First it was Florida Marlins third baseman Emilio Bonifacio taking the league by storm in 2009. Now, however, another under-the-radar infielder has posted more sustained success above and beyond his predicted offensive peripherals.
Almost as surprising as his first-place team, Kansas City Royals second baseman Alberto Callaspo wasn't guaranteed an MLB roster spot coming into the season. He sits ninth in the majors among qualifying hitters with a .359 clip and has rattled off a relatively unexpected .983 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.
Callaspo represents the classic sell-high M.O. Expecting this production to remain all season is laughable, but which elements make it possible?
Putting the ball in play at a 93.4 percent rate, his 2009 pace, will help your fantasy stats. He has shown similar trends in previous MLB stints, and he's continuing his aggressive approach. He also has posted absurd contact rates on pitches inside the proverbial strike zone (97.0 percent this year, 96.4 MLB career).
Table: Alberto Callaspo, MLB stats - 2008 stint vs. 2009
He also hasn't slouched on the extra-base hits; his slugging percentages have always been solid for his position despite hitting just 34 minor-league taters. He's tied for second in the bigs with 13 doubles. He'll continue to score runs, even if that pace tapers off given his team's overachieving.
His No. 7 spot in a revamped lineup may not guarantee his high runs scored total for the rest of the year, but it's preserving his free-swinging attack. Typically, batters atop an order feel a bit more restricted in their role, mainly by protecting runners on base with a limited approach at the plate. Manager Trey Hillman doesn't want to fowl up Callaspo's approach by moving him around.
Callaspo has hit seventh for the majority of this season, registering a .370 clip in 54 at-bats there. He hit sixth or seventh in each contest during a recent seven-game hit streak. He has gone hitless just twice since April 15.
Al-Cal (To-Po?) has shown increased patience this season (10 walks to five K's), and this doesn't deviate from his farm methodology. The 26-year-old reached first base on balls 229 times compared to 145 whiffs in 2,931 minor league plate appearances - yes, that's a staggering 1.58 batting eye ratio.
Opposing pitchers' approaches
An absurd 70.2 percent of the pitches Callaspo has seen this season have been fastballs; that's the 10th highest figure among qualifying MLB batters so far. This falls in line with his place in the lineup and his reputation as a light hitter; pitchers are more confident that they can strike him out. If pitchers continue to bring frequent heat, Callaspo can remain locked in.
Injuries and bench versatility have opened up time elsewhere for Callaspo's two spring competitors for the second base job, posing no immediate threat to Callaspo. With third baseman Alex Gordon (hip) out until sometime around early July, Mark Teahen has been entrenched at third base. Willie Bloomquist can play all over the diamond but doesn't have a permanent spot.
Callaspo is a capable shortstop, too, meaning any continued Mike Aviles struggles may give him another positional outlet if they shake things up.
The fake and the non-existent
It doesn't appear that he'll regain the 20-steal speed he displayed in the lower farm levels; he hasn't attempted a swipe yet this season. His game has seemingly morphed since. Since he's a light-hitting middle infielder, this doesn't help his fantasy value if/when his raking returns to earth.
Quality of contact
His line-drive rate hasn't been special (18.2 percent), and although he's helping his cause by keeping his groundball rate high (44.3 percent), he's hitting way too many flyballs for someone with little home run power (37.5 percent). His infield flyball rate is also flukishly low at 6.1 percent.
The dreaded tale-teller of fantasy versus reality: Callaspo's .365 BABIP through 26 games can't be called anomalous given his small MLB sample size, but since the league average is around .300, you have to think that's due for a correction, even for someone whose balls-in-play clip makes up a heavy portion of his game.
Fantasy baseball outlook
Deep leaguers should try to swap him, but shallow leaguers - if they can't flip him for a better player - have the luxury of dropping him without much regret and raiding a more tantalizing waiver wire if/when he tapers off.
It's safe to assume Callaspo won't rank in the top 10 in batting average for the entire season, but there's reason to believe he can give you value if you hang onto him into September.
It's unsafe to take that gamble without at least seeing what other people would pay for him. When composing a trade proposal, pump up his ability to make contact, his plate discipline and the Royals' turnaround. The 26-year-old may be entering his peak hitting years, too, so says the traditional philosophy.
For the wire pickup price you probably paid for him, it wouldn't necessarily hurt you to hang onto him if you can't trade him away. AL leaguers should be less inclined to do so unless they can receive extremely positive value in return.
About Tim Heaney
Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum, who competes in the prestigious LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.
He appears frequently, including every Sunday, on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, as well as every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.
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