With about three weeks to go before regular season, I am about 3.5 drafts into the year with "real" teams, as opposed to those make believe mockers.
One league--the XFL- drafted last November, and my Strat-O-Matic sim league is all set, but also based upon 2011 numbers, so though I have speculated with the likes of Jimmy Paredes and Chase d'Arnaud, it might be a couple of years before I know if those picks were good ones.
But, I have completed LABR, and am halfway through an NFBC 50-rounder, not to mention saw a few spring games in Phoenix last week, so with the benefit of hindsight--and, while we still have a little time to prepare for upcoming drafts and auctions--let's look at some of the under the radar guys I like, ideally for this season, even.
I saw the Mariners a couple of times last week, and while they have starters up the middle with Dustin Ackley and Brendan Ryan, keep an eye on Japanese import Munenori Kawasaki. Kawasaki differs from most of his Seattle mates in that he is older (at age 30) and experienced, and though the diminutive middle infielder might just be a role player, he could be a good one. Over five seasons in the Japanese Leagues, Kawasaki hit .295-14-201, but also stole 147 bags and scored 330 runs. I saw Kawasaki spell Ackley, hitting both a single, but also dropping down a perfect suicide squeeze, and that veteran expertise will be good for the Mariners. And, though his value will only be up there in AL only and the 50-player NFBC formats, keep an eye on Kawasaki all over.
Chone Figgins might have a hold on third base as spring moves forward, but I would expect 2009 third round pick Kyle Seager to own the hot corner, possibly as soon as when the team breaks camp for their season opener. Seager has a fine minor league line of .328-28-150, with a terrific 130 walks to 166 strikeouts. Seattle will have to give Figgins a chance to return their contract investment, but he can also play not just third, but second at the outfield. More important, Seager, a line drive hitter, has to have a chance to play every day, and the 73 doubles Seager hit over the past two years suggest developing power.
Everyone knows that Buster Posey is the starting backstop for the Giants, but the question of back-up was not clarified at all last year during Posey's injury hiatus. Neither Chris Stewart (.204-3-10) nor Eli Whiteside (.197-4-17) are hitters. But, Hector Sanchez is, with .295-26-218 totals as a minor leaguer, with 76 doubles and a solid .373 OBP (123 walks to 186 strikeouts). Sanchez, just 22, hit .258-0-1 last year over 13 games eclipsing the abilities of his older mates. With the Giants wanting to be careful with Posey's use both in general, and behind the dish, they will need some offense to compensate and Sanchez is clearly the man at this point.
Oakland has a was of starting pitching possibilities. Dallas Braden is back from surgery and Brett Anderson is close behind him, and newly signed Bartolo Colon will surely get a chance to twirl some. Then there is Tyson Ross and last year's ace, Brandon McCarthy, and after that there is the litany of Billy Beane trade spoils including Tommy Milone and Brad Peacock. But, the guy I would keep a major eye on is Jarrod Parker. Acquired during the off-season from the Diamondbacks along with Collin Cowgill for Craig Breslow and Tevor Cahill, Parker was a first round selection of Arizona in 2009, and assembled 28-19, 3.49 totals over 70 starts, but unfortunately the right hander missed all of 2010 with TJ surgery. Parker looked good his one start I saw (a pair of shutout innings, with four whiffs) although he did struggle his second start (a pair of runs over two innings) against the Dodgers. Still, among the cluster of young Oaklanders, Parker is the one I like the best.
Like the Oakland starting pitching battle, outfield in Texas is a crowded house. With Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Julio Borbon, Craig Gentry, Conor Jackson, and David Murphy all vying for time, where would Leonys Martin fit in? Well, the good hitting Cuban managed 73 minor league games after signing in 2011, hitting .295-4-42, with 16 doubles, five triples, and 19 swipes over 343 at-bats. Martin pulled 27 walks to 38 strikeouts, and Texas will have to find a place to stick their budding star, who is just 23-years old, a place to play soon. Noting the health histories of Hamilton and Cruz, soon likely means sooner.
Anthony Swarzak was a second round pick of the Twins in 2004, and I always thought he would blossom. With minor league totals of 52-49, 3.97, over 149 minor league starts it seemed like the control specialist was the kind of arm the Twins would take advantage of. I mean think Glen Perkins and Nick Blackburn, right? But, in 2010, the right hander got twelve starts and only could manage 3-7, 6.25 totals. However, last year, pitching at a spot starter and out of the pen, Swarzak righted things a lot going 4-7, 4.32. Now 26-years old, Swarzak has enough experience and while the Twinkies look to rebuild and rebound following their tough 2011, keep an eye on Swarzak. I think i he earns the fifth starter job in the rotation before too long. And that he keeps it and gets enough better for the Twins to feel good about that second round pick.
I have been a big Aaron Crow fan since he was selected in the first round of the 2009 draft by the Royals. Like the Athletics mound, Kansas City has a lot of possibilities in their rotation with Luke Hochaver, Bruce Chen, Felipe Paulino, Danny Duffy, and newbie Jonathan Sanchez all hunting for rotation time, the battle lines are drawn. That said, Crow was a starter in the minors with a 14-12, 5.26 mark over 32 starts. And, though Crow's ERA is a bit lofty, his 160 strikeouts over 181 innings to 70 walks numbers dropped a lot during Crow's 2011 in the Royals pen. As the youngster aclimated to The Show last year in the pen, Crow was 4-4, 2.76 over 62 innings, with 65 whiffs to 55 hits. As long as he can control the walks--Crow allowed 30 last year--he should be able to establish himself as one of the rotation members in 2012, and establish himself as a pretty good piece of the Royals rebuilding machine.
St. Louis has a big hole to fill with the departure of Albert Pujols, and while Lance Berkman resurrected himself last year, it is probably unreasonable to expect the aging first sacker--he will be 37 this year, and without the luxury of Pujols protecting him in the order--and while the Cards have a lot of outfield options, watch the possibility of a Matt Adams advancement as the season progresses. Adams, at 6'3", 230 pounds does not look much like a jock, but make no mistake: the dude can hit. With .316-64-241 totals over 299 games, Adams also has 81 doubles, and a solid enough .365 (93 walks to 209 strikeouts) OBP and fabulous .917 OPS. The 23-year old, who was a 23rd round pick of St. Louis in 2009 will be up for the task.
Stay tuned, as next week we will look at some sliders. For, it takes all kinds to make a season.