Nelson Cruz- TEX- Cruz is hitting .358 in the Cactus League with 5 homers and 18 RBI. This indicates that his power explosion of last season, when he hit 33 homers, should keep going, and is reflected in his projected 37 homers for this season. Cruz took a major hit on his batting average, but that was mainly due to luck, with an abysmal .225 BHIPx. He is very unlikely to hit the .330 mark that he posted in limited major league action in 2008 (in which he also had a lot of help from a .300 BHIPx). However, the .280 average he is projected to have will give him solid fantasy value, especially in a Texas lineup that will make 100 RBI a possibility.
Neftali Feliz- TEX- Feliz struck out the side to pick up a save in the Rangers win against Colorado yesterday. He hit 100 mph or better on 8 pitches. Feliz is scheduled to make an appearance in a minor league game today, giving him consecutive days’ work. He will definitely start the season in a setup role in the Texas bullpen, but his stuff will push him into a more valuable role, either as a closer or a starter by the end of the season.
Ricky Nolasco- FLA- I went to the Marlins game on Sunday specifically to get a look at Nolasco. He definitely didn’t disappoint. Nolasco allowed only one hit and a walk over 7.1 IP, retiring the first 16 batters he faced. He had some difficulty early spotting his off speed pitches, but his fastball was deadly accurate and his control of his other pitches improved as the outing went along. Although Nolasco only struck out 2, hitters had a very hard time catching up with his fastball. The vast majority of foul balls were to the opposite field and there weren’t any really hard hit balls at all. Nolasco threw 95 pitches, a healthy amount at this point of spring training. He only hit the 110 pitch or higher mark 4 times last season, so he is at low risk of injury from overwork.
Jorge Cantu- FLA- Sunday’s game vividly illustrated the situation Cantu finds himself in. Gaby Sanchez hit a homer, which shows why Cantu was moved to 3rd base. Cantu went 1 for-3 with a run, double and walk, which shows why the Marlins want to keep his bat in the lineup. Watching Cantu in the field, however, shows why he may end up elsewhere before the season ends. He is still visibly uncomfortable at the hot corner, even though it is the position he has played more than any other in the majors. He has trouble corralling balls hit to him, bobbling them and fighting them, although he didn’t commit an error. With a career .326 fielding percentage at 3B, that was almost a surprise. Cantu almost caused a collision with left fielder Chris Coghlan when both were chasing after a foul ball behind 3rd base. Fielding doesn’t directly affect fantasy value, but it can have an impact on where a player ends up both in terms of position and team.
Adam Jones- BAL- Jones hit his 5th homer of the spring yesterday. The 24-year-old developed power last year, slugging 19 homers in 473 ABs after hitting 9 in 477 ABs in 2008. This upward trend should continue and Jones should be getting close to having his homers and age be the same by the time he turns 25 in August. Jones also made strides in reducing his strikeouts while increasing his walk rate. While a Batting EYE of .39 is nothing to get ecstatic about, it is far higher than his .21 mark of 2008. Jones is an improving player and it’s nice to have one of those, especially in a keeper league.
Jason Berken- BAL- Berken threw 4 scoreless innings in his last Grapefruit League appearance and may end up with a spot in the Baltimore bullpen. Koji Uehara is going to start the season on the DL and that leaves an open spot in relief. Berken would likely have little fantasy value, because he will be in a long relief role. However, it would keep him nearby in case the Orioles needed a spot starter. Berken showed some talent at AA in 2008, with a 3.58 ERA and 7.72 K/9 for Bowie but he crashed and burned when promoted to Baltimore last season. Berken’s 6.54 ERA was impacted greatly by a huge BHIP of .336. Given a role with less pressure, Berken could be a sleeper if the right set of circumstances falls into place.
Joakim Soria- KC- Soria got rocked yesterday, allowing all 5 batters he faced to reach base. This means nothing as far as his regular season performance will be concerned. Last year, Soria had a very unlucky .295 BHIP. However, he mitigated this propensity for batted balls to fall in by not allowing that many batted balls. With a rate of 11.72 K/9, he didn’t leave a lot to luck. If he were on a better team and able to rack up more saves, Soria would be even more valuable. As it is, he is an elite closer.
Roy Oswalt- HOU- Yes, Oswalt will make his Opening Day start, but the news that his bulging disk was what caused discomfort in his hamstring and glut puts some big red flags out there. This lower back issue could plague Oswalt from now until the end of his career. How much pain can he take? How often can injections like the one he had yesterday mitigate it? Will he end up altering his motion and cause himself arm, elbow or shoulder trouble? Oswalt needs to be watched closely and counting on him from here on out will carry significant risk.
NY Yankees- NYY- It’s not quite Eddie Gaedel, but the Yankees will be showcasing a novelty in their afternoon game today. “Switch pitcher” Pat Venditte will take the mound after C. C. Sabathia has hit his 75-pitch limit, at the specific request of manager Joe Girardi. Venditte has a special 6-finger glove that lets him switch throwing arms with ease. With 11.62 K/9 and 1.47 BB/9 ratios for Class A and High A farm clubs last season, Venditte has a legitimate track record, but it is still quite a ways from being a curiosity to being a major leaqgue reliever. Enjoy the show this afternoon, but Venditte doesn’t need to be on your radar yet.
John Danks- CHA- Although not horrible, Danks’ 2009 performance was a step back from what he did in 2008. Usage may have been a factor there. Danks doesn’t turn 25 until next month, so is still in his formative years. In 2008 he crossed the 110-pitch threshold only once in 34 starts. In contrast, last season he threw at least 110 pitches 5 times in 32 starts. Danks also enjoyed far more favorable luck, with a .265 BHIP as compared to .291 in 2008. Keep an eye on Danks’ usage patterns. If he gets worked hard, his performance may suffer.
Joel Pineiro- LAA- In yesterday’s start, Pineiro got 13 of his 20 outs via grounders. That is picking up where he left off from 2009, when he had a GB% of 60.5, after having a fairly steady range of mid to upper 40s in each of his previous seasons. Increased ground balls will mean more dependence on his fielders and luck. Last year, Pineiro had his lowest BHIP (.287) in years. If you look at Pineiro’s Fantistical Player Charts you will notice a very strong correlation between his ERA and BHIP. If you are feeling lucky this year, then Pineiro could be the guy for you. If not, then maybe you’ll look more closely at his seasons before 2009 and stay away.
Boof Bonser- BOS- Bonser threw 42 of his 56 pitches for strikes in yesterday’s simulated game. That is enough to start putting him on the path of “players that make you go ‘hmmmm’”. Once a solid prospect in the Twins’ system, Bonser is now with Boston after suffering bad luck and injuries. He never posted a K/9 below 7.08 in the majors, so there is some talent there. If he has recovered from his surgery, he is definitely sleeper material.
Yovani Gallardo- MIL- Gallardo has been officially named as the Brewers’ Opening Day starter. Not a bad choice. His 13-12 record, 3.73 ERA and 204 Ks in 185.2 IP are pretty solid. They are some danger signs, though. The Brewers pushed Gallardo hard at times, as he threw 110 or more pitches 12 times in 2009 at the tender age of 23. He was coming off an injury that saw most of his 2008 wiped out. It wasn’t an arm or shoulder injury, though, so that year of rest may mitigate some of the risk. I wouldn’t count on it and if you see Gallardo throwing in the neighborhood of 115+ pitches, think about moving him.
Mark Teixeira- NYY- Teixeira suffered a bruised arm after being hit by a pitch yesterday. He will be resting some this week but is still expected to be ready by Opening Day. Maybe this incident will make Opening Day stand out more in Teixeira’s mind. He often seems to forget that the games have started counting for real, getting off to a slow start. Last season, his batting average was an even .200 on April 30th. Just remember this trend if some other owner volunteers to take Teixeira off your hands early.
Cliff Lee- SEA- Lee had a very worrisome workload last year. In getting to 231.2 IP, he threw 110 or more pitches 20 times. In 2008, Lee racked up 223.1 IP, but only hit the 110 pitch mark 9 times. He is starting out this season with an injury that isn’t to his arm. Starting out on the DL may actually not be a bad thing long term. Still, be very aware of his usage patterns when he does pitch. Lee is at high risk.
Michael Young- TEX- Sometime this season, Young should become the Rangers’ career hits leader. He only needs 87 to pass Pudge Rodriguez in that department. At a normal pace, it’ll happen before the All Star Break. Young should be challenging the .300 mark in average again. The only time he hasn’t hit that in the last 7 years was 2008 when he had what, for him, was inordinately bad luck reflected in a .274 BHIPx. Young’s Batting EYE has been increasing over the past 2 years after hitting a low of .44 in 2007. Young’s game seems to enable him to put off the ravages of age and maintain at a high level.