Welcome to the 2009 fantasy baseball season. Opening Day might just be the most exciting time for any baseball fan and likewise, these are exciting times here on the Fantasy Baseball Cafe, as we’re launching our first week of weekly columns. From here on out, you can expect a daily column on everything fantasy baseball: weekly prospect reports, waiver wire wonders, a two-start pitcher column, and even a mailbag to answer any and every fantasy question you may have. I’m pleased to lead off our weekly lineup, with the Hot/Cold column, where each Sunday, we’ll highlight the hitters and pitchers that are on a hot streak — and those who are frozen in a cold snap. In the near future, we’ll also have recommendations added to each player you should buy low, sell high, pick up, or hold. The only things we’re missing are a theme song (although Katy Perry’s Hot & Cold would do) and Snakes (my partner in crime) to make some Hot/Cold artwork and dress up this column a bit.
For this Spring Training edition, we’ll refrain from the player recommendations for this week, because many managers tend to be averse to making big deals at this time of year, especially when the first pitch hasn’t been thrown yet. Personally, I find that a manager doesn’t want to be remembered as that guy who flipped Josh Hamilton for Felix Hernandez, just because Hamilton had a red-hot spring and thought trading for King Felix was selling high. Then you’ll have a manager who will give himself a Barry Horowitz-like pat on the shoulder for a job well done on drafting Nelson Cruz on a red-hot spring, only to overvalue his stock in preseason trading. What I hope this week’s Spring Training column does for you is to keep you abreast of players you should be mindful of, with their spring performances as well as their most feasible expectations in mind, when valuing them entering the season. Without further ado, here’s some hot and cold players you should pay attention to heading into this year.
Corey Hart: Spring 2009 – 15 R, 7 HR, 17 RBI, 3 SB, .366 BA in 71 AB
Last season’s draft-day darling has flown under the radar somewhat in this year’s drafts, Corey Hart should draw more attention heading into the 2009 campaign. One of the chief concerns with Hart has been his growing reputation as a high-strikeout, low-walk hitter. This Spring, Hart has taken four walks as opposed to 19 strikeouts in 71 at-bats, which can be indicative of Hart being more or less, a feast-or-famine hitter. Hart remains a 25/25 candidate, nonetheless, and the speculation is that Brewers manager Ken Macha is mulling over the prospect of Hart hitting second and Hardy moving into the #5 spot.
Nelson Cruz: Spring 2009 – 15 R, 6 HR, 16 RBI, 1 SB, .283 BA in 53 AB
This season’s en vogue post-hype sleeper is Nelson Cruz, who so far this spring, is displaying the kind of power potential that put him on the fantasy radar for much of this offseason. Slated to hit cleanup behind an in-form Josh Hamilton, the conditions could be ripe for Cruz to carry his Winter Ball success into the 2009 season. Cruz’s upside might be overestimated, but it’s reasonable to expect a .270-280 average and 25 home runs, with the upshot of the 28 year-old late bloomer turning a new leaf and besting those conservative projections.
Jeremy Hermida: Spring 2009 – 16 R, 5 HR, 13 RBI, 1 SB, .297 BA in 74 AB
Perhaps the best definition of a post-hype sleeper, Jeremy Hermida hasn’t made the kind of waves Nelson Cruz has, although he’s enjoying a solid Spring. Once a highly-regarded top prospect, Hermida had been hampered by injuries, a rising strikeout rate, and a .248 lifetime home split at spacious Dolphin Stadium in his first three full Major League seasons. Aside from his health, a crucial part in Hermida making that breakout leap is to improve his plate discipline, back to the polished level of past days. So far this spring, Hermida has struck out 16 times in 74 at-bats, as opposed to taking six walks. His plate patience figures to be a work in progress entering this year, but the talent is there, and he’s only 25 years old with room for improvement; his spring line shows the kind of promise of years past. That said, Hermida is worth a bench spot in standard 12-team leagues and is a recommended addition in deeper leagues. It could be a stretch to declare Hermida as the next Carlos Quentin, but it’s still reasonable that he comes through with a .270 average and 20-plus home runs.
Alex Gordon: Spring 2009 – 17 R, 6 HR, 14 RBI, 0 SB, .320 BA in 75 AB
To some managers, Gordon was a mild disappointment in 2008. The Royals third baseman made marginal improvements by reducing his strikeout rate and upping his walk rate, but what goes overlooked is a second-half OPS of .888 last year and this spring, Gordon has been on a good power tear. That said, Gordon struck out 16 times as opposed to eight walks in those 75 spring at-bats. In spite of a K/BB rate that’s gradually progressing and a suspect split against lefties, Gordon can still make up for deficiencies with an improved ISO power showing. Gordon is currently a tad undervalued (personally, I was able to grab him in the 15th round in a league draft last week) and a breakout season to the tune of a .270 average and 25 home runs could pay dividends.
Javier Vazquez: Spring 2009 – 2 W, 20 K, 2.66 ERA, 0.93 WHIP in 20.1 IP
With good reason, there’s a great deal of fanfare attached to Javier Vazquez’s move back to the National League and he’s looked sharp this spring, posting a 20/3 K/BB ratio. Vazquez has been notorious for sporting an ERA in the mid-to-high 4’s despite a FIP ERA which would have otherwise proven he was better than his ERA stated. Nonetheless, the optimism remains that a change of environment and league will translate into Vazquez posting an ERA in the mid-to-high 3’s and a 200-plus strikeout count.
Ryan Howard: Spring 2009 – 17 R, 10 HR, 24 RBI, 0 SB, .333 BA in 75 AB
Many fantasy managers don’t need reinforcement that Ryan Howard is a stud power hitter, but for what it’s worth, Howard has entered camp mashing, finishing spring with double-digit home runs in a tune-up for the beginning of the Phillies’ World Series title defense. The hope is that Howard rebounds average-wise after playing back-to-back seasons with a .268 and a .251 average to the extent he cracks the .270-280 level. Somewhat related on that note is the fact that Howard lost 20 pounds over the offseason and is in better shape heading into 2009.
Carlos Lee: Spring 2009 – 6 R, 1 HR, 10 RBI, 0 SB, .204 BA in 54 AB
The biggest name mired in a preseason slump (if you’re not counting Hanley Ramirez) is Carlos Lee. The Astros’ slugger was a second-round selection in many leagues but has come away slow out of the gates this spring. There aren’t any apparent injuries El Caballo suffered through this spring, which makes it fairly safe to write off the slow start as an aberration.
Carlos Quentin: Spring 2009 – 12 R, 2 HR, 17 RBI, 1 SB, .278 BA in 79 AB
Quentin has had a decent spring, but the primary concern with him is if his power from last year’s MVP-caliber campaign was legit. A portion of Quentin’s home runs were in the “just over” category of home runs and the right wrist injury he incurred out of a moment of frustration clouds his outlook for the year. So far, Quentin has hit just two home runs in 79 spring at-bats, which might open the window of opportunity to get him at somewhat of a discount.
Lastings Milledge: Spring 2009 – 6 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 2 SB, .217 BA in 69 AB
Leaving a lasting impression, Lastings Milledge finished 2008 with 14 home runs and 24 stolen bases, but his spring has been far from impressive for a player who some feel is this season’s Shane Victorino or Nate McLouth. Milledge has the tools for a 15/30 season and is worth pursuing, if you can play up the inconsistency part in your trade talks.
Matt Cain: Spring 2009 – 1 W, 34 K, 5.57 ERA, 1.42 WHIP in 32.1 IP
With two straight seasons under his belt that were filled with brilliance and frustrating control problems, Matt Cain isn’t for the owner that’s short on patience. Cain’s spring isn’t for squeamish managers either, as he’s given up 14 walks in 32.1 innings. The silver lining and perhaps the one stat that takes up the most importance is Cain’s strikeout rate of a little over a batter an inning, up from a K/9 of 7.34 and 7.96 in 2007 and 2008. In short, the stats I pay most attention in the spring are walks and strikeouts when evaluating pitchers and thus, I wouldn’t be pushing the panic button on Cain.
Zack Greinke: Spring 2009 – 3 W, 27 K, 9.21 ERA, 1.98 WHIP in 28.1 IP
Another pitcher I wouldn’t be panicking about is Zack Greinke, in spite of the ghastly ratios telling otherwise. Outside of one bad inning against a loaded, in-form Texas Rangers lineup, Greinke was lights-out and looked sharp in his final tune-up for the upcoming season. Greinke remains one of the better mid-tier starters and has the skill set to improve upon the breakout success of 2008.
Francisco Cordero: Spring 2009 – 0 W, 0 SV, 11 K, 12.10 ERA, 2.48 WHIP in 9.2 IP
The one closer who has absolutely labored this spring and hasn’t lost his closing job is Francisco Cordero, who endured his fair share of hiccups. Cordero is still adapting to throwing on a surgically repaired right ankle, which has affected his landing and velocity and is something to be mindful of once the season starts off.
Check back next Sunday for another installment of Hot/Cold and stay tuned for the first Cafe Mailbag tomorrow. Until then, be champions.
True to his name as The Artful Dodger, Ray Flores is a disgruntled Dodger fan, who's giving himself a Barry Horowitz-like pat on the shoulder as he types this blurb. While being artful doesn't best describe him, Ray is a web developer, a part-time fantasy football blogger (the game actually played with feet), and head "Wicked Wikitect" of the Cafe's Fantasy Sports Wiki project.
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