MLB fantasy roundtable: Expectations will test Bauer, Rizzo
Trevor Bauer arrives in majors having struck out more than any pitcher in minors
Anthony Rizzo's struggles in 2011 has some fantasy owners slow to trust him
Aroldis Chapman appears to be in no danger of losing closer's job with struggles
Each week of the baseball season a committee of SI.com fantasy experts will meet at pitching mound and offer their insights into the most intriguing questions facing fantasy players.
1. Anthony Rizzo and Trevor Bauer are finally getting their calls to the majors this week. What can fantasy owners expect from each?
Will Carroll: I'm hopeful for both, but much more impressed with Bauer. He has ridiculous stuff and good command of it. He's not perfect and not immune to the problems of most young pitchers, but I think putting him in the same conversation with Stephen Strasburg is reasonable. I'm stunned he's owned in less than 20 percent of leagues right now and highly recommend him, especially in 5x5 and keepers. Rizzo, I'm less high on. He's had shots at the big leagues before and failed, he's got nothing surrounding him and the weight of the Cubs fans hope on him. He hit a lot of homers this year, but a lot of guys do that in the PCL. He should be good, yes, but is he even going to be better than Bryan LaHair, who he couldn't beat out this spring?
Eric Mack: Rizzo has more wiggle room immediately than Bauer, because the expectations are more modest. He already arrived a year ago to disappointing results, so few will fully trust him in mixed leagues until he takes off. Bauer, on the other hand, is being expected to dominate right away. That is a tall order for a young pitcher, particularly one with the issues with walks like Bauer. Still, we should see Bauer prove worthy in all fantasy leagues right away, if not a must-start. Rizzo can take more time, and the deep first base position will make him someone you rotate in and out of fantasy lineups, depending on how he is streaking.
David Sabino: Both players are high-potential talents who could become not only major league regulars but All-Star-caliber fantasy performers. However, both also struggled last season, Bauer in the minors and Rizzo in his first taste of big league action.
This year, Bauer is on a roll, having gone 11-1 between Double and Triple A this year, and has more strikeouts than any player in the minors, despite pitching half of his 16 starts in the hitter-friendly PCL. His skills should translate quickly and he'll have a chance to remain in the D'backs rotation even when the pitcher he's replacing, Joe Saunders (who happens to be at the center of trade rumors) returns from the DL.
Rizzo, the most productive power hitter in the minors this season, should enjoy the friendly confines of Wrigley Field. Even a slight hot streak will make him the darling of the North Siders, whose teams is devoid of any stars. Rizzo should be able to amass double-digit home runs with 40 to 50 RBIs the rest of the season, depending on where Dale Sveum slots him in the lineup. With so few quality first basemen in the NL, he's a serious target for those in NL-only keeper leagues.
2. Aroldis Chapman has struggled mightily in June. What do the coming weeks hold for him?
Carroll: Something changed in a hurry for Chapman. PitchFX tells us it's not his stuff or his selection, so I think someone figured out he's tipping his pitches. Video scouting is a big deal and maybe the most underappreciated thing in all of baseball. Chapman is going to have to make some adjustments quickly, or he'll find there's a lot of hitters that can get around on even his fastball.
Mack: Chapman's power arm should eventually win out and make him dominant again. Manager Dusty Baker does not appear anxious to go back to Sean Marshall as his closer right now. That should help Chapman gain confidence, work through his issues in the strike zone and regain his elite status as a closer. The next 10 days are key, though. More struggles could change Baker's mind. Chapman should get things figured out before he gets kicked out (of the closer's role).
Sabino: It's virtually impossible to find a closer who hasn't gone through a period like Chapman, who has posted four losses in June and served up back-to-back game-losing home runs to Asdrubal Cabrera and Josh Willingham in his last two outings. While not ideal for his fantasy owners, those performances also are not any reason to panic. It's the nature of the job, and with the nasty 100 mph fastball with movement he possesses, he's locked in as the closer on a team that should find itself in many more save situations as the season continues. In fact, I'd be contacting his owner in my league to see if they're jittery, because his trade value may not get much lower than it is now in re-draft leagues.
3. What effect do you see Kevin Youkilis having on the White Sox's lineup and vice versa?
Carroll: I'm not a big believer in chemistry, but I think Youk is going to want to show the Red Sox they made a mistake. I think he might press a bit, do too much, but Robin Ventura should be a perfect influence on him in that case. He's certainly an upgrade over the 3B mix the White Sox have had, but I don't think he's a difference maker any more.
Mack: This appears to be a match made in heaven. Youkilis gets a great hitter's park and a lineup that can give him ample RBI opportunities. Youkilis' walk rate probably warrants hitting second in the order in front of Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn, instead of behind them. Regardless, a healthy, happy and motivated Youkilis should be a boon to the White Sox and fantasy owners here on out.
Sabino: The Bobby Valentine experience promised to shake things up in Boston, and the departure of Youkilis is certainly a sign of the times. Youk lands in a perfect spot with the White Sox, where he'll go from hitting down in the Red Sox order as a part-time player to his more natural role of table-setter for Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn while playing every day at third base, his natural position. This sets up well for Youkilis becoming an elite fantasy option the rest of the season, one who'll see plenty of fastballs to hit and who should become one of the AL's top run scorers from this point on. Injuries are a risk, of course, but no more than Adrian Beltre, Evan Longoria, Alex Rodriguez or any other AL third baseman.
4. Brandon Belt is hitting .340 in June after struggling in the first two months of the season. Hot month or the rise of a fantasy star?
Carroll: Somewhere in between. Belt is the object lesson for those who are going to rush after Rizzo. They're pretty much the same player. Yes, there's the potential for a great run in both of them, but we're not talking about the next Albert Pujols here. I'm curious if there's more fantasy value in a guy who hits hot and cold or a guy who hits a consistent but lower level.
Mack: Both. Belt has long awaited this kind of run that builds the confidence he can be a star in the league and for fantasy owners. He is too talented to be held down forever. This hot stretch hopefully is a signal his career has turned a corner, so start using him -- if not counting on him -- in mixed fantasy leagues. Belt and this stretch is legit. Continue to buy if anyone is selling.
Sabino: To this point in his career Belt's big league experience has been a Catch-22, in which he didn't get consistent at-bats because he never got in a groove at the plate but couldn't get in a groove because he never saw consistent at-bats. Recently, that's changed as he's started 16 straight games, batting a robust .333/.452/.647 over the span with four home runs and 14 RBI. While he's a good fantasy player, he's going to have trouble emerging as a mixed-league first baseman while playing half of his games in what's become the hardest park in the majors in which to hit. So while I believe he is becoming a very good regular player, his current situation won't allow me to go as far as saying he'll be a star this year.
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