May 29, 2012

Each week of the baseball season a committee of fantasy experts will meet at pitching mound and offer their insights into the most intriguing questions facing fantasy players.

1. After struggling in his last few starts, Roy Halladay was pulled Sunday with shoulder soreness. How nervous are you about his immediate future?

Will Carroll: Very. I'm trying not to get too far out here -- Halladay said he didn't think it was serious and pitchers that have been around a while tend to know their arms better than anyone. The Phillies are conservative, so I think he'll miss a start at a minimum. Shoulder injuries are scary, and given his previous results, I'm nervous. The upside here is that it might be nothing more than a mild strain, and Halladay seems the type that can adjust easily to any new limitations, short or long term.

Eric Mack: Anytime a pitcher has a sore shoulder, you should be gulping air. When it is someone with Halladay's age and career workload, you need to be sweating bullets. Arms are not made to rotate violently the way they do throwing a baseball. Halladay's arm has held up this long, but that also means he is due to face something serious, too. No one escapes Father Time. All you can do now is hope it isn't something more than fatigue.

David Sabino: Anytime an older pitcher with proven talent and excellent command struggles you can't but think that something physical is wrong, whether it's mechanics or an injury. In Halladay's case the shoulder soreness may or may not be something serious (he should find out Tuesday), but something seems amiss as evidenced by his 3.98 ERA, 4.0 K/BB and 1.15 WHIP, all the worst they've been since Halladay was a Blue Jay in 2007. I'm concerned but there's little to do about it as his trade value is at an NL-career low.

2. As the calendar turns to June, what potential call-up do you feel has the potential to make the biggest impact in fantasy?

Carroll: I've gotten a chance to look at Starling Marte and I like him more than Jose Tabata -- and I've always liked Tabata. Marte isn't a star, but he's a nice piece for an improving Pirates team. He'll get some steals, score runs ahead of McCutchen in the order, and he won't be pressured. I think Nolan Arenado (3B, Rockies) might get a look quicker than we thought due as the Rockies fall in the standings. I also think we'll get a look at Martin Perez, the latest Rangers arm to come through their system. If nothing else, he will get a showcase, but if Neftali Feliz is out long term, Perez could be a long term SP2.

Mack: Anthony Rizzo looks like a potential beast, but his position and the shot he already blew a year ago makes it less likely he will be an instant hit in fantasy. Diamondbacks pitching prospect Trevor Bauer is the one that appears to be the real game-changer. The man who broke Mark Prior's strikeout record in the Pac-10 a year ago looks as unhittable as a healthy, young Prior himself. Heck, Bauer just might be a Stephen Strasburg level of a pitching prospect. No other pitcher figures to be close to Bauer now and there are no longer any big-time speed-and-power hitters like Mike Trout or Bryce Harper in the immediate pipeline.

Sabino: The first name that comes to mind is Rizzo, Cubs first baseman. He's been tearing up the Pacific Coast League, slugging .713 with 17 home runs and 44 RBIs. He's currently a victim of the MLB service time rules and the Cubs' obvious intent of punting 2012 while trying to get their house in order as part of a massive organization-wide rebuilding.

On the mound, Bauer, the Diamondbacks' ace-in-waiting, is 9-1 with a 1.74 combined ERA between the Southern and Pacific Coast Leagues with 84 strikeouts in 67.1 innings. With Arizona sinking fast in the NL West and Wild Card standings, we may soon see what he can do for the big club.

3. Assuming you feel Eric Hosmer will rebound, he presents one of the better buy-low opportunities in fantasy now. What other talents in the bargain bin are you targeting?

Carroll: I don't think much of Hosmer or any other Royals prospect. How many guys do they have to mishandle before we realize they're very good at finding talent, but very bad at developing it? I like Matt Wieters on an improving Orioles team and Austin Jackson on a Tigers team that has underperformed.

Mack: Hosmer is a lot better than he has shown to date, but his rebound will come at the deep first base position. It is possible he rallies but hardly makes a big enough dent at the position in fantasy to truly make a difference. Some of the wreckage at the closer position can turn around their fortunes in a hurry and be very valuable, particularly since many lost their jobs and values so quickly. It can come back all the same; all it takes is a 10- to 15-inning hot streak to go from worthless to irreplaceable there. Yes, we are talking about you: Jose Valverde, Heath Bell, Drew Storen, John Axford, Andrew Bailey, Carlos Marmol and Sergio Santos. On the hitter side, first-rounders Albert Pujols, Adrian Gonzalez, Jacoby Ellsbury, Troy Tulowitzki, Evan Longoria and even Jose Reyes figure to be better than they have been, if only because their career numbers bear that out. Notice, this writer didn't mention Tim Lincecum. We are getting to the point we might have to believe a career shift has taken place because of some unreported arm soreness.

Sabino: I like the way that Blue Jays center fielder Colby Rasmus has been hitting recently, becoming more of an authoritative line-drive hitter than trying to slap the ball around the field. When the weather warms up in Toronto, the ball tends to fly out of the Rogers Centre. Over the past week Rasmus has rediscovered his power stroke, slugging .742 with seven extra-base hits in 31 at-bats.

I also can't believe that Jimmy Rollins will play as poorly as he has all year. Batting just .224 with eight extra base hits, Rollins is due to break out of his season-long slump any minute. I'd jump on him quickly as middle infielders are at a premium in most leagues.

4. Now that Adam Jones signed a lucrative new deal with the Orioles, do you fear his numbers may suffer without the motivation of new contract?

Carroll: No. If he starts to slip at all, Buck Showalter's there to keep him in line. I think Jones' development can be credited directly to Showalter's influence. Some players thrive under Buck, and Jones seems to be the most noticeable this time around. I'm also buying low on Ryan Howard and Chase Utley -- they've been out longer than I expected, but both are going to play soon.

Mack: That is possible, but Jones is also a player who we have long awaited to enjoy a breakthrough like this. The fact it is coming in the year he is turning 27-years old make it even more likely everything has merely come together for him. A baseball player's prime is 26 to 32, and the Orioles did right to lock him up during that peak production time. The only thing is, the Orioles probably could have done it a few months sooner and gotten a little better deal for themselves. They basically paid a premium for him at his high point ... or might we actually continue to get better out of Jones? It is hard to imagine he gets better than this.

Sabino: I don't. Jones has completely bought into the Orioles' rebuilding plan and has become a lead-by-example teammate. He's worked his way from being a highly-touted prospect to an underachieving young player to a borderline superstar through countless hours in the batting cage. He's a cornerstone of the franchise and will be a team leader along with Matt Wieters and Nick Markakis for years to come. If anything, I can see him up his game another notch to prove he's not resting on his laurels after the big payday.

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