Into the first full week of games we go and it has indeed been a fun collection of first series, begging the questions:
- If the Rangers are clobbering the ball so well already, how good can they be?
- Are the Rays in for a down year, with the Evan Longoria injury now being a harbinger?
- And, are the Orioles back, changing places with the once dominant Rays?
- As the Royals await their bevy of uber-prospects, how good will they be in anticipation (if they keep playing like they did against the Angels, very good is the answer)?
- Do the Braves now have everything as Chipper Jones enters his career twilight?
- Can the Giants depend upon Brandon Belt to pull this year's Buster Posey injection?
Well, who knows, for that is why we play the season. Bur for now let's start with those Royals, and a couple more names that might help this year, one new, in Aaron Crow. Drafted by the Nationals in the first round of the 2008 draft, then again in 2009, Crow signed with the Royals, and made a brief appearance at Fort Worth that year, going 3-0, 1.06 with 17 whiffs over 17 innings. Crow began 2010 at High-A Wilmington, going 2-3, 5.93 over 44 innings, striking out 50 while walking just six (the six homers were a downfall), and then was promoted to Double-A Northwest Arkansas where he was 7-7, 5.66. Crow kept his strikeouts on, knocking out 90 over 119 innings, but losing it control-wise allowing 59 walks, and 13 more dingers. Clearly Crow has a live arm: the issue is just controlling it. And so far the right hander has (I saw him during his spring training debut and he knocked off the Athletics efficiently) won a game, tossed three shutout innings over a couple of games, and is due for the rotation, where he will be very good.
The last minute addition to the team was Matt Treanor, whom the Royals originally drafted as No. 4 in the 1994 draft. In 1997 the Royals traded the still minor leaguer to the Marlins, where between 1997 and 2007, he played, and was signed and released by the Fish four separate times. In 2008 the Tigers signed and released the catcher, and the Brewers signed him for 2009, and in 2010 the Rangers grabbed him. In 2011, it was full circle as the Royals bought Treanor back to be one of the place holders till Wil Myers arrives. Treanor only managed 360 major league games over that span (.228-13-93) but has been a fixture in two of the Kansas City wins over the Angels to start 2011, getting two hits over his first six at-bats as the apparent new starting catcher. But, Sunday, Treanor had to have cemented some kind of role belting a walk-off three run shot in the 13th. Treanor does have some pop, and in a deep American League is not a bad choice for a back up backstop right now.
Before we leave the backstop spot, Cincinnati's Ryan Hanigan is going to get some playing time, and in an NL only format could be as valuable (as in he won't hurt you) as Treanor in an AL setting. Hannigan, 30, was signed by the Reds as a free agent in 2002, and made it to the Show in 2007, going .279-10-62 over 648 at-bats with a very good .378 OBP (81 walks to 63 strikeouts). The catcher belted a pair of homers Sunday, and could be a great play in deeper leagues.
In the Angles world, the big question (well, one big question) can Fernando Rodney keep the closer job in Anaheim (a career WHIP of 1.45 suggests not). Which means look to Jordan Walden, a 12th round selection in the 2006 draft, to own the gig before the season is over. Walden was a starter from 2007-2009, but last year worked exclusively out of the pen, going 1-1, 3.35 at Double-A Arkansas with eight conversions before six final games at Triple-A Salt Lake (0-0, 4.05). Walden can get a strikeout (302 over 330.1 innings) with just 126 walks, and I think it is just a matter of time.
Speaking of which, remember three years ago when everyone was in love with Joba Chamberlain? And then everyone fell out of love with him, again demonstrating not only how hard the game is, but how easy it is to dismiss, and how easy it can be to pick up a good player after the masses dismiss? Well, now Joba qualifies as simply a good middle reliever (at least until Mariano Rivera retires, if that ever happens) and coming off a couple of very good years (Joba whiffed 77 over 71 innings in 2010, and had a ratio of 1.27, despite a 4.40 ERA). I think he will never be cheaper (I got Joba for $2 in Tout).
The Indians are going to suffer some this year as they try to figure just what they have and what their direction is. For Cleveland has some nice prospects in Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis, and Carlos Santana appears to be the real deal. The questions are what to do with Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore and Fausto Carmona? Well, in the interim there are a couple of players who might be under the radar in a deep format, and former Athletic Travis Buck might be worth a fifth outfielder spot. Buck, who suffered the blight of the Oakland outfielder--that is, play in the Athletics outfield and try to stay healthy--turning in a fine and surprising 2007 (.288-7-34 over 82 games) but being unable to stay of right body since. Well, a new team and new beginning in Cleveland, and well, he replaces hurt flychasers.
I remember seeing--and writing about--John Mayberry, Jr. after seeing him at the AFL several years back. He looked like a ball player. He ran like a ball player. He played like a ball player, and he hit with power. His drawback was a big swing with a hole (28 strikeouts to 3 walks as a major leaguer prove this) but, Mayberry seems to have taken some vows of patience. hitting .290 over 29 games, and I always have a soft spot for Stanford grads. Anyway, with Domonic Brown down, Mayberry has a chance to make his presence known (with authority?) and he started it right with a game winning hit the Phillies opener.
OK, I am not a Jamey Carroll fan, and, kind of like Ty Wigginton, he is one of those guys who has probably always turned a profit for owners, because no one every takes him seriously. I can’t believe Carroll is the starting second sacker for the Dodgers, but truth is he hit a fine .291-0-23 over 351 at-bats last year and has logged solid OBP totals (.379 with 51 walks to 64 strikeouts) and can swipe (he copped 12 last year) and is probably on every reserve list in the universe. I think kind of like Jack Wilson in the AL, Carroll could be steady and obviously cheap play, and one who really won't hurt you.
Finishing with a couple of AL starters, the obvious is Baltimore's Zach Britton, who was summoned from the minors to replace the hampered Brian Matusz, and who won his debut start, against the Rays, in convincing style. The Orioles third round selection in 2006 has been nothing short of stellar as a minor leaguer with 37-28, 3.09 totals over 538 innings, with 435 strikeouts, 197 walks, and 479 hits of which just 23 were homers. Britton held the potent Tampa lineup to three hits and three walks while allowing a run and striking out six over six innings in his first start (and win). Grab this guy.
Finally, I had my eye on the Rangers’ Matt Harrison for the last couple of years, but, let's face it: he sucked. In 2008, despite a 9-3 won-loss, Harrison had an ERA of 5.49 and WHIP of 1.56, followed by 6.11 and 1.64 in 2010, and then 4.71 and 1.52 last year. So, I dropped him from my sites. However, filling in as a starter Sunday, Harrison checked the Red Sox over seven innings, allowing a run, five hits, a pair of walks, and struck out eight, and maybe--especially now that I have ignored Harrison--he has arrived. If nothing else his team, the Rangers--are going to be monsters this year. Trust me on that: they will hit so much their pitching will not matter. However, because they will hit so much, their pitchers will relax and get even better.