If you’re like us—we sincerely hope you aren’t, but if you’re reading this blog, you probably are—your soul is suffused with the sickness unto death as you contemplate how microscopic the attention you pay to baseball events must be if you hope to succeed in any moderately sophisticated Fantasy Baseball league. First, of course, you have to know how the players everyone knows and cares about are doing. Thus, it will matter to you when you see a headline like “Sean Doolittle plays catch.” We know that this fact has a measure of real-world significance that, say, “Khloe Kardashian plays catch” or “Mitch McConnell plays catch” doesn’t. Still, we keep expecting to see follow-ups: “Sean Doolittle walks the dog.” “Sean Doolittle takes his kids to P.F. Chang’s.” Nonetheless, we care. And just to set the record straight: Doolittle doesn’t have kids, or a spouse, though he does have a famously hot girlfriend.
And then, of course, you need to be completely familiar with the resumes and futures of guys that normal people haven’t heard of. We won’t insult you by telling you who Bruce Rondon is, because you already know. But believe us, there are plenty of hard-core baseball fans (as opposed to Fantasy addicts) who don’t.
So yes, we should all renounce this lunacy, undertake sincere Acts of Contrition, and volunteer as emergency aid workers in South Sudan. As S.J. Perelman noted, though, here in America each of us gets to go to hell in his or her own way. And this is ours: an attempt to call your attention to some players that even hard-core guys may not know about, and who have a faint shot at producing Fantasy value in 2015. You already know about all of them? Keep it to yourself and join us in the Ninth Circle. Do we plan to take any of these guys in our 30-round NFBC draft? Certainly not. Would we take them in a 50-round draft? Some of them, quite possibly. In ascending order of obscurity:
Sergio Santos, Dodgers. Santos is, oddly, in roughly the same position that he was in with an entirely different team last year. The Dodgers’ closer Kenley Jansen is sidelined for a while, just as the Blue Jays’ closer Casey Janssen was at the start of the 2014 season. Last year, Santos was designated the Jays’ interim closer, and promptly collapsed, then got demoted to the minors, then imploded into a black hole. Now, he’s a non-roster invitee with the Dodgers, who’ve got some other good relievers on the roster and in camp, and who are supposedly going with a bullpen-by-committee while Jansen’s recuperating. Santos’s stuff, though, is still apparently amazing. He’s having a fine spring. He can still strike out more than a batter an inning. And some of last year’s stats—most notably a .426 BABIP—suggest that he was grotesquely unlucky, rather than merely bad. It’s not unthinkable that he become the interim full-time closer and get you a few saves before Jansen comes back.
Aledmys Diaz, Cardinals. He’s a 2014 Cuban signee, a shortstop by profession, though not, it’s said, for long, and a good hitter with some power (.441 slugging average in high-A and AA last year) and a bit of speed. The Cardinals optioned him to the minors the other day. If you play in a Dynasty league, you know about him, and if he were an outfielder, we wouldn’t mention him, because there are plenty of outfielders ahead of him in the Cardinals’ system. But the Cards are very shallow in the middle infield—Pete Kozma and his career .236/.297/.320 slash line are evidently Backup Plan A if anything untoward befalls Jhonny Peralta or Kolten Wong—so it’s not hard to envision Diaz being promoted and hitting a lot more than anyone else the Cardinals might otherwise put there.
Jairo Diaz, Rockies. The LaTroy Hawkins death watch continues. It began in August 2013, when he was a stripling of 40 and took over from Bobby Parnell as the Mets’ closer, and now here we are, 36 saves later, still talking in whispers in the hospital waiting room. Last year, the Rockies’ closer-in-waiting who kept waiting was Rex Brothers; this year, it’s Adam Ottavino. We like Ottavino. For that matter, we kind of like Hawkins. But take a look at Diaz. He hasn’t had a good spring, but he was lights-out in AA last year, and he evidently throws harder than anyone else in professional baseball. He’ll probably start the season as the closer for Albuquerque. If he thrives there, it’s not impossible to see him vaulting over Ottavino and getting some major-league saves before the season’s end.
Tomas Telis, Rangers. Telis is a switch-hitting catcher with speed who makes contact—not the most common of baseball commodities. He’s evidently not such a great catcher, as suggested by the fact that 16 of 17 major-league baserunners who tried to steal on him last year succeeded. People who know something about pitch framing say that he’s not so great at that, either. Moreover, 21-year-old Jorge Alfaro seems to have moved ahead of Telis in the Texas catcher pecking order. Still, Telis’s arm was tested this spring and not found wanting, and if Alfaro isn’t ready, all that stands between Telis and a regular job is shaky starter (really, career minor-leaguer) Robinson Chirinos, who figures to regress from a 2014 that wasn’t that good to begin with.
Keone Kela, Rangers. Everyone who says anything about Kela says the same thing, which means it must be true. He’s a young relief pitcher with a three-digit fastball, a plus curveball, and control problems. That’s certainly what his stats at Double-A last season suggest. Kela’s had a splendid spring, but we don’t see anything in those stats to suggest that what you see isn’t what you’re going to get: lots of strikeouts, lots of walks. We mention him because he may be in the right place at the right time. Neftali Feliz, who is the Rangers’ closer, is inconsistent, and their setup guys, Shawn Tolleson and Tanner Scheppers, are hurting with the kind of stuff that isn’t just going to disappear tomorrow. Especially if, as seems to be the case, the Rangers are going nowhere this season, it’s easy to imagine Kela getting a chance to take over from Feliz.
Burch Smith, Rays. He put up some magnificent numbers in the minors in 2013, flopped in a brief tryout with the Padres that season, and then spent most of 2014 sidelined with a forearm strain. He came from San Diego in the Wil Myers trade, and apparently wasn’t just a throw-in. The Rays, who know what they’re doing, wanted him, and evidently envision him as a starting pitcher. But for one unfortunate outing, he had a good spring, and was just optioned to the minors. As Carson Cistulli of Fangraphs pointed out at the time of the Myers trade, the question for Smith is whether he can pitch as hard in the later innings as he can in the earlier ones. Possibly not, and if he can’t, the Rays probably won’t promote him. If he can, then there figures to be ample opportunity for him to break into the Rays’ now-gravely-wounded rotation and put up some numbers.
Rafael Martin, Nationals. This guy is more a rumor than a fact. We’ve never seen him pitch, and hadn’t heard of him until a couple of days ago. He’s a 30 year old relief pitcher, and he’s been kicking around the Nationals’ system since 2010 without reaching the bigs. He is, at best, the seventh- or eighth-ranked guy in the Nats’ bullpen. But: (1) he pitched 47 consecutive innings in the high minors last year with an otherworldly strikeout/walk ratio and without allowing an earned run, and (2) everyone who’s seen him pitch says he has an absolutely devastating slider. There will probably have to be a lot of woe in the DC bullpen this year before Martin has fantasy value, but we’re intrigued.
Jerry Sands, Indians. Sands is a 27-year-old first baseman/corner outfielder with power. He has the look of a quad-A player, and if he makes the Indians’ opening day roster, it will be as the 25th guy. He’s had a good spring and has drawn some spring-training puffery from Terry Francona, but that’s not why we mention him. We mention him because of the gargantuan 480-foot home run he hit, pretty much effortlessly, the other day. We recommend the video. Actually, though, it’s not the home run that induces us to include him; it’s what he said after he hit the home run. Informed that it had traveled 480 feet, he inquired “Did they get out their obtuse triangles, or what?” He thus provided us with the name of our last, heretofore nameless Fantasy team. Thanks, Jerry. We were going to go with The Protractors, but “Obtuse Triangles” is much better.
The Birchwood Brothers are two guys with the improbable surname of Smirlock. Michael, the younger brother, brings his skills as a former Professor of Economics to bear on baseball statistics. Dan, the older brother, brings his skills as a former college English professor and recently-retired lawyer to bear on his brother's delphic mutterings. They seek to delight and instruct. They tweet when the spirit moves them @birchwoodbroth2.