Each year, players emerge unexpectedly to make an impact on fantasy standings and help winners to their league titles. Sometimes, the players were starters for their major league teams from Opening Day, like Dmitri Young. More often, however, these surprise impact players began the season on the bench or in the minors, forcing their way into a full-time role or earning a call-up midseason. Often, an injury to a starter provides the opportunity these surprise players need to make their mark. This week "Are You For Real" examines three players who are making the most of more critical roles gained because of injury.
Franklin Gutierrez, OF, CLE
Gutierrez moved up in the pecking order when David Dellucci was injured in mid-June. Now he's on fire and has more at-bats since the All-Star break than Trot Nixon and Jason Michaels. For the season, he's hitting .312/.356/.516 with five homers and five steals in only 93 at-bats. Is this the beginning of something significant, or is Gutierrez just on a hot streak?
Will: Unreal. Gutierrez always has had fine physical tools, but he never has demonstrated that he could refine his approach at the plate enough to be successful at the major league level. In his six minor league campaigns before this year, Gutierrez hit only .277/.345/.452 while striking out nearly once per game. Both his impressive 2007 minor league numbers and his current .321 average with the Indians have been fueled by a fortuitous hit rate. Neither his minor league slugging percentage nor his doubles output in comparison to home runs hint at large undeveloped power potential. This looks like a fourth outfielder swinging a temporarily hot bat to me, and I doubt the 24-year-old will be more than a reserve for the majority of his career in the majors.
Adam: Unreal. Gutierrez, even at his best, is just a platoon starter. Approximately half of his at-bats this year have occurred against lefties, and his hitting against lefties -- .395/.422/.651 with three home runs -- is what is propping up his stat line to make him appear like an appealing option. This helps more in the AL Central, where the unbalanced schedule means he will face lefties more often because the Tigers, White Sox and Royals all have two or three left-handed starters, while many other teams in the AL have one or none. Neither Nixon nor Dellucci provides anything against southpaws, so Gutierrez can net himself two or three starts a week in the role of lefty masher, but that's the extent of his fantasy potential.
Manny Corpas, RP, COL
Corpas was thrust into the closer's role when Brian Fuentes hit the disabled list, and he's making the most of it so far, allowing only four baserunners and one run in his past 10 2/3 innings. With Fuentes and his excellent 2 1/2-year track record scheduled to return from the DL soon, will Corpas be able to remain in the closer's role or is he pitching way over his head?
Will: For Real. Corpas has been very good this year, posting a 2.44 ERA, a 1.10 WHIP and 40 strikeouts against only 15 walks in 46 innings. His minor league track record doesn't seem to support his performance at first, but Corpas made some significant adjustments between 2005 and 2006. He has the stuff, the command and the control to keep pitching very well. His problem is that Fuentes, when healthy, has been exceptional and probably will resume pitching very well when he returns from the DL. If so, Corpas will have to hope the Rockies take an "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" attitude toward the situation. The team probably will view it that way, but with an effective Fuentes available, Corpas will have a very small margin for error. In order to accumulate significant saves this year, Corpas will have to convert nearly all of his chances. That honestly depends more on luck than we'd like, but there are truly closer-worthy skills here. Fuentes will be effective when he returns, but you still can expect Corpas to have a career as a closer. He's a very valuable commodity in keeper leagues.
Adam: Unreal. Corpas is a solid reliever to have around, and as a closer I'm sure he wouldn't be too bad, but Fuentes has proved he is a very good to elite closer. Fuentes did have a 1.89 ERA as recently as June 21, and the outings that followed were so out of character there was a reasonable chance he was pitching hurt. Also important to note is that Fuentes has proved he can conquer Coors Field's difficult pitching environment and consistently perform, which has to hold a lot of weight for the Rockies. I expect Fuentes to retake the job soon after he is healthy, almost regardless of how well Corpas pitches.
Yovani Gallardo, SP, MIL
We're cheating a bit with this one since Ben Sheets just went on the DL and therefore Gallardo only now really is getting his full opportunity. He started three games in place of Chris Capuano in June, with excellent results, and has pitched out of the bullpen since then. Now, he'll join the rotation for a longer term. What can we expect from this top prospect?
Will: For Real. There's really nothing not to like here. Gallardo throws hard and he throws strikes. His slider and curve are already plus pitches, and his changeup is improving. He maintained his strong numbers after a midseason promotion to Double-A last year and again after starting 2007 in Triple-A. Yes, he's being rushed, and yes he'll have some growing pains and get bombed every now and then. But he's more ready for the majors right now than Phil Hughes, Homer Bailey or Tim Lincecum and is in the same league as those guys as far as overall talent and long-term upside. I like him a lot and expect him to do well consistently enough to post good overall numbers rather than just teasing with an occasional gem like most aggressively promoted 21-year-olds.
Adam: Unreal. Keeper leagues should consider Gallardo gold, but for shallower mixed leagues, I think fantasy experts are really overrating his potential contributions, a la Matt Garza last season. It should take a couple of years for Gallardo's control to become an asset, as he does have a minor league walk rate of 3.1 per nine innings the past two seasons. As a starter this year, he has walked 3.2 batters per nine innings; it's being a bit nitpicky, but it is a concern. Gallardo's schedule will be tough, too; he's roughly set to start against the Reds twice, the Cardinals twice, the Phillies, the Rockies, the Giants and the Cubs within the next month. Now that the Cards are hitting, the only favorable matchup would be the Giants. Toss in the fact that the Brewers have been playing .500 ball since their hot start, and you have a good young pitcher who's going to be put in a rather difficult situation to succeed immediately.
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.