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Sunday 17th Dec 2017

It has been a busy wedge of time.

Last week was the LABR draft, held in Phoenix, as well as the USA Today mock draft. During the week our Strat-O-Matic expansion draft moved along, and Saturday was my 720-plus round Scoresheet draft, and yesterday was time spent with the BaseballHQ First Pitch which passed through the San Francisco Bay Area. Wednesday I leave for New York and Tout Wars, and the Tuesday after that is the XFL expansion draft.

I am sure many of you are experiencing the same amount of tug in a number of directions, which is great. It is also hard, and can been tiring. But worth it. And, no less fun.

However, the one thing I really have taken away from the past couple of weeks is you can never have too many names out there.

So, as we finish off the intense peak of the draft season, here are a bunch of names that you might want to keep your eye on, and each nab under the noses of your league mates.

Ernesto Frieri is a 26-year old member of the Padres pen who put up these scary numbers last year: 1-1, 1.74 ERA, with a 1.11 WHIP over 31.2 innings with 41 strikeouts. When he was not hurling for San Diego, Frieri was at Triple-A Portland, where he was 3-1, 1.43 with 17 saves over 37.2 more innings, with 49 more strikeouts and a wicked 0.85 ratio. I snatched Frieri up in my Strat-O-Matic league, but that was the only place. Those numbers are terrific, and because of his limited major league experience, Frieri is sort of under the radar. For now.

If Frieri has an American League counterpart, it is likely Alexi Ogando, the 25-year old fireballer pitching within the Rangers’ organization. Over 41.2 innings for Texas, Ogando was 4-1, 1.30 ERA, with 39 whiffs and a 1.12 ratio. Ogando also managed time at two minor league levels last year, going 0-0, 2.05 ERA, with 42 more strikeouts over 30.2 innings and an 0.81 ratio. The biggest problem with Ogando is whether he should start, or go to the pen pushing Neftali Feliz to the rotation. Kind of a win-win situation for the Rangers.

Cincinnati's Chris Heisey is a player who caught my eye at the AFL two years ago (well, 2009). Heisey spent that year at a couple of levels, going a combined .314-22-77, with 35 doubles, and as a minor leaguer has gone .297-51-238 with a solid .825 OPS. Last year Heisey started the season at Louisville, going .241-4-13 over 20 games before being called up to the Show, where he went .254-8-2, and Heisey could quietly emerge. Compare him to Mark Kotsay.

The DBacks have a lot of question marks with their pitchers, and David Hernandez is the best-kept secret among them. Hernandez appeared in 16 games, starting eight and going 79.2 innings, with 72 strikeouts, with a 1.42 WHIP, posting an 8-8. 4.32 mark. The 25-year old was a 2005 draft selection of the Orioles in the 16th round, and was swapped to Arizona last year as part of the Mark Reynolds swap. As a minor leaguer, Hernandez whiffed 621 over 539.2 innings, and posted a 1.19 ratio. As a result, Hernandez becomes a sleeper closer candidate. Well, that and all that stands in the way is J.J. Putz.

The Indians are trying some things at third base, like Jason Nix (.224-14-34) and Jason Donald (.253-4-24), neither much of a threat, especially when Lonnie Chisenhall is lurking in the minors. Chisenhall, was .278-17-84 at Akron in 2010, and the 23-year old clearly does not have a lot blocking him. Chisenhall was originally drafted by the Bucs in 2006, but opted for Pitt Community College in North Carolina. Smart move, as the Indians selected Chisenhall #1 in 2008, and the third baseman could well be at the Jake (I mean, Progressive Field) this year.

First sacker Brandon Allen was drafted by the White Sox in 2004 in the fourth round, then traded to the Diamondbacks in 2009 for Tony Pena. Over seven minor league seasons Allen has amassed .264-121-462 totals, including going a .298-20-75 numbers in 2008 over three levels, then .261-25-86 at Reno last season. Over parts of two seasons at Chase Field, Allen is .221-5-20 ( 172 at-bats), and with Juan Miranda, Xavier Nady, and Russell Branyan the competition at first, Allen could come out of spring with a starting job.

I have been a big Kila Ka'aihue fan for a few years, in fact I have written about him more than a few times. Over 185 at-bats for the Royals last season, the big first sacker went .217-8-25, and despite a .307 OBP, walked 25 times to striking out 39, which are very good totals. Ka'aihue has a job going into the season, good power, and a good eye. On the up side he is Carlos Pena waiting to happen. (On the down side he is Carlos Pena after it happened.) But, there is some power potential out there (.266-154-598 over 966 minor league games) and the 26-year old is finally getting a real chance.

21-year old Cuban refugee Dayan Viciedo has played exactly 216 minor league games, and put up totals of .277-32-125 with 35 doubles. That prompted time at US Cellular last year where the White Sox third baseman went .308-5-13 over 108 at-bats. The only knock on the youngster is he is a free swinger (34 walks to 167 whiffs as a minor leaguer), but ideally his eye will improve with experience, and as long as his bat is making contact, even that will not be an issue. In the mean time Brent Morel and Mark Teahen own third. I would guess not for long, though. And, even if third is not in the ultimate picture, outfield could be (though first, manned by Paul Konerko, and DH with Adam Dunn are taken for now).

Forgotten man Brad Hawpe has averaged .279-23-92 over 162 games plotted over seven seasons. That includes .245-9-44 totals over 385 somewhat miserable at-bats last year split between the Rockies and Rays. Hawpe can regain his place and consistency now with the Padres, even though his power numbers could tail a bit in Petco. The other side is Hawpe also averaged 32 doubles, 74 runs, and 147 hits over that 162-game career average, and at just 31, a resurgence with the Padres seems like a no-brainer.

 

It was a busy night, Saturday last, as the annual LABR American League collected for their auction, hosted by the USA Today's Steve Gardner, at the headquarters of the Arizona Republic in downtown Phoenix.

I find these "experts" drafts increasingly tough, mostly because the strategies and approaches my league mates take does a couple of things.

One is there severe price enforcement, which is not necessarily a bad thing, for the result is most players do indeed go at an appropriate value. However, things can get dicey towards the end game when, for example, several teams need backstops, and those same teams have money to spend. In such instances, I have seen Bengie Molina go for $24 because indeed, the owners needed the position filled and indeed had the bucks. (This is one of the reasons I believe projecting ADPS and dollar values are useless, for players go for what the market will bear, as opposed to actual preceived value.)

Compounding this, savvy players like Chris Liss and Jason Grey know how to parlay their money so that controlling that end game is not what it used to be. For having enough dollars to control the board during the final ten rounds or so is critical to having a good draft. Knowing exactly what to spend, and when takes a lot of savvy and foresight. It also makes the prospect extra difficult with three or four players employing the same approach for many of the players or positions.

This LABR had only one real surprise when Alex Rodriguez went for $37, a little pricey for the third sacker, however this price is certainly nothing to criticize. Dave Adler copped the most expensive player in Carl Crawford ($40), and a few other high end players--Mark Teixeira ($36), Miguel Cabrera ($35) and Adrian Gonzalez ($34).

As for me, I tried to both waith for an opening, yet not let a bargain go past. Hence I got C.C. Sabathia for $26, and Jose Bautista for $29. I always like having the steady Sabathia on my team, but Bautista is not a player I anticipated owning. However, even if his homer totals drop by 20 from his 2010 totals, I will still have money well spent in the third sacker (where I stashed him) if he delivers .265-32-90 totals.

Perhaps the most frustrating and interesting tactical move occurred for me at the end, when needing to fill my Utility spot, I nominated Mike Moustakas with $12 of available cash. The future Royals third sackers price quickly rose to $8, and I stopped the conversation throwing out all $12, and silence prevailed. As acutioneer Don Drooker was just about to declare sold, Shawn Childs, who was partnering with Greg Ambrosius called out $13. I was floored, mostly as Greg and Shawn still had six open slots, and just $18 total dollars. Meaning they shot their entire end game wad, something I was not expecting (I wound up with Dayan Viciedo in that slot).

Mostly, I tried to fill my roster with good, everyday players, at or a little below value. How will they do? I have no clue, but, I think the pieces are there to succeed (note that Perry Van Hook's Captain's Log also published today, will list his team and thoughts).

Irrespective, here they are:

To see all owners and teams, go to USA Today LABR Rosters.  

One of the more speculative and often rewarding aspects of the spring and baseball is trying to determine just who will own what position, where, hopefully for this year.

I learned early on, believe or not, from early fantasy guru John Benson, that exploiting the uncertainly can certainly pay off both in at-bats, and with a low/inconsequential cost or draft pick. Of course, it is easier to get the most out of a position battle in a deep format, but plucking a starter from your league mates as a value is always satisfying.

However, instead of simply looking at positions, let's look at some players who might have to scuffle for playing time despite a fine resume and a good showing in the majors. Starting with the Tampa Bay left field situation between Johnny Damon and Desmond Jennings - as of now, that spot must be Damon's, for Jennings to grab, and, the results are not so much hinging upon Damon's experience, as opposed to Jennings. Jennings’ .190-02 over a brief look last September and whether the outfielder is ready to step it up. Damon did go .271-8-51 as a full time player last year, so, Jennings needs to prove he can do it, and the starting gig becomes his. Until that time, Damon will rule. Both will likely nab 400 at-bats this year, or thereabout.

In the big Apple, there will be those screaming for the wonderful prospect Jesus Montero to claim the backstop gig from long timer Jorge Posada. However, that will not be so simple with newly acquired Russell Martin, despite Martin's declining numbers over the past few years. And, for now I would certainly give the edge to Martin for a number of reasons. First, Martin gets paid more. Second, he has a lot more experience. Third, though somewhat worn, Martin is still just 28, and should technically be entering his peak production years, and fourth, moving to the American League, and the Yankees, should be the grounds for a resurgence. Not to dismiss Montero, but Martin needs to fail miserably, while Montero succeeds brilliantly in 2011 for the youngster to take the gauntlet from the vet. Well, unless Martin is really ready for a wheel chair.

Possibly one of the best and most lucrative battles around is between Cardinals outfielders Jon Jay and newbie Lance Berkman. Jay is ostensibly the fourth outfielder, with Matt Holliday in left, and Colby Rasmus owning center, while for now Berkman has right. And, while Berkman may still have some stick, and good on-base numbers, he has not played the outfield in eons, and has not been that fleet afoot for the past couple of years (not to mention oft injured over the same span). Jay, ten years younger than Berkman, at 26, certainly does not boast the power (.300-4-27 over 287 at-bats last year), but, he certainly has the wheels. However, this is another spot where it is reasonable to expect both players to earn 350-plus at-bats. Although, keep an eye out for dark horse Allen Craig. He could steal the thunder from everyone.

Atlanta has done well with advancing prospects for years, now, and Freddie Freeman is next in line, with his sites on first base. However, Freeman has to take the starting gig away from veteran Eric Hinske, who went .256-11-51 over 281 at-bats covering first for the Braves last year. Hinske will get his at-bats for sure, however he has only held a full time job once--in 2008--over the last five years. Not to mention Freeman, coming off his .319-18-87 year at Gwinnett last year at age 21, will step up as his young brethren of the recent past, Tommy Hanson and Jason Heyward, and there will be no looking back. Expect Hinske to get his 250 at-bats, and finish with .250-8-39 totals or thereabout. But Freeman is where you want to put your money.

Oakland and Billy Beane have, as Monty Python would put it, "presented us with a poser." They have Ryan Sweeney and David DeJesus dueling for right field time, while Josh Willingham gets left field. I actually think Sweeney and DeJesus, both accomplished hitters who always seem to get hurt, will get their licks in, but I would keep an eye on for now back-up first baseman Conor Jackson. True, Jackson is as brittle as his team mates, but Jackson is also right-handed. I see all three of these guys culling 350 or so at-bats. And, the Athletics actually being a better team for it.

In Boston, two more injured outfielders will be fighting it out for center field time, in Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron. Cameron is the vet, did hit 24 homers in 2009, and 25 in 2008, so the now 38-year old will get a chance to show his pop, especially since he hits righty. However, we really have to toss Ellsbury's brief totals--he played only 18 games--of 2010, and look back at the great table setting season Ellsbury had in 2009 (94 runs, 70 swipes). Cameron simply cannot deliver like that, and there is no reason to dismiss Ellsbury's recent resume until he gives us a season or more to justify it. However, Cameron will see some playing time helping out fellow vet J.D. Drew, in right field, meaning again, both should deliver some good plate time, and that time should be productive.

Arizona has another pretty good outfield duel going on as well, in left field, between Gerardo Parra and Xavier Nady. Parra went .264-3-30 over 364 at-bats for the D-Backs in 2010, though, and that is not much production, while though oft-injured, if Nady's .256-6-33 numbers over 317 at-bats, pointing to stronger full time production. Nady did clobber 25 taters for Pittsburgh over a full complement of games in 2008, and you simply have to give the edge to him. Parra, like it or not, is a fourth outfielder, if that.

Rick Ankiel was signed by the Nationals to play left field in 2011, after at best mediocre numbers in 2009 (.230-11-38) and 2010 (.232-6-24), and while we have to admire Ankiel's skill in being able to shift from pitching to position player, he cannot hit like Mike Morse. Of course Morse's issue has been staying healthy, but even Milton Bradley puts up a full year once in a while, and Morse, who was .289-15-41 over 289 at-bats for Washington last year, is due. Then he will sign a mega expensive long term deal, and Morse's body will break in half. In the mean time, Morse is the guy I would bet on.

I really like Pablo Sandoval. I really wanted him to do well last year, but grew increasingly frustrated watching the third sacker flail so often at first pitches, and especially bad pitches. True, he can hit. True, he has a quick bat. Untrue, he will adjust. The Giants do have Conor Gillaspie, a great looking prospect out there for their third base future, but I would look to Mark DeRosa, injured most of last year, and versatile as all get up, to get a look. And, if Pablo truly cannot adjust--for it was after May that his numbers tumbled--the vet DeRosa will be there to hold the hot corner till Gillaspie is ready. Which won't be long (keep an eye on future Giants first sacker Brandon Belt, too).

Finishing with one other third base situation, Wilson Betemit owns that spot in Kansas City, where a slew of good young players are assembling, and Betemit had a terrific 276 at-bats with the Royals last year, going .297-13-43. Betemit is still just 29, believe it or not, but Betemit has not started for a full season since 2006, and even then he only managed 373 at-bats, a career high. I am guessing before the season is through Mike Moustakas will own the third base gig, and Betemit will be back to backing up.

 

On Sunday night, I finished selecting--or should I say purchasing--a squad in RotoExperts Mock Draft. The league, which was a 12-team auction, $260 cap, 23-man roster, was created by Buck Davidson, and included many of the usual suspects, like Geoff Stein and Jeff Erickson.

Such leagues are very tough to plot, at least for me.

I do understand the league will be shallow, so I also know it can be prudent to take expensive players, and in this league, Hanley Ramirez topped the charts at $51, followed by Troy Tulowitzki and Albert Pujols, both at $49. The truth is, I simply have a hard time spending that much for a single player, though I must admit I have done it before, with some degree of success.

But somehow I think getting a roster full of very good--just below star level, most of the time--players can do the trick.

One of the things that makes a shallow auction league hard, though, is truly that money management. For, by spending a lot on a few players, one can get caught short at the end draft, yet if one chooses to be conservative and not bid for a while, the chance of eating a few bucks also presents itself.

In today's auction, one team left $39 on the board, one $34, and one $26, and while that in and of itself might not be a killer, leaving money like that on the table does count as a mistake, and a team can only endure so many mistakes over the course of a year and still have hope for success.

It’s also interesting to note that Miguel Cabrera went for $39, which means the team leaving behind money could have had their existing roster, plus Cabrera, minus their worst, cheapest player, and a move like that, before the season began, would be a huge boost.

I truly went into this auction with very little set plan, as I know how all over the map prices can be, at least with respect to scarcity, and going stars and scrubs. What I tried to do was wait a little, till most, if not everyone had spent some cash, and start looking for those very good players, ideally for a few bucks under value.

However, the one rule I made--and always make--is to never let a bargain go by. That is, sometimes we have a spot filled and cannot purchase said cheap player, but if at all possible, always grab a player who is clearly better than his price tag (note that I did not spend more than $29 on any player, nor did I spend less than $2, and I left a buck on the table.

This team might be a bit light on power in a shallow league, but it is high on strikeouts, saves, swipes, runs, and batting average. And if strikeouts are a harbinger for WHIP and ERA, it’s more than competitive, with a strong presence in seven of ten categories.

 

 

Since it is Valentine’s Day today, it seemed logical to go into the Hotpage's return to weekly status by looking at some players who probably broke our teams, if not our hearts last season.

Now, in choosing the players below, one of the things that drew me to writing about them is the serious loss of stature, for most of them were picks usually selected within five or so rounds at one point in their respective careers. However, in 2010, all suffered--several from injuries--down and disappointing numbers, and as a result, all have dropped in my 2011 mock drafts. In fact, several have not been taken at all in the handful of mocks I have done so far.

All, though, are worth looking at for 2011, at likely reduced prices.

Boston's Josh Beckett was hurt, and ineffective with a 6-6, 5.78 ERA-year over just 127.2 innings. Bad, but last time Beckett had a down year in 2006, he rebounded and won 20 games. Like his injured mates, Beckett kept pushing, although it was more like flailing. Becket was selected as the fourth pick of the 10th round of my FSTA draft. He is better than that, but I would be happy to nab the hurler that low.

Not sure if exactly the same can be said of the Yankees A.J. Burnett, who started 2010 with six wins and was unhittable, then fell into the horror of 10-15, 5.26 ERA-totals, losing his spot in the starting rotation. Burnett is pretty good, and like Beckett, there is no reason to think Burnett has suddenly gotten that bad. True, his whiffs dropped to 145 over 187 innings, but Burnett was not even selected among the first 18 FSTA rounds. You cannot have a better gamble at the end of your draft than a guy like AJ.

As long as we are looking at AL East disappointments, John Lackey's debut season at Fenway was simply bad. At 14-11, 4.40, this was Lackey's worst in the majors, but, his 156 strikeouts, despite the down year, were the most of the hurler's career. I took Lackey as the 11th pick of the 16th round at the FSTA. Quite a deal, I believe.

The Giants won their World Title without one of their most vaunted free agent signings, Mark DeRosa, who lasted for only 93 at-bats before a bad wrist felled the infielder/outfielder. This is more a case of adding DeRosa to your reserve roster in an NL-only format, for he did bang 23 homers and 87 RBI in 2008, and 21 taters with 78 knocks in 2009, and that alone is worth remembering. DeRosa has not been nominated in any of the mocks I have done, meaning he is the forgotten man. So, remember him at the end in a deep league. You can always dump him.

Now a Yankee, the Dodgers wore backstop Russell Martin out, although other catchers seem to be able to take the toil (whither ghost though, Johnny Bench?), and Martin struggled with his worst pro year (.248-5-26) in 2010, after finally being plagued with hip issues. Martin is only 28, and I think his conversion to pinstripes will bring him back enough to make the backstop a viable selection in most formats. Martin was the ninth pick of the 18th round at FSTA.

Oakland's Coco Crisp was hurt so much in 2010 it hurt me. Give him a full season in Oakland last year and his totals become .280-16-76, with 64 swipes. And, Crisp is due for a full complement of games. I plucked the outfielder as the third pick of the 15th round.

Former MVP Jimmy Rollins was dogged by a calf injury for most of 2010, and the result was a drop in just about every kind of total with .243-8-41 over 350 at-bats. Rollins is now 33, but his most recent season is an easy one to rebound from. Even as a gamble, Rollins was selected in the third round of the FSTA, though that is still low.

Maybe no player seems to have fallen from grace like Chone Figgins did last year, with a 41-point drop in batting average from 2009, and 52 fewer runs scored that the previous season. Still, he stole the same number of bags at 42 each year, and he is simply better than his off-year totals. Figgins was the 13th pick of the ninth round at the FSTA.

Ervin Santana does not seem to get any respect in any format. True, he does have kind of an up-one-year, down-the-next resume, but at some point that cycle should break. And his most recent 17-9, 3.92 year, with 169 whiffs over 222.2 innings suggests Santana should be better than the 11th pick of the 18th round, which is where I got him at the FSTA.

 

Greetings all, and Happy New Year. Welcome back to the Hotpage where I am pleased to start the year by publishing our annual Top 10 prospects, as identified by my annual Top 250 Prospect List. In fact, you can purchase the list, this year as part of our Platinum Package which you can purhase by hitting the link. (The $34.95 price also gets you our projections, and complementary draft software, and a lot of other good stuff.)

Over the years, my list has drawn a lot of praise because my algorithms for finding prospects is a unique tool that looks at power/control/level of play/age for all players. For hitters, walks and strikeouts relative to at-bats are just as significant as they are to pitchers, relative to innings. For the most part, this method reveals the usual suspects (for example, Jesus Montero was #6 last year). To make the list, a minor leaguer has to go at least 70 innings, or hitter at least 200 at-bats, all at High-A or above.

But, there are always a handful of names that rate high on my list before hitting the radar of the more mainstream eyes. In the past Carlos Zambrano (2001, 2002), Daric Barton (2008) and Neftali Feliz (2010) have topped the list, generally (Feliz is an exception) far before reaching top prospect status.  And, Michael Stanton ranked #3 last year, with Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman ranking ninth and tenth (remember, the list is published no later than February 1 on any given year).

 I think that is all, so, without further ado, here are the Top 10 prospects for 2011:

1. Jesus Montero (C, Yankees):  Montero, who scored #6 on the list last year, when as a 19-year old he went .337-17-70 split between Trenton and Tampa. In 2010 Montero spent the season at AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre with .289-21-75 numbers that included 31 doubles. This gives the young backstop .315-58-251 totals over 380 games, with a pretty good .371 OBP. Due to arrive behind the dish in the Bronx this year.

2. Freddie Freeman (1B, Braves): Freeman scored #10 on the list last year (right behind mate Jason Heyward) giving Atlanta an embarrassment of prospect riches. At just two months older than Montero (Freeman turned 21 last September), Freeman jumped two levels in 2009, going .282-8-58 over 111 games with a .363 OBP. Freeman spent last season at Gwinnett, going .319-18-87 with 35 doubles and a .378 OBP (.363 as a pro) and Freeman goes into spring training as the first sacker in the Atlanta camp.

3. Jordan Lyles (P, Astros): Houston's #1 selection in the 2008 draft, had success at Double-A Corpus Christi , going 7-9, 3.12 over 125 innings. He allowed 127 hits, a number a little high, but also mowed down 115 batters, while allowing just 35 walks. Lyles finished the season at AAA Round Rock as a 19-year old, and though he was knocked around a bit (0-3, 5.19 over 31.2 innings) Lyles continued to miss bats (22 whifs). He is around the plate as the 48 hits at that level suggests, so working the zone will be the goal this year, likely spent at Round Rock.

4. William Myers (C, Royals): The Royals have a lot of interesting youngsters, and Myers is right there. The third round selection of the 2009 draft, Myers began 2010 at Low-A where he went .289-10-45 over 294 at-bats, and then earned the promotion to Wilmington (remember, the first set of numbers do not count towards his ranking) with good. .346-4-38 totals, with 18 doubles. That all adds up to .315-14-83 for the year, not bad for a 19-year old. Oh yes, Myers walked 85 times, to just 94 strikeouts last year for an excellent .425 OBP.

5. Martin Perez (P, Rangers): Perez is a perfect example of a player whose primary stats would never merit a second glance as a propsect, but whose secondary numbers scream for attention. Spending 2010 at Double-AA Frisco, as a 19-year old, Perez went 5-8, with a 5.96 ERA over 24 starts. However, over 99.2 innings, he struck out 101, or better than one per innings. Perez did allow 117 hits, and 50 walks, but he was also generally 2-4 years younger than the hitters he faced. He could be Danny Cabrera, it is true. But, he could also be Tommy Hanson.

6. Mike Moustakas (3B, Royals): Remember those interesting youngsters the Royals have? Well, strap yourself in, starting with their future third sacker. Moustakas, 22, was a first round pick of KC in 2007. Last year he split between AA Northwest Arkansas, where the corner patrolman was .347-21-76 over 66 games, before moving to Triple-A Omaha (.293-15-48 over 52 more games). Moustakas season totals were .332-36-124, with 41 doubles and a decent 34 walks to 66 whiffs. That is a monster year, and Moustakas with be manning something in Kansas City soon. 

7. Eric Hosmer (1B, Royals): Royal #2 in a string of three, Hosmer hit the socks off the ball last season, split between High-A Wilmington (.354-7-51 over 67 games), then .313-13-35 over 50 games at AA Northwest Arkansas, for an aggregate .338-20-86, with 43doubles and nine triples. The Royals first round pick in 2008 (third overall) also put up a .406 OBP with 59 walks to 66 whiffs. Expect Hosmer, 21, to start 2011 at Omaha, and about the only thing that will hold him back is the glut of prospects Kansas City already possesses.

8. John Lamb (P, Royals): KC's fifth round pick in 2008, the 19-year old shot through three levels of play in 2010, starting with a 2-3, 1.58 mark in the Midwest League over 40 innings (43 whiffs, 26 hits, 17 walks), then onto High-A Wilmington where he was 6-3, 1.45 over 74.2 more innings. That led to season's end at Northwest Arkansas, where Lamb hit a little bit of a wall with 2-1, 5.45 totals over 33 innings. Lamb's totals for last year were 10-7, 2.38, with a fabulous 159 strikeouts over 147.2 innings. Lamb allowed 122 hits, and 45 walks in a dominant performance. 

9. Jaff  Decker (OF, Padres): The Pads first round selection in 2008, Decker announced his presence with authority that year at lower levels, going .3443-5-34 over 52 games. The flychaser then spent virtually all of 2009 at Fort Wayne with .299-16-64 numbers with 25 doubles and 85 walks to 92 strikeouts, and that precipitated a promotion to High-A Lake Elsinore in 2010. There the 20-year old went .262-17-58, with 14 doubles, and 47 walks to 80 strikeouts for a .374 OBP.

10. Hank Conger (C, Angels): Though Conger has been around since 2006 (he was a first round pick) he is still just 22 years old. Since 2008 Conger has handled an advancement a season, going .303-13-75 at Rancho Cucagmonga, and then advancing to  Double-A Arkansas (.298-11-65) in 2009. Last year Conger honed his chops at AAA Salt Lake where he went .300-11-49, with 26 doubles. All along, the backstop has displayed fine strike zone judgement, culling 152 walks to 243 whiffs (55:58 last year) for a solid .360 minor league OBP.  

So, there you have it, some names for now, and hopefully some for tomorrow. Tune in starting in February when the Hotpage returns to its weekly format.

 

Best thoughts going out to all of you for the best and safest of holiday seasons, as back we are this time with a look at the annual winter meetings, and the winners and losers therein.  So, let's just have at it.

Boston Red Sox: Boy, if there is truly a big time winner for the month of December, with the signing of Carl Crawford, and trade for Adrian Gonzalez. Clearly the team to beat, on paper anyway, going into the 2011 season on the AL side. Maybe in MLB. Winners.

Giants: The defending World Champs pretty much pulled an attrition, losing the likes of Juan Uribe, Edgar Renteria, and Aaron Rowand, while retaining Pat Burrell and Aubrey Huff, and adding Miguel Tejada. Especially if Mark DeRosa returns in any kind of shape, the Giants will be no worse than they were going into 2010, which is not bad. As the season progresses, should they be able to work Brandon Belt and, maybe Conor Gillaspie into the infield mix, they could become a force. Winners.

Pirates: No, I don't think the Pirates will contend, but, they do have some fun young names in Andrew McCutcheon, Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata, and add in second sacker Neil Walker. But, the Bucs did well picking up throwaways with acceptable resumes and some potential. For example, to buoy the existing rotation of Paul Maholm and James McDonald, the Buccos added Scott Olsen (who is still just 26) and Kevin Correia. And, adding to their outfield signing Matt Diaz is also a nice move and again, though the Pirates don't have the horses to make the post season, they look improved. And that is a good thing. Winners

Orioles: The O's are in a similar position to the Pirates:  many losing seasons in a row, with some bright young players, in a tough division. So, the Orioles took Mark Reynolds and JJ Hardy, and for better or worse, those are not the missing parts as I see it to portend a competitive team. Losers.

Angels: When was the last time the Angels went this far into the following season without adding a big name? It has been a while, but in truth, as nice an addition as Carl Crawford would have made, the Halos still have a very nice lineup. If Peter Borjous can show he can hit at the major league level, and if Kendry Morales can keep healthy, and if either Alberto Callaspo or Brandon Wood shows they can play third base all season, the Angels, in the always interesting AL West, will compete. After all, their worst starter is Joel Piniero and Juan Rivera is their DH. And, they have Mike Scioscia as a manager. Huge. Winners.

Rays: Another team in transition, but, like the Angels, the Rays have enough basic talent--and they have some players in the minors as well--in the majors right now that there is no need to panic. Think that they let go of Jason Bartlett, Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena, and still field a pretty good team. Reid Brignac becomes the shortstop, Dan Johnson inherits first base, and with Desmond Jennings in the fold, left field is covered. The Rays have the luxury of a deep rotation, especially with Jeremy Hellickson as a sixth potential starter, so that gives a bargaining chip to Tampa, a team that is still quite young and steady. Winners.

Cubs: The Cubs added Carlos Pena when they could play Tyler Colvin at first, and are now stuck with Blake DeWitt at second. I don't know, but were it me, I would have tried harder to get Brendans Ryan or Harris to play second, and not worried so much about first. Losers. 

Mariners: Oh boy, adding Jack Cust and taking another chance on Erik Bedard. The plus side is the M's have Dustin Ackley. The down side is they don't have much else and even if Ackley is a monster, he won't be the difference between making the Mariners good, and staying mediocre. Losers.

Phillies: Going into 2010, the best team in the majors did very little on the surface, making those under the radar moves--signing Dennis Reyes, Brandon Moss, Jeff Larish, and Jesse Barfield--that a winning team does. I just have to think a couple of these new Phils will make the team and make a contribution as the Phils main roster is pretty well set, with the only newbie to the starting lineup is probably Domonic Brown. Again, no moves means basically a good move. Winners.

Nationals: They spent a wad on Jason Werth, and are rumored to be after Cliff Lee, though Washington is unlikely to seal the deal with the lefty. Like the Rays did, the Nats have a bundle of great prospects and names, and even if Stephen Strasburg is out till 2012, they would not seriously compete till then anyway. Which is right around when Bryce Harper should be ready. So, why they spent a bundle on Werth is beyond me. Bad move. Bad. Losers.

That is it for this time. Please again, have a great holiday season. I will be back second Tuesday in January with the Top 10 2011 Prospects.

 

Greetings, and what a terrific World Series. Though I had a sentimental connection to the Rangers, the Giants were clearly the dominant team this year. And, as much fun as it has been to have two different teams in the fall classic, the Giants have been relishing a potential title as long as I have been a baseball fan (since 1959).

As quickly, though, as the Series ended, I was off to Phoenix to catch some Arizona Fall baseball, some of which included participation in Ron Shandler's First Pitch Arizona. I have written many times that this event is simply my favorite baseball anything during the season. For in the fall, most deadlines are off and the average attendance at a fall league game is around 350.

Now, if you don't know what the Fall League is, each major league franchises sends their most promising young players to Arizona from early October to the middle of November. There are six fall league teams, and each has a handful of players from various franchises. There are generally three games played each day among the six teams, and this is indeed the place to see the next big potential stars of major league baseball.

This year I flew in a little early to relax under the lovely fall sun and catch a few extra games with my mate Todd Zola and it was indeed a great week.

So, what--and who--did I see? Well, let's take a look at some of the names that might interest you.

Bryce Harper (OF, Nationals) has generated a ton of buzz in his short career. The number one overall pick in this past years’ draft is just 18 years and was drafted for his power potential. He lived up to expectations banging a couple of major dingers, one around 400 feet down the right field line at Scottsdale Stadium. I saw him a few times over the week and he drew three walks, and struck out a few times, but also laid an absolute perfect bunt down the third base line last Wednesday, an act that took us all by surprise. Harper also hit a couple of singles, and was involved with my favorite play this fall, when he and Ryan Adams were both thrown out on the same play after backstop Caleb Joseph drilled a single to center field. The single did indeed look like a double, but Surprise center fielder Logan Schafer cut the ball off, and made a great throw to the cutoff, and both runners were nailed at the plate by Salvador Perez, the Rafters catcher. By the way, Joseph clobbered a tremendous homer against Phoenix on Saturday night. One of the scouts, however, told me Harper clobbered one just as far.

For those local to the Bay Area, and the champion Giants, you may be wondering where the team will be replenishing in defense of their title. Well, 2011 might be bumpy, but there are three infielders on the horizon who could rebuild the infield in much the same way as the Giants rebuilt their pitching. Starting with Charlie Culberson (2B, Giants) whom I saw no fewer than four times, and who hit the ball hard each game for Scottsdale, going a collective 4-for-12, with a pair of doubles and four RBI. The 21-year old Culberson also reached base on errors a couple of times, he also walked a couple of times, hit a sacrifice, and whiffed a few times. He spent 2010 at San Jose, going .290-16-71.

Conor Gillaspie (3B, Giants) played third and DH once each, going 4-for-6, with a double, a sacrifice fly, a walk and he was hit by a pitch once. Gillaspie, also 23, knocked in three and showed solid enough defense the one game he patrolled the hot corner, and like Culberson, he hit down on the ball hard, and was able to drive pitches.  A first round pick of the Giants in 2008, Gillaspie spent 2010 at AA Richmond, going .287-8-67.

Finally, Brandon Belt (1B, Giants) was mentioned by a number of scouts as the best power hitting first sacker in the minors. The aptly-named 22-year old Belt split 2010 among all three levels, finishing at AAA Fresno, going a composite .352-23-112, with ten triples and 43 doubles. Belt went 3-for-5 over two games, and hit a tremendous homer against Peoria Tuesday night and a triple against Phoenix Friday night. Belt also hit a sacrifice, walked and walked three times, and the first sacker is not far from an ATT calling.

22-year old Dustin Ackley (2B, Seattle) was the Mariners first round selection in 2009, and he splite 2010 between AA West Tennessee (.263-2-28) and AAA Tacoma (.274-5-23), resulting .267-7-51 totals that many insiders regarded as disappointing. Possessed with a great eye (75 walks to 79 whiffs last year) Ackley was simply a revelation the couple of games I saw him play, going 6-for-7, with a double and a lined homer that would make Don Mattingly drool (a hard liner pulled down the right field line). The one time Ackley made an out he still drove in a run.

Michael Taylor (OF, Athletics) was originally a fifth round pick of the Phillies in 2007, and the big (6'6", 260) hitter was coveted enough by Billy Beane to swap Brett Wallace, whom the Athletics had just acquired for the flychaser. Taylor went to the Jays (who traded for Wallace) as part of the Roy Halladay deal. Taylor spent a somewhat uninspired 2010 at AAA Sacramento for the Athletics (.272-6-78) and whiffed three times on Friday night, however. Still, if Taylor, and first sacker Chris Carter come through as anticipated for the green and gold the pair will be the power source to make Oakland more than competitive.

There was not that much pitching worthy of note at the AFL this year, but easily the best start was made by 24-year old Josh Collmenter (P, Arizona) who simply had his way with Phoenix over six innings, allowing just a pair of singles, while striking out ten. A 15th round pick of the Diamondbacks in 2007, Collementer pitched at three levels in 2010, going 14-6, 3.38, with 133 whiffs over 152 innings (136 hits and 51 walks allowed).

One reliever of note is Cole Kimball (P, Nationals) who whiffed Surprise into submission during a Thursday game. A 12th round pick in 2006, Kimball spent time at High-A Potomac (3-0, 1.82, six saves) and AA Harrisburg (5-1, 2.33, 12 saves). Kimball has had control issues in the minors (375 whiffs to 214 walks) and at 24, he is old to be pitching at his 2010 levels, so the success is to be anticipated.

Prior to seeing Danny Duffy (P, Royals) there was a lot of buzz that he was among the top pitches in Arizona this fall. Selected by Kansas City in the third round in 2007, Duffy toiled at four levels in 2010 going 5-3, 2.74 over 62.1 innings. Duffy whiffed 69, walked 17 and allowed 52 hits. However, none of that mattered for over one plus inning he allowed six runs on six hits, a pair of walks, and was mercifully lifted by Surprise manager Mike Guerrero after hitting Conor Gillaspie in the second inning and failing to get an out.

Finishing with a chip--off--the--block Steve Lombrodozzi (2B, Nationals), son of the former Twin is a shortstop who had good range and speed (two triples and 5-for-9 over a pair of AFL games). A 19th round pick of Washington in 2008, Lombardozzi spent 2010 at two levels going .294-6-49 with 35 doubles, 24 steals, and 11 triples.

That will be it for this time. Have a wonderful Thankgiving and we will see you the second Monday of December. And, make sure and tune into the now daily Mastersblog with commentary on the world.

 

So, here we are, at the end of another season. It would be my 15th writing The Hotpage, as a matter of fact, and as usual, it has been like the season itself: fun, frustrating, curious, demanding, and a pleasure to serve.

Going into the last week, I would suggest one thing, and that is not to play cautious. If you have a close lead, nothing could be worse than being caught flat footed, so, make the moves you must to play aggressively.

If you have a safer lead, then caution is just fine.

But, always play to win, no matter how it might appear to your opponents.

Otherwise, I can only wish for you as many first place finishes as you can squeeze.

As usual, the Hotpage goes into winter mode, and that means the second Monday of the next months, we will focus on the AFL, starting in November, then What if the Playoff Teams Were Roto Teams, and Winners and Losers of the Winter Moves, as we move into the New Year.

So, do tune in. And, remember we have some good football stuff going, and The Zen Zone will pick back up, and other pieces will continue, as will the The Forum manned by my partner Lord Zola.

In the mean time, enjoy your off season. And remember, this game is supposed to be fun.

Otherwise, see you in a month.

Greetings from the Midway,where I am spending a week with Diane, primarily to observe the half-century birthday of cousin Cherie. Of course that means right now that football is the focus, not just because of the time of year, and the fact that the Cubs and Sox are going home post season, but the Bears taking down the Cowboys? That will be the talk of the town for the next five days, and makes next Sunday at the sportsbar more than promising.

Still, it does not mean that baseball is in our tailight, and that means another cluster of names to watch, most of whom are ressurection projects, starting with Kansas City's Luke Hochevar. A former first rounder, the 26-year old has been a yo-yo the past four years, coming up to the majors, dropping back down to the minors. He is a distressing--distressing both for him as a player and his now long-suffering team--5-5, 4.81 this season, but the Royals have been doing their best to play spoiler, and Hochevar's last start against Oakland he did go a good five innings, allowing just a couple of hits, losing on an unearned pair of runs.

Now 30, former roto-darling (way back in 2008) Rich Hill was brought forth by the Red Sox, his new home. Hill was 3-1 3.74, with 55 whiffs over 52 innings toiling at Pawtuckett, though control and his 29 walks are still an issue. Released mid-season by the Cards, Hill could get a start or two over the final weeks of the season and help your team in unexpected ways.

Much the same could be said of Willie Bloomquist, who moved to the Reds during the week, and who can help out with this ability to play anywhere and by adding some speed. With a .296 OBP, and .388 SLG this year, don't look for much of a contribution from Bloomquist aside from potentially filling a hole, and picking up a swipe or two, both of which are real possibilities these last weeks. As with all the players above and below this time, they may not be pretty, but, they have a skill, and if you are fighting for position in the standings right now, getting it done is the point. Worry about how pretty after the last out is recorded.

Aki Iwamura is sort of a Bloomquist counterpart, getting some playing time with the Athletics in deference to Kevin Kouzmanoff's injury issues. Aki is playing the hot corner, and like Bloomquist cannot add much pop, with .177-2-11 totals for 2010 over 181 at-bats. But, if Iwamura gets some playing time--and he has been--the 31-year old could add a couple of runs or swipes and that could be a difference maker.

No one seems to have had more promise at first, or subsequent trouble at first than the Rangers and their AL West rivals the Mariners, so Justin Smoak, with his .199-10-39 totals this year, over 302 at-bats, split between those franchises, could not prove the case better. Smoak was hitting .271-7-25 at Tacoma over 133 at-bats since the Mariners sent him off after the big league strugges, but that is of little significance. Smoak has to prove it at Safeco. It is in the majors he needs to show his worth, so, if you need some pop, he is likely available in pretty much every format.

Perhaps the best shot at a helping arm this time is the Padres Chris Young, called back from his rehab time in Portland where he was 0-0. 1.42 over 6.1 innings. Young, though, was among the first of the latest wave of San Diego hurlers, and his return could really make a difference as the Padres struggle to hold onto first place and post season play. Young actually has the resume, so, if by some reason he is floating in the free agent pool, Young is a good gamble.

Finishing with some journeymen bats, Mike Aviles was the leading hitter in the majors last week, poking the ball at a .609 clip, with 14 hits over 23 at-bats, including a swipe and four homers.

The Phillies Wilson Valdez has hit .469-0-4 this past week, over 22 at-bats and as his team streaks for another crown, the hot bat will get serious attention.

Then, the Padres Will Venable has hit .474-0-2 over 19 at-bats this past week, and though he has been caught stealing twice, the point is his team is sending him.

With this last troika--and as noted above--the documentation is less than what I usually write in support or suspicion of a player. But, the end of the season is upon us, and, winning pretty is no longer part of the equation. At this point you want any live body who will play, deliver at-bats and help your points, and get the job done.

And, all three--Valdez, Venable, and Aviles--could indeed do that as can their counterparts this week. They could, similarly, blow up, but if you are now fighting for a title and points, playing it safe is simply not an option. Adjust your roster accordingly.

 

First and foremost, I have to apologize for the late posting this week, and well, my router died last night, at around 8:30 PM (during the Cowboys and Redskins, as well as True Blood, to which Diane is addicted). So, I not only lost half the piece I had been working on, but, well, no Internet (writing a column on my IPhone would be possible, but a task).

It is a pretty fun time, I must admit, with football starting, serious pennant races in San Francisco, Tampa Bay, New York, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Colorado, and San Diego. Oh yeah, that US Open Tennis Final was last weekend, too.

But, baseball is what we look at here, and let's start this time by looking at the poor Cubs, who finally advanced prospect Sam Fuld who it seemed had earned a gig on the struggling club last year after a brief (97 at-bats) but some very good (.299-1-2 totals, with a very good .409 OBP, fueled by 17 walks to ten strikeouts) numbers. With .285-24-.218 minor league totals, including 37 triples and 106 swipes, Fuld may not be the power source, but he has the speed and eye (302 walks to 254 whiffs) Fuld could oindeed be the tonic to the troops that could help the Cubbies to a resurgance.

Surely many of the players we are looking at are with eyes pointed to 2011, and Logan Morrison, the big (6'3", 235), a 22nd round pick of the Fish in 2005, should be among them. Morrison has good power (.292-53-274 with 105 doubles) and an excellent eye (238 walks to 291 strikeouts for a .383 OBP) as a minor leaguer, and his 2010 totals with Florida this year are .303-1-14, with four doubles, but a terrific .413 OBP (30 walks, 35 whiffs), and a promising future to boot.

I have long been a fan of Hank Conger, the Angels first round pick in 2006. With minor league totals of .297-47-254 over five seasons, Conger has moved up the Angel chain with numbers complemented by his .300-11-49 this season at Salt Lake, at age 22. With 152 walks to 243 strikeouts, Conger's eye is not quite as good as his mates above, but, it is still quite good. Conger, a backstop, is one of the main reasons the Angels could consider making Mike Napoli expendable during a few weeks back.

The Dodgers Trent Oeltjen deserves notice for having such a wonderful combination of Nordic name, while being born in Australia (New South Wales, to be exact), so where else would he fit but in the melting pot of baseball? Oeltjen, originally signed by the Twins in 2001, then went to Arizona before LA, and at 27 has toiled at AAA for four years. Over that time Oeltjen has been .302-31-218 with 78 swipes, putting his minor league numbers at .297-47-418, with 196 steals. Oeltjen does not have quite the eye as his mates, but his .361 minor league OBP (259 walks to 626 strikeouts) is still acceptable.

The Red Sox promoted Lars Anderson, their 18th round selection in 2006. The 22-year old first sacker, Anderson has developing power. His primary totals of .279-53-278 with a modest .442 SLG, but Anderson also belted 129 doubles over four minor league seasons, and that suggests a translation to homers at higher levels. Anderson has a decent eye (271 walks to 467 strikeouts for a .372 OBP) and Boston will indeed have to find a spot for him before too long.

As I watched the Giants and Padres go at it last weekend, speedy Luis Durango was on display as a future table setter. A diminuative (5'9", 160) Panamanian, Durango appeared for 14 games at Petco last season, and spent the bulk of this season with Portland, going .300-4-24, scoring 42 runs while stealing 35 bags. As a minor leaguer, Durango has .322-3-129 totals, and another excellent on-base number of 413 with 277 walks to 252 strikeouts. The knock, though is his .372 SLG, with just 43 doubles and 21 triples, giving him 67 extra-base hits out of a total of 599 hits. Meaning Durango is likely a role player.

Finishing this time with a troila of potential reclaimation projects, the Reds brought back Edinson Volquez, who certainly has electric stuff when he is on, as his minor league numbers of 4-0, 1.43, with 47 strikeouts over 44 innings this season. Of course, when he is off, as his 3-2, 5.14 totals, with a 1.69 WHIP imply, he is really off. Still, this is the time of year to gamble on a cheap flier for next year and Volquez probably will not fall much lower. And, his seven inning, one-hit performance of last Saturday (one hit, 11 whiffs) suggests maybe the on is back. A good stretch run gamble and one that could carry over.

Then there is poor Chris Tillman, a lynch pin in the Erik Bedard deal, that even if Tillman flops, still makes Seattle looks kind of sad.
And, so far Tillman has indeed flopped, with 3-9, 5.70 totals for the Orioles with a 1.60 WHIP and just 59 strikeouts over 102 innings. Contrast that with 40-31, 3.69 as a minor leaguer, with 532 K over 520 innings, and his fine 11-7, 3.34 this season at Norfolk, and the hope is the wildness is gone. Then again, remember, Tillman is still just 22, so cutting a little slack is not a bad idea.

Finally, thre is 33-year old Jay Gibbons, who has had numerous issues and controversies over his career, and who came back from the dead to hit .347-18-93 at Albuquerque over 343 at-bats this season. That prompted a call-up to Dodger Stadium, and his .349-5-15 over 43 at-bats, with a .404 OBP and .698 slugging average should be enough to at least land the vet a look as a DH somewhere in 2011.

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