When Joey Votto underwent surgery on Tuesday to repair meniscus damage in his left knee, it wasn’t just Reds fans who felt the pain; it was any NL-only fantasy player who had hoped for production out of what was long the most reliable source of power in the game.
A year ago at this time, first base in the National League was the place to be. Prince Fielder & Albert Pujols were mashing as usual in Milwaukee & St. Louis. Ryan Howard & Carlos Pena for all their flaws, were still showing power in Philadelphia & Chicago, while Michael Morse was having a breakout year with the Nationals. Topping them all, as far as WAR is concerned, was Votto in Cincinnati. In 2012, with Fielder, Pujols, & Pena off to the American League, and Morse, Howard and now Votto fighting injuries, the position has been decimated. With Votto on the shelf, the most valuable active first baseman in the NL – believe it or not – is Paul Goldschmidt of Arizona, which just does not feel right.
If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that Todd Frazier is likely to see the bulk of the time at first base for the Reds until Votto is able to return in approximately three to four weeks. The 2007 first-rounder has been excellent in limited time for Cincinnati this year, particularly so in July, with twelve hits (six for extra bases) in eleven games, including eight starts. Frazier isn’t likely to keep up a .382 wOBA for the rest of the year – if he did, and had enough plate appearances to qualify, that would put him just above Jose Bautista & Carlos Beltran – yet even if he manages his rest-of-season ZIPS projection of .251/.315/.456 and nine homers, that gives him value, especially once he gains first base eligibility. Personally, I think he’ll be able to outdo that OBP mark, since he’s shown he can take a walk (9.9% BB rate) and has flashed decent OBP skills (.353) in parts of six minor league seasons.
Thus far, Frazier has mainly spent his 2012 filling in for the well-past-his-prime Scott Rolen at third base, but he’s also seen some time in left field as Dusty Baker has attempted to find a way to get his bat into the lineup. He made starts in place of Votton on Monday & Tuesday (despite a brutal 0-4 with four strikeouts game last night), and should be expected to continue seeing time there into August. That’s not a net positive for Cincinnati, of course, since Votto & Frazier at the corners is a far more dangerous combination than Frazier & Rolen, but it may help in the long run if Frazier proves successful enough in this new opportunity that Baker simply can’t return him to the bench when Votto is healthy.
As I always like to say, there’s often nothing more valuable in fantasy baseball than opportunity, often even more than talent. (See the fantasy valuation of any mediocre closer against a dominant set-up man for evidence of that.) Frazier not only has that opportunity for the first time, he’s in the midst of a solid season while being available in an overwhelming majority of leagues and about to add a new position – one in desperate need of production – to his resume. He’s not Votto, nor should he be expected to be, but he’s suddenly a very interesting fantasy option.