As mentioned in yesterday’s news items, Rich Hill’s horrid outing on Thursday raises some red flags. Hill’s spring has been littered with control problems, walking 14 batters in just 12 2/3 innings. Such wild control issues for pitchers who don’t usually exhibit control problems can often be indicative of some latent injury concerns. While this is the first thing that comes to my mind whenever I see an extreme lack of control, I’m willing to give Hill a bit more of a pass because he’s working on a new, quicker, delivery to the plate. Hill’s next start comes Tuesday and while he’s guaranteed the #4 spot in the Cubs rotation, I’m going to be paying close attention to Hill’s next start before he’s guaranteed a spot in my starting lineup.
John Smoltz was scratched from his start on Friday with shoulder stiffness. We haven’t seen much from Smoltz this spring as he had received approval from the Braves to conduct most of his spring preparation on the back fields in simulated games. At this point there’s no indication that Smoltz had planned this program because of any lingering shoulder soreness heading into the spring and Smoltz claims had Friday’s start been a regular season start he would’ve taken the mound. He’s scheduled to start next Wednesday and remains optimistic about his ability to make that start, despite acknowledging another setback could result in a brief DL stint to start the year. Smoltz has been remarkably consistent, eclipsing 200 innings each of the last 3 seasons, and should still be viewed as a tremendous #2 fantasy starter. At 41 there will certainly be lingering concerns surrounding any reported arm troubles, but Smoltz has proven his durability and his abilities to pitch through pain throughout his career.
Pedro’s 2nd outing of the spring was another positive one as he tossed 5 solid innings against the Nationals. Pedro struck out 4 in the 5 innings without walking a batter and only surrendered 5 base-runners and 2 runs. Pedro’s strong spring should alleviate any concerns about Pedro’s ability to come back after last year’s shoulder surgery. Martinez won’t be the fantasy ace of the early portion of this decade, but he should be able to settle into that solid #2-3 fantasy starter. His inability to last deep into games may impact his raw totals in the counting stats, but his ability to control the strike zone and his strong home park should help keep his ratios down.
Aaron Harang continued his strong spring on Friday shutting the Pirates out for 6 innings. Harang struck out 5, only allowing 4 base-runners (all hits) during his 6 shutout innings. Harang’s been a bit undervalued in the drafts I’ve seen this year as he tends to sit towards the bottom of the 2nd tier of fantasy aces despite consecutive 200+ K, 16 Win seasons. Harang pitches in a difficult ballpark, but gets the benefit of facing the NL Central opponents all season and should have improved bullpen support this year with Francisco Cordero behind him, hopefully boosting his win totals. Harang’s similar to Smoltz in my mind that he’s an undervalued anchor to your staff that you can still land in the middle rounds. Look for Harang to put together another 200+ K season with another 15-19 wins with solid ratios.
Its official, Yovani Gallardo will be starting the season on the DL. The Brewers officially placed Gallardo on the DL on Friday making sure that he’ll miss the first two weeks of the season. Gallardo was originally scheduled to miss up to the first month of the season, but based on his throwing schedule it looks like the minimum stint on the DL remains possible. I’ve written a blog entry previously on this subject but I feel strongly that the discounted draft position Gallardo’s injury has afforded is an opportunity to get a strong #2 fantasy starter at a discount.
Johnson’s 3rd start of the spring yielded mixed results. While reports on his velocity continued to remain strong, his performance was sub-par. Johnson gave up 5 hits and 2 BB’s in his 3 2/3 innings while yielding 2 earned runs. Johnson did strike out three, raising his total to 9 in 11 2/3 innings this spring, but he also served up another HR to Andruw Jones and a 2B to Chan Ho Park. Johnson continues to focus on his health rather than the results, which should be your focus heading into draft day as well. I maintain Johnson as one of the better sleeper candidates because of the incredible dominance he showed last year. Johnson’s 72 K’s in 57 innings along with his 1.15 WHIP last year show ace-level dominance and even if that only comes in 15-25 starts this year, his current average draft position is giving owners strong value.
It’s been widely publicized how incredibly thin the catching position is this year so any potential “sleeper” deserves some attention. So if I had a player that hit .284/.366/.503 in the 2nd half of last season and was hitting .355/.436/.912 this spring would that be something you’d be interested in? Well, let me introduce you to Chris Snyder, the Diamondbacks catcher who appears to be grabbing the reigns as the full-time catching option with Miguel Montero’s injury. Snyder’s main drawback has been his need to split time with Montero, but with Montero likely to start the season on the DL, Snyder has an opportunity to assert himself as an everyday option. Keep him in mind as a 2nd catching option with some upside as our current projection of .259-40-14-51 is limited by the 342 AB’s. If he can get closer to 450 AB’s and his 2nd half from last season carries over at all we could be looking at a Ramon Hernandez in his prime type season, which would likely put him just outside the clear cut Top 5 fantasy options (Martinez, Martin, Mauer, McCann, Posada).
Trey Hillman announced on Friday that Alex Gordon is still in the running for the #3 slot in the batting order. It was thought that Gordon was destined for the 7th spot in the lineup, but this latest news could be a nice boost to the youngster’s value. Gordon hit another HR on Friday and has put together a solid spring hitting over .350 and slugging over .500. As Schuyler mentioned in a previous spring blurb, Gordon’s getting vastly overlooked in drafts this year and seems to be offering great value in drafts. As much as we love to clamor over Ryan Braun’s 2007, Gordon was universally considered the better prospect heading into the season. Maybe some of this is because Gordon’s superior glove-work but the bats aren’t that far off, as Gordon’s AA OPS of over 1.000 in his first pro season would suggest. If Gordon bats 3rd he’ll likely see an additional 80-100 plate appearances and could result in a significant increase in both his Run and RBI numbers.
News out of Angels Camp:
Angels SS Battle brings out best in both Aybar and Izturis
Both Erick Aybar and Macier Izturis are having such tremendous springs the decision for the starting SS position is becoming an increasingly more difficult one for manager Mike Scioscia. Aybar knocked out his 3rd HR of the Spring on Thursday and his increasing power has come as a pleasant surprise this spring. Similarly, Macier Izturis .400/.471/.600 line this spring has been equally impressive. At this point it seems as if Aybar, the younger and more highly regarded prospect, may have a slight edge as Izturis carries a bit more value as a super utility player, but Scioscia is keeping his thoughts to himself. Neither player should have value in mixed leagues, but in AL only leagues or deep leagues the winner of this battle should draw considerable attention because of how aggressive the Angels are on the basepaths. As of now are handicapping suggests Aybar is slightly out in front as we’re projecting him for full-time duty.
Nick Adenhart continues to impress
Adenhart was dominant on Thursday against the Giants tossing 6 scoreless innings and surrendering just 3 hits and 2 BB’s, lowering his spring ERA to 2.89 in 18 2/3 innings, while posting a solid 13/3 K:BB ratio during that time-frame. As Paul mentioned earlier this spring an immediate jump to the rotation for Adenhart seems a bit aggressive as Adenhart has just 150 or so innings above A ball and has shown some difficulties with command at the AA level. However, Adenhart is a less heralded but equally talented prospect to the recent group of young pitchers that have taken MLB by storm. Similar to Clayton Kershaw, a more highly touted and more skilled prospect, Adenhart is someone to keep a close eye on this spring and early into this season as he’s the type of young pitcher that has been making an impact in fantasy leagues over the last few seasons. I personally think he’s another year away from making a significant impact given his experience and the Angels depth chart at the SP position, but given the strong performance in the spring and the Angels injuries he could force their hands a bit earlier than anticipated.
News out of Cubs Camp:
Cubs Closer Situation
Just as I was about to give way to Joe and Anthony’s suggestion Kerry Wood was the leading closer candidate Wood struggles with some back spasms, seemingly opening the role back up for grabs and possibly breathing some life into my prediction of Bob Howry as Cubs closer. In reality as Joe mentioned yesterday, the Cubs are doing everything they can to give Wood the role and he remains far and away the leading contender. As this became more obvious over the last week, I’ve been shifting away from Bob Howry and drafting Kerry Wood late in drafts. I still feel like Howry could sneak back into the role if Wood’s durability continues to cause concern, but right now Wood is the guy you want, while Marmol (who I think has the least likely chance to take the closer’s role) comes next because of his great K potential and solid peripherals. An official decision won’t be made until Wood is able to throw in back-to-back games. There was a chance this would happen Friday as the Cubs toyed with the idea of having Wood pitch in a minor league game. Instead Wood will pitch on Sunday and Monday in back-to-back outings and then a decision will be made after that. If you’re drafting before Sweet Lou makes his first “official” decision, Kerry is still the primary target.
Cubs Lineup Changes Again?
While Ryan Theriot hit leadoff again for the Cubs on Friday, Lou Pineilla’s pre-game comments suggested Kosuke Fukudome could be a potential option at the leadoff spot, with Theriot hitting 2nd, followed by Soriano, Lee, and Ramirez. Pineilla admitted he didn’t like what he was seeing out of Fukudome out of the 5th slot in the lineup and suggested his strong OBP might make more sense at the top of the lineup. Unfortunately for Cubs fans Pineilla continues to include Theriot near the top of his projected lineups rather than the 7th or 8th place where he should be hitting. In a proposed lineup with Fukudome at the top, Fukudome and Soriano would probably benefit the most as Fukudome would be more relied upon to run and Soriano hitting behind Fukudome’s projected .360+ OBP would likely see more run producing opportunities. Of course the admission that Soriano has been moved out of the leadoff spot because the Cubs don’t want him running as much in April should remain an overall downgrade to his value, as Soriano looks more likely to be a 20-25 SB option rather than the 30-40 SB option of years past.
News out of Reds Camp:
Reds Rotation begins to take shape
With both Josh Fogg and Edinson Volquez pitching out of the bullpen the last few days to admittedly set up their rotation slots, it looks as if the Reds starting rotation is beginning to take shape. The Reds entered camp with Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo sitting atop the rotation with competition open for 3 slots. Josh Fogg was then brought in mid-camp to solidify one of those spots and the remaining two slots will now be going to youngsters Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto. While Cueto has gotten much of the attention for surpassing Homer Bailey on the prospect ranking list, Edison Volquez seems to be the real story. Volquez, who came over in the Josh Hamilton trade, has fanned 21 batters in just 15 innings while walking just 3. Reports are that Volquez has regained the fluidity in his motion that once made him one of the vaunted DVD combo in Texas and the results suggest as much. While it’s hard to place too much of an emphasis on spring stats, Volquez has entered my watch list heading into the season. Keep an eye on him going forward as his impressive minor league numbers support the previous highly regarded scouting reports; maybe a change of scenery was all Volquez needed to display his immense talent.
Corey Patterson looking like the leadoff man
Corey Patterson continued to leadoff and play CF for the Reds and it looks like Dusty Baker’s rekindled love for Patterson will lead to some everyday playing time for Patterson. With Jay Bruce sent to the minors and Ryan Freel acknowledging his feelings that a trade may be imminent it looks as if Patterson has internally been anointed the starting CF position and consequently the leadoff position in the lineup. Patterson has his flaws but from a fantasy perspective his skills are quite valuable. Over the last 4 years Patterson has averaged 15 HR’s and 32 SB’s a season and over the last two seasons he’s stolen 82 bases in 100 attempts. While Jay Bruce will continue to lurk in the minors, Dusty Baker’s reputation makes me believe Patterson will receive a healthy dose of AB’s this season and produce tremendous value for those in Rotisserie formats. He’s currently being drafted in the same territory as potential speed-sleepers like Carlos Gomez, Nate McClouth, and Raja Davis, but he’s a more proven commodity with just as clear a path to playing time.
News out of A’s Camp:
Is this the year Bobby Crosby stays healthy?
It seems forever ago that Bobby Crosby burst onto the scene with a 22 HR campaign in 2004. Shortly thereafter in spring of 2005 Crosby was anointed a potential MVP candidate by the Hall of Famer Peter Gammons, and since then it’s been an uphill battle for the injury-plagued Bobby Crosby. Crosby looks healthy again this spring and his back slugging the ball around the yard to the tune of .268-.318-.537. Crosby’s still posting his usual high K Rates which suggest he’ll continue to provide plenty of batting average risk, but a healthy Crosby could provide plenty of cheap power out of the SS position for fantasy owners. For those in mixed leagues he’s not even a consideration at this point, but for those in deeper leagues taking a look at Crosby’s start to the season and his health might provide some insight into whether he can provide a Khalil Greene type season for the A’s.
Travis Buck set to leadoff
Buck is a personal favorite of mine, although admittedly his game translates better on the real field than the fantasy stat-sheet, looks all set to be the A’s leadoff hitter this season.
Buck isn’t going to blow owners away as he’s a moderate power-speed combination on a team that doesn’t like to run much, but he is an on-base/doubles machine that should score well over 100 runs hitting atop the A’s lineup while posting a solid batting average. Buck reminds of a more valuable David DeJesus who will be a huge boon to your Runs scored category while offering slightly below average value in HR, RBI, and SB’s. He makes for a better play in leagues that reward OBP or 2B’s, but is a viable OF candidate in AL only leagues or deeper formats.