Mike Minor is a forgotten man. The lefty is overshadowed by young studs like Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado and Arodys Vizcaino within the Braves’ organization, and a career ERA closer to five than four in the majors over the past two seasons seemingly supplies ammo to those who panned Atlanta for playing it safe with the seventh pick in the 2009 draft. Fantasy folks certainly aren’t impressed, as MockDraftCentral’s latest ADP numbers have Minor going 308th overall, behind damaged goods like Carlos Zambrano and Francisco Liriano and just ahead of the Aaron Harangs of the world.
While it’s easy to recall the “low upside” label slapped on Minor when he came out of Vanderbilt and point to his unimpressive big league ERA as confirmation, that assessment ignores his superb minor league track record and promising peripheral stats in the majors. Minor, locked in to a back-of-the-rotation spot with the Braves, looks like one of the biggest sleepers in the game entering spring training.
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Eric Hosmer is a trendy fantasy pick this spring, and for good reason. The Royals first baseman batted .293/.334/.465 during his age-21 season, providing decent power (19 homers) and uncommon speed (11 steals) for a guy at the low end of the defensive spectrum. Hosmer’s youth, contact ability, athleticism and promise of more pop from his 6-foot-4, 230 frame have caused him to shoot up the draft board, placing eighth among first basemen and just outside the top 50 overall in MockDraftCentral’s latest ADP Report.
Hosmer could bust out in 2012 — the fans are betting on it, projecting a .299/.359/.501 line, 25 homers and double-digit steals. But for Hosmer to progress from good young hitter to true fantasy stud, he’ll need to hone his strike-zone discipline. Specifically, he needs a cure for a serious case of hack-itis against the heat and sliders/cutters.
As a speedy center fielder who stands just 5-foot-10 and weighs 190 pounds (dreads included), Andrew McCutchen hardly fits the power hitting archetype. But don’t let his small stature fool you — ‘Cutch can go deep. Possessing the quickest wrists this side of Gary Sheffield, McCutchen has increased his home run total from 12 as a rookie in 2009 to 16 in 2010 and 23 this past year. ‘Cutch has discovered his home run stroke by becoming a power threat to all fields. With a little more thump in 2012 and more walks from opponents pitching him carefully, he could become just the second Pirate ever to go 30/30 (some dude named Barry did it in 1990 and ’92).
As a Colorado Rockie, Matt Lindstrom was persona non grata in fantasy circles entering the 2012 season. Stuck behind Rafael Betancourt, Matt Belisle and Rex Brothers, Lindstrom had about as much chance of racking up saves as the squirrel that presumably inhabits Todd Helton’s beard. But Lindstrom’s hopes of closing out games perked up on Monday, as he was traded to the Orioles along with Jason Hammel in exchange for Jeremy Guthrie. While he will likely take a back seat to Jim Johnson initially, Lindstrom’s improved control and Baltimore’s lack of ‘pen depth make him worth monitoring.
The “Free Russ Canzler” movement can turn its attention toward the plight of some other minor league masher buried on the depth chart. Canzler, the 2011 International League MVP, figured to toil at Triple-A Durham again next year after the Tampa Bay Rays signed Luke Scott to DH and Carlos Pena to man first base. But the Cleveland Indians picked him up for cash after Tampa DFA’d Canzler, adding right-handed punch to a lefty-laden club that has tired of former CC Sabathia trade bauble Matt LaPorta’s flailing at first base.
So, Canzler (26 in April) has the chance to free himself from the chains of the “Quad-A” label. Is he up to the task? Maybe. Canzler’s power is impressive, he may well be Cleveland’s best option at first and his versatility will help him make the squad this spring, but putting his minor league numbers in greater context removes some of the sheen from his award-winning slugging.
While Michael Pineda’s move from Seattle to the Bronx means he should easily reach double-digit wins now that he has an offense with a pulse supporting him, the change in home ballparks isn’t as sunny. Pineda’s old home, Safeco Field, is a graveyard for power hitters and a perfect spot for a pitcher who takes to the air often. Yankee Stadium, by contrast, goes 314 feet and 318 down the lines, turning warning-track shots in other parks into souvenirs. But those fretting over how Pineda will adjust to New York should take a closer look at his 2011 season — hitters lofted far fewer pitches against him during the second half of the season. That makes his transition to the Bronx a far less scary proposition.
This past week, the Texas Rangers landed Japanese ace Yu Darvish for a cool $112 million. The right-hander’s virtues are apparent: he has what’s considered an ideal pitcher’s build (6-foot-5, 215 pounds), he throws 95 mph, and he thoroughly dominated the competition for the Pacific League’s Nippon Ham Fighters in his early-to-mid-twenties. The projection systems either like the 25-year-old (a 3.62 ERA and a 169/46 K/BB ratio from Dan Szymborki’s ZiPS) or want to propose cyber marriage (a 2.40 ERA and a 223/44 K/BB from Brian Cartwright’s Oliver).
But Darvish’s signing has also been met with some skepticism. Some starting pitchers coming from Japan to the U.S. have found success (Colby Lewis after initially bombing in the majors, Hiroki Kuroda), but many others have disappointed.
Daisuke Matsuzaka, Kei Igawa, Kaz Ishii, Hideki Irabu and Hideo Nomo all got lots of cash and press, but Dice-K is the only pitcher among that group to post a career adjusted ERA better than the league average in Major League Baseball (and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who would say he has lived up to Boston’s $103 million investment). Critics say that for whatever reason — cultural adjustments, four days’ rest between starts instead of six, pitching backwards in a more fastball-heavy league, exhaustive workloads at a young age that eventually take a toll — Japanese pitchers haven’t lived up to the hype. What makes Darvish any different?
A year ago, Jason Heyward was a fantasy baseball stud muffin. Heyward was coming off a rookie season in which he popped 18 home runs and batted .277/.393/.456 at age 20, tying him with Ty Cobb for the 15th best OPS+ ever for a hitter who qualified for the batting title but couldn’t legally buy a beer. But, after falling to a .227/.319/.389 triple-slash and 14 homers in 2011 while bothered by a bum shoulder, Heyward ranks 31st among outfielders (114th overall) in MockDraftCentral.com’s latest ADP rankings.
While Heyward did fall into some bad habits at the plate last year and has some durability concerns, this is a perfect time to buy low on a youthful outfielder with superstar potential. Here’s why.
For Hector Noesi, cracking the starting rotation with the New York Yankees looked like no easy task. Locked in a death match with the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox for AL East supremacy, the Bombers aren’t in a position to give a second-tier prospect like Noesi a chance to prove his worth in 2012. At most, he figured to toil in middle relief while getting an occasional spot start, much like he did as a rookie this past year.
Noesi’s prospects of piling up important innings changed last week, however, as he was shipped to Seattle as part of the staggering Michael Pineda/Jesus Montero challenge trade. Noesi, 25 later this month, could also eventually be pushed out of the rotation picture with the M’s as higher-upside arms like Danny Hultzen, James Paxton and Taijuan Walker reach the majors. But for now, he has a good chance of winning a spot behind King Felix, Jason Vargas and Japanese import Hishashi Iwakuma. Noesi has garnered a reputation as a quality strike-thrower and will benefit from moving to Safeco Field, but he’ll have to prove he can miss bats with his four-pitch mix to merit consideration in most fantasy leagues.
When Manny Being Manny gave way to Manny Being Bannied last season, Manny Ramirez chose to retire from the Tampa Bay Rays after 17 putrid plate appearances rather than face a 100-game suspension for a second PED violation. But, just when it seemed as though we had seen the last of the Green Monster-whizzing slugger with 555 career home runs, Manny is swimming, swinging and showing humility in hopes of getting a Spring Training invite from a club looking for a designated hitter.
Ramirez, 40 in May, still faces a 50-game suspension if a team gives him a chance. We don’t really know what type of shape he’s in or what he has been up to over the past nine months — cutting off outfield throws in Beer League softball games, selling giant grills, pointing at David Ortiz on TV (and wondering why he doesn’t point back)…your guess is as good as mine. And, as Matt Klaassen opined earlier this week, the Manny Market may consist of only Texas, Minnesota, Toronto and Tampa (though I really doubt that last one). But, assuming Manny does get an offer and a chance at playing time come June, what might his batting line be? To get a rough idea, let’s look at his recent performance and the history of greybearded DHs.