Adam Loewen finished off an impressive spring training by allowing 1 earned run in a 3 inning start on Saturday against the Nationals. Loewen walked 3 batters and struck out 3 while allowing 2 hits. This caps off a spring in which Loewen struck out 23 batters in 22 innings while walking only 9. I use the term only because Loewen's minor league BB rate of 5.2 per 9 innings has been the main factor keeping him from being an elite pitching prospect. Outside of the control issues Loewen does everything you're looking for in a pitching prospect, posting a K rate of 1.00 along with only allowing 16 HR's in his 330 inning minor league career. If Loewen lowers the rate closer to the 3.6 BB/9 he allowed during spring training, watch out. Loewen's one of my deep sleepers this year and it appears his control will be the only issue. Don't even pay attention to last year's numbers as Loewen suffered from some atrocious luck including a Strand Rate of .64 and a BHIP% of .307. Loewen's expected ERA was a full run below his unappealing 5.38 ERA.
A rough spring for Javy Vazquez was capped off with one of his better outings on Saturday. Vazquez allowed 4 runs in 6 2/3 innings on 8 hits and 2 walks while striking out 6. A deeper look into Vazquez's spring shows a strong buying opportunity for fantasy owners. Vazquez's ugly 8.00 ERA could be a bargaining point for astute owners that notice his strong K:BB ratio of 24:10 in 28 innings along with only allowing 2 HR's all spring shows that the majority of the damage has come from an extraordinarily high hit rate. Over the last few years Vazquez's actual numbers haven't added up with his peripheral statistics, mostly due to a below average Strand Rate (indicative of the criticism that Vazquez loses focus on the mound, leading to big innings) and if he ever puts together his immense talent he can offer #2 starter numbers. Even without the mental toughness, Vazquez is a good bet for 190+ K's, an above average WHIP, and average W total. He's undervalued currently in most drafts I've been a part of and should be someone you can target in trade talks right now.
Interesting news out of the Devil Rays camp regarding the CF position on Saturday as Elijah Dukes was named the opening day CF. Dukes has made more news off the field than on in his brief professional career but does have the tools to be a major league OFer at this point in his development. The question is does he have the head to go with it, Dukes was quoted as saying "this is a long time coming"showing that maturity and modesty may not be in his repertoire. The reason Dukes will be starting in CF is the Rays are being careful with Rocco Baldelli's hamstring situation and they'd like to limit him to the DH role for the time being. As I mentioned a week ago, Baldelli doesn't have the greatest threshold for pain and I had my concerns with the way Baldelli and Tampa Bay have reacted to this situation. Baldelli owners should monitor this situation closely. If healthy Baldelli's a sure fire 20-20 candidate and one of the more undervalued OF's in fantasy baseball, but I'm not sure he's completely healthy right now. As for Dukes, his playing time will likely be directly dictated by his initial performance and Baldelli's health. Dukes would be a sleeper candidate for a 15-15 season if given adequate playing time, but his high K rate in the minor leagues and questionable attitude give me some concerns about how he'll adjust to being a big leaguer initially.
The only stat we should be paying attention to with Kei Igawa right now is the BB. If Igawa doesn't walk batters he's going to make a big impact this year and will offer better value to fantasy owners than Daisuke Matsuzaka. The big difference between the two in Japan from a statistical perspective was Igawa's high BB rate which limited his effectiveness. On Saturday's start Igawa went 6 innings without issuing a walk and ended up allowing 3 earned runs on 6 hits, while striking out 3. I love Igawa as a fantasy prospect this year because I think he'll offer a quick start to the season as team's try to become familiar with him and could offer excellent trade bait early in the season and he continues to be going late in drafts. Snatch him up if you can, he's got very good K and W potential for 2007.
A lot of people like Jeremy Sowers as a potential sleeper candidate as a starter in the AL and while I love the Indians I'm a bit sour on Sowers, wow that was a terrible pun. Moving on, Sowers doesn't give up HR's and doesn't walk anybody, both VERY good traits, however he also doesn't strike anybody out and I mean ANYBODY. His K rate has decreased significantly at each level he's moved up to in his professional career, moving from 9.46 K/9 in A ball all the way down to 3.57 K/9 in his 90 innings at the major league level last year. That's a precipitous drop and one that's a bit too ominous for me. I think Sowers can be a solid league average type pitcher, but from a fantasy perspective the lack of strikeouts will significantly limit his value.