T.I.P.S.: Why Fontenot is worth a closer look - Sports Illustrated

T.I.P.S. tabs Fontenot, Owings for closer looks

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Is there a better time of the year than right now? Fantasy basketball has entered the playoffs, March Madness pushes forward in April, NASCAR and golf are in full swing (pun intended), and your fantasy baseball draft is just around the corner. While you've been spending your time wondering how you so royally screwed up your Midwest Region bracket, I've scrounged up some T.I.P.S. that can help you this upcoming baseball season.

The column is broken down into four parts, with the first being Trends. This is a look at some recent developments that are worth monitoring in the upcoming weeks. The next section will be Injuries, and will discuss the ramifications of any damaged goods that may be on your roster. The third part will analyze some Platoon situations, and try to identify who is the more valuable player. Finally, I'll throw some Suggestions out there. I won't go all Christian Bale on you, but simply some food for thought as draft night approaches. Let's take a look at some Spring Training trends that have caught my eye.

Ryan Howard (1B, PHI) is mashing the ball

Much has been made of Howard's .168 average last April. It led to a .234 pre-All Star break average and speculation that pitchers had "figured him out". He responded with a .276 average after the break, and has carried that form into the spring. He's hitting .298 in 47 at-bats, with six long balls and 16 RBIs. Rumor has it Howard lost 20 pounds in the off-season while dedicating himself to becoming a better defensive player. That won't help your fantasy team, but the fact that he didn't lay low after receiving a fat contract bodes well for his future. I've seen him go in the second round of some drafts, and that is simply far too late. The power numbers he supplies are elite and worthy of first-round status, especially if his average stays in the .270 range.

Adam Jones (OF, BAL) is looking like Willie Mays Hayes

Jones only has 38 at-bats so far, but he's gotten on base 16 times and tallied seven stolen bases in the process. Those seven are more than half of what he stole in 477 at-bats last season. He's been touted as a five-tool prospect, and stealing bases is more of an art than just pure speed. Has someone lit the proverbial fire under Jones' rear?

Justin Verlander (SP, DET) should be a promoter; all he does if give out free passes

Verlander pitched 201.7 innings in 2007, followed by 201.0 last year. One reason for his struggles in 2008 was an increase from 63 walks in '07 to 83 in '08. With an offseason to work on his command, Verlander must have spent that time playing Guitar Hero. In 20.1 spring innings, he has walked 14 batters to only 11 strikeouts.

Ricky Nolasco (SP, FLA) is going to make me eat crow

I've had a hard time warming up to the 26-year old Marlin, but this may the year that I make sure he finds his way to my roster. Josh Johnson (SP, FLA) is everyone's sleeper, but Nolasco is straight mowing dudes down when he toes the rubber. An ADP of 145 has Nolasco being the 27th SP taken in most drafts, which means your league-mates are typically giving you the opportunity to nab him before the 12th round. With spring stats of 18.0 IP, 2.00 ERA, 17 Ks and 2 BBs, you have a stellar No. 2 starter at the price of a No. 3.

Kenshin Kawakami (SP, ATL) has a fatigued shoulder

A lot has been predicted about the Braves rotation this spring. They have a solid mix of veterans and rookies to choose from, and all are talented. Kawakami comes from Japan where he posted a 2.30 ERA for the Chunichi Dragons in 16 starts. He's 32 years old and sat out the end of last season with back discomfort. I'm not suggesting the sore shoulder is serious, because it doesn't seem like it is, but will Kawakami's nagging injuries let us see Tommy Hanson (SP, ATL) sooner than we thought?

Stay away from Trevor Hoffman (RP, MIL)?

Hoffman strained his right oblique on March 13 and has yet to take the mound since. Considering he will need a few bullpen sessions before pitching, Hoffman will not be ready by Opening Day. A 41-year old who is already injured? I'm not going to draft him. But if you do, make sure you manage the risk by hand-cuffing him with Carlos Villanueva (RP, MIL).

Jorge Posada (C, NYY) feeling good

Posada recently caught back-to-back games and is hitting .357 in 28 at-bats this spring. I get the vibe drafters are weary of his balky shoulder, but isn't he better than his ADP indicates (208.94, 11th catcher being taken)? He hits in the middle of the order for a talented offense. Put it this way, I'd take him over Mike Napoli (C, LAA) and Bengie Molina (C, SFO), who are both going ahead of him.

Me Likey, Mikey

RotoExperts.com was one of the first to embrace Mike Fontenot (2B, CHC) as a legit sleeper and spring training has done nothing but fortify our claim. "Little Babe Ruth" is batting .358 with 10 R, 4 2B, 2 3B, 3 HR and 10 RBIs. His ADP of 326 leaves him undrafted in most standard, 5x5 leagues. Do me a favor and take him in the final rounds of your draft. It's worth it for a former first-round pick finally getting a chance to start. It's not unreasonable to expect 15-20 homers if he gets 500 at-bats.

Micah Owings (SP, CIN) is Micah-ing me think about Owings him

Owings and perennial disappointment Homer Bailey (SP, CIN) are in an intense battle for the No. 5 spot in the Reds rotation, with Owings seemingly gaining a grasp on the job. Owings has 16 strikeouts to only 2 walks in 14.2 innings and has a miniature 1.23 ERA. He's never shown an ability to consistently throw strikes, but then again neither has Bailey. For those in deep, NL-only leagues, there are worse options than Owings.

Ryan Spilborghs (OF, COL) should be high on your sleeper list

Spilborghs is a favorite at RotoExperts, and his spring training should show you why. He's hitting .371 with two homers, 10 RBIs, six walks (only four Ks) and four stolen bases. Spilborghs was the likely candidate to start in center, but a poor spring could have made rookie Dexter Fowler (OF, COL) an option. The Rockies are loaded in the outfield, but it seems that Spilborghs has cemented the lead-off role. He can provide you five-category production at an extremely low price.

Go Greene

Yeah, Khalil Greene's (SS, STL) shaggy blonde hair is pretty annoying, and so are his prolonged slumps that inevitably lead to you dropping him for Yuniesky Betancourt (SS, SEA), but you may want to give the guy a chance. The Cardinals did, as they rescued him from the depths of PETCO Park. If Chicago is where wide receivers go to die, is San Diego where hitters go to find their ultimate demise? I think so, and now that Greene is in St. Louis we may see a revitalization. The kid (yes, he's still only 29) has some serious power, and he's been spraying the ball all over the yard in spring training. In 41 at-bats, Greene is hitting .415 with 12 RBIs and five doubles. He's worth the risk at the end of your draft.

Let someone else draft Joe Mauer (C, MIN)

Don't be that guy who freaks out when Brian McCann (C, ATL) and Russell Martin (C, LAD) go off the board and inevitably grabs Mauer. The .300-plus average is nice, but he has limited power and zero speed. Yes, he plays at a thin position, but his all-around numbers just aren't good enough to justify him going in the third or fourth round. Add in his ailing back and you'll wish you had taken Geovany Soto (C, CHC) one round later.

Start your own dynasty

I've only recently really gotten into dynasty leagues when it comes to fantasy sports. Let me tell you, I didn't know what I was missing. The rules are loose, and you can cater them to your personal preferences, but it is thoroughly enjoyable. I'm the guy who picks up Tim Lincecum (SP, SF) before he was good and watches him show glimpses of promise, only to redraft the next year and watch someone grab him in the early rounds. In dynasty leagues, you can be rewarded for the hours you spend researching the minor leagues while you should be doing your TPS reports at work. If you enjoy being a GM, trying a dynasty league may be a worthwhile investment.

All Average Draft Positions provided by mockdraftcentral.com.

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