If you play in a fantasy baseball league made up of family members, then there may well be no need to invest in either of these players. If, however, you play in a deep mixed league, you might want to consider the first of these entries. It’s even possible that the second one will play in one, eventually, but let’s not get that far ahead of the curve just yet.
SP Jeff Locke, Pittsburgh Pirates
Ownership: CBS 18% | Yahoo! 4% | ESPN 1.0%
This left-hander didn’t get the first shot this season when the Bucs needed a pitcher. Locke posted a 6.12 ERA after the All-Star break in 2013 after he’d posted a 2.15 mark in the first half. He had to prove something to the organization, but an oblique strain in spring training robbed him of that initial opportunity.
Still, Locke didn’t seem to let that deter him once he was healthy. He had a good start to the season at Triple-A Indianapolis, with three very nice outings, before the parent club needed him for a spot start. He was bombed in it, however. When he returned to the Indy Indians, he wasn’t very good – not so much because of the results, which were mediocre, but because he began to issue plenty of walks. It was disappointing. Perhaps it was a response to his own disappointment, a pitcher who was aiming to get back in his club’s good graces and was well on his way before that major league cameo went awry and he was right back where he started.
Sometimes, a club’s need outweighs its desire to see certain things before it gives a player the opportunity he desires. Gerrit Cole developed what the Pirates called shoulder fatigue, and because Brandon Cumpton was already in the rotation, Locke was the next man up.
One might surmise that the southpaw intends not to squander the chance a second time around. In two starts (15 frames) as Cole’s fill-in, Locke has allowed 10 hits, three runs and one walk, with 12 strikeouts. He first stymied the Milwaukee Brewers, who have one of the majors’ top 10 offenses and have for whatever reason been more productive on the road, at PNC Park. He then faced the Miami Marlins at Circus, Circus – er, Marlins Park, where that team has maintained one of the top five home offenses. Locke appears to be making a good impression.
The 26-year-old has multiple attributes that appeal to the fantasy user. For starts, he keeps ball out of air, something I’d be OK with seeing him do less often because of the yard he plays in and the outfield that plays behind him, but Pittsburgh’s infield isn’t made up of slouches, save perhaps Pedro Alvarez.
Locke has also been a plus performer in the K-BB% category that’s becoming a predictive favorite here. His rates in the minors would land him on the first page of the league leaderboard this season. He’s off to a stellar start in the column in 2014 in the majors, too. He has a somewhat dubious history with the walks at the highest level, but he’s throwing a two-seamer considerably more often this year, and his location is better with it than his four-seamer. It seems to work well for him, not in terms of whiffs, but in terms of poor contact.
In terms of swings and misses, Locke remains a changeup guy. I’m a fan of that type. His change is a plus pitch, unusual in Pittsburgh. The separation between its velocity and the velos of his fastballs remains roughly 10 mph, an outstanding difference.
Cole will be back soon, so time could already be running out. Locke’s clock is less likely to strike midnight than Cumpton’s or Vance Worley’s, though, in my opinion, at least when Cole returns. Cumpton’s results and indicators have been worse; I’d project better results for Locke in the long run, as would the Pirates, likely. Worley was a flier for the organization after he’d fizzed with the Minnesota Twins.
It’s possible that the Bucs will have a tough decision to make once Francisco Liriano (oblique strain) is ready, but they’ll be careful with the injured lefty. This is a chance to let last year’s revelatory pickup catch his breath and to conserve him a bit, since he wasn’t turning in the kind of results he did in 2013. By the time Cole and Liriano have both returned, another injury may have occurred, and even if it hasn’t, there’s still one rotation spot for the three substitutes of 2014: Cumpton, Worley and my favorite for the spot, Locke.
GM Neal Huntington stated on a local radio station that he believes Locke looks as if he’s rediscovered what made him good last year, at least in the first half. The reality is that in some ways, significantly in terms of K-BB%, he’s better. The control surely won’t remain this good, but he may be better equipped to keep it from getting away from him.
Locke may be a risky investment because he’s been an inconsistent performer. His downfall would seem less likely to have something to do with adjustments the opposition makes than his capacity to maintain some consistency with his control, command or both. But I like what I see. He has the tools to be effective for a long stretch. I’d be willing to take this risk in the right circumstances.
C/1B Jesus Montero, Seattle Mariners
Ownership: CBS 13% | Yahoo! 1% | ESPN 0.4%
You’ve read, heard or viewed enough about Montero in the past to know of his supposedly prodigious hitting ability. You’ve also become familiar with the baggage that results from his subpar glove, a PED suspension and his obesity. This isn’t a player who has worked himself into fantasy owners’ good graces.
Montero, 24, still has a little time to work his way into Seattle’s favor, however. A slew of injuries has created an opportunity for the disgraced former prospect. Once Corey Hart (strained hamstring) and Justin Smoak (strained quadriceps) return to action, the Mariners will have some rearrangements to make, and they’ll involve discussions about what to do with Montero. Two of the extra-outfielder types – Stefen Romero, Cole Gillespie and Endy Chavez – can go, eventually, because Michael Saunders (shoulder soreness) is due back soon as well. Willie Bloomquist can still play a corner-outfield spot in a pinch, I think. Heck, Dustin Ackley continues to struggle, so maybe he gets the boot instead.
No matter how it winds up, the Mariners’ lineup is much too left-handed and platoon-dependent. They must welcome another legit right-handed presence. Montero’s hit tool hasn’t disappeared, even if he doesn’t turn out to be a stud. He was hitting .270/.345/.455 in 255 plate appearances at Triple-A Tacoma, modest output for the Pacific Coast League. In most fantasy leagues, he still has that loophole-exploiting catcher eligibility.
Although GM Jack Zduriencik has publicly declared his club’s expectations of Montero to be virtually nil anymore, the organization would undoubtedly be thrilled to salvage something here. He’s had some discouraging handedness splits in the majors, and he may not overcome them. But he has 20-homer power and the ability to hit .260 or so, as he did in 2012.
What if this is lightning in a bottle? Montero wouldn’t need to do a whole lot to qualify for that label at catcher in rotisserie leagues this year. There’s simply no way that he should be available in AL-only leagues. Fantasy owners in mixed leagues should have an eye on him, and for those with deep benches, he could stand to occupy one of those spots. This kind of move has a low likelihood to pay off, surely, but if it does, the payoff should be pretty nice.
Nicholas Minnix oversaw baseball content for six years at KFFL, where he held the loose title of Managing Editor for seven and a half before he joined FanGraphs. He played in both Tout Wars and LABR from 2010 through 2014. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasMinnix.