Rights (and Wrongs) of Spring

For fantasy players, spring training can be a seductive source of information. But what you see can be as misleading as it is helpful. Here are five tips for how to benefit from the last two weeks in March
March 20, 2006

1 DON'T TRUSTSPRING TRAINING STATS For every Andruw Jones (who hit a big-league-high 10 homeruns in March last year for the Braves and then led the majors with 51 in theregular season), there's a Gabe Gross (who hit eight in the spring for the BlueJays and one during the season). But the most misleading statistic of thespring is saves. That's because most closers are on the first tee by the ninthinning of an exhibition game, having already pitched the sixth or seventh. Noneof the first 49 saves of this spring were earned by projected closers. Pitcherssuch as the Tigers' Chris Spurling and the Giants' Merkin Valdez might rack upsaves now, but they won't be doing it come April.

2 SEE FORYOURSELF Nothing beats scouting with your own eyes, and fantasy fanatics flockto Arizona and Florida each year to get a firsthand look at players. But asmuch fun as it is to bird-dog major league teams for a month, most folks can'tafford it. So the next best thing is to surf MLB.TV, which provides onlinebroadcasts of televised exhibition games. Not only do you see all the playersin action, but you also get the insights of broadcasters who are trying todecipher the nuances of this year's teams for themselves. And because thesegames are more laid-back, club officials often stop by the booth andoccasionally shed light on a particular position battle or the status of aninjured player.

3 GRAB METEORICRISERS Most prospects climb through an organization one level at a time, butthe very best don't let minor league designations get in their way--theydominate at every stop and skip some along the way. Albert Pujols played onlyone year in the minors, making three stops; Miguel Cabrera jumped from Double Ato the Show at age 20. So track prospects creating a buzz in spring training.Teams don't promote their top young players to sit on the bench; if they'restill around on Opening Day, they'll play. Otherwise, be ready to pounce onthem if they're called up during the season. Keep an eye on Braves lefthandedstarter Chuck James, Orioles outfielder Nick Markakis and Indians third basemanAndy Marte.

4 STUDY ROSTERMOVES A seemingly minor transaction during the spring can have a huge impact onfantasy play, and in keeper leagues such moves can be felt for years. Take thisdeal that took up two lines of agate type in the newspaper last Thursday:

DIAMONDBACKS--Acquired RHP Jeff Bajenaru
from the White Sox for INF Alex Cintron

A promisingrighthanded reliever for a versatile middle infielder. Not much fantasy impact,right? Well, a closer look reveals that, as a result of making the trade, theDiamondbacks removed one of the major obstacles facing 2004 first-round pickStephen Drew in his bid to become the starting shortstop. With Cintron inChicago and projected starter Craig Counsell sidelined by a slightly tornlabrum in his right shoulder, Drew suddenly has a clear path to the majors.

5 LISTEN TOGUSHING SKIPPERS As a generally hard-to-satisfy group, managers are rarelyeffusive in praising players, especially rookies. So whenever a skipper goesout on a limb, you know he's talking about a special player. Royals thirdbaseman Alex Gordon, for instance, is getting such praise from his manager,Buddy Bell. After an exhibition game in which Gordon drove in two runs and madetwo spectacular plays in the field, Bell said he was "very impressed how[Gordon] approached the game. He's got a great pace about him and has got a lotof presence." That's as much of a ringing endorsement as you'll everhear.

• Get tips andanalysis from David Sabino every week during the season at SI.com/fantasy.

If the Orioles outfield prospect sticks with the big club, he's worthconsidering in your draft.

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