MLB fantasy roundtable: Spring training kind to some, but not all
Each week of the baseball, a committee of SI.com fantasy experts will meet at pitching mound and offer their insights into the most intriguing questions facing fantasy players.
Will Carroll: I really like what Yu Darvish has shown, especially with his breaking ball. He's striking people out, not nibbling, meshing with his catcher and defense, and ... yeah, he's good. I know it's spring, but Darvish was facing the better players so that they could get some video on him. He'll need to adjust as they get looks (and video) but he's got all the raw ability that made the Rangers bid big for him.
Gary Gramling: I loved what I saw out of Juan Nicasio. He's always been a favorite of mine as an under-the-radar prospect, and his first big league stint was obviously promising. He suffered a scary broken neck last August, so who knows what he was going to look like this spring. With a fastball clocked in the mid-to-high 90s, improved secondary stuff and a 21-to-5 K/BB ratio over 23.1 innings. I think he has solid mixed league value this season.
Eric Mack: Hanley Ramirez. Not only has he proven healthy after an injury-plagued year, but he also looks capable of becoming a fantasy star again. He is going to be the centerpiece of a great lineup with the addition of Jose Reyes and the rise to stardom of protector Giancarlo Stanton. Ramirez also adds third-base eligibility and can be the best player in fantasy at two positions.
David Sabino: It's funny but I'm really looking forward to seeing what Albert Pujols can do for the Angels. If his spring training numbers (.386/.448/.825) are any indication, King Albert is out to prove that he was worth the $240 million the Halos shelled out for him. That's bad news for American League pitching. A classic .350/.450/.650 season seems to be in the cards (bad pun) following an off year in 2011. Among mere mortals, Kansas City's Eric Hosmer looks locked and loaded and ready to take his spot among baseball's most feared hitters.
Carroll: Michael Pineda. I worried early about his shoulder and the people managing him. Every worry came true. I know it's "minor," but this could go a number of ways and few of them are good. I'm also worried about all the drama in Boston. Bobby Valentine could be great, but the press is going to eat him alive if they go into a slump early. All the power plays between Valentine, GM Ben Cherington, and team president Larry Lucchino are just prelude for a dramatic season ahead.
Gramling: I've tucked-and-rolled my way off the Colby Rasmus bandwagon. Last year was a gut-punch to his long-term outlook, and this spring (.466 OPS in 58 plate appearances through Sunday) seemed to confirm that he's not going to make the necessary adjustments to hit in the big leagues. I give him a five percent chance of fulfilling his immense promise in 2012.
Mack: ChaseUtley has chronic knee issues that look like they are going to sap his once elite production, if not claim his career entirely. He was supposed to be merely held up in spring training. Instead, he was completely disabled and set back for the start of the season. The Phillies expect to get something out of him this year, but just how much is anyone's guess. Guaranteed, it won't be the Utley we grew to love.
Sabino: You can't be too happy if you're a Ubaldo Jimenez owner right about now. Not only has the former Colorado ace been a mess on the mound, allowing 19 earned runs in just 23 innings with a WHIP of 1.96, but he's expected to miss a start after being suspended for intentionally hitting ex-mate and frequent verbal sparring partner, Troy Tulowitzki. Cleveland is counting heavily on a bounce-back year from the 28-year-old right-hander, but there's been no indication thus far that one is coming.
Carroll: It's early. It's hard to make any valid judgment about any player in a month. Last year was filled with lessons. Would you have dumped Dan Uggla last year? Would you have bought in on Pineda's amazing start? I'm not saying don't improve your team, but don't make rash, even panicked moves.
Gramling: Besides the old "don't panic" adage, know your slow starters. Cold weather really drags down a lot of hitters. Adam LaRoche was always the poster boy for April Atrociousness. He's probably just done, but guys like Mark Teixeira, J.J. Hardy, David Ortiz and Delmon Young can typically be swiped off an impatient owner around May 1.
Mack: Patience is key. If you fall in an early hole and your early rounders are at fault, don't make hasty trades. That will merely compound the problem. You have already absorbed their worst and you will be allowing someone else to get their best. No, it's not the most aggressive way to play fantasy baseball, but patiently is the wisest way to play.
Sabino: Don't panic. If anything, do the opposite to try to take advantage of fast starts by your players and slow starts by others in the trade market. Alfonso Soriano had 10 home runs through the end of April last year and slugged. 613. In 382 at-bats that followed he hit just 16 more home runs and slugged a mere .435. If a player's start seems too good to be true, with a few exceptions (see Jose Bautista 2010), it probably is.
Carroll: In experts' drafts, pitchers seem to be going lower than normal. Eric Mack and I talked about this on the last Inside Fantasy. It's not trickling down, because pitchers still go early and often in most leagues. I think it's hard to pay high dollar for pitching, but I think the experts may have overcorrected a bit.
Gramling: Nothing in particular. In the drafts I participated in, I was surprised to see Ryan Braun still going in the top five (even if you buy his PED explanation, no Prince Fielder spells trouble) and his teammate Zack Greinke often slipping out of the top 40. Greinke is undoubtedly top five among MLB starters and my pick to win NL Cy Young. His basketball injury threw off his schedule a year ago, leading to that dreadful start. Tommy Hanson is another guy who slipped often, though I'm assuming owners were nervous about his shoulder.
Mack: The late-round falls of Justin Morneau and Kendrys Morales in most leagues are a bit surprising. The potential of these two 2011 busts is immense, particularly relative to their draft positions. They have both proved ready for the season and probably should be trusted a bit more than they are. They can each go .300-30-100-100 with a year of health, and they're due.
Sabino: It's amazing that drafters have so much faith in Braun after he tested positive for performance enhancing drugs. Yes, he had his suspension wiped out, but on the surface it appears he got off on a technicality. He's the second highest drafted player in mixed leagues behind Matt Kemp, but to me there's a big risk involved in the off chance that he got an unfair advantage from pharmaceuticals. I also can't believe how low Doug Fister has been taken in drafts. The Detroit right-hander was as good as anyone after his trade to Motown from Seattle, yet we see pitchers like Wandy Rodriguez, Brandon Morrow and the aforementioned Jimenez taken before him. Comerica Park is a great place to pitch, and Fister has all of the tools to become a dominant hurler.
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