We see it happen every year in Major League Baseball. Each season there are players who deserve to be starters but they are blocked by an undeserving player at the same position. I like to call it the Brandon Belt Effect. It may be that the player ahead of him is the "face of the franchise". It could be that the guy who's getting the starts is also getting paid a ridiculous amount of money. Or it could just be that an organization favors one player over another for its own internal reasons.
Aubrey Huff came back to life for one last hurrah with the 2010 Giants and was a large contributor to the team's success. Just three weeks after winning the World Series, the Giants resigned Huff to a 2-year/$22 million contract. Some may argue that it was showing loyalty or that Huff earned it with his play that season, but he would be 34 in 2011 and wasn't very good in 2009. However, there was a larger issue at hand. Brandon Belt, the team's best prospect since graduating Buster Posey, started the year in High-A and hit his way all the way to Triple-A by the end of the season. He hit .352/.455/.620 and led the minors in several offensive categories. Belt was given a chance to be the starting first baseman in 2011 but after struggling early and seeing what Aubrey Huff in the outfield actually looked like, he was relegated to playing sporadically and appeared in only 63 games that year. There was no question that Belt was the better player of the two but he was still the one who lost at bats. Let's take a look at some other players who should be playing and, if they find regular playing time, can help your fantasy team.
Tyler Colvin, 1B/OF, Colorado Rockies
Some scouts were skeptical when the Cubs drafted Colvin 13th overall in the 2006 draft but he was on his way to being a top prospect before needing Tommy John surgery during the 2008 season. Initially billed as a potential 5-tool centerfielder, he lost some of his speed and was forced to move to a corner outfield spot. One thing he didn't lose, however, was his power. Baseball America made several references to Colvin's size/strength, bat speed and the loft in his swing throughout their scouting reports and projected him to have 20-home run power. And they hit the nail on the head. Colvin's 162-game average line projects to look like this: .250/.300/.475 with 20 home runs, 65 runs, 70 RBIs, 5 stolen bases.
The problem is that Colvin probably won't get the chance to play 162 games this year. As it stands right now, the Rockies plan to play 39-year old Todd Helton at first base and have an outfield of Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler and Michael Cuddyer. While I could probably make the argument for Colvin over Cuddyer, Helton is the player that's stickin' in my craw. Helton's never been a beacon of health and, while that very fact may lead to Colvin's playing time, Colvin should win the job over merit not by default. Helton's ISO over the past 7 seasons is .156 (Colvin's ISO last year was .240). He's not the lock for a .300+ average anymore and, thus, has very little value with the bat. At one time, Helton was one of the best offensive first baseman in the league but that's no longer the case. The Rockies need to let go of the Helton from the early 2000's and do themselves and fantasy players a favor - play Tyler Colvin.
Gerardo Parra, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks
The Diamondbacks outfield has been a carousel this offseason with the departures of Justin Upton and Chris Young, the promotion of Adam Eaton and the signing of Cody Ross. What I fail to understand is why none of the moves they made were to make room for Gerardo Parra. While this article is fantasy baseball motivated, Parra is one of the best defensive outfielders in the NL and should be a starter for reasons that go beyond his offensive skills. Having said that, this is a fantasy baseball article so all we care about are his offensive skills.
Parra has posted back to back 15 steal seasons and, given more opportunities, has the potential to put up 20+ stolen base totals. He is a career .280 hitter with the ability to take a walk which means he gets on base at a good clip and simple math tells us that the more you're on base, the more chances you have to run. He's not going to post Ruthian power numbers but he has the pop to put up double digit homers and should score a decent number of runs when playing.
Adam Eaton is the poster boy for the new "gritty" regime that Kirk Gibson is trying to establish in Arizona and he will most likely be playing center field and batting leadoff. He's young and talented so I can understand why the D-backs want to see what he can do in the show. Cody Ross and Jason Kubel are two 31-year old veterans who have seen some good days as well as some bad. Cody Ross turned his World Series heroics from 2010 into a big payday with the Giants and then moved to Boston where his skills played up. By that, I mean he was a right handed hitter in Fenway Park where he hit .298 with 13 home runs as opposed to .238 with 9 home runs on the road. The 20 home run mark should be pretty safe for Ross in Chase field but he doesn't offer much outside of that as he's a career .260 hitter with only 7 stolen bases over the last 2 seasons. Kubel's power spiked to 30 home runs in 2012 but it came at the cost of batting average and was accompanied by a large number of strikeouts. Kubel is a terrible outfielder and all of his value lives in his bat. I don't see him repeating his 2012 season as he posted career highs almost across the board and if the power goes out, he's pretty much worthless. Parra can play all three outfield positions and will spare each one of these players at times. If he finds himself in the everyday lineup for one reason or another, he's a guy that should be picked up quickly.
Hank Conger, C, Los Angeles Angels
Mike Scioscia is a former big league catcher who was known more for his defense and never did much with the bat. And that's exactly the type of player Scioscia seems to favor as manager of the Angles. He insisted on playing Jeff Mathis over Mike Napoli and we saw what Napoli could do when the Rangers gave him a chance to play every day. Last year, when Chris Iannetta was injured, Scioscia didn't turn to his top prospect and catcher of the future to step in, no. He decided to play Bobby Wilson and John Hester. Don't know who those guys are? Neither do I. What I do know is that they hit a combined .211 with 5 home runs while filling in for Iannetta who wasn't exactly lighting the world on fire when he was playing. Iannetta is a career .263 hitter who showed some pop in Colorado (I know, who doesn't?) but struggled after moving to a pitcher-friendly ballpark in the better league. He did hit 9 home runs in only 253 plate appearances but he's an average killer with no speed who hits at the bottom of the lineup.
Hank Conger ranked as the Angels #1 prospect in 2009 until some guy named Mike Trout showed up. He was the top catcher in the 2006 draft and he's hit at every level of the minors while also improving upon his defense. He's been hampered by some injury throughout his career but despite that, he reached the majors in 2010 and has played in small stints each year since. He has nothing left to prove as he hit .295 with 10 home runs in only 67 games in AAA last year but he has struggled at the major league level. We often see young catchers struggle with the bat especially when they aren't playing every day. Conger has above average power and a sweet stroke from the left side leading to a projected .280 with 20 home run potential at his peak. Iannetta is signed through 2014 so, unless there is a trade or an injury, we may have to wait a little while for Conger to reach it.
Nolan Reimold, OF, Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles cannot play Wilson Betemit. They just can't. He's terrible. He'll be in his age-31 season in 2013 without a defensive position and without any skill other than the ability to hit for some power against right handed pitchers. If the Orioles insist on playing Nate McLouth in left field, then Nolan Reimold has to be the everyday DH. The O's brought McLouth back for another season after he played well down the stretch in 2012. Although he was once an above average fantasy option in the outfield, we haven't see that type of production from McLouth since 2009 and I'm skeptical as to whether or not he can keep it going in 2013. The Orioles are trying to squeeze three players into two spots but it doesn't have to be this way.
Reimold is, without question, the best of these three players. When healthy, Reimold has made good on the expectation that his plus power would translate to major league games. He has a career ISO of .194 but posted a mark of .212 in 2011 and was on a tear before being injured in 2012 with a .313 isolated power. He has a patient eye at the plate, walking in 9.7% of his at bats and striking out in 19%. He's not a burner but has enough speed and the instincts to steal double digits. Even if Reimold is not an everyday player to start the season, he's the player on this list that I feel most confidently will have everyday playing time at some point 2013. He's a better defender than McLouth in left field and far superior hitter to both other options.