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Friday, March 29, 2013
Ah, spring. Endless possibility. Every team is in first place. The glass is half full. Yada, yada, yada.
For many fans, this time of year is an unbearable period of nothing more than waiting for the real games to begin. Most roster debates have been settled, many for quite some time, and teams are making their way home for the start of the season next week. For fantasy leaguers, however, this time of year can make or break what happens in September. A keen eye that can identify pop-up players before others may be the difference between winning and losing down the line. Being asleep at the wheel, on the other hand, can set in motion a chain of events too horrible to really discuss.
Too dramatic? Yes? Too bad, it's my column and I had to see if you were paying attention.
This week we feature three players who were (somewhat surprisingly) named to their respective rotations.
Brandon Maurer | Seattle Mariners | SP | ESPN: 0.5 percent ownership, Yahoo: NA, CBS: 13 percent
Oliver projection: 90 IP, 5-4, 3.92 ERA, 3.89 FIP
It's safe to say if Taijuan Walker won a spot in the Mariners' rotation this spring, everyone would have noticed. Ditto that, to a lesser extent, for Danny Hultzen and James Paxton. The thing is, they did not. Brandon Maurer did.
Back in November, Jeff Sullivan touched on Maurer in a great piece about stupid labels like "The Big Three." The gist: Maurer is pretty good. Maybe not quite as good as those other guys, but labeling "The Big Three" muddies the waters when other players come into the picture, and doesn't serve any practical function.
There are good takes on Maurer making the team over at Minor League Ball and Lookout Landing. John Sickels sums it up best:
The biggest problem has always been simple health; it has never been about velocity, movement, or pitchability.Baseball America offered similarly high praise earlier this offseason, stating Maurer gives the Mariners "yet another pitching prospect with frontline potential" in its 2013 Prospect Handbook.
As a California high schooler, Maurer pitched in the same rotation as Pirates prospect Gerrit Cole. He was a 23rd round draft pick in 2008, but he more or less fell off the map as elbow and shoulder problems limited him to six games in 2010 and 13 games in 2011. Last year, though, in what was technically his age-21 season (his birthday is two days after the cutoff), he posted strong numbers at Double-A, including a 3.20 ERA, 117 strikeouts and 48 walks in 137.2 innings.
The common expectation entering spring training was that he would begin the year in Triple-A, a level he has not yet reached. But the combination of his effectiveness this spring (22 strikeouts in 20 innings), and the lack thereof from others (Erasmo Ramirez, who was once Jon Garland, who was once Jeremy Bonderman) means he will break camp with the big club, and as the No. 4 starter, to boot.
The bottom line is the guy can pitch. He has talent, including a mid-90s fastball and as many as three other major league caliber pitches of varying quality. He's healthy, and he's coming off a very impressive spring, where he beat out strong competition for a job pitching in what has been a pitcher's park (although with the fences moving in, to what extent that will continue is open for debate).
Recommendation: In dynasty formats, he's a strong buy. In deep AL only leagues, he's certainly worth a flier, especially for his debut next Thursday in Oakland. In mixed leagues, a wait-and-see approach might be more appropriate, but it also might cause owners to miss out on a pop-up player with significant potential.
J.A. Happ | Toronto Blue Jays | SP | ESPN: 0.2 percent ownership, Yahoo: 4 percent, CBS: 10 percent
Oliver pProjection: 152 IP, 9-8, 3.92 ERA, 3.74 FIP
The biggest bombshell this week, without a doubt, was the Blue Jays' decision to bust former ace Ricky Romerodown to Single-A ball. Romero was solidly effective from 2009-2011, making the All-Star team two years ago, but was beyond bad last season (in case you hadn't heard). His 5.77 ERA was the worst in the entire league among qualified starters, and his 6.17 strikeouts per nine innings and 5.22 walks per nine innings helped give him a barely-above-replacement-level WAR of 0.2.
So perhaps it should not come as a great surprise that Toronto feels a Ricky Romero-less roster gives it a better chance of winning in 2013, at least until the team figures out whatever the hell is wrong with him. The demotion to Single-A is more about keeping him in a climate where he won't get rained out, but it's still a steep fall for the guy who toed the rubber each of the past two Opening Days.
Happ is now an intriguing character heading into his age-30 season. His ERA, FIP and xFIPs have oscilated between the high threes and high fours during stints as a starter and reliever with the Phillies, Astros and Blue Jays. He seems to be trending in the right direction, though.
Last season he improved his strikeout percentage for the fourth straight season (from 17.4 percent in 2009, to 18.7 percent in 2010, to 19.2 percent in 2011, to a robust 23 percent last year), and cut three percent off his walk rate (from 11.9 percent in 2011 to 8.9 percent in 2012). His velocity is up across the board, averaging 90.5 miles per hour on his fastball last season and he also managed to generate more swings outside the strike zone, and more swings and misses than at any point in his career (31.1 percent and 9.5 percent, respectively).
Recommendation: There's no telling when Romero will reappear, and the rotation in Toronto is certainly crowded, but Happ was sneaky good last season, and could provide a nice boost to owners searching for early-season starting pitcher depth.
Dylan Axelrod | Chicago White Sox | SP | ESPN: 0.0 percent ownership, Yahoo: 0.0 percent, CBS: 1 percent
Oliver projection: 139 IP, 9-6, 3.62 ERA, 3.48 FIP
Axelrod debuted briefly with the White Sox in 2011 and threw 51 innings for the team last year, split between the rotation and bullpen. He's probably better suited for the latter, but will keep a spot in the White Sox rotation while John Danks gets up to speed.
Although you'd be hard pressed to find a glowing scouting report about his stuff (which features a high 80s fastball), it's interesting to note that Oliver is more optimistic about Axelrod than about either Maurer or Happ. It's also interesting that, lacking premium stuff, he's had healthy swinging strike rates of 9.5 percent and 10.1 percent during his two stints in the majors. The 27-year-old's 5.47 ERA, 5.04 FIP, and 4.72 xFIP from last season leave a lot to be desired, though, and there isn't much to suggest he was unlucky.
Recommendation: With limited upside, and a definitive end date to his status as a starter, it's probably safe to avoid Axelrod unless Danks gets pushed back deeper into the summer. Even then, his game is all about locating pitches where he wants them, and choosing those pitches well. I certainly wouldn't want him putting balls on a tee for Miguel Cabrera in US Cellular Field, but if you're streaming pitchers, or in need of a spot start, there are worse options. Probably.
POPSICLE STICK JOKE OF THE WEEK
I love stupid jokes, and this is the best way to start your Friday (don't fight it, I'm right), so here goes:
Question: What kind of band plays snappy music?
Answer: A rubber band.
Posted by Jack Weiland at 2:40am
Another year, another trip down into the fantasy silver mine, a prospecting tour that endeavors to dig up the National League’s hidden gems, best buys and underpriced jewels. If you’re a returning customer to this column, then you know the procedure: Each week, we look at a handful of players who are sitting on the open market in too many leagues, those would-be fantasy contributors blessed with the talent and playing time to make a significant splash—if only they had a home.
As the 2013 season dawns and fantasy owners take stock of new faces and wait for position battles to conclude, here are a number of interesting players who are likely available in your league.
Patrick Corbin | Arizona Diamondbacks | SP | 1 percent Yahoo ownership; 0.1 percent ESPN ownership
Oliver ROS: 4.13 ERA / 1.367 WHIP / 6.58 K/9
Let’s start with a broad statement: The Diamondbacks, blessed with the likes of Corbin, Randall Delgado and Tyler Skaggs, aren’t hurting for a fifth starter with upside in 2013. Trouble is, with just four days to go before they play the season’s first game, manager Kirk Gibson is mum on whether Corbin or Delgado, who both continue to pitch in spring training, will get the first crack at the job.
Corbin, 23, is probably the leading candidate as of this writing. The left-hander logged 107 innings and made 17 starts last year, posting a 4.54 ERA (4.00 FIP) with a 7.2 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9. He’s outpitched Delgado this spring, averaging nearly a strikeout per inning and coming off a strong performance last Saturday in which he allowed two runs on three hits in five innings. If you take away a bad inning against the Royals on March 6, his spring ERA is under two.
Assuming Gibson taps Corbin, look for him to build upon his 2012 stats, when an inflated HR/FB rate and BABIP conspired to boost his ERA. I wouldn’t expect lights-out production, but I could see Corbin outdoing his Oliver projections by a tad and becoming a useful fantasy pitcher on a team that should provide him with opportunities at wins. The Diamondbacks, with an off day on Thursday, probably wouldn’t use their fifth starter in the first week, but if Corbin is the man, his ownership numbers will shoot up in plenty of leagues.
Recommendation: Keep an eye out in case Corbin is not the fifth starter, but he’d be an immediate add in all NL-only leagues and deeper mixed leagues.
Jordany Valdespin | New York Mets | OF / 2B | 1 percent Yahoo ownership; 0.4 percent ESPN ownership
Oliver ROS: .264 / .311 / .390
I’ll say this: Valdespin is the kind of player you want to cheer for. He’s got flair, he’s got a bit of a brash streak in him, and in all-too-brief flashes last year, showed off the kind of athleticism that says “upside guy” in a ballplayer.
Unfortunately, reality—in the form of underwhelming plate discipline numbers and an inability to walk—has kept Valdespin from making good on his promise in his rookie year. But he was hitting .323/.371/ .538 in 21 spring games entering Thursday’s action, and can add steals for a fantasy owner.
Ultimately, what might be most intriguing about Valdespin is his position eligibility. He played 16 games at second base last year, not enough for most leagues entering 2013, but with Daniel Murphy recovering from an intercostal strain, it’s possible that manager Terry Collins could use Valdespin in the infield occasionally. Murphy has begun appearing in spring action and says he’ll be ready for Opening Day, so I’d be slightly bearish on Valdespin adding another position in the immediate term.
Meanwhile, in center field, where he’ll play the bulk of his games to start the season, he’ll likely sit against lefties in a platoon with Colin Cowgill.
Oliver is a bit optimistic on Valdespin, as it expects 29 steals to go along with a .264 average, 11 homers and 69 runs batted in. Such production, coupled with the allure of positional eligibility, could make Valdespin a serviceable fantasy option in 2013.
Recommendation: Worth a look for owners who need steals in NL-only leagues.
Hyun-Jin Ryu | Los Angeles Dodgers | SP | 37 percent Yahoo / 19.5 percent ESPN ownership
Oliver ROS: n/a
I’m not a scout, and thus, I don’t have much to add to Ryu’s scouting reports, some of which you can read here, here and here. I’ll simply say this: the Dodgers, a team that could very well contend for a World Series title this year, believe Ryu is worth a $36 million, six-year contract, which leads me to think there’s something about this guy that makes him a fantasy target. In a perfect world, assuming I had the space on my roster, sure, I’d pick this guy up and see what happens.
But here’s the thing: How certain is it that Ryu will have a spot in the starting rotation? Josh Beckett and Chris Capuano’s arms haven’t fallen off yet, Aaron Harang is still hanging around, Chad Billingsley seems to be returning soon from a finger injury and Ted Lilly still receives paychecks from the Dodgers organization. Assuming Clayton Kershaw, Josh Beckett and Zack Greinke, inflamed elbow and all, are locked in for three slots, that leaves five starting pitchers for three spots.
We’ll start with Lilly, who’s coming off shoulder surgery and has appeared in just four spring games, posting abysmal numbers in the process. Call me defeatist, but I just don’t see the 37-year-old having much of a place in the Dodgers’ rotation, certainly not at the season’s outset.
What about Harang, who gave the team nearly 180 innings last year? Manager Don Mattingly is on record saying he doesn’t see the burly right-hander as a bullpen arm, though a rough-and-tumble spring didn’t do much to help his cause as a starter. Consider him a man in search of a starting gig for the time being. Capuano? At last check, his chances don’t seem to be all that great to crack the rotation.
Ryu is scheduled to take the ball on April 2, a decision influenced in part by Billingsley’s roster logistics. But, barring some kind of disaster, I’d say it’s a safe bet that he’ll hang around in the rotation for the long run while the Dodgers trade away or banish to the bullpen some of their excess arms.
Recommendation: Worth a pickup in mixed leagues.
Mitchell Boggs | St. Louis Cardinals | SP | 54 percent Yahoo ownership / 25.3 percent ESPN ownership
Oliver ROS: 3.10 ERA / 1.205 WHIP / 6.94 K/9
Obviously, if you’re in a tight league and were betting on Jason Motte to hold down a relief role, you’ve already picked up Boggs as a handcuff. So I guess my question is: How long will you have to roll with this guy?
What we know for sure: Motte, 30, has been diagnosed with a flexor muscle strain—considered a slight tear of the tendon—in his elbow, and a disabled list stint is likely. I’m not a doctor, but this doesn’t sound good.
Just in case, let’s say Boggs is the closer for the foreseeable future. If so, he’d bring four career saves to the job, all of which stem from a brief stint in early 2011 when he took over from Ryan Franklin to be the Cardinals’ closer. Back then, Boggs was burned so badly that that he was demoted to Triple-A three weeks after taking the job. Obviously, that’s an experience from which Boggs can learn, and there’s no reason to think the 29-year-old hasn’t matured a bit since then.
At the back end of the Cardinals’ pen, Boggs will bring mid-90s heat to go along with a slider and occasional change-up, which helped him post solid numbers last year (4-1, 34 holds, 2.21 ERA). But I have to wonder whether a .245 BABIP (more than 50 points below his career average) and lofty 82.4 percent strand rate will conspire to bring those numbers down to earth, closer’s role or not.
Boggs is talented, and in a new season, one might as well be optimistic. But if he was headed for a regression in 2013 as Motte’s caddy, fantasy owners shouldn’t look at him as a bullpen savior now that he’s stepping up to the top spot to start the year.
Recommendation: A worthwhile pickup in NL-only leagues and deeper mixed leagues, but not a must-own until he gets some saves under his belt.
Posted by Karl de Vries at 2:28am
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