Jason Jennings- TEX- As a Rangers fan, I get used to things like having the big pitcher signing of the offseason being a player who is coming off a serious injury. I just have to remember Chan Ho Park and realize that things can’t possibly be that bad again. The hope is that Jennings will become the extreme ground ball pitcher he was in Colorado (GO/FO ratio of 1.37 over 6 seasons) and not the pitcher who posted a GO/FO mark of .81 in an injury shortened 2007 campaign in Houston. Jennings will be comfortable, as he grew up and lives in the Dallas area, but it is in no way a certainty that what the Rangers are hoping for from him he will be able to deliver. One positive factor to consider is that Jennings had an outstanding 2006 season after sitting out for a good part of 2005 due to a fractured finger. His torn elbow tendon last season is more of a pitching related injury, but the low workload of last season could help him after he threw a career high 212 innings in 2006. On the whole, though, it would be a bad bet to count on Jennings bouncing back to a 2006 production level.
Gerald Laird- TEX- Nagging injuries are not the only thing bothering Laird this spring. Just two years ago he was the darling of the organization, seeming to claim the mantle of “catcher of the future.” Then both his average (.296 to .224) and power (7 homers in 243 ABs to 9 homers in 407 ABs) plummeted in 2007. Right now he is caught between Jarrod Saltalamacchia (who has better skills) at the major league level and Taylor Teagarden in the minors as the new “catcher of the future.” It looks like 2006 was the high point of Laird’s major league career. In the grand scheme of things it is definitely something to be proud of, and a great thing to tell his grandchildren, but it doesn’t make for current fantasy value, as he is not a good bet for production in a starting spot.
Mark DeRosa- CHC- The good news is that DeRosa’s heart surgery went well and he is expected to be back at Spring Training in the next few days and hopefully in the exhibition lineup by next weekend. The bad news is that his position may belong to Brian Roberts by that time. The rumors of a trade with the Orioles are still very strong and the Birds are supposedly sending someone to Cubs’ camp next week to scout out the final pieces in the trade puzzle. Ronny Cedeno and Sean Gallagher are supposedly set to be headed to Baltimore but another player or two are needed to lock up the deal.
Brian Roberts- BAL- Roberts played like a man increasing his trade value. He went 1-for-2 with a walk, double, 2 SBs and a run scored. Roberts is looking like just what the Cubs need right now. Changing leagues and stadiums should not be a major concern, unless you are in an AL-only league. Wrigley Field is slightly less offensively oriented than Camden Yards, but in average, homers and stolen bases Roberts has performed as well, if not better, on the road than at home. We just have to sit back and wait for the Orioles and Cubs to pull the trigger on the long-rumored deal.
Adam Loewen- BAL- Insider Baseball’s Schuyler Dombroskie pointed out control as Loewen’s Achilles Heel and it was an issue for him yesterday. Of the 7 batters Loewen faced, 4 got a free pass from him. Keep a watch on those walk numbers as the spring progresses to see if Loewen is worth a long shot flyer in the late rounds of your draft.
Cameron Maybin- FLA- Maybin was a centerpiece in the big offseason trade with the Tigers. He is in the competition for the center field job in Dolphins Stadium this year, along with Cody Ross and Alejandro de Aza. Yesterday, Maybin doubled twice in 4 at bats. Starting the season with the Marlins may not be the best thing for Maybin in the long term, though. He absolutely rocketed through the Detroit system, ending up with the Tigers last August in only his second professional season. In his ascent, Maybin skipped AAA altogether and it showed. In 49 major league at bats over 24 games, Maybin only hit .143 with a homer and 5 SBs. He looked overmatched, striking out 21 times. In a keeper league, Maybin is someone you want as he has the potential to make the Marlins fans (all three of them) forget Miguel Cabrera. Maybin’s tools are that good. For 2008, though, it would be better for him to spend a year in AAA and get to the point where he can expect success instead of struggles at the major league level.
Scott Olsen- FLA- In the aftermath of the latest Marlins housecleaning, Olsen finds himself as the leading contender for the role of staff “ace.” That just goes to show how thin and inexperienced the Florida rotation is this season. In 2007, Olsen saw his walks go up from 75 to 85 and his strikeouts drop from 166 to 133 while his IPs changed from 181 to 177. This, combined with his hits allowed soaring from 160 to 226 inflated his ERA from 4.04 to 5.81. The main culprit seemed to be the southpaw’s inability to retire lefthanded hitting. He allowed a .331 batting average to them, 20 points higher than what righthanders hit. This is an anomaly and if he doesn’t correct that, as well as change his attitude that resulted in some off-field incidents last year, Olsen will not retain the #1 spot in the rotation for long and could be destined to flame out. Approach with major caution.
Sergio Mitre- FLA- Sergio Mitre’s sore elbow is just the latest in a string of injuries to plague him over the last few years. A sore shoulder shortened his 2006 season and last year he suffered from a torn blister and hamstring strain. Mitre suffered a mighty collapse in 2007. After his 10th start of the season on June 5th his ERA stood at 1.59, he had allowed 51 hits in 56-2/3 IP, struck out 41 and walked 10. After that, in 17 starts covering 92-1/3 IP, Mitre posted a 6.53 ERA, giving up 129 hits and 31 walks. He only struck out 39 batters in those 92+ IP, 2 fewer than he had in his first 56 IP. It took until September for the Marlins to shut Mitre down and don’t be surprised if his latest injury turns out to be something other than minor. The wheels falling off the cart as they did last year raises a real injury possibility.
Scott Kazmir- TB- Kazmir’s sore elbow prompts me to get back up on my soapbox. He is still only 24 and his past workload puts him in a highly risky category for injury. Last season, he never threw fewer than 91 pitches in any of his 34 starts, threw more than 100 in 27 of them and hit the 110 pitch mark (historically a danger zone for young pitchers) 12 times. Despite this high number of pitches thrown (second in the AL in 2007) almost every time out, Kazmir only averaged 6 IP per start. Only twice did he pitch more than 7 innings. That’s a lot of pitches to get a relatively low amount of outs. Kazmir may command a high price on draft day, but a high risk comes along with it.
Joe Blanton- OAK- Blanton’s spring training numbers may be consistently awful, but he gets streaky once the games start to count. Last year he pitched well through the early part of July, owning a 3.09 ERA on Independence Day. After that, he sandwiched a rough spell around the All Star Break, allowing 34 earned runs and 67 hits in 7 starts covering 43 IP. This boosted Blanton’s ERA to 4.10. He then got things back under control for the final 9 outings of the year, pitching quality starts in 6 of them, allowing 4 runs in two others and 5 in his last start of the year. This is the same sort of up and down pattern he has exhibited in his career. Unfortunately the timing of his streaks is not predictable. Overall, Blanton has some value, but from start to start you can’t tell what he is going to do.
Tom Gorzelanny- PIT- Despite a long history of young pitchers blowing out their arms when they have a heavy workload, major league teams keep overusing their prime pitching prospects. Gorzelanny is another one whose usage pattern puts up red flags. He was 24 when last season started, still in the zone where careful usage is indicated. Despite this, the Pirates let him cross the 110 pitch barrier 10 times and he cracked the 120 pitch mark twice. Little immediate effect was seen, but this makes him a high risk for injury this year.
Adam LaRoche- PIT- LaRoche has been a consistently slow starter. His best April batting average was .214. He is one to not panic over if he doesn’t do well out of the gate if you own him and to try and talk his owner out of for a cheap price if someone else has him.
Johan Santana- NYM- You might look at Santana’s home/road splits last year, see his 3.76 ERA in the Metrodome and 2.95 mark on the road and figure he will be getting a big boost from moving to a pitcher’s park like Shea. Actually, the days of the Homerdome are past and the parks are about equal with regards to offense. Both stadiums are below average with respect to their leagues in batting average and homers allowed, with the Metrodome actually having lower marks over the past three seasons. Naturally, a continuation of Santana’s recent performances is something to drool over, but don’t expect any further help from his new location.
Mariano Rivera- NYY- Rivera is 38 years old now. That can’t be overlooked even if he is just going through the same routine as in seasons past. His save total was down last year to the lowest since 2002. Although his K ratio rebounded from 2006, his ERA topped 3.00 for the first time since his rookie season and his hit ratio was up. One of these years, Rivera’s great career will slide into mediocrity.
Scott Podsednik- COL- Podsednik’s primary fantasy value has been in the SB column. Injuries seemed to rob him of that ability. Even if he sticks with Colorado, his worth will likely be low unless he proves that his wheels have recovered.
Jake Westbrook- CLE- After returning from an abdominal strain last year, Westbrook didn’t show any signs of changing his delivery and putting his arm at risk, so the current injury reports are probably nothing serious, as Westbrook and the Indians are saying. Still, it’s always a little disconcerting to see no specifics given and worth following him over the next few days to make sure he is progressing as expected.