Posted on: March 13, 2009 2:54 am

Hermida and Davies impressing

I'm officially back on board with Jeremy Hermida as a late-round sleeper. He hit his third home run of the spring Thursday and is batting .391. Most impressively to me, though, he has five walks to only three strikeouts. It's a small sample size, yes, but he demonstrated that kind of patience just about every year in the minors and hasn't even come close to it yet in the majors. I at least have an inkling something has changed with him, and in the late rounds, an inkling is all you need.

Also in the Marlins game, Ricky Nolasco struck out four batters in four innings and issued just his first walk of the spring. That combination of control and strikeout ability has me totally in his corner. Actually, I like both of last year's out-of-nowhere aces, Nolasco and Ryan Dempster. Totally legit, I say.

Nobody can touch Kyle Davies. He allowed only one hit in four innings and now has a 0.71 ERA this spring. That little achievement might not impress you on its own, but when you combine it with his 2.27 ERA last September, you get the feeling something finally clicked with this overdue ex-prospect. I already wanted him in AL-only leagues. Now, I could see myself scooping him up late in mixed leagues.

Never have three home runs meant less for Fantasy than Craig Monroe's did Thursday.

Carlos Gomez homered for the third time this spring. He's hitting .318, and I can't help but wonder if the Twins can honestly afford to keep him out of their lineup. So who moves out? Michael Cuddyer? Delmon Young? I still say not Denard Span, but I don't feel as confident as I did this time last week.

Even though the World Baseball Classic delayed his spring training, Mark Teahen got the start at second base Thursday. The dream is still alive and worth following as long as your league doesn't significantly penalize strikeouts.

Category: MLB
Posted on: March 11, 2009 2:41 am

Zimmermann and closer considerations

Top pitching prospect Jordan Zimmermann continues to dominate for the Nationals, extending his scoreless streak to 8 1/3 innings Tuesday. With as little pitching as the Nationals have in the majors, I have no idea why they would choose to send the soon-to-be 23-year-old to the minors if this performance continues. Forget NL-only leagues; I think he has sleeper potential even in mixed leagues.

In Cardinals camp, converted outfielder Joe Mather looks the favorite to start at third base after the team reassigned David Freese and Brett Wallace on Tuesday. He hit eight home runs in 133 at-bats last year and is a definite sleeper for the first month of the season, but keep in mind Troy Glaus will return before too long. Also, Jason Motte struck out two in a perfect ninth inning against the Tigers to record a save. Saves don't usually mean anything in spring training since closers often pitch earlier in games, before the minor leaguers have taken over, but manager Tony La Russa has to see how Motte can handle the pressure of the ninth inning. It might mean something; it might not. Either way, I don't think you can trust any of the Cardinals closing candidates right now -- be it Chris Perez, Ryan Franklin or Motte. Based on the way La Russa used his bullpen last season, the three will likely open the year in some sort of committee.

In the competition for Mariners closer, Miguel Batista has been awful and Mark Lowe, the early favorite, has been worse. Tyler Walker has yet to allow a run, but the same goes for dark-horse candidate David Aardsma, most recently a member of the Red Sox. The dark horse could quickly become the favorite here, but I doubt he'd help much in mixed leagues. Then again, I doubt any of these guys would.

Not one day after I go out on a limb and declare Sean Marshall the fifth starter for the Cubs, Aaron Heilman puts his name back in the running. He struck out five batters in three innings against the Mariners, allowing one run on two hits. For the spring, he has allowed only one run on four hits in eight innings, striking out 12. He deserves a flier in NL-only leagues, but the Cubs have hinted all along they want Marshall to have the job.

Category: MLB
Posted on: March 10, 2009 1:45 am
Edited on: March 10, 2009 2:00 am

That 'little kid' can play

Mike Fontenot made the most noise in Monday's exhibition action, going 2-for-3 with a double and his second home run of the spring. He's hitting .367 so far and appears to have caught his manager's attention.

"That little kid at second base -- he is after a job, isn't he?" Cubs manager Lou Piniella said.

Finally, some sanity! I could never understand what exactly Aaron Miles did to deserve even halfhearted consideration. Meanwhile, Fontenot showed surprising power last year and could hit 15-20 homers in a full season of at-bats. You couldn't use that kind of production from your second baseman?

At this point in the spring, I'm ready to declare Fontenot the Cubs' starting second baseman and Sean Marshall the team's fifth starting pitcher. Both look like the kind of NL-only sleepers who could quickly become relevant in mixed leagues as well.

Elsewhere, Delmon Young homered and continues to kill the ball this spring, elevating his batting average over .500 in 19 at-bats. Like Billy Butler, Young will break out eventually. What do you have to lose but a late-round pick?

Reds shortstop prospect Chris Valaika homered and is slugging nearly .700 this spring. He might not stay in the minors for long.

Josh Johnson pitched five shutout innings. Manny Parra pitched four. Each has yet to allow an earned run this spring. Johnson certainly won't go undetected on Draft Day, but Parra might. Time to sound the sleeper alarm?

And finally, Andruw Jones, in one of my favorite subplots of the spring after, much to my own dismay, I purchased him late in an AL-only auction, hit his first home run in Cactus League play. Small potatoes? Definitely. But he is hitting a halfway respectable .280 and has begun spouting prophecies with the kind of abruptness that makes me want to believe:

"The last four games, every ball that I hit, I hit them solid," he said. "It's coming."

I think I just got goosebumps.

Category: MLB
Posted on: March 9, 2009 2:29 am

Span the man and more on A-Rod

The Twins visited the Orioles on Sunday, and I had a chance to check it out. Francisco Liriano pretty much stole the show with his five strikeouts in four perfect innings. That's right: Nobody touched him for nearly half the ballgame.

If that doesn't get you excited, I don't know what will.

And you should get excited. Of all the No. 2 starting pitchers in Fantasy Baseball, he has the best chance of becoming a top-five option. I don't personally see myself drafting him since I normally take a No. 2 starter as my No. 1 and would prefer someone safer like Chad Billingsley, James Shields or Jon Lester, but I consider Liriano an excellent value pick in the seventh round or later simply because his ceiling reaches so high.

Looking elsewhere, I struck up a conversation with a Twins beat writer, asking her if she had any idea how the Twins outfield would line up with all of Denard Span, Delmon Young, Michael Cuddyer and Carlos Gomez competing for three starting spots. Because they spend so much time with one team, beat writers have a way of hearing the unspoken, of picking up on managers' leanings even if they don't want to go so far as to say them.

And who did she name as the one outfielder whose job appears safe? Why, none other than one of my favorite sleepers -- Denard Span.

"He is their leadoff hitter," she said, adding that Young and Cuddyer would also probably start. She also speculated that even when Gomez starts, Span would remain in the lineup.

Awesome. I find myself drafting Span over and over again, thinking he has the potential for Shane Victorino-like numbers in the later rounds, so she told me exactly what I wanted to hear.

Of course, not long after that conversation, Gomez blasted a two-run home run over the left-field fence, so who the heck knows?

**Since my keeper dilemma over Alex Rodriguez sparked so much discussion, I should probably follow up on it. I've decided to keep Lance Berkman over the hobbled first-round stud, and I made up my mind even before A-Rod decided Sunday to have minor surgery, hoping to avoid major surgery until after the season.

(Just so you know, I don't think we can assume he'll play up to his usual standard after the expected nine weeks of rehabilitation. That timetable assumes no setbacks, and power hitting depends so much on the pivot of the hip. Plus, he'll still need to get his timing right even after he heals completely, which might take another few weeks.)

I wouldn't have dropped A-Rod for just anybody. If I had to choose between him and Jacoby Ellsbury, for instance, I'd stick with the established stud and hope for the best. But since my alternative is a stud player in his own right, even if not a first-rounder, I can afford to take a more cautious approach. If nothing else, I've saved myself a few headaches.

So that makes A-Rod, what, a third-rounder? If I prefer Berkman over him, late in the third round sounds about right. In case you're wondering, if A-Rod falls to me with the third pick of the subsequent draft, I plan to take him.

Category: MLB
Posted on: March 6, 2009 2:32 am
Edited on: March 6, 2009 2:37 am

A-Rod: How scared is too scared?

Don't know what to think of this Alex Rodriguez, torn labrum, possible surgery and four-month rehabilitation hoopla? Join the club.

He says he'll try to play through it, but that approach has its drawbacks, most notably the "try" and the "through."

I have him in a keeper league. I have him in several leagues actually, so my heart aches today. But in this keeper league, I also have Chase Utley, coming off his own hip surgery that could still end up sidelining him for the beginning of the season. I could deal with his risk on its own, but can I really afford to keep both him and A-Rod? Can you afford to take them with your first two picks?

I'd like to hear more. I'd like some kind of assurance he'll last through the season, but I doubt I'll get it. The information I have today likely won't change by the time I have to make my decision.

So how far should he fall? The second round? Further, even? The Yankees might coddle him, sitting him twice a week, or his season could end the moment he starts feeling pain. Shoot, he could change his mind three weeks from now and decide he doesn't want to take the chance -- as in that's it, season over, hope you haven't drafted yet.

I almost want to tell you to wait until the second round to draft A-Rod. At least then, you know you'll have another surefire stud to fall back on. If you bank on A-Rod as your best player, you could have big-time problems -- ones you can reasonably predict today. Does the potential reward of getting him two or three picks later than you should outweigh the risk of getting nothing or half a season of nothing?

I think at the very least, you have to wait until late in the first round to take him, when the distinction between your best and second-best player becomes less apparent. Quite honestly, though, I dread the day when he falls to me with the ninth overall pick. I doubt I could turn him down, but having him would make for one anxious season.

Doesn't sound like much fun to me.

Category: MLB
Posted on: March 5, 2009 2:45 am

A quick look at Japan's latest

I got a chance to see Koji Uehara, better known as the Orioles' second starter, live and in person Wednesday against the Dominican Republic's World Baseball Classic team. Remember last World Baseball Classic, when Japan won the title? Remember how they kept getting dominant pitching performances from Daisuke Matsuzaka and ... that other guy? Yeah, Uehara is that other guy.

And fittingly enough, his biggest victory in that tournament came against the Dominican Republic.

He looked like the same guy Wednesday, allowing only two hits in three scoreless innings. He also recorded two strikeouts and now has five strikeouts in five scoreless innings.

And he doesn't seem the least bit intimidated, even by that imposing Dominican lineup that featured Hanley Ramirez and David Ortiz, among others.

"I understand there are a lot of big players, so to get that kind of result, I'm happy with it," he said through a translator.

You think?

Call me impressed. I keep getting this guy late -- and I mean late late -- in AL-only leagues, and I don't understand why. His performance in Japan, in international play and so far this spring suggests he has the potential to succeed in mixed leagues even.

I understand the fear of the unknown and the residual effect of banking on guys like Kazuo Matsui and Hideki Irabu in the past, but I think we can find some middle ground here between reaching and ignoring. The unknown at least presents the opportunity for something good. Uehara sometimes last longer than indisputably bad pitchers.

And I feel like Kenshin Kawakami, the newest Braves hurler, deserves more attention too. He just threw three hitless innings Wednesday to give him five shutout innings this spring. I've begun to favor Uehara over him recently, but he doesn't get enough love either.

Look, I don't mean to suggest you should take Uehara before the end of a mixed-league draft. I don't think you need to, because I think he'll go undrafted. But certainly in an AL-only league, you have to favor him over guys like Vicente Padilla and Sean Gallagher, if not guys like Tim Wakefield and Dana Eveland.

And you never know. Before the end of April, you might see reason to pick him up in mixed leagues as well.

Category: MLB
Posted on: March 4, 2009 3:12 am
Edited on: March 4, 2009 3:16 am

Searching for meaning early

I told Jeremy Hermida I'd keep my eye on him, so naturally he goes and hits another home run Tuesday -- his third of the spring. I don't know if anyone will keep track of it since it didn't come in Grapefruit League play, but I'll remember. I'll always remember, Jeremy. I can't deny his performance this spring has me thinking about him late in mixed leagues again. The numbers last year simply didn't match the talent.

I like what Ian Snell did for Team Puerto Rico against the Twins: three innings, one hit, three strikeouts. All was not right with this guy last year, and after reviewing some tape in the offseason, he seems recommitted to keeping the ball down in the strike zone -- a solution that almost sounds too simple, yes, but he has to know about a problem before he can know how to correct it. You probably won't have to draft him in mixed leagues, but you should monitor him early in the season to see how well he rebounds from last year's disaster.

Jeff Niemann struck out five in three innings for the Rays. Let the great David Price debate continue.

Randy Johnson struck out seven in three innings for the Giants. If he feels good enough to take the mound this early in spring training, I don't mind taking a chance on him.

Jhonny Peralta is swinging a hot bat so far, hitting .636 (how funny does that look?) after going 3-for-3 Tuesday with his second home run -- and not just any home run, but a no-doubt shot over the center-field fence. I don't normally draft a guy like him because I tend to avoid shortstops until late if I don't get one of the Big Three, but I could see him exceeding expectations this season. At age 26, he has just entered the prime in his career -- a time when players tend to take another step forward statistically. I wouldn't want anyone to overpay for him based on some superficial observations only a dozen at-bats into spring training, but a .290-30-100-100 season from him wouldn't surprise me. Will I go so far as to predict it? No, but it wouldn't surprise me.

His early numbers help promote that belief. They didn't create it. There's a difference there, I think.

Category: MLB
Posted on: March 3, 2009 2:14 am
Edited on: March 3, 2009 2:23 am

AL scrubs and not-so-scrubs

I got a chance to check out the Red Sox at the Orioles on Monday, which might have thrilled me more if something halfway noteworthy happened. The Red Sox didn't bring many of their big-name players, many of whom have departed for the World Baseball Classic. Justin Masterson started and looked good, which has some significance because he might just open the season in the rotation if Brad Penny (shoulder) doesn't return in time. Then again, I had a chance to select Masterson in an AL-only draft later that day and went with Bartolo Colon instead, if that tells you anything.

Speaking of Colon, both he and Jose A. Contreras threw off the mound Monday and remain on track for opening day. Both of these pitchers tend to go awfully late in AL-only leagues. They shouldn't. I don't expect them to pitch like Cy Young contenders or anything, but in those deeper leagues, even middling types have some appeal.

And I know one middling AL-only type who has the potential to become something more: Kyle Davies. The former Braves prospect continues to build on his 4-1 record and 2.27 ERA from last September, throwing three shutout innings against the Giants to give him five scoreless frames this spring. I wouldn't touch him in mixed leagues just yet, but if he opens the season with back-to-back good starts, I wouldn't hesitate to pluck him off the waiver wire.

Two of the Angels many head-scratching hitting prospects, Brandon Wood and Jeff Mathis (throw in Dallas McPherson, Casey Kotchman and Erick Aybar, and something about their minor-league system smells awfully fishy to me), had monster games Monday. Wood went 3-for-4 with three RBI, and Mathis homered twice. Even with an epic spring, I can't imagine Mathis forcing more than a timeshare with Mike Napoli behind the plate, and Wood ... even for all his struggles, he tends to go way too early for a guy expected to begin the season in the minor leagues. I don't expect to draft either of them (not to mention McPherson, Kotchman and Aybar) but for those who do ... hooray!

Category: MLB
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