Confessions of a fantasy baseball addict:  The next Juan Pierre

The Los Angeles Dodgers were rolling with an outfield of Manny Ramirez, Matt Kemp and Andre Either. All three were producing like elite outfielders, and there was no room for anyone else. The player most despised by the sabre-punditry, Juan Pierre, was finally the sunk cost it vociferously advocated for,and his value in fantasy baseball was zero.

Then Manny Ramirez was suspended for 50 games due to steroid usage. Pierre zoomed from nothing to potentially becoming the player he had always been: a high contact, no power, all speed hitter.

With doubts present, Pierre has proven everyone wrong and hit over .400 since being given the chance to earn his $9 million salary. In addition to hitting for a high average, he is stealing bases and getting extra-base hits. There is little question that Pierre has recovered his fantasy value after sitting on his owners’ active roster for a month and contributing little.

The question one wants to ask is who is the next player to go from zero to sixty and increase his fantasy value like Pierre did. The top two players right now are Minnesota Twins outfielder Carlos Gomez and Texas Rangers catcher Taylor Teagarden.

Both entered the season as platoon players (Gomez with Delmon Young, Denard Span and Michael Cuddyer and Teagarden with Jarrod Saltalamacchia) and both had the advantage of being considered better defensive players than their competition, making the expectation that Gomez and Teagarden would receive their fair share of at-bats reasonable.

Unfortunately, both players have been relegated to back-up status. Gomez appears to be the victim of Denard Span’s plate discipline, Michael Cuddyer’s veteran-ness and Delmon Young’s future trade value. Teagarden appears to be sitting so that Saltalamacchia can get a last chance to prove his value as a hitter and improve his trade value.

Gomez and Teagarden should both still meet expectations if they can get playing time. Gomez is still an excellent defender with tantalizing speed. Full-time at-bats makes him a 30-plus steal player, and Teagarden still has the power and plate discipline to be a 15 home run, .260 average catcher. Like the unforeseen Manny Ramirez suspension that made Pierre a legitimate fantasy contributor, all that is needed is an unforeseen event to make them valuable once more.

Here are a few other players to watch along the same lines:

1B/2B/3B Ronnie Belliard, Washington Nationals: Injuries all over the Nationals infield in 2008 allowed Belliard to prove his value and qualify at three positions for 2009. His teammates’ continuing good health stand in his way of doing the same in 2009.

2B Edgar Gonzalez, San Diego Padres: As a 30-year-old rookie, Adrian’s older brother hit .274 with seven home runs in 325 at-bats. The Padres decided to add veteran middle infielder David Eckstein and shift him to second full-time. Whether the money spent outweighs the marginal improvement in defense seems immaterial given the Padres’ mandate to go cheap in 2009.

2B/OF Eugenio Velez, San Francisco Giants: The speedster was part of a three-headed spring competition with Kevin Frandsen and Emmanuel Burriss. Burriss has received all the playing time at second while Velez has languished on the bench.

Last Week: I advocated not panicking on established players who have struggled so far. The debate turned towards a hypothetical sell high of Michael Young for Jhonny Peralta. From Sunday to Saturday, Young went 11-for-22 with a steal and two RBIs, and Peralta went 13-for-27 with six RBIs.

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