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Preseason Prep - February 28, 2012

Lou Blasi

Daniel Bard is one of three high profile conversion projects in the majors this year. He, along with Aroldis Chapman, and Neftali Perez will be attempting to switch to starting roles this spring. The Red Sox say they will work Bard as a starter this spring but in the end the possibility remains he starts the year in the bullpen. Bard for his part is very enthusiastic about the move and says he may not need the protection of an innings cap if successful.

There are two main questions. 1) Will his fastball be as effective at pitch #60 and above, when hitters are seeing him for the third time? I am less worried about that than I am wondering that if he losses a foot as the start wears on will that take all the life out of his fastball? I don't know. No one does. We'll have to wait and see. And 2) Does he have three pitches? He's basically been a FB/SL guy who sprinkles in a "show-me" change about 5% of the time and he hasn't been particularly effective with it. He's not starting from scratch with the change, but he has no credibility with it either. Bard does show a couple of different fastballs with different movement. If he paces, he can add or subtract a foot here and there to help keep hitters off stride a bit, but it's an open question whether he has three legitimate offerings.

Pay close attention during the spring. We will. We'll soon know more about what he has to throw and what it looks like 60 pitches in. But as it stands now, I am not really upbeat about any of these conversions, but Bard has a shot at being the best of the three out of the box.

Carl Crawford's picture is suddenly a bit brighter following the little dust up with owner John Henry this past weekend. Things are ahead of schedule on the injury front. Carl took his first soft toss swing since his wrist surgery on Monday. The Sox maintain that Crawford will start the year on the DL and that's still the most likely scenario, but Crawford seems determined to beat those expectations.The Boston media even dares to speculate that an Opening Day return from left wrist surgery is on the list of possibilities. Well, it's possible I will be the Red Sox Opening Day left fielder, but that's only slightly less probable than Crawford starting Opening Day.

The main point is that realistically you may see him by week #3, which would be a win here. Set backs are always a possibility, and we'll know more as we go. Carl's 2011 performance is a whole 'nother matter. His walk rate collapsed to an abysmal 4.3% including a 5.3% in August and 4.2% in September. Those two months did however provide LD% of 22% and 20% showing some buds in the snow. Like the rest of the Sox, he played poorly in April, hitting .155 but that came with a .177 BHIP and his BHIP was well over .300 in 4 of the last 5 months as he hit .279 over that span.

Carl battled hamstring issues, he was adjusting to a new city and team, lugging the expectations of his new huge contract so there are a lot of unquantifiable under currents here. He's just 30, if healthy he will rebound and get back into the mid-teen in HRs and his average will move back closer to .300 than to .250. His 50+ SB seasons may be behind him, but 30 isn't out of the question. Bottom line, expect a rebound, look for him at a value pick or price, but if someone in your league is willing to pay for his 2009 numbers (.305, 15/60 SBs), let him.

Every analyst has to take a swing at Jason Heyward this spring right? We can't just call it a sophomore thing and move on ... right? We have to try and place some kind of draft value in him. The obvious differences between year #1 and year #2 includes a loss of 50 points in BA, and well ... a loss of 50 points in BA. Yes his BB rate slipped, his LD% slipped, his chase rate slipped, and his RBI totals crashed (so much so you have to treat it as an outlier and a result even more dependant on luck than usual) ... But none of those things slipped enough to account for 50 points of BA. One thing that did slip enough to account for it was his BAHIP which dropped 75 points from .335 in 2010, to .260 in 2011. Is it that simple? Well it never is, but a shoulder problem potentially accounts for a drop in ISO. He also hits GB% at a surprising rate so a 3% drop in HR/FB to still-high 13.9%, accounts for the rest.

The average will rebound as his BAHIP does this year, probably settling around .260 or .270. Many think he'll sneak into the 20s in HRs but I think that a tall order with GB% well into the 50s. That would require a 16%+ HR/FB which is just as hard to see. With time he'll start to lift the ball, especially if he's healthy this year, but until he does, 20 HR will be a ceiling. Still he's just 21 and he'll cross the 1,000 AB barrier by Mother's Day. Heyward is a star in the making, it just may not happen this year. But a 20/20 season could.

Tommy Hanson opened the spring with a bang and unfortunately he did it with his car, suffering a mild concussion in the process. The good news is that Hansen doesn't consider the concussion much of a setback. He's hoping to be cleared for full workouts soon, perhaps as early as today, and there have been no reports of lingering symptoms. Tommy says he can make up a missed week, and as far as it goes, if he's going to miss a week, he missed the right one.

Shoulder issues cost Tommy about 10 starts in 2011, but despite that his K rate rose to 9.8 and his OBA dropped to .268, helped by a lucky .268 BAHIP. Otherwise his indicators were reasonably level and he's expected to be healthy in 2012 so we can expect more of what we have been getting in his first 77 starts.

One thing to watch for is his HR/9. He throws a lot of FBs and last year his HR/FB jumped to 12.5%, twice what it was in 2011. That shouldn't be much of a problem but a normal HR/FB% will add a couple points to his ERA. Still 2012 will be better than 2012. He'll back on course. A good #2 in reasonably deep leagues. Slotting him as a #1 may be a stretch.

How good is Matt Moore? Very. Extremely. How good will he be in 2012? That's a bit more complex. He decimated AAA in 9 starts last year, fanning 13.5/9, holding opponents to a .178 OBA in 52.2 IP despite a relatively level .291 BAHIP. That shows you his ability to compete on a high level. He looked right at home in 9.1 regular season IP and then pitched 10 superior playoff inning for the Rays to finish off a very impressive "cup of coffee" at the big league level. Off the chart stuff, a 95 mph average on his FB, a biting curve, and nasty change, all mixed in a merciless brew. Moore is an exceptional prospect.

Owners in keeper leagues should feel free to go almost uncomfortably big on this one, especially in AL-only leagues. Keep in mind however that as good as this kid is going to be, 2012 is unlikely to be his best year. 13 wins, a very good 3.30-ish ERA would be a very successful season, bid accordingly in single-season leagues. In keeper leagues however I'd consider overpaying for that return in 2012. You'll thank me in a couple of years.

Matt Joyce is right on the cusp, or would be if there's a cusp to be on at 27-years-old. Matt would be 25-HR hitter if all the pitchers in baseball were right-handed. He hit .217 in 92 ABs vs. LHP last year, despite a .293 BAHIP with a 30.7% K rate and a .152 ISO. The problem is that he'll likely see more LHP this year than he did last year. That will cut into his BA this year. Expect something very similar to last season with a couple of caveats ... 1) More ABs against LHPs will shave his BA, but 2) if that results in 20-50 more ABs this year that could chin him over 20/80. It's a close call and we are splitting hairs to be sure, but the bottom line is that you should expect, and pay for a close repeat of 2011 with a little upside.

Robin Ventura says that Dayan Viciedo could see some time in LF this season. In a fantasy context that could help add a few ABs to the pile this year which is always better than less ABs Still as much as we want to impart great potential on every player that reaches the majors at 22 that's hard to do here, in part because I think the White Sox have had him at least one level above where he should be since the Cuban arrived.

Even though he already has nearly 800 AAA ABs behind him, Viciedo needs more. Could 500 MLB ABs produce 20 HRs? Sure he's got enough pop, and with a 3B qualification that is worth something. Otherwise he's a JAG. I'm also not enough convinced that struggles won't limit his ABs this year just a bit. He's not a bad guy to have on reserve or in a CI slot in deep leagues, especially if you can get him at a value price. Just keep in mind there's more downside than up in the cards for this year.

Having watched Freddie Sanchez on the banks of the Merrimack River as he played single-A ball for Lowell, it's hard to believe he's 34 years old, but his his back believes it. His back has been an issue throughout his career but this "flare up" probably isn't much to get worked up about. The bigger issue is his recovery from surgery to repair his torn labrum. No one seems terribly concerned and Freddie is expected to be ready for Opening Day.

The Rangers will give as all our first look at Yu Darvish on March 7th against the Padres. The whole Japanese-MLB conversion thing is less than viable at this point. The Rangers say they may try something new with Darvish, working the rotation to approximate a 6-man rotation to ease his acclamation.

So much of this brings Dice-K to mind. I'm concerned about Yu's previous workload and how well he'll adapt to the majors and the difference in routine. The issue for this spring is that the hype surrounding Darvish will push his price past a reasonable risk/reward ratio. He could be highly effective and he'll almost certainly give you an ERA well below league-average, but you are going to have to pay for a #1 or high #2 starter in most leagues and at that price you should be buying more certainty.

Should he slip to the point where there's a possibility he may exceed expectation, go ahead. Just don't pay for the best case scenario. There are a lot of reasons to be cautious.

The Giants will hold Brian Wilson out until March 11th or 12th. Wilson has been dealing with some elbow inflammation but he says he'll be ready to go when the bell rings. Let's hope we get some empirical evidence this spring, because Brian's reaction seems to me to be a lot like his typical bravdo. In my mind it's hard to see how an inflammation problem that lingers through the winter is going to clear up during spring training. Stay tuned.

Speaking of things that don't ring true, Peter Bourjos says his hip feels great, 100%, no problems. But ... he's probably going to undergo hip surgery after the season to repair a frayed labrum. If he's figured out a way to schedule the progress of his fraying so it's that convenient for him and adheres to the Angels schedule, I wish he'd spread it around. You have to assume there's more to this than they want to let on.

Obviously there's been some discomfort, and an examination, and a discussion of surgery. That also puts a whole new spin on his 22 SBs in 502 ABs last year, and it call into question his SB ceiling for 2012. Bourjos held a healthy .338 BAHIP last year, so any hip problems he's had hasn't eaten into that column. Labrum wear isn't like tire wear however. Let's hope there's no blow out.

Robinson Cano will be in the Dominican for a bit dealing with the death of his grandmother. Don't panic. No fantasy impact as it sits at the moment.

Mark Trumbo will be in LA today, hopefully getting medical clearance to resume full workouts. Mark suffered a stress fracture in his right foot late last year. The big issue is how much the signing of Pujols will adjust his role with the Angels. Mike has plenty of raw power even though last year's total was fueled by a 17.9% HR/FB. In my mind that makes the high-20s HR total that most analysts seem fairly certain about a little more suspect in my mind.

The signing of Pujols may pay off in a 3B qualification which makes his a much more valuable asset. Mike should provide a very nice quantity of HR and RBI although you shouldn't pay for 30 or 100. I don't think that's gonna happen. Neither is .270, but that's not why you draft a Trumbo.

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