Author Archives: Frank

UPDATE: Rauch is Twins’ Closer

Updating a previous item, it took Ron Gardenhire only 5 days to change his mind and name Jon Rauch the Twins’ closer.  It was just this past Sunday that Gardy had stated his intention to use Rauch, Matt Guerrier, Jose Mijares, and Jesse Crain as closers-by-committee to begin the 2010 season.  Obviously at this point it would be a good idea to take whatever Gardy says with a grain of salt, but if Rauch starts off the regular season hot then it will become safer to drop the other “committee members.”

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The Twins Closer Situation

Gardy today gave a little clarity to the Twins closing situation in the wake of  Joe Nathan’s season ending Tommy John surgery, saying that Jon Rauch will NOT be the Twinkies’ primary 9th inning guy.  Instead, each of Rauch, Matt Guerrier, Jose Mijares, and Jesse Crain will get opportunities early in the season.  This is contrary to reports that the Twins were after Blue Jays closer Jason Frasor, although the report never mentions the possibility of the trade. still coming to fruition.  Additionally, while Gargenhire had previously stated that Francisco Liriano was a candidate due to his dominating stuff, Liriano publicly stated his desire to be a starter and Gardy seems to have acquiesced to his request.  Right now, I would handicap the closer priority list as Rauch, Mijares, Guerrier, and Crain.  Rauch pitched well last year but lacks the overpowering stuff Gardy looks for in a closer (since he’s been spoiled for years by Nathan).  Mijares has the stuff and will definitely be the go-to guy when an opponent’s order is lefty-heavy in the 9th (.83 WHIP vs. lefties in 2009), but struggled against righties last year (1.55 WHIP), most likely limiting him to platoon duty.  Guerrier really lacks the power stuff (5.54 K/9) but gets results, and would make a Ryan Franklin-style closer.  Crain brings a good fastball/slider combo (94.7 MPH on the FB), and was once called the Twins’ closer of the future, but fell out of favor last year and was even optioned to AAA at one point.  In a deep league, grab as many of these guys as you can afford to roster until the situation becomes more clear.  In a shallow league though, I would still go with Rauch, based on the mythical “experience” in the closer role and intimidation factor he offers (6’11” and tatted out of his mind).

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Bouncebacks & Breakouts

First, the bouncebacks.  These are players who might make you say, “Remember back when he was good?”  Some may have won your league for you two or three years ago, then for whatever reason were giant letdowns last year.  The key is in knowing whether their recent letdowns were the exception or the rule; getting off to a bad start can really psychologically wear down a player and lead to a lost season.  Likewise, injury history should play a major role in determining whether to pursue a player on draft day; a pitcher with a long history of arm injuries is less likely to suddenly find the fountain of youth than a hitter who is coming off a freak injury.  Thus, I will avoid the glass-armed Rich Harden and fragile Erik Bedard, who have combined for 12.5 seasons and yet never reached 200 IP, while targeting a guy like Conor Jackson, who had a solid career take a one year detour due to Valley Fever.  The bottom line: these guys have resumes showing what they can do when all is well, you have to decide upon whom to bet your lower-round picks.  If it works out, you could have a high caliber player at a bargain-basement price.

Fausto Carmona, SP CLE

Carmona is a guy primed for a huge year.  In 2007, he came in 4th in Cy Young race, going 19-8 with a 3.06 ERA and 1.21 WHIP.  Then in 2008, he lost control, with his BB/9 doubling from 2.6 to 5.2.  The problems continued last year, as he showed up to camp about 50 lbs overweight and ended up spending the middle of the season in the minors.  He did finish on a high note, allowing 3 earned runs in his final 13 innings with 11 K and only 3 BB, then this spring showed up in shape and throwing like it was 2007.  Recently, another Indians pitcher went from minor league banishment to the Cy Young award: Cliff Lee in 2008.  Carmona is definitely worth the pick.

Matt Lindstrom, RP HOU

Another guy due for a bounceback is Astros pitcher Matt Lindstrom.  Lindstrom has always thrown exceptionally hard (100 mph+ when he first came up, still in 98 mph range).  He put together two solid seasons in the Marlins pen, and was expected to ascend to the closer role last year, even earning an invitation to pitch for USA in the WBC.  That’s where the trouble started, however, as an intended knockdown pitch led to a shoulder injury that hounded Lindstrom all year.  He came back this spring after rehabbing in the offseason and looks better than ever.  As his only competition for the Astros closer chair is Brandon Lyon, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he runs with the job and ends up having a great year.  I’d take him over guys like Dotel and Mike Gonzalez and wouldn’t be shocked if he puts up better numbers than Qualls, Franklin, or Fuentes.

Chris Young, OF ARI

Chris Young is the type of guy to whom you may have a complete aversion: BA blackhole even when all is going right.  His rookie year in 2007, he actually went for 32 homers and 27 steals, while only managing a .237 average.  However, if you’re up for the BA suck, it’s that power/speed potential that makes Young a potential low round (ADP 211) steal.  After a slight down year in 2008 (10 less HR and 13 less steals, but improved BB rate and RBI totals), he just couldn’t perform last year and was actually sent to AAA Reno in August.  That seemed to provide just the wake-up call he needed, as he hit .370 in AAA and .263 with 8 HR in the final month.  When drafting, know you won’t ever get BA from Young but you can expect the other 4 categories to be more than respectable (.240 BA-22 HR-75 R-75 RBI-20 SB)

Troy Glaus, 1B ATL

Glaus is an example of a former All Star who averaged 30+ HR a year during his prime and has fallen victim to injury in recent years.  As a power hitter, it is concerning that he has had multiple shoulder surgeries during his career, the most recent of which wiped out his 2009 for STL.  That said, Glaus has always come back from injury stronger than before (may or may not be due to his inclusion in 2007’s Mitchell Report) and in 2009 he came back so strong that he was included on the Cards’ postseason roster.  This year, he steps into a world of opportunity as the Braves’ cleanup hitter.  He should see plenty of RBI opportunities in ATL’s stacked lineup and his risk of shoulder injury will decrease with the move to 1B.  Bottom line: the opportunity to pick up a contender’s cleanup hitter after pick 200 is too much to resist.  Even if Glaus gets regular rest he should still hit 25+ HR with 90+ RBI.

This next group of players highlights the risk inherent in drafting any rookie/prospect: even with the tools and past performance that make for a promising player, the adjustment curve to the Major League level is different for every player, with top talents like Adrian Gonzalez, Brandon Phillips, Kendry Morales, Jayson Werth, Derrek Lee, Adam Lind, and Nelson Cruz all requiring years to become the early round picks they are today.  The post-hype sleeper offers a tremendous value: guys who have the skills to put up top numbers who just haven’t put it all together yet

Matt LaPorta, 1B-OF CLE

it was less than two years ago that LaPorta was the centerpiece of the deadline deal sending Sabathia to the Brewers for the stretch run.  I’ll admit, when he was first called up last year I sniped him off the waiver wire, only to watch him struggle, be sent back to the minors, and then come back for September, hitting .254 with 7 HR in 181 AB along the way.  While his numbers weren’t killer, projecting them to 550 Abs would have meant 21 HR.  Regular at-bats, along with increased development, should bring those totals to around 25 HR this year with around a .270 BA this year, with further development in the power department in the coming years.  As an added bonus, LaPorta should qualify at both 1B and OF, which never hurts.

Travis Snider, OF TOR

Snider just turned 22 but has already endured his share of ups and downs since being drafted in the 1st round in 2006.  Last year he entered the season as one of baseball’s top 10 prospects, only to disappoint in his first season in the bigs, hitting .241 with only 9 HR in 241 ABs and earning a ticket to AAA.  Like LaPorta, even in his first ML exposure, he managed to show the power that made him a blue-chipper.  Also like LaPorta, he dominated when sent to AAA, showing he has nothing left to prove at that level.  While the Blue Jays attempted scare tactics in telling Snider he was fighting with Joey Gathright for a roster spot this spring, he rose to the challenge and has earned a starting spot in the Jays’ OF.  While he may sit against tough lefties, he should mirror LaPorta with around a .270 BA and 25 HR, all coming around pick 225.

Homer Bailey, SP CIN

Homer Bailey has been on the top of prospect charts since his selection 7th overall in the 2004 draft.  A big Texan with the classic power pitcher’s build, Bailey has had poor results in his brief ML showing (5.45 ERA, 1.61 WHIP in parts of last years).  In the minors he always showed the skills that made him the pick he was, but it was not until his final 9 ML starts of 2009 where he delivered on his promise at the higher level, going 6-1 with a 1.70 ERA and 53 K in 58.1 IP.  How did he pick up his performance?  His first few chances in the Majors, Bailey didn’t show the mid-90s velocity that made him such a blue-chipper.  But in 2009, he added both velocity (average 94.5 MPH) and FB movement.  That velocity, by the way, would have placed behind only Ubaldo Jimenez, Justin Verlander, and Josh Johnson if he played a full season.  He walks too many to have a great WHIP, but 180 Ks in around 200 IP with a 1.3 WHIP and 4 ERA wouldn’t be bad for a guy who’s not getting drafted right now.

Ian Kennedy, SP ARI

Kennedy is a guy who was a top prospect after his sophomore season (2005) at USC, averaging 12.2 K/IP.  However, he regressed the following spring, causing him to drop to the Yankees at 21st overall in the 2006 draft.  He is not a power pitcher, but relies on command for success.  He cruised through the minors and had a great debut in 2007 for the Yanks.  When he started the 2008 season as NY’s #5 starter though, he struggled mightily, increasing BB rates and decreasing K rates while getting extremely unlucky with BABIP (.347).  The only physical problem behind Kennedy’s struggles was a slight decline in FB velocity, from 90.4 to 89.1 MPH, which doesn’t sound like much but is tough to survive in the AL East.  Following his demotion in 2008, he righted the ship, with a 2.35 ERA and 72:17 K:BB in 69 IP.  However, 2009 was a complete loss for Kennedy, who had an aneurysm in his right arm.  He was included in the Granderson trade this offseason and is penciled in as the D-Backs’ #3 starter, where he should bounce back hard away from the AL East.  Look for a 3.80 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, and 150 K in 180 IP.

Brandon Wood, 3B LAA

If you are looking for cheap power at 3B from a guy with a guaranteed job, this is the year to go for Brandon Wood.  He was a 1st rounder in 2003 (see a trend on this list?) who has struggled in his first 3 ML exposures (total .192-7-19 in 226 AB from 07-09) while hitting 76 HR in AAA over the same time frame (1 HR every 16 AB).  Out of options this year, Wood has earned the 3B job with the departure of Chone Figgins.  He won’t hit for average (expect .250-.260) but with a regular spot in the lineup 25 HR is not a reach.  Grab him late and see if this is the year.

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Mixed League Rookies (some to stash, some for now, plus a service time explanation)

First and foremost, yes on Jason Heyward. He has power, discipline, and the backing of Ol’ Bobby.  Saw him in Spring Training ’08 and ’09 and he was a manchild, and that was before the parking lot nets had to be installed this year.  Look for him to hit .290 with 20+ HR, ~15 SB if he plays a full year.  His ADP in ESPN leagues around 170, making him a great high upside pick in the 14th or 15th round, as he’s being picked between Franklin Gutierrez and 2-category player Chris Coghlan.

What’s the only thing that could stand between Heyward and instant success on the big stage, a terrifying phenomenon that has recently felled the likes of Ryan Braun, Evan Longoria, Matt “God” Wieters, Tommy Hanson and (just last Saturday) St. Stephen Strasburg ?  A GM with an eye on the big picture, that’s what.  All of the aforementioned players were clearly ready for the Bigs when camp broke their respective rookie years, yet they found themselves in places like Durham, Norfolk, and Richmond to open the season.  Front offices inevitably make up some laughable excuse for sending down the player, usually saying “he needs more seasoning,” as though 2 weeks facing washed up vets at AAA will actually make or break the player’s career.  The Nationals’ recent handling of Strasburg was the funniest of all, as his GM and manager said he was optioned to slow down his delivery from the stretch, as he hasn’t pitched with men on base often enough to be comfortable with it.

The truth is, players are under team control for 6.0 years before free agency.  Each contractual year consists of 172 days of service time.  Thus, if a player is in the Bigs from Opening Day til the end the season he accrues  1.0 years of service time.  However, due to scheduling, there is a discrepancy between a contractual year and the calendar year, as the MLB season actually takes 183 days.  This creates a loophole in that a player can be sent to the minors to begin the season and called up twelve days later, giving him at years’ end only 171 days (.994 years) of service time, delaying his free agency one year.  At the rate current free agent contracts have ballooned, the extra year of team control can potentially save a team up to $10 million for that year, a benefit most sane GMs in today’s economy would gladly pay in exchange for their top prospect waiting an extra 2 weeks to help the club.  *Note: if a minor leaguer is on the team’s 40 man roster, he must spend 20 days in the minors between the option date (day he is sent down) and the day he is called up or else the option will be voided and teams would save no service time accrual.  Thus, 40-man prospects will usually remain in the minors the first 21 days of the season.*

As an addendum to the service time discussion, “Super Two” status is another factor in considering summoning top prospects to the bigs.  Typically, players are at club-controlled salaries (around the $400,000 minimum) for their first 3 seasons in MLB.  In seasons 4-6 (barring a contract extension) they are eligible for salary arbitration, whereby a committee determines the next season’s salary based on past performance.   However, there exists a group of players, “Super-Twos,” who are eligible for arbitration after only 2 full seasons. Players who rank in the top 17% in total service time of those with between 2-3 full years of service time qualify for Super Two status.  So, if a player starts on the MLB roster in May 2007, then plays all of 2008 and and 2009 for the club, he will likely have about 2.7-2.8 years’ service time entering the 2010 season.  While the scale varies year to year, this will usually put him around the crucial top 17% cutoff point for Super Twos, costing the team millions.  Case in point: Tim Lincecum, called up May 7, 2007, made the Super Two cutoff this year.  While he otherwise could have been renewed at as little at $520,000, the Giants gave him a two-year $23,000,000 deal to buy out his first 2 years of arbitration.  Conversely, Mark Reynolds was called up on May 16, 2007, only 9 days later.  However, he just missed the Super-Two cutoff, meaning he was eligible for arbitration until 2011 (though the team did sign him to an extension, it pays only $500,000 for 2010, representing a huge savings over what he would’ve made in arbitration.

As the Reynolds case exemplifies, a player who is called in mid-May may avoid Super Two status; however teams like to err on the side of caution, usually waiting until around June 1 to recall their studs.  Just last year, Wieters debuted May 29, Andrew McCutchen debuted on June 4, and Tommy Hanson debuted June 7.  Did that have anything to do with minor league success?  Obviously not.  The teams knew they could save money in the long run by delaying until June to call up their top prospects.  Keep that in mind when looking at this year’s potential impact rookies, and if you’ve got your sights set on one of these guys who’ll be starting in the minors in a shallow league I would pull the trigger around May 15:

Stephen Strasburg, RHP WAS

He’s already gotten more hype than any college pitcher since Mark Prior, and rightfully so.  However, when Washington recalls him is crucial to his mixed league value.  If they wait the absolute minimum amount of time for his option to count, he could be up by the end of April, the Nats will save a year of service time, and you could have a SP1 for 25+ starts around pick 190.  However, it is more likely the Nationals look to save more by waiting until June, giving you between 15-20 starts.  Keep this in mind when drafting.

Pedro Alvarez, 3B PIT

If there is a Braun/Longo this year, it’s Alvarez.  Right now he’s best known for his draft holdout that almost cost the Pirates his rights after being selected #2 overall in 2008, but that will soon be forgotten.  He’s got a sweet lefty stroke with good loft.  While he strikes out a bit, he has a great eye as well.  He offers upside in line with Evan Longoria’s rookie year (.275, 20+HR); the only question is how soon he takes over the hot corner in Pittsburgh.  Andy Laroche has struggled mightily this spring but will keep the spot warm while Pedro’s arbitration clock stays frozen at AAA.  Since he’s a 40-man guy, he won’t be up before April 23, but I will be grabbing him around April 15 to be safe.  If Pittsburgh decides to wait, then make sure you pick him up around May 15.

Carlos Santana, C CLE

Santana is the switch-hitting catcher the Indians picked up in 2008 for Casey Blake.  A year from now, people will look back on that trade and laugh.  He won the Eastern League (AA) MVP last year, and offers a ton of power along with Youk-esque discipline.   The Indians will be running out Lou Marson and Wyatt Toregas until they decide to go with the future in late May/early June.  He will be a top 10 catcher as soon as he is called up, but and projects to be a Kung Fu Panda minus about 40 points of average (which he more than makes up for in OBP, not that it counts for fantasy).  In other words, if he’s called up June 1, expect a .280 avg with 15 bombs, not too shabby for a first-year catcher.

Now, for the guys will (most likely) break camp with the club (draft/pick up ASAP):

Aroldis Chapman, LHP CIN

Everyone already knows the good about Chapman, the Cuban defector who throws 102 from the left side with a 90 mph slider.  The Reds appear to be leaning towards him as their #5 starter to start the year, and he offers the upside of a full year of Francisco Liriano circa 2006.  The bad: he is prone to bouts of wildness because he has trouble repeating his delivery, and has recently experienced back problems in ST.  Nonetheless, he obviously offers tremendous upside and will provide plenty of K’s even in the worst case scenario.  He’s going around pick 210 and is worth the gamble.

Brian Matusz, LHP BAL

Here’s one talent evaluator’s take Matusz that I can’t best (credit Buster Olney’s blog):

“He’s like Cole Hamels, but with a better fastball. He’s got a chance to be really special, with that stuff and command. Last spring, the pitcher I liked, as an up-and-comer, was Josh Johnson. Now, it’s [Matusz]. If he’s not the best young pitcher in the American League, I’d be shocked.”

Matusz is also going around pick 210, and I personally prefer him to Chapman.  He has great control and great K-potential.  Unfortunately he’s in the AL East, so he’ll take some lumps along the way, but he’s gonna be a good one.  He made his debut last year and will assuredly break camp in the O’s young rotation.  On the year, look for an ERA in the 3.8 range with a 1.3 WHIP and, 7K/9ip, and 12-14 wins

Wade Davis, RHP TB

Firstly, Davis just won the Rays’ fifth starter job so draft with confidence.  He is a typical power righty with a a great 12-6 hook, along with a decent slider and change.  I like him right up there with Matusz, maybe just a tick below.  He threw a 10-K shutout last September over the O’s and has put up consistently strong numbers since being drafted out of high school in 2004.  One word of warning: against Big League lineups, Davis has been prone to hideously bad starts with no apparently good reason.  Maybe he is prone to tipping his pitches, maybe his command just disappears without warning, but both last September against BOS (8 earned in 2.2ip) and just the other day in ST against MIN (5 earned, 9 hits in 2ip) he’s had a couple disasters.  But don’t worry, over a full season in the Rays rotation his projection he should put similar numbers to Matusz.

Alcides Escobar, SS MIL

Remember Elvis Andrus?  Well Escobar will provide the same type of production this year as Milwaukee’s starting SS, and come about 100 picks later around 180.  Think 30+ steals and a hollow .280, with his run production TBD by his spot in the lineup.  As a young speedster, he’s been splitting time between leadoff and the 8-hole in ST.  Soon enough though, Carlos Gomez will find himself hitting 8th and Escobar will be hitting 1 or 2, in front of Braun and Fielder.  That won’t suck.

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