Make way for the young guys as dog days hit

With the trading deadline passed, and nearly half the teams in baseball out of legitimate playoff contention, August is the time lineups begin to be shuffled in favor of seeing whether young players and prospects can handle a prominent role in the bigs.

Late-season call-ups could be an important boon for fantasy owners, who could benefit from these unheralded players’ additional playing time and increased productivity.

The Cincinnati Reds, who haven’t played an important game in August in a decade, have had ample opportunities to plug in young players in the late-summer months for years. This season, with Ryan Freel struggling to stay on the field due to injuries, second-year pro Norris Hopper is now all alone on the depth chart in center field for the Reds.

The 28-year-old Hopper, a call-up last season who was used sparingly throughout this year, has taken advantage of his increased role by hitting .368 with a double and two stolen bases in August, raising his season batting average to a solid .287.

Other teams with dim postseason hopes include the Chicago White Sox, who have fallen greatly since capturing the World Series in 2005. Their outfield includes two players who have battled injuries their entire career — Jermaine Dye and Scott Podsednik — and a veteran backup, Darrin Erstad, whose best days are likely behind him.

That leaves plenty of opportunities for second-year pro Jerry Owens in center. Owens is hitting just .249, but his real value for fantasy owners is his speed onthe basepaths, where he has registered 13 stolen bases over the past 27 games.

Like the Reds, Texas has been a perennial also-ran in its division, but unlike Cincinnati, the Rangers were very active during the trading deadline. One of the Rangers’ top acquisitions in their dealings was highly touted rookie catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, a 2003 first-round draft pick. While Saltalamacchia is seeing time catching and at first, he has struggled at the plate with the Rangers. But the sky is the limit for him (he hit seven homers and batted .373 in just 22 games at Double-A).

WHO’S HOT?

» Justin Upton, OF, Diamondbacks

» Jason Botts, DH, Rangers

» Melky Cabrera, OF, Yankees

» Kason Gabbard, SP, Rangers

» C.J. Wilson, RP, Rangers

WHO’S NOT?

» Jamie Walker, RP, Orioles

» David Wells, SP, Padres

» Coco Crisp, OF, Red Sox

» Scott Rolen, 3B, Cardinals

» Ryan Doumit, 1B-OF, Pirates

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