk rate to monitor and he's been producing with no help, I feel different. I don't think he'll swat 46 home runs, though. We need to see him maintain his walk rate, for one, and his rate of home runs to fly balls is high, though perhaps somewhat sustainable (his 19.4 rate would not have made the final 2011 top 10). Also, he's an impressive 17th on the Player Rater and has five stolen bases in as many attempts. Reddick isn't fast; the Athletics are, however, third in baseball in steals, showing an organizational decree. Reddick isn't likely to steal 20 bases, though, and since he's not impressing in batting average, even in his torrid May, what's left?
The power is left, and I say Reddick hits 34 home runs. It's only five home runs per remaining month. The left-handed hitter is not a true liability against lefties -- power, but only two walks -- and his home/road numbers are nearly identical. I'm going to predict a .265 batting average (down some), 34 blasts and 93 RBIs (these are, after all, the Athletics) with 14 stolen bases. As an undrafted outfielder in ESPN average live drafts, nobody's complaining.
As for Ramirez, he's owned in 1.5 percent of ESPN standard leagues but has struggled at Triple-A Sacramento, playing nine games there with nary an extra-base hit. While his 50-game suspension ends on Wednesday (his 40th birthday), the A's will keep him in Sacramento until he's ready for big league action. The career numbers and Hall of Fame path are irrelevant to 2012 expectations. Over his past 86 big league at-bats for the Chicago White Sox (2010) and Tampa Bay Rays (2011), Ramirez produced two extra-base hits. Further, he's not outfield eligible in ESPN leagues. It's a no-risk proposition for the Athletics, as they can cut Ramirez at any point, but their designated hitters are hitting .207 with four home runs. It's hardly a big deal to see if he can help them. Fantasy owners shouldn't bother, though.
Eric Karabell looks at Josh Reddick's rise in the middle of a paltry A's lineup and what to do with Manny Ramirez when he gets called up.