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Romantic walks as the cool evening air whips off Cape Cod, Bruins fans questioning the sanity of the front office and a Clay Buchholtz trip to the DL. Ah, summer life in New England.
Just as the Red Sox were getting quality pitching, Buchholtz’s right elbow staged a revolt and sent him to dry dock for a brief (at least the Sox hope so) spell. Accustomed to the summer tradition, Boston figured now would be a good time to get a test drive of the organization’s second-best pitching prospect, lefty Brian Johnson, in a move that could make both Justin Masterson and Wade Miley feel a tad uneasy within the next few weeks.
Johnson enters the post-All Star Break with a mere six percent ownership in polled leagues, and I get a sense that he won’t be going back to Pawtucket in the near future. Don’t be thrown off by his 8-6 record, as poor run support overshadows his 2.73 ERA. Come to think of it, only a handful of pitchers in the International League are benefiting from top shelf offensive production, as the IL as a whole is averaging a paltry 3.98 runs per game. Opponents are hitting just .217 off him, as Johnson sported a very solid 1.10 WHIP in his 85.2 innings of work.
The hefty (6’4”, 235 lbs.) lefty knows how to make batters flail away at air. Johnson struck out 8.5 hitters per nine innings along with showing good control (2.3 BB/9), and he should make his big league debut some time during the Red Sox’s seven-game swing with the Angels and Astros. One can assume a pitching-starved team — no matter how well they’ve hurled of late — can’t deny a pitcher with a 23.3 percent strikeout rate and a 7.5 percent walk rate to toil idly just as said team has finally worked itself back in the mild, mild, mild AL East race.
You don’t need me using another 328 words to break down Johnson. By this point, the case has already been made to acquire him, whether you’re a Buchholtz owner picking up his natural DL replacement, or an owner in an AL-only or deeper mixed league looking to scoop up a pitcher who should be able to give you respectable numbers across the board. Trust me, if Johnson makes an impressive debut on the mound, you’re going to feel damn foolish if you’re reading this and still missed out on him. It’s mid-July kids. The time of dithering around with “waiting and seeing” has long left the barn. It’s now galloping down the dusty trail in the form of other, strong-minded owners who’ve read this column weekly and acted upon my suggestions.
Unless Johnson suddenly becomes extended batting practice, there’s little reason to suggest the Red Sox have motive in sending him down once Buchholtz returns. Masterson (6.00 ERA, 1.84 WHIP) and Miley (4.80, 1.43) have combined for 0.1 WAR in 146.1 innings, while Joe Kelly and his Cy Young dreams had a -0.2 WAR before the Sox finally had a fit of reasoning and sent him down to Pawtucket, before he could continue being part of the unholy triad hell-bent on destroying the rotation.
At the very least, Johnson should be able to exceed the -0.1 WAR the aforementioned three gas cans John Farrell wheeled out 4-5 times a week accomplished. Long-term, I can see Johnson being a steady, yet unspectacular pitcher capable of breaking off a series of 14-win, 3.40 ERA, 8.0 K/9 seasons that could be further enhanced with better offense. He may never be an elite pitcher, yet Johnson may become the type of pitcher that helps anchor a Fantasy pitching staff for an owner who used the first five to seven rounds on offense. Get Johnson while he’s flying well under the radar, because he just may receive a lot of attention pretty soon.
Hope the down time gave you all a more clear perspective on your teams. Some of us are heading to August with money on our minds, while the rest of you are now in Fantasy Football draft mode. As for me, well, let’s just say I don’t have Eddie Lacy and Adrian Peterson on my mind quite yet, although, wishing these guys a belated 19th birthday is.
C.J. Cron, 1B, Angels: Going 8 for 15 with a pair of homers and three RBIs last weekend at the Mariners has made Cron one of the cool kids, as his ownership has risen to 18 percent in polled leagues. While Cron is expected to get his share of ABs against righties, the question about his power looms yet again. Last weekend notwithstanding, it’s time to accept the fact that while Cron should be a useful pickup in deeper leagues, he’s never going to be the power hitter his 2012 season in High-A ball (27 homers, 123 RBIs) once led us to believe, although he’ll hit enough to justify a look. He’s looked more patient at the plate since he returned from Triple-A, so I wouldn’t put too much into his 2.0 percent walk rate and 20.9 percent strikeout rate. Cron’s hitting more fly balls (43.8 percent), which should lead to another spurt or two of power, which could mean 10-12 homers by season’s end.
John Jaso, C/1B/DH, Rays: A wrist contusion on Opening Day put Jaso on the 60-day DL, yet, he’s come back swinging with authority, going 9 for 22 (.409) with a homer and three ribbies in eight games. That’s welcome news for a Rays lineup ranked 13th in the AL in runs scored, while also languishing in the bottom third in most other categories. Owned in 13 percent of polled leagues, Jaso is instant offense in leagues that use OBP as a category, as he should be able to pick up where his career .361 mark left off. He’s being used as a DH, but the ability to be stashed in a corner infield spot enhances his value. Jaso has a strong chance to be a solid contributor in the second half, especially if you can toss aside one of your weak-hitting backstops and place him at catcher.
Robert Refsnyder, 2B, Yankees: Yeah, Stephen Drew has 11 homers, yet Fantasy owners (and the Pinstripes) were paying a steep price, to the tune of a .182 batting average and .629 OPS, which finally resulted in Refsnyder arriving to the bigs last weekend. He didn’t disappoint, as he had two hits, including his first homer, in Sunday’s win over the Red Sox. While power isn’t his game, Refsnyder did hit a career-best seven dingers in Triple-A this season, and at 6’1”, 205 lbs., has the kind of build which could result in 10-12 homers in the majors. He’s a high OBP guy (.387 this season) and while Refsnyder won’t be confused for Billy Hamilton, the speed is there for 8-12 steals. He’s currently owned in six percent of polled leagues, which makes him a nice low-risk investment in deeper leagues along with having good sleeper status in DFS formats.
Brandon Beachy, P, Dodgers: I’m convinced the obsession for Dodgers pitchers is the baseball rival of how Fantasy football owners become like Chris Rock in New Jack City when it comes to Patriots RBs. Beachy made his first big league start since August 20, 2013 last Sunday, and while he gave up three runs on five hits in four innings, he still climbed to eight percent ownership in polled leagues, and will continue to ascend as he continues to get readjusted. Oh, and because he wears Dodgers blue. This isn’t me throwing shade on those who are addicted to Dodgers’ arms, rather, it’s a case of throwing light on a mild craze. Don’t worry, as I’m sure we can say the same thing about owners who’ll throw an extra FAAB buck or three at the mere thought of getting a power hitter in Coors Field.
Then again, it does remind me how I won a league title and made three straight Fantasy Football league championship games mainlining on Vikings players from 1998-2000. Made for rough bye weeks, though.
Aaron Nola, P, Phillies: He’s coming. Very soon. As in “perhaps this weekend” soon. The future doesn’t need to be stalled much longer, as Nola is a combined 10-3 with a 1.94 ERA in 17 starts between Double and Triple-A. He was part of our prospects special in mid-June, at which time Nola had just received the push up to Lehigh Valley. I projected 8-10 starts before Nola would come up, and it’s looking like an underestimation. He’s gone 3-0 with a 2.12 ERA while also raising his K/9 from 6.93 in Double-A to 9.10 K/9 in Triple-A. Owned in six percent of polled mixed leagues, Nola is the “Next Big Thing” from this already impressive rookie class, and while he’ll take his bumps in that bandbox in Philly, there’s enough to feel good about grabbing him now.
Kyle Schwarber, C, Cubs: The MVP of last weekend’s Futures Game may soon be on his way for a second cup of coffee, as the Cubs await the result of the MRI on Miguel Montero’s left thumb. Manager Joe Maddon did not rule out the possibility of bringing back Schwarber to play his natural position should Montero end up on the DL. The news led to a sudden spike in Schwarber’s ownership, as he is now at ten percent in polled leagues after falling off shortly after his .363 batting average during a cameo appearance as the Cubs’ DH last month. The monster power hitter will be up at some point later this season, yet owners in all formats may want to pay close attention to what happens if Montero is out for a significant period.