Bud Norris | Houston | SP
Year to Date (YTD): 14.1 K/9, 1.7 K/BB, 3.52 ERA
True Talent: 7.9 K/9, 1.6 K/BB, 4.96 ERA
Bud Norris is a bit of an unheralded hurler for the Astros, but he should be of use to deep leaguers given his solid strikeout rate. Norris is primarily a two-pitch pitcher throwing a blazing fastball and a slider. In order to be successful with any consistency, his change-up (or some other third pitch) is going to have to be sprinkled in to at least keep hitters honest. For now, those looking to roster Norris should only count on strikeouts and a roller coaster ride of ups and downs. In two starts this season, Norris has already illustrated the ups and downs I speak of. His up was a brilliant, yet short, five inning start against the Cardinals where he struck out nine, allowed one hit, zero earned runs and walked three. His down would be his first start in which he was unable to even reach the third inning. Last year LIPS liked Norris and had him pegged as a 3.96 LIPS ERA starter, which is more than a half-run lower than his actual ERA.
Recommendation: Should be watched in 12-team mixed leagues, owned in most 14-team leagues or larger, and all medium to large NL-only leagues.
Drew Storen | Washington | CL
YTD: Pitching in Double-A
True Talent: 7.8 K/9, 2.9 K/BB, 4.65 ERA
Drew Storen is the other pitcher selected in the first round by the Nationals last season after the much more heralded Stephen Strasburg, and may be the first of the two to reach the Major League level. Storen is currently mowing down hitters in Double-A while Matt Capps and Brian Bruney struggle with the parent club. Most likely Storen will be kept in the minors until late May or early June to delay starting the arbitration clock, but make no mistake about it, he is the closer of the future, and the future may come this season. Storen is unavailable in Yahoo! leagues currently but is a worthwhile stash for those in need of saves with a roster spot to work with. Given that the Nationals won’t be contending for the playoffs this season (sorry Nats fans), I’d suspect Storen will get save opportunities shortly after receiving his promotion so that he can learn on the job in a less stressful situation.
Recommendation: Should be watched in all leagues, owned in 14-team or larger leagues with medium to deep benches, medium to deep NL-only leagues with benches.
Tom Gorzelanny | Chicago (NL) | SP
YTD: 9.95 K/9, 3.5 K/BB, 0.00 ERA
True Talent: 6.8 K/9, 1.7 K/BB, 4.71 ERA
Tom Gorzelanny was not assured a rotation spot coming into Spring Training for the Cubs, but he earned a spot there to start the season. It’s easy to forget that back in 2007 Gorzelanny was able to post a somewhat useful fantasy season in which he had a 3.88 ERA (4.54 LIPS ERA, so a bit luck induced) with a 6.02 K/9 and nearly exactly 2:1 K:BB rate. Certainly not world beater numbers but ones that were useful to some fantasy owners then and ones that would be useful to some fantasy owners now if he’s able to replicate them. Gorzelanny had mixed success as a starter after coming over to the Cubs from the Pirates last year. Combining the mixed success as a starter for the Cubs last year with Gorzelanny’s success starting in Triple-A last year lends hope for fantasy usefulness this season. While it may be surprising, Gorzelanny enters this season at the age of 27, which means he may have some potential left that has not been illustrated to date. Oliver’s True Talent has him pegged as a 6.8 K/9 starter, but looking over last year’s stats I believe he may be able to outproduce that projection and post a K/9 of 7.5 or so. If he’s able to keep the free passes to a minimum, strikeout out around 7.5 per nine innings as I’ve suggested I believe he’s capable, and receive a bit of luck he could post a sub 4.00 ERA with 140 plus strikeouts if he receives enough innings this season.
Recommendation: Should be watched in 12-team leagues, owned in some 14-team or larger leagues, and owned in all NL-only leagues.
Joel Hanrahan | Pittsburgh | RP
YTD: 13.5 K/9, 1.5 K/BB, 0.00 ERA
True Talent: 9.0 K/9, 1.7 K/BB, 5.18 ERA
Many will remember Joel Hanrahan as being last year’s closer to open the season for the Nationals, and one who failed miserably and ultimately lost his closer gig. What flies under the radar is that Hanrahan was relatively unlucky last year. Last year’s LIPS ERA for Hanrahan while with the Nationals was 4.27, and was 3.93 while with the Pirates, both of which were lower than his 4.78 season ERA. Judging by his LIPS ERA last year, and in 2008 (3.87 LIPS ERA), Hanrahan appears to be a high-3′s/low-4′s ERA type, with around 9-10 K/9 type potential. Many may be wondering what use a setup man for the Pirates with a middling ERA has to them, and rightfully so. Well for those in holds leagues, Hanrahan has added value because he will likely serve as the eighth inning bridge to current closer Octavio Dotel. However, for those in leagues that don’t count holds, I believe Hanrahan will have use as well at some point this season. Last week I featured Octavio Dotel in this very column, and stated that the only concern owners of his should have is that he’s dealt by the trade deadline this season by a clearly rebuilding Pirates squad. Well, my guess is that the Pirates will deal Dotel at some point this season, and that Hanrahan will step in as the closer to complete the year for the Pirates. Variables outside the Pirates control could speed up any potential dealing of Dotel, namely an injury to a contender’s closer, inability of a team’s bullpen to close games, etc. At this point Hanrahan’s value largely lies in leagues that use holds, deep NL-only leagues, and roto leagues with deep rosters and an innings pitched limit in which a forward-thinking owner may look to rack up some K’s from their relievers while not burning up valuable innings pitched.
Recommendation: Should be owned in some 14-team or larger leagues, and most large NL-only leagues.
Felipe Lopez | St. Louis | 2B (perhaps 3B and SS depending on your leagues eligibility rules)
True Talent: .280/.346/.386
Felipe Lopez opened last year as the starting second baseman for the Arizona Diamondbacks and after a stellar season split between the Diamondbacks and the Brewers found little interest on the free agent market and ultimately signed with the St. Louis Cardinals. Lopez role was fairly clearly a utility player coming into this season; what wasn’t clear was how much playing time he’d see in said role. The early answer is nearly everyday at-bats playing second base, shortstop and third base. Lopez’s value will come to most when he’s able to achieve eligibility at SS and 3B in leagues he currently doesn’t hold them in, but also in leagues that deploy a MI spot. Those fantasy gamers who participate in daily change head-to-head leagues will see an added bonus from Lopez by being able to slot him at 2B, SS, 3B or MI when your regular starter sits. Those who participate in roto leagues with a games played cap should also find value in owning a player with multiple position versatility, even if it is attached to middling HR/SB contributions. Lopez has seen two starts atop the Cards lineup, where his decent OBP should result in runs scored batting in front of Ludwick/Pujols/Holliday, and his average isn’t likely to hurt those opting to start him in roto formats. Overall Lopez’s line isn’t jaw dropping, but he should be a great glue guy due to his flexibility.
Recommendation: Should be owned in most 12-team or larger mixed leagues that use a MI position and all NL-only leagues.
Scott Rolen | Cincinnati | 3B
True Talent: .275/.344/.405
The days of Scott Rolen the stud third baseman are over, but he should be a useful starting 3B/CI for some this season. Rolen has opened the year slotted fifth in the Reds lineup, which should provide ample RBI opportunities and possibly some run scored opportunities as Jay Bruce is currently slotted behind him. With the top heavy nature of 3B this season, a player who is capable of posting decent runs scored and RBI totals while posting a useful average should draw the eye of many a fantasy owner. I believe Rolen may also provide 20-25 HRs this season hitting in the cozy confines of the Great American Ballpark. Rolen last smacked 20 or more round trippers in 2006, but given his promising start (three HRs, two of which came at Land Shark Stadium no less) a bit of a resurgence may be in order. Rolen’s biggest problem in slugging home runs recently has been his health, and that will likely remain his biggest obstacle. If Rolen is able to post a final line of 80-20-80 .280 he will be rostered in many leagues, and I believe that is a reasonable line to expect, with the possibility of slightly greater production.
Recommendation: Should be owned in most 12-team mixed leagues that use a CI, all 14-team mixed leagues, and all NL-only leagues.
John Baker | Florida | C
True Talent: .258/.338/.386
John Baker, like many catchers, is sharing time behind the plate. Unlike many other catchers though, John Baker has been moved up to a friendly lineup spot, second to be exact. Given Baker’s strong on-base skills, and the awesome Hanley Ramirez batting behind him, ample run scoring opportunities should be expected with Baker. Baker likely won’t smack more than 10 HRs for the season, and his RBI contribution might only be modest hitting behind Maybin, and before Maybin, the pitcher, but his average and runs scored totals coupled with his potential for 400 or more at-bats should be reason enough to roster him in all two-catcher leagues, and some single-catcher mixed leagues.
Recommendation: Should be owned in some 12-team mixed leagues starting one catcher, all 14-team mixed leagues starting one catcher, all 10-team or larger mixed leagues starting two catchers, and all NL-only leagues.
Cameron Maybin | Florida | OF
True Talent: .258/.329/.399
To start, I’ll warn that Maybin’s performance on April 15 is not included in his YTD totals, so his SLG and AVG will be higher at the time of reading this due to his performance yesterday. The reason John Baker was moved up to the second spot in the Marlins lineup is because Cameron Maybin was moved from the second slot to the leadoff slot. Maybin’s value doesn’t take much of a jump, but should see a mild jump since he’ll be more likely attempt a stolen base if he reaches directly in front of John Baker than he would be reaching base directly in front of Hanley Ramirez. Maybin was a personal favorite post-hype sleeper going into the season for me given his tools and his spike in contact rate in Triple-A last season. While Maybin is still striking out a bit too much in the early going, three of his strikeouts came while facing Johan Santana and the Mets on opening day, so I’d suspect he’ll show some of his contact gains as the season progresses. What is equally promising to Maybin’s increasing contact rate is a Double-A and Triple-A walk rate greater than 10 percent that helps indicate his 11.6 percent walk rate to open the season is likely for real. Most projection systems don’t expect a high number of steals or home runs for Maybin this season, but given his raw talent, and that much of his power shortage last year can be explained by a bum shoulder, it seems reasonable to expect him to exceed his projected SB and HR totals.
Recommendation:Should be owned in all 12-team mixed leagues starting five outfielders and all NL-only leagues.