The amazing Atlanta Braves continued their winning ways Tuesday night, pounding out five solo home runs in a 6-3 win over the Kansas City Royals. Although outfielder Justin Upton looks MVP-worthy, two of the blasts were courtesy of third baseman Juan Francisco, hitting sixth and boasting a .306 batting average. Hitting one spot later was Chris Johnson, platoon partner at the hot corner until regular first baseman Freddie Freeman needed a disabled list stint for a strained right oblique. Johnson singled and doubled Tuesday, raising his batting average to a gaudy .415 over 41 at-bats.
Freeman is eligible to come off the DL early next week, and there's little question that when he is healthy, he is the full-time starter. But what happens at third base with Francisco and Johnson? Teams that are 12-1 don't have many problems, and this is a good one to have, but fantasy owners have made both these players among the most added third basemen in ESPN standard leagues. Each remains readily available in many leagues, though the way things are going, that doesn't figure to continue.
I'll admit to not being much of a fan of either Francisco or Johnson, because I like hitters to have at least some semblance of plate discipline. Francisco is the one to own in deeper leagues -- as in, not 10-team mixed versions -- because he brings the power, and as the lefty hitter, he figures to play more. Now 26, Francisco would likely hit more than 20 home runs if he were to be given more than 400 at-bats. Of course, this doesn't make Francisco a particularly good hitter, as he will swing and miss a lot and hurt your batting average, but in deeper leagues, that can be overlooked if power is there. Francisco hit nine home runs in 192 at-bats for the Braves last season, though the .234 batting average (.278 OBP) mitigated the value quite a bit. Francisco was a noted hacker in the minors (99 walks, 591 strikeouts!), but he always supplied power, bashing 109 home runs over a five-year period upon turning 20.
Johnson is hardly the OBP machine himself, having drawn 64 walks against 333 strikeouts in 1,357 career plate appearances, and he also brings some power, hitting 15 home runs for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Houston Astros last season. He has somehow managed to hit for a decent batting average most of the time despite the shoddy plate discipline, and oddly enough, the right-handed hitter has been considerably better against right-handed pitching over the course of his career. Regardless, look for Francisco to play more. Would you rather own a 20-homer guy who bats .230 or a 12-homer guy that hits .270? Well, it might depend on team needs, but I'd choose Johnson in this case, because he should deliver the safer batting average, and it's not like he's Juan Pierre in terms of power. He provides some pop. I'd choose Johnson in standard formats, as well as head-to-head and points leagues, even if he doesn't see as much playing time, because batting average killers can be a bigger problem.
As for Freeman, I can't say I would activate him Monday morning for weekly leagues, not before being absolutely certain he would be off the DL, but he's in no danger of losing playing time to Johnson or even Evan Gattis, everyone's favorite power-hitting catcher who came out of nowhere. I stashed Gattis away in a few deep leagues, including my NL-only LABR league drafted the first weekend of March, and I'd look to sell high. As good as Gattis has been, his 0-for-4 performance with two strikeouts Tuesday dropped his batting average to .289. That's still good, but he is not likely to be a top-10 catcher this season, and Brian McCann is going to play. Oh, own Gattis now while he's hitting for power, but be prepared for it to stop. Colleague Tristan H. Cockcroft compared Gattis to former Pittsburgh Pirates slugger Craig Wilson from a decade ago. That's a good parallel. The problem for Gattis, however, is that there is no clear path for playing time on the Braves once McCann returns; he won't see much time at first base or in the outfield.
Box score bits (AL): The Toronto Blue Jays welcomed Brett Lawrie (oblique) back to the lineup Tuesday, and he went hitless in three at-bats, driving in a run on a sacrifice fly. Lawrie played third base, though when Jose Bautista is healthy, Lawrie could see time at second base. ... The Jays had to enjoy Josh Johnson's performance Tuesday; he fanned eight over seven innings, allowing two runs. Don't give up on him yet in 10-team formats. ... More lineup returns: The Seattle Mariners have Michael Morse (finger fracture) back. Morse has six home runs already, and I expect a 35-homer season. ... Aaron Harang made his Mariners debut, allowing three runs and seven hits in five Harang-like innings. Consider him in AL-only formats. ... For everyone concerned about Detroit Tigers DH Victor Martinez, he had three hits Tuesday. Don't panic.
Box score bits (NL): The Los Angeles Dodgers replaced injured right-hander Zack Greinke with veteran lefty Chris Capuano. It didn't go well Tuesday. Capuano allowed four first-inning runs to the San Diego Padres, then left early with a strained calf. Look for Ted Lilly, not the most durable fellow himself, to be next in line. ... The Miami Marlins scored eight runs against the Washington Nationals! Dan Haren was again terrible, permitting seven runs (three earned). Calls for his mass release in standard leagues ran rampant on Twitter, but even if you're adding Tony Cingrani, I'd wait a little longer. ... More on the Marlins: They'll activate Joe Mahoney from the DL on Wednesday. Mahoney isn't Joey Votto or anything, but the 6-foot-6, 245-pound first baseman can hit, and he should get a chance to play. Yes, that means all you Greg Dobbs owners shouldn't be too content. ... Nice work, Barry Zito. The San Francisco Giants lefty started 2013 with two wins and 14 scoreless innings. On Tuesday, he was torched for nine earned runs, permitting a Yuniesky Betancourt grand slam. Zito entered Tuesday the most added pitcher in ESPN leagues. By Wednesday morning, he was not.