Bartolo Colon (SP)- Colon is coming off an improbable 2011 campaign in which he posted the fourth best FIP (3.83) of his career. He was a different pitcher in the second half of the season, due in large part to a hamstring injury and his heavy first half workload. Colon's performance is even more impressive considering he pitched in the strong AL East, and started half of his games at Yankee Stadium. He will benefit pitching in a friendlier division, and in a spacious ballpark. Injuries are a major concern and at this point Colon is a high-risk/high-reward pick. He should be worth a look in the late rounds of most leagues. Don't look for his strikeout rate to decrease very much despite having a low swinging strike rate (5.3 percent). Colon was one of the league leaders in K's looking because of his tremendous two-seam movement. If he is healthy, he will continue to rack up a lot strikeouts on two-seamers moving back across the plate.
Jemile Weeks (2B)- Weeks was one of the few offensive success stories for Oakland in 2011, compiling a .303/.340/.421 line with two home runs and 22 stolen bases in 437 plate appearances. The 24 year-old has tremendous bat speed (5 percent swinging strike rate), and we are expecting his power to develop this season. Our software is projecting eight home runs, and he should produce more than 30 doubles. Perspective owners should realize that it will be difficult for Weeks to produce an average over .300 again. His .303 average was sustained by a .350 BABIP, but his 23.3 percent line drive rate indicates that BABIP was more a product of skill than luck. I'm projecting Weeks to finish with a .285/.335/.425 line, in part to an improved walked rate. His 2011 rate of 4.8 percent will improve. His 11.1 percent career minor league walk rate shows a player with a strong grasp of the strike zone.
New York Mets
RA Dickey (SP)- Knuckleballers are hard to project, but Dickey has been one of the more consistent starters in the majors over the last two seasons. He should have a strikeout rate of 5.4 to 5.8 K/9, and he has demonstrated great control of his knuckleball (2.17 BB/9 in 2010; 2.33 BB/9). Additionally, his BABIP and HR/FB ratio over the last two seasons have been nearly identical. Like I've mentioned with all Mets starters so far, owners should expect a higher ERA because of the change in dimensions, however, Dickey's ability to generate groundballs (50.8 percent) will keep that increase minimal. One of Dickey's great attributes is that he shown is his ability to limit damage. During his last 24 starts of the season, he did not allow more than four earned runs. His strand rate of 75.3 will come down about, so owners should expect an ERA between 3.40-3.60.
Daniel Murphy (1B/2B)- In certain leagues Murphy is definitely an undervalued commodity, especially since he is eligible to play second base. While he has shown an inability to draw walks on a consistent basis, owners should expect a solid batting average between .280-.290. Murphy won't hit more than 14 home runs, but 60 plus RBI, and 5-10 stolen bases make him a decent option at second base in 5x5 leagues. While Murphy won't repeat in terms of batting average, his ability to make contact (4.6 percent swinging strike rate) should keep him from hitting below .280. In every category except RBI Murphy is more than comparable to Neil Walker. His draft position will be lower and he will be much cheaper. Throw in his versatility, and he should be a nice pickup late in drafts, assuming he stays healthy.
Breakout Candidate: Wilson Ramos
Ramos will get more playing time in 2012 (his defensive abilities have always been lauded), and Ramos showed signs from last season that he could be a one of the ten best catchers in fantasy baseball. First off, Ramos displayed better plate discipline than anyone could predict in 2011 producing an 8.7 percent walk rate (the best of his pro career). We don't know if the offseason kidnapping will affect him at all this season, but we are projecting him to hit 18 home runs and finish with a .289/.356/.481 slash line. Our average projection might be a little high considering he produced a 49.8 percent ground ball rate and that he is one of the slowest players in baseball. Ramos had an impressive 13.5 percent HR/FB ratio, which ranked third among catchers (behind Carlos Santana and Alex Avila). If he can reduce some of his groundballs, it is very possible he can surpass 20 home runs this season.
Can Michael Morse duplicate his 2011 numbers?
Morse was one of the most consistent commodities once he secured regular playing time after Adam LaRoche's shoulder injury. After producing 31 home runs and a .303/.360/.550 slash line in 575 plate appearances, many are wondering whether he can produce at the same rate again. While I don't think he will top his 2011 numbers (he turns 30 next week), there isn't much evidence to indicate much of a drop. Morse will never be very plate disciplined (6.7 percent career walk rate), but there he should be able to produce an OBP close to .350 in 2012. His BABIP of .344 in 2011 was high, but it was two points lower than his career rate. Morse produced an improved 11.8 percent swinging strike rate (14 percent in 2010), and his 21.2 percent HR/FB ratio was similar to his 2010 ratio of 19.5 percent. Look for 25-30 home runs with a .290/.350/.500 slash line.
Around the League
Noland Reimold (OF-BAL)- Reimold, who was carted off the field last Friday after getting hit in the face by a pitch from Alex Cobb, returned to the lineup on Thursday against the Pirates. Owners should be thankful that he only had to deal with a chipped tooth, and that he has not reported any concussion like symptoms. He is currently competition with Endy Chavez for the left field spot, and he should get some at-bats at DH this season. While Reimold will not provide much in the way of batting average, he should provide 18-22 home runs (if he gets enough playing time) and five to ten stolen bases. His walk rates have remained above average (10.3 percent career rate), and his HR/FB ratio will remain strong while playing in Camden Yards. Reimold remains a better option than some corner outfielders/DH's in later rounds (like Raul Ibanez) for daily and deep leagues.
Freddy Garcia (SP-NYY)- Joe Girardi told the media on Thursday that Garcia, who was hit in the right hand by a comebacker on Wednesday, will miss his next scheduled spring training start. Anytime a starter is in competition for a rotation spot in spring training, a missed start usually hurts his chances. Garcia has pitched well over his last two starts, but not well enough to distinguish himself from the rest of the group. Phil Hughes as shown better velocity this spring, and Ivan Nova pitched well in his last spring start against the Red Sox. Garcia won't provide much value this season unless he is traded, or one of the Yankees starters goes down with an injury. Even if he was in the rotation, his 4.36 xFIP and not his 3.62 ERA is more indicative of the type of season he will have in 2012. His .292 BABIP last season was extremely fortunate considering he had a 22.3 percent line drive rate. Furthermore, it is unlikely he would replicate a 8.3 percent HR/FB ratio pitching in Yankee Stadium once again.
Roy Halladay (SP-PHI)- Halladay laughed off a report suggesting there was something wrong with him physically because of his struggles this spring. Halladay was roughed up for five runs on seven hits in less than three innings of work on Wednesday, and he has suggested that it takes a little longer for him to get ready because of his age. In the two starts I've seen, his velocity has been lower than what we have come to expect. He was sitting at 89 mph with his fastball ( he averaged 92 mph last season). As I've mentioned before, I feel that velocity issue during spring training are overblown as there are plenty of slow news days during the spring. Sometimes the concerns come to fruition (ie Phil Hughes last spring), but we've seen plenty of veterans yuck it up in the spring and come back just fine. Halladay had the best year of his career in 2011 (2.20 FIP and 2.71 xFIP) despite averaging 89 mph on his fastball in his first two starts last year. These reports shouldn't worry anyone just yet.
Scott Baker (MIN-SP)- Baker's next scheduled start was pushed back due to tenderness in his right elbow, but Terry Ryan told the Minnesota Tribune that he was not worried about the injury. Ryan said that Baker goes through this period every spring training, but that fact is worrisome. Baker has been limited to only 305 innings pitched over the last two seasons because of elbow pain, and scouts indicated that they saw a drop in velocity in his last outing. When Baker is healthy, he has shown he has been a very reliable starter. His average fastball velocity has hovered around 91 mph over the last three seasons, and he has maintained a swinging strike rate above 9.5 percent in five straight seasons. Perspective owners should keep an eye on him over the next couple of days. Others have taken this news to heart, as I have seen his draft position drop over the last few days.
Jeremy Hellickson (TB-SP)- In an interview with Marc Tompkin of the Tampa Bay Times, Hellickson mentioned BABIP and how he thought he has been unfairly treated because of the statistic. Hellickson did have the lowest BABIP among starters last season (.223), and told Tompkin it was because of his ability to generate weak contact. We know for a fact that is not the case, 20 percent line drive rate, and his ERA also benefited from a high strand rate (82 percent). If anyone is due for regression in 2012, it is Hellickson. However, but it won't be as steep as some analysts believe. Hellickson should improve upon his 5.53 K/9, as his 9.7 percent swinging strike rate was the twenty-fourth best among qualified starting pitchers. Furthermore, Hellickson's 16.7 percent infield flyball rate ranked second best among qualified starters. Owners should expect for him to post a strong ERA between 3.30 and 3.50, which is still strong. Just don't pay for past performance.
Chase Utley (2B-PHI)- Utley sat out another game on Thursday because of knee problems, and the 34-year old has yet to play a single game since spring training started a few weeks ago. When asked about the situation, Ruben Amaro said Utley will be ready for Opening Day and that he should be on the field next week. However, it is becoming more obvious that Utley is continuing to have difficulty with his knee. He has yet to speak with the media about the situation, and some outlets have reported that the club is looking for infield depth. Utley was a shell of his former self last season producing a 12.7 percent line drive rate that lead to a career worst .269 BABIP. He is still valuable considering he should steal close to 15 bases, but I think our 21 home run projection is generous. His 6.7 percent HR/FB ratio was his lowest since his rookie season in 2003 when he produced a 4.9 percent ratio.
Casey Blake (3B-COL)- Ken Rosenthal reported on twitter yesterday that Blake, considered the Rockies starting third baseman before spring, is in danger of not making the roster. Blake missed most of last season because of neck problems, and he has been dealing with the same injury for most of the spring. He has yet to record a hit this spring, and has not been in a game since March 11. A non-guaranteed contract makes him even more likely to be cut before the beginning of spring. Both Chris Nelson and Brandon Wood are younger and cheaper alternatives, and have hit .292 this spring. One of the two could start the season at the position, and top prospect, Nolan Arenando, could be called up later. If Blake did win the job, he still would provide a weak .250/.325/.395 type of line, even in deep and NL only leagues.
Daniel Bard (P-BOS)- Bard struggled in Thursday's game against the Cardinals. He allowed seven runs on six hits and four walks in only 2.2 innings of work (recorded one strikeout). The appearance was his first poor performance this spring, and he is still in line grab one of the last two rotation spots for the Red Sox. Bard's strong groundball rate (48.6 percent for career) should allow him to make a strong transition to the starting rotation. His strikeout numbers should decrease, as will his average velocity, but his change-up gives me reason to believe that he has the full compliment of pitches to be an above average starter. There has been a seven mph difference between the pitch and his fastball, and it has strong downward movement. Look for the pitch to be a strong asset this season along with his good slider. Our software is predicting a 3.51 ERA with a 7.72 K/9, both of which lineup with recent reliever to starter transition like CJ Wilson.
Eric Hosmer (1B-KC)- Hosmer went 2-for-4 with a walk and four RBI against the Dodgers on Thursday, and is now hitting .345/.417/.517 this spring. I think he should produce as one of the top five first-basemen this season. He will be able to eclipse the 20 home run plateau this season with more plate appearances to go along with 10-15 stolen bases. A 13.5 percent HR/FB ratio during a rookie campaign is impressive, and I personally think he will improve upon his 49.7 percent groundball rate. However, he will need to improve his plate discipline (6 percent walk rate in 2011) if he is going to make the jump to the next level. His 36.3 percent chase rate was one of the worst in the league, but his minor league walk rate (11.6 percent) demonstrates that he has had it in the past. Fangraphs reported that 58 percent of the breaking balls he put in play were groundballs (45 percent is league average). If he can be more disciplined, that number should drop along with his groundball rate.
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