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Spring training offers fantasy baseball lessons

Photo: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Hunter Pence emerged from obscurity in 2007 to gain a major-league job with a big spring training.

Spring steps

With the Super Bowl behind us, it's now full steam ahead to Spring Training, the best part of the year for a baseball fan. In spring even teams like the Padres, Royals and Pirates can hold dreams of hoisting the Commissioner's Trophy come late October. Those lucky enough to attend a spring game discover an easy, relaxed feeling in places like Glendale, Port St. Lucie, Fort Myers and Clearwater that you don't get in Chicago, New York, Boston and Philadelphia. Everything is fresh, new, crisp, bright; for the most part all is right with the world. It's the pastoral game at it's best, teeming with promise and hope.

And then there's fantasy prep. Here are five tips for what to take away from spring training games that can help your fantasy team.

1. More often than not, the lineup you see during the first, full-squad, big league exhibition game at home will look very similar to the starting eight/nine you'll see on opening day. Managers have spent months tinkering with ideas of what their lineups will look like during the season, and with a full complement of players at their disposal, you'll see their conclusions before split-squad games and rest days start.

2. Some spring numbers do mean something. It's long been the belief that you can discount spring stats altogether while prepping for your fantasy draft, and for the most part this is correct. Pitchers are working on new things, whether it's motion, a pickoff move, a new pitch or a grip. And more important than results in some cases is the act of simply throwing in game situations. As for hitters, some face top pitchers while others go against Double-A talent, making each at-bat a study unto itself.

The best advice is to watch the games, and not look at the box scores. But in a few cases players separate themselves with such good numbers that they play their way onto the team and into the lineup. I've been witness to Dan Uggla's and Hunter Pence's emergence from obscurity to earn big league jobs by refusing to make an out. So the take-home advice here is bad stats don't matter. Eye-poppingly good stats do.

3. Show up early. Unlike the regular season when most players roll in around at 2 p.m. or so, for a night game, players arrive at the spring complexes early. Very early, like 7 a.m. for a 1 p.m. game. In many places you can catch a glimpse of the inner workings of a team that you may never get a chance to see at a big league park without a VIP or press pass around your neck. Many parks open the gates early, allowing fans a chance to see fielding and batting practice from anywhere in the stadium. You'll be surprised who you'll see strolling the stands or the ring of the field just a few feet away from you. It may not have a lot of fantasy implications, but will cement why you're a baseball in the first place.

4. Stay Late. By the time the fourth or fifth inning rolls around most veterans are on their way to the golf course, having already put in a full day at the office (see above), and while you may not see anyone of immediate interest in the later innings, it's a great way to see future stars. You'll hear a lot of these prospects' names being bandied about throughout the season. Wouldn't it be cool to have a personal frame of reference for some of these future stars? Consider it advanced scouting for the 2014, '15 and '16 fantasy drafts.

5. Get around. Many fans go to see their favorite team during the spring and fail to take advantage of the close proximity they are to so many other teams. Take the Tampa Bay area for example. The Phillies (Clearwater) and Blue Jays (Dunedin) are right down the street from each other and not far from the Yankees. Just a short drive south down I-75 are the Pirates, Rays, Orioles, Twins and Red Sox, and to the east on I-5 corridor are the Braves, Tigers, Astros and Nationals. That's a lot of teams in a relatively small area. And the Cactus League is even less spread out than the Grapefruit League. The more games you go to in person the better informed you'll be. And you never know what sleeper you'll discover.

For more info on where to go, how to get there and what to do once you're there, check this out.

Fantasy basketball clicks

Pickups of the week. All of a sudden the waiver wire is a Bulls market. Point guard Nate Robinson is on one of his patented prolonged tears, and was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week. Center Taj Gibson has been a beast in the paint, averaging 12 boards, three blocks and 14.8 points since taking over for Joakim Noah. However, the man who started the trend was Jimmy Butler, the 6-foot-7 swingman and strong defender who, in the middle of January, stepped in for an injured Luol Deng to average 14.5 points, 8.8 boards, and 1.5 steals per game in an otherwise exhausting 45 minutes per game. But with Deng back in the lineup, the 30th pick of the 2011 draft has been nearly as good coming off the bench, scoring 14.8 points per game with 5.3 boards and 1.75 steals in 32 minutes per game. If any of the Bulls are available in your league, they're all worthy of a short-term investment. Butler, though, should have better staying power. Here he is at his best.

Fantasy football clicks

Who's next? We heard ad nauseum in '12 about rookie quarterbacks, and while it's unlikely that we'll see a class as with a big an immediate impact as this one for a while, one or two might rise to the top and take the league by storm. You may not know a lot about him, but look who is at the top of this pre-draft ranking.

Closing time. The NFL certainly had its ups and downs during the '12-13 season but none was as bizarre as the first few moments of the second half of Super Bowl XLVII, when this happened, making it impossible to not think of this. There's no better way to wrap things up than with the full live version from the original artist.

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