Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Adam Eaton left a spring training game last Monday with an apparent injury, and he is now expected to miss 6-8 weeks with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his left elbow. Eaton was a popular sleeper in fantasy baseball circles this spring after the trade of Justin Upton to the Atlanta Braves opened up opportunity in Arizona’s outfield. Eaton had a productive season in Triple-A in 2012 (.381, 38 stolen bases, 46 doubles), and spent some time in the big leagues (.259, two home runs, five RBI and two stolen bases in 22 games) late in the season.
The Diamondbacks have a couple other injury issues in their outfield, with Cody Ross (left calf) and Tony Campana (left hand) both banged up right now. Arizona’s Opening Day outfield could be Jason Kubel, A.J. Pollock and Gerardo Parra for better or worse, with Parra’s ability to play all three spots sure to work in his favor if Ross and Campana also miss time.
With a likely uptick in playing time coming, should fantasy owners now have Parra on their radar?
Parra’s struggles against left-handers (.256 career batting average against) have prevented him from being a full-time player to this point in his career, but he has put together a strong spring to make his case for a spot in the lineup on a daily basis even without the injuries around him.
Parra has spent two full seasons in the big leagues, stealing 15 bases in both 2011 and 2012, though he was thrown out nine times last season. He hit .277 against left-handed pitchers in 2011, which boosted his batting average (.292) and on-base percentage (.357), but he performed solidly in both categories last season (.273 batting average; .335 on-base percentage).
While Parra’s Gold Glove-caliber defense is obviously not itself a fantasy category, it does assure he will not go too long without being in the lineup. Manager Kirk Gibson suggested during the offseason that he wants to get all his outfielders 400-500 at-bats this season, but that was before Campana was acquired from the Chicago Cubs and Ross and Eaton were sidelined with injuries this spring.
Parra’s career-high for at-bats in his four major league seasons is 455 in 2009, though he topped 400 at-bats (445) in 2011 as well. It remains to be seen how much he’ll play in 2013 when it’s all said and done, but the likelihood of being in the lineup virtually every day while Eaton is out makes a career-high in at-bats very realistic. Eaton could return around mid-May, but if he is slow to recover from his elbow issue Parra could see regular playing time for even longer.
Here are my projections for Parra in 2013.
Batting Average- .280
Home Runs- 8
Runs Scored- 68
Stolen Bases- 22
Parra’s most significant contribution comes in stolen bases, but his batting average and runs scored totals will not be a detriment to fantasy owners. His .314 batting average in five minor league seasons suggests some untapped upside in that category, and at age 26 early in the season (May 6) he could still become a .300 hitter in the big leagues.
Parra’s value is greatest in NL-only leagues, but with the positive news surrounding him those in deep mixed leagues that haven’t drafted yet could also consider using a late draft pick or a final auction dollar on him. It will be worth watching how playing time is divided once everyone is healthy, but Parra has the most fantasy upside in the Diamondbacks’ outfield right now and he could retain solid value all season.
Brad Berreman is a contributing writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.