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Preseason Prep - March 22nd, 2011

New York Mets

The Second Base Situation Shaping Up?...The day Mets fans have been waiting and hoping for finally came this past week. Luis Castillo was shown the door and the Mets firmly locked the door behind him. Don’t feel bad for “Slappy” Castillo. He’ll be walking out with a $6MM check this season which is far more than he deserved. Castillo will turn the page and very well could land on another team as a back-up role. But his days as a consistent starter are probably over so if some fantasy owners were holding on thinking that Castillo had some value (really? Is there anyone out there that thought that?), they can close the book on Luis and move on. And for those Phillies’ fans who may be all geeked about their newly signed second baseman, don’t even think that because he’s on a contender that his fantasy value is on the rise. So where does that leave the Mets and the remaining candidates for second base? Brad Emaus, Justin Turner, Daniel Murphy and new entry Luis Hernandez are still vying for the position with none of them particularly distinguishing themselves. Hernandez is a slick fielder but offers little offensive ability and little interest to owners. His career .245 BA, three home runs and six stolen bases is completely forgettable. Murphy appears to fit better as a bench player because of some position versatility and his experience at second base is unproven despite having some hitting upside with a career .275 average and some pop in his bat. Turner has options and will more than likely be sent to AAA and Emaus has yet to make his major-league debut but is a Rule 5 guy and if the Mets opt to cut him from the 25 man roster, he’ll make his way back to Toronto. He will get long looks and could be in the mix. His minor league slash line .276/.364/.426 is competent enough to warrant consideration considering the lack of options the team has. So where does that leave fantasy owners who are looking for a second baseman? Recommendation: don’t look to the Mets to fill that spot. This will be a position that will have a revolving door, certainly at the start of the season, but unless a trade is made (not likely) none of the options provide any fantasy value.

Comings and Goings…One thing that we are seeing from the new Mets regime is that they are not afraid to take out the broom and vacuum and do a little housecleaning. There’s a big mess made from a certain ex-GM with the initials OM and new GM Sandy Alderson is apparently not afraid to open up the big trash bags and throw out the waste (see Luis Castillo above). It’s called addition by subtraction. The next player that got swept up by Sandy’s big broom was Oliver Perez who was released on Monday. Yes, that noise you hear are Mets fans screaming for joy. His spring was dreadful with his fastball only reaching the mid 80’s. He produced a 8.38 ERA in 9.2 innings with 13 hits, eight walks, two home runs and six strikeouts. Just to be clear that’s a WHIP of 2.17. Ollie has a $12MM price tag attached to his name and with Castillo, that’s $18MM the Mets are waving goodbye to…probably happily. Carlos Beltran is another player whose time may be limited, certainly by the end of the season, if not sooner. Beltran has yet to play a game in the field this spring despite his willingness to move to right field. He received a cortisone shot but this has to be a huge concern for the Mets and fantasy owners as Beltran may not be ready for a while. His ADP has been dropping and is now around 178 and can now be had in the late rounds. If healthy he could be a great sleeper but that isn’t looking promising. In lieu of Beltran, Scott Hairston and Willie Harris may see more time in right field. They are hitting .417 and .306 respectively this spring, each with two home runs. Neither player will exude long-term confidence for fantasy value but could be a replacement here and there if they find themselves with consistent playing time and get hot. Finally, on the flip side, fantasy owners should put Chris Young and Chris Capuano firmly on their radars. Both are likely to fill rotation spots for the Mets and have looked solid this spring. Young has pitched 20.1 innings this spring with a 1.33 ERA while Capuano has logged 10.2 innings with a 1.69 ERA. Both have fewer hits than innings pitched and their control seems to be solid with each having a BB/9 under 3.0. Both of these oft-injured vets could be nice sleeper picks that may be had pretty cheaply with solid upside.

Seattle Mariners

The Young and the Inexperienced…The Mariners are looking at a last place finish in their division this spring and may be even looking at 100 loses. There’s a lot of young talent in the Mariners system like Dustin Ackley, Michael Saunders, Justin Smoak and Michael Pineda. All of these players will see big-league time this year whether at the start or some other time. Pineda is one the Mariners top pitching prospect who appears to have won the #5 spot in the rotation. He has done will enough in four games this spring, notching a 3.27 ERA, striking out eight in eleven innings. Pineda breezed through A ball and AA but stumbled just a little in AAA last season with a 3-3 record, 4.76 ERA in eight games started. However, his penchant for strikeouts is hard to ignore with 8.8 K/9 in the minors. Additionally, his control (BB/9 –2.1) and lack of home runs (HR/9—0.5), indicates very good command on pitches. Pineda may be a worthwhile grab in late rounds in the draft to fill out your roster. Expect King Felix, Jason Vargas, Doug Fister and possibly Nate Robertson to fill out the rest of the rotation. Also look for Smoak to begin at first but amongst all the other first basemen in baseball, Smoak, at this point in his career, is more of a bottom-feeder. Michael Saunders should make the outfield and may share time initially with Milton Bradley. Bradley, as always, will be on a short leash and Saunders should eventually inherit the full-time duties. There will be continued growing pains for Saunders if spring is an indication where he hit just .242 with just one extra base hit and no stolen bases. With 411 major-league AB’s under his belt, his numbers .214/.284/.341 show he just isn’t quite there yet. Exercise patience where Saunders is concerned. But with little else going for them this season except to avoid 100 loses, the Mariners throwing the young guys into the fire is not a bad approach. Draft these young’uns with caution and don’t expect big results this year with most of them. These guys are better suited for long term keepers at this point.

Closer by Committee?...With David Aardsma still out with his healing hip, the closer duties, by default, seems to have landed in Brandon League’s lap. But League continues to struggle this spring. He is 0-2 with seven innings, a 9.00 ERA and has struggled with control issuing five walks. The worries increased as League gave up four runs last Friday in the 9th inning. Granted, only two were earned, but his previous showings have been questionable too. Fabio Castro has been able to convert two saves this spring in as many opportunities, but his 6.43 doesn’t suggest that he is a better option than League. The other player who still has an outside shot at the closer spot is Chris Ray. Ray has pitched just four innings this spring with a 2.25 ERA and has had closer experience with Baltimore. For now, expect that the Mariners will continue to go with League but if he continues to struggle, a closer by committee strategy may be employed, which will lessen the value of both Ray and League. Of course, this is just until Aardsma is healthy anyway and resumes his 9th inning duties which hopefully will be before April is over. Fantasy owners should try to grab Aardsma in late draft rounds, stash him and come up with a Plan B for the time being.

Oakland A’s

Filling Out the Pitching Situation…No doubt there was a collective sigh of relief coming from the Oakland a’s spring training camp this week when Andrew Bailey was diagnosed with a forearm strain and nothing worse. Bailey had departed a game earlier in the week but results came back favorable with nothing too serious. Still, Oakland will probably proceed with caution. As they have, from my view one of the best bullpens in baseball, Brian Fuentes could fill in in a pinch if Bailey is not ready for Opening Day. Fuentes would be someone to target in the short term if that situation were to materialize. Fuentes was shaky in 2009 but splitting time between Los Angeles and Minnesota last year saw his WHIP lowered to a career-best 1.06. In 5.2 innings this spring, Fuentes has not allowed a run so he may be a good grab as a replacement for Bailey. As for the starters, four of the spots have been nailed done by Dallas Braden, Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez who is one of my personal favorites to target this year in drafts. As of Sunday, Gonzales had pitched 15.1 innings and struck out 19 with a 1.76 and could wind up being the stud of the pitching staff. Brandon McCarthy has a good shot to fill out the 5th spot as he has pitched decently this spring. McCarthy has pitched four games spanning 13.2 innings. He has a 3.29 ERA and hasn’t walked a batter while striking out nine.

Batting Questions…The real key to Oakland’s success will rely much on how much run support the lineup is able to provide the pitching with. Certainly, the pitching will be there, but will the hitting? Hideki Matsui and Josh Willingham will provide some improved punch but their fantasy value will primarily be used in A.L. only leagues. Both are having sub-par springs and could be saved for later rounds in the draft. Coco Crisp will be a key to much of the offense, and has been nursing a hamstring strain but should be back this week. He has had an outstanding spring batting .410 with 16 hits of which eight have been for extra bases including two home runs. Surprisingly, he has no stolen bases to his spring training resume but he will be a solid source of steals for your team. If Crisp can stay healthy for once and play a full season, 50 stolen bases could be possible. Also look for Daric Barton to be a good grab for leagues. He may be overlooked but his .345 spring batting average is indicative of his solid approach to the plate and he has great discipline that will keep his average high. Power will be an issue but with a .393 OBP there has to be some room on your team somewhere for that kind of on-base proficiency.

Los Angeles Angels

First Choices…We knew it was going to be touch and go but with the Opening Day just a week and a half away, the Angels confirmed that they will not have the newly named Kendrys Morales ready for the start of the season as he will start the year on the DL. Morales added an “S” to first name and at this point the Angels wish that there were more than one of him. The Angels lacked the offense punch without Morales in the lineup and they quickly spiraled south in the standings. Without Morales, Bobby Abreu will likely be slotted down from the second position in the batting order to the third spot. This could mean more RBI opportunities for Abreu while Morales is out. Also, in his absence, Mark Trumbo is targeted to take over first base duties. Trumbo has been nursing a groin injury but has had a terrific spring batting .340 with a SLG of .766. Trumbo has a big bat as he led the Pacific League last year with 36 home runs with 122 RBI. Normally, Trumbo might be a nice sleeper pick, but with first base such a deep position there are more proven choices than Trumbo at the position. But if he starts the season as hot as he has been all spring, he might be a nice fill-in. Just be aware that a groin injury can be a nag and hopefully that wouldn’t limit his ability.

Angels Picks and Pans…Another player who might benefit from Kendrys Morales’ injury may be Brandon Wood. Trumbo may get first dibs at first base, but Wood’s ability to play both corner positions may increase his chances to make the team. Once the Golden Boy of the Angels organization, he has never been able to translate his success in the minors (career -.284/.352/.536) to the major-league level (.169/.198/.260). Wood is having a decent spring batting .255 with three home runs and if he is able to squeak onto the time and make an impression, third base may be a landing spot for Wood as Alberto Callaspo and Maicer Izturis are the other weak options with little to no fantasy value except in A.L.-only leagues. For those in roto leagues, Peter Bourjos could be a stolen base asset with his blazing speed and could be a nice grab in the draft. Mike Scioscia loves defense and Bourjos has it which will keep him in the Angel lineup. He’s batting .343 this spring (not likely to continue to the regular season) and has four stolen bases and has yet to be caught. Fantasy owners should proceed cautiously with Scott Kazmir. His 5.11 ERA this spring and nine walks in 12.1 innings continue to be a similar story year- in and year-out. Kazmir’s fastball has been decreasing in velocity the past three years and this past season his fast ball was 5.4 runs below the MLB average. The top three Angel pitchers (Ervin Santana, Jered Weaver, Dan Haren) will all supply plenty of fantasy value where you can look elsewhere and leave Kazmir out of your fantasy plans. There’s a good chance that Kazmir may be considered trade bait but he would have to perform significantly better for another team to be interested in him than he has the past few seasons.

Matt Diaz (OF—Pirates) For those out there who might be looking to get a boost on average and some run production, it might behoove you to pay attention to when the Pirates face lefties. Why? Well, Matt Diaz feats on lefties, eating them up, chewing on them and spitting them out. Career-wise, Diaz owns an impressive slash line of .335/.373/.533 against them. Yeah, OK, last year was an off-year for Diaz who mustered a low .273 against southpaws and an overall .250 BA. But with .282 BHIP that is almost 70 points lower than his career norm in 2010 along with a solid line drive rate of 23%; I’m betting we see better numbers. Granted, he may be in a platoon situation with Garrett Jones, so that will cost him at-bats, but daily leagues will want to keep close tabs on Diaz and use him in the right situations.

Luke Gregerson (RP—Padres) He may not have the title of San Diego’s closer, but Luke Gregerson has been pitching like one. This spring he hasn’t allowed a run and continues to display a dominance that we saw all of last year. For leagues that honor holds, he is a must-have. In 2010, Gregerson notched a higher ERA (3.22) than he deserved when compared to his FIP (2.74). His 4.94 K/BB was stellar along with a 0.83 WHIP. Rumor has it that there is a good chance that Heath Bell will be shopped around this season which would make Gregerson the logical heir. Until and if that happens, Gregerson will be a great source for WHIP, K’s, ERA, holds and an occasional win.

Randy Wolf (SP—Brewers) Nice thing about Randy Wolf is that you know what you’re getting. Nothing fancy. No filet mignon. No foie gras. Just plain old meat and potatoes. The last three seasons, Wolf has logged more than 190 innings showing durability putting his injury-plagued years behind him. He won’t excel at strikeouts, won’t hurt you too much with walks and won’t help your ERA or kill you in that category. But a concern is that with Wolf’s move from L.A. to Milwaukee in 2010, his home runs took a rise with a HR/9 of 1.21. Fantistics projections have Wolf notching another 200+ inning season and a 4.08 ERA with 14 wins. Based upon his 3-year average, this seems right about where he should land. Nothing fancy. Wolf will give you an innings-eater and provide some stability even though it’s not wrapped up in prosciutto but more like fatty bacon.

Jake Westbrook (SP—Cardinals) There’s a lot of pressure on Jake Westbrook as the Cardinals will be relying heavily on him to try to repeat his success with the team last season as Adam Wainwright is gone for the season. It’s a big loss and even if Westbrook pitched his very best, it wouldn’t size up to Wainwright’s contributions. But Westbrook will probably be facing an uphill battle as he may have difficulty coming close to his 3.48 ERA with the Red Birds in 2010. Westbrook was roughed up in spring training last Thursday for four runs in five innings and allowed nine hits. His ERA this spring is 4.91 and while he may put together another 200+ inning if healthy, his ERA will be closer to his spring training numbers than last season with the Cardinals. With less than stellar stuff (K/9-5.68, B/99-3.02) and allowing more hits than innings pitched, draft Westbrook with tempered expectations.

Pat Burrell (OF—Giants) The Giants will probably make sure they find ways to get Pat Burrell’s bat into the lineup but Mark DeRosa may cut into his playing time. Pitching is what got the Giants their well-deserved 2010 championship, but they will still be offensively challenged and Burrell can help with power. But with possible reduced playing time, Burrell may be a stretch to hit 20 home runs and certainly no fantasy owner will be drafting him expecting to get any decent average as he may struggle to hit .250. And of course strikeouts are a concern with a career CT rate of 77%, he’ll probably K close to 25% of the time. If you’re desperate for power, by all means grab Burrell in late rounds, but if you look a little deeper you can find better options with players who will grab more consistent playing time. Take a pass on Pat.

Jhoulys Chacin (SP—Rockies) Last year Ubaldo Jimenez had a breakout season and the Rockies have another talented pitcher who has been somewhat flying on the radar who could make some waves this season. Jhoulys Chacin pitched his first full season in the major-leagues and despite a very modest 9-11 record, notched a very good 3.28 ERA with a 9.04 K/9. He held opposing batters to a .222 average with 137.1 innings pitched. Even though this could be a season that will get Chacin more of the limelight, remember that he does pitch at Coors field, so fantasy owners should expect a reasonable bump in numbers from last year. A ERA closer to 3.75 would probably be more realistic to expect. He’s still a solid pick that may be had in late rounds that can be a useful piece for a fantasy club.

CJ Wilson (SP—Rangers) With Cliff Lee going back to Philadelphia, the Rangers will be counting on C.J. Wilson to take over the role as the team’s ace. Currently Wilson has an ADP of about 183 but I’ve noticed for a guy who notched 15 wins against eight losses, Wilson is sometimes being overlooked or underappreciated in some drafts. His ERA in 2010 was a terrific 3.35 which was lower than his FIP of 3.56 but still shows effective pitching. Also note that he held lefties to a .142 average with a K/9 of 9.07. His control was spotty at times last year and there was a noticeable decrease on velocity on most of his pitches. But he seems to have very good command on most of them. For example his fastball which averaged only 90.5 mph last year was 16.8 runs more effective than the major league average. Make sure you don’t overlook Wilson as he should receive plenty of run support with a solid offense supporting him.

Rafael Furcal (SS—Dodgers) Those fantasy owners who have drafted Rafael Furcal in the past are usually filled with the promise and hope of a player at a traditional weak position who has the ability to hit solidly for average, steal bases and hit a home run here and there. That’s until the injury bug hits which usually happens somewhere along the way with Furcal. Furcal failed to reach 400 AB’s for the second time in three seasons. He still managed a .300 average with 22 stolen bases despite two injuries; one to his hamstring and the other to his lower back. If healthy, Furcal can be a great buy on draft day. But if he continues to fight injures and at 33, he may be slowing down, he’ll provide more frustration for fantasy owners this season.

Mike Minor (SP—Braves) The Braves continue to produce outstanding pitching from their farm system and another product that could be a potential ROY candidate is Mike Minor. Minor should inherit the #5 spot in the rotation. He struggled last year down the home stretch and his ERA skyrocketed to 5.98, but don’t let that deter you from grabbing Minor in late draft rounds. Throughout his career, Minor has racked up strikeout, consistently averaging better than a K per inning pitched. He’s also been frugal with giving up home runs as he has allowed less than one per nine innings in the minors. He’s a solid pick-up with top of the rotation stuff that could present itself as early as this year.

Desmond Jennings (OF—Rays) With Carl Crawford gone, the Rays are counting on Desmond Jennings to pick up some of the slack with the promise of good hitting and speed. Johnny Damon could take some at-bats away from Jennings who lacks power. If he could work his way into the lineup, Jennings could be an excellent source of steals as he has had 30+ in four out of five seasons in the minors. Keep him on the backburner for now and watch how his playing time shakes out. If he gets consistent playing time, he could be a “steal” for your stolen base category.

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You can follow Richard all season long on Twitter @rsgross

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