Promised a few National League notes for anybody still drafting, as soon as my league was set, and here they are (the American League auctions next Sunday, so I doubt that will be of any use to anybody, but I’ll try to put in some abridged notes then, too).
Nothing drives me more nuts than hearing a Rookie Of The Year candidate described as a sleeper, so let’s just describe a few guys in terms of how seriously you should take them when compared to more proven commodities. I believe in Cameron Maybin (didn’t draft him only because Beltran, Chris Young, Bruce, and Upton were all available in the first 71 picks) and would expect he will outperform the likes of Andre Ethier and Mike Cameron.
Another guy I can’t praise too much is Daniel Murphy (again, had to go and fill out a pitching staff after the primo guys fell into my lap unexpectedly and late). There’s the potential for a batting champion in there – plate discipline that is all but lost in the 21st century game. Fernando Tatis will see a little work in leftfield, maybe Nick Evans too, against tougher righthanders but I would expect Murphy will get 450 or more plate appearances and is several times the player that some of the guys drafted ahead of him in our outfit are – Spilborghs, Fukudome, Byrnes. Right now, Murphy may be what Chase Headley is supposed to be.
Two outfielders could either shine this year or wind up in AAA and I took chances on both of them in the later rounds. Two weeks ago Hal McRae told me the difference between a successful Colby Rasmus and the one who coughed it up in the minors last year, is how much he can talk himself out of swinging for the fences. There will be homers, but this is a line drive guy and this spring, Hal says, he’s been doing a great job of – cliche warning – staying within himself.
You should think long and hard about Jordan Schafer. The suspension last year, the limited experience in the minors, the youth, the presence behind him of Gorkys Hernandez, the usefulness of Josh Anderson ahead of him – these factors are irrelevant. It’s not a lock that he’s going to open the season in centerfield for them, but the Braves would be delighted if he did. This is the real deal and he’s ready to play in the bigs today. If you are drafting this week, and he hasn’t been sent out, and it’s round 20 and your choice is between him and a Hairston brother – take the kid, then take the Hairston brother later if you have to (alter the analogy as needed for keeper leagues, reserve drafts, auctions, etc.)
And if you like redemption stories, one of the top prospects of 2007 may have finally straightened himself out. The Pirates think they’ve leveled both Andy LaRoche’s swing and his mentality. Too many people know about Travis Ishikawa’s homer-happy spring to make him the guy you sneak in to your 1B/3B slot – try LaRoche.
Let’s wrap this up with that most vexing of dilemmas: the Closer follies. Here’s all I know, culled from a variety of sources (and if you think these people annoy you, consider my plight – our league also counts Holds – try figuring them out in advance).
Arizona: Qualls is set. Pena is the alternative, but I don’t think it’ll come to that. Do not listen to any Max Scherzer rumors – he’ll open on the DL, then start.
Atlanta: This too is surprisingly clear. Moylan (when he gets off the DL 4/15 or so) and Soriano will set up Mike Gonzalez. The problem here isn’t with the intent, it’s with the curse. The list of Bobby Cox’s closers since he returned to manage the Bravos 19 years ago is now about 30 guys long. They change often, and usually after big messy explosions and injuries. For crying out loud, he literally had a closer for one day last year in Smoltz.
Chicago: I love and respect Lou Piniella but this announcement tonight about Kevin Gregg neither makes any sense nor will it last. Gregg barely hung on to the job in Florida and will not repeat the trick at loftier atmospheres. This makes Marmol more of a risk, but it’s a risk I’d take – he seems really (and appropriately) steamed. Another reason the Cubs are a lot more vulnerable than they, or most fans, think.
Cincinnati: Cordero has gotten lit up like Christmas this spring, but as we saw last year with Eric Gagne, a lot of money in a small market means you can blow about 10 saves before the manager dares to switch off. And to whom? Weathers?
Colorado: No freaking clue. Street pitched well, terribly, well. Corpas pitched well, but it’s as if he’s waiting, waiting for you to rely on him.
Florida: No information to back this up but any time they say “oh, we’re just going to let our closer sit out the rest of spring training but he’ll be fine come Opening Day,” I tend towards disbelief. I would guess Lindstrom is in far rockier shape than they are letting on – or know. The backup here was Scott Proctor, but he is officially hurt. Behind him is Leonel Nunez. Good luck sorting that out.
Houston: Valverde. As long as you don’t have to watch him pitch in person or have your job or your health depend on him, he’s fine.
Los Angeles: Broxton. Up and down but certainly the best arm of any of the closers or would-be’s in the NL and Joe Torre doesn’t have a second option.
Milwaukee: Florida, only colder. Hoffman is hurt, they’re being coy with the information, and Ken Macha says the sub could be Seth McClung. Or Carlos Villanueva. Or Todd Coffey for crying out loud. McClung of course is also a possible starter, long man, and 8th Inning guy. He’ll be busy.
New York: K-Rod, obviously. Putz in the 8th. Some suggestion Feliciano may move back to a full-time 7th Inning guy rather than a specialist against lefty batters.
Philadelphia: Lidge, period. As unambiguous as New York. Unless his saves streak ends with three or four in a row and then… who knows? There’s a Peter Pan quality to his stardom.
Pittsburgh: Capps, although there are fears that last year’s injury might return.
St. Louis: I think it’s going to be Motte as evidently he’s been given nearly all the pseudo-save situations in camp. The latest crystal ball readings suggest Chris Perez is going back to AAA. I don’t think McClellan or Franklin are options.
San Diego: It’s Heath Bell and I think he’ll do okay. Then again he might get fewer than 30 save opportunities. It’s not a robust ballclub.
San Francisco: Brian Wilson, and he has a touch of Valverde in him, but unless you subtract blown saves from counted ones, that’s not your problem.
Washington: Joel Hanrahan, in circumstances not unlike Wilson.
So to rank them:
21 C. Perez
22 Soriano (for Gonzalez, if the curse hits him afresh)
23 Moylan (for Soriano, if it then gets him)
24 Kerry Ligtenberg (if they lose the first three, it might as well be him or Schafer, or maybe it’s Stephen Marek)
Lastly, we all do this. Comes the fourteenth round, Jose Reyes having long since been the overall first pic
k (mine), my offense rounding out nicely, but my bullpen – in a Saves and Holds league – empty except for Broxton. And I pick… Edgar Renteria. I do not know what I was thinking.
Nevertheless, I was topped in the 23rd round (of 25) when my buddy the Commissioner, worried that Ramon Hernandez would be insufficient in a one-catcher league, taps… Sal Fasano, who was in camp with the Rockies this year. He apparently had him briefly in ’06 when Fasano was with the Phillies (he thought it was last year) and he hit a home run or something. So my Commish remembered his home run fondly. And his mustache.