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Wednesday, July 14, 2004
FLB Midseason Buying Guide


by Graham Hays
ESPN Fantasy Games

Kevin Millar
Right Field
Boston Red Sox
Profile
2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM HR RBI R SB AVG
81 5 25 32 1 .280
1. Kevin Millar, 1B-OF, Boston Red Sox
Who knew Millar would go out of style before the "Cowboy Up" phrase he coined. At least in fantasy leagues, Millar is decidedly passť, owned in just 27 percent of ESPN leagues at the All-Star break. But he's not riding into the Boston sunset just yet. Millar is hitting a respectable .280 this season but just .246 with runners on base and .240 with runners in scoring position. But over the last three seasons, he hit .297 overall and .309 with runners in scoring position. Assuming his luck improves even a little with runners in scoring position -- and there will always be plenty of runners in scoring position with this Red Sox lineup -- Millar should have a second-half RBI binge in him.

2. Eric Hinske, 3B, Toronto Blue Jays
Like catcher, third base is a top-heavy position in fantasy leagues. Life is great if you're counting Scott Rolen's RBI or Alex Rodriguez's home runs, but it's a little tougher to carve out a living with the likes of Casey Blake, David Bell or Rob Mackowiak. And while Hinske won't soon rise to the aristocracy, he is poised to make some noise in the middle class. Hitting .223 in March and April confirmed to many fantasy owners that Hinske would never approach his 2002 numbers (24 home runs and 13 stolen bases), but he's hit .344 with four home runs, 19 RBI and five steals since then. With Carlos Delgado and eventually Vernon Wells back in the lineup, Hinske should continue to have RBI opportunities. Throw in the ability to steal maybe 10 more bases and it's a nice fantasy package.

Joel Pineiro
Starting Pitcher
Seattle Mariners
Profile
2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM W L Sv K ERA
18 4 10 0 94 4.69
3. Joel Pineiro, P, Seattle Mariners
The Seattle right-hander is on pace for 19 losses, so it's not as if things can get much worse. But despite that loss total and a 4.69 ERA, Pineiro has made some fantasy strides this season. Like Ben Sheets before him, Pineiro's strikeout totals are gradually climbing, to the point where he's on pace for nearly 180 this season. All right, so Pineiro doesn't throw as hard as Sheets and isn't likely to ever put up an 18-whiff game, but he's making himself useful in a category that was previously out of play. And even with a couple of rough lines in July, he boasts a 3.59 ERA since May 1. Even with lousy run support behind him and a penchant for allowing home runs, expect Pineiro to finish closer to .500 than to 20 losses.

4. Adam Eaton, P, San Diego Padres
For such a wonderful pitcher's paradise, Petco Park isn't treating the home team's hurlers especially well. Jake Peavy, Brian Lawrence and David Wells all have better ERAs on the road than at Petco, while Adam Eaton's 4.40 home ERA only marginally beats his road numbers. But San Diego pitchers do have an advantage pitching half their games in Petco's spacious confines, and it's part of the reason Eaton is a candidate to improve on an up-and-down first half. The other, more tangible, part of the reasoning is that Eaton is a good strikeout pitcher against whom opponents are hitting less than .200 since the start of June. He was outstanding after the break last season, and a repeat performance is in the cards.

5. Justin Morneau, OF, Minnesota Twins
David Wright and B.J. Upton dominate most of the talk about prospects who have the potential to make a fantasy impact in the second half, but how about a guy who has already proven he can hit in the majors? Currently hitting .306 with 22 home runs and 63 RBI for Triple-A Salt Lake City, Morneau hit .292 with two home runs in a seven-game stint with the Twins in May. With an injury to Matt LeCroy or continued hitting woes from Doug Mientkiewicz (.363 slugging percentage), Morneau could be back in Minnesota and hitting for both average and power.

Joe Crede
Third Base
Chicago White Sox
Profile
2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM HR RBI R SB AVG
77 12 39 41 1 .241
6. Joe Crede, 3B, Chicago White Sox
If only those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it, let's hope Joe Crede hasn't been checking out his batting splits. A career .297 hitter (.520 slugging percentage) after the All-Star break, Crede's current .241 average actually represents an improvement on his previous first-half efforts. Like Hinske, any contributions Crede makes in the second half will be magnified by the lack of depth at the position. He's currently mired in a slump (.188 this month) but Crede showed flashes of the power and improved plate discipline that made him a fantasy star last August and September.

7. D'Angelo Jimenez, 2B-SS, Cincinnati Reds
Jimenez would be a more valuable fantasy player if walks counted on their own merit, but Jimenez's patience at the plate is still a good sign. Owned in just 12 percent of ESPN leagues, Jimenez already ranks 12th on the Player Rater among second baseman. And it may get better. After hitting .239 in April and May, Jimenez is hitting .294 with seven steals since June 1. He's hit better in the second half than the first half in each of the last two seasons and appears headed in the same direction this season. With enough speed to steal 15-to-20 bases and hit double-digit home runs, Jimenez could be a valuable 2B/SS guy or fill-in second baseman on fantasy rosters.

8. Daniel Cabrera, P, Baltimore Orioles
This list isn't confined to guys who stunk in the first half and might pick up the pace in the second half. Cabrera was terrific in the first half, posting six wins and a 2.90 ERA in his first 77.2 major league innings. But he's still flying under the radar in fantasy leagues and, at least in some respects, may yet improve his fantasy numbers. Even if Cabrera's ERA rises in the second half, he'll get the run support to maintain solid win potential. And while the strikeouts he piled up in the minors didn't make the jump with him from Double-A ball, Cabrera has the stuff to begin making fantasy contributions in that category.

9. Wade Miller, P, Houston Astros
You can't have a list of second-half sleepers without Wade Miller. It's just a rule. The only problem is that the king of second-half streaks actually turned in a solid first half this season. With seven wins, a 3.35 ERA and 74 strikeouts in 88.2 innings, Miller won't be easy to pry away from any fantasy owner currently making use of him. The good news? He's hurt. The words "rotator cuff" combined with a potential fire sale in Houston may be enough to get Miller on the fantasy trading block. And if you can get him at a discount, he's always worth a look in the second half.

10. Jose Cruz Jr., OF, Tampa Bay Do you believe in the Devil Rays? More importantly, do you believe that Jose Cruz's second-half slumber last season was nothing more than an unfortunate slump? Cruz let down a lot of fantasy owners in 2003, hitting just four home runs after the All-Star Break. But looking at the last three seasons, his second-half slugging percentage actually trumps his first-half number. And after hitting 11 home runs and driving in 39 runs in May and June, Cruz represents a rare thing in fantasy baseball: steady power available on the waiver wire. His recent slump will scare off some owners, but Cruz could easily hit 15-to-20 home runs in the second half.