The little engine that could, George Mason, has been derailed and with their defeat the spotlight of the sports world will shift to opening night of the 2006 baseball season. The Chicago White Sox will begin defense of their title Sunday night at 8:00 PM (EST) against central division rival, the Cleveland Indians. So, here are a few last minute tips for all you fantasy owners as you solidify your opening day rosters.
The Young And The Restless
Three young potential closers chomping at the bit to be their teams’ saviors will have to wait a bit longer for their opportunity. After a solid second half in 2005 and the trade of Danys Baez, Chad Orvella was thought to be the Devil Rays’ closer for 2006, but a new manager came aboard. Unfamiliar with Orvella, all Joe Maddon had to go on was spring training. The sun might have been shining in Florida, but not for Orvella. Chad struggled mightily in his Grapefruit League appearances and it cost him. He’ll begin the year at AAA Durham, while veteran Dan Micelli takes a crack at being the lead fireman. Don’t expect this situation to last, Orvella could very well be the closer by the end of April.
Joey Devine was the opposite of Orvella this spring- he dominated opponents and was clearly their best arm out of the bullpen. For some reason though Bobby Cox remains fixated with Chris Reitsma and his very average arsenal. Joey will open the season as the closer for AAA Richmond. Devine will almost definitely get a shot at some point to live up to his name, but it might not be until May or June.
For some reason the Reds are set on giving everyone and their grandmother a chance at closing for
them except for Ryan Wagner, who might be their best option. After a nice debut at the end of 2003, Wagner seemed to regress the past two years. But, that really isn’t the case. A shoulder injury in July ended his 2005 campaign and the former first rounder (2003) was clearly rushed through the minors by the pitching barren Reds. Ryan is still only 23 years old and has electric stuff. He’ll start the year at AAA Louisville mainly because he has options left. If he continues to build on his strong spring he should return to the major league club the first time one of the Reds’ creaky veteran relievers gets hurt. Don’t be surprised if he emerges as the Reds’ main man by the All-Star break.
Drum roll please… here are a few rookie hitters who could make a big splash immediately:
Casey Kotchman (1B)– He has tremendous power and might be the Angels’ second best hitter.
Ryan Zimmerman (3B)– Zimmerman is the first position player since Pete Incaviglia (1986) to be given a starting job with a major league team in the same season he was drafted (2005). This National can clearly rake and could be the David Wright of 2006.
Josh Barfield (2B)– The Padres are all giddy about Jesse’s kid after a monster spring. Barfield has all the tools to succeed and will be hitting in the two hole ahead of Brian Giles– which should boost his fantasy value.
Ian Kinsler (2B)– Kinsler had great success in the minors and has line drive written all over his bat. Playing in one of the friendliest hitters’ parks in the majors, Ameriquest Field, Kinsler could approach 20 home runs.
With Jason Larue beginning the season on the DL, Javier Valentin will be the Reds’ opening day
catcher. A switch-hitter, Valentin murdered righthanded pitching last season- 12 of his 14 home runs were from the left side of the plate where he hit .301 in 183 at bats. If you are weak at catcher, try giving Valentin a shot at least on a platoon basis, as he will garner most of the at bats against righties even after Larue returns.