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Time to pick up Yuniesky Betancourt?

5/2/2013

Let's be clear right off the top: It's not outrageous that Milwaukee Brewers infielder Yuniesky Betancourt is one of the most added players in ESPN leagues, as he is improbably mashing one home run after another and stunning the fantasy world. But don't start believing this is in any way legitimate.

Betancourt is a well-traveled, 31-year-old, much-maligned (for good reason) hacker with one of the worst walk rates anyone has ever seen, and he's not suddenly blossoming into a valuable fantasy option. Yes, he started May as fantasy's No. 10 middle infielder on the Player Rater and hit another home run to start the month, but he is going to regress, soon.

I've been asked myriad times over the past week or so why I hadn't covered Betancourt's ascension to fantasy relevance, and to be honest, it's because I thought the mere notion of discussing it was just so foolish that it wasn't necessary. Well, public demands aside, things changed with four home runs and eight RBIs from him over the past week, including homers in each of the past three games. Betancourt is not hitting many fly balls, but a startling fifth of the fly balls he has hit (20.6 percent) have left the ballpark. That's a ridiculous rate that nobody could sustain.

He's not a new player, just a guy hitting some home runs. He's not drawing walks, as his .297 OBP shows. His track record is dubious at best, though he does have proven mid-teens homer potential with enough playing time. Betancourt was in Philadelphia Phillies camp this spring and ultimately didn't want to report to the minors. Hey, good for him. The Brewers snatched him up, and he's playing first and third base for them, hitting enough in a small sample size to justify it.

Third baseman Aramis Ramirez is scheduled to come off the DL later this week, and there's no comparison between the players. The Brewers have announced Betancourt will become the regular first baseman, which is hard to fathom given his career numbers, but the team isn't blessed with options until Corey Hart is healthy following knee surgery. Triple-A first-base prospect Hunter Morris hasn't hit at all. How will Betancourt continue his 30-homer pace with Hart, Rickie Weeks (he'll improve), the awesome Jean Segura and Ramirez all playing? Well, he won't. But he wouldn't have continued to hit like this in the first place.

Still, only Baltimore Orioles outfielder Nate McLouth has been added in more leagues in the past week, and in a vacuum that makes sense. They're playing well, and we don't know whom owners are dropping for them. I would cut the injured Kevin Youkilis, the struggling Adam LaRoche and middling options (as of now) Kendrys Morales and Justin Morneau for Betancourt in a shallow, 10-team mixed league. His 22 RBIs are top five in the National League and more than teammate Ryan Braun has. Betancourt is eligible at three infield positions (oddly not shortstop), so versatility matters. And his batting average, which hasn't been as high as .260 for a season since 2008, isn't a problem yet. Yet.

Some will argue Betancourt could be a late bloomer and that his 2013 numbers will be closer to his current pace of 44 home runs and 137 RBIs than his typical season. I suppose stranger things have happened -- but not many stranger things.

Box score bits (NL): The Washington Nationals claim right-hander Stephen Strasburg (forearm) will make his scheduled start this weekend, and I'd certainly leave him active. A guy who might not be active is outfielder Bryce Harper, who left Wednesday's game early with a bruised lat. Look for Harper to get a few days off and the useful Tyler Moore (power) and Roger Bernadina (speed) to play. ... The most surprising pitching line of the night goes to Chicago Cubs right-hander Scott Feldman, who whiffed 12 San Diego Padres in a complete-game three-hitter. It's no rebirth for the 30-year-old, though his strikeout rate was a career best in 2012. I would not start Feldman in his next outing against his former team, the Texas Rangers. ... Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Brandon Inge had two hits and an RBI Wednesday and figures to remain at second base if Neil Walker hits the DL. Inge is hitting .321, which won't last, but he does have some pop and will be second base-eligible with three more games. ... Atlanta Braves catcher Evan Gattis is hitting .241, in case you're still holding on to him. ... San Francisco Giants first baseman Brandon Belt belted a three-run homer in the eighth inning Wednesday and has a pair of home runs and six RBIs this week. Dare to believe.

Box score bits (AL): Cleveland Indians right-hander Trevor Bauer permitted only one hit in five shutout innings Wednesday but walked six. He's still a work in progress, and look for him to get more Triple-A time. Hold on to him in dynasty formats but not one-year leagues. ... I'm keeping an eye on Minnesota Twins outfielder Chris Parmelee, who homered Wednesday. The big lefty hit one off lefty reliever Darin Downs. Parmelee's not hitting much yet, but be patient with him in AL-only formats. ... Los Angeles Angels shortstop Erick Aybar has hit leadoff in each of his two games since coming off the DL Tuesday. He stole a base Tuesday and attempted another Wednesday. Both are great signs, and it's wise to add him now in standard formats. ... Seattle Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders had three hits and three runs and stole his fourth base Wednesday. He's definitely useful and readily available. ... From a fantasy aspect, I don't particularly like Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie leading off. He tripled in a run Wednesday but is hitting .214 with a .262 OBP. He remains at 98 percent owned and should be, and you must resist the temptation to cut him for Betancourt. You really must.