OpinionFebruary 3, 2008

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What to Watch: Spring Training

By Tom Huffman

Rube Baker: Wow, Willie’s really got some power. Lou Brown: Off a guy who’ll be bagging groceries in a couple of weeks! Spring Training is right around the corner. Now I’ve never put much stock in Spring Training stats being a indication of the season to come, but I do pay attention to Spring Training games. What I like to do during Spring Training games is see who is healthy and which players are fighting for playing time. So here are my top ten things I’ll be watching for this Spring.

10. Joel Zumaya – I’ve always been a big fan of Zumaya and he will be the closer in Detroit sooner or later. Zumaya missed time last year with a number of finger/Guitar Hero injuries. If that wasn’t enough he hurt his AC joint and had shoulder surgery in November. Originally slated for a June return, Zumaya has stated he will start throwing before the end of January. That is a month ahead of schedule and could mean a return to action in May. Those of you in leagues with holds might want to pay extra attention to his recovery.

9. Rocco Baldelli – You’ve heard it before. If he can stay healthy, Baldelli is an impact fantasy player, but hamstring injuries limited him to 35 games last year. Most people have soured on the 26-year-old since he has averaged less than 90 games per season the last three years. If his legs are healthy he could be a bargain.

8. Ryan Zimmerman – Washington’s franchise player broke a bone in his left wrist last November and had to have surgery to fix it. He should be ready to go for Spring Training but there has been plenty of speculation that the wrist injury could drain some of his power. Wrist injuries are very unkind to hitters so I’d like to see how he is swinging in April.

7. Jarrod Saltalamacchia – He’s getting selected pretty high in the mocks I’ve seen for someone who might start the year in AAA. Even if Saltalamacchia does start the season in Texas, it remains to be seen how the at-bats will be split between him and Laird. Catchers miss enough at-bats as it is, I don’t want one that is in a platoon.

6. Cubs Closer – I’ve got to think Wood is the favorite right now but Marmol is waiting in the wings. With Wood’s injury history and Pinella’s affinity for veterans, would Howry get a chance? If Leiber is in the rotation does Dempster get a shot at closing? Hopefully this is a clearer picture once the season is approaching.

5. B.J. Ryan – He will be 12 months into recovery from Tommy John surgery in May. He just started throwing off of a mound and might be limited during Spring Training. I think it is a little optimistic to expect him to be at full strength when the season opens, so Accardo might pick up some saves early in the year, or longer, if Ryan’s recovery slips.

4. Manny Ramirez – Manny has been sidelined the last two years with multiple nagging injuries and his stats have declined. Is it the beginning of the end for the 35-year-old OF, or can he recover? He can still swing the stick I just don’t know if he can play 150 games. He has a big $20 million option to play for and it has been reported Ramirez has gotten himself into great shape over the off-season. I’d like to see it before I believe it.

3. Travis Hafner – What happened last year? Hafner has never been the picture of health, but he finally cracked 150 games played last year and it was his worst season since becoming a regular. His power numbers tumbled and most are blaming a broken hand Hafner suffered at the end of the 2006 season. It would be a welcome sight for Hafner owners if he showed up healthy and displayed some of his old power in Spring Training.

2. Juan Pierre / Andre Ethier – Kemp is presumed to have the RF job all to himself while Pierre and Ethier fight it out for LF. Many fantasy owners are counting on big steals from Pierre but that might be hard to do sitting on the bench. While Pierre is still owed a ton of money, Ethier makes the Dodgers a better team. I expect Torre to settle on a LF before the season starts.

1. Francisco Liriano – Liriano hasn’t pitched in a game since September 2006. He should be fully recovered from Tommy John surgery and ready to start the season. He brings with him a ton of potential and an injury history. It will be very interesting to see how sharp he is and if he compares to the 2006 version.



Tom Huffman is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Tom in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of Pogotheostrich.
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