Reds Bullpen: There have been some rumblings that Dustin Hermanson could take over the closer role from David Weathers. Back problems caused him to miss virtually the entire 2006 season, but in 2005 he saved 34 games in 39 tries, with a 2.04 ERA. A deeper look into the numbers shows that he did it with some luck and some less-than-stellar underlying numbers. The luck was in the form of a depressed BHIP% of .241 and very high strand rate of 85%. His 2005 K/9 of 5.2 and FB% of 41% are not closer worthy and will not serve him well in cozy Great American Ball Park. If you are going to spec on someone seizing the closer role from Weathers, either Todd Coffey or Bill Bray make more sense. Coffey had a shot last year at closing and blew 4 saves opportunities in 12 tries. But he did show some nice growth in his K/9, 4.0 in 2005 to 6.9 last year, while his GB/FB remained steady in the 1.90 range. Those are nice skills to close in Cincinnati. Bray is dealing with a bruised finger on his pitching hand and may begin the season on the DL. In his first try at major league hitters last year, the 23-year old showed some nice skills with a K/9 of 6.9, BB/9 of 3.2, and a G/L/F of 44/25/31. He does have the bias against southpaw closers working against him, but some further development of his skills could put him right in the mix of a weak Reds pen.
Jorge Julio: With acquisition of Julio, did the Marlins closer situation become clearer? In the short-term, it has, as Manager Fredi Gonzalez has already installed Julio in the role. But there may be problems for Julio down the road. While his 2006 K/9 of 12.0 is closer worthy, his BB/9 has only been at the acceptable 3.0 level once in the last four years. Plus his 2006 BB/9 first-half/second-half splits of 3.7/6.0 are going in the wrong direction. Don't count on him holding the role all season. If you already drafted Kevin Gregg in an NL-only league, hold onto to him, as his numbers in relief last year, 8.6 K/9 and a 2.7 BB/9, show that he can help you in K's, WHIP, ERA, and possibly holds. If you drafted him in mixed leagues, stash him on reserve, because he has the skills to hold down the closer job if Julio implodes.
Jose Bautista: Despite going 0/9/.222 in 54 spring AB, Bautista has been named the Pirates starting 3B over Jose Castillo, who this spring is 0/5/.304 in 46 AB. The Pirates must be thinking back to last year when Bautista smacked 10 HR in his first 143 AB. However, after that it was all downhill, as he managed just 6 HR in his last 257 AB. Did major league pitchers catch up to him? With his FB% dropping from 56% to 43% and a low contact rate of 73%, the answer is probably yes.
Jose Castillo: Freddy Sanchez's sprained MCL is more severe than originally believed and there is a chance that he opens the season on the DL or at least misses the first series in Cincinnati. That should open up some early season playing time for Castillo. If he gets hot and Bautista struggles, Castillo could wind up being the starting 3B. In his first crack at full-time play last season, Castillo saw major drops in his first-half/second-half splits in batting eye, 51/.19, contact rate, 84%/78%, power 11 HR/3 HR, and average, .277/.228. At 26 years of age, he is still young enough to turn that around, but those kinds of drops do not inspire confidence.
Greg Norton/Jonny Gomes: Even though Gomes is clearly outperforming Norton this spring, 4/10/.269 to 0/3/.220, there is still a battle going on for the DH-role. With the Devil Rays being a young team, it would make sense for the younger Gomes, who also has more upside, to get the job. Gomes was well on his way to nice growth season until shoulder problems sapped him of his power. Norton displayed nice power last year, hitting 17 HR in just 294 AB. Although his batting eye of .49 is decent, his below-average contact rate of 77% and BHIP% of .288 show that his 2006 batting average of .290 is over his head. At 34 years of age, it is possible that the Rays are showcasing Norton for a trade to acquire some young pitching. If Gomes is still available late in your draft or cheap in an auction, pounce all over him. There is major power upside in his bat.
Russ Ortiz: It looks like the former 20-game winner has won a spot in the Giants starting rotation. Clearly he has been plagued by some bad luck, strand rates of 64% in the last two years and ridiculous BHIP%'s of .306 in 2005 and .325 in 2006. But the four-year downtrend in his BB/9, 4.3/4.9/5.1/5.7, makes him one to avoid.
Mark Redman: Redman has won a spot in the Braves rotation, at least until Mike Hampton is ready to return. With a 2006 K/9 of 4.1, BB/9 of 3.4, and GB/FB of .99, don't count on the fading 33-year old for any fantasy help.
Sidney Ponson: Ponson has appeared to win a spot in the Twins rotation. When he had his big year of 17-12 with a 3.75 ERA in 2003, his skills of 5.6 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, and a 1.80 GB/FB were acceptable, but the margin for error was thin. Since then his BB/9 is in a 3-year uptrend, 2.9/3.3/3.81 and his GB/FB rate dropped to 1.66 last year. He doesn't get enough K's to survive drops like that. Let someone else spec on the hope that he can rediscover 2003.
Ken Griffey Jr.: Griffey has been getting AB the last few days and appears to be on track to be in right field on opening day. Injuries are the biggest risk with Griffey, as he has not played a full season since 2000. Don't expect him to suddenly get healthy at age 37. Whether it is the injuries, age, or a combination of both, his power has clearly declined, backed up by a three-year downtrend in his FB%, 46/44/43 and an increase in his GB% to 42% last year. Even if he gets the 454 AB projected for him this year, the 28-projected HR represents the new norm for the aging slugger.
Kaz Matsui/Jamey Carroll: In the battle for the starting 2B job with the Rockies, Matsui, 0/4/.314 with 5 SB in 35 AB, is outplaying Carroll, 0/4/.119 in 42 AB. Matsui, who was a major disappointment with the Mets, found some success late last season with the Rockies. In 113 AB, he hit .345 and went 8/9 in the SB department. The low contact rate of 76% and batting eye of .37 show that the batting average was inflated. The 2007- projected average of .267 is more in-line with a hitter with those skills and his above-average speed. Carroll's 2006 batting average of .300 in 463 AB looks good until you see that he had just 5 HR, 36 RBIs, and an astounding 12 caught steals in 22 tries (how did he keep getting the green light?). The high average was more the product of luck, a .284 BHIP%. Matsui should win the job outright and makes for a good play in NL-only and deep mixed leagues for his speed skills.
Tony Pena: Obviously the Royals traded for and installed Pena as their starting shortstop for his defense. His minor league stats show a hitter with no power or plate patience. Whatever speed skills he owns are mitigated by an inability to get on base and his 60 caught steals in 148 minor-league tries. It will not get easier trying to steal on major-league catchers. Avoid him in all formats.