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Saturday 20th Jan 2018

Bud Norris just threw the first pitch of the season for a called strike, so we are underway.

Truth is, as easy as it is to rag on the 'Stros, I like the potential of their infield at least with Brett Wallace, Matt Dominguez, Jose Altuve, and even Jason Castro. Those are all good guys to take a stake in building around, in my view, and Houston will be fun to watch evolve as such.

I have to say with Norris on my Strat-O-Matic team, and Matt Harrison on both my XFL teams, well, a low scoring game works for me tonight.

In the mean time, here we are back for our 17th season of the Hotpage. I was hoping this year to revive something I did around 15 years ago with "The Pedro Report" where we looked at the impact upon the final finish of teams that had Pedro Martinez (they averaged finishing second, among around 35 teams).

Well, this year I want to see about tracking Justin Verlander in the same way as I think he is the best, most consistent, healthy, and dominant starting pitcher in the Majors.

But, more on that over the next couple of weeks, as tonight we go back to looking at the players who look interesting and are ideally under the radar of most fantasy players, starting with Miami hurler Jose Fernandez, Miami's 20-year-old rookie pitcher. Fernandez, rated #19 on my Top 250 Prospect List for this year (you can get the full list as part of our Platinum Package), following a year split between A (7-0, 1.59) and High-A (7-1, 1.96). That gave Fernandez a cumulative 14-1, 1.75 ERA over 134 innings with 158 whiffs to 35 walks (0.925 WHIP). Yes, he is only 20, and yes, he is on a team in search of a new contending lineup. But, at 6'4", 240, Fernandez can obviously really bring it. When I completed the Top 250 this year, I went through all the players and highlighted the ones that really grabbed my eye. And Fernandez was the first one. Especially if you can hide him until you are sure the right-hander will be OK, but Fernandez is surely a guy to give some rope.  

Speaking of which, 5'7" Joe Ortiz placed sixth on my Top 250 after a 2-3, 2.15 2012 split between Round Rock and Frisco. The 22-year- old Venezuelan whiffed 52 over 62.2 innings, with just nine walks and 57 hits (1.053 ratio) surrendered. Ortiz, as a left-handed reliever, will see limited use but I really like the kid and since Texas is pretty good at developing arms, he is a guy to certainly follow.

What do you want to know about Nick Noonan, who looks to make the Giants' Opening Day roster? Well, drafted in the first round in 2007 by San Francisco out of Parker High School (San Diego), he went .296-9-62 with 26 doubles and seven swipes last year at Triple-A Fresno. Now 23, Noonan looks to make the club as their utility guy and the truth is I like him better than either Juaquin Arias or Kensuke Tanaka by a long shot. In fact, I like him better than Emmanuel Burris. Think he could be a useful utility guy, but that means value only in the deepest of leagues.

I have been pretty solid in my belief that the Oakland starting infield the bulk of this season would be Brandon Moss, Scott Sizemore, Jed Lowrie, and Josh Donaldson. Sorry, but Erik Sogard had a hot spring last year, I believe, and was no better than he will be this year. Truth is I don't see Sogard, Adam Rosales, or reven Hiroki Nakajima as role players, but I do see new Rule 5 pick-up Nate Freiman as a fine addition. A big (as in 6'8", 250) hitter, Freiman batted .298-24-105 at San Antonio last year. Drafted out of Duke in 2009 by the Padres, who simply ran out of room as part of their own re-build, the A's wisely jumped upon the 26-year-old. His presence basically gives the power/first base/outfield/DH spot the depth it had last year with Chris Carter. And, Bob Melvin is good at pulling those strings. 

Now Oriole Steve Pearce elicits thoughts of Brandon Wood. In 2007, the then 24-year-old climbed three levels, putting up .333-31-113 totals with 40 doubles and a 1.016 OPS. Unfortunately, the major league results have not translated any better than Wood, with Pearce posting big league totals of .234-13-78 over 709 at-bats and parts of six years. Pearce made the Orioles' Opening Day roster with a .340-7-18 spring, but alas, I would not expect any more from him than I would Wood at this point.

Boston has players I like, as in Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Jon Lester, but thanks to Bobby Valentine and the last year-and-a-half, I just have had a hard time liking much about the Red Sox. And, though I am not sure how .Jackie Bradley will fare, well, I both like him and like the fact that he is getting a chance in Beantown. Drafted out of the University of South Carolina in the first round in 2011, Bradley put up pretty good totals last year of .315-9-63 with 24 swipes over 463 at-bats. I really like his career 91 walks to 97 strikeouts (.423 minor league OBP) over 499 total at-bats, and think he is more than worthy of a pick up right now.

I saw the Angels' J.B. Shuck at spring training and he turned in a pretty good four innings, showing some speed (he swiped 74 over five years in the Astros chain). Signed as a free agent this off-season and drafted in the sixth round of the 2008 June fete by Houston, Shuck has a career minor league line of .301-7-158 with 80 doubles, 30 triples, and a great 256 walks to 210 strikeouts. Shuck is obviously just a #4 outfielder depending upon how Mark Trumbo is preceived, and again, in a shallow league there is not much cause to even look at Shuck at this point, But, remember the name if nothing else. That Josh Hamilton guy does tend to get hurt and Peter Burjos is certainly no lock on anything save running faster than anyone else. Shuck had a .358-0-10 spring with three swipes.

Now that Vernon Wells has a chance to once again be a full-timer with the Yankees, do I think he will improve? No. The last time Wells really made a contribution was 2010, when he went .273-31-88, his average dropping to .218 in 2011, and then "up" to .230-11-29 last year. For the bulk of last year, Wells made more by himself than the everyday starting nine for Oakland, and the same is likely true this year with the Astros. Never a strong on-base player, Wells dropped to .248 and .279 respectively the last two seasons, and at best he is marking time till Curtis Granderson returns. In a deep league, Wells will probably play every day, but he could simply be a drain on your average while contributing diminshing power and speed.

So Houston is getting crap for their rebuilding, but I am not sure what they are supposed to do, and actually, I think if nothing else they are trying to do it right, and build up a la Tampa Bay. I do like giving Matt Dominguez a chance, as the third sacker who was the Marlins' first round pick in 2007. Still just 22 years old, playing at New Orleans and Oklahoma City last year, Dominguez was an acceptable .257-9-69 over 123 games. I think if the Astros are patient with him, he could develop into a decent third baseman. You know. the .285-15-83 with 37 doubles Ken Reitz kind of guy who for a few roto bucks or a 19th round pick is a deal.

I also like now much travelled Brent Wallace, who was drafted #1 by the Cardinals, then traded to the Athletics, to the Blue Jays, and now the Astros. As a minor leaguer, Wallace has a .307-63-241 line with 89 doubles, although his major league numbers of .250-16-66 over 262 contests should make us less optimistic. The thing is the Astros are doing the right thing by giving both these players, who were so highly thought of when drafted, a chance. That does not mean pick them up for your team necessarily, although in a deeper format both will play every day and that means precious at-bats. But surely, just keep an eye on both. In fact, watch all the Astros youngsters and moves just to see who their next big thing might be.

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