“Round Robinson”: Unsung Heroes On and Off the Field
This Sunday is Mother’s Day. For those of you who already knew that, I’m sure you have something wonderful planned for the special woman (or women) in your life. If that was breaking news to you, I won’t be offended at all if you took a moment before reading the duration of this week’s article to figure out a nice way to celebrate such an important day for an important lady. It’s the least we can do to show our appreciation for everything they’ve done for us.
We all have our reasons why our mothers are the greatest. They’re the ones who sat up all night with us when we were sick. They’re the ones who drove us to and from practice during the week. They’re the ones who helped us finish that project at two in the morning the night before it was due. There’s no quantifying just how much our mothers are worth to us and don’t bother trying; numbers just don’t climb that high.
That goes double for my mom. She’s had to deal with an over-ambitious son who’s traveled hundreds of miles across the country and is almost never close to home. She’s had to go days and weeks at a time without hearing from me because I can’t bring myself to tell her that things aren’t going as smoothly in my life as I’d hoped. I’ve tried and failed on numerous endeavors both personally and professionally and she’s always been there to help lift me back up. But the thing I appreciate most about my mom is that she’s always given me the freedom and opportunity to chase my dreams and make mistakes, and boy have I made some doozies along the way. While I know it pained her to see me stumble in some areas of my life, her allowance to let me to learn from those mistakes has made me who I am today. There were times she saw the train wreck coming, and as much as I know she wanted to grab on to my hand and pull me out, she let me experience things I needed to, all the while reminding me that I had her unwavering and undying support and love.
Her love for me even stretches to our game of fantasy baseball. I was part of a league starting when I was 10 years old at the local recreation center where I spent much of my free time. In the future, I’m sure I’ll expand further on just how instrumental this league was in fostering my love for fantasy sports, but for now I’ll keep it simple. This was back in 1996, and the only way we could adjust our rosters was going up to that rec center and talking to one of the two men running the league. I lived a few miles away from it, so just running up there whenever I needed to was out of the question. Thus, when my mom got home from work, her son’s first words weren’t “I missed you” or “What’s for dinner?”, they were more like “Mom, my 3B is hurt and I need to get a new one. Can you drive me?”
Long before waivers or FAAB bidding, my mom was the conduit for me adjusting my team. Even after a nine hour day at work, she would always drive me up to the rec center, then wait for me as I engaged in a 30+ minute conversation with one of those two gentlemen. And she never complained. I’m sure there were times when it was the last thing she wanted to do after working all day (I can appreciate that now that I’ve spent a few years working full time), but not once did she ever tell me no. She knew how much I loved following my very own fantasy team, not to mention how competitive I was, and always supported me in doing so. I’m sure as a kid I didn’t always thank her for doing it, so this comes about 18 years late: Thanks, mom.
I’m also at the age where a lot of my friends have either become mothers recently or will be doing so very soon. One of the major blessings of criss-crossing the nation the way I have is that I’ve met a lot of amazing people who have become amazing mothers. In a lot of cases, I haven’t kept in touch with them as frequently as I did before they began adding to their families because priorities, naturally, have to change. But it doesn’t diminish how happy I truly am for them, and how lucky I know their children are to have such an incredible role model that will always be there for them, the same way my mom has always been there for me.
In that same fashion, this week I’m taking a look at some hitters who can potentially be there for your team. These are guys who are all picking up an opportunity now that a stud in front of them has hit the DL. And like mothers, a few of these are veterans of the game, while others are new to the party. Regardless, each of them could have value in the short term, a la Kevin Kouzmanoff in April, and deserve your attention.
Chris Heisey, CIN: Jay Bruce landed on the DL this past week and is expected to miss about a month with knee surgery. Reds’ manager Brian Price wasted no time in announcing that Heisey will get the bulk of the playing time while Bruce recovers. Heisey, a pinch-hitter extraordinaire, will now get a shot at extended, regular at-bats for one of the few times in his career. He won’t help your AVG much (a career .254 hitter with a K rate of 23.0%) but he does bring to the table an interesting, yet inconsistent, mix of power and speed. Back in 2011, Heisey hit 18 HR in just 279 AB, but his HR/FB% plummeted from 17.6% that year to just 5.3% in 2012. Last year, that number normalized to 11.5%, but so far in 2014, Heisey has just 1 HR in 59 AB. With the consistent starts he’s now getting, it’s not unreasonable to think that Heisey could provide a little pop in your OF.
What’s of more interest to me is this out-of-nowhere onset of speed. Heisey’s career high for steals coming into this season was a paltry 6 (2011 and 2012). Already though, Heisey has recorded 4 SB without being caught as Price seems much more willing to give his players the green light on the base paths. He does have moderate splits (career .757 OPS vs. RHP, .680 vs. LHP) so you might want to get him out of your lineup when he’s facing southpaws, but Heisey is a prime candidate to go on a small tear while he’s getting to play everyday.
Mike Aviles, Jose Ramirez, CLE: Jason Kipnis also figures to miss about a month’s worth of action as he recovers from a strained oblique. Tough luck for this writer who loves to proclaim that “we are all Kipnises”. The Indians plan on mixing both a veteran and a youngster at 2B until Kipnis returns. For Mike Aviles, this is just another path to AB as he has already played multiple games at SS, 3B, and LF as well. At this point, we pretty much know what to expect with Aviles. The AVG won’t blow you away (.273 career, .252 since 2012) but he will give you some counting numbers. In 394 PA last year, he registered 9 HR and 8 SB, and in 2012 he notched 13/14 in 546 PA. Those numbers will definitely play if you’re looking for middle infield help. Aviles is also hitting almost .100 higher against lefties than he is against righties in 2014, so he too is a smart matchup play.
The more interesting name here has to be Ramirez. He was up for a cup of coffee last year with Cleveland, netting 4 hits in 12 AB, and Terry Francona already likes what he sees this time around. He’s gotten the majority of the starts at 2B and is off to a slow start with just one hit in 11 AB. But I wouldn’t turn a blind eye to him just yet. Before getting called up, Ramirez posted a .319/.365/.484 triple slash with AAA-Columbus, collecting 4 HR and 8 SB in 105 PA.
As juicy as all of those numbers sound, the power can’t be counted on. Ramirez had just 7 HR in over 1000 PA in his minor league career coming into this season, so don’t expect to see too many fly over the fence in Cleveland. The AVG and SB potential, however, is real. Ramirez posted a nearly 1:1 K/BB ratio in his minor league career so he definitely knows how to work the strike zone. And in 2013, Ramirez tallied 38 SB in 113 games at AA-Akron. Should he find his groove, Ramirez could be a nice addition for a team in desperate need of cheap speed.
Brayan Peña, CIN: If we’re going to go deep, let’s go real deep here and that means a trip back to Cincinnati. For as hot as Devin Mesoraco has been early in 2014, he’s already knee deep in his second trip to the DL this year, first with an oblique injury and now a hamstring strain. The Reds seem intent on being very careful with their young catcher, and the play of Peña has given them the leeway to do so.
Peña is currently sporting a .328/.371/.552 triple slash in 58 AB, which includes 3 HR since April 30. This is no accident as Cincinnati is currently the best ballpark to hit homeruns in so far this season and it’s not close. Toss in that his LD% is a staggering 34% and he’s showing a bit more patience at the plate than in recent years, and you’ve got the makings of a solid short-term stopgap behind the plate for NL-only owners of Mesoraco and Wilin Rosario. Considering the oft-injured nature of both, Peña might not be a bad guy to hold on to even longer than that.
I’m keeping the info this week short and sweet. Baseball is great but as you can tell, my priorities right now are more focused on family, as I hope yours are too. If you’re as lucky as me, you’ve got a mom who’s always pushing to get her son back home to go to a game any time it’s possible. This year I plan on doing just that. I wish I could say something profound to wrap this up and really show my appreciation for all the moms out there, but I think a young linebacker from Louisiana said it best. Happy Mother’s Day.