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Preseason Fantistics Analysis - Monday, March 19, 2012

Joe Ribando

New York Yankees

The Core Four Gets One Back

Andy Pettitte shocked the world last week when he announced he signed a minor league deal with the Yankees. Of course, this was no "minor" deal as Pettitte is making a play to join the Yankee rotation. Manager Joe Girardi has already dismissed the likelihood of a 6-man rotation, but we all know managers tend to change their mind. Pettitte will begin his workouts on Tuesday and, at 39, his projected to need at least 7 weeks to get into full game shape. At that point, I'd imagine he will be limited to pitch counts and inning limits to help get him to 100%, so you're probably looking at least 2-2.5 months from now before we see him fully stretched-out.

So now you have 7 starting pitchers for five spots. What to do? The obvious man out here to narrow it to 6 is Freddy Garcia. The Yanks will then start with the other 5 as Pettitte gets ready with Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, and Hiroki Kuroda fighting to stay out of the bullpen. If any of the three struggle in April, expect to see the demotion to the 'pen. Hughes is most familiar with bullpen action having once been the setup man to Mariano Rivera and earning 18 holds in 2009. 2010 proved Hughes was born a starter with 18 wins, a 1.25 WHIP, and a K/9 of 7.5, but 2011 killed that confidence with injuries and just 74.2 IP. Kuroda has the veteran advantage, but does age catch-up with him at 37? And Ivan Nova had a tremendous rookie campaign with a 3.70 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, and 16 wins, but has struggled this spring 11 ER allowed in 12.1 IP and 4 HR allowed. The best call is to avoid all of these pitchers at all costs and let someone else take the plunge.

Philadelphia Phillies

Around the Horn With Injuries

With injuries to Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Placido Polanco plagueing the Phillies early, there are rumors that the Phillies may be looking for some outside help to get them through the pain. Projected starting Red Sox shortstop Mike Aviles has been rumored and could provide instant help to the banged-up Phillies. To start, Chase Utley still hasn't play a spring training game because of the same knee injury that kept him out close to 50 games last year. The Phillies have hinted that Utley could be getting close (maybe even this week). While Utley can certainly be a value-pick as he drops down draft boards due to his health, he would ahve to be had at a much deeper discount than his current ADP of about 8.0 to be worth the risk.

Ryan Howard is in a similar boat, out indefinitely as he continues to sport the famous walking boot. There is still no definite timetable for Howard's return, but the original estimate of June 1st is looking a little aggressive right now. Even if the 32-year-old returns by that date, an injured achilles could linger throughout the year, causing days-off and inconsistent playing time that can cause fantasy owners fits. I'll let someone else take the gamble on Howard.

Polanco, while being the least fantasy significant of the three, has a minor finger sprain that should only keep him out day-to-day (no fracture as originally anticipated). Polanco has been plagued with injuries since joining the Phillies in 2010 and underwent offseason hernia surgery as well. He used to be more valuable before his position eligibility went strictly to third base. He's an average play, deep draft / NL-only consideration at this point.

Cincinnati Reds

The Last Rotation Spot

The sure locks for the Reds rotation are Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Mike Leake, and Bronson Arroyo. The 5th spot could go to the favorite Homer Bailey, but Jeff Francis and current favorite Aroldis Champan are certainly going to make a run for the spot as well. If you look at spring stats, Chapman and Francis have looked decent while Bailey has been shelled.

But Francis's upside is limited as we have a 5 seasons of just mediocre performance to help identify his value. With 2009 a wash due to injury, Francis' 3-year line yields a WHIP of 1.43, ERA of 4.93, and a K/9 of 5.3. Not exactly a fantasy stud. Bailey, however, has shown improvement each year, dropping his WHIP from 1.47 to 1.37 to 1.28 over the last three years. His K/9 has averaged 7.4 during that time frame and, with a little maturity, could learn how to improve his LOB% which was just 71.2% in 2011. Despite a 4.43 ERA, his FIP was lower at 4.06 and his xFIP was even more favorable at 3.77.

Aroldis Chapman has also been a work in progress and seems to still be the biggest wildcard here as the Reds try to stretch him out to become a starter. Control issues continue to be an issue and it seems to me like the Reds are trying to force the issue. He'll get some more action today and as we inch closer to opening day, I think manager Dusty Baker will tip-his-hand on which way he is leaning based on Chapman's on-field performance.

1. Bryce Harper (OF - Nationals) - After Bryce Harper began spring training with a calf injury, the chances of him starting the season in the Big Leagues was a long shot anyway. Yesterday, Harper, the former #1 pick, was optioned to Triple-A and will roam CF for Syracuse in the International League. If he rakes in April and May, expect an early June call-up to the big stage. Fantasy owners will certainly still take a draft-and-stash approach as a late round gamble. If he doesn't get drafted (or you're not in a keeper league), expect a big chase for him on the wires this spring.

2. Clay Buchholz (SP - Red Sox) - After Buchholz's 2010 17 win season, 2011 was a disappointment after he suffered a stress fracture in his back and only hurled 82.2 IP. At age 27, he can certainly bounce back, but returning to the days of a 2.33 ERA and 1.21 WHIP would be a tall order. Even in that year, his FIP was a 3.61 with an xFIP of 4.07. Last year, in limited service, revealed the same trend with a FIP of 4.34 far exceeding his ERA of 3.48. Buchholz never provided much in the K department, with a 3-year average K/9 of 6.4 and a K/BB of 1.85. Buchholz's ADP is 19.0, but I'd rather take a late-round gamble on higher K potential and wouldn't cross my fingers hoping for high win totals.

3. Francisco Liriano (SP - Twins) - Liriano looked solid on Sunday, hurling 5 no-hit innings and bringing his K total for the spring to 18 in 13.0 IP with just 2 BB. He had the one rough outing last week where he gave up 4 runs in an inning, but hasn't allowed a run in all other innings pitched so far this spring. Liriano looks sharp this spring and I think we'll have a bit of a bouceback after last year's 5.10 ERA, 1.49 WHIP performance. In 2011, we saw a drop in K/9 from 9.4 the previous year to 7.5. He also struggled in LOB%, declining from 73.1% to 67.2% to go along with a drop in GB% from 53.6% to 48.6%. He struggled with command posting a BB/9 of 5.02 (which led to his high WHIP) and his HR/FB% went from 6.3% to 9.9%. Looking back on his good years, Liriano is most effective when his fastball is averaging 93+. His down years show an average fastball velocity of <91. He's a last round gamble at best in mixed leagues, but if his shoulder is healthy and his velocity looks strong in spring training, we could see some serviceable fantasy numbers.

4. Mike Morse (OF - Nationals) - Michael Morse will be shut down for at least a week (maybe more) as an MRI recently revealed a strained right lat muscle. He tried to power through it by getting his ABs as a DH, but it didn't go well. If you're drafting this week, I wouldn't allow it to affect his ranking too much, but late-month drafters will want to see how he progresses by next weekend to determine if Opening Day will be a threat. If Morse's power swing is affected, his value will certainly drop as fantasy owners draft him for power and RBIs. His ADP is currently around 7.0, so we'll see how that changes over the course of the week.

5. Starling Marte (OF - Pirates) - Starling Marte was really tearing it up in Grapefruit League action this spring, but he was optioned to Triple-A on Sunday. This was not exactly shocking news as he still has some work to do (especially defensively) before being called-up. Marte finished his spring training with the Big League club going 13-for-25 with 3 HR and 2 SB. Marte is one of the big-name prospects in the Pirates system and has a strong combination of power and speed. In 2011, Marte hit .332 with 12 HR, 24 SB (in 36 attempts), and an .870 OPS for Double-A Altoona in the Eastern League. Expect him to make his big league debut at some point in 2012, so keep an eye on him as the 23-year-old continues to develop in the minors.

6. Andre Ethier (OF - Dodgers) - Don't forget that Andre Eithier was having a fine season before suffering a injury to his knee. Ethier hit .311 in the first half with an .846 OPS followed by a dismal .252 with .672 OPS. He hit .380 in April with 3 HR, 16 RBI, and a .446 OBP. He should return to .290 avg, 25+ HR, 90 RBI potential if he stays healthy. Don't place too much emphasis on his overall 2011 numbers, as what seems to be happening with his ADP of 12.0. I think fantasy owners who draft Ethier around that spot in mixed league drafts are getting a steal.

7. Joakim Soria (RP - Royals) - Soria left the game on Sunday with a sore right elbow. Soria said his elbow was fine until Sunday, but it felt really bad now. Soria had Tommy John surgery back in 2003 so any discomfort to the elbow is a cause for concern. Doctors will take a look over the next day or two and we should have more information shortly. In the meantime, the obvious back-up to Soria if he should go on an extended rest that leads to the regular season would be Aaron Crow. But the Royals also have former closer Jonathan Broxton on their squad now and he could be a consideration as well.

8. Hanley Ramirez (3B - Marlins) - Hanley Ramirez's ADP is about 2.0 right now, but he may certainly give fantasy owners first round value. A down 2011 mixed in with shoulder and back injuries (and offseason surgery) has dropped the superstar down in rankings, but he is definitely raking this spring and looks to be poised for a fullback with added position eligibility. He is hitting .409 in spring action with 2 HR and 4 BB. Obviously a concern heading into 2012 was Ramirez's reaction to moving to third base with the arrival of Jose Reyes, but he is handling everything with maturity and class (so far). If and when he drops to the 2nd round, I would grab him quick. An 11.2 XBH% in 2011 despite just 10 HR shows the power is still there and should emerge to 25+ HR potential.

9. Carlos Quentin (OF - Padres) - The injury bug has already hit Carlos Quentin as he will undergo knee surgery that will keep him out of action 4-to-6 weeks. Quentin is always injured and needs to be factored into all fantasy valuation. He has played more than 130 games only twice in his 6 year career due to multiple injuries. When he does play, he boasts huge power, averaging a 15.9 AB/HR from 2008-2011 including a XBH% of 10.4%, OBP of .352, and SLG of .505. If he can overcome a history of shoulder, back, and now knee injuries to play close to a full season, 30+ HR potential is very likely.

10. Rick Ankiel (OF - Nationals) - The Nationals moved Jayson Werth back to RF on Sunday, a clear indication that Ankiel seems to be winning the job in Center Field. Of course, the Nats have a guy in the minors that you may have heard of that will take over the position in short order (Bryce Harper). But Ankiel will roam CF to begin the season and will get most of the playing time there, but really deserves just NL-only consideration at this time. It is expected that Harper will be called-up from Triple-A by mid-summer at the latest.

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