I've been paying attention to the exploits of Florida Marlins outfielder Scott Cousins since late-2009, when the former third-round pick in 2006 started putting up interesting numbers at Double-A Jacksonville. Knowing how odd it appeared to force former infielder Chris Coghlan into the center-field slot this season -- the jury remains out, frankly -- I mentioned Cousins as a deep-league sleeper. He has a nice combination of power and speed and can handle center field, but now that left fielder Logan Morrison is likely to hit the disabled list and miss up to a month with sprained ligaments in his left foot, Cousins becomes a lot more interesting.
The second-inning grand slam Cousins whacked off James McDonald Thursday forced his introduction to deep-leaguers, but I expect things to get better. Cousins hit .285 with 14 home runs and 12 stolen bases at Triple-A New Orleans last season, then .297 with the big club. He's a left-handed hitter who can hit left-handed pitching, and it's not like he's an off-the-radar prospect like Sam Fuld. Cousins was regarded as the No. 7 Marlins prospect by Baseball America, and they wrote he "has the tools to be a productive everyday player."
It's always good to be ahead of the curve, in real and fantasy baseball, so here's a prediction: Cousins is going to hit enough to warrant regular playing time, and as the mess at third base continues for this team don't be surprised if Coghlan is out as the regular center fielder by June. I know, I know, we see him making diving catches every other day on "SportsCenter," but that notwithstanding, he's far more passable defensively in the infield. Omar Infante, not hitting at all at second base, could play third base; Coghlan could move to second; and Cousins could center a strong outfield with Morrison and Mike Stanton on the corners. Currently Marlins third basemen are hitting .306, which is nice, but with one home run and a staggering four RBIs through 17 games one can see how the batting average is misleading.
Emilio Bonifacio, part of the collective problem at third base, might split the left-field duties with Cousins for a while, but we've seen his act before. He can steal bases, but he can't steal first base. As of this writing, we still don't know for sure how long the intriguing Morrison will be out, but if you're in a deep league and want a name to take a shot on, Cousins is it. This might not be a short-term thing.
As for Morrison, certainly downgraded by fantasy owners because of the lack of power, he was hitting for power, with four home runs and 11 RBIs in 15 games. He was taking walks and hitting for average, too. Morrison has a bright future, somewhere on the diamond (he's a first baseman, not an outfielder), and that he had already doubled his 2010 power output in a quarter of the games was impressive. Don't cut Morrison even in standard, 10-team leagues. I'm not saying he'll win a batting title or even hit 20 home runs in the next year or two, but I'd rather own him than Florida's actual first baseman, Gaby Sanchez, because there is more upside, and we were already seeing it.
Cousins is owned in a Blutarsky-like 0.0 percent of ESPN leagues (see "Animal House" for the connection). Here are a few other outfielders owned in fewer than 1 percent of ESPN standard leagues I'm keeping an eye on:
Desmond Jennings, Tampa Bay Rays: Stash him away for his June call-up. Jennings has a .435 on-base percentage at Triple-A Durham, and four stolen bases. He's going to be a good one leading off and running, and the Rays won't be able to make much of a case to keep him in the minors for long.
Jarrod Dyson, Kansas City Royals: Speaking of crazy speed, Dyson doesn't have any hits this season for the big club, but he's stolen five bases in as many attempts. OK, so he'd likely get overwhelmed by pitchers on a daily basis, but once upon a time so was Michael Bourn. When Melky Cabrera starts playing like, well, Melky Cabrera, Dyson could get some run, literally.
Chris Denorfia, San Diego Padres: He is hitting .324 with a pair of home runs in the past week and, let's face it, Ryan Ludwick, Cameron Maybin and Will Venable aren't. The Padres are getting shut out more than once a week so far.
Laynce Nix, Washington Nationals: The power is there, and for some reason, for spring training hero Michael Morse, it is not. Morse is certainly running out of time, and while Nix is limited the power against right-handers (.449 slugging percentage lifetime, as opposed to .233 against southpaws) is legit.