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Saturday 21st Oct 2017

It’s been awhile since we have dedicated some time and space in this column to just looking at specific players at different positions and posited on their potential to help our fantasy squads. With the calendar turning to June, it’s time to take a good hard look at your various teams and if moves need to be made to improve weaknesses, it may be time to look to the wire for reinforcements. With that in mind let’s take a quick look at some of the position players who have made some noise over the last couple of weeks. I will state up front that I won’t be talking about Dayan Viciedo or Colby Rasmus (told you to grab him after I cut him) but they certainly qualify off there recents hot streaks. If you still have them on your roster congrats. The funny thing regarding those two is that the league I cut them both in, I am still in first place. This is a funny game we play. Anyway, let’s get down to business here and find you some potential difference makers. Most of these guys are already taken in AL-Only leagues. For those formats, you could think of them as guys you may want to go out and make a trade for.

C – Salvador Perez, KC– It was recently announced that the Royals backstop would finally be heading out on his rehab assignment with AAA Omaha. If everything goes well he could be back in the majors quickly and the Royals will look to ease him back into the lineup slowly. While he is likely stashed away in many AL-only leagues already, it is quite likely that he is sitting on more than a few waiver wires. If you are struggling at the position, now is the time to make a move on Perez. He doesn’t possess a lot of power, but he showed nice offensive production late last year, and should get back up to speed fairly quickly once he shakes off the rust of his long layoff.

1B – David Cooper, TOR- Cooper was called up a couple of weeks ago when Adam Lind was banished to AAA. After last night’s three hit game, he’s sporting a .366 average to go along with 2 home runs and 6 RBI’s. Cooper was a former number one pick from 2008, whose path to the majors has been blocked by Lind until the former sluggers struggles the last two years. Cooper has been making an impact since he’s joined the team, and it is very possible he could take this job and run with it for awhile, possibly all year. It should be noted that Cooper is not known for his power, but he was off to a very solid start at AAA again this year and makes solid contact, so he’s not going to be a batting average liability if you decide to take a chance on him in the short term.

1B – Justin Smoak, SEA – Smoak has been one of the hotter hitters in the league over the past two weeks, and as such you’ve likely seen him scooped up of the trash heap in some of your leagues. A nice road trip to Texas and Chicago helped get his bat going again, particularly in the 2 HR, 6 RBI game last week that peeked everyone’s interest in the former top prospect. If you decide to pick him up, keep in mind he has some pretty drastic home/road splits this year. He is hitting .188 in Safeco vs. .260 on the road this year.

2B – Gordon Beckham, CHW – Just when you thought it was safe to forget about him, Beckham rises up from the ashes to tempt us once again, hitting three homers in two days to start the month of June. He’s even seen himself elevated back to the second spot in the White Sox order. If he is still sitting out there in your league, he is definitely worth an upside play, as we have long been waiting for him to deliver on the promise he showed in his rookie campaign. I have always thought the problem with Beckham was largely mental, and to hear him speak recently you can see that he has his confidence and swagger back, at least for now. He’s worth a shot if you have a need for some pop from your MI spot.

2B- Brian Roberts, BAL – Roberts continues to progress in his rehab assignment as he seeks his return to the majors from his battle with post-concussion symptoms. We all know that he is a gamer and that when he is healthy he can produce at the major league level. I’m watching his rehab closely to see if he’s stealing any bases, and so far he hasn’t. But he’s scoring runs, and with Nick Markakis out for awhile, the O’s could use a table setter for Adam Jones. Whether to add Roberts likely comes down to need and league size. I have one very deep league where I am seriously considering taking a shot this week.

SS- Trevor Plouffe, MIL – Plouffe, who also qualifies in the OF and 3B, has been on a tear lately after finally getting some regular playing time for the Twinkies. If you just look at the overall stats, you will see a guy hitting .193. But over the last 10 games he’s been over .300 with 4 HR’s. We profiled Plouffe early this year as a guy who just needed to find the playing time to be an asset, and he is showing why right now. His versatility should keep him in the lineup and he has a good chance to end up with over 20 HR’s when all is said and done.

3B – Lonnie Chisenhall, CLE – Chisenhall finally made his 2012 debut when Jack Hannahan was recently placed on the DL. He’s hit the ground running with a couple home runs and two stolen bases in a week’s worth of games. The biggest question facing the Indians third basemen of the future is whether he will stick around when Hannahan is ready to be activated. Indians fans will certainly not want to see him head back to AAA. Third base has been hit hard by injury, so it’s likely he’s already been scooped up. If not by chance, he’s worth a shot especially if he’s going to chip in a few more steals.

OF – Quintin Berry, DET – Berry has been a real nice story for the struggling Tiger lineup since his call-up in the wake of Austin Jackson’s injury. Even though he’s cooled off some lately, he’s still hitting .315 with 12 runs scored and 7 stolen bases. With Jackson set to be activated again soon, the question to be answered is if he can stick in the lineup. He’s likely gotten an extension on his stay with Andy Dirks landing on the DL himself. If you are desperate for steals, Berry is your guy right now.

OF- Michael Saunders, SEA – Don’t look now but Michael Saunders is coming on strong in fantasy circles. He’s been hitting over .400 over the last two weeks and is up to 6 HR’s and 9 SB’s on the year. If he can hang onto a starting spot, he’s got a real shot at finishing as a 20-30 player. It means it might be time to make room for him in your lineup.

OF – Michael Brantley, CLE – Brantley is another Indian who may have been kicked to the curb early this year after a slow start in April saw him demoted from the leadoff spot in Cleveland. Since then, he’s been a different hitter, hitting over .300, to get his average up to a respectable .282. The real story is he has been stealing bases like he never has before. He tabbed seven in the month of May. Consider the fact that he only stole 13 all of last year, and you can see the cause for excitement. I have written previously of the fact that Manny Acta has the Indians playing aggressively on the base-paths. It seems like Brantley has finally gained the confidence and timing to tap into his speed potential.

Next week we’ll take a look at pitchers and examine some up and comers as well as some horses it may be time to stop riding.

Patience is something we regularly preach in the pages of Mastersball. You’ll hear it from us every year in April/May as we implore and remind you to not give up too early on struggling players that you drafted.  We are reminded time and time again about why this is important, yet still each and every year there are players that beg to be sent to the wire early on, only to rise from the ashes and taunt us from one of our opponents’ rosters for the rest of the year. As much as we like to preach patience, we are also players, and as such we too are prone to ignoring our own advice and making decisions on players we’ll later come to regret.  For me and my various teams this year that player is Dayan Viciedo.

It’s one thing to miss out on the hot new player emerging on the wire. That is going to happen when everyone has a shot at available undrafted talent. It just stings more when the player in question is someone you liked heading into drafting season, incorporated into many of your draft plans, suffered with in the early stages of the season and finally cuts ties with to pick up some fresh blood.  You know the drill, as soon as you cut your struggling player, they go on an absolute tear, someone else grabs them and you are left watching the stats you were supposed to get go to someone else.

I cut ties with Viciedo in two important leagues that I had drafted him in. One was my NFBC Online Championship team. He was my final pick of that draft, a nice get in Round 30 right? The only problem was I didn’t keep him long enough to be able to brag about how smart I was for selecting him. No I cut him at the end of April when he was hitting under .200 with 2 HR’s and 3 RBI’s (he added one more April HR after I cut him).  He became a roster casualty after a miserable 2-22 week. I dropped him for Jon Rauch in a quest for saves, and only turning Rauch into Addison Reed a week later (I had also previously dropped Reed) salvaged the initial move.  The fact that he languished on the wire for almost a month is a testament to how bad he was when I cut him.

In Perry Van Hook’s PBY league I was more patient with the young OF, but I also suffered his slow start much more. This was a 15 team league and I had moved relatively early on Viciedo, selecting him in Round 18. Unlike my OLC team, where he was my final reserve pick, here I had drafted the emerging slugger as a starter. He was penciled in at my UT spot, ready to take over in the OF as soon as Yonder Alonso gained 1B/CI eligibility. He was in my starting lineup Week 1 and stayed there for the following 5 weeks.  I released him at the end of Week 6 on May 13th. At that point he was sitting at .196 with 3 HR, 7 Runs and 5 RBI’s.  He had struck out 31 times and drawn a measly 3 BB’s. The talk centered on when and if he was going to be sent back down to Triple-A. I cut him for Chris Heisey, who to be fair has been fairly decent since I acquired him. What hurts more is that I decided to keep Andres Torres instead of Viciedo.

Well, if you have been following recent news from the American League, you will be well aware that the hottest hitting team in May has been the Chicago White Sox. They have been simply crushing the ball lately and Viciedo has led the way with 8 HR’s, 23 RBI’s and 17 runs this month.  Other than two runs and one RBI, all of those stats came in the last two weeks. It all started the day after I cut him, when his first May dinger started the barrage of home runs that would soon follow. I tried to buy him back the following week, but the cat was out of the bag, and I was outbid $66 to $45 by defending champ Fred Zinkie. To make matters worse my team was already beset by injuries and buried in all of the offensive categories. Fred’s team was riding high in first place and Viciedo has helped him pad that lead since coming on board.

When you draft so many teams, you are bound to have a few stinkers and my PBY team currently ranks as my worst team so far. Making a mistake like this in a competitive league such as this only compounds the misery. In my NFBC league, I don’t really second guess the decision as much. I made it much earlier on, and he was buried on my bench behind what I perceived to be better options.  He sat on the wire for weeks until he heated up again. I obviously would love to have those stats in that league as well, but my team is still strong, sitting in first place despite not cashing in on my initial Viciedo investment.

Still when a player goes on a tear like Viciedo has the past two weeks, you have to ask yourself if there was something in the numbers that I missed.  Honestly, just based on the numbers, no there wasn’t. He was that bad, and even with his recent hot streak, he is still striking out too much and not drawing walks. He is currently riding a crazy hot streak, and with his approach at the plate another cold streak is likely just around the corner. Still, dropping him just prior to his emergence will burn me all year long in these leagues.  Luckily, I still have him in a couple spots where for whatever reason I was able to stave off the desire to cut him. I think a major factor in the leagues I let him go was a perceived need to be more aggressive in these ultra-competitive leagues. It’s the best lesson that I can extract from the situation right now, that I let a need to be “busy” and ”make moves” undercut the decision I had made coming into the year.

I remembered that I highlighted Viciedo on my All Underrated Team this year, so I went back to see what I wrote.  “The trade of Carlos Quentin to the Padres has cleared the way for the Viciedo to become an everyday player this season. He is still very young at 23 years old, but he should have no problem cracking 20 homers in Chicago’s friendly confines.” If I could write that today I would change the 20 to 30 and I would remind everyone to read this again ten times before hitting the drop button because the power potential is real. If you are looking for a hot pickup for this week,  I dropped Colby Rasmus in that same NFBC league a he’s hit three home runs already since. Uh-oh, here we go again.

You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanpcarey

The Cleveland Indians haven’t won a World Series since 1948. If you don’t want to do the math that’s 64 years, which makes them the Chicago Cubs of the American League. Unlike the Cubbies, the Tribe has at least got close a couple times since World War II, losing the Series in 1995 and 1997. Those were good times in the ballpark formerly known as Jacobs Field, or “The Jake”, a name many fans still use in spite of Progressive Insurance buying naming rights to the field in 2008. Yes, the Indians had a nice run in the 90’s; winning five consecutive AL Central titles from 1995 to 1999 (the strike in ’94 likely robbed them of a sixth). The Indians were a bona-fide powerhouse, winning games and selling out every night. Things started to change in 2001 when Manny Ramirez decided jump to Boston in free agency. The following year Roberto Alomar was traded and Kenny Lofton was allowed to sign with the rival White Sox. In 2003, slugger Jim Thome signed with the Philadelphia Phillies, signaling that the end of a very special time in Indians baseball was officially over.

Since then, it has been a series of ups and downs for the franchise, with one playoff appearance in 2007 the lone bright spot. The euphoria surrounding the return to prominence for the team was of course short-lived, and as key players neared free agency, the team made a series of trades to restock the system. The window of opportunity had closed, C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez were dealt in multiplayer deals, and the Indians reloaded and embarked on their next 7-year plan.

2011 saw the Indians sprint out of the gate in April with an 18-8 record. They rode the momentum of that spectacular first month and held onto first place into July, when injuries and a red-hot Detroit Tigers team ended the dream. Still, the success for a young team that wasn’t expected to contend gave hope that the team was on the right path in the quest to return to the postseason.

So here we are, a month and a half into the 2012, and Cleveland is once again in first place in the Central at 21-16 and this year they are hoping they can do what they failed to do last season. Manager Manny Acta has his team playing sound, fundamental baseball. They are winning games with a mixture of pitching, defense and situational hitting. The Indians are a patient team at the plate so far this year. They lead the league in walks with 166 and are near the bottom of the list in strikeouts, with 240 so far. That’s a big improvement over last season, and a necessary one for a team that doesn’t have a ton of power in their everyday lineup currently. They also have been more active on the base-paths to start the year, already swiping 25 bases after only totaling 89 all of last year.

The biggest strength on the team right now is a strong bullpen that has shown the ability to close out tight games. Dubbed the “Bullpen Mafia”, they have been the Indians secret weapon, keeping the team in games and closing out victories. Led by closer Chris Perez and set-up man Vinnie Pestano, the team has converted 14 of 18 saves this year. They recently had a 17.2 scoreless innings streak that was a big part of the teams surge to the top of the standings.

The biggest surprise so far has been the pitching of off-season acquisition Derek Lowe. Brought in from the Atlanta Braves, he was supposed to provide a veteran presence and eat up innings. Coming off a 17 loss season, expectations were low for a player the Braves are paying $10 million (the amount of Lowe’s salary they ate) to not pitch for them this season. Well, he has been nothing short of fantastic for the team so far, pitching to contact and getting ground balls like he always does, and winning. After Tuesday’s complete game shutout of the Twins, his record stands at 6-1 with a league leading 2.05 ERA. His performance has been key, since both Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez have struggled with consistency thus far.

Now, it should be pointed out, that while Lowe has been a revelation for the Indians, he likely still isn’t on too many fantasy rosters, outside of Al-Only leagues. The big reason is, despite his recent success, his K/9 percentage is a shockingly low 2.22, which is way below his career rates, which were never very high to begin with. He’s also currently sporting an unsustainable LOB% of 84.9. His FIP and xFIP are both over 4.00, so there will be some regression coming to that ERA soon. So, while he may not be a pitcher I’d necessarily recommend you run out and grab for your teams, it doesn’t change the fact that his resurgence has been one of the better storylines in this young season.

On offense the team has been led by the trio of young stars up the middle of the diamond. SS Asdrubal Cabrera, C Carlos Santana and 2B Jason Kipnis are all off to solid starts. Kipnis has lived up to the preseason hype hitting .275 with six home runs, 23 RBI, 24 Runs and 6 SB’s so far. Finally moved back up to the top of the lineup, he should continue to produce solid numbers the rest of the way.

An interesting development this week was Acta moving Shin-Soo Choo to the leadoff spot, in an effort to both improve production in that spot and get the veteran outfielder’s game on track. The upside for Choo owners is that he should have more opportunity to steal some bases and score some runs if he can stick in the top spot. With Johnny Damon struggling badly, it was a smart move by Acta, as Choo hasn’t looked comfortable hitting down in the lineup. Since moving Choo up, he’s 6 for 13 with two doubles and a home run. The Indians have won three games in a row and now lead the AL Central by three games over Detroit.

So what lies ahead for the Indians in their quest to return to the postseason again? Well, they will still have to likely outlast the Tigers to punch their ticket, but the expanded playoff format gives a little more room for them to sneak in as a wild card if they can find a way to build on their early success. Masterson and Jiminez need to start pitching like the top-of-the-rotation anchors they are supposed to be. The team needs to stay healthy, something that absolutely derailed the train last year.

There are reinforcements down on the farm in 3B Lonnie Chisenhall and 1B/OF Matt LaPorta. Both players are off to terrific starts, and it’s only a matter of time before the team will have no choice but to bring them both up to try and generate more offense. The fact that the team is playing well while both these young players continue to polish their skills has been good. LaPorta in particular is a player that all Indian fans want to see succeed, just because of the price paid to acquire him.

Whatever transpires the rest of the way, the Indians seem to have turned a corner in one respect. This is a team that plays hard and they play the game the right way. Manny Acta has done a great job changing the mindset. All that’s left is for the players to start believing that with continued work and effort, the rewards will come. As a fan, I’m just happy to look at the standings and see my guys back on top again, and look forward to another season of drama and excitement.

The closer position is just insane right now in fantasy. Log onto any message board or website and people are talking about closers. Who blew a save today? Who got hurt? Who’s going to get save now? It’s been relentlessly endless since spring training when Ryan Madson and Joakim Soria blew out their arms. In the NFBC there were so many different threads dedicated to closers blowing saves or losing jobs that finally KJ Duke started a thread titled “Closer Fail” which has served as a one-stop spot for owners to kvetch about their struggling stoppers, speculate on who’s next to get injured or lose their job and of course talk about who’s next in line.

The biggest news of course was the season-ending knee injury suffered by Mariano Rivera while shagging fly balls during batting practice last Thursday. It was shocking news to fantasy owners everywhere, who like the Yankees themselves, have been spoiled by the consistency of the future Hall of Famer for the past 15 years. His untimely demise sent owners scrambling to the wire this past weekend to grab either David Robertson or Rafael Soriano.

Robertson far and away was the more highly sought target, especially after a lights out audition on the Friday after Mo’s injury, where he struck out the side in a non-save situation. While he was already owned in many deeper formats, he was readily available in 12-team leagues and went for bids that easily averaged about $500. Soriano was scooped up by others as a much cheaper consolation prize, on the hopes that he will be able to secure at least a share of the save opportunities for the Yankees the rest of the way.

After locking down his first save on Tuesday, Robertson came out yesterday and had an absolute meltdown. After not being scored upon in his first 13 appearances this year, he allowed four runs on three hits and a walk, the big blow being a three-run blast by Matt Joyce. Soriano owners were no doubt giddy with excitement at the news, and it would seem that the vet will indeed get a few chances himself, at least in the short-term. If you spent at least half of your FAAB on Robertson, then all you can do is take this one on the chin and hope that the young flame-thrower can shake it off before his next opportunity.  You put your money down, so you’ll have to ride it out, and in this case I think you’ll still be rewarded. It could be worse as you could have spent hundreds of FAAB dollars on Hector Santiago or Francisco Cordero.

About an hour after the news on Rivera broke and was rippling through the fantasy world, new Chicago White Sox manager Robin Ventura decided to make things even more interesting when it was announced that promising young pitcher Chris Sale was going to be removed from the starting rotation and placed in the closer’s role. Santiago was out and Sale was in.

As someone heavily invested in Sale this year, and enjoying his solid start to the season, I for one was totally caught off-guard by the news. Why was this happening? What’s going on? Having also invested heavily in Addison Reed, I was perplexed at the news as I had been waiting patiently for Reed to step into the role.

Apparently, Sale was complaining about some elbow soreness, so the Sox decided a move to the bullpen was in order to avoid over-taxing his arm. Okay, I can buy that, I guess. I have heard all the stories about the 6’6”, 180 pound pitcher's thin frame and his violent delivery and how some in the organization doubted his ability to ever handle a starter’s workload. The Sox made statements saying he wasn’t hurt and he would be available to start closing out games the following Monday. Over the weekend, no new news broke on Sale or his health, and it seemed like we had a new closer and Sale owners at least could console themselves with the fact that while they were likely losing the 200-K upside that they had drafted Sale for in the first place, they at least would still get something out of him as a closer.

So what happens next? On Tuesday, the White Sox were up 3-0 on the Indians in the eighth inning, and after starter John Danks gave up two consecutive singles to open the inning, Sale was summoned from the bullpen for his first appearance since the move was announced. I caught wind of it on a message board and the first thing I thought was likely what others who owned him did. What the heck is Ventura doing bringing him in now? Being a Tribe fan, I hopped over to MLB.com and tuned in.

Johnny Damon and Jason Kipnis were the first two hitters slated to face Sale. Okay, I thought, they are both lefties, so I get the move to Sale now I suppose. Fellow southpaw Matt Thornton had just blown a game the night before and I guess Ventura really wants to win this game.  Well, it didn’t work, as Damon reached on an error by SS Alexie Ramirez, loading the bases. Kipnis drove in a run on a fielder’s choice. Asdrubal Cabrera drew a slightly controversial walk before Carlos Santana tied the game with a base hit back up the middle. Sale’s night was finished and instead of a save all we got were more questions. To make things even more interesting, Addison Reed came on in the tenth inning, after the White Sox took the lead again in the top half, and notched his second save in impressive fashion.

While Jake Peavy and the offense gave the back of Ventura’s bullpen the night off yesterday, news broke that Sale would be going in for an MRI on Thursday. WTF?  This came after Sale was quoted after Tuesday’s game saying that he still wanted to be a starter and that his arm felt fine. The pitching coach Don Cooper compared the situation to what the Rangers had done with Neftali Feliz earlier this year. That would seem to indicate that Sale would or at least could get moved back to the rotation.

All we can do now is wait for news of Sale’s MRI today and then see how Ventura and Cooper decide to proceed. I for one am very glad that I decided to hang onto Reed just in case. I am also holding out hope that they just put Sale on the D.L. (like they should have in the first place), let him rest for a couple weeks, then bring him back and let him start. That would be the best option for me and sorry, I’m feeling a little selfish right about now.

Around the League

Francisco Cordero has been removed from the role after blowing his third save for the Blue Jays. Casey Janssen has been named as his replacement and will see if he can hold down the fort until Sergio Santos is ready to return in a couple weeks. He’s worth a grab if you are scrounging for saves, but he’s a likely stopgap option.

Chris Perez blew the save for the Indians in the aforementioned game against the White Sox and my money is still on him to be the next closer to lose his job.

I wonder if Will Middlebrooks knows the name Wally Pipp? I am pretty sure Kevin Youkils knows his baseball history. I’ll admit I was skeptical of the kid and didn’t make any moves on him last week. I even cut him in a deep keeper league that I could of held onto him in, mainly because I was already stashing Nolan Arenado there. He made me regret that decision with his recent play and I just don’t see how the Red Sox don’t make room for him before the year is out. If you took a chance on him, congrats, he looks like a keeper.

Doug Fister finally returned from his D.L. stint and looked good on Monday pitching seven scoreless innings against the Mariners. Octavio Dotel flushed the victory down the drain in the ninth subbing in for Jose Valverde, who was unavailable, so Fister will look to get his first victory this weekend against the Oakland A’s.

Lawr Michaels’ sleeper Kyle Seager has woken back up in May and looks like he is back in the M’s lineup to stay for now. After being challenged for playing time by Chone Figgins and Alex Liddi, Seager has been the most consistent weapon in a lineup desperate for offense. He even got a start at 2B the other day.

In case you didn’t hear Josh Hamilton hit 4 home runs against the Orioles on Tuesday. He’s been an absolute monster and I’m sure Buck Showalter’s gang was not sad to see yesterday’s game rained out. Hamilton is mocking all of us who passed on him in our drafts right now. Still, he dropped in drafts for a reason and that reason hasn’t gone away. He’s still an injury prone superstar. If he stays healthy all season, he’s going to win the MVP again. But odds are he’ll get hurt again. If you have him you can’t trade him, so just enjoy the ride and hope he stays off the trainer’s table.

The Twins mercifully have banished Francisco Liriano to the bullpen, where he will likely stay for quite awhile. The bright side is you don’t have to worry about enduring another disastrous start this week. If you haven’t cut him already, now is the time.

Recent Callups

The Royals have recalled second baseman Johnny Giavotella. It could be just a temporary move since the Royals have a lot of left-handed pitchers coming up on the docket and wanted to get another right-handed bat in the lineup. Still, he’s worth a flier, since Chris Getz is still Chris Getz.

Andy Petitte will be recalled from the minors to start on Sunday against the Seattle Mariners. He hasn’t exactly been lighting it up in the minors, but the Yankees need him to provide a boost to the back-end of their rotation. His presence is also needed in the clubhouse in the wake of Rivera’s devastating injury.

Razzball Experts League Update

I’m happy to report that the Mastersball Carey squad is sitting in first place with 86.5 points, 8 points ahead of the nearest competition. It's been fun to jump out of the gate so strong in this league and I've been having a lot of fun with the guys over at Razzball.com in the process. If you haven't read their stuff, they are pretty funny guys over there. I have slumped a bit from a high of 99 points just a couple weeks ago, but I’m hoping for a boost from Mike Trout, Doug Fister and Kenley Jansen to keep me rolling. Dash Davidson and Dalton Del Don from Rotowire , Tim Dierkes of Roto Authority,  Yahoo’s Andy Behrens and the Razzball boys Grey Albright and Rudy Gamble are all bunched up behind me so I won’t be getting complacent anytime soon. Hopefully, I’ll be able to continue to avoid any major injuries (I did lose Andrew Bailey) and keep riding Jake Peavy as long as I can.

Follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanpcarey

Sometimes in fantasy you make the right choices through careful examination of stats and data and other times you just get a little lucky. In three of my drafts this year, I drafted from the number three slot, landing Matt Kemp twice and Miguel Cabrera once. All three of those teams are in first place today, helped by the production I am getting from my first round pick in all three cases. Guess who went first in all three drafts? Yes, it was Albert Pujols, who now has gone 25 games without a home run to start the year. Pujols’ owners have to be worried, as this is easily the worst stretch he has ever encountered in his career.

How bad has it been? To put it in perspective, consider that this April was the first time in his illustrious career that he has had a homerless month in the big leagues. He is hitting .208, scored 9 runs and has driven in a measly 5 runs so far this season. Before this year, he had never finished a month that he was healthy with less than double digits in RBIs and Runs. Yes, he’s been a tad unlucky (.241 BAIBP), but the truth is he hasn’t looked like himself at the plate since making his much ballyhooed debut with the Los Angeles Angels.

So what’s wrong with Pujols and when can you expect him to turn this around? The truth is I have no better answers than anyone else, but I do believe we have enough of a sample size to at least be genuinely concerned if not overly alarmed. Two key stats that jump out to me are his 5.6 BB% and 13 K%. He is striking out too much and not drawing walks like the Albert of old and hasn’t seemed either aggressive or comfortable at the plate thus far. If he isn't able to flip those two numbers around to how they have always been, then this could truly be a different year than those who drafted the three time MVP were counting on.

I am not sure I see things getting that much better in the near future. His head is definitely not in the right place. Earlier this week, he seemed genuinely annoyed when he heard that hitting coach Billy Hatcher had relayed some of his comments about his (and the team’s) struggles to reporters. He’s starting to show that he’s feeling the pressure of that monster contract he signed and the fact that the team is in last place. Still, like most in the industry, I’ll offer up another round of “Be Patient”, and remind you to stay strong and wait it out until he starts hitting again. Easy for the guy with Kemp and Miggy to say, I know, but in this case it’s likely the only choice you have.

Around the League

The Angels called up prized prospect Mike Trout to try and inject some life into the offense and help take some of the attention off their struggling superstar at the same time. I like Trout’s chances of success this year more than I do his N.L. counterpart Bryce Harper.

Buck Showalter got his 1000th victory as a major league manager the other night as his surprising Baltimore Orioles beat the New York Yankees, 7-1. Chris Davis homered in that game, giving him 5 on the year to go along with surprising .316 batting average. He looks like he’s finally going to get that 500-600 AB season we’ve been dreaming about since he debuted back in 2008.

I mentioned Edwin Encarnacion last week, and then he went out and hit 5 more homers in six games. He now has 9 on the year, and any hopes you had of prying him from someone else’s roster are gone. Jose Bautista’s owners are wondering if he’s been stealing their slumping star’s bats.

Luke Hochevar did his best to ruin a lot of teams ERA’s and WHIP’s on Tuesday, getting torched by the Detroit Tigers for 12 hits, three walks and nine earned runs. It doesn’t get any easier with the Yankees heading in this weekend.

I really don’t want to talk about Delmon Young, because I just want to pretend that Jim Leyland’s going to get his head back on straight. Hopefully you benched him where you could in anticipation of a suspension stemming from last week’s incident in New York. If Leyland can’t do it, then Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder need to remind him that hitting behind the two of them is a pretty sweet gig.

 

Rehab Rundown

Mike Carp was finally activated from the D.L and should be back in the starting lineup sometime this weekend. He was another of my pre-season guys who I have patiently been waiting for. He will see time at DH and in the OF, but could also steal AB’s from Justin Smoak at 1B if he can reestablish the power stroke he showed late last year.

Felipe Paulino will make his return this weekend as well against the Yankees on Saturday. While I wouldn’t start him in his first game back, I might take a shot on him in leagues that I needed some help with K’s in.

Doug Fister tossed four scoreless inning in a rehab start on Wednesday. He looks on track to make it back for a two-start week starting Monday.

Now that he’s hurt again, I remembered why I didn’t keep Evan Longoria on my Roto 500 team this year.

More Minor Leagues

Don’t look now, but Matt LaPorta continues to tear the cover off the ball down on the farm, hitting his seventh and eight home runs last week. With Casey Kotchman struggling, I just can’t see them ignoring LaPorta for too much longer.

Will Middlebrooks has gotten a promotion and will fill in for Kevin Youkilis, who was placed on the D.L. (retroactive to 4/29). He made an impression in his first game with a couple of knocks and a stolen base.

Waiver Wire Watchlist

It's that time of year where slow starts and injuries force some owners to give up on guys that could be worth taking a shot on depending on your own roster makeup. It's always true in the NFBC, where there are no D.L.slots. Don't forget to go back and check who everyone else in your league cut each and every week. It never ceases to amaze me how people always note who got picked up, but don't always take note of who just got cut. In competative leagues last weeks cuts are this weeks pickups.

What slumping stars are giving you headaches? Have any questions about your teams? Feel free to share them in the comments section below or on the Forums.

Follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanpcarey

One of the most debated trades of the off-season was the deal that sent Michael Pineda to the New York Yankees in exchange for Jesus Montero. As soon as the trade went down, fantasy sites were buzzing about the deal and what it meant to both players' prospects for the upcoming season. The general consensus among the writing staff here was that the swap made sense for both teams. The Mariners had a slew of young arms ready to compete for rotation spots and the Yankees had two other good catching prospects in their own pipeline. Depending on your view, there were arguments to be made on the merits and the downside of the trade for both teams.

Fantasy players don’t really care who wins or loses a trade. We are more interested in how it affects the projections for the players involved. In the wake of the trade, Montero gained traction while Pineda’s stock took a slight hit. Once spring training arrived, Pineda’s stock took another hit as his velocity was way down. In his spring debut as a Yankee his fastball was sitting between 88-91 mph. That was down from the 94.7 mph that he averaged in 2011 and was the first sign that something was wrong.

Manager Joe Girardi and GM Brian Cashman both made public statements that they weren’t concerned with the drop in velocity, but privately both had to be concerned. Things didn’t really get much better in Pineda’s next two outings. His velocity was still down and Girardi seemed at a loss to explain why. Eyebrows were raised further when it was announced that Andy Pettitte would be returning to the team after sitting out all of 2011.

In his last start of the spring, Pineda got hammered. With questions about his velocity not going away and his rotation spot in jeopardy to start the year, Pineda tried one last time to right the ship. Instead, he was greeted by reporters afterwards and repeatedly asked if he had hurt his arm during the start. After initially denying that anything was wrong, the young pitcher finally admitted that his shoulder was “sore” and that he was trying to throw harder that fateful day. He would go on the DL with “shoulder tendinitis” and by the end of drafting season was being drafted in rounds 18-20, a big drop for a player who was the 17th starter selected in my first draft of the year, back in January. Yesterday, after getting a second opinion on his ailing shoulder, it was reported the Pineda has a torn labrum and would undergo season-ending surgery next week. It's a huge blow for the Yankees and fantasy owners alike to lose an arm like Pineda's this early in the season.

Questions are already flying around about if the M’s knew about the injury and pulled a fast one over on the Yankees. Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik has denied that the team knew that Pineda was injured, and Cashman himself has backed that up by stating there were no signs of injury at the time of the trade. While that may be true, the Yankee GM is nevertheless getting hammered on message boards by angry Yankee fans for not doing his due diligence and trading away the team’s top prospect for damaged goods.

The tabloids here in New York haven’t quite gotten around to pointing the finger at Girardi and his coaching staff yet, but I would bet that the Yankee skipper will be the next logical person to come under scrutiny. I expect we will soon hear stories of Girardi pushing Pineda to bring that velocity up and maybe even reports that they “tweaked” Pineda’s mechanics in an attempt to fix the problem. One of our friends in the industry, Rotowire’s Chris Liss, has already come out and firmly laid the blame at Girardi’s feet for “coaxing Pineda into injury.” I have to say that I agree with him and Girardi really blew it when it comes to his handling of Pineda this spring.

You may disagree with the both of us, but the truth is, the team had been down this road before, with Philip Hughes in 2011, and I am sure that Pineda’s drop in velocity had to give the Yankees high command flashbacks to Hughes’ troubles coming off his breakout 2010. Much like Hughes, Pineda was coming off his first full year as a starter in the majors. He showed the fatigue of the increased work with his late season slide last year. The fact that he was struggling so deep into spring training begged for the team to tread lightly with their prized off-season acquisition. Instead of caution, the opposite approach was taken, and a young pitcher was pushed to perform up to expectations. He then went out and tried too hard to give his manager what he was asking for with devastating results.

Girardi is already going into damage control, but I can’t believe that Cashman is very pleased with his manager right now. It seems clear to me that Girardi’s threat to demote Pineda at the end of spring training if he didn’t get his velocity back up set the table for what is now a potentially career altering injury. While Pineda will likely make it back to the mound in the future, the odds are long that he will ever again be the dominating presence the Yankees thought they were getting.

Some apologists will argue that there are risks involved with any young pitcher, and that the Yankees just got snake-bit here. I would tend to agree with those sentiments under normal circumstances, but to do so would be to ignore the recent track record within the organization. Pineda now joins Hughes and Joba Chamberlain as an arm mishandled by Girardi and his minions. If George Steinbrenner were still around, Girardi would be firmly on the hot seat today. If the Yankees come up short again in the playoffs this year, it will once again be because of an inability to match up with other contenders on the mound.  While we won’t see Pineda throw a ball again until at least next year, I think we may have seen him throw his last pitch for Joe Girardi.

Quick Hits from around the AL:

Jake Peavy continued his stellar start with another standout performance, this time a CG shutout against the Oakland A’s. He's now 3-0 with a 1.88 ERA, 26 strikeouts and only 4 walks in 28.2 innings. You have to ride this and hope that he remains healthy, but everything is pointing to a big bounce back season for the former Cy Young winner.

Nolan Reimold was tearing the cover off the ball, with home runs in five of six games before neck spasms put him on the bench the last five games. The injury may be a blessing in shallower leagues, as he may still be sitting on some waiver wires in some. He should be back in the lineup soon and will continue to see pitches to hit at the top of the Oriole lineup.

Mike Aviles decided the best way to put rumors of a rift between he and manager Bobby Valentine to bed was to become a one man wrecking crew. He smacked two homers the last two games and is riding a seven-game hitting streak.

Justin Masterson owners are likely worried today. He followed up a great start against Toronto to open the season with three straight sub-par outings. Last week’s two-start turn against Seattle and Oakland had me (yes I own him on multiple teams) salivating over the prospects of a big week. Instead it was a nightmare that saw him surrender 12 runs in 7.2 innings over two starts. He walked 10 and struck out only three batters in the two games. He’s getting hit hard by lefties again, something that he seemed to have gotten under control last year. While you can’t bail on him yet, he’s a tough start until further notice.

The continued struggles of the Los Angeles Angels offense, and their outfielders in particular, have many in the fantasy community wondering when, not if, prized rookie Mike Trout will get the call from Triple-A, where he is terrorizing opposing pitching. He’s hitting over .400 while Peter Bourjos is scuffling at .186.

Edwin Encarnacion, a member of our AL All-Underrated team, has started out strong with four homers and 10 extra base hits in his first 18 games. He’s driven in 13 runs and even chipped in three steals so far this year.

Jason Hammel continued his re-emergence from the thin air of Colorado with another solid performance. That’s 4 starts, 4 W’s, 25 K’s in 26 IP. He’ll get tested next week with a two-start week on the road against the Yankees and Red Sox. It will be interesting to see how many owners will roll with him against those two tough matchups.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanpcarey

Early this preseason, Todd sent out an email asking if anyone wanted to join him in writing a point/counterpoint piece for USA Today’s fantasy magazine. The subject would be the Boston Red Sox and their prospects for success heading into 2012. Todd would argue the case that everything would be fine for the Sox and that the Nation need not worry. My task, after agreeing to the assignment, was to take the other side of the argument and lay out the reasons why I thought the Red Sox would once again be bystanders in October. Needless to say it wasn’t that hard to come up with a long list of lingering questions the team was facing in the wake of 2011’s epic collapse.  Still, even though I did predict the Red Sox would miss the playoffs for a third straight year, in no way did I think things would be this bad this early in the year.

There is no need to rehash all of the details of the end of last season, we all remember what happened during the 7-20 September and the fallout that followed. Manager Terry Francona was fired and Theo Epstein moved on to a new challenge in Chicago. New GM Ben Cherington’s first order of business was to hire a new manager and it seemed like he had found his man in former third base coach Dale Sveum. The only problem was the Red Sox never made an offer to Sveum and he decided to follow Epstein, signing on to be the new skipper with the Cubs.  John W. Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino seemingly pulled the rug out from under their new GM, and when Bobby Valentine emerged as the leading candidate to become the man to change the culture in the clubhouse and restore order in Beantown, it was clear that ownership wanted a big personality in the role.

When Valentine was finally officially announced as the manager, the various sports networks dusted off the video of Bobby V in the dugout with the fake moustache and countless scribes wrote articles rehashing some of his more colorful exploits from previous stints. While the response to the hire was for the most part positive, the element of risk involved could not be ignored and the overriding theme was however the story ended, things would not be boring. I think this quote from Bob Ryan at the time summed things up perfectly, “Only the terminally naive believe they can hire Bobby Valentine and then live a stress-free life.”

So here we are, four days after Valentine’s seemingly innocuous remarks to an interviewer's question on Sunday created a firestorm in the clubhouse, giving us the first but surely not the last big controversy of the year for Bobby V. The funny thing about this whole thing is that if anything, Youk has always been criticized in the past for being too intense. It seems almost laughable that Bobby V would purposefully call out one of his most respected players so early in the year, but it can’t be denied that Valentine has always been a guy who likes the sound of his own voice. While it’s clear he said what he said, I do think he was clearly surprised that he had kicked the hornet’s nest inadvertently.

Things haven’t gotten any better since as the Sox have lost three straight since Valentine’s comments about Youkilis not being “physically or emotionally into the game.” Dustin Pedroia publically rebuked his manager, Youkilis was equal parts angry and confused, the GM seemingly sided with his player, and the manager was forced to backtrack and try to redefine what he had said. The fans let Valentine have it on Monday, as they booed him lustily as he walked to the mound after leaving Daniel Bard in one batter too long. Tuesday saw the Red Sox obliterated by the Texas Rangers 18-3, with Youkilis striking out in all four of his plate appearances. Yesterday’s loss brought more boos and second guessing, as Valentine stuck with lefty Franklin Morales, and watched two straight right-handed bats put a close game out of reach in the eighth inning.

Today is a much needed off-day for the team, but the spotlight won’t be leaving anytime soon. Tomorrow the New York Yankees arrive for the first time this year to help celebrate the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park. I for one will be watching, because what was going to be a great show to begin with now has become an absolute must-see event for baseball fans. News that Terry Francona has decided to join in the festivities only adds to the spectacle, as he will likely be greeted to one of the biggest cheers of the day, while the man who replaced him will be greeted with boos, jeers and language that would make a sailor blush. I’m sure Bobby V knows they are coming and will receive them with the best smile he can muster, but there is no denying that this is not the buildup he or management was hoping for heading into the big celebration. Still, after all the festivities, a game will be played and the players will get a chance to garner some cheers of their own. There is still plenty of time for the Red Sox to turn things around and prove me wrong.

Quick Hits from around the A.L.

Francisco Liriano is making those who gambled on him yet again question their sanity as he was shelled again in a loss to the Yankees. After a great spring, he’s been terrible in three starts. His latest effort left his ERA at 11.91 with a 2.74 WHIP. It doesn’t get any easier with Tampa Bay on deck.

Justin Morneau’s bat came to life in Yankee Stadium as he blasted three home runs in two games. He even played first base for the first time this year, a significant step in his recovery. He’s still a big risk to stay healthy, but those who took a chance on him finally have something to be encouraged about.

Justin Verlander threw 131 pitches in a complete game win over the Royals on Monday. I don’t care what anyone says that’s just plain crazy in April.

Danny Duffy pitched well in the same game, striking out seven in a losing effort. The pre-season sleeper has taken advantage of his shot and should be picked up in all leagues he is still available in.

Michael Pineda and Andy Petitte both made progress this week in their bids to join the Yankees' rotation. The clock is ticking for Freddy Garcia and Phil Hughes.

Jake Peavy is starting to make a believer out of me after another solid outing against Baltimore yesterday. I actually was even able to pick him up in the Razzball Experts League prior to yesterday’s game where he gave up one run on four hits, struck out eight and walked none.

Brett Gardner has landed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained elbow. Andruw Jones will get the biggest boost while he is out.

Mark Melancon was optioned to Triple-A yesterday in the wake of Tuesday’s meltdown. He’s been terrible so far and Alfredo Aceves owners can breathe a little easier for now.

Jim Johnson picked up his fifth save of the year and is rewarding owners who grabbed him late in drafts. With little competition, he could easily be among the league leaders when all is said and done.

We’ve basically gotten one week’s worth of games under our belts now and although the samples sizes are still very small at this point, that doesn’t mean that you as a fantasy player shouldn’t be paying attention to who’s coming out of the gate fast, who’s struggling and which players you might want to put on your radar. Like most fantasy players, I spent a good portion of the last few days checking out the live standings for my various leagues, and with such a large slate of teams this year, it’s a longer process than usual for me. It also is a game of ups and downs, as I inevitably have conflicting match-ups, one guy’s highlight often spells trouble for one of my pitchers somewhere. But, for the most part my teams have gotten off to decent starts, which are always nice, and my major injuries seem to be localized in only a league or two. For some reason I kept drinking the Kenley Jansen and Addison Reed Kool-Aid this year and compounded matters by tabbing Andrew Bailey in multiple leagues as well. I’m now chasing saves in more places than I planned on and every clean save Javy Guerra and Hector Santiago racks up has me questioning my own logic as it pertains to closers.  But that’s a story for another column I guess.

Most here know that I am a die-hard Indians fan, so naturally I checked in on their Opening Day game against the Blue Jays. Justin Masterson was brilliant, striking out ten in eight innings of work, leaving with a 4-1 lead thanks to an early home run from Jack Hannahan. Chris Perez comes on in the ninth to close things out and send the sellout crowd home happy.  Yeah, did I mention I’m an Indians fan? Well, Perez owners know the rest, but if you missed it a couple line drives, a walk and an Edwin Encarnacion double later the lead was gone. They of course teased me by getting the winning run to third base with one out in the bottom half of the inning, but two ground balls later it was on to extra innings. The game would end up going 16 innings, when J.P. Arencibia finished the deal with a three-run jack. No soup for you, Indians fans. On the bright side, Masterson showed that when he has his sinker working, he is tough to beat and can provide ample K’s from the middle of your fantasy rotation. Chris Perez will have better days, but the Vinnie Pestano watch has officially started. Perez struggled to hit 91 and his changeup was flat. If you drafted him, you’ll just have to ride it out and hope he can provide you a decent amount of saves before the inevitable happens.

Perez wasn't the only closer blowing up fantasy ratios in the early stages. Jose Valverde and Mariano Rivera both coughed up games to start the season. New Blue Jays stopper Sergio Santos blew his first two chances. Hot pickups Alfredo Aceves and Jonathon Broxton had spectacular meltdowns and Joe Nathan joined the club last night when he flushed Colby Lewis's second gem of the young season down the drain. The afformentioned Santiago was the hottest pickup of Week One, going for big money in NFBC leagues. Kyle Farnsworth has landed on the disabled list with a bum elbow, and everybody's speculative guy, Joel Peralta was terrible in his stead. Fernando Rodney racked up his third save yesterday, and as much as I hated to do it, I grabbed him in a couple leagues. Saves are saves after all, and Rodney looks like he's going to get the chance to rack up a few before he's remembers he's Fernando Rodney. Joakim Soria and Andrew Bailey are waiting for company, who will be the next closer to join them in the fantasy graveyard? I still say it's Perez, but God knows it would sure help me out if Santiago would just turn into a pumpkin sometime in the next two or three weeks.

Yoenis Cespedes is going to be a fun player to own this year. I am happy that I was able to roster him in one league this year, because it makes watching replays of those monster home runs more enjoyable. However, for as good as he has looked when he makes contact with the ball, he has looked almost as bad at times swinging at breaking balls and pitches out of the strike zone. Cespedes is going to strike out an awful lot and I think he’s going to start seeing a steady diet of curveballs until he can prove he’ll lay off them. Still, the power is real, and he should have a real shot at eclipsing 30 homers as long as he stays in the lineup. The batting average might not be pretty though, just saying.

Yu Darvish made his much anticipated debut and needless to say it wasn’t quite what most were expecting or hoping for. He gave up four runs in the first inning as he struggled with his control and nerves the first time out. He threw a whopping 42 pitches in the first inning alone. But the tall righty settled down after that, lasted until the sixth, long enough for the Ranger offense to pummel Hector Noesi to secure Darvish the win. If you own Darvish, relax, everything will be fine. His pure stuff and repertoire of pitches were as good as advertised and this game showed that having an offense like they have in Arlington behind you is a nice recipe for lots of wins.

Quick Hits:

Ricky Romero was much better in his second start of the year against Boston yesterday, shutting the Red Sox down for 8 1/3 innings. While I’ve heard some question whether he can repeat last year’s success, I am still a believer. He’ll get two starts next week against TB and KC.

Chris Sale and Neftali Feliz were both successful in their first starts. Daniel Bard tried to make it a trifecta for converted relief pitchers but it was not to be.

Jesus Montero got his first start behind the plate yesterday. Mike Carp’s injury is making it easier for Eric Wedge to keep Montero at DH, which will unfortunately likely keeping him from crossing the eligibility thresholds until sometime in May.

Alejandro De Aza was a player I warmed up to more and more as draft season progressed. Part of it was the site’s projection, and another was the fact he kept presenting himself as an attractive option late in my drafts. Two games in a row with a home run have all of his owners giddy right now.

Scott Baker is out for the year and will have surgery to repair his elbow. All you can do is drop him now if you were holding out hope that he would pitch again this year. Anthony Swarzak will take his place in the rotation, and does have some upside in AL-only leagues.

A.J. Pierzynski has two home runs and 6 RBI’s in the last two days (against my Indians, of course) and continues to reward those who waited and scooped him up as their C2.

I talked myself out of benching Colby Rasmus this week after he looked totally lost at the plate last weekend. I am still holding out hope he’ll get things sorted out, but I’d be lying if I said I was feeling that confident about him right now.

Danny Duffy was a plug in play for me in a bunch of leagues this week where I had injuries. He turned in a brilliant start against Oakland, but you might want to think twice about throwing him out there with the red hot Tigers on the docket next. Still, he looks like he’s going to stick in the Royals rotation, and he’ll be a nice spot starter if he can continue to build on his early success.

As I write this, news broke that Johnny Damon has agreed to sign with the Indians. It’s good news for both parties, as Damon can continue his pursuit of 3,000 hits and the Indians can get some much needed help for their lineup. Damon will get the bulk of his playing time in LF at the expense of Shelly Duncan.

And last but not least, the Captain, Derek Jeter is off to a really nice start so far, which is great news to anyone who took the plunge again on the future Hall of Famer.  I “settled” for Jete in a couple of my most important leagues, and while he’s still hitting too many ground balls, he’s going to keep scoring a bunch of runs at the top of the Yankee lineup.

You can find Ryan most days in the Forums or follow him on Twitter @ryanpcarey

Yesterday marked the official end of the draft season, and so to usher it out, I’ll beg your indulgence for one last draft recap. While I was unable to play in the NFBC Main Event this year, I still longed for the challenge of an overall competition, so I turned my sights to NFBC Online Championship instead. I had scheduled this to be my final draft of the year months ago, wanting to have the maximum amount of information on hand for the draft. The Online Championship in some respects is a harder title to claim. While these are more shallow 12 team leagues, this year there are 72 full leagues, with 864 teams competing against each other in the overall. This was a huge increase from last year, and will result in the announced $50,000 being increased as a result.

When I sat down at my computer late Tuesday night, I had my Mastersball Tiers in hand, Mastersdraft running in the background to track my category targets and provide quick statistical reference, and the knowledge and experience gained from the dozens of drafts and mocks that preceded it. Having worked the Main Event just days before, I felt I had a good feel for the current marketplace and was ready for battle. I had the 4th pick of the draft, which suited me just fine. Here’s this year’s entry and some thoughts on how I got there.

1.4 Matt Kemp, OF – I came into the draft debating the merits of Troy Tulowitzki vs. Ryan Braun.  After Tulo went #3, Kemp was an easy pick for me. My goal in the first round is to get a five category stud if I can and I decided to tab Kemp over Braun once again.

2.21 Ian Kinsler, 2B – You can never predict how a draft will unfold, but my absolute best case scenario had a top 2B option falling to me here. To say I was thrilled to see both Kinsler and Dustin Pedroia on the board when I picked was an understatement. I like both players, but went with the bigger upside in both power and speed in Kinsler.

3.28 Adrian Beltre, 3B – I was hoping either Hosmer or Brett Lawrie would make it around the turn to me, but instead I got a guy I liked more instead. This was my easiest pick of the draft as I found my 3B early and got a little batting average boost, which I considered a plus here.

4.44 Matt Holliday, OF – My original plan was to likely grab a pitcher here, but sometimes a guy like Holliday can slide and it can make you change your mind in a hurry. Felix Hernandez had also found his way back to me and under normal circumstances he would have been a slam dunk pick for me.  I pondered my options and decided there was enough elite pitching still on the board for me to make the smarter play.

5.52 Jered Weaver, SP – Zack Greinke, David Price and King Felix were the next three picks off the board, which in my mind only served to confirm my feelings that there wasn’t another bat like Holliday’s left when I chose him. I was a little bummed to see Matt Wieters chosen, because my plan coming in was to grab either Wieters or Miguel Montero on the 6/7 turn. The surprise is that Brian McCann wasn’t selected. McCann and Weaver were the tops two players on my board. I decided to get my rotation anchor and stick with my original plan.

6.69 C.J. Wilson, SP - This was a tough pair of picks as there was a large group of players and directions in which to go.  Nelson Cruz was the sexy name left, but I already had two somewhat injury-prone Rangers and didn’t really want to grab my third OF so early. Paul Konerko was there and he was perhaps the safest play. I wanted to have as close to double Aces as I could get, with the overall in mind, so I grab Wilson and wait.

7.76 Joe Mauer, C – Cruz goes next and Konerko follows right before this pick. I debated on whether to move on Cuddyer now or stick with the plan and get my first catcher. I surmised (correctly as it turned out) that if I didn’t take one here I wasn’t getting one I wanted. I drafted Joe Mauer for the first time this year, passing on Montero and Alex Avila, deciding that Mauer’s batting average upside had more value and would make it easier to take on some risk in that area later in my draft.

8.94 Michael Cuddyer, 1B/OF – The four picks following Mauer were all starters, which made it easier not to second guess my Wilson pick. Team’s 14 and 15 both doubled up on closer’s, which was surprising since neither team had drafted a starter to that point. I had hoped to wait on closers and this was earlier than I wanted to see any runs occur. Cuddyer was my target here, but if the next six jumped in, I would likely follow suit. When no other closers were chosen, I was briefly teased by the possibility of Adam Jones and Avila, but their selections made this an easy pick.

9.100 Brandon Beachy, SP – I will admit this pick was a reaction to the three teams between my picks scooping up their third SP’s in succession to end the eighth round. If Michael Morse wasn’t injured to start the year, I might have grabbed him here. There were a bunch of arms I considered here, some ranked higher than Beachy, but in the moment I went with a guy I hadn’t be able to land all year that really intrigued me. I almost took Joel Hanrahan here but was worried I would miss out on this tier of starters. Looking back, I misread the moment, as no others pitchers would be selected this round.

10.117 Paul Goldschmidt, 1B – This was the second time I got sniped in this draft as Hanrahan went right before my pick. At this point first base was thinning out and I decided I wanted to get as much power from my CI as possible. Adam Lind has been a common target of mine, but now he was having back problems. I hate when I hear a hitter has a bad back. Goldschmidt was a gamble here, but I felt it was time to risk some of my batting average cushion.

11.124 Sean Marshall, RP –My top closer’s left on the board at this point were Jason Motte, Huston Street, Rafael Betancourt and Marshall. I can’t really explain why in the moment I went Marshall, other than I often go with my gut in instances like this. My gut said Marshall had the best shot to shoot up the ranks from this group, so I took the plunge.

12.141 Derek Jeter, SS – A mini-run on MI helped me decide it was time to finally pull the trigger on Jeter. I was perfectly happy to get the Yankee captain at his point and didn’t want to press my luck any further with my fallback option at SS.

13.148 Mat Latos, SP – I thought about picking another closer here, as Motte and Street were still around, but so were Latos and Cory Luebke. Had I not have felt the need to lock up Jeter I honestly think I would have drafted them both. In the end I drafted Latos, telling myself there were more W’s and K’s waiting there.

14.165 Kenley Jansen, RP – Well I gambled on closer’s making it around, but didn’t bank on one Team 14 grabbing their third and fourth closer. He started a run that depleted the ranks and left me to go with my gut again. I passed on Grant Balfour, Joe Nathan and current Dodger closer Javy Guerra. I will either be right or be wrong here, but I’ve bet on Jansen in so many leagues, it didn’t feel right to chicken out now.

15.172 Jeff Francoeur, OF – In addition to missing out on the closer run, I also saw my top three remaining OF targets come off the board. I was sitting on Coco Crisp or Lorenzo Cain as the last quality speed guys on the board, but they were gone before my previous pick of Jansen. Delmon Young was the next in line, and I was sure I had my guy, only to see him as well get snatched away. Francoeur brings less upside, but more balance than Young. I will need whatever speed he can bring this year.

16.189 Colby Rasmus, OF – I had my sights on grabbing J.P. Arencibia here, but I was off by a round and had also missed out on Wilson Ramos, Geovany Soto and Ryan Doumit. I shifted gears and decided to take a shot on the enigmatic outfielder. They can’t all be safe picks, right, and when I do gamble I try to do it on players I think have the biggest upside.

17.196 – Chris Sale, SP – I missed out on Kyle Fanrsworth , but really I wanted another SP who could deliver some K’s anyway. I’m a big Sale fan and like him as my SP5.

18.213 – Brennan Boesch, OF – When this round started I decided I would take a shot on either Mark Melancon or Greg Holland, but they both got snagged right before I picked. Scambling a bit, I closed out my OF with another balanced player with upside. It wasn’t who I came in targeting necessarily, but in spite of not landing a true speed guy; I felt I had assembled a pretty solid group.

19.220 – Marco Scutaro,MI – I tried to Brandon McCarthy around the turn, but he didn’t make it. I was disappointed, so I turned to my MI target coming in and locked him up here.

20.237 – Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C – I was looking for speed and watched as my Fowler, Tabata and Ben Revere were drafted. It was time to get sniped again as Ajejandro De Aza just eluded my grasp. I settled on Salty’s power instead, not a bad C2 behind Mauer.

21.244 – Jason Kubel, OF – I got sniped coming back again after lasering in on Alex Presley. I didn’t have a strong Plan B in place, so I went with the best guy (by far) on my sheet and got some reliable power for my UT spot instead.

22.261 – Alfredo Aceves, P – I was trying to grab another closer before this draft was up, and had Matt Capps and Jim Johnson and was trying to wait as long as I could to get one of them. I waited too long. Aceves was another gut call, as some were saying he would be in the mix. It was announced the next day that he would open the season as the BoSox closer. A share of the Boston job is better than nothing.

23.268 – Chris Carpenter, SP – Looking at my board, I decided to gamble that Carpenter will pitch again this season. If he does, he’ll be a huge edge over anyone else’s SP 6. If he doesn’t , I’ll be no worse off than anyone else.

24.285 Addison Reed, RP - Hedging my big bet on Jansen with my other top closer-in-waiting.

25.292 Michael Brantley, OF – Speed was a need and Brantley has more upside now that he’s leading off.

26.309 Ricky Nolasco, SP – Need someone to rely on while I stash Carpenter.

27.316 Bartolo Colon, SP – Week 1 win already in hand, he’ll be useful matchup play out of the gate.

28.333 Chone Figgins, 3B – Cheap speed gamble.

29.340 Tyler Pastornicky, SS – More cheap speed, potential first cut.

30.357 Dayan Viciedo, OF – As Todd said earlier in the week, a site fave and OF depth.

 

C: Mauer, Saltalamacchia

1B/3B: Cuddyer, Beltre, Goldschmidt (Figgins)

2B/SS: Kinsler, Jeter, Scutaro (Pastornicky)

OF: Kemp, Holliday, Francouer, Rasmus, Boesch (Brantley)

UT: Kubel (Viciedo)

SP: Weaver, Wilson, Beachy, Latos, Sale, Nolasco, Colon (Carpenter)

RP: Marshall, Jansen, Aceves (Reed)

My offense has a solid core, and I like the balanced approach I ended up with. Speed is perhaps light, and I’ll be on the lookout for more. My starting pitching is pretty solid. If Carpenter returns, this unit is tough to beat. My bullpen admittedly is a pretty big gamble. It was partly the result of a couple teams extreme strategies affecting the flow of talent, but also a choice to embrace possibly a little too much risk. I will either be right or wrong here and I will likely have to spend a large chunk of FAAB on whoever else emerges. 

Follow Ryan on twitter @ryanpcarey

Much like finding those diamonds in the rough late in our drafts, the other thing we fantasy players seem to be obsessed with every year is predicting (and drafting) the year’s prime breakout candidates. These are the guys who are poised to take their game to the next level, providing top tier production at discounted prices. Curtis Granderson is a perfect example from last season of what we are talking about here. He came into last season with the usual questions about his approach at the plate and batting average downside. He was one of those guys no one seemed to want to draft last year, making his eventual breakout that much more valuable to those who did take a chance. So these aren't your ordinary "sleepers". Many of the names on this list won't come cheaply in drafts this year and in fact some might not even be worth rostering at their current prices. Instead, think of this list as a map to what I think will be some of the more interesting storylines to follow. With that in mind, here’s a quick team-by-team look at my breakout candidates for 2012.

Baltimore OriolesAdam Jones (Age 26) - Jones has shown nice growth the last few seasons and has many expecting him to take his game to the next level this year. He upped his home runs from 19 to 25 last year and it wouldn’t surprise me if he hit 30 this year. Oh yeah, he also steals bases, and I beleive he has the ability to add to those totals as well. We’re talking about a potential 30/20 player here who’s slipping to the seventh or eighth round in 12-team drafts.

Honorable MentionChris Davis (Age 26) – The slugging Davis will finally get a chance to show if the power he has shown at Triple-A can translate to the pros.

Boston Red Sox - Jarrod Saltalamacchia (Age 26) – Salty comes into the year as the undisputed starter behind the plate for the Red Sox. The former first rounder finally got a chance at some real playing time last year and responded by bashing 16 home runs. The Red Sox said goodbye to former captain Jason Varitek, paving the way for Saltalamacchia to eclipse last year’s power output.  I predict he’ll top 20 HR’s and even get that batting average up to about .265.

Honorable MentionAndrew Bailey (Age 27) – Bailey has saved 26,25 and 24 games the last three seasons. The 2009 Rookie of the Year has had trouble staying healthy, but if he does he could be looking at his first 40 save season.

Cleveland IndiansCarlos Santana (Age 25) – How much Santana improves this year will go a long way to determining if the Indians can make any noise in the AL Central.  He’s no sleeper, as he’s already one of the first catchers coming off the board, and those taking him early are banking on increased production across the board.

Honorable MentionJason Kipnis (Age 24) – I am still a believer in Kipnis’ talent, but it is starting to look like 2012 will not be as big a year as some (ok – ME) were predicting just a few weeks back. He is currently slated to hit eighth in the lineup, which will hurt his Runs and RBI’s. You may have to wait a year for the real breakout.

Chicago White Sox Chris Sale (Age 23) – Sale enters his third season poised to make his presence felt as he makes the transition to starting after working out of the bullpen the last two years. After racking up 111 K’s in 94 IP to start his career, he has an outside shot at topping 200 K’s as soon as this season.

Honorable MentionAlejandro De Aza (Age 27) – When the White Sox plucked De Aza off of waivers from the Marlins after the 2009 season, I’m not sure they envisioned him as their future leadoff hitter and starting CF. He was very good after getting the call at the end of July and enters the year poised to be one of the bigger surprises of the year.

Detroit TigersBrennan Boesch (Age 26) – Boesch comes into his third season primed to make his presence felt and put to rest the questions regarding his streakiness and whether he can sustain his level of performance for an entire year. He gets to hit ahead of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder and he’s going to have to flop badly to not improve on last years numbers.

Honorable Mention: Max Scherzer (Age 27) – Scherzer quietly had a very good year in 2012. If he can cut down on the gopher balls and get that ERA back under 4.00, he could find his way to 20 wins behind this offense.

Kansas City Royals Mike Moustakas (Age 23) – He didn’t quite hit the ground running like fellow rookie Eric Hosmer, but a blistering September showed that he was finally getting comfortable as the year came to a close. He’s going to take the next step in his development, providing nice production for those who “settle” for him after all the top options are gone.

Honorable Mention: Lorenzo Cain (Age 25) – If you haven’t noticed, Lorenzo Cain is hitting over .400 this spring. In addition, he has five home runs, two stolen bases and 15 runs scored and has just about locked up the No. 2 spot in the Royals' lineup. Our own Perry Van Hook tabbed him as someone to watch way back in December. He’ll come back to earth when the real games begin, but it’s clear he’s not just a one trick pony. There’s real upside here.

Los Angeles AngelsHowie Kendrick (Age 28) – I know what you are thinking, but I truly believe this is going to the year it finally happens. No one is going to enjoy the benefits of Albert Pujols’ addition to the lineup more the Kendrick. He should easily score over 100 runs for the first time and could make a run at 20/20 if he can sustain last season's power spike.

Honorable Mention: Peter Bourjos (Age 24) – Bourjos finished strong last year after struggling early on. He finished with 12 home runs and 22 stolen bases while hitting a respectable .271. There is more growth potential here as long as he can stay in the lineup full-time.

Minnesota TwinsTrevor Plouffe (Age 25) – The Twins had the shakiest candidates for this column, but I settled on the guy who I think has the best chance to make an impact this year if he can somehow find the AB’s. He showed some decent pop last year in limited duty, and the Twins seem committed to getting his bat into the lineup wherever they can. His SS eligibility makes him an intriguing option, even if he’ll spend much of his time in the OF.

Honorable Mention: Glen Perkins (Age 29) – Perkins has made the transition from starting to the bullpen and established himself as the top lefty out of the Twins pen last year. With Matt Capps far from a sure thing, Perkins could be closing games before you know it.

New York Yankees Michael Pineda (Age 23) – Face it, the high-priced Yankees just don’t have a ton of candidates for this list, so we’ll go with the young gun brought in to help bolster the rotation. So much has been written about his drop in velocity, his stamina and his weight already, but the fact is he’s an exciting young pitcher heading to a perennial winner. That alone sets him up to build on last year’s debut.  The bigger question is can he handle the pressure of pitching in the Bronx?

Honorable Mention Brett Gardner (Age 28) – Gardner has put together two straight productive seasons. The question that remains is if he can take his game up another notch and truly enter the next level at his position. If the Yankees would just relent and let him leadoff it might just happen, but they will stick with the aging Derek Jeter there a little while longer. If Gardner finally got moved up the order, he could really make people take notice, I think.

Oakland A’sBrandon McCarthy (Age 28) – McCarthy’s first start in Japan the other night, against King Felix no less, only confirmed that McCarthy looks ready to take the next step and deliver on the promise he showed in his re-emergence in Oakland last year. Hopefully, we’ve written enough about him this pre-season to make sure you’ve gotten him on some of your teams.

Honorable MentionCollin Cowgill (Age 25) – Unlike the Yankees, there is a wealth of candidates littering the Oakland roster this spring. Cowgill has made the strongest case this spring that he is ready to make some noise. He has a nice blend of power and speed and could be a surprise 20/20 man if he can stake a claim to regular playing time.

Seattle MarinersJustin Smoak (Age 25) – The popular choice might be to give this space to newly acquired slugger Jesus Montero. But, at 22, I’m not sure what we are going to see this year is going to constitute a real breakout. Smoak enters the year with much less hype, and perhaps an even better chance to truly “break out.” His solid spring has him slated to bat cleanup to start the year, right behind new No. 3 man Ichiro Suzuki. He’s a prime post-hype candidate worth taking a chance on late in drafts.

Honorable Mention: Kyle Seager (Age 24) – I’ll admit, Lawr’s predictions for Seager’s success get him a mention here. He’s shown the ability to hit for average in the minors and will only have to wait for Chone Figgins to struggle once again to work his way back into the lineup.

Tampa Bay Rays Matt Moore (Age 22) – He’s one of the youngest names on the list, but I didn’t see how I couldn’t list him here. Again, he’s not a sleeper, as people seem to be tripping over each other to be the one to draft him this year. He is a strikeout machine who will get a lot of exposure playing in the high-profile AL East. If you drafted him, enjoy the ride, even if it may be bumpier than you anticipate.

Honorable Mention: Sean Rodriguez (Age 26) – I have found myself drafting S-Rod on a bunch of teams this year, usually in a reserve role. He has a tantalizing mix of power and speed and eligibility at 2B/SS/3B. That has been enough for me to take a chance that something will click and he’ll deliver on the promise he showed in the minors a few years back.

Texas RangersYu Darvish (Age 25) – Darvish is going to create a buzz whenever he pitches and I think he will be successful and win the Rookie of the Year award going away. The Rangers have enough depth to help keep Darvish fresh all year long, allowing him to rack up a ton of K’s along the way.

Honorable Mention: Mitch Moreland (Age 26) – After all the big off-season moves, when the smoke cleared Moreland found himself returning for another run as the starting first baseman. He is in a perfect situation to be successful and could be a nice surprise as an under-the-radar option for your CI slot.

Toronto Blue JaysBrett Lawrie (Age 22) – Well, kind of fitting for Lawrie to end this list, as just about everyone was already predicting big things for the youngster coming off his stellar late-season debut in 2011. A blistering spring has only increased expectations. The only question really remaining is how good will he be this year? Yes, he only had 150 AB’s last year and his draft price has gotten to the point where it almost doesn’t make sense to chase the upside anymore, but I just don’t see opposing pitchers holding him down this year. He’s for real.

Honorable Mention: Colby Rasmus (Age 25) – Rasmus is probably the guy I have the least faith in heading into the season. Still, I have gambled on him again a couple times already, simply because the price has been right to speculate on him getting his act together. I just don’t have any confidence it’s ever going to happen for this guy.

Follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanpcarey

 

On Monday I participated in an online draft for an analyst league hosted by Grey Albright of Razzball. This league would be the “expert” league that would also be competing in an overall competition against Razzball.com readers participating in their own leagues.  The draft boasted an excellent roster of writers from around the web such as Eric Mack, Brandon Funston, Scott Pianowski and Tim Dierkes to name a few.  This was a 12-team snake draft with basic 5x5 scoring. However, this league uses only one catcher and only allots three bench slots, meaning you had only 25 rounds to fill out your lineup. The other quirks were a byproduct of the league being run on ESPN. The first is that each team is only allowed 180 games started for the year. The second was that this was my first time drafting in the ESPN room this year, and while it wasn’t that big of a deal, their rankings did compel me to move on a couple players I liked earlier than I have in other drafts so far this year. While these settings may seem somewhat constricting, they are in fact what most drafters play with over there, so hopefully this provides a little insight on one way to approach these types of drafts. Here is the Mastersball entry, drafted from the No. 3 spot:

1.03 Matt Kemp, OF – I would have preferred to have started closer to the 12/13 turn, and was hoping either Pujols or Cabrera would fall. When they didn’t the decision for me came down to Kemp or Braun. I decided to go with Kemp, making this the first time I have landed the five-category stud this year.

2.22 Mark Teixeira, 1B – Going in I was targeting either Jose Reyes or Adrian Beltre with this pick. Reyes was gone, but Beltre was there along with Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander.  I didn’t expect Tex to be there for me and decided to take the power and consistency he brings to the table. I will write one more time that I expect the lefty slugger’s average to rebound this year. If he can hit .270 I’d be thrilled.

3.27 Justin Verlander, P –   I was hoping that perhaps I could sneak Beltre around the turn and he almost makes it back to me, but is stolen at pick 26. Looking at the landscape, I decide the smartest play is to grab the sliding Verlander and get a rock solid anchor for the top of my rotation.

4.46 Ben Zobrist, 2B (OF) – Being near either turn means you have to sit and watch a bunch of names disappear from your queue before you get a chance to pick again. It also means you have to balance being aggressive on certain players or positions with being smart and taking what the draft presents you sometimes. Zobrist keeps finding his way onto my teams as a solid 4th round selection.

5.51 Starlin Castro, SS – I really wanted to take Cole Hamels with this pick and took a lot of time to consider my choices. I thought about Kevin Youkilis and Alex Rodriguez here, but thought one of them might make it back. My strategy in drafts this year has often been to wait on the SS position, but this time I decided to get a little BA/speed boost for my squad, while also hopefully encouraging others to move on the position. I was confident I could still land an SP2 I liked with my next pair of picks.

6.70 Matt Cain, P – While four SS’s come off the board, so does A-Rod, and then just before my pick, Eno Sarris takes my target, Youkilis. Matt Cain is there though, and he is the perfect guy to slot in behind Verlander as a No. 2.

7.75 Adam Jones, OF - I decide the time is ripe to get another OF and decide to take Jones over Shin-Soo Choo and Carl Crawford. Crawford was very enticing here, but I decided to let someone else take the risk. I have drafted Choo ahead of Jones a couple times already this year, and even debated the merits of it with Todd and Perry this preseason. This time I decided to go with the power upside that Jones brings to the table.

8.94 Miguel Montero, C – I miss out on two more 3B in Michael Young and Aramis Ramirez, and as the second tier of catchers get scooped up, I decide to not take a chance and secure the last one left from my target area. As the pick got closer I noticed Jonathan Paplebon and almost changed my mind.

9.99 John Axford, P – Missed out on Paps, but Axford was a comparable (some would argue better) alternative. Mat Latos was a consideration here, but since my plan was to try and secure three closers, I decided to make one of them an elite one.

10.118 Ricky Romero, P – I was on the lookout for another starter who could deliver the strikeouts from this point in the draft, and Romero was definitely on my target list coming in. I have been drinking Todd’s Kool-Aid on Romero, and believe he was far and away the best pitcher left on the board when I chose him. He did come at the cost of Mark Reynolds, who I just couldn’t stomach picking over Romero.

At this point in the draft I was off to a very solid start. While I had missed out on the entire third base inventory (12 had been drafted), I had the rest of my infield covered, a good start in the OF, an elite closer and three high quality starters. In retrospect, the only pick I might change was the Castro pick. I think I would take Youkilis and wait on SS like I have been doing most of the time. I was extremely pleased with the rest of my draft, and while there were a few players that got away, for the most part I was able to secure the talents of many of my favorite middle and late round targets this year. I think I definitely maximized my choices in the second half of this draft and ended up wih a team that should be able to stay in the hunt all season long.

Here are my picks the rest of the way:

11.123 Melky Cabrera, OF

12.142 Adam Lind, CI

13.147 Andrew Bailey, P

14.166 Mike Moustakas, 3B

15.171 Brandon McCarthy, P

16.190 Delmon Young, OF

17.195 Kenley Jansen, P

18.214 Marco Scutaro, MI

19.219 Alejandro De Aza, OF

20.238 Mike Carp, UT (1B/OF)

21.243 Doug Fister, P

22.262 Justin Masterson, P

23.267 Michael Brantley, OF 

24.286 Bud Norris, P

25.291 Sean Marshall, P

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