1. Ike Davis (20.0 percent owned) – First base is one of the deepest positions in a fantasy lineup this season, which is probably why there are four first basemen on this list. The interesting thing is that 3 of them are rookies. Davis is one of those rookies, and he is batting .286 with 2 HR and 1 SB over the last 15 games. He has David Wright protecting him in the lineup, and as a matter of fact, I watched Wright get intentionally walked to load the bases for Davis twice in the last week. He may strike out too much, but the RBI opportunities will continue to abound for the former Sun Devil. What may be most amazing is that Davis (a lefty) is hitting .328 vs. left-handed pitching this season. Davis is definitely worth a flier in redraft leagues; and he should not be available in keeper leagues.
2. Justin Smoak (19.7) – Our second rookie first baseman has been killing the ball recently. He is third in the AL in RBI with 20 in the month of June, trailing only teammate Josh Hamilton (27 RBI) and Torii Hunter (21). One nice thing about Smoak that sets him apart from most rookies is the fact that he does not strike out much (only 10 K in June). Now that Nelson Cruz has returned from injury, Smoak will have to move down a spot in the order; however, that shouldn’t deter you from nabbing him. Like Davis, Smoak should not be available in any keeper leagues – if he is, stop reading this now and go pick him up.
3. Jeff Keppinger (16.8) – I wanted to include at least one middle infielder on this list, and Keppinger edged out Ian Desmond (another rookie) – mostly because Desmond has fallen into a big slump the last two weeks. He may not wow you with his power numbers, but Keppinger is hitting a steady .280 on the season with a .328 OBP. The biggest plus on Keppinger is his eligibility at 2B, 3B and SS, and he has the potential to contribute to your run totals batting in front of Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee.
4. Gaby Sanchez (11.1) – The Marlins fired their manager, assistant manager and hitting coach on Wednesday; however, this should not negatively impact Sanchez, who has been on fire in June. For the month, the rookie is hitting .356, with a .407 OBP and a .575 SLG. He has 3 HR and 2 SB to go with those gaudy stats. Sanchez is really coming into his own – he has 11 hits in his last 24 ABs – and he has the streaking Chris Coghlan batting in front of him and Hanley Ramirez and Jorge Cantu batting behind him. Expect more of the same in July.
5. AJ Pierzynski (8.9) – Don’t look now, but the joke of a lineup that is the Chicago White Sox is starting to hit. Pierzynski has brought his average up from .219 to .252 in just the last 10 games, and he has 2 HR in that timeframe. After hitting .169 in April and .241 in May, A.J. is hitting .362 in June – and he has gone 3-for-4 in each of the last two games. He’s certainly a better option right now than much more widely owned catchers, such as Ryan Doumit (.162 AVG in his last 15 games) and Rod Barajas (.133 over the last 15).
6. Kris Medlen (8.5) – The first pitcher on the list (there are very few quality starting pitchers at 20-percent owned or less), Medlen nailed down a spot in the Braves’ starting rotation thanks to Jair Jurrjens’ injury, and he will keep it thanks to Kenshin Kawakami’s total ineffectiveness. Since joining the rotation, Medlen has made 7 starts, with 5 of them quality starts. He has three wins and no losses in that timeframe. Impressively, Medlen has posted just 9 walks vs. 29 strikeouts as a starter, and like I said, he will be keeping the job for the foreseeable future. Definitely a great keeper candidate in deep leagues.
7. Evan Meek (8.0) – The 27-year-old right hander has outperformed every pitcher on the Pittsburgh Pirates, including the two guys in front of him on the closing depth chart, Octavio Dotel and Joel Hanrahan (although Hanrahan has been quite solid). Even if Meek never gets another save this season, his numbers as a middle reliever can definitely have a positive impact on your fantasy team. In 40 innings this season, Meek has a miniscule 0.68 ERA and 0.83 WHIP. He may not be Carlos Marmol when it comes to the K, but Meek’s strikeout rate is encouraging (36 Ks in 40 innings – with only 9 walks), his opponent’s batting average of .170 is terrific, and he hasn’t allowed an earned run since May 23 (that’s 12 straight scoreless appearances). If you have a roster spot available, Meek can do wonders for your pitching percentages.
8. Luke Gregerson (5.6) – Gregerson is another middle relief example of a player that can help balance out your pitching percentages. He strikes out more batters than Meek – Gregerson has 43 Ks in 35.2 IP – and oh yeah, he only has THREE walks this season. That’s good for a 0.48 WHIP! If your league counts holds (Gregerson has 17), there is no way he should be available. That said, Luke is definitely another player who helps a whole lot more than he hurts, and if you have roster space available, it’s probably a no-brainer.
9. Hisanori Takahashi (4.6) – The Japanese import has benefitted from a shoulder injury to John Maine, which moved him into the rotation since May 21. Since then, Takahashi has 3 wins with two 6-inning shutouts of the Bronx Bombers (although one was a no-decision). With news that Maine may be shutting it down for good, Takahashi will continue to be the main beneficiary. The only red flag seems to be his dominance over AL teams – 2 of his three wins and 3 of his 4 quality starts came against the AL squads. He is a Met, after all.
10. Russell Branyan (3.1) – Being injured to start the season is a great way to find yourself on this list. Take Russell Branyan – he missed the first 12 games of the year and then struggled through much of May trying to play catch-up. Well, in June Branyan has caught up, batting .279 for the month with 4 HR and an .851 OPS. His resurgence cost the vaunted Matt LaPorta any playing time, and he was subsequently sent to the minors. The fact that Branyan is 3.1-percent owned means he is likely available to you – and while you might not plug him into the lineup tomorrow, he may prove to be a valuable trading chip as the rest of the fantasy world wakes up to what he is doing.
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