Now is not the time to become complacent. If you’re at or near the top of your Fantasy League, Reinforce, reinforce, reinforce! If you are towards the middle or back of the pack, now is the time to Reinvent, reinvent, reinvent! Virtually no league is locked up and every owner can still capture their title if they have the Fantasy heart to do so.
Time to pay attention to the MLB Standings. As teams drop out of the pennant race, hot-prospects will be given extended shots at proving they belong in the Big Show. So many Fantasy owners (non-keeper leagues) hate to carry players who are still in the minors. Be aware of who the hotties are and store them on your bench before they arrive. Timing is everything, so read the local dailys DAILY! Two gems that will, and I repeat WILL be called up very soon are Andy Marte of the Indians and B.J. Upton of the Devil Rays.
Their Time Is Coming SOON!
Marte was the booty Cleveland got from Boston for Coco Crisp. Aaron Boone’s days are numbered as Cleveland nears the edge of the plank and begins preparing for next season. Marte is one of the hottest hitters in the International League. After a rough start to the season, Marte is hitting .301 with 11 home runs over his last 33 games. This 22-year old is beginning to fulfill all the hype that he built while playing in the Atlanta Braves’ system. Just as first-time pitchers are hard to figure out at first when they come to the majors, the same holds true for young hitters. He could do for a fantasy team this summer what Chris Shelton did in 2005.
Aubrey Huff is in Houston, and that means B.J. is on his way. Upon dealing Huff, Tampa Bay immediately moved Upton to third base at Durham (AAA). They say as soon as he gets comfortable playing the hot-corner he will be called up. Two-weeks is a realistic arrival time. Though he has struggled of late at the plate, Upton has swiped 37 bases for Durham and could benefit immensely from the protection of a major league lineup. In certain leagues he will also remain SS eligible.
You need a Closer? Don’t forget about Seth McClung. At 6’6", supersized Seth packs a pretty hard punch. About a month ago the Devil Rays sent him to Durham to prepare him as their closer for the near future. In 10 Innings since the move, McClung has struck out 16 men and has a 2.70 ERA with a 0.90 WHIP. If you have Brian Meadows on your team, don’t get too comfortable, McClung’s day is coming soon.
Stay A Step Ahead
Remember, treat the second-half like the beginning of a season. Pay more attention to what players have done over the past month then their overall stats. Players like Bill Hall and Nick Swisher might look good now, but their second-half value should be adjusted accordingly. And please pay attention to the trade rumors as the trade deadline approaches. There are many new-bloods on the precipice of a major league opportunity. Pitchers like Francisco Carmona and Logan Kensing could have major value if closers Bob Wickman and Joe Borowski are dealt. Howie Kendrick is an Adam Kennedy deal away from becoming the Angels starting second baseman. Don’t be surprised to see Stephen Drew at shortstop for the D’backs if someone bites on Craig Counsell. The key is to stay a step ahead, so keep your eyes peeled, read your dailys and don’t be afraid to store a player on your bench who is presently an NA (not active because they’re still in the minors) on your Waiver Wire.
And Finally, think of how far back in the standings the Yankees were in July 1978 or where the Astros stood last July. With a little heart, your team could become the Fantasy version of the 1951 Giants. As Yogi Berra once opined, "It ain’t over ’till it’s over!"
Carl the Cabbie
Cabbie Fantasy Tips Of The Week
With the Solstice having just passed, Summer is officially underway. Just as our days will now slowly become hotter, so will our Fantasy Baseball pennant races. It is time for reflection on the growth of our season, a time to renew our rosters, and a time to take chances. Since our days are only getting shorter, I beg of you not to become a Fantasy Wuss! Hit the Wire hard and drop the dead weight as if you were bottom fishing for a living.
The Turtle And The Hare
Before we overhaul our teams, or finally cut ties with our inflated expectations of disappointing draft picks, we must proceed with due diligence. This requires some honest inventory taking. So, my first piece of advice is to BEWARE of the second half ballplayer!
The weak links that might have led your team into a June swoon could provide the Summer boon you have been seeking. Think twice before you decide to keep hot-streak players like Jamey Carroll and Chris Burke over consumate Post-All Star studs like Aubrey Huff and Richie Sexson. Relish the rewards you have received thus far from rookie sweethearts like Casey Jannsen and Rickey Nolasco, but go easy on the trigger finger before you choose to drop the likes of Andy Pettitte or Doug Davis in their favor. As the temperature rises, so do the values of many career slow starters.
Now on the flip side, there are many young guns who will get a golden opportunity come July. Though hardly seen, some of these unproven gems are ready to shine. You’ll want to take particular note of the young pitchers being called up who most major league hitters have never faced. Hurlers usually have a substantial advantage the first go ’round the league. Here are four that should be on your watch list. Remember, even if they are no longer on your Wire, they can probably still be acquired through trade for a very modest price.
Jared "send my brother to the pen pleaaaase!" Weaver shall certainly return to grace the Halo’s rotation, it’s just a matter of logistics. Once the Angels figure out that brother Jeff Weaver has no trade value, or at the first sign of injury, expect Jared to become one of the most effective Fantasy starters in the American League. So, don’t be afraid to stash him on your bench if some antsy owner dropped him in your league.
Anthony Reyes is most likely gone in your league after his superb one-hit effort against the ChiSox last week, but if by chance he remains on the Wire in ultra-conservative leagues, GRAB HIM NOW! Reyes has that rare ingredient that so many young pitchers lack, an effective change-up. Like Francisco Liriano, he is able to throw it consistently for strikes, has very little motion deviation in his delivery and is not afraid to throw it when behind in the count, which he rarely is.
Here’s a player for you that could very easily still be unclaimed because of his rocky beginning and
the fact that he pitches for the underrated Florida Marlins- Scott Olson. If you have any doubt, please watch him pitch. Olson is very reminiscient of another young dominant lefty named Scott who pitches in the state of Florida- Scott Kazmir. With his mitt held high and a less violent delivery than Kazmir, Olson has been on a roll this past month winning four of his last five starts, all quality if not dominant performances. In this stretch, he has sawed to dust the bats of Bonds and the Giants, the Rockies in Coors Field, the potent Blue Jays and the Camden clubbers in Baltimore. Olson befuddles hitters by throwing a tight hard breaking slider mixed judiciously with a late moving fastball that appears faster than the 92-93 mph he tops out at. His change-up is not in the class of Liriano or Cole Hamels, but he is gaining more confidence in it with every start. While still under the radar among fans outside of Florida, teams have taken notice and have begun to stack their lineups with righthanded hitters as lefties are usually rendered useless against him (.152 batting average against with 0 home runs).
If Olson is gone, don’t fret! Many owners are still sitting idly by while Jon Lester dangles precariously as a Fantasy free agent. Lester, the BoSox’ top pitching prospect, dazzled his last time out against Washington (1 ER and 10 K’s in 6 IP). Lester is mainly a two-pitch pitcher right now, but as long as he’s finding the strike zone, that’s all he needs. His fastball has an extra gear and can overpower when he needs it to, though like Andy Pettitte he likes to cut it when facing righties. His curve has the potential to be a traditional knee-buckler and he is beginning to throw it more often early in the count. Lester is prone to walk a few, but backed by the hefty bats in Boston and with Matt Clement on the DL, he is being given a nice shot to solidify his slot in the rotation. This lefty is a major whiff-maker who like Olson dominates lefty hitters.
Here are three traditionally strong second-half hitters and pitchers who have struggled so far this season:
Career AVG / ERA Career AVG / ERA
(Pre-All Star Break) (Post-All Star Break)
Aubrey Huff .267 .303
Richie Sexson .253 .285
Shawn Green .275 .292
Doug Davis 4.59 3.88
Andy Pettitte 4.14 3.57
Livan Hernandez 4.42 3.89
*Turtle & Hare Illustration
Cabbie Fares Of The Week
Here are THREE players that should be owned in every Fantasy League, but could still be available for the taking on your Waiver Wire. (The percentages are based off of the thousands of ESPN Fantasy Leagues which I find usually give a good barometer for similar sites).
Ryan Zimmerman– As the 2006 season got under way,
Zimmy was a leading candidate among baseball prognosticators for the
National League (NL) Rookie of the Year (ROY) award. A slow first month led
many owners to cut him in favor of some very questionable hot-April
hitters (e.g. Ty Wigginton). Well, if you forget to log into your team
this week you might miss out on reclaiming the former University of
Virginia stud. Since April 25th, Ryan is hitting .311 (23-74) with 5
Home Runs. Zimmerman (currently hitting .266) should end the year hitting close to .300 with around 20
HR and 80 RBI, which means the best is yet to come. Currently he is
owned in just over 30% of Fantasy Leagues, that number should rise to over 60% by weeks end.
Jeremy Hermida– Another NL ROY
candidate, Jeremy has been sidelined since the first week of the season
by a hip flexor. The injury is not serious and he has been coddled
this long only because of the Marlins’ stature as a non-contender. Hermida is
preparing for a one or two-game minor league rehab by playing in
extended spring games at the Marlins’ training facility. He could be
back in the majors as early as this Friday. His production potential
will immediately gain a boost as he will bat directly in front of, or
behind Miguel Cabrera on a surprisingly good offensive Marlins’ club.
Because of an extreme dearth of Fantasy outfield depth, Hermida could
be quite an add to any Fantasy team. Hermida is currently owned in
about 60% of Fantasy Leagues. By the end of the week expect that number to rise to over 80%.
Mark Loretta– Batting in front
of David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez could be the most ideal lineup spot in
the entire American League. Loretta is a career .300 hitter and is just
over a year removed from contending for the NL batting title (3rd in
the NL with a .335 AVG. in 2004). Over the last 10 games, he has been
one of the hottest hitters in the majors- batting .488 (22-45) with 8
Runs, 6 RBI and 2 SB. As part of one of the best lineups in baseball,
Loretta should easily be able to break his single season high of 108
Runs (2004) and could be in the top-ten in AVG. by seasons end. This is
probably your last chance to grab him as he is still only owned in
about 60% of Fantasy Leagues. Expect that number to skyrocket to over 90% in the next couple of days.
Ouch! Another big gun bites the dust. As of April 1st, I was feeling pretty darn giddy about my Fantasy rotation: Noah Lowry, John Patterson, Ben Sheets and Jose Contreras. Even though Big Ben started the season in extended spring, I figured no problem- the other guys will tow the line. Well, now there’s almost no line left to tow. Big Ben recently was scratched from his latest start with what the Brew Crew is calling minor tendinitis in his throwing shoulder. The last time I heard that one, I was left doing an ancient Mayan healing dance in my basement apartment as Noah Lowry proceeded to miss the first five weeks of the season. That ‘minor tendinitis’ term popped up again a couple of weeks ago when Patterson complained of soreness in his forearm, now he’s not expected back until June. Then today, as I was celebrating Noah’s return from the great flood of injuries my team has endured, I read that the one guy I could count on, Jose Contreras, could be headed to the DL with either a sore hip or back- depending on what ChiSox’ source you’re reading. I’m not sure things could get worse, but I guess I should at least be happy that it’s not the dreaded tendinitis that Jose is suffering from. Maybe ChiSox VP Scott Reifert will be able to clarify the situation for us tomorrow.
In Contreras’ stead, there is speculation that the White Sox could call up highly thought of 23-year old, Charlie
Haeger. Haeger has been dominating Triple-A competition this spring (3-0, 0.68 ERA in six starts) with a tried and true knuckler mixed in with a fastball that registers in the high-eighties. Chris Widger, who had very limited experience catching Mike Mussina’s knuckle-curve (2002) could become the Sox’s designated catcher if and when Haeger pitches.
Congratulations to the MLBlogosphere on our one year anniversary. For this blogger, it has been and continues to be a great experience. And now onto some random thoughts about the going ons in major league baseball.
Where Have All The Pitchers Gone?
Boy, with the type of offensive outbursts that have been taking place this April you’d think everyone was on steroids or something. Pitchers are always behind the hitters this early in the season, but it seems that they are a little more behind than normal. I mean it’s one thing to see guys like Albert Pujols, Jim Thome and Paul Konerko going deep- I’ll even tip my cap to the sensational numbers Chris Shelton is putting up, but Ty Wigginton with 5 home runs already, and how about pitcher Bronson Arroyo going yard twice in two starts. Elias Sports Bureau has reported that there haven’t been this many home runs hit in the first two weeks of the baseball season since 2001, and haven’t been this many runs scored since 1962.
Could it be that the pitchers are missing their little green pep pills? Maybe the Padres weren’t the only ones to move their fences in this season? (Teams are always pretty low key when reporting any dimensional changes). Maybe we’re in a time capsule and have returned to 1987 when the Rawlings folks in Costa Rica were confusing golf balls for baseballs? Or maybe the simple truth is that pitching in general is just getting worse.
While a few teams around the league have two dominant starters, many don’t even have one. And I can’t think of a team that has three. The days of the A’s with Hudson, Zito and Mulder or the Braves with Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz could return though in Chicago if Mark Prior or Kerry Wood can ever get back on the mound to join Greg Maddux and Carlos Zambrano. Wherever the Rocket, Roger Clemens, decides to drive his hummer to this summer should also provide a team with a stellar trio. But, for now we will just have to watch some very mediocre three, four, and five guys try to stem the flood of the seemingly endless procession of home run happy hitters.
Jim Edmonds, one of the best center fielders in the game, has already surpassed his error total (two)
from last season with three crucial misplays in back to back games. Now, his shoulder is ailing again. While many in St. Louis are fretting about Scott Rolen’s health holding up, Cards’ fans might just have to accept that Edmonds days as a great hitter and glovesman are slipping away and fast.
Three On Three
While I was working the other night inputting some St. Lucie data into my computer, I was peripherally watching the Rangers/A’s game. ‘Crack’, I turned and Eric Chavez was rounding the bases after a laser shot off Vincent "launching" Pad-illa. Hmm, wish I had Mr. Chavez on my fantasy team. As I turned back to my computer, ‘Crack’, I thought they were showing an instant
replay, but there was Frank Thomas lumbering around the bases after launching another laser out into the stratosphere. I wasn’t sure if the game was live at this point or if they were just showing highlights. Anyway, I turned back to finish putting Alay Soler’s top of the fifth stats into my program, when I heard ‘Crack’ again. The crowd, which was less than sparse, was making more noise than a sellout at Yankee Stadium. This time Milton Bradley was pumping his fist as he watched a skyrocket leave the park— Back-to-Back-to-Back home runs, seemed too quick to be live. But, then I see Padilla with a dismayed look on his face and I hear the announcer say, "three home runs on three pitches and the A’s have come all the way back to take the lead". Now, I’m not sure about this, but I have never seen three guys hit dingers on three consecutive pitches in my life. Maybe some Elias loving data-head can confirm this for me.
Cabbie Blue Light Special
Ryan Madson– After two very solid seasons as a top set-up man, Madson at 26 is just entering his prime. Madson is a towering presence (6’6") who throws a low to mid-90’s fastball which he offsets with a bedeviling change-up. Madson’s tight curve gives him three legitimate pitches that will help him to get through lineups more than once or twice. He’s off to a good start and has a lineup behind him that can really pack a punch.
Carl the Cabbie
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.
Let’s say you are entering the middle rounds of your fantasy draft, someone has started a run on closers and you’ve yet to take one. You know it would take a load off your mind if you just drafted one already. But nooooooo! you are trying to be strong, you resist the urgings of your mind as it speaks to you, "Hmm, Jose Valverde- he’s very good. Jeez! Jenks is still on the board. Armando, yeahhhhh baby, he should be good for about 35 saves at least." Temptation is just a mouse click away and there’s only 30 seconds left on your draft clock… Yet, something stops you- your PLAN! Yes, you have a plan. You remember that you are fully committed to the ‘I’m not drafting a Closer in an early or middle round, No Matter What!’ strategy. Instead, you’re salivating as Robinson Cano just dangles precariously free on your draft board… Noah Lowry would look darn good as your number three starter… God, if you could just relax… but time is running out… Every bone in your body is saying, ‘CANO, CANO’. All you need is ONE good rationale, one pitcher you’re confident no one else will seriously consider, but you know, in the guts of your soul, will become a closer by season’s end… 15, 14, 13, 12… Ah, ah, ah… Don’t panic, you’re in luck! Here at INSIDE PITCH we’ve decided to give you TWO mind relaxers that should allow you to click worry free as you prepare to steal Robinson Cano or Scott Kazmir, or whomever you deem to be the Rocky Balboa of your draft. The Bullpen Bargain Bin presents Fernando Cabrera and Rafael Soriano.
This 24 year old fireballer from Puerto Rico is, without a doubt, the Clevelend Indians’ closer of the
future. The question is when in the future? All that stands in his way is a ‘whale’ of a reliever, 37 year old ground ball machine Bob Wickman. Wickman’s hold on the lead fireman job is tenuous, even though he is coming off possibly his best season ever. Wickman’s sinking fastball has lost enough movement and speed over the last season in a half because of his surgically repaired elbow (2002 Tommy John Surgery) that his margin for error is growing smaller with every pitch he throws. The added weight Wickman continues to pack on can only hasten his demise.
If you aren’t an Indians’ fan and you haven’t been following the World Baseball Classic, then you might not realize how nasty Cabrera’s stuff is. Standing 6′ 4", Fernando is a towering presence a top the mound. His fastball reaches into the high-nineties, and sets up a menacing splitter that leaves most batters checking for holes in their bats. Cabrera had more than a cup of coffee for the big club last season after dominating at AAA Buffalo. He struck out 29 men for the Indians in a little over 30 innings while pitching to the tune of a 1.47 ERA. Don’t be surprised if Cabrera claims the closer role come May or June.
Drafted as an outfielder in 1996 at the age of 17, the Mariners converted Soriano into a pitcher in 1998 because of a cannon-like arm that threw in the high-nineties. By 2002 Soriano was one of the top prospects in baseball. He capped a brilliant year off by striking out 14 men and clinching the Texas League Championship for AA San Antonio.
In 2003 Soriano made his major league debut. After spending the first half of the season refining a hard slider to off-set his searing heat, Rafael went on a dominating roll after the All-Star break. He ended the year with 68 strikeouts in 53 innings while walking only 12 men. His ERA was a miniscule 1.53. It was just a matter of time before he became Seattle’s closer. Then 2004 came and elbow discomfort turned into ligament damage- the dreaded Tommy John surgery followed. Late last season Soriano finally made it back to the bigs, but he had yet to recover the sharp break on his slider and was only throwing in the low-nineties. In the quick-fix world of fantasy most owners forgot about him. Then, this winter Soriano began to regain the lost speed on his fastball, and now this spring the snap has returned to his hard slider. Once again the Mariners are grooming him as their closer of the future. The only thing standing in his way is 35 year old Eddie "Everyday" Guardado. Guardado’s shoulder and leg problems over the past couple of seasons have left a big question mark about his durability. Eddie is probably one DL stop away from being replaced as the closer permanently. If you wait till May it may be too late to grab Rafael, as fantasy owners are beginning to once again take notice of how special Soriano can be when healthy.
Carl The Cabbie