NL Quick Pitch: Roy Halladay continued his dominance of the National League, twirling 7 shutout innings against the Mets. While he’s been dominant in his first two outings, he’s also been less efficient with his pitches. It’s not a big concern but something to keep an eye on after logging 270+ innings last year. The Phillies offense continued their hot-start to the season led by unexpected contributions from Ben Francisco and Wilson Valdez. Both will see their pace slow, but Francisco is the better bet of the two to keep it going. Shaun Marcum show signs of rounding into form on Thursday, while Tommy Hanson continued to struggle. Both are battling command issues early on after missing some time late in spring with injuries. Both ultimately should be fine, though a big breakout from Hanson in the strikeout department may be on hold. Esmil Rogers turned his strong peripherals into strong performance in the first start of the season. If he can figure out a way to limit line drives, he's got tremendous sleeper potential. An immediate add in NL Only formats, he merits some watching for deep mixed leaguers. John Axford and Sean Burnett both locked down saves yesterday, of the two Burnett is the one flashing elite skills early on. Josh Johnson was dominant once again. As long as he’s healthy (big question mark for me), he’s an ace. Zack Greinke and Jason Bay took strides towards getting back on the field. Greinke threw his first bullpen session and is still a ways away from returning while Bay took swings off a tee and could be back sometime next week. Domonic Brown began some hitting drills in Clearwater. I wouldn’t expect to see him until Mid May and his arrival will depend on how the Phillies offense is plugging along. Mike Stanton is expected to return to the starting lineup tonight. He’s had a few pinch hit appearances as he’s battling lingering quad/hamstring issues. Uber prospect Bryce Harper started his career off going 2-4 at Single A. While immensely talented, Harper isn’t likely to see big league action in 2011 unless brought on as a September callup.
Sean Burnett (RP - WAS): Burnett locked down his 2nd save of the season in his fourth scoreless appearance. He allowed a single and struck out a batter in an uneventful inning. Uneventful innings have kind of been Burnett’s thing early on in the season. He’s allowed just 3 base-runners in 4 innings of work and has yet to walk a batter. Most think Burnett is just holding the role until Drew Storen (closer of the future) rights the ship, but I’m wondering if Burnett’s skills have taken such a big step forward that he doesn’t relinquish the role. Last year Burnett made huge strides as his K Rate jumped up to 8.8 K/9 and his BB Rate improved to just 2.8 BB/9, while showing continued improvement in his GB Rate (up to 54%). Those are pretty elite closer skills and while Burnett’s career has been mired in mediocrity he was once a top prospect (former 1st rd pick of the Pirates). Perhaps at age 27, Burnett finally put it all together last season? The early indications this year are those improvements in K Rate and command are carrying over as he’s struck out 3 and walked 0 in his first four innings, while continuing to get ground outs. I believe in the improvements and I believe Burnett holds the role a lot longer than most anticipate.
Esmil Rogers (SP - COL): Since I had coverage responsibilities for the Rockies this spring one of the position battles that I covered involved Esmil Rogers and Felipe Paulino for the 5th starter’s spot. Rogers ended up winnig the job handily and as I covered Rogers I kept noting the great peripherals he had posted at the major league level. It’s uncommon to find a guy with a K Rate over 8, BB Rate under 3.5, and GB Rate over 50% that struggles so mightily, but Rogers was that guy, and really always has been that guy (even in the minors). The problem appears to be command in the zone as he’s always allowed elevated LD Rates. The intriguing combination makes Rogers a bit of a high risk/high reward option. If the trouble in the zone persists, he’ll continue the below average performance he’s had throughout his major and minor league career. But with a little improvement at limiting LD’s, a big jump in production could come. On Thursday we got a taste of what could be as Rogers manhandled the Pirates over 7 1/3 innings. He allowed just 1 ER on 4 hits and a BB. He struck out 7 and retired another 7 batters via ground out. At one point he retired 18 batters in a row, getting into the sort of groove that makes you wonder where this stuff has been all along. As I mentioned a lot this preseason, Rogers is likely only going to be an option in NL Only formats but the upside was worth taking a shot on. A great outing doesn’t mean he’s turned the corner and it will be all roses from here, but there are few guys you’ll be able to take a chance on in deep leagues with better peripherals. I’m not sure Rogers has figured out how to limit the line drives, but in NL Only formats he’s earned a start for me next week in New York.
Nate McLouth (OF - ATL): McLouth put together a huge spring hitting .290/.400/.419 showing improved plate discipline and contact rates, striking out just 3 times in 62 AB’s. After a season in which McLouth’s K Rate jumped and his overall production fell off a cliff, there was hope that the big spring was an indication the 29 year old was putting things together again. Unfortunately that hasn’t been the case as McLouth has slumped to a .217/.280/.261 start that resembles 2010’s disaster. He’s already struck out 5 times in 23 AB’s while picking up just 1 BB and 1 extra base hit. I’m giving McLouth a little more time on some of the rosters I own him, but I’m legitimately concerned. Typically when a player in their prime years falls so steeply there’s a bounce-back the next year close to the more typical career arc. The big spring made me believe that was the case with McLouth who I drafted often as a late round sleeper, but the early start has me reconsidering. I’m giving it two more weeks, but with the production mirroring the horrific 2010 he’s now on a short leash.
Casey McGehee (3B - MIL): McGehee’s had a slow start to the season hitting .222/.241/.259 through the season’s first 7 games. He’s generated just 1 extra base hit and posted an ugly 1:6 BB:K Ratio in 27 AB’s. Although McGehee has been quite good the last two years while racking up 39 HR’s,170 RBI’s, and an .823 OPS, there are some reasons for concern. McGehee didn’t put up anything close to that level of performance in the minors, posting a .741 OPS in over 2500 minor league AB’s. Last year we saw some signs of his power declining as the ISO dropped to .179 and his LD Rate dropped to 17%. He swung at a lot more pitches outside the zone and made weaker contact overall. The common thought process regarding McGehee is that 2010 affirmed his breakout 2009, but with the indicators slipping in 2010 I’m wondering if its not evidence that McGehee’s ripe for turning into a pumpkin. He’s assured playing time and hitting behind Braun and Fielder in the lineup will provide plenty of opportunities for production that could cushion the blow. But as a McGehee owner I’m a little nervous that the slip in peripherals in 2010 was an indication we’re heading closer to the minor league track record than the 2009 breakout. The power will be the big indicator to keep an eye on as McGehee never slugged above .429 in a minor league season before posting .499 and .464 slugging %’s the last two seasons.
Tommy Hanson (SP - ATL): I had huge expectations for Tommy Hanson coming into the season, declaring on twitter that he was a Top 10 starter in my rankings. Through two starts those lofty expectations look unfounded as Hanson has scuffled to a 6.00 ERA and 1.67 WHIP, while completing just 9 innings. Command has been an issue for Hanson and it hasn’t particularly popped up in the walk totals (3 in 9 IP), but has impacted his ability to punch batters out (just 3 so far). One of the big reasons I believed Hanson could ascend to a Top 10 SP this season was an expectation of an increased K Rate. Hanson struck out over 10.5 batters/9 in the minor leagues but saw his strike out rate dip to 7.7 K/9 at the major league level last season. The K Rate dropped but some of the indicators improved as Hanson got batters to chase more (up to 29%). As a result, I expected the K Rate to take a few steps forward. The early results certainly aren’t inspiring, not only because Hanson’s command has been off but because his raw stuff (without command) isn’t enough to generate swings and misses. I do expect the K Rate will approach 8 again, but it appears his raw stuff isn’t big enough to overwhelm hitters when the command isn’t there. Overall Hanson will be just fine, but he may end up being more of a #2 fantasy SP than an ace. I still have hope for more, but would expect more swings and misses out of Hanson’s raw stuff without the need for elite command, and right now we’re not seeing that.
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