1. Alex Gordon - (3B - Royals) - Gordon was held out of the lineup for the second straight day with some hamstring issues. The injury doesn't seem too serious and the Royals are just being careful with their starting third baseman. This will be Gordon's 3rd season in the league, but he has been on fantasy radars for much longer. After a disappointing rookie season in 2007 (.247, 15 HR, 60 RBI), his sophomore season barely made any significant fantasy impact (.260, 16 HR, 59 RBI). One interesting indicator that Gordon might have a breakout in 2009 is his 2nd half batting eye and FPI. We saw his EYE improve and his FPI reached 0.67 after the All-Star break, perhaps foreshadowing a potential sleeper opportunity for fantasy owners. His current ADP is in the 14's and is about the 9th picked 3B overall in vanilla mixed leagues.
2. Manny Ramirez - (OF - Dodgers) - Manny has now missed a week with hamstring tightness, but is expected to return as a DH this week. That's great for spring training, but its obviously impossible for him to DH in the NL if the injury lingers into the sesaon. His overall 2009 numbers were huge - .332, 102 R, 37 HR, 121 RBI but that was driven by a 2nd half performance of .388, 1.209 OPS, and a HR/AB of 11.8. Expect a reversion the mean after that performance, but he still remains a top-10 OF on draft day.
3. Trevor Hoffman - (Closer - Brewers) - Its looking less likely that Trevor Hoffman will be ready for opening day for his new team. The strained right oblique is still giving him fits and he'll need a few bullpens sessions before fully getting into game-shape. The future Hall-of-Famer took a big step backwards last year, only saving 30 games for the Padres after four consecutive seasons of 40+ successfully converted saves. The 41-year-old still deserves a #2 RP status, but his draft-day value continues to drop and has a fair ADP in the mid-teens.
4. Scott Baker - (SP - Twins) - Scott Baker will be the Opening Day starter for the Twins this year (despite obviously not being the club's ace). He's had a rough spring, giving up 16 runs and 8 HR, but I don't place too much weight in those numbers. I'm comforted by what I saw for the entire 2008 season - 1.18 WHIP, 3.45 ERA, and an improved year-over-year K/I from 0.71 to 0.82. With an average draft position of about 14, expect 160+ K and a sub-4.00 ERA again from the Twins' #2.
5. Ricky Nolasco (SP - Marlins) - Nolasco is proving to everybody that his 2008 performance was just a brief glimpse into his potential capabilities. Yesterday, he no-hit the Tigers through 7.0 IP and now has a 0.60 ERA this spring. That's certainly consistent with what he showed us last year, posting a 3.52 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in over 200 IP for the Marlins. In fact, his 2nd-half performance was quietly one of the best fantasy pitching performances in the entire league with a 3.29 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, and a K/9 of 9.22. This guy will be on multiple sleeper lists heading into the draft, so don't be surprised that the no-hitter news makes him blip on people's radars. ADP of about 11 as of today, but slowly climbing.
6. BJ Upton (OF - Rays) - Upton was hit in the hand by a pitch on Saturday and it looks serious enough to keep him out of opening day action on April 6th. The Rays are just being extra careful with the 24-year-old, who was already slowed down from off-season left shoulder surgery. We have Upton in the top-15 for outfielders, but probably should drop a few notches with more injury uncertainty. If he can remain healthy for an entire season, he can easily reach 20 HR / 40 SB.
7. JD Drew (OF - Red Sox) - Sticking with the injury theme in this week's preseason outlook, who better to analyze than JD Drew? Drew's entire career has been mired in multiple injury woes and this pre-season has been no different. After suffering a lower back injury a few weeks ago, Drew was hit on the hand over the weekend. The hand injury is probably just a bruise and will keep him out of spring training action for a few days. But with back issues already flaring up this early in the season, I'm sure I'll be writing about Drew's "day-to-day" status more than once this season. He's a late-round OF pick (~19th round in 5x5 mixed leagues), but even then will probably demand constant attention and tinkering based on historical playing time.
8. Aaron Rowand (OF - Giants) - Rowand's magical 2007 season is mere history. We will likely never see a repeat of that career-year from him and this year is no exception. That year, playing in hitter-friendly Citizens Bank, Rowand knocked 27 dingers, .309 average, scored 105 runs, and drove in 89 RBI. In his first season with the Giants (with a ballpark factor of just 95), Rowand hit just 13 HR, scored 57, hit .271 and drove in 70 RBI in 60 less AB. That's quite the drop-off (or return to normalcy) and we forecast a similar season from him entering 2009. He's a #4 outfielder in mixed leagues and may even go undrafted with a trending ADP in the mid-20's.
9. Jonathan Sanchez (SP - Giants) - After pitching in the WBC, Sanchez is up to 75 pitches in his pre-season preparation and looks to be gaining control of his stuff. If that's the case, he could have a big breakout season to match his high (and ultra-valuable) K-rate. Last season, Sanchez posted a K/9 of 8.94, almost a strikeout per inning, but coupled it with a BB/9 of 4.3. The scouting report has always pinpointed Sanchez as a possible impact pitcher if he can get control of his stuff. With a 22 ADP and the potential to flirt with 200 K's, he's a calculated risk worth taking.
10. Andrew Either - (OF - Dodgers) - Andre Ethier is having some serious struggles this spring training, hitting below the Mendoza line this spring. With that said, we still forecast him to greatly benefit from the Manny Ramirez lineup effect and hit over .300, knock about 25 HR, and drive-in 85+ RBI for the Dodgers this year. This prediction is right in-line with his actual performance in 2008 and conservatively discounts his upside with a full-year of Manny hitting around him.
Milwaukee Brewers Clubhouse Updates
As mentioned earlier, closer Trevor Hoffman will not be ready for opening day due to a strained right oblique. Jorge Julio and Todd Coffey, who both have previous closer experience, can fill-in the 9th inning role in the short-term. Jason Kendall already has two dingers this spring training (equaling his 2008 total in 516 AB), but don't expect any sort of offensive breakout from the aging catcher. He'll likely lose AB as the season progresses to the 21-year-old Angel Salome.
New York Yankees Clubhouse Updates
The Yankees acquired catcher Chris Stewart from the White Sox to add a little catcher insurance to the organization. With Jorge Posada and Jose Molina the steady #1 and #2 catchers at the big-league level, Stewart will join the ranks of Kevin Cash and Francisco Cervelli of Yankee farm system catchers. With little power and modest offensive production, no reason to consider him on any level. Phil Hughes was among seven other players sent to the minors to begin the 2009 season. GM Brian Cashman applauded Hughes' fine spring and wants to make sure he gets his work-in as a starter. There are no plans to make Hughes a middle-relief guy, so the move makes sense in the short-term. With more than a few SP's in the Yankee rotation with historical injury woes, Hughes should see plenty of action on the big-league level this year.