Top of the Rotation News: Ubaldo Jimenez - Acquired from Colorado for two of Cleveland's top pitching prospects, Ubaldo Jimenez didn't provide the Indians with the boost they were looking for at the top of their rotation in his 11 starts last season as he posted a 5.10 ERA and 1.45 WHIP. There were concerns that a groin injury led to an altered delivery and lower velocity which made the big right hander much more hittable than in previous seasons. His average fastball dropped from 96 mph to just 93.9 in 2011. The good news for Indians fans is that Jimenez has been working out all off-season in the Dominican and reports are that he's in great shape. Whether this is a case of the typical "best shape of his life" quips or actual progress remains to be seen. From a fantasy perspective, you shouldn't expect Jimenez to post numbers like he did in the first half of 2010 when he went 13-1 with a 1.15 ERA. What you should expect is an ERA in the mid-3.00s, 190+ strikeouts and a WHIP in the low 1.20s. Those may not be the numbers of a fantasy ace but they certainly put Jimenez as a solid No. 2 SP in most leagues.
Sleeper in the Bullpen: Chris Perez/Vinnie Pestano - I'm going to pick up where I left off from last season and state my disdain for Chris Perez as a closer. Don't get me wrong, Chris Perez the person seems like a nice enough guy. But Chris Perez the closer is a risky fantasy option after posting a 5.88 strikeout rate, 3.92 walk rate and 5.01 xFIP in 2011. He's now strung together two seasons where his peripheral stats looked much worse than his actual numbers. If I know this information, it's likely the Tribe's front office also knows this information. I'm also betting the Indians know that Vinnie Pestano posted a 12.19 strikeout rate (!) and 2.80 xFIP last season meaning he was much, much better than Perez. If Perez's luck runs out this season, Pestano will be next in line for closer's duties. And even if he remains in his set-up role, he's worth a spot in most deep leagues thanks to the gaudy strikeout numbers.
El Hombre No More: Lance Berkman - For the first time since 2000, Albert Pujols won't be the everyday first baseman for the Cardinals. While it's impossible to replace Pujols, the Cardinals should be fine with Lance Berkman at first base in 2012. After posting a .781 OPS in his age-34 season in 2010, Berkman bounced back with a fury in 2011 by smacking 31 HRs and tallying a .959 OPS. So what changed? Berkman started hitting more line drives (22% in '11 vs. 16% in '10) while pushing his HR/FB rate (19% in '11) back in line with his career mark of 18%. He should be good for 25-30 HRs again this season but we do have concerns about his RBI and run totals with Pujols out of the lineup.
Discounted Ace?: Adam Wainwright - The Cardinals get their best pitcher from 2010 back this season when Adam Wainwright returns from Tommy John surgery. These types of situations are also interesting for fantasy owners because you never know how others in your league will value someone like Wainwright due to the year off. In 2009 and 2010, Wainwright posted ERAs of 2.63 and 2.42 with over 200 punchouts in both seasons. He was also a workhorse, logging 460 combined innings during that stretch. Pitchers coming of Tommy John surgery usually need to build back their arm strength so it's likely Wainwright will struggle out of the gate, but should eventually round into prime form by early summer. Even with tempered expectations, it's not too much to expect an ERA in the low 3.00s and 180 strikeouts.
Searching for Fantasy Value: Jed Lowrie - You may find this hard to believe, but the Astros don't have many good fantasy options on the roster this season. Yep, it's true. One place where there might be marginal value, and at least some upside, is at shortstop now that former Red Sox Jed Lowrie has been tabbed as the everyday starter. Lowrie has struggled with injuries during his career and in 88 games with Boston in 2011, he hit just .252/.303/.382 with a .129 ISO. When you post numbers that bad, Marco Scutaro takes over your job, which is what happened to Lowrie. He now gets a fresh start albeit in a pitcher's park and with few decent hitters in the lineup. The only reason to consider Lowrie as a bench option is because he did hit well in 2010 with a .240 ISO and .287/.381/.526 slash line in 197 plate appearances. He turns 29 in April so 2012 is probably his best shot at being a productive fantasy shortstop.
Top of the Rotation News: Wandy Rodriguez - In 2011, Wandy Rodriguez posted another solid if unspectacular season by recording a 3.49 ERA, 1.31 WHIP and 166 strikeouts. It marked the third straight season Rodriguez owned a sub-3.60 ERA and sub-1.31 WHIP. One minor concern is that Rodriguez's strikeout rate fell from 8.45 in 2009 to 8.22 in 2010 to 7.82 in 2011, so I'm keeping an eye on whether this trend continues in 2012. What Rodriguez should provide your fantasy rotation is consistency with an ERA in the mid-3.00s, 170 strikeouts and a WHIP around 1.30. With the Astros expected to win around 34 games, Rodriguez is also one of the more likely players to be traded in July.
Eric Hosmer - Eric Hosmer certainly lived up to the hype during his rookie season, posting 19 HRs, stealing 11 bases and hitting .293/.334/.465 in 128 games. And he did all that while struggling to elevate his batted balls, finishing the season with a 1.57 GB/FB mark, including a 50% GB rate. For Hosmer to be a 30-HR player, he needs to improve his fly ball and line drive rates while also figuring out a way to hit lefties much more effectively. He owned a .585 OPS and .066 ISO versus southpaws last year. He should continue his progression this season with 20+ HRs and double digit steals to go along with a BA just under .300.
Curtis Granderson - The question around Curtis Granderson this season is simply: can he do it again? After improving his ISO from .221 to .290 and belting 41 HRs to go along with 136 runs and 119 RBI, Granderson should be one of the first players off the board this year. But the outfielder's 2011 campaign was so much better, in terms of power, than what he had done in the past that it's hard to believe he can replicate another 35-40 HRs in 2012. Granderson's biggest improvement was against southpaws. He had never posted an OPS better than .739 against lefties prior to 2011 when he tallied a .944 mark thanks to a change made in his swing during last year's spring training. Whether he hits 30 or 40 HRs, he should contend for the league lead in runs while also approaching another 100 RBI meaning the risk is there for a regression but it's not significant.
Cameron Maybin - In his first season with the Padres, Cameron Maybin posted decent fantasy numbers with 82 runs and 40 steals. His .264/.323/.393 slash line leaves a bit to be desired, especially when you consider his BABIP was .331. He also continues to show little patience at the plate with a career 7.7% walk rate against a 25% strikeout rate. Maybin turns just 25 this season so the upside of double digit HRs and 45-50 steals is in play but you should expect to deal with a low BA and few RBI. The addition of Carlos Quentin should provide a minor boost to Maybin's value but Petco and a weak lineup certainly don't help the speedy outfielder.
Adam Dunn - Reports out of Chicago have indicated Adam Dunn has trimmed down by a few pounds and has a great attitude heading into camp. He'll need it, because after last season's debacle, Dunn has a lot to prove to the fans on the South Side. Dunn hit just 11 HRs and drove in 42 while posting a .159/.292/.277 slash line. In his previous seven seasons, Dunn hadn't hit fewer than 38 HRs or driven in 92 RBI. Yes, he's 32-years old but it's hard to believe he won't have a rebound to the 20+ HR range with 80+ RBI. He's worth a few bucks or late round pick based on his track record and upside.
Michael Cuddyer - Michael Cuddyer will play in Colorado this season and you don't need me to tell you that moving from Minnesota to Denver will help boost the outfielder's value. That said, I'm not convinced (and neither is our Fantistics projections) that he's going to post significantly better numbers in 2012. Aside from his one monster season in 2009, when he hammered 32 HRs and posted an ISO of .245, Cuddyer has hit between 12 and 24 HRs with a BA in the .270s. Those are solid numbers that you can find from a decent number of other players so don't overpay just because Cuddyer is wearing purple this season.
Jason Bay - The Mets have moved the fences closer to home plate for the 2012 season which will certainly provide a boost to Jason Bay, who is coming off a horrible season where he hit just 12 dingers. Bay's SLG% (.374), BA (.245) and ISO (.129) were all career lows in 2011. He's now recorded 910 plate appearances with New York and has just 18 HRs and 104 RBI to show for it. He should post a slightly better BABIP in 2012 which will move his BA into the .260s and should hit a few more HRs with the closer fences. He's a bench bat, at best, in most league formats.
Jacob Turner - The Tigers' best prospect, Jacob Turner has an outside shot at making the big league club out of spring training as the No. 5 starter. He throws three pitches effectively, a fastball, change-up and curve and tallied a solid 3.48 ERA at AA ball in 17 starts last season. He also posted a 7.13 strikeout rate to go along with a 2.53 walk rate and 0.73 HR rate. Like most any 20-year old, Turner will likely face his fair share of struggles if he manages to make the Tigers' Opening Day roster. He will retain his strong keeper appeal this season but probably won't help those of you in one-year leagues.
Kendrys Morales - Kendrys Morales arrived at spring training this weekend and announced his ankle feels "a lot better" than last spring. I sure hope his ankle feels better after missing all of 2011 and having a second surgery. Morales will sprint on outfield grass later today to test the ankle. If he can stay healthy, Morales will be a nice low-cost bat for the Angels and his fantasy owners. Manager Mike Scioscia has already said he's putting Morales at DH and in the cleanup spot to protect newly acquired Albert Pujols. He's got 30 HR power if he can stay on the field so monitor the ankle situation closely over the coming weeks.
Ryan Vogelsong - The Giants announced on Sunday that Ryan Vogelsong will miss around 10 days of spring training after straning his back doing squats earlier this month. Assuming the strain isn't serious, this shouldn't change Vogelsong's value much, although it's certainly worth monitoring. Last season, Vogelsong posted a 2.71 ERA but his xFIP was 3.85 so expect some decent regression in 2012. He also enjoyed a .280 BABIP and 80% strand rate.
Josh Beckett - With spring training just getting started, there aren't a whole lot of stories to write about for baseball beat writers across the country. That's why you see stories like the one posted Sunday regarding Josh Beckett admitting to "lapses in judgment" last season during the Red Sox collapse. The real story is whether Beckett can replicate his 2011 campaign when he recorded a 2.89 ERA and 8.16 strikeout rate. Beckett's peripheral stats were pretty close to his career marks except that he enjoyed a low BABIP and high strand rate which helped to push his ERA to about .70 of a run below his 3.58 xFIP. Assuming some regression, Beckett's ERA should rise into the mid-3.00s to go along with 160 to 175 strikeouts.
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