The day we’ve long waited for is back. I know there were a couple games in Japan last week, but how many people who didn’t have anyone from their fantasy teams playing really noticed? My attention was still more turned towards the battles going on in the final week of spring training and preparing for the biggest draft weekend of the year. But still, the games did count and the Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics split a pair. Those in NL only leagues probably didn’t even bat an eye.
This week will be different, however, as every major league team will start their 2012 campaign. Fantasy players will be hoping their top draft picks start to pay dividends from the outset. While everyone knows this is a marathon, it’s still disconcerting to see ones fantasy team get off to a slow start, languishing in last place. I resist the temptation to get overly confident if my teams start with a bang and, conversely, don’t get nervous if they start with a whimper. I really don’t pay much attention to my fantasy teams except for planning free agent or FAAB pickups for players who might have gotten injured so I don’t have any dead roster spots going into week two.
Instead, I revel in the fact that real baseball is back and watch or listen to as many games as I can, trying to glean as much information as possible about teams and players in games that count. I have a couple of things (more in my mind than written down) for each team that I am wondering about or concerned about as the 2012 campaign starts off and I’ll go through some of them here.
Arizona Diamondbacks – Not if but how much will Ian Kennedy regress from his Cy Young challenging 2011 season? Which version of Aaron Hill will 2012 more closely resemble – the 2011 Toronto Blue Jay model that hit .225 in almost 400 at bats or the 2011 Arizona Diamondback model that hit .315 in 124 at bats.
Atlanta Braves – Jason Heyward had problems with southpaws in 2011. Has he made the adjustments necessary to avoid a platoon again this year? The Braves haven’t been shy about bringing up their youngsters. Tyler Pastornicky was in line to be one of them this year but has really struggled at the plate this spring. His job is safe for now but one has to wonder if Jack Wilson or Andrelton Simmons will be called upon if Atlanta gets tired of waiting for the 22 year-old to provide some offense.
Chicago Cubs – Bryan LaHair will start the season at first base but will he provide enough offense to keep Anthony Rizzo in the minor leagues? Kind of an obvious one but does Starlin Castro – everyone’s up and coming darling - continue to build upon what he’s already done or have we seen the best he has to offer – not that that’s bad. There are some non-believers. I believe.
Cincinnati Reds – There certainly is enough offense here, but the question remains will this rotation – even with the addition of Mat Latos - be able to hold opposing offenses in check. To complicate things even more, Ryan Madson had to succumb to TJ surgery and now Sean Marshall will be closing out games. Will he be able to hang onto the role for the duration?
Colorado Rockies – Will Troy Tulowitzki stay healthy to produce enough to justify his lofty draft position – top five and first overall in some leagues? Color me skeptical. Early signs are very encouraging but does Juan Nicasio have the mental and intestinal fortitude to forget about his horrifying injury last year?
Houston Astros – How bad will this team be and will Brett Myers build up enough trade value as closer to be dealt before the deadline? I’m sure Jed Lowrie would want to make the Boston Red Sox regret trading him but will he be able to? That I’m not sure of but comparing the Astros to the Red Sox isn’t exactly comparing hot dogs to hot dogs.
Los Angeles Dodgers – With Ervin Johnson, et al, at the helm will ownership have enough money left over to actually run the team? On the field, what is the over/under for saves before Javy Guerra gives way to Kenley Jansen (I say 13)? Dee Gordon is reputed to be the fastest man in baseball. How many stolen bases will he get the green light for – 50, 60, 70? My vote is 60 but he’ll certainly be fun to watch whatever the number is.
Miami Marlins – Hanley Ramirez gets pushed to third base and reportedly isn’t real happy with it. Will it spur him to another level or will he languish in self pity. Many are predicting a career year for Jose Reyes but will he stay healthy enough? It’s going to be very interesting to see if Ozzie Guillen can soothe the savage beast of Carlos Zambrano and channel his emotions to being a successful pitcher or will he again self destruct. I’m betting Ozzie will reach something inside Zambrano. In fact, I’m betting on Guillen to lead the Marlins to a division title.
Milwaukee Brewers – A couple things on my mind are will Ryan Braun perform well after the whole PED test thing and will Mat Gamel take a step up this year. I stand in the affirmative for both of them. Aramis Ramirez needs to help the Brew Crew forget Prince Fielder.
New York Mets – Will Johan Santana defy the odds and be a good pitcher over a full season? Even though it’s for the cross town rivals, I’m hoping he does. The fences of CitiField were lowered and brought in. Will that result in more balls going out of the park for David Wright and Jason Bay?
Philadelphia Phillies – After being signed to a big free agent contract, will Jonathan Papelbon lead the NL in saves? Me thinks so. I do not believe Ryan Howard is a near 50 home run hitter anymore (even if he was healthy). I even think mid 30’s is pushing it. As a result, I have some real concerns for the Phillies offense this year.
Pittsburgh Pirates – Overall, I think this team is interesting and will be fun to watch – especially Andrew McCutchen and Alex Presley. I believe McCutchen is a 30/30 player in the making. Conversely, I’m concerned for Pedro Alvarez. The number two overall pick from 2008 may be fighting for his career. I’ll be pulling for him but don’t have much faith.
San Diego Padres – Some don’t believe in Cory Luebke but I do and I’m sorry I haven’t been able to roster him on any of my fantasy teams. Pitchers like him are special – especially in Petco Park. I’m just skeptical there’s enough offense here to enable him to have a .500 record.
San Francisco Giants – Will the Giants stop screwing around with Brandon Belt? I hope so. How long will management continue to allow Barry Zito to steal a roster spot? Buster Posey has been working on swipe tags at home plate this spring. It will be interesting to see if old habits are harder to break than his leg was. He could benefit from watching film of Jorge Posada who never blocked the plate (sorry, pet peeve of mine).
St. Louis Cardinals – Not that anyone can, but who will pick up the mantle from Albert Pujols? There is a serious offensive shortfall here that Carlos Beltran has no hope of filling. There are huge question marks with Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter. So much so that will the Cards be forced to accelerate the timetable of Shelby Miller?
Washington Nationals – This is another team I’m going to like to watch. There are some promising positional youngsters and the rotation isn’t as barren as we’re used to seeing. Everyone will be watching Stephen Strasburg’s comeback from Tommy John surgery and newcomers Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson to the starting five. Then there’s the pool in every office in Washington when Bryce Harper will make his appearance.These are just some of the things I’ll be looking at and for over the first part of the season. What will you be on the lookout for in the National League?