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Preseason Prep- March 12, 2009

Paul Sauberer

Joe Mauer- MIN- Inj Update- Mauer’s MRI of his lower back showed inflammation in the sacroiliac joint. He has been prescribed some heavy duty anti-inflammatories (presumedly not including anything with steroids). Still, Mauer is not going to be participating in any physical activity (sorry, Mrs. Mauer- if he’s married) for at least several days and the most optimistic scenario is that he will be able to get in some more games before spring training is over. The problem only bothers him when he runs, not when he is catching or hitting. Maybe the solution is for Mauer to DH and just hit homers every time at bat. That was simple, now, wasn’t it?

Josh Willingham- WAS- Preseason- After producing over 20 homers in each of 2006 and 2007, injuries limited Willingham to only 351 ABs last year and he only hit 15 homers. This season, it may not be injuries that leave Willingham shy of the 20 homer club. His new team, the Nationals, actually have a logjam of sorts in the OF, with Adam Dunn, Lastings Milledge, and Elijah Dukes penciled in as the starters. Austin Kearns and Willie Harris are also in the mix to try and eke out some playing time for the Nats. Willingham doesn’t appear to have much of an opening at either of his alternate positions, with Nick Johnson at 1B and Jesus Flores at C. Willingham’s fantasy value will suffer in 2009 unless either he or someone else is dealt out of D.C. Given that the Nationals have plenty of holes, they would probably be more than willing to trade where they have excess. The question is whether the right deal can be struck with all of the other drama that has been happening in their front office.

Erik Bedard- SEA- Injury- Bedard’s scratched start yesterday was a pain in the rear. Literally. He was forced to bypass the outing due to a strained gluteus maximus. Since the injury is muscle related and not anything to do with a joint, ligament, or tendon, the Mariners are saying it is not serious. Given Bedard’s injury problems last year, though, any tweak needs to be paid attention to.

Tim Lincecum- SF- Preseason- It was either feast or famine for Lincecum yesterday in an exhibition against Japan. He allowed one hit and struck out 5 but walked 3 in his outing. His 49 pitches thrown lasted him 2-1/3 innings. This was Lincecum’s shortest start of the spring so far and more walks allowed than he had in his other 7 innings of work, in which he had only given up 2 free passes. At this point, individual games mean absolutely nothing, but I still get queasy seeing the number of pitches Lincecum is already throwing, added on top of his work load from last year. He is in a danger zone.

Jim Thome- CHW- Injury- Back problems and Jim Thome go together like peanut butter and jelly. He was scratched from a scheduled start yesterday due to lower back stiffness that cropped up prior to game time. Thome has lost time to similar issues in past years and it is likely to get more frequent the older the slugger gets. He still has power potential and fantasy value, but availability will become more problematic. For now, Thome is going to get the next couple of days off to see how his back responds.

Kyle Kendrick- PHI- Preseason- The odds are that Kendrick will be starting in the minors when the season opens. He has not been impressive at all this spring and got thoroughly whacked yesterday. The Braves touched him for 8 runs on 10 hits and a walk in 3+ IP. Two of the hits allowed were homers. This puts Kendrick behind farmhand J. A. Happ and veteran Chan Ho Park in the competition for the fifth starter spot. When you are behind Chan Ho Park, you know there are problems. Kendrick’s main difficulty seems to be developing a secondary pitch that can consistently get batters out if they are sitting on his sinker. Despite getting 30 starts in 2008, Kendrick’s 5.49 ERA was not impressive. He is working on a changeup, but it is not doing the job. Kendrick will probably have to prove he belongs in the majors with some progress at AAA.

Manny Ramirez- LAD- Preseason- “Manny” and “work ethic” are not normally two concepts you see close together. However, there has been no “Manny being Manny” attitude showing in the Dodgers’ Cactus League (that still sounds strange) complex. He gets there at sunrise, breakfasts, exercises with weights and does ruining drills, then joins the team for fundamental after the rest of his teammates have arrived and dressed. WE could probably start an over/under pool on how long this lasts, but at this point, it’s a good sign for Manny not having a major negative effect from his protracted contract negotiations.

C. C. Sabathia- NYY- Preseason- Sabathia got rocked again yesterday, lasting just 1-2/3 IP and allowing 5 runs on 6 hits and a walk while striking no one out. This is what spring straining is for, to get the kinks out. Sabathia, more than most, should not be judged on what happens before the games count. Heck, even when they start counting, it’s not good to make a premature judgment. After his first 4 starts in 2008 he owned an ERA of 14.50. Those who sold low probably felt foolish by the end of the season.

Mariano Rivera- NYY- Inj Update- Rivera threw a 30-pitch live BP session yesterday, his first time facing batters since his shoulder surgery. Reports are that he was throwing at 90% of his usual velocity and, while wild at times, is right on track where he should be. The current plan is for another BP session on Saturday and then possibly some game action on Monday against the Phillies.

Mike Pelfrey- NYM- Inj Update- The pain Pelfrey felt from a lower left leg strain on Friday has mostly subsided. He threw a bullpen session yesterday and is poised to face the Nationals on Saturday in a Grapefruit League game. Pelfrey’s control during yesterday’s session was suspect, but nothing to worry about at this stage.

Alfredo Amezaga- FLA- Injury- Amezaga will be sidelined for 4-6 weeks due to a sprained left knee. Amezaga is a player who has far more value in real life than in fantasy ball. No one really need a hitter who usually lands in the .260s with around 10 homers in between 300-400 ABs. The effect of this injury in the fantasy realm will be how it impacts other Marlins. Amezaga is Florida’s “super sub” who can play OF, SS, 3B, and 2B as well as pinch hit and pinch run. In a league where each team fills a 9-man lineup with only 8 legitimate hitters to start the game, his loss will have a tactical impact on how manager Fredi Gonzalez goes about his job. With a player like Amezaga available to fill just about any hole, it leaves Gonzalez with a lot more leeway during in game moves. Will he now wait longer to make a move to the bullpen to remove one of the Marlins’ young starters? We’ll have to see how it pans out.

Chris Volstad- FLA- Preseason- Speaking of the Marlins’ young starters, Volstad was lifted from yesterday’s game after taking a line drive off his right side in the 5th inning. It ended up being a precautionary removal. Volstad had already thrown 53 pitches (32 for strikes) and the line drive hit all muscle. That should leave him sore, but not cause any lasting damage or any delay in his next scheduled start. Volstad continues to make progress as the regular season nears. He allowed only 2 hits in the first 4 innings and is being counted on as part of a potentially strong Florida rotation.

Koji Uehara- BAL- Injury- Koji Uehara has been one half of the legitimate major league starters Baltimore heads into the 2009 season counting on. At least that’s the hope for the Japanese veteran and major league rookie. He suffered a setback with a hamstring strain in his last outing, a Sunday start in which the Mets smacked him around pretty well. The injury will keep Uehara shelved past his next scheduled outing and throws an already batters Orioles rotation into further disarray. Uehara says that he has a history of hamstring problems (not comforting words) but that he is confident of being ready for Opening Day. Jeremy Guthrie, the other remotely decent Baltimore starter, is in the WBC, and other starting candidates like Brad Hennessey, John Parrish, Mark Hendrickson and Rich Hill have also suffered injuries. Hennessey and Parrish have serious enough problems that they are not expected to be ready by the start of the season. Add Danys Baez, Brad Bergesen, David Pauley and Adam Eaton to the mix and Orioles starts should be treated the same way as Rockies from the pre-humidor era. Even the prime Baltimore pitching prospects become suspect in keeper leagues because the temptation may be too great and they could get rushed too quickly to the majors.

Matt Wieters- BAL- Preseason- The Baltimore catching tandem continues their hot Graprefruit League play. Matt Wieters was the DH and got a hit in his first at bat, scoring when catcher Gregg Zaun (obligatorily referred to as the nephew of Baltimore catching legend Rick Dempsey) hit him in. For the day, Wieters went 1-for-3 to lower his spring average to .409, while Zaun’s 2-for-3 game boosted his number to .400. Zaun’s main purpose is to tutor the rookie, but he is a capable backup, posting double figure homer totals from 2005-2007, before slugging only 6 last year as hit AB total dropped to 245.

Scott Feldman- TEX- Preseason- Feldman allowed 1 hit and 2 walks during 3 scoreless innings against the Giants on Tuesday. He has added a slider to his repertoire and the Texas coaching staff is impressed. "His progress has been exceptional," manager Ron Washington said. "I don't think anybody expected him to give us 160-something innings last year. He's adding pitches to his repertoire and I think he understands that he has to throw the ball in the strike zone more." Feldman actually had a lower ERA and WHIP in Arlington last year than on the road, so there is hope that he might buck the usual trend of Texas pitchers. He would qualify as a deep sleeper if he can continue this kind of performance the rest of the spring but, to be honest, he would still be a long shot for significant fantasy value.

Chris Davis- TEX- Preseason- With 17 homers in 295 ABs for Texas in 2008, a little thing like a .185 batting average at this point in the Cactus League is not going to derail Davis as the club’s first baseman. However, the future is waiting in the wings as blue chip prospect Justin Smoak is hitting an even .400 with a .733 SLG in spring training games. Smoak is ranked as the #23 prospect in the game by Baseball America for good reason. After being drafted 11th overall last year, he had only 14 games of professional experience in low Class A ball, after hitting 62 homers in 3 years of college play, so is not ready to make the jump to the majors yet. Smoak’s game, though, is more advanced than the usual one for a player in his first full year of pro ball and could see some action this September and challenge for the starting 1B spot for the Rangers in 2010. Keeper league owners take note.

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