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Saturday 24th Jun 2017

Back we are, heading into Week 4 as the major league clubs start making the moves in anticipation of their team making a move at a given spot.

If you team is off to a slow start a la Chris Davis or Mike Jacobs, I feel your pain, and though I do not have either the pair on any teams, underperformers abound on my squads. Which means I am really interested in a lot of the guys below (although if you have everyday players who are underperforming, but have a solid job, hold onto them) for some of my holes.

Starting with the big names, the Mets jettisoned Jacobs and handed Ike Davis, the 23-year old son of former Yankees reliever Ron Davis who was a first round pick in 2008. Davis has a nice resume of totals (.288-22-92 over 182 games) with a .371 OBP (89 walks to 160 whiffs, which is not bad), and was hitting .364-2-4 over ten games at Buffalo when called up. He has already whacked a homer his first week and if available, should you need to fill first, Davis is an excellent choice.

The American League counterpart would be Texas' Justin Smoak, who now has the job as Davis (as in Chris) was demoted (which suggests the regard the team holds for reserve player Ryan Garko). Drafted #11 in 2008, seven ahead of Davis (as in Ike), Smoak's minor league numbers were .293-16-68 over 135 games. He managed a brilliant 96 walks to 99 whiffs. On the Rangers, Smoak will, well, smoke. He is likewise a terrific acquisition, with a chance to contribute nicely this season and surely beyond.

Then, Washington recalled outfielder Justin Maxwell who was faring well at Harrisburg (.333-0-2 over four minor league games this year) posting minor league numbers of .258-52-195 over 363 games scattered among the three levels. Maxwell, selected in 2005 in the fourth round does not have the eye and patience of Smoak with 175 walks to 353 whiffs, but if he gets playing time those numbers will improve. Maxwell has struggled in the show before, but ideally the six walks to seven strikeouts he has garnered in Washington this year is a harbinger. Note Maxwell is a gamble, but in an NL only format he could be a help.

Don't ask me how Mitch Talbot suddenly got as hot as he did last week with a pair of wins including a nifty complete game six hitter against the White Sox. Talbot did post some good minor league numbers including 748 strikeouts to 265 walks over 905 innings. The Tribe are struggling, but Talbot will likely keep the starting role for a few more starts at this point, and he has yet to show any domination like he did in the minors, but the talent to do so is there and improves with each strong start. Talbot is a good gamble in an AL only format.

While we are at it, Toronto's Brett Cecil also deserves a look should he be available in your league. Cecil was a first rounder in 2007 who made 17 starts last year (7-4, 5.30 over 93.1 innings) but did not made the club out of the spring. Cecil was recalled last week and jumped on his first start going six plus innings, whiffing eight, allowing four runs, but grabbing a win. Cecil struck out 228 over 228 innings in the minors, allowing 73 walks, very nice numbers.

Boston suffered a double-outfield whammy with Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron inured, and the guy taking advantage is Darnell McDonald, who homered his first game as a major leaguer. At 31, McDonald could be this year's feel good story of an aged star who finally got a chance. At 31, he was a first round selection of the Orioles in 1997, a journeyman who then played for Tampa, Cleveland, back to Tampa, back to Cleveland, then Tampa again, then the Twins, Washington, the Reds and finally Boston where he hit .341-2-8 at Pawtuckett before his call up, and two homers his first week. Ride the hot hand, and I think McDonald is just that.

Next we have 25-year old Brennan Boesch, advanced this week when Carlos Guillen went on the DL, a third round selection in 2006. A big lefty, Boesch reminds me some of Matt Joyce, another Detroit outfielder who was a good FAAB buy a couple of years back/ Boesch was hitting a stellar .379-3-17 over 15 minor league games, and though he has some pop (,275-28-93 last year at Erie) he also strikes out a lot, like Joyce. For a few FAAB bucks, though he could be a good investment in a deep AL format.

In closing, let's look at a middle reliever from the Reds in Carlos Fisher. In the absence of good starters in a deep league, a good middle guy can always fill a hole and I live Fisher, 27. Last year Fisher struck out 48 over 52 innings, allowing 50 hits. His undoing was the 31 walks allowed, but that is something (400 whiffs to 142 walks over 454 innings) he has mastered in the minors, so there is a solid chance he does the same as a major leaguer and earns some wins a smattering of saves and a decent WHIP (1.25 as a minor leaguer) as a major leaguer.

In the mean time, keep the faith, you and your teams. I will.

 

 

Welcome back for Week 3 of the 2010 Season, a time where hitters seem to be settling in, although our teams do indeed bounce up and down in the standings like ping pong balls. And, sorry for the late posting, but so many directions these days, and just not enough time.

Still, even this early in the season there are indeed names who spring up week to week, and though it is tough to be patient and wait for Mark Teixeira to break out of his slump, a good owner is always looking and thinking about tweaking his or her lineup. Although there is a fine line between being too passive and letting your team go with too little intervention, and overmanaging and overthinking.

That said, let's take a peek at the players who grabbed  my eye over the last cycle.

I saw Doug Fister pitch in the spring, and to tell you the truth, the 26-year old reminded me a lot of a guys like Mark Hendrickson and Jon Rauch. You know those tall guys (Fister is 6'8") who seem like the'y should be overpowering, but really are not. Kind of like Desi Wilson seems like he should have had a lot of power (Wilson was 6'7" and 240 pounds, yet he only hit two homers over 130 major league at-bats). Well, Fister shut out Oakland last week on three hits, a week after he was unimpressive, lasting four innings (six hits, three walks). Somehow, though, the 480 hits he allowed as a minor leaguer over 417.1 innings still tells me I really don't want to take a chance on Fister unless I have a serious hole in my pitching. I think Fister will be a weight on your ERA and WHIP.

Looking locally, as in Bay Area, I picked up Gabe Gross in both my AL only leagues, hoping he would show some of that promise and get a little playing time. Then the Athletics did the correct thing, in building a starting outfield with Coco Crisp, Raj Davis, and Ryan Sweeney, but with Crisp injured, I thought Gross would get a chance. And, over the ocurse of the season, he would do ok. Well, then Travis Buck sneaked past both Gross and Jack Cust to grab the starting gig, but over the weekend Buck's slump and some good games (four hits, two RBI) from Gross, shifted the playing time back to the former Jay. As with Buck, Eric Chavez is getting every chance to compete and prove himself, but I am guessing if Chavez keeps struggling, Cust will be back to replace him, and Gross will hang as well. The A's have a good team defensively, and their pitching is fine, and they can hit for average and exhibit speed.  But, they lack pop. They will need Gross (who belted 13 homers over 301 at-bats for Tampa in 2008) and Cust to come through when Buck and Chavy don't.

Across the bay, in San Francisco, Eugenio Velez will get the bulk of playing time with Aaron Rowand down after a beaning. Velez can be electric, with terrific speed. And, he tied into a Ramon Troncoso pitch Friday with a tremendous blast, showing his power. Velez has speed, and his average is ok (.267 as a minor leaguer) but he is also a free swinger (.310 career OBP) and can hurt you as much as he can help you.  

In Texas, they have a nice little team, with some pitchers who could be ok despite hurling in Arlington. Add fifth starter Matt Harrison to the list following two very good starts so far . Harrison actually had better strikeout totals (454 over 654 innings) in the minors, and was only 22 when he made the Rangers rotation in 2008, going 9-3, but with a 5.49 ERA. He is 0-1, 1.38 right now over two starts and 13 innings, and he is on a team that can hit, which is the closest you can hope for when trying to draft to wins.

Back to the Senior Circuit, the Reds debuted 2010 #1 pick Mike Leake last week and after two starts Leake is 0-0, 2.63, with 8 strikeouts over thirteen innings, but 12 walks which is a bit disconcerting. Leake, the PAC-10 player of the year and eighth pick overall last June somehow jumped past Stephen Strasburg and even his teammate Aroldis Chapman, though because he is a rookie and first pro, well, expect some lumps. Better to keep him stashed on your reserve roster if you can.

Lefty Greg Smith, a sixth round pick of the Diamondbacks in 2005, who was swapped with Chris Carter and Brett Anderson to Oakland as part of the Danny Haren deal, then moved to Colorado with Carlos Gonzalez for Matt Holiday has made the Rockies rotation and assembled a couple of good starts. The LSU alum is not a strikeout guy, but he also has managed to keep the hits well below his total innings (184 over 207.3 major league innings) but has been vulnerable to the long ball (24 over 207 innings). If he can keep the ball in Coors, he could be a nice pick in an NL only format.

My friend Chrissy Chitwood has been hyping the Cards third sacker, David Freese for a couple of years now. Freese, the everyday third sacker in St. Louis, has started the season strong with .353-0-5 totals over his first ten games this year, following a good debut in 2009 (.323-1-7 over 17 games last year). I would like to see Freese appear more patient. As a minor leaguer Freese walked 161 times to 322 walks, but in 2007 Freese walked 69 times to 99 strikeouts, a nice balance. If he can move towards that St. Louis will have a nice player at the hot corner for a few years to come.

Back to the AL for a couple of quickies. First, Andruw Jones is now on the Pale Hose and is hitting .296-3-6 over 36 at-bats. We know he can hit, and Jones is still just 33, so if you need a utility spot filled, he is the guy. At least this week.

Finally, when my mates Glen Colton and Rick Wolf nabbed Yuniesky Betancourt for a buck in LABR they shuddered, but I maintained a $1 starter was always a bargain. So far Betancourt is hitting .318-2-5 and has likely earned his money for Glen and Rick. Remember Betancourt hit .289, .289, and .279 over 2005-08, so he could be just fine on their roster, and even on yours in a deep league. If he keeps it up, even in a shallow format. 

 

Into the breech we go, as Week 2 and full time box score tracking is back as a primary function in our fantasy lives.

So, let's get started with Detroits fourth outfielder, Ryan Raburn, a player who has not received a lot of at-bats as of yet this year, but, a player I really encourage some patience with should you have him, especially in a deep format. Raburn had a nice .533 slugging average last year, whacking 16 homers over 291 at-bats. Better, he has already logged a game at second base which could give some nice flexibility. Just remember, though, it is a long season, and if Raburn gets 250 at-bats, he will likely give you your investment. Just try to be a little patient.

Same with Mike Napoli, who seems to be on everyone's dog list. Through eight games last year, Naps was .214-2-5, so the outlook was not all that much better. But, this is a guy who has whacked 20 homers in each of the last two seasons. True, Jeff Mathis is getting more starting time now, but that is because he boasts better defense. However, Mathis is a career .203 hitter with a career .278 OBP. Napoli will get his licks, and he will give you your double digit homers, and ideally be better rested the second half this year (his average dropped from .293 with a .380 OBP first half to .249, .309 the second).

San Francisco picked up Todd Wellemeyer, and he could be a nice addition/stash in a deeper league. Wellemeyer had a great 2008 in St. Louis, going 13-9, 3.71 over 191 innings, but fell off last year to 7-10, 5.89 over 121 innings. The 191 innings represented an increase over any of Wellemeyer's previous seven seasons of 120 innings, and much of his struggles last year I believe can be attributed to that. He came to SF bringing a fastball at 91, and with a strong staff in a pitcher's park, he seems a good bet to deliver as a fifth or sixth starter.

Then there is that schizy Oliver Perez, who pitches great one year, then falls off the edge of the earth the next. Such it was that following his good 2007 (15-10, 3.57) was a worse 2008 (10-7, 4.22), to last year's nightmarish 3-4, 6.82. Perez got his first start Saturday and though he lost, he pitched well, allowing just four hits (and four walks) over 5.2 innings, with six whiffs. When Ollie is on, he has wicked stuff, so watch him carefully, and if you can stash him, do so.

I shuddered when I wound up with Nick Punto on my AL Tout Wars team, but since Punto has been playing pretty regularly, I am less freaked. True, he has no power, but over his career he has averaged .248-3-39, though with 66 runs and 19 swipes and a decent .322 OBP. He does play all over the infield, which does help your flexibility and it looks like he will get the bulk of playing time at third, especially as long as the Twins keep winning. And, Punto has hit both .284 (2008) and .290 (2006) so he is capable of better than that average. 

Back to San Francisco, Edgar Renteria set a Giants (including New York) record with 11 hits over his first three games, including a game winning dinger. Coming off a poor 2009 (.250-5-48 with an anemic .635 OPS) I don't think that Renteria is back, however, despite the gaudy start. In 2008 his OPS was .699 (.270-10-55), but that was down from .332-12-57, with an .860 OPS in 2007. I don't see Renteria as a long term contributor in SF, thinking Juan Uribe and Freddie Sanchez as the principle short/second combo there. Renteria has simply lost enough of a step to make a difference in the field and at-bat.

Is Houston bad? it seems so, as the Astros appear to be a team who are lacking a clear direction. Which means at-bats can be found all over, and actually Jason Michaels, again in a deep format, could be useful. He was awful last year (.237-4-16) and in 2008, split between Cleveland and Pittsburgh (.224-8-53) essentially worse. Before that, though, Michaels was a good #4 outfielder, with averages between ,267-.330 over the previous five years.  Michaels has some pop and as a fourth outfielder in Houston, could give you some good numbers as a #5 on your NL fantasy team.

With Greg Zaun hurt, the Dodgers advanced catcher AJ Ellis and though I his .278-17-220 totals over 568 games are pretty good, his .398 OBP is great (274 walks to 255 whiffs). Ellis could do well spelling Russell Martin and well, with othere AJs Hinch and Pierzynski, well, maybe there is something to backstops with that moniker?

 

Greetings again as we start another season of baseball and Hotpages. Though this year we are now under the broader banner of Mastersball, it is indeed still the same old Hotpage, now entering our 15th season.

As we start the year it is a head scratcher that two players, each of whom belted at least 27 dingers last year, are essentially without a home. That would be Jermaine Dye and Jack Cust, the latter just waived by the Athletics in a move that is only surprising in that Oakland signed Cust to a one-year deal not that long ago.

I have to think both will be snatched up before too long since each hit with as much power as last year. But, especially for Cust, where if a team can hang long enough, will force Oakland to eat the bulk of his salary. I have Cust on a couple of AL only teams, and Dye on my Strat-O-Matic squad. I am surely keeping Cust, while looking to replace Dye by next year, but, for now, panic should not be the word.

On the other hand there are some players who made their team's rosters who are either sneaking into getting some early season playing time, or simply guys not getting any respect.

To start, St. Louis second sacker/outfielder Skip Schumaker, who was not even selected in the NFBC draft I oversaw two weeks ago, and whom I nabbed as a reserve pick as part of Todd's and my Classic Team. This is a player who has bagged virtual identical seasons in 2008-09, hitting .303-4-34 last year with a pair of swipes and 85 runs scored. His first full season Schumaker hit .327-2-14 over 177 at-bats, and is clearly a .300 hitter. True, he does not do a lot besides hit for average and score runs, but, as a reserve pick, filling in for an injured players (and he does qualify at both outfield, second, and middle infield) he won't hurt you a bit. Plus, if you have him on your reserve list, that means someone else cannot take him should a spot open.

I had really written of Oakland's start, Justin Duchscherer, thinking the combination of injury probability and lack of endurance would just not be worth it. Well, I scored Thursday's exhibition game and Duch was a revelation, changing speeds and hitting spots and mowing down batters despite never throwing anything I saw clocked at more than 84. When Jason Grey was questioned at LABR as to why he would take the Oakland rightie for $2, he noted that Duchscherer did not have to do much to recoup the investment. True enough. Four starts like Thursday and Jason nets a profit. You might want to pick him up if avaiable and ride it out as long as possible.

On the other side of the diamond, Barry Zito started the game on the SF side and was simply awful. Everything that Duchscher was, Zito should be, but alas. Through three innings Duchscherer tossed 38 pitches, and in the third inning, Zito threw 36, and that pretty much tells you what you need to know. Still, Zito is interesting as a reserve pick, but limit it to that for now.

While we are in the bay area, Chad Gaudin, is my guess to pick up the No. 5 spot in the Athletics rotation with Trevor Cahill going to the DL. Gaudin, who enjoyed his best success in Oakland in 20007 (11-13, 4.42 over 199 innings) has become more of a strikeout pitcher since then, and at age 27 could still make a step towards completeness as a pitcher.

Matt Tuiasasopo made the Opening Day Seattle roster, and "Tui" could be a nice surprise source of pop for the team. Tuiasosopo went .261-11-35 over 266 at-bats last year at AAA Portland, and knocked a pretty well clubbed third spring homer. Seattle can similarly use the pop as much as any of us.

How long have we been waiting for Austin Kearns to actually deliver something? Long enough to no longer think it is worth it, and well, that is sometimes exactly when players deliver. No one ever doubted Kearns' talent, but the stats, let alone health, have long been lacking. Still, Kearns is a fourth outfielder in Cleveland and in a deeper league, in a quiet role, he could do ok. Think Gabe Kapler or Matt Diaz.

Those same Indians also held onto Mark Grudzielanek, in deference to Luis Valbuena struggling with stick and injuries. Long on my under-rated team, Grudz is 40, but with KC a couple of years back he still hit .299-3-31 over 331 at-bats. In a deep league that is a god-send, and again, even in a shallow league, if he gets everyday at-bats and hits .290, and does nothing else this stabilizes your average and at least affords an opportunity for run production. That has to beat an empty spot, or a wild speculation in most leagues.

For example, Texas is giving Andres Blanco the everyday job at second for now, until Ian Kinsler returns from the DL. At 26, Blanco has career totals of .251-1-31 over 349 at-bats. Surely, in a deep league, you have to take what you can get, and taking a gamble on Blanco is not unreasonable. But, Grudz is a better selection. However, if you had Kinsler in the NFBC, and Schumaker is still among the available reserves, shame on you.

 

Quite a weekend in the Big Apple as the AL auction not only kicked off Tout Wars weekend, 2010, but also our first partnering foray with the NFBC. As a result of the agreement, this time we drafted at Citi Field, instead of mid-town Manhattan. And, as much as I love being mid-town, it is not much of a ride on the subway (nothing close to what freaked John Rocker so many years back).

This year's AL draft, though, was the toughest ever.

One of the things that makes Tout hard to begin with is there is no real player loyalty, save the occasional man-crush, and players really are sold at value. And, that is fine. The problem this season was that principle held true, with Joe Mauer going for $30 to lead off, and other notables being Zack Greinke ($27), Ian Kinsler ($28), and, Arod, who topped the crowd pulling $38, a far cry from the injury-related $25 he cost me last year.

And, that is fine, but my real strength is the end-game, and holding enough money to control that portion of the draft. This year four other players went the same route, so getting an Alberto Callaspo for $7 as a sneak through (he cost $12), or Brett Gardner for $8 (he went for $18) just did not work.

As a result I wound up covering second base with Nick Punto ($8) and, shudder, Garrett Atkins for $13 (actually, Jason Grey said he has never seen me shudder quite so much.). Even players like Jhonny Peralta ($18) and Delmon Young ($14) maxed out their potential worth going into the draft.

The good news is everyone was equally hampered by this, meaning we all have a cluster of iffy, overpriced players.

How did I do? Well, I don't know how things will wind up. I really work hard on watching my money and building as much of a roster from everyday players as I can. But, for your edification, the results are below. They speak for themselves. I think.

  • C-AJ Pierzynski $13
  • C-Mike Napoli $16
  • 1B-Carlos Pena $24
  • 2B-Nick Punto $7
  • 3b-Chone Figgins $22
  • SS-Erick Aybar $16
  • MI-Cliff Pennington $7
  • CI-Garrett Atkins $13
  • OF-Jason Kubel $23
  • OF-Juan Rivera $13
  • OF-Ryan Raburn $10
  • OF-Jack Cust $14
  • OF-Eric Byrnes $5
  • DH-Pat Burrell $2
  • P-Jake Peavy $17
  • P-John Lackey $16
  • P-Mark Buehrle $11
  • P-Scott Feldman $5
  • P-Carl Pavano $3
  • P-Ian Snell $1
  • RP-Brian Fuentes $19
  • RP-Brad Ziegler $1
  • RP-Scot Shields $1
  • Res-Landon Powell
  • Res-Ramiro Pena
  • Res-Vince Mazzarro
  • Res-Gabe Gross

 

 

Such a busy time. Drafts all over the place, in fact last week I had a couple, this week I spent working the NFBC Double Play and a classic draft Saturday morning. In a couple of days it is off the The Big Apple for Tout, and then my chance at the NFBC Classic event.

I am guessing most of you are in the same boat, and, well, it has kind of been a Hotpage tradition to remind everyone, including me, some of the things to help make drafting successful. So, let's have at it.

  • Exploit scarcity. This is always a good path irrespective of format, although clearly in a 12-team mixed draft league the scarcity will be scarcer than in the same format with 15 teams. But, I have done a lot of mocks this winter and I have watched even more, and the teams I see that had the best balance in that straight classic NFBC format were teams that addressed the middle infield, and third base first, then worried about the outfield and the corners, with some pitching sprinkled here and there. In other words, even if you don't have pick #1, if you have a chance at Troy Tulowitzki or Chase Utley, I would be inclined to take Tulowitzki. Why? Because coming back there will still be one of a handful of very good second sackers, even if Ian Kinsler is gone. But, the real impact shortstops--and Jose Reyes is iffy, and Jimmy Rollins lacks the pop of Tulo, and well, Hanley Ramirez will be picked before any of them--get thin really fast. Adam Laroche or even Kendry Morales will be there a few rounds later, so let someone else take Ryan Howard and focus on production where it gets thin. And, as long as we are on the subject, catching similarly gets weak really fast.
  • There is a lot of pop out there in the outfield. This is a sort of a corollary to the first point. There are a lot of Josh Willingham/Jack Cust-types out there, so you should indeed be able to fill your outfield with pretty good established players and still focus initially on the leaner spots noted above. An outfield of Cody Ross, Juan Rivera, Nick Swisher, Cust and Willingham might not seem too sexy, but couple them with LaRoche, Tulo, and Brandon Phillips and suddenly you have a good everyday core that will drive in and score runs. Grab Rajai Davis and your speed is covered to boot, and all you need to worry about is pitching.
  • Speaking of pitching. In one mock I did I pretty much followed the above strategy for five rounds, and then grabbed five pitchers in a row--four starters and a closer--and those names were Matt Garza, James Shields, Mark Buehrle, and Brett Anderson, and snatched up Jonathan Sanchez later. OK, not dominant, but, not bad, and a nice and steady little history of injury risk. And, I pretty much got the flychasers noted above, save I managed to get Jason Kubel instead of Cust.
  • Use the wheel spots to your advantage. If you draft near the front or back of a snake draft, double up picks and try to invoke some second guessing into the minds of your opponents. Clearly if a great player comes up at the right time, snatch em up. But, if you can cause grief and fill your closer spots by taking two good stoppers, don't hesitate.
  • Use patience. Baseball is a game of patience, and so is fantasy baseball. Don't panic if players you target get selected before you project. Just always have contingencies, because there are a lot of players, and a lot more will be coming up this year. Not that you can bank on winning via the free agent pool, but set yourself up to control as much as you can of the end game. And, use the clock, if there is one, to your advantage.
  • Go your own way. If you have a sense or notion of what will win, follow it, and don't worry about it failing. Even in our misses there are seeds of success. Remember, Copernicus was nearly burned at the stake for suggesting the earth rotated around the sun and well, last time I checked, he was right.
  • Have fun. The single most important thing. It is hard to be successful if you are not having fun, and well, even if you do succeed, if it is not fun, what is the point? It is a game we play because we love baseball and we love games. That goes a long way with me.

 

And back we are, pretty much on our regular schedule through the end of the season. Meaning we meet here, every Monday.

Today promises to be an auspicious one, as tonight is the Bloomberg Sports Experts League Draft, which is open to the public for viewing. Bloomberg has assembled a fun collection of players from around the globe with a handful of my brethren within the industry. Check the forum and Mastersblog for the exact URL, but for now, try Realtime Sports.

Which makes it a busy weekend, as Saturday was my marathon Scoresheet draft (35 rounds worth, although most teams did fill the first eight rounds of their teams with keepers), and this coming weekend I head for Las Vegas and the first weekend of the NFBC drafts.

Such a busy time, and I will report on Vegas, and then Tout in the next few weeks. So, today I thought I would like to give a last minute list of sleepers and sliders, and why I think one particular way or another about these players.

So, let's get to it.

Cliff Pennington (SS, Athletics): I am not so sure Pennington still holds sleeper status since I wrote about him in our magazine (Fantasy Baseball Guide 2010, Professional Edition, on sale now all over the place) and hyped him at both First Pitch and on our forum, but, in a deep league of any format he is a great middle infield addition. With a great glove and good speed, not to mention the exodus of Bobby Crosby to Pittsburgh (where he is having a hot spring), Pennington is likely to keep the job all season. Not much power should be expected, but Cliff will hit at the bottom of the order and should be able to hit around .265-3-45 with 60-plus runs and 20-25 swipes. He could hit for a higher average, but I also think those stats are doable and well worth the $5 or less he should cost in most formats. Sleeper.

Marco Scutaro (SS, Red Sox): Going from the current Oakland shortstop to a former one, Scutaro has made himself into a pretty good ballplayer, and even more than earned his starting job in Boston with his .282-12-60 in 2009 ("who knew?" as my friend Andy Regal would ask.)  And, Scoot has developed a selective eye as well, but, I just don't see him repeating those offensive numbers, especially in Boston where the pressure is different, and where Scutaro is coming off his best season at the age of 35, the time most players start to slow down. Slider.

James McDonald (P, Dodgers): There are a lot of reasons to like a particular player, and one thing I like about pitchers is when they are developed by the Dodgers, who really do the best job of shaping future star hurlers. McDonald functioned some last year as the #5 starter, but with mixed results. He started four games, going 1-1, with a nasty 8.16 ERA, only lasting into the fifth inning once for a 6-5 win over Colorado. After that, McDonald spent time in AAA (1-0, 3.26 over six starts) and 41 bullpen appearances in LA (4-4, 2.71). He is also one of those gangly (6'5", 185 pounds) guys who throws a handful of pitches, all with pretty good control. With a little over a year in the majors now, what is not to like? Watch him realize he belongs and step forward. Sleeper.

Chris Davis (1B, Rangers): Talk about ouch, last year Davis walked 24 times while whiffing 150, and his average dropped 47 points (.285 to .238), OBP the same 47 (.331 to .284) and SLG 107 points (.549 to .442). Just in terms of OPS, .726 will not cut it on this high flying and scoring team, especially with super prospect Justin Smoak in the wings. Let's see who drops off the face of the earth first, Davis or Russell Branyan, a statistical soul mate. Slider.

Skip Schumaker (2B, Cardinals): Eerily consistent since earning a full time job in 2007, when he notched a solid .333-2-19 season over 177 at-bats, and then converted to second base, and that sort of makes Schumaker under the radar, especially when you think of the great gaggle of first-tier second-sackers populating the majors right now. But as with Pennington, in a deep format a guy who can hit .300 and knock in 60 while scoring 75 is just fine. Sleeper.

Garrett Jones (OF, Pirates): I have actually seen Jones picked early in mock drafts--as in before guys like say Juan Rivera--and, that should not happen. Jones had his 15 minutes of fame, but that .972 OPS has anomaly written all over it. Jones' OBP, for example, jumped to .371 last year after 1038 games with a .311 OBP (3817 at-bats).  That does not just happen, and I have to think that Jones had hits fall in and, now that there is a major league book on him, it will be back to .311 and that will not be good enough to hold a job. Even in Pittsburgh. Slider.

Nate Schierholtz (OF, Giants): With .307-80-400 totals, with 41 swipes, over 626 minor league games, not much more Schierholtz can prove in the minors, and going into the spring he looks like the starting right fielder at ATT Park. Schierholtz does have a smooth left-handed swing and can actually help his team with some pop and defense in right. He could use some plate discipline (85 whiffs to 21 walks as a major leaguer, a trend which has followed) but Schierholtz hits down on the ball well and makes good contact, and that, with experience, bodes well. Sleeper.

Jason Kendall (C, Royals): There was a time when Kendall was pretty much a staple on my teams, but, no more. In fact we had a pretty good discussion on our forum around the value of Kendall, even in a deep AL league. Does .241-2-43 over 452 at-bats (note there were seven swipes and 48 runs) help more, for example, that Landon Powell's .229-7-30 (19 runs, no swipes) over 140 at-bats? Because Powell was up so many fewer times, despite the low average, it does not entrench like Kendall's, and for power, no question. But it is intriguing that a full-timer can give more grief than a part-timer. Especially on the Royals, I would avoid Kendall in all but the deepest formats. Slider.

So off I flew early Saturday, to the Valley of the Sun, for the 2010 AL LABR auction sponsored by the USA Today and hosted by Steve Gardner.

As I have written, these auctions are a lot of fun, really no different than your home league in that we have all played with and against one another for so long that, well, it is like playing in your home league. Away from home, that is.

It was a whirlwind day as I landed, then beat it from the huge car rental facility at Sky Harbor to Phoenix Municipal Stadium where I hooked up with BBHQ’s Dave Adler and watched the bulk of the Angels/Athletics game that day.

It was a quiet affair, tied at 2-2 when I had to split in the late afternoon to check into my hotel and then make it to the draft by 5 PM.

Of note? Well, Jared Weaver threw hard, but was not so effective. Starting Angel center fielder Peter Bourjoius made a fielding error and looked horrible on a Dallas Braden whiff. Dallas McPherson made a nice barehanded grab on a bunt and promptly threw the ball right into the ground, a la Lonnie Smith in the 1981 World Series.

Coco Crisp, who was the DH, belted a nice double into the gap and was able to stretch it out nicely, and Athletics first base hopeful Chris Carter drilled a hard liner to center, grabbed this time by Bourjous, but well, Carter looked good.  And Eric Patterson could not get down on a grounder, and, when he tried to backhand it the second sacker wound up with a face full of hardball, and had to leave the game.

Somehow this spring, over the few games I have seen, errors see to be running amok. There were three—actually could have been four legitimately called—over the six innings I watched, and by the time I left, pretty much all the starters from both teams gave way to players with numbers is the 80’s, none of whom were announced.

Still, it was a day in the sun watching baseball.

Then I beat it off to The Arizona Republic where Mastersballer Perry Van Hook played the role of auctioneer as I drafted against Jason Grey, Greg Ambrosius, Nick Minnix and others.

I can tell you a few things about my team, though we are essentially sworn to secrecy about the results till they are published in the Opening Day issue of the Sports Weekly.

First, because I had such a hectic morning, I didn't log into the web to see any updates, so, I did not know that Joe Nathan had made an early exit earlier in the day, so I was a bit puzzled when I copped him early on for $17.

“Hurt his elbow,” said Jason, and I blanched, spending any free second before the first break trying to find out what I could about the injury. I want to believe the Twins manager, Ron Gardenhire, when he says it is no problem and Nathan is fine, but, just in case I also picked up Brian Fuentes for $14, giving me ideally two closers for $31, just a couple of bucks more than Jonathan Papelbon fetched all by himself.

Meaning I don’t need a full season of Nathan, and, should I get one, I will have some saves to swap.

What else? Ian Kinsler seemed a bargain at $27, at least as long as he stays healthy, and I think Randy Winn for $3 might be my best bargain. At least if he gets me 350-plus at-bats.

The following morning 12 of us reassembled for a straight snake draft which was as much fun. Between bagel bites and beer gulps (well, ok, green tea for me) we managed to work through 276 picks in a little over 75 minutes. A pretty good clip.

I picked first, and took Hanley, thinking I could get some pop at the corners down the road. Sure enough, with my wheel picks I took Pablo Sandoval and Ryan Zimmerman filling out the bulk of my infield.

I do think it is interesting that five of the top thirty picks were second basemen—Kinsler, D-Ped, Chase Utley, Robinson Cano, and Brandon Phillips.

In filling that spot I was able to wait a little later and grabbed Asdrubal Cabrera, and, I also waited on closers, taking Bobby Jenks, and Fuentes back-to-back as my 13th and 14th selections.

The one thing I do like about picking first/last is that ability to double up picks at a given position, and thus fill both slots/and try to start a scarcity run.

As noted, as much fun as it gets. And, the month is just beginning!

If you are a fantasy player of some long standing, you have probably heard the argument that “for every Frank Thomas there are a hundred Paul Konerkos.”

The basis for this is that is so easy to be enamored of a hot youngster riding a rocket to The Show. However, statistically, it is just likely that that prospect will struggle for a while ala Mr. Konerko, as opposed to being the next coming of Ted Williams from the first at-bat as Mr. Thomas was.

And, it is not that Konerko is a bad player, at all. Quite to the contrary. However, it took him time--and three teams--to adjust, and that is more the norm.

The thing is, fantasy players all want to win because, well, winning is fun. But, we also want to be smarter, being savvy enough to pick up just the right combination of solid vets and unheralded up-and-comers to grab a title. But, we also want to be the one who “discovers” the Hanleys and Lincecums and Longorias under the noses of our league mates.

Unfortunately, the “Thomas/Konerko Principle” tends to raise its head killing those best laid plans, as names like David Price and Matt Wieters will no doubt remind us all (especially those heavily invested in either, let alone both in 2009).

Still, players do come up, and they do succeed each year, and what we have done to deal with this over the past ten years is look unflinchingly at the minor leaguers of the past year, crunching their numbers and coming up with a Top 250 Prospect list.

To qualify for the Top 250, a player must retain rookie status, meaning less than 130 at-bats, or 50 innings pitched with the parent club, or more than 45 consecutive days on the major league 25-man roster (meaning September and call-up time does not count with respect to the days rule).

In order to make our list, a pitcher must have thrown a total of 70 minor league innings, or accumulated 200 at-bats, at any combination of levels from Low-A up through Triple-A. And that means no Stephen Strasburg.

Players are rated on specific skills, such as power and control (strikeouts to walks, and by inning) for pitchers, and walks to at-bats and extra base hit percentage for batters, but, players are also given credit for succeeding young.

Which means an 18-year-old who pitches 140 innings at Double-A and strikes out 157, despite an ERA of 5.09 and won-loss of 3-11, will likely score much higher than a 25 year old who has gone .319-26-87 at the same level.

That is because a 25-year-old should be able to more than compete at Double-A based upon experience, while an 18-year old is doing it primarily with raw tools. The idea, though, is that if the tools are indeed there, and showing themselves early, the chances for that skill set to be enhanced with experience suggests success at higher levels, at an earlier age.

As one might expect, a lot of the names who appear on the list are those familiar, but our analysis has revealed players of skill way before the curve (such as Carlos Zambrano as #1 in 2001, and Albert Pujols as #10 in 2000, Joba Chamberlain at #9 in 2008, and Jair Jurrjens at #25 in 2006 and #16 in ‘08). In other words, there are always some surprises. And, there are some players, like Buster Posey, who are clearly comers, but for one reason or another just miss.

Of course, most of these players are likely still a year away, so don’t bet the bank on them. But, if your format allows for minor leaguers, this is where to look for your stash. And, some will make it to the Bigs, and even earn considerable playing time in 2010, so you certainly want them all on your radar.

Below are the Top Ten:

  1. Neftali Feliz (21, P, Rangers): The hard throwing Ranger hurler scores a first, that being the first top finisher to ever have played in the majors. I actually witnessed Feliz’ debut on August 3, 2009, when he became the first MLB hurler to strike out the first four batters he faced since Pete Richert debuted in April of 1962. Rumor has it Feliz has been clocked at 109, and the gun hit 103 during that first appearance, but apocryphal or not, he has major gas. Better, the 31 strikeouts to eight walks (and just two taters) over 31 innings says everything. I am betting Feliz, a starter in the minors, will be the Rangers closer by end of season and for a while beyond.
  2. Juan Ramirez (19, P, Mariners): As a 19-year old, Ramirez more than held his own at High-A High Desert. He is also an example of the notion that power/control are better barometers of skill than won-lost or even ERA for young players. Ramirez was 8-10, 5.12 last year in the tough California League, but he whiffed 111 of those batters. His big problem is getting the ball up on crucial pitches (18 homers) but, if he conquers that there is a lot of ceiling.
  3. Michael Stanton (19, OF,Marlins): After going .294-12-39 over 210 Florida State League at-bats, Stanton was promoted to AA Jacksonville where he struggled some (.231-16-53) with his on-base totals, but still provided a solid resume entry. 129 of his career 268 minor league hits have gone for extra bases—that is almost half--and that is a very good sign.
  4. Deolis Guerra (20, P, Twins): Guerra has made this list three years running (Guerra was our #1 prospect in 2008), and, well, the Twins thought enough of the then 17-year old to insist upon his inclusion in the Johan Santana swap of 2007. Because he is young, again the ERA and control numbers have to be taken in context, so the things to focus on are holding his own at AA (6-3, 5.12 after being promoted) and the whiffs (312 over 457 innings). By the way, the 1.26 WHIP he posted at AA in 2009 suggests a lot of the earlier control struggles are behind him.
  5. Michael Montgomery (20, P, Royals): Kansas City’s first round selection of the 2008 draft, Montgomery has shinnied up the ladder, splitting an excellent 2009 at Wilmington (4-1, 2.25) and Burlington (2-3, 2.27). He struck out 98 over 110 innings with a fine strikeout-to-walk rate of 2.17, and he allowed just one home run over those innings, at both levels, over the whole of last year. Pretty remarkable.
  6. Jesus Montero (19, C ,Yankees): The heir-apparent to Jorge Posada, Montero rocked in 2009 with a combined .337-17-70 mark split between A and Double-A. The .950 OPS is particularly good, as is the minor league career .379 OBP. The Bombers tend to do as well developing players as do they buying them and Montero is both home grown and the real thing.
  7. Hector Rondon (21, P, Indians): One of the players on this list to watch most for 2010, Rondon went a combined 11-10, 3.38 split between AA Akron and AAA Columbus in 2009. He struck out an excellent 137 over 146.1 innings, walking a meager 29 for a WHIP of 1.175. The Tribe has been very good at developing prospects over the last 15 years, and Rondon simply looks like the next in line. Get your ticket now.
  8. Ruben Tejada (19, SS/2B , Mets): Were it not for the presence of Jose Reyes, Tejada would be the next big thing at short with the surname Tejada. At 19 he more than held his own, going .289-5-46 with 19 swipes. A good contact bat (37 walks to 59 whiffs last year), Tejada played 120 games at short last year, and 14 at second, and figures to play there more in 2010 as the Mets gear up to have one of the most exciting second base/shortstop combinations in the bigs.
  9. Jason Heyward (20, OF, Braves): Atlanta’s #1 pick in the 2007 draft, Heyward advanced right up through the minor league system in 2009, going .296-10-31 over 214 at-bats at Single-A Myrtle Beach, then .352-7-30 at Double-A Mississippi, finally sneaking 13 at-bats at AAA Gwinnett (.364-0-2). The aggregate was .323-17-60 totals, including a spectacular 51 each of walks and whiffs which equates to a .408 OBP and nearly half of his 117 hits (46, precisely) went for extra bases.
  10. Freddie Freeman (20, 1B , Braves): The Braves might have an embarrassment of riches from the 2007 draft just within this year’s Top 10, as Freeman was drafted right behind Heyward, in the second round. Playing at both A, then AA, along with Heyward, Freeman managed only eight homers in the aggregate (.282-8-58), but a year earlier, at Rome, Freeman went .316-18-95 with an .899 OPS. He has shown increasing discipline at the plate as well, walking 11 times to 19 strikeouts after landing in AA Mississippi last year.

 

The Mastersball Top 25 Prospects are listed below (note the entire Top 250 can be purchased in a sortable spreadsheet as part of either our Gold or Platinum subscription packages at www.mastersball.com):

 

It seems the tradition for me each off-season is to write about the Fall League, then what if the playoff teams were roto teams, and then who I think have made the most adept moves in the off-season, so far.

So, with the new year, it is an appropriate time to make that apparently annual assessment.  As usual, I picked the teams who looked the most interesting so far, and, well, as you shall see, we look in terms of off-season winning or losing moves (knowing there is still a lot movement out there).

Giants: Of course I have to start in my backyard where it looks like both bay area teams could be competitive in 2010. The Giants needed some help with pop, and suddenly adding Aubrey Huff and Mark DeRosa has fleshed out the team where Kung Fu Panda can migrate to first where he would be a fixture, or share corner time with Huf and DeRosa. But, DeRosa can also play in the outfield not to mention second and add some punch. The big question is if and when Buster Posey can be the every day backstop. The Giants defense will be the question, but with Juan Uribe in the infield mix questions about offense have been addressed. We all know about the pitching. Winners.

Athletics: I don't think the Athletics are going to win the AL title, though they might be closer to winning the AL West title than it seems, and way closer than in many of the past few season. Starting with the outfield or Raj Davis, Ryan Sweeney, and Coco Crisp (any of whom could be a center fielder) and looking at the infield with Kevin Kouzmanoff, and Cliff Pennington (a real sleeper) on the left side, Oakland has a strong young rotation, a deep pen, and after years of scoring their games knowing over the long haul things were futile, well, Billy Beane had a nice lineup going out every day. 2010 will still give some experience, but 2011 these guys will be ready to compete at the next level. Winners.

Red Sox: The thing with the Red Sox, and their New York rivals, is that it is unthinkable for them not to be competitive. And, they have completed a lot of attrition filling a pitching hole by grabbing John Lackey who makes a strong rotation even stronger. As does the addition of Marco Scutaro a player who turned himself into a good everyday guy when I did not think he could. Add in Adrian Beltre on the left side and the Sox infield seems pretty stable. They did lose Jason Bay in deference to Mike Cameron, and I am one who has avoided Cameron the last few years because I feared he had run out of gas. But, I think as much hinges on Big PapiVMart, and Kevin Youkilis coming through and also think the team will need to rebuild seriously in the next couple of years. Losers.

Yankees: Ah, New York, where championships are bought, fought for, and ultimately won. And, it is hard to argue with success. The Yanks made some moves, letting Godzilla escape, and trading Melky while getting Javier Vasquez (and a very deep rotation), Curtis Granderson (who should return to form on a deeper team) and Nick Johnson who could be a great DH option, and who can also spell Mark Teixeira at first from time to time. It is hard not to like what the Yankees have done. Winners.

Angels: Talk about core jettison, Vlady, Chone Figgins, Lackey, and Kelvim Escobar are all gone, and Hideki Matsui will likely be the DH. Which means the team will need a third sacker and hope that Juan Rivera can hold stead and Bobby Abreu can hold tight. I suspect these next few years will be transitionary for the Angels, but I also think they can stay competitive within the AL West during the process. Losers for 2010, then Winners again.

Rangers: This will be the year the Rangers and Ron Washington will be rewarded, possibly even with a Series spot, and I am guessing they will win the division. Vlady is a good fit on this team and Rich Harden can be deadly if he can give 20-25 starts. Of course that is always the issue with Harden. However, the big issue is whether Josh Hamilton and Ian Kinsler can stay healthy, and if Chris Davis can make better contact. They should score a ton of runs, however, and have good starters and a pretty nice pen. Winners.

Phillies: The defending National League champs have been active, adding 18 players while losing 11 so far. They did well, replacing Pedro Feliz with Placido Polanco and Cliff Lee with Roy Halladay. But, for the most part, Philadelphia made moves to strengthen their bench signing Brian Schneider, Ross Gload, and DeWayne Wise for the bench and Dennis Baez and a support cast of probables to help with the pen. Just the acquisition of Halladay has to be considered a heavyweight move, though. Winners.

Cubs: I would be remiss if I did not account for my home away from home, focusing first on the north side of the Second City and the Cubbies. They did well emotionally letting go of Milton Bradley in deference to Marlon Bird, but no matter how you slice it, 130 innings of Rich Harden is way better than any innings from Carlos Silva, no matter how you view innings eaters. But, Alfonso Soriano and Derek Lee are getting long in the tooth and sadly I don't think things will bode well at Wrigley this year. Losers.

White Sox: It is a one year crap shoot in Chicago, where some dreck (Josh Fields) along with an aging star (Jermaine Dye) in lieu of Andruw Jones, Daniel Cabrera, JJ Putz, Freddie Dolsi, and Juan Pierre. Pierre is a legit leadoff hitter, something the Sox have needed for years, but pretty much everyone behind him not named Ramirez or Beckham is on the down side. They do have Jake Peavy for a full season, though, and that is a good thing, but still, I see a long season on both sides of Chicago. Losers.

Cardinals: St. Louis boasts as good a one-two pitching punch with Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, plus retaining Matt Holiday gives a troika of the left fielder, Albert Pujols, and Ryan Ludwick to generate the runs, plating Colby Rasmus and Skip Schumaker. On the left side, however, Brendan Ryan looks like the shortstop and David Freese, who has had off-season issues, where the problem lies. I think that needs to be addressed if the Cardinals want to hold the division at bay. Losers.

That will be it for now. I will be back in early February with the Top 250 Prospect preview.

 

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