– Trevor Cahill‘s strikeout rate has risen for three straight years and now he gets to face pitchers? Yes, the move from the Oakland Coliseum will hurt a little, but I’m betting the change in leagues has an even bigger impact. You can look at Cahill’s minor league numbers to see that he’s got an idea how to get the Ks.
– It’s happening again. Even though Jason Heyward has been a total flop who can’t stay healthy, everybody’s jumping back on the bandwagon. The problem is, he just isn’t that great. He’s got a nice lefty swing, but it’s a lot closer to Cliff Floyd than Ken Griffey. He may eventually pull a Rickie Weeks and put a full season together, but how many times do you have to get burned? If he somehow falls past Round 14, by all means take a shot. Otherwise just avoid the hurt.
– Please give Martin Prado a pass on 2011. He struggled in the second half while recovering from a staph infection. Look to the .300-plus average and 15 HRs of 2010 to see what he is capable of. Unfortunately he’s no longer eligible at second base in most leagues, but the 3B/OF combo is still nice.
– Do yourself a favor and burn a reserve pick on Travis Wood. He looked like a solid starter in 2010 before falling apart last year. Wrigley Field is actually a pretty neutral site and could be a good situation for the young lefty to bounce back.
– Are you ready to anoint Ryan Madson as a top closer? Yes, he was very good in 2012, but in his various other chances at closing he had repeatedly failed. My confidence level on Madson is not as high as most. There are going to be some bumps. The good news is that he’ll have a pretty long leash, as the Reds don’t view Sean Marshall or Nick Masset as closing types.
– Rafael Betancourt? See Madson, Ryan. Except he’s older, been even more inconsistent, failed in more closing opportunities and has Rex Brothers to contend with. I will not be turning to Betancourt for my cheap saves.
– Yes, Dee Gordon is going to steal bases; a lot of bases. And it looks like his speed will allow him to hit for a decent average. The problem is that it ends there. That weak Dodger offense is going to keep his run total down and Gordon has no power whatsoever. We’re talking Duane Kuiper bad. Add to that his aversion to the base on balls (3.0 BB%), and you’ve got a player with huge holes in his game. Shortstop is pretty thin, so obviously Gordon will be drafted. Just realize that drafting him means you’ll have to change the way you build the rest of your lineup.
– By the time most of you draft, Kenley Jansen will have received more than his fair share of preseason hype. And with good reason. His strikeout rate has him looking like 2012’s Craig Kimbrel. The important thing is not to panic if the Dodgers stick with Javy Guerra as their closer to begin the season. Guerra doesn’t profile as a closer, but even if he retains the job, Jansen is still useful in all formats. And yes, I’m including you 10-team mixed owners out there. Jansen walked over four batters per nine last year and still had a WHIP of just over 1.00. He is unhittable. Now take that insane 16.9 K/9 and apply to the 60-plus innings he’ll get in 2012. Gotta love a reliever that could give you 120 strikeouts.
– Please don’t heavily invest in Mark Buehrle just because the Marlins did. In Fantasy, he’s filler at best.
– Ryan Howard is falling way too far in early mocks. Yes, an Achilles’ injury is serious, but let’s get real. Howard just needs to be able to walk. The power will be there. All news has been positive so far and a late April/early May return is likely. I’ll take 125 games of Howard in the 12th round. You NL-only owners need to take heed even more. The defection of Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and Carlos Pena has the first base position in the National League looking a little weak.
– Chase Utley is not done. I understand that he’s probably past his peak, but people are discounting what he has left way too much. I had one serious owner questioning if he should trade Utley and Paul Konerko for Michael Bourn. My answer? I wouldn’t trade Utley alone for Bourn (Konerko either for that matter). For goodness sake, the knee injuries had us worried about his speed, but Utley stole 14 bases in 103 games with nary a caught stealing. With more time to heal, the power and batting average will bounce back. Utley is just one example of how you can find value in aging players that have been given up on prematurely.
– Take advantage of the lull of interest around Jose Tabata. Injuries really affected his first sophomore season. He could easily steal 30-plus bases and I’ve seen enough to think he can pop double-digit homers. He’s not a star, but I’ll take those numbers from my fourth outfielder.
– Do me a favor and keep this next one quiet if you could. There are two young left-handed pitchers that I’ll be owning in every league possible this year. One is Chris Sale, who I’ll talk about more when I hit the AL. The other is Cory Luebke of the Padres. Luebke has struck out over a batter an inning in his 157 career innings and walks under three per nine. He’s pitching in the best pitcher’s park in baseball and also gets to pitch frequently at Los Angeles and San Francisco. Luebke will be 27 by Opening Day and pitched 139.2 innings in 2011. He’s not likely to have a strict innings limit in place. The Padres offense should be mildly improved and provide enough runs to get Luebke 13-15 wins.
– The insane Buster Posey love has already begun. Just chill it a little folks. He’s good, but nowhere near great. His 45-game stint in 2011 was more like what you’ll see than his incredibly fluky rookie season. To illustrate, Posey hit just four homers in 185 at-bats last year. Let’s be generous and say he plays 135 games. That extrapolates to 12 long balls. I’m sorry, but I need more than 12 HRs and a .290 average to reach as far as it would take to roster Posey. He won’t be a flop, but he will be a disappointment at that cost. And I’m not even worried about the injury.
– Now that Brandon Belt has lost a little luster please feel free to jump back on board. With the big boppers bone to the AL, Belt, Freddie Freeman, and Ike Davis are your best hopes of striking gold at first base (Anthony Rizzo owners may have to wait one year). If the Giants just stick Belt out there and let him play, he’ll come around. The average should take care of itself and the power will come.
– I’m banking on Chris Carpenter returning to the near elite level for one more year. His overall numbers in 2011 were down and he looked like a pitcher getting by on grit for the first half. But that 7-2 mark after the All-Star break, with a 2.98 ERA, tells me there’s a little left in the tank. He’s a forgotten ace in Fantasy circles and will come at a discount in many leagues.
Well, that’s it for my initial thoughts on the NL. We’ll hit the AL later this week, and then watch as the outlandish hype machine gets rolling as Spring Training approaches.
Doug Anderson is the Executive Editor at RotoExperts.com. His work has appeared on Yahoo!, SI.com, NFL.com, as well as gracing the pages of USA Today’s Fantasy Baseball Magazines.
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