Preseason Fantistics Analysis - Monday, March 26, 2012
New York Yankees
Michael Pineda's fastball is one of the most scrutinized pitches this spring training. A few ticks in the wrong direction and suddenly he's dropping on fantasy draft boards, getting placed on "do-not-draft" lists, and being predicted as one of the big fantasy "busts" of 2012. Last year with the Mariners his fastball averaged 94.2 and topped out in the 96-97 range. In his fifth spring training start yesterday, his fastball was trending in the 90-92 range and was topping out at 93-94. While he claims to be working on his changeup more, there is a bit of concern for the drop in velocity at this stage of spring training, but it could simply take him a bit longer to get back up to the dominant speed we saw of him last year (especially with every report from the Yankees and from Pineda that he feels healthy and strong and nothing is physically wrong). There are calls for Pineda to start the season in the minors to get his arm strength back. That's a luxury most teams do not have, but the Yankees have the back-up option of going with Freddy Garcia while Pineda works at regaining his strength and his velocity. It may be the best option for both fantasy owners and Yankee fans if they choose to go that route and give Pineda a few minor league starts before rejoining the big league rotation. If his velocity doesn't return, then we're left with our fingers crossed hoping Pineda's slider and changeup can still be effective enough to make him serviceable. For fantasy owners, that leaves you with a pitcher dropping in ADP, but potentially sitting on your bench as you wait for the call-up. He'll have to be a good value on draft day to take the risk.
Here are some other quick notes around Yankees camp as we enter a big week of fantasy drafts. Alex Rodriguez was drilled in the ribs with a pitch on Sunday, but he should be fine. Nick Swisher, taking it easy after a tweaked groin, will return to the field on Tuesday and his groin shouldn't be much of an issue at this point. Andy Pettitte continues his journey back with light bullpen sessions and is on-schedule to be with the team around mid-May. Finally, the Yanks made some roster moves that should have little fantasy consequence unless you play in deep keeper leagues - IF Ramiro Pena, P Manny Delcarmen, P Kevin Whelen, C Jose Gil, OF Colin Curtis, and OF Cole Garner were all optioned to Minor League camp. Pena has been rumored in trade talks to the Phillies and could get playing time at 2B until Chase Utley returns.
Chase Utley - Utley announced over the weekend that his knee issues will keep him out of action and he will not be ready for opening day. Beginning the season on the DL should really raise the red flags for fantasy owners on draft day. He claims he "intends to play the season," but his return date is up in the air. While a fantasy owner will almost certainly overreach for Utley on draft day, it is best to leave him to another team (or only take a gamble if he drops real late or cheap on the auction block). These knee problems, while they don't require microfracture surgery as of now, put him at risk for inconsistent playing time and a late-season shut-down candidate.
For his replacement, with Michael Martinez also suffering his own injury problems with a broken foot, Freddy Galvis will get the call to start at 2B for the Phils. Don't place too much emphasis on his high Baseball America ranking, as it is mostly due to his defense. He probably needs some more time in the minors and when/if Utley returns, I wouldn't be surprised to see Galvis demoted. There's also the chance the Philies make a trade / move to bring in a more suitable candidate for the job (Ramiro Pena from the Yankees?). He has some speed so he might be able to swipe some bases (he had 19 in Triple-A last year), but had just a .315 OBP and a .364 SLG. He's a stretch even in NL-only leagues.
Tough loss for fantasy owners who drafted closer Ryan Madson prior to this weekend. It was announced that Madson will undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery. But the Reds do have some options in the bullpen that will translate to fantasy value on draft day. We begin with Sean Marshall, the lefty specialist with the Cubs over the last 5 seasons who was traded to the Reds for Travis Wood this past offseason. Marshall was the guy who closed for Carlos Marmol when he was having issues in the role. Marshall didn't fare much better, earning 5 saves in 9 opportunities. But as a middle-reliever he did earn 34 holds and has 56 for the last two seasons. Marshall is the favorite to win the job and should be the guy to be drafted in the later rounds as a 2nd-to-3rd tier closer.
If Marshall fails in the role and manager Dusty Baker gets a bit antsy (its been known to happen), a bullpen by committee which includes Nick Masset and Bill Bray (if his groin stays healthy) could also occur. Now the obvious question is if Aroldis Chapman, fighting for the 5th spot in the rotation, gets the nod to go back to the bullpen and take over the job? And if he gets the 5th spot and Homer Bailey gets relegated to the bullpen, does Bailey have a chance of becoming the closer (or becoming a serious Holds guy)? These are all considerations that must be considered as Marshall gets on-the-job-training to begin the season as the team's closer.
1. Kendrys Morales (1B - Angels) - Three straight games and no problems with Morales' ankle. That is great news for fantasy owners and for Angel fans. Morales has looked great so far, going 5-for-9 with a HR. With no set-backs from here-on-out, Morales should be ready for Opening Day. It may take some time for Morales to get back in the swing of things, having not played a full season since 2009. But recall that year's huge numbers of 34 HR, 108 RBI, and 86 runs with a line of .306/.355/.569. Huge upside if he can return to his 2009 self and could be a 2nd-half breakout if he begins the season a little rusty. A great late-round gamble.
2. BJ Upton (OF - Rays) - After his collision with Desmond Jennings a couple of weeks ago, Upton's back is still not good enough to go. He is optimistic that he'll be ready for Opening Day. The good news here is that even if he isn't ready for that day, it isn't serious enough to linger for much longer after that. Of course, with all of this time away from getting ready for the season, that could mean a cold start for Upton who is a notoriously streaky hitter anyway. In general, I am optimistic for continued improvement from the 27-year-old Upton. His AB/HR has improved from 50.9 to 29.8 to 24.3 over the last three seasons. During the same time frame, his HR/FB increased from 5.8% to 11.7% while his LD% remained consistent at around 18%. He's also a lock for 35+ SB (assuming his back is healthy) and has posted 40+ SB 3 of the last 4 years. The one concern is that there was an inverse relationship in his doubles declining and his HRs increasing last year that could make him a risk to regress slightly, but I'd feel good about a 21 HR / 35 SB prediction making him a top-20 outfielder in mixed fantasy leagues for 2012.
3. Jayson Werth (OF - Nationals) - We knew moving from Philly to Washington would zap his production and that's exactly what happened in 2011. But Werth is having a nice spring that could lead to a bit of a bounceback year in 2012. He has 3 HR to help drive a .656 SLG and he's hitting .281, better that the last two seasons. He'll begin the season hitting cleanup (with Michael Morse expected to miss some time to start the season), so expect the abnormally low AB/RBI of 9.7 in 2011 to return closer to his previous 3-year rate from 2008-2010 of 6.1 (~90 RBI).
4. Michael Morse (1B - Nationals) - Originally, the lat injury to Michael Morse wasn't considered serious. But the Nationals are taking a cautious approach now, which could leave Morse sitting out for Opening Day. No structural damage according to the MRI, but the injury has kept Morse out of action for most of Spring Training. He has just 7 ABs this spring and if he starts the year on the DL, will not have had a lot of preparation to begin the season. The 30-year-old Morse is coming off a huge breakout season that led to 31 HR and 95 RBI. A poor EYE (less than .30) combined with a lingering lat issue could yield a bit of a regression and he should be devalued slightly on draft day.
5. Jim Thome (1B - Phillies) - Thome was acquired by the Phillies mostly for PH duties, but with Ryan Howard on the shelf with a lingering achilles injury, Thome could see some time at 1B. The Phillies have been playing him there this spring and, while he won't be considered the everyday first baseman at 41 (Ty Wigginton will get most of the starts), Thome's playing time will certainly increase. Despite his age, Thome can still mash. His XBH% was 9.6% in 2011 and his AB/HR was 18.5 split between Minnesota and Cleveland. In fact, playing in a pitcher's ballpark, he had better results with the Twins with a XBH% of 9.9% and AB/HR of 17.2. Moving to Citizens Bank should do nothing but help those numbers. No Fantasy player is jumping to get Thome, but in deep NL-only roto leagues, he could help boost the production for the first few weeks.
6. Dan Uggla (2B - Braves) - Long time readers of this column know of Dan Uggla as a consistent fixture on my team. You will be hard-pressed to find any 2nd baseman with as much power as Uggla. With 5 straight years of 30+ HRs, a 6th straight is on the horizon as well as a bounceback in average, runs, and RBIs. After a dreadful start to the season last year with a first half of .185/.257/.365, Uggla went on a huge tear of .296/.379/.569 in the second half. Normalizing the season should return him to 90+ RBI. His flukish underperformance against lefties with a SLG of just .360 compared to righties of .489 should also normalize in 2012.
7. Travis Snider (OF - Blue Jays) - The Blue Jays have had about enough of Snider's "upside and potential," optioning him to Triple-A and handing the LF job to Eric Thames. Snider actually started the spring really well and was even hitting lefties for a change, but went into a bit of a slump over the last week or so. He may be a mid-season call-up, but isn't worth the roster spot at this point unless you play in deep AL-only keepers. Big down arrow for him and an up-arrow for Thames who has high-teen to 20 HR potential.
8. Yu Darvish (SP - Rangers) - Darvish took the mound for his 4th spring training outing and didn't disappoint. He recorded 11 K's while the Rangers "stretched him out" to 85 pitches over 5.0 innings. Despite allowing 4 runs, he hit 95 on the gun and allowed 6 hits and 2 walks. We still don't know if Darvish's first start will be April 8th against the White Sox or April 9th against the Mariners. Either way, given Darvish's history in Japan and his strong start in spring training, he may emerge quickly as a Top-20 pitcher. Of course, the risk remains of his ability to handle big-league pitching in the American League and through the brutal Texas heat. Innings and season length shouldn't be much of a concern as Darvish has 204 IP per year over the last 5 years.
9. David Wright (3B - Mets) - We may finally see David Wright in action today. As he recovers from an abdominal strain on the left side, Wright is feeling better and if he doesn't see action today, he will almost certainly see it on Tuesday against the Braves. This is big news for the star 3B who has yet to have an AB in spring training this year. If he can get back on track and the ab strain doesn't linger, we expect Wright to bounceback in 2012, benefiting from the fences being brought in to help minimize cavernous effects of the pitcher-friendly Citi Field.
10. Brandon Allen (1B - A's) - I mentioned Allen a few weeks ago as a guy to watch heading into 2012. It looks like manager Bob Melvin is leaning toward making him his everyday first baseman (beating out Kila Ka'aihue for the job). In the minors, he hit 142 HR for an AB/HR of about 20.0 and he has about 11 HR at 29.5 AB/HR at the big league level. His problem is that he can't touch lefties with an average of just .134 in his career. Looks like he may get the chance this year to prove otherwise. Nothing but an AL-only claim at this point, but watch out for him the first few weeks of the season as he could potentially provide some surprise power at 1B this season.