Without much ado, here are some players to watch in spring training. They could remain busts or mysteries, but each of them has the potential to be a fantasy stud if they can turn the corner, find the tools they lost last season, or just adjust to a new situation.
They are presented in no particular order.
1. Jose Cruz Jr. (unsigned, OF): Just a season away from a 30-30 season with a .274 average, 88 RBI and .530 slugging percentage, Jose has us wondering where all the talent went. Last year’s season - .254, 18 home runs, 70 RBIs and 7 SB - was disappointing to say the least. It convinced Toronto not to tender him a contract. Now he needs to find a team willing to give him a chance to redeem himself and put up numbers closer to those he put up in 2000 and 2001. If he shows up somewhere in spring training and shows signs of life, he could easily be a major sleeper.
2. Roger Cedeno (NY Mets, OF): Another huge flop last season. Cedeno managed to post the worst season of his career. Let’s face it, the only reason you take this guy is for steals - and the hope of some cheap runs without too much of a hit to your team batting average. He might be worth a gamble on, only because the speed is still there. Even with a gamble like this, there is a caveat: if Jose Reyes comes up and hits well, he should steal the leadoff spot.
3. Jeff Liefer (Montreal Expos, 1B/OF): Has some power and has the Montreal starting first base job. He showed flashes of brilliance at triple A, hitting .286, with 32 home runs in 445 at bats. With a real chance at a full time job, this guy has a chance to bloom.
4. Erubial Durazo - (Oakland A’s, 1B) - No doubt about it, the boy can hit home runs, question is can he do it for a whole season? And can he maintain a decent average? The injury bug haunted him the last several seasons and scouts have characterized him as fragile. Last season his average took a nosedive, even though he got a decent number of at bats. He’s a gamble, but could have a big upside.
5. Jose Contreras - (New York Yankees, SP) Ok, he was the big fish for Cuba in the international league, but how will he do adjusting to the majors, while also adjusting to capitalism, is the question. Watch him pitch a few spring training outings before betting the farm.
6. Hideki Matsui - (New York Yankees, OF) Godzilla is here, and we’ll see if he can rampage through Major League pitching. Heís obviously managed to help destroy any semblance of the Yankee’s staying under the luxury tax limit. The scouts say he’ll be fine, I’ll believe it when I see it.
7. Danny Graves - (Cincinatti Reds, RP) Danny is moving to the starting rotation. That’s a big change and if true it ought to be an interesting transition. Danny could follow the path of the relievers who have succeeded, or fall into oblivion. If he pitches well, he could be a real sleeper.
8. Frank Catalanatto - (Toronto Blue Jays, OF) Another player finally getting a chance to be an everyday player. The “Little Cat” didn’t impress me last year, but he has the potential to turn in a .290 average, 20 Home run, 20 steal season with a reasonable number of RBIs.
9. Mike Hampton - (Atlanta Braves, SP) Can Hampton bounce back? It’s time to find out. Let’s see what he does in spring training. If this guy can return to pitching like he used to, the trade with the Rockies will be one of the all time steals. If the rarified air of Colorado made him forget how to pitch, say goodbye to Atlanta’s streak of division winners.
10. Paul Bird - (Atlanta Braves, SP) - This guy up until last year was a .500 pitcher. How is he going to handle the National League, and was last season a fluke, are two big questions. Two factors in his favor: his strikeouts were up last year which sometimes comes with better control, and Atlanta handles pitchers well. I’m dubious, but I’ll watch him closely.
All of these players could be good gambles, if the price was not too high. I’d be more concerned with the adjustments of the pitchers and their chances of success than I would be with the hitters. Still, all of these players could pay huge dividends. Now let’s get to camp and see how they look.