Fantasy Baseball 2012: 7 Unsung Hitters Primed for a Second-Half Spurt

Jay ClemonsFantasy Sports Lead WriterJuly 18, 2012

Fantasy Baseball 2012: 7 Unsung Hitters Primed for a Second-Half Spurt

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    The following countdown touts seven unsung veteran hitters who are primed for strong second-half runs this season.

    To clarify, this listing isn't guaranteeing top-20 numbers for any of the following seven batting talents, but I am confident they'll play significant roles in helping teams contend or claim fantasy pennants in 12-, 14- and 16-team leagues.

    We'll address the unsung pitchers to covet in a future countdown—perhaps next week.

    In the meantime, it's all about six American Leaguers and one Senior Circuit speedster who better get cracking if he wants to replicate 40 steals.

    Enjoy the show!

Catcher: Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians

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    2012 Stats: 5 HR, 30 RBI, 33 Runs, 2 Steals, .221 BA

    Skinny: With a .221 batting average and slugging mark of .329, it's easy to see how Santana has been a massive disappointment this season, despite his strong pedigree (27 homers last year) and dual-position versatility (C/1B).

    But there are three encouraging signs to support a turnaround:

    1. Santana's above-average marks in walk-to-strikeout ratio (52/64) and on-base percentage (.348) suggest he hasn't been flustered at the plate for long stretches.

    2. In 1,791 minor league at-bats, Santana had stellar numbers in OBP (.401) and slugging (.500). There's a reason why he was a high-end MLB prospect for multiple seasons.

    3. For the 2010 and '11 seasons in the majors, Santana averaged a homer every 6.09 at-bats...and an RBI for every 1.99 at-bats.

First Base: Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals

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    2012 Stats: 9 HR, 40 RBI, 37 Runs, 3 Steals, .225 BA

    Skinny: Eric Hosmer is actually on pace to match or eclipse last year's output in runs (66), RBI (78) and steals (11), and he's not completely out of the running for 20 homers by season's end.

    Of course, Hosmer accomplished his 2011 numbers in only 128 major league games, and he never flirted with a painfully low batting average of .225 back then.

    But I'm not counting out the 2012 version of Hosmer. It's way too early to label this season a lost cause...although the seven-day (.118 batting) and 15-day marks (.146 batting) are severely testing that loyalty.

    In other words, consider this a leap-of-faith pick with few current numbers to back it up.

    I can only point to Hosmer's aggregate tallies for 2010-11 (42 HR, 179 RBI, 174 runs, 28 steals, .350 BA) and wearily say it's only a matter of time before he leads the Royals' second-half charge.

Shortstop: Alexei Ramirez, Chicago White Sox

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    2012 Stats: 2 HR, 44 RBI, 34 Runs, 12 Steals, .266 BA

    Skinny: Of the seven players listed here, Alexei Ramirez boasts the strongest 15-day (.391) and 30-day marks (.376) in batting average.

    But this pick goes deeper than short-term batting numbers for a notoriously hot-and-cold hitter.

    At 31 years old, Ramirez is too young to experience a permanent drop-off in homers and slugging percentage (.342). From my vantage point, it's seemingly inevitable that he'll get hot enough to finish the season with double digits.

    Regarding runs, I would also be shocked if Ramirez fell short of the 70 mark—especially with the White Sox embroiled in a heated pennant race.

    For the coup de grace, Ramirez is steamrolling toward his first 20-steal campaign. His diversified skill set should be very attractive to 12-team owners.

Outfield: Cameron Maybin, San Diego Padres

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    2012 Stats: 4 HR, 26 RBI, 43 Runs, 17 Steals, .221 BA

    Skinny: This countdown selection is not necessarily a referendum on Cameron Maybin's ability to steal bases, although he is well behind the pace of last year's output (40).

    But as the old saying goes, "You can't steal first base."

    If Maybin can continually build off the progress of the last 15 days (.325 batting), his development in runs, homers, RBI and even steals will surely rise, in concert.

    Lord knows he's way too talented to be this subpar for this long. From a five-category standpoint, Maybin has the skill set to be a top-30 outfielder.

    If I was a betting man, Maybin will match or eclipse last year's marks in triples (eight), homers (nine), RBI (40) and on-base percentage (.323).

Outfield: Nick Markakis, Baltimore Orioles

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    2012 Stats: 8 HR, 27 RBI, 30 Runs, 1 Steal, .275 BA

    Skinny: For those who don't follow the Orioles with regularity (the MASN broadcasts are top-shelf), Nick Markakis has had three separate outings of three hits in his last four games.

    It's the first time all season that Markakis has proffered a four-day hot streak like this, and it came immediately off a stint on the disabled list.

    This begs the question: Did Markakis regain all of the strength in his injured wrist during that 15-day respite...or was he simply overdue to enjoy a short-term burst of fantasy goodness?

    Whatever the case, any Markakis investment comes with the tacit understanding that his current three-year track record (35 homers, 160 RBI, 20 steals for 2010-12) cannot compare to his previous three-year marks from 2007-09 (61 homers, 300 RBI, 24 steals).

    That aside, there's still much to like about a 28-year-old corner outfielder who batted .284 or higher for six consecutive seasons (2006-11).

Outfield: Lorenzo Cain, Kansas City Royals

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    2012 Stats: 1 HR, 5 RBI, 5 Runs, .300 BA

    Skinny: Lorenzo Cain might have been more suited for this week's Top 15 Waiver-Wire Pickups than a list of unsung second-half stars.

    But then again, the Royals center fielder owes me for going all in on his diverse talents during spring training...to the point where he was just a notch below Mike Trout for "Stars To Acquire After Round 20" back in March.

    In his first five games after a three-month absence, Cain has one homer, three RBI, four runs and four outings of at least one hit.

    Granted, it's a tiny sample size from which to derive goodness (or greatness), but we're also talking about a supremely athletic talent who had a tremendous spring training (two steals, four HRs, seven RBI, 13 runs, .477 batting, .932 slugging, 1.453 OPS).

Outfield: Brennan Boesch, Detroit Tigers

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    2012 Stats: 9 HR, 36 RBI, 38 Runs, 3 Steals, .248 BA

    Skinny: It's hard to believe Brennan Boesch and his beautiful upper-cut swing could bat .248 for 45 days, let alone a half-season. Yet, that's exactly where we are with this confounding talent.

    As part of Boesch's hot-and-cold nature, he's hitting at a .394 clip with two homers and nine RBI since July 3. He even crunched a huge go-ahead homer against the Angels on Monday night.

    There are other reasons to support Boesch being primed for a strong second half:

    1. Boesch has endured only one four-game hitless streak all season.

    2. He's on pace to match or eclipse last year's output in homers (16), RBI (54), runs (75) and steals (five).

    3. Boesch's career OBP (.318) and slugging marks (.421) are well above his current numbers. In theory, he should migrate toward both thresholds by season's end.

    4. Batting after Austin Jackson (10 HR, 39 RBI, 58 runs, eight steals, .319 BA) and before Miguel Cabrera (20 HR, 74 RBI, 57 runs, three steals, .327 BA) and Prince Fielder (15 HR, 65 RBI, 51 runs, .303 BA), Boesch arguably has the most formidable lineup protection of any unsung hitter in baseball.