For reasons that haven’t made themselves clear yet I am unofficially marking today as the opening of Fantasy Season. Recently, last year’s booms and busts(yeah yeah, you got Cargo in the 14th. I’ll put it on your epitaph) have been discussed over cold beers and crisp, clean fantasy magazines with only the faintest beginnings of chicken-scratched notes. And because I spent more of Superbowl Sunday preparing for drafts that are still over a month away than I did watching football, I feel obligated to share findings, musings and other points of interest with the readers of this post. Both of you.
In Fantasy Baseball there are few things to brag about. It’s a rarity for an owner to completely dodge the three headed monster of slumps, injuries and woulda-coulda-shoulda draft choices. You either win or you made a great pick that you can still brag about in the off-season or keep for next year. I can hear the Pavlovian drooling at the thought of my notes so we better get down to it.
During the winter meetings I quipped to a couple of friends that the Cubs should find someone willing to take Carlos Zambranos contract and use the return and whatever else needed to trade for either James Shields or Matt Garza. The Yankees apparently had interest in Zambrano but nothing ever materialized and even if it did Carlos has a full no-trade clause in a contract more bloated than his waistline. However, this didn’t stop the Cubs from pursuing part two of my idea and dealing for Matt Garza. To the casual fan acquiring a pitcher of Garza’s caliber while not giving up any noteworthy big leaguer seems like a win, but a deeper look into the prospects shows the Cubs may have overpaid. While Garza immediately becomes the number one in Chicago he does not bring “ace” stuff to the mound consistently. A career ERA a shade under 4 to go along with good K and walk rates is nice, but the past two seasons Garza has ran into home run problems, allowing 28 and 25. And on a windy day Wrigley field is well known for making pitchers cry like little girls, though that could be the combination of Old Style and listening to Ronnie Woo Woo.
John Mozeliak said Saturday that the Cardinals lineup is “set for 2011” after signing Lance Berkman to play left field. The 34 year old switch hitter signed a 1 year deal worth 8 million to presumably start in left field. A knee injury has halted Berkmans recent production, but 2008 saw him finish 5th in the MVP voting and he’s a .296 career hitter who’s 1 short of 1,100 RBI. Assuming he stays healthy Berkamn should provide a much needed boost to a Cardinal offense that was anemic at times and just seemed to lack cohesion. Berkman can hit just about anywhere, including second, comfortably while providing power and getting on base at a good clip. The Cardinals have lacked such a two hitter for some time now and Berkman would be a perfect fit. Defensively may be a bit more of an adventure. Matt Holliday is going to move to right field to allow Berkman to play left. Berkman is adequate in the outfield and it’s a bit scary considering he’s coming off a knee injury but having him play right really isn’t an option. If the Cardinals have one glaring defensive weakness it maybe very well be corner outfield.
As a Cardinal fan the 2010 season can’t be considered anything less than a bitter disappointment. Take into consideration the following; Re-signing Matt Holliday, a superstar rookie season from relative unknown Jaime Garcia, 230+ innings out of both Wainwright and Carpenter, an MVP worthy season from Albert Pujols, the increasing power production of Colby Rasmus and the acquisition of Jake Westbrook was enough to keep the Cardinals comfortably in *second place*. We can almost say it’s “Cubs-eqsue” to come into a season with such high expectations only to disappoint so thoroughly. LaRussa and Duncan are coming back again as is a great bulk of the roster, but finishing 5 games behind Cincinnati should make it obvious to anyone that there are some gaps needing filled.
This draft has shaped up very nicely for the Cardinals (thanks, Cubs!) and now they get the best pure hitter in the draft at #25. Sign-ability is an issue, as Cox is a sophomore. I don’t think he’ll be able to do better in the stacked 2011 draft, so he’d be wise to sign, and I have to think the Cardinals will do what it takes to get it done. I wonder about his overall power potential, but at #25, this is absolutely tremendous.
The follow is the scouting report from Kieth Law:
Cox is a draft-eligible sophomore and one of the most advanced college bats in this year’s draft. He’s very strong, including strong hands and wrists, and is very short to the ball, hitting line drives to all fields, but with the ability to drive a ball on the inner half.
He was criticized after his freshman year for his strikeout total and cut down his swing to make more contact, with more walks than strikeouts this year. At third base, he has an above-average arm but heavy legs, although he makes up for the latter with good instincts and an aggressive style of play.
The fact that Cox could make such a significant adjustment at the plate in one year is impressive, and we’ve now seen him hit for power and for average and show the ability to get on base; when he puts all of that together in one season, he’ll be an All-Star.
And some additional scouting reports:
Cox is the best pure hitter and top sophomore-eligible player in the draft. He hit just .266 as a freshman on Arkansas’ College World Series team a year ago, but improved as the season went on and adjusted his pull-happy approach when he arrived in the Cape Cod League. He hit .344 with wood bats and ranked as the top position prospect in the summer circuit, setting the stage for a breakout spring in which he was hitting .446/.532/.631 through mid-May. Cox has very good hands, a short, lefty stroke and nice command of the strike zone. He has an uncanny ability to hit the ball with authority to the opposite field. There’s some debate as to how much power he’ll have in the major leagues, but he has the bat speed to do damage once he adds more loft to his swing. He has plenty of strength, as evidenced by a titanic shot he blasted off the top of a 90-foot-tall scoreboard at the 2009 Southeastern Conference tournament. Six feet and 215 pounds, Cox is a decent athlete with fringy speed and range at third base. Not all scouts are sold on his defensive ability. He does have a strong arm—he threw in the low 90s as a reliever a year ago—and will put in the work to improve his reactions at third base. He also has seen time at second base, and one scout said his actions looked better there, but his athleticism is more suited for the hot corner. Cox turned down an $800,000 offer as a Dodgers 20th-round pick out of high school, and he’s in line to make two or three times as much as a top 10 choice this June.
A list of tidbits and observations from April 5th, 2010.
Jason Heyward did about as much as he could do to live up to the hype in his first game. Heyward crushed a 3-run homer off Carlos Zambrano and added an RBI single to cement a 2 for 5 day with 4RBI.
Stephen Drew hit a deep fly ball to center that ricocheted off the wall and caromed into left field, leaving Tony Gwynn Jr. in the dust and Kyle Blank nowhere to be found. Drew was able to hustle around the basepaths for an inside-the-park homerun. Dan Haren pitched brilliantly in the game, allowing 1 earned over 7 innings with 4k’s.
Albert Pujols started off the year with a 2 homerun game, Colby Rasmus added a 2-run shot and Yadier Molina hit a grand slam in the Cardinals 11-6 victory over the Reds. Chris Carpenter was sharp with no walks, 5 hits and 2 runs allowed over 6 innings. Last season Carpenter gave up 7 home runs, but today he served up two.
Ubaldo Jiminez started off 2010 strong with a win over the Brewers. Jiminez pitched 6 strong innings giving up 1 run while walking 1 and striking out six. Ian Stewart helped provide the offense with 2RBI, including a 430 home run.
Garrett Jones joined Albert Pujols on the multiple home run wagon. Jones launched a Vicente Padilla pitch into the Allegheny river in the first and took him opposite field in the third. The Pirates got a strong start out of Zach Duke and went on to defeat the Dodgers 11-5.
2010 could see a bevy of good comeback performances for some key players that suffered from injuries last season. Some notables include;
Xavier Nady: Signed pretty quietly with the Cubs after undergoing Tommy John for the second time in his career, which should say something to his ability to recover from injury. After a career year in 2008 the Cubs should be optimistic of the production a healthy Nady can bring. A line of .280-18-75 seems entirely possible.
Jay Bruce: Lets forget that Bruce plays in an extreme hitters park and his disappointing .223 AVG last year. Bruce hit 22 home runs in 68 fewer at-bats than when he hit 21 in 2008. He also missed 2 months with a broken wrist, but finished the year very strong with .326-4-17 in his final 46ab’s. Bruce turn’s 23 in April and has a very, very high ceiling. A .353 average in September points to a big 2010.
Brandon Webb: After throwing only 4 innings last season, Webb is primed for a comeback. The most recent reports have him feeling “good” after his latest throwing session and before this injury he was arguably the most consistent pitcher in baseball, never sporting an ERA above 3.59. A lot of eyes will be on him for the rest of the spring and after picking up his 8.5 million dollar option, the D’Backs will probably be pretty cautious.
When talking about underrated pitchers we don’t expect the names to be of the household variety. We don’t usually expect two of them to pitch on the same team. And we definitely do not expect them to pitch in Colorado. Despite this, Ubaldo Jiminez and Jorge De La Rosa fit the “underrated” mold perfectly. Very rarely do Colorado pitchers make a run at “ace” status, but Jiminez is doing just that. Call him a “soft ace” for now as his control still leave’s something to be desired, but looking at his last two full seasons we can see a star in the making. 2008 was Jiminez’ first full season in the bigs and he was pretty impressive for a rookie, sporting a 3.99ERA with 172Ks in 198.2IP. As young pitchers often do he had some control trouble, walking 103 which contributed to a base choking 1.44WHIP. In 2009 Jiminez improved all his peripherals, became a standout pitcher and the ace of the Rockies staff. His second straight season with 33+ starts saw him with a 3.47ERA with 198K’s in 218IP as well as lowering his H/9 and BB/9 and bringing his WHIP down to 1.22. Walks were still a problem, however, with 85 in those 218IP. All of this while pitching in Colorado and not mentioning that he just turned 26 in January of this year. A rising strikeout rate and falling walk rate both point to Jiminez having another great season in 2010.
Is there any division with a more muddled bullpen picture than the NL central? Consider that the longest tenured closer in the central is Fransisco Cordero of the Reds at a whopping two full seasons in a Cincinnati uniform. In that time Cordero has racked up an impressive 73 saves(on losing teams) with 137ip, 136K’s and a combined era of 2.76. Cordero has proven himself reliable in both leagues to lock games down and give a strikeout or more per inning. Solid all the way around.
After Cordero we’ll look at the Brewers who at this point appear to be going with Trevor Hoffman. Not much can be said about Hoffman that hasn’t been said before, but it’s worth noting that he nearly duplicated many of his career best peripherals at the age of 41 last season and is really showing no signs of slowing. A k/9, bb/9 and h/9 all equal or better than his career averages at a point when, if we’re being honest, his career should be winding down. After Hoffman however, the Brewer bullpen is very short on closing experience. Latroy Hawkins and David Riske have some while Todd Coffey was once the closer-in-waiting for the Reds. If Hoffman falters or gets hurt the back end of Brewers games are likely to be nail biters.
In a previous post, I had mentioned my on the Cardinals needing a left handed starter. I even threw out a name I was hopeful for(Jarrod Washburn). Apparently I was nowhere close to what the Cardinal brass were thinking as the lefty they had in mind was ex-Cub prospect, Rich Hill. Hill is a guy who seems like he’s been around forever but really hasn’t. He turns 30 in March, only has 70 major league starts to his name and is coming off the worst season of his career. He wasn’t just bad in limited time last year, he was awful. An era near 8(7.80), 10.6h/9, 6.2bb/9 and 7 homers allowed in 57.2ip. One bright spot is that Hill kept near his career average k/9 with 7.2/9 in ’09 with 8.1/9 for a career. Another is that presuming he fills the back end of the rotation, he will give a totally different look than the rest of the staff. A lefty who’s out pitch is a huge, sweeping curve and relies on the strikeout as much as anything.