Ryan Madson | Philadelphia | SU/CL
True Talent: 7.7 K/9, 2.7 K/BB, 3.73 ERA
According to league ownership percentages over at Yahoo, Madson is available in 35 percent of leagues. Since Brad Lidge is starting the season on the DL, and was a train wreck last season, Madson should be owned in far more leagues. Madson’s K/9 was 9.08 last year (a career high), his BB/9 was solid at 2.56, and his GB% was quite favorable at 46 percent (actually down from 2007 and 2008, lending hope to more upside). With solid rate stats like that Madson should do fine in the closer’s role to open the season. He’ll likely relinquish the role to Lidge when he returns from the DL, but it remains to be seen if Lidge can hold onto that role when he returns to his perch atop the reliever pile in Philly. Because Lidge has an up and down history, Madson seems like an awesome speculative saves option in the short term who could end up being a season-long contributor in the saves department.
Recommendation: Should be owned in 12-team mixed leagues, and all NL-only leagues.
Matt Lindstrom | Houston | CL
True Talent: 6.8 K/9, 1.8 K/BB, 4.62 ERA
When Houston dealt for Matt Lindstrom it appeared he was a lock to be the closer to open the 2010 campaign for the Astros. However, the picture became more clouded when Drayton McLane inexplicably paid Brandon Lyon closer money to sign with the Astros. Since that signing Lindstrom has gone on to recapture the closer role that it would have appeared he lost with the Lyon signing. Given Lyon’s currently mild health issues, and his currently major performance issues in the spring, it appears Lindstrom has a bit of a leash. He likely won’t post great ratios, but saves are saves. Lindstrom’s career GB% is 46.5 percent, his BB/9 is a tolerable but slightly high 3.70 and his K/9 is a bit lowish for a closer at 7.56. What his career stats lead me to believe is he’s probably closer to a low 4 ERA closer as opposed to the disastrous 5.89 ERA he posted last year. Closers are a volatile bunch due to the small number of innings they work, so pay for the saves and hope for some luck and perhaps you have a breakout reliever in the mold of 2009 David Aardsma.
Recommendation: Should be owned in most 10-team mixed leagues and all 12-team mixed and NL-only leagues.
Octavio Dotel | Pittsburgh | CL
True Talent: 9.9 K/9, 2.3 K/BB, 4.50 ERA
See a theme with the early NL Waiver players emerging? Dotel, like Madson and Lindstrom, is a currently under owned closer, at least according to Yahoo, where he’s only owned in 44 percent of leagues. Dotel landed with an ideal team in terms of where he could provide the most fantasy value when he signed with the Pirates to be their end-game stopper. The key to Dotel’s success this year, other than remaining in Pittsburgh where he can close all year, is going to be maintaining a tolerable BB/9, ideally at or under 4.00. Dotel has always been a FB pitcher with an elite K/9, so if he’s able to limit the free passes, and with it the damage inflicted when some of his FB’s leave the yard, he can be a top-20 closer this year. If he’s able to get lucky with his HR/FB rate, he may be able to even crack the top 15 closers this season. The biggest concern for Dotel owners should be that the Pirates flip him for prospects at the deadline. Otherwise, Dotel is a relatively safe closer option who is vastly undervalued and underowned.
Recommendation: Should be owned in all leagues.
Franklin Morales | Colorado | SU/CL
True Talent: 7.1 K/9, 1.3 K/BB, 4.71 ERA
Morales is currently filling in for Huston Street as the closer for the Colorado Rockies. Morales has history of poor control, thus he is a risky start for the damage he’s capable of inflicting on ERA and WHIP, but one worth taking a chance on if desperate for saves, namely in roto leagues. In H2H points leagues I’d likely pass in all but the deepest of leagues due to the potential damage he can do in two categories outweighing the value of him helping in one. Morales offers a three pitch mix of a mid 90′s FB, low 70′s CB, and high 70′s-low 80′s CH. If he’s able to harness any control of his repertoire he could be valuable in all leagues, but given his track record to date, that appears to be wishful thinking. Pay for the saves in the short term, and understand there is some untapped potential here. Also keep in mind that while the MRI on Street’s elbow showed no structural damage, he has complained of pain, and had to be shut down after trying to throw through it.
Recommendation: Should be owned in some 12-team mixed leagues, and all NL-only leagues.
Mat Latos | San Diego | SP
True Talent: 7.7 K/9, 2.6 K/BB, 3.53 ERA
PETCO is well known as a pitcher’s park, and considering Latos will be playing half his games there, should be of tremendous help to this young hurler. His debut last year was promising though not spectacular and offers some hope for a solid season in 2010. Latos will almost certainly have his innings restricted, likely throwing under 150 innings (Oliver has him pegged for 130), but if he’s able to be successful in those innings, is worth owning. He throws electric stuff and mixes a four pitch arsenal that consists of a mid-90′s FB, high-80′s SL, low-80′s CB and low-80′s CH. His control in the minors last year was impeccable and was respectable in his 50.2 Major League innings. If he’s able to cut down even a smidge on his BB/9 and see a slight uptick from his already respectable 6.93 K/9 Latos could be a solid back end of the rotation fantasy starter this year with upside for better than that.
Recommendation: Should be owned in most 12-team mixed leagues, and all NL-only leagues.
John Bowker | San Francisco | OF
True Talent: .261/.328/.433
While the Brian Sabean did the norm this off-season signing ho hum veterans such as Mark DeRosa and Aubrey Huff to try and catch lightning in a bottle and jump start the offense, the best addition to the lineup may be John Bowker who played almost all of 2009 in Triple-A Fresno. Bowker beat out Nate Schierholtz this spring for the starting RF job by knocking the stitches out of the baseball. Unfortunately for Bowker he’ll be playing half his games as a left-handed hitter in AT&T, which will limit his power upside. That said, there is hope for a 20-25 HR season, and a lot more to like about Bowker than simply power. Last year he completely re-worked his approach in Triple-A and posted a 16.4% walk rate and a 17.5% strikeout rate which were both career bests, and more than doubling his previous best walk rate (7.2% in High-A in 2006). Another point working in the favor of Bowker is that if he shows success at the dish early, there is a chance he could move up from his current spot in the lineup to a more favorable spot such as the cleanup spot or 5th spot. Likely limiting Bowker’s AB’s a bit is that he’ll almost certainly be lifted late in games for a defensive replacement as the Giants have better fielding options on the bench, this shouldn’t hurt Bowker’s value too greatly though for those playing in leagues he’ll be a viable option in.
Recommendation: Should be owned in 14-team leagues with 5 OF’s, and all but shallow NL-only leagues.
Ian Desmond | Washington | 2B/SS
True Talent: .242/.302/.381
On the strengths of a strong September and Spring Training, and with the help of Cristian Guzman not demonstrating he’s completely healthy, Ian Desmond has tentatively won the starting SS job for the Washington Nationals. Given the fact the Nationals would probably like to showcase Guzman in the hopes of trading him, and the offseason addition of Adam Kennedy, Desmond is likely on a short leash. With that in mind, Desmond is by far the most intriguing middle infielder of that trio. Desmond appears to have put his tools to good use last year in Double-A, Triple-A and his September callup to the Majors by slashing .306/.372/.494; .354/.428/.461; .280/.318/.561 respectively. For 2010, Desmond looks like a threat for 10-15 HR’s, 15-20 SB’s and an AVG in the .275-.285 range, which is more favorable than Oliver’s True Talent projections.
Recommendation: Should be owned in all 12-team mixed leagues that use a MI, all 14-team or greater mixed leagues, and all NL-only leagues.
Drew Stubbs | Cincinnati | OF
True Talent: .221/.293/.319
While living with the maddening day-to-day lineup variations that Dusty Baker will almost certainly throw out for the Reds can be frustrating, it’s probably worth dealing with to own Stubbs and his upside. Stubbs has always had tools that exceeded his production on the field, but he was able to put it together enough last year to gain fantasy relevance. While the downside is certainly steep, the upside of power/speed makes the gamble worthwhile. Because Stubbs strikes out a lot (over 25 percent of the time in the minors/majors) his AVG is not likely to be higher than .265-.270 at best and possibly considerably worse. He has shown a decent eye in the minors and tolerable one in the majors, leading to hope for more SB opportunities than his low AVG would imply. In 2009, Stubbs exploded for eight HRs in just 196 PA for the Reds, which was far and away his best HR rate to date but not as much of an aberration as it first appears. Stubbs plays in a favorable home ballpark for hitting HRs and has always teased scouts with his power, but for the most part he has been unable to translate it to games. The Reds OF also features Chris Dickerson, who is capable of playing CF passably, so it is likely Stubbs will get a few more days off than a typical non-platoon starting CF. Overall, Stubbs is a worthwhile player to own in shallow leagues with deep benches as well as deeper leagues.
Recommendation: Should be owned in most 12-team leagues with five OFs, all 14-team leagues or larger that start 5 OFs and all but extremely shallow NL-only leagues.
Jeff Clement | Pittsburgh | C/1B
Once a prized catching prospect for the Mariners, Clement will now be starting at 1B for the Pittsburgh Pirates as he was dealt there last year as part of a package to acquire Jack Wilson and Ian Snell. While it’s highly unlikely Clement will ever reach the lofty expectations once bestowed upon him, that is irrelevant to whether or not he can be useful as a catcher for fantasy squads in 2010. Clement is a classic case of a fantasy catcher who is aided by the fact they hold the eligibility but will no longer be playing the position, and thus avoiding the rigors and wear and tear of donning the tools of ignorance. To date, Clement has proven all he can in Triple-A but has been unable to translate that success to the major league level, and has the look of a Quadruple-A player. That said, others who have recently appeared to be Quad-A types have found success in the majors, and Clement may be the next to join that group. Most projection systems, including Oliver, see him as a low AVG/decent power (for a catcher anyways) player in 2010. For those that use OBP in place of AVG, Clement gets a bump up in value given his minor league walk rate. I could see Clement hitting 20-25 HRs this year, and if things click, perhaps posting an AVG in the .265-.270 range. Clement’s runs and RBIs will vary depending on where the Pirates opt to slot him as the year goes on, but even with low run and RBI totals a .265 AVG with 20 HR’s would be ownable in most one-catcher leagues and all two-catcher leagues.
Recommendation: Should be owned in most 14-team one-catcher leagues, all 10-team or greater two-catcher leagues, and all NL-only leagues.
Conor Jackson | Arizona | 1B/OF
True Talent: .266/.345/.404
Conor Jackson missed almost all of the 2009 season with a case of Valley Fever, but after an offseason in which he played in winter ball and all of Spring Training he appears healthy and ready to go for the 2010 season. Jackson is a bit of a jack-of-all-trades, master of none type. He doesn’t wow fantasy gamers with prototypical 1B/corner OF power or great speed. However, Jackson has a nice blend of 10-15 HR power (with the upside of 20 given his home ballpark and age) and 15-20 SB speed (he’s never topped 10 in a season, but opened last year with five in 110 PA, thus the optomistic 20 SB ceiling). Toss in that he possesses a career .281 AVG (.361 OBP) and a spot atop the Diamondbacks order as the leadoff hitter and I see a lot to like. Hitting leadoff will almost certainly hurt his RBI numbers given that he’ll be following the 7-8-9 hitters, which obviously includes the pitcher, but should bump up his runs scored given his top-notch OBP. Also, keep in mind hitting in the leadoff spot should, barring good health, increase his PA to a new career high, allowing for more opportunities to slug home runs and steal bags, further helping to prop up his mediocre power/speed combination to date through volume. Jackson’s Oliver projection is one that I have pegged as being on the pessimistic side, and I’ve targeted him most leagues I’m participating in this season. Others don’t appear to be following suit over at Yahoo, as he’s still available in 87 percent of their leagues.
Recommendation: Should be owned in all 12-team, 5 OF leagues.