The only way to make a big impact in the fantasy sports world is to get the playing time to do so. The No. 1 rule of fantasy is opportunity, a rule that is occasionally easy to overlook. Top fantasy performers are not part-time players, so the first things to look for when trying to find that next star are players creating their own opportunities.
There are still two and a half months of season left, and just as these players spent the first half of the season earning that playing time, they must continue to perform well in a starting role to keep it. Players who have gradually emerged from the first-half scrum with more at-bats under their belts tend to be overlooked by the time they actually become full-time players. This week, Are You For Real takes a look at a group of players that may be catalysts to your second-half push.
James Loney, 1B, LAD: After making his debut last season and hitting .284 through 102 at-bats, people were merely waiting for the highly touted prospect to gain a full-time job. The Dodgers moved Nomar Garciaparra across the diamond to make room for him, and he has responded by hitting .398 through 25 games. How good can he be?
Adam: Unreal. First base may be the easiest position to play, but comes with the greatest power expectations, and the problem is Loney just can't live up to them. In 366 at-bats playing for Triple-A Las Vegas last season, Loney hit .380 yet slugged just .546, an especially low mark considering the Pacific Coast League is one of the minors' most hitter-friendly leagues. This season in 229 at-bats in Triple-A, he had a line of .284/.350/.389. While he has upped that to .398/.451/.614 in the majors, the slugging percentage is still low compared with his batting average, and he has just three home runs. Loney is definitely MLB ready in terms of batting average, solid plate discipline and defense, but having a Sean Casey as your first baseman handicaps you more than it helps. In NL-only or deeper leagues, Loney is great, but for mixed leagues he has situational use only.
Will: For Real. Only in the very shallowest of leagues does it hurt to have a Sean Casey at first base, and at any rate, Loney's a long way from Sean Caseydom. With the exception of an injury-plagued 2004, Loney has shown steady development throughout his career. The PCL may be a hitter-friendly league, but Loney won the league's batting title last season, so it's not as if his production isn't meaningful in league context. Loney's minor league track record and the nearly 200 at-bats he's accumulated in the majors thus far paint a promising picture. The guy is already a high-contact, legitimate .300 hitter with a keen batting eye and the ability to hit 30-plus doubles. His power is still developing, but he's ready to hit 10-15 per full season right now, and he's only 23. Be patient.
Greg Dobbs, 3B, PHI: Entering 2007 with all of 222 major league at-bats to his name, the 29-year-old career minor leaguer has carved out a niche as the Phillies' third baseman. Dobbs is hitting .324 since May, but how much staying power does a player with all of nine career home runs have?
Adam: For Real. Good major league teams create productive lineup spots and give themselves quality depth, and much of the same applies in fantasy leagues. Dobbs has his limitations -- he cannot hit lefties and does not start against them, and he has little long-term viability beyond this season -- but man, can he hit righties. Dobbs has a .314/.343/.572 line with seven home runs in 159 at-bats against right-handed pitching this season. While he is playing a bit above his head, he has a cushion to fall back on thanks to Citizens Bank Park, where he's hitting .340/.361/.596 line in 94 at-bats. Another point in his favor is that he hits behind Chase Utley (.405 OBP), Ryan Howard (.383) and Pat Burrell (.382). Toss in some positional flexibility -- he has started games at third base, outfield and even has three games played at second base -- and he can fill some holes and has a solid amount of value as a platoon option.
Will: Unreal. Yes, Dobbs can hit right-handers, but so can a lot of other Triple-A sluggers who offer more power and on-base skills. Until that changes -- and there's no reason to think that the 29-year-old minor league journeyman has any significant development left to offer -- Dobbs will be a bench player, or at best a platoon partner. His 32 strikeouts against just eight walks this year don't inspire confidence that he's made a significant adjustment at the plate. Think of Dobbs as a short-term stopgap off to a hot start, not a breakout performer who has a future as a major league regular.
Mark Reynolds, 3B, ARI: Reynolds has managed to squeeze out playing time at third even after Chad Tracy's return due to Conor Jackson's poor performance. With Carlos Quentin sent down to the minors, Reynolds may find himself with playing time at both third and in the outfield, but can he hit enough to make it count?
Adam: Unreal. Reynolds has a solid track record and a good future, but does turn 24 in August, so he's not brimming with potential, either. The D-backs are in the envious position of having too many solid young players for too few lineup spots, and so far Reynolds has benefited as Carlos Quentin and Conor Jackson have tumbled. But the truth is Reynolds is playing a fair bit above his head as well, and his 42 strikeouts in 46 games suggests he could use some seasoning in the minors. Reynolds must hit to keep his job, leaving him little margin for error, especially considering he's not quite a full-time player right now. He has some situational value in deeper leagues thanks to the home park he plays in (.290/.347/.581 with three home runs in 62 at-bats at Chase Field), but he's not quite worthy of the mainstream.
Will: Unreal. A career .276 hitter in the minors who struck out almost once per game, Reynolds just doesn't have the contact abilities to make it as a major league starter. Quentin, Jackson and the rest of the Diamondbacks outfield and corner infield youngsters and prospects are all far superior talents, so Reynolds will continue to have value to the organization only as a temporary solution when one of the others is injured or in a slump. The six home runs are an accurate representation of Reynolds' actual skills, but unfortunately so are the 42 strikeouts and 14 walks. It would be surprising if Reynolds found the second half at-bats to get to 12 taters for the season.
Will Harris and Adam Madison are fantasy baseball analysts for TalentedMrRoto.com. Will can be contacted at WillHarris@TalentedMrRoto.com and Adam at Adam@TalentedMrRoto.com.