New York Mets
Being Shown the Door? Part One...Things are heating up in Mets camp as manager Terry Collins plans on making the first cuts and trim the roster by March 14th. One decision that Mets have already made is that the combustible Oliver Perez won’t be imploding on the Mets mound this year…at least not as a starter. Whether he remains with the team at all remains to be seen but it seems that the Mets might be close to washing their hands of Perez. Fantasy impact? Well, none as far as Perez goes because was there really anyone out there that was going to waste a draft pick on Ollie? Unless you are in one of those leagues where you try to assemble the worst team in which case you might be dealt a serious blow with your plans for league ineptitude. I just need to take a moment a relish in the numbers Perez posted the past two years and just how bad they are. A 3-9 record, 112 IP, 100 BB, 99K, 1.99 WHIP and a 6.81 ERA. To think that this guy is getting paid $12 MM a year. So with the team passing on Perez for the starting rotation, free-agent signee Chris Young has been making a strong case that he is healthy and ready to claim a rotation spot. In five spring training innings, Young has not allowed an earned run and is having more “life” on his pitches than he has had at any time in recent history. Career-wise, Young has a H/9 of 7.4 which is better than the lifetime numbers put together by such pitchers as Felix Hernandez, Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Johan Santana, Chris Carpenter, Josh Johnson, Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke and Adam Wainwright. Young’s career fly ball percentage (53%) is concerning but of those fly balls 15.3% have been of the infield variety and CitiField will be able to keep many fly balls from leaving the park. Monitor Young’s progress through the rest of spring. If he continues to look sharp, he could make the rotation and be a sleeper surprise that you could grab in late rounds.
Being shown the Door? Part Two…The other Met that may be close to being shown the door is second baseman Luis Castillo. An extended and over generous contract has burdened the Mets with the inability to move Castillo and he has been a thorn in the Mets side ever since. It appears that the Mets may be willing to yank out that thorn and be done with Castillo one and for all. In spring training, Castillo has just two hits in ten at-bats and the Mets were hoping to see more production than that with his job on the line. Daniel Murphy remains in the mix for the second base job and could be a boost and a usable piece offensively at a thin position. Brad Easmus still has a good chance to make the club as his Rule 5 status would mean that he has to stay with the team for the full year or be sent back to Toronto. But the dark horse that has emerged for the second base job is Justin Turner. Turner started off spring trainging slowly going 0-for-9 but now has gone 3-5 and hitting a nice stride. Last season in the Triple-A, Turner batted .316 and had an OPS of .862 in 101 games. He bears watching although he is probably a long shot but even a so-so infielder is better than Castillo at this point.
Los Angeles Angels
The Versatile Mr. Izturis…We all know how Angel manager Mike Scioscia loves to have a lot of players that can play multiple positions. He loves having a lot of moving parts. Perhaps the one player who will be Scioscia’s equivalent of a plug-in adapter will be Maicer Izturis. Izturis will see time at all of the infield positions with the exception of first base (and who knows…Scioscia will probably play him there as well). Izturis’ versatility does have its advantages as owners who draft him will be able to use him to gain lineup flexibility. Last season Izturis missed six weeks of the season with a cranky shoulder, but did you really miss him all that much? His batting average took a 50 point dive last year from 2009 and batted just .250 with an OBP .321. If he is capable of batting closer to 2009 than last season ho-hum numbers, Izturis will find more playing time and he might be a draftable commodity. I stress the word “might”. In any case, Scioscia will probably find ways of fitting Izturis into the lineup much to the ire of fantasy owners because he loves those useless interchangeable infielders.
Defense versus Offense…I guess I’m in a pick-on-Mike-Scioscia-mood, so Angel fans forgive me as I take more digs at the manager for caring more about his baseball team and not being more fantasy baseball oriented. Imagine that! With Mike Napoli now playing for the division rival Rangers by way of Toronto, the Angels are now looking at the defensive-minded Jeff Mathis and rookie Hank Conger to take over the backstop duties. Being a former catcher himself, Scioscia has a deep appreciation for Mathis’ skills behind the plate, but in case Scioscia is not paying attention to the stat sheet, the Angels scored 202 less runs last year. Angels will no doubt split time between Mathis and Conger and hopefully the latter will get the bulk of the playing time. Mathis’ line was pretty sad at .195/.219/.278. He is forgettable from a fantasy standpoint. Conger on the other hand doesn’t have the offensive prowess of Napoli but he should be able to hold his own with a bat and a glove. In triple-A last year, Conger managed a .300 average in 387 at-bats and showed good plate disciple with an EYE of 0.95 and a .385 OBP. Those numbers probably won’t translate to the major-league level but Conger could muster a .270 batting average and a reasonable OBP. At 23, his better years are ahead of him, but if you need a last minute catcher in the late rounds, you could do worse than Conger.
Coco Crisp-ed…Exciting week for the Oakland A’s…and not in a good way. Centerfielder Coco Crisp was arrested this week on a DUI. Whether these off-field problems will have any ramifications on the field remains to be seen. But Crisp said he was embarrassed and of course apologized for this mishap. Having injected a little boost of offense during the off-season, the A’s will be relying heavily on Crisp to be a catalyst at the top of the order. Staying healthy last year was a major issue for Crisp, but when he was on the field he was as hot as can be at times. He finished off 2010 on an upswing that owners will hope will carry over to this season. The last 16 games of the season saw Crisp hit .310 and swipe ten bases out of eleven tries. He also reached base at a solid clip with a .385 OBP. Overall, crisp hit .279 on the year with a stellar 32 steals with just 290 at-bats. Stretched out over the course of a full-season, Crisp has a 60+ stolen base potential. Crisp is a solid grab as long as he stays healthy and now, keeps out of trouble.
Don’t Forget Carter…It looks as pre-season draws along for the Oakland A’s, Chris Carter may be the forgotten guy or the guy left without a chair when the music stops. Carter may be squeezed out of a position and a spot on the opening day team, but he remains a solid talent that owners should maintain a watch on. Carter slugged 31 home runs in the minors but only managed a .258 batting average that leaves something to be desired as well as his ability to make contact as he struck out 138 times. His major-league debut left much to be desired. He went 0-33 to start off with but seemed to be finding his way the last 13 games where he batted .342 with three home runs. Carter may not break camp with the team but a mid-season call-up is not out of the question. He will be a liability with strikeouts and average but his power is hard to ignore even at the Coliseum.
Laffey Joins the Staff…It’s not exactly like Tim Lincecum is joining the staff…or even Colby Lewis, but Aaron Laffey’s signing at least provides the Mariners with some rotation insurance with a staff that is anything but a sure-thing once you get past King Felix. Laffey probably doesn’t fit into your draft day plans and I’m not about to try to convince you otherwise. Last season with Cleveland, he worked primarily in relief and did produce a FIP of 3.92 that was lower than his ERA of 4.53. He had an outstanding HR/9 of 0.16 and has been traditionally stingy giving up long balls with a career HR/9 of 0.62. He will only have a remote chance to make the starting rotation and he seems a better fit for the bullpen. But Jason Vargas and Doug Fister, both of whom had career years, will probably see some degradation and the Mariners may turn to Laffey if the other two falter badly.
Catching Woes…One of the off-season signings that the Mariners made was securing backstop Miguel Olivo. However, Olivo suffered a groin injury this past weekend that could sideline the newly acquired free agent for several weeks. Groin injuries can be pesky and can reoccur if they are not given time to heal. Last season, Olivo has a .346 BHIP that is far greater than his career norm so fantasy owners had to expect some regression. P¬¬¬¬¬lus his .283 career OBP probably isn’t inspiring fantasy owners that Olivo is the key to a championship season. While Olivo is on the mend, back-up catchers Adam Moore or Josh Bard will man most of the duties behind the plate. However, Moore’s .195 batting average in 205 at-bats last year is forgettable and Bard’s .214 average in 112 at-bats isn’t much better. The Mariners are already in a jam to find offense and it’s not looking much better. The team may need to take the plunge and have Dustin Ackley break spring training with the team as they will need to find run production from somewhere.
Ben Francisco(OF—Phillies) Dominic Brown who is projected as one of the top ROY candidates hit a major snag on his road to that honor as he fractured his hand this weekend and will be out anywhere from 3-6 weeks. This setback will obviously have fantasy owners re-working their draft day plans. It looks that Ben Francisco has now become the inside favorite to handle left field duties after Jayson Werth’s departure. Francisco has been having an impressive spring with a .421 BA, 2 home runs in 19 at-bats as of Sunday. Normally, Francisco would be an afterthought on draft day but this newly develop situation may put Francisco in the crosshairs for N.L. leagues especially. Francisco has shown some decent pop in his bat in the past hitting 15 home runs in ’08 and ’09. He has decent speed and can swipe a bag here and there to help your fantasy cause. With a career EYE of 0.43, he probably won’t hit high for average so this spring training is not consistent with what owners should expect, but given that he will probably be in the Phillies starting day lineup, he becomes a decent option especially in that potent lineup.
Marco Scutaro (SS—Red Sox) Given that the Red Sox lineup was plagued with injuries last year, the mere fact that Marco Scutaro was able to avoid the DL and stay in the lineup every day, added to his fantasy value. It was probably unrealistic that Scutaro would have been able to match his ’09 offensive output, but he still managed a decent slash line of .275/.333/.385 which conforms very nicely with his career norms and what you would be able to expect going forward. Problem is that Jed Lowrie is also a contending option at shortstop for the Red Sox and Scutaro may lose some playing time going forward. Scutaro has an affordable contract that would be attractive to many ball clubs that might be looking for a shortstop, so you can count on the Red Sox listening to any offers that might come their way with Lowrie in the fold. A move to another team could help Scutaro’s value, but for now, it appears he might be spending more time on the bench than in the recent past.
Tyler Flowers (C—White Sox) Tyler Flowers may be at a crossroads where his playing career is concerned. Once a highly touted catching prospect, much of the shine has worn off of him as he has failed to make significant strides to take the position away from Ozzie favorite A.J. Pierzynski. This spring Flowers has only seen four at-bats and did manage a double in one of those plate appearances. But in Triple-A last year, Flowers was able to hit just .220 and struck out a ton (121) in 346 at-bats. His power is unquestionable with 20+ home run potential, but he needs to show that he is ready to take over the catching job and at this point, he just doesn’t seem ready. If he makes the opening day roster, he will be fortunate since Ramon Castro will probably be the backup catcher. Flowers looks to be heading back to the minors to try to prove himself. May be time to cut ties with Flowers for those who have been holding onto him in keeper leagues as there are probably better prospects out there at this time that are ahead of Flowers.
Tyler Colvin (OF—Cubs) Tyler Colvin had a breakout year in 2010 in which he belted 20 home runs in 395 at-bats. His versatility to play all the outfield positions will serve him well with getting at-bats. And let’s be honest, can we start the countdown on when Alfonso Soriano gets injured or Kosuke Fukudome gets traded? In that case, Colvin would be a sweet grab and a solid #3 or #4 outfield choice. In fact, Colvin has been getting some time at first base to spell Carlos Pena on days when he needs rest. Colvin still strikes out too much for my taste (28%) and this will take a hit on his batting average. But with some work on his plate discipline and a bump in his contract rate (72.1%), we could see a decent average that would help Colvin’s value. Despite the log jam in the outfield, the Cubs will find ways to get Colvin in the game.
Jeremy Guthrie (SP—Orioles) With all the talk about Brian Matusz, people might be overlooking Jeremy Guthrie. Guthrie went about his business last season and put together a solid season. His 11-14 record was unimpressive but he pitched 200+ innings and had a good ERA of 3.83. Problem with Guthrie from a fantasy standpoint is that he doesn’t strike out the world (K/9 –5.1) but with a 1.16 WHIP indicates that he has been able to limit base runners with a reasonable GB% of 43.4% and a low LD% at 14% last year. But a lower than average BHIP (.254) and a 4.44 FIP could find Guthrie with slightly less attractive numbers in 2011. However, the boost to the Orioles offense could put Guthrie in a better position for wins. A decent option in late rounds of the draft.
Adam Jones (OF—Orioles) I think that fantasy owners were probably hoping for a little more output from Adam Jones in 2010. He did hit 19 home runs last year but he also hit 19 home runs in ’09 with more than a hundred less plate appearances. With only seven stolen base last season, we aren’t seeing much in the speed department either. With an EYE of just 0.19, it’s a wonder he was able to bat .284 on the year. However, Jones is still only 25 years old and could benefit from the extra bats in the lineup that should provide additional offensive support. Don’t reach for Jones to high but you can keep your fingers crossed that perhaps 2011 will bring some of the potential we’ve been looking for in Jones.
Derek Lowe(SP—Braves) Derek Lowe had one of the more quiet 16 game win seasons last year. Owners may have been a little skittish on Lowe after his first year with the Braves in ’09. But that season Lowe had an unusually high BHIP at .327. Last season his BHIP regressed down closer to his career norm (.293) to .307. Still a little high for Lowe, but much closer to where he should be at. Even Lowe’s FIP (3.89) was better than last year’s ERA at 4.00 and his K/9 was better at 6.32 than ’09. This spring, Lowe has gone five scoreless innings and looks sharp. Lowe is a solid choice for a #3 or #4 starter given that he should benefit from a strong Atlanta offense where a 15 win year is not out of the question.
Mike Moustakas (3B—Royals) For those who are in keeper leagues, the name Mike Moustakas has a familiar ring to it. For those not acquainted with him, you might want to give him some thought. He struggled at A+ ball in 2009 hitting just .250 but did have 16 knocks. In 2010, Moustakas split time between AA and AAA where combined between the two he smacked 36 home runs with a .322 average, 124 RBI and a .999 OPS. The Royals will be giving him a very long look this spring but chances are he won’t be with the team opening day no matter how well he does. Moustakas is a candidate for a Super Two status and financially speaking, it would be wise for the fiscally-responsible Royals to tuck Moustakas away until mid-season. Keep an eye on his progress because he has a chance to be a rookie worth owning.
Nyjer Morgan (OF—Nationals) Ugly, ugly season for Nyjer Morgan in 2010. He hit only .253 with a .319 OBP. He did steal 34 bases which was the only useful fantasy stat last year but was only successful 66% of the time. The net point value for fantasy owners in point leagues probably didn’t add up to much. Oh and by the way…he had temper tantrums, threw baseballs at fans and was suspended for his involvement in a bench-clearing brawl. With an OPS of just .633, Morgan will be given a little latitude since the Nationals don’t have any better options but his leash will be short and you should probably think about other options that don’t include Morgan even though the steals may be enticing.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia (C—Red Sox) The current news from Red Sox camp is that Jarrod Saltalamacchia (hear by referred to as Salty) will be behind the plate opening day. Salty has had spotty major-league success but did show some progress last year in Triple-A for the Sox where he batted .278. If Boston can get similar production out of him, they will be happy, but this remains to be seen. The team still has Jason Varitek on staff and Luis Exposito but these are not scintillating options. Being a club with a big payroll does preclude the Sox from making a deal for a catcher. Fantasy owners need to approach Salty with caution. Just because he plays for the Red Sox, we may have a tendency to overinflate his value. Don’t be fooled. Salty is a low-end option.
Also you can follow Richard all season long on Twitter @rsgross