- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
You know it's early in the season when the top fantasy option, according to the ESPN Player Rater, is Arizona Diamondbacks journeyman Willie Bloomquist. While filling in for top-10 shortstop Stephen Drew over the past week, Bloomquist has hit .348 with a home run, four RBIs and a major league-leading five stolen bases. It's a touching story, really, except we've seen this before, and not only doesn't it end well, it likely won't be well as soon as next week. In fact, this very thing happened in April 2009 with a very similar player.
The speedy, versatile player stealing bases and perpetrating a fantasy stud just two years ago was the Florida Marlins' Emilio Bonifacio. You remember Bonifacio, don't you? On Opening Day that season, Bonifacio had four hits, including a homer, scored four runs and stole three bases. It was indeed Tuffy Rhodes-like. Everyone in fantasy wanted Bonifacio, even though there really was no evidence he could sustain a high level of performance. Through seven games, he was hitting .485, with 11 runs scored and four steals. The rest of the season, he hit .234 with no home runs, and while he stole 17 bases, he was also caught stealing nine times. He went from the most-added list to the most-dropped list in a matter of weeks.
Bloomquist reminds me of Bonifacio. He can run well, and his best season also came in 2009, when the Kansas City Royals utilized him way too much and he stole 25 bases, to go with a .265 batting average, poor walk rate and four home runs. I actually like players such as Bloomquist in deep-mixed leagues or AL- and NL-only formats. You can get them cheap and they steal bases, which offers good value. I commend fantasy owners for being somewhat reserved in their pursuit of "fantasy's top player" through one week, as Bloomquist is not on the most-added list, though he's darn close; he's up from 0.0 percent to 10.9 percent owned.
This Drew situation has gotten annoying to many fantasy owners; the D-backs' starting shortstop has been day-to-day for a week because of an abdominal strain. Perhaps the Diamondbacks should have simply placed Drew on the disabled list. Fantasy owners want clarity, even if the news isn't positive, and a healthy portion of the emails/postings I've seen this week are in regard to Drew's status. Manager Kirk Gibson, no stranger to being day-to-day himself -- then again, aren't we all? -- claims Drew could start Friday's game against the Cincinnati Reds. I own Drew in a few leagues, since I generally bypassed those players who made up what I felt was an overrated second tier of shortstops (Jimmy Rollins, Elvis Andrus) and targeted Drew and Alexei Ramirez In Round 8 or 9. Now we can't DL him, and we don't want to bench him in weekly leagues.
That said, there are still 25 weeks left in the regular season, and Drew was the eighth shortstop off the board in ESPN average live drafts, so he was obviously in demand. Yet his ownership is down to 96.9 percent, a pure panic move by fantasy owners lacking patience. He should be 100 percent owned. Drew has nary an RBI or stolen base so far, but check out Florida Marlins stud Hanley Ramirez, the No. 2 player off the overall draft board. He has just one RBI and a .190 batting average. I wouldn't say Drew has been killing his owners. On the contrary, this would be a wise time to target him. The original numbers I projected for Drew -- 20 home runs, 15 stolen bases -- remain in play.
As for Bloomquist, I can actually produce some good news with a straight face: The Diamondbacks haven't settled on a regular third baseman, and at this point I could see Fast Willie, Ryan Roberts, Melvin Mora and soon Geoff Blum all getting a chance to seize the job. Ah, if only Russell Branyan wasn't downright frightful at third base, we'd see Juan Miranda on a daily basis at first base. But I digress.
Personally, I think the 30-year-old Roberts is the most enticing fantasy option, but nobody knows if he can sustain performance for long. Roberts is a right-handed hitter with a platoon split; he's below-average against right-handed pitching. But maybe, in a Ryan Raburn-sort of way, he just needs regular opportunities. Eligible only in the outfield for now, Roberts can play second base and third base, the latter not at much of a high level. Last season at Triple-A Reno, he hit 11 home runs and stole 16 bases in 94 games, with a nice walk rate. Then again, he's 30 years old, so he should hit at Reno. His career minor league slugging percentage is .448. Could he hit 15 home runs for the Diamondbacks if given 400 at-bats? I think he could ... but because of Bloomquist's strong start, and the competition around him, that isn't likely to happen.
Final numbers for Emilio Bo-- ... um, Willie Bloomquist: I'll say 290 at-bats, three home runs, 24 RBIs, 21 stolen bases and a .261 batting average. Plan accordingly.