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Scouting Pitchers: AL Top 25 Bargains: Spring Update

James Benkard

James Benkard

James Benkard writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

(Statistics through 3/14/09)

I hope you all have your copy of RotoWire's 2009 Fantasy Baseball Guide. My article, "50 To Pick Up," looked at bargains for 2009. This week, we'll look at how those I tagged in the AL are doing so far this spring. We'll also check out the AL's "Honorable Mention" bargains - those who didn't quite make the top 25.

1. Justin Verlander: Detroit's ace has allowed nine runs and nine walks in 9.1 innings, striking out five. He is working with pitching coach Rick Knapp on being more in control and throwing downhill, MLB.com reports.

2. Zack Greinke: The Royals' #2 starter, he has a 7.15 ERA through his four starts, allowing 16 hits in 11.1 innings with three walks and seven strikeouts.

3. Jeremy Guthrie: Baltimore's only established and healthy veteran starter, Guthrie tossed three scoreless innings in his only Grapefruit League start before heading to the WBC. He was hit hard against Venezuela this week, allowing seven hits and four runs in two innings.

4. John Danks: He has thrown strikes, with nine K's and one walk in seven innings, but has a 6.43 ERA. ESPN's Keith Law saw him a week ago and wasn't impressed, saying he lacked command of an 88-92 mph fastball.

5. Clay Buchholz: He understands he is Boston's "backup plan" for a fifth starter, depending on Brad Penny's shoulder rehab. Buchholz has thrown five scoreless innings, so don't forget about him.

6. Gavin Floyd: Slated as the Southside's #3 behind Danks, he has pitched much better than him this spring, allowing just four hits and three walks in 10 innings with seven strikeouts.

7. Scott Baker: Minnesota signed him to a four-year, $15.25 million deal, with a fifth-year option for $9.25 million, on March 7. Baker has a 7.20 ERA in his first 10 innings and has said he's working on commanding his breaking ball.

8. Francisco Liriano: Liriano has been dominant in camp, with his 12 strikeouts good for third in the AL, and is demonstrating a very professional approach. Liriano is creating a lot of deception and weak hacks by throwing all his pitches with the same arm speed.

9. Joba Chamberlain: The Yankees' purported fifth starter found his velocity on March 10 by refining his mechanics. He hit 96 mph and sat at 92-93 after barely cracking 90 in his first outing.

10. Justin Masterson: One-upping his fellow #5 Red Sox candidate Buchholz, Masterson has tossed nine scoreless innings. He will be valuable to the Red Sox in any role, MLB.com reports.

11. Brandon Morrow: Despite the Mariners' plans to work him as their #3 starter this year, Morrow has been sidelined by tightness in his right forearm. Don't draft him until he proves he is healthy. Morrow may be better suited to the bullpen.

12. David Price: The phenom has worked just two scoreless innings in "A" games this spring, and it's increasingly likely he will start the year in Triple-A. Tampa Bay.com reports that Carlos Hernandez, Jason Hammel and Jeff Niemann are Price's main competition for the #5 spot.

13. Philip Hughes: With five scoreless innings and some added bulk after training at the API this offseason, Hughes is re-asserting himself into the Yankees' plans. Barring an injury in the rotation, he will head to Triple-A to stretch himself out and be ready for an opening.

14. Nick Blackburn: He threw one inning on March 11 in his first action since February 26. Blackburn was sidelined by left knee inflammation, as he had that knee scoped this offseason. He had two surgeries on his right knee to fix a cartilage problem in 2004 and 2005. Blackburn could be overlooked on some draft boards, but he's solid.

15. Fausto Carmona: With Indians GM Mark Shapiro saying of Carmona: "He's as important as any one player can be," it's pretty clear they are counting on him to bounce back to his 2007 form. The early returns (2-0, 3.86 in seven innings) are positive.

16. Kevin Slowey: The poor man's Greg Maddux, and the Twins' #3, has a 3.38 ERA through 5.1 innings. He has fanned five and walked - you guessed it - none.

17. Jose Arredondo: He has picked up where he left off, with five scoreless innings so far. Arredondo was really bumped off this list once the Angels signed Brian Fuentes, but I compiled this list in November. Fuentes has had a strange spring, though: he was signed up for the WBC, but will miss it with reported back stiffness.

18. Frank Francisco: Rangers' manager Ron Washington has confidence in Francisco as the closer. He has a 4.50 ERA and one save in four outings.

19. Joey Devine: With elbow pain shelving him for the last ten days, Devine will have to recover fast to grab the closer role. He logged two scoreless innings before being sidelined. Competitor Brad Ziegler is side-winding it with the US team in the WBC.

20. David Purcey: Two strong recommendations I am making are Purcey and Jeff Niemann. Purcey has not allowed a run in seven innings, and is scheduled to be the Jays' #3 starter. Toronto might surprise a lot of people, as they have more pitching than you might think.

21. Armando Galarraga: Currently pitching for Venezuela in the WBC, the Tigers' #2 was strong (four innings, two runs) in his only start.

22. Matt Harrison: The left-hander is projected to be Rangers' #4 starter, and he has a 9.00 ERA through seven innings. Don't expect a low ERA from him in 2009.

23. Jeff Niemann: As the saying goes, Niemann is making decisions hard for the Rays. Out of options, they must keep him on the roster or risk losing him. He has allowed one run in 11 innings (0.82 ERA), and figures to stick with the club as a setup man.

24. Luke Hochevar: The Royals' #4 has started his sophomore year well, with a 3.38 ERA in eight innings. Hochevar has walked one and struck out five.

25. Sean Gallagher: Scheduled to be Oakland's #3 starter, Gallagher has been lit up, giving up six runs on 10 hits and four walks in 4.2 innings. I was on the fence about whether to include him on this list, and now I wish I hadn't. I don't recommend him for 2009.

Honorable Mention:

These are some additional young pitchers whom I considered for the list. Many of them will make an impact in 2009 and beyond. I have ranked them not by talent level, but according to how much impact they might make in 2009.

Jesse Litsch (Toronto): An unheralded prospect, he gets a lot of movement on his 88-91 mph fastball and has a curve and slider. He has a 3.67 ERA in 287 major league innings, and has allowed a run in five innings in camp.

Kyle Davies (Kansas City): He has been outstanding (0.71 ERA in 12.2 innings) this spring, and is currently the leader for the #5 spot. It seems like Davies has been around forever, but he has 400 innings of major league experience and is just 25.

Gio Gonzalez (Oakland): The rookie left-hander's bugaboo last year was his control. Gonzalez has a nice fastball and an excellent curve, but he used an unacceptable 20.8 pitches per inning. With one walk and eight K's in his first 8.1 innings, he's winning the #5 race.

Brett Cecil (Toronto): A first-round pick in 2007, he has struck out a team-high 12 in spring action to merit discussion in the Jays' rotation plans. Given that Cecil has only 31 innings above High-A, he figures to go to Triple-A to build his stamina.

Brad Ziegler (Oakland): If Joey Devine's elbow doesn't cooperate, Ziegler has proven he can close. He went 11-for-13 in save chances last year. It will be interesting to see how he handles the experienced international hitters in the WBC.

David Aardsma (Seattle): If you're looking for an option for saves, Aardsma has pitched well this spring (0.00 ERA in five innings) and will compete with Mark Lowe for the closer role.

Rick Porcello (Detroit): Less than two years removed from high school, it would seem a stretch to project the Tigers' top prospect in their rotation, especially when they have other options. Yet Jim Leyland has a mind of his own, and Jeremy Bonderman was only 20 when he stuck in the majors in 2003. Porcello has a 2.25 ERA in four innings.

Brandon McCarthy (Texas): Compared to Jack McDowell four years ago, McCarthy is trying to stick as the Rangers' #5 starter. It isn't a glorious fantasy spot, but he has major league ability.

Derek Holland (Texas): A hard-throwing left-hander, Holland is dealing at 92-96 this spring and has a slider and changeup. He will head to Triple-A and will see action in Arlington at some point this year.

Neftali Feliz (Texas): Feliz has an even better arm than Holland, and has struck out nine in six innings this spring. Yet he is two years younger and needs development time in the high minors before challenging for the major leagues.

Aaron Poreda (Chicago): A college left-hander who was a first-round pick in 2007, Poreda has come on strongly. He made a good impression in the AFL despite a 7.71 ERA, and has thrown seven good innings (2.57 ERA) in camp. Poreda will take his mid-90's fastball to Triple-A.

Wade Davis (Tampa Bay): The Rays' next power pitcher has taken a regular turn in the rotation this spring, logging a 5.40 ERA in 10 innings. He'll get more time in Triple-A, which in the long run will help both him and the club.

Michael Bowden (Boston): Seven runs in 4.2 Grapefruit League innings will punch Bowden's ticket back to Pawtucket. He's another API alumnus who will challenge for a rotation spot in 2010.

In two weeks: NL Top 25 Bargains: Spring update! Plus: NL Honorable Mentions

 

Article first appeared 3/1/09