Late-season breakout bats?

Which lesser-owned hitters could provide big dividends at the plate?

Updated: August 7, 2013, 4:56 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

Forget about the impact of the Biogenesis suspensions on the real game for a moment; the impact on fantasy baseball was substantial.

Hit Parade

How often do we see this: Two top-five shortstops and one top-15 outfielder (those per our Player Rater) had their seasons effectively wiped out in one fell swoop. In the moment it took for Major League Baseball to announce the 50-game suspensions -- that encompassed the entire remaining regular-season schedule for two and all but three games for the third -- fantasy owners lost three of the 90 most valuable players to date at a critical time in their season.

That's the reality fantasy owners face, as Everth Cabrera (the No. 2 shortstop at the time of his suspension), Jhonny Peralta (No. 5 shortstop) and Nelson Cruz (No. 13 outfielder) are now gone, and their teams -- real and fantasy -- need replacements.

As such, fantasy owners might be seeking out-of-nowhere gems or "lightning in a bottle" picks, if you will, more so this season than any other before it. They need pickups who can perform at a high level unexpectedly.

Following up on Tuesday's "60 Feet 6 Inches" topic, let's nominate the best such candidates for the remainder of the year. This isn't to say that anyone listed below is even close to a sure thing. So, if you're a team in good shape already that merely needs to protect your lead, maybe none of these names are what you need; you might want someone more consistent with a smaller downside.

But these players could give you elite production at the cost of a mere waiver pickup … or they could wind up on your cut list in a week, as you seek the next such candidate. There's no shame in that as a rest-of-the-year strategy, Cabrera, Peralta and/or Cruz owners. Here are the criteria for these "lightning in a bottle" picks: Each one is available in a minimum of 75 percent of ESPN leagues. Every one, too, could be a top-60 hitter from today forward if he catches a couple breaks.

Adams
Adams

Matt Adams, St. Louis Cardinals: At-bats are the problem; his skills are not. Sample size comes into play here, but put that aside for a moment. Among players with at least 150 plate appearances this season, Adams' .506 slugging percentage rates in the 91st percentile, his .368 wOBA (weighted on-base average) rates in the 89th percentile and his .239 well-hit average (the percentage of his at-bats that resulted in hard contact) ranks ninth in the majors. Still, despite all that, Adams has garnered just 192 trips to the plate thus far.

There are three obstacles standing in his way: Allen Craig (the Cardinals' starting first baseman in 69 of their 112 games) -- bearing in mind that he can also handle either outfield corner depending on who gets a day off -- Matt Holliday (their left fielder in 90) and Carlos Beltran (their right fielder in 92). Craig made four trips to the disabled list in 2011-12, Holliday recently returned from a DL stint for a hamstring injury and Beltran is 36 years old with a history of knee problems (though no significant ones since 2010). Who's to say that all three will remain healthy for every one of the team's remaining 50 contests?

Adams would become a no-brainer pickup in the event one of those three got hurt, but why wait until that happens? He'd cost substantially more in terms of waiver position or FAAB (free-agent acquisition budget), so keep him stashed if you can.

Rodriguez
Rodriguez

Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees: Perhaps you've heard of this guy?

So-called "ethics" have nothing to do with your evaluation of Alex Rodriguez's rest-of-2013 fantasy prospects; we are tasked with extracting the best statistics from our players rather than taking ethical stands. Though he faces a 211-game suspension, he is appealing the decision and is eligible to play until a ruling is made, the time frame for which has been reported to be as little as 35 days or as long as into the offseason. To put that into perspective, there are 54 more days on the regular-season calendar, so we're likely to see a lot of A-Rod down the stretch.

In no way should anyone expect Rodriguez to come close to the .300-40-120 annual numbers for which he was once known, but bear in mind that he averaged .274/.357/.444 triple-slash numbers with averages of 25 home runs and 88 RBIs per 162 games played from 2011-12. Among players available in 80 percent or more of ESPN leagues -- approximately the number in which he remains unclaimed -- who else do you see with that much potential through the rest of the year? He'll play nearly every day that he's healthy at either third base or designated hitter, batting in the heart of the order, and surely he's motivated to perform in light of the allegations and criticisms surrounding him.

Davis
Davis

Ike Davis, New York Mets: The quick rationale putting him on this list is that, from this date forward last season, he hit 12 home runs, drove in 29 runs and managed a .372 on-base and .534 slugging percentage. The more detailed angle is that Davis, following a short stint in Triple-A Las Vegas to fix his early-season troubles, appears to have adapted a more patient approach at the plate, a plus for a player with so much raw power. After walking in 18.5 percent of his plate appearances with a 76 percent contact rate and hitting seven home runs in seven games for the 51s, he has a 25.0 percent walk rate (15 walks in 60 PAs) and 73 percent contact rate in 18 games since the All-Star break, albeit with only one home run.

Davis hasn't been anywhere near as inept against breaking pitches -- specifically curveballs and sliders -- since his recall, hitting his only home run on a Drew Storen slider (on July 26) and missing on only 13 of his 50 swings against those pitches. Those were similar improvements to those he made when he broke in the latter half of 2012, and they make him well worth the speculative add. This isn't to say he'll hit 12 more home runs … but he certainly could.

Yelich
Yelich

Christian Yelich, Miami Marlins: He's far from a sure thing, and past lessons have shown us that we shouldn't always expect the most from rookies. But has the pendulum swung too far in that direction? Judging by Yelich's 18.2 ownership percentage in ESPN leagues, perhaps it has.

Remember, today's column is about shooting for the moon, and Yelich's ceiling -- yes, even in the short term -- is high. He'll bat in the top third of the Marlins' lineup practically every day for the remainder of the year, and he has the kind of selectivity, above-average power and speed that might make him quite the fantasy sparkplug. To that end, Yelich's 24 percent chase rate (his swing rate at pitches judged outside the strike zone) is a healthy amount better than the 28 percent major league average, and he averaged 19 home runs and 31 stolen bases per 162 games played during his minor league career.

Arcia
Arcia

Oswaldo Arcia, Minnesota Twins: He's one of the more powerful bats available in the over-75-percent group of available players and his sweet left-handed swing is one of the rare ones with the ability to clear the high right-field fence at Minnesota's Target Field. In 64 games this season, Arcia has seven home runs, a .418 slugging percentage and .160 isolated power.

At the same time, Arcia is 22 years old and still adapting to the big-league level, and he can fall into bad habits in terms of his plate discipline. His mid-July demotion to Triple-A Rochester was due in large part to a three-game span (July 10-12) during which he struck out 11 times in 14 at-bats. Arcia will need to make more consistent contact to realize his ceiling this season -- I'm more confident that he will in either 2014 or 2015, even if he doesn't in 2013 -- as he has 10 K's in 19 at-bats since his recall. That said, he batted .375/.490/.725 with an 82.5 percent contact rate in his 13 games for Rochester in July, and he's about as strong a risk/reward pickup as there is right now.

Jonathan Villar, Houston Astros: Available in nearly 90 percent of ESPN leagues, Villar is the player I've specifically recommended as a fill-in for Everth Cabrera's owners because of their similar skill sets, easily the most similar among widely available candidates: They're both quick and they both draw walks, which fuels their stolen-base totals. Here's a quick career comparison:

Villar won't hit for as high a batting average as Cabrera, who was batting .283 at the time of his suspension, but he'll get on base via walks a healthy amount. He has a hint more power than Cabrera, and he has shown an extremely aggressive approach on the base paths thus far. Villar has 10 successful steals on 13 tries in 21 opportunities -- as judged by Baseball-Reference.com -- and the argument could be made that he'd have outperformed Cabrera in both home runs and stolen bases from this day forward had Cabrera escaped penalty.

Bogaerts
Bogaerts

Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox: Let's first address the potentially massive obstacle standing in his way of a promotion this season -- that's at all this year, not just whether he's recalled in August -- by pointing out that he's not on the Red Sox's 40-man roster, meaning the team risks removing someone from that list and exposing that player to waivers if Bogaerts is summoned. Still, if Bogaerts can help the Red Sox down the stretch and during the postseason, they'll do it. That, coupled with his recent shift from shortstop to third base, is the reason that so many people make Manny Machado comparisons.

Bogaerts will carry shortstop eligibility through the remainder of 2013 in ESPN leagues, however, and that's a significant plus. He's one of the few widely available players who could be a top-10 option at the position, at a time when fantasy baseball has lost two members of that class for the year, and the Red Sox surely wouldn't call him up if they didn't intend to play him every day. He's a .275/.368/.462 hitter in 49 games for Triple-A Pawtucket and has considerably greater upside than anyone the big-league club currently has at third.

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