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MLB Barometer: Early Movers

Kevin Payne

Kevin Payne

Kevin has worked for Rotowire just under a decade and has covered basketball, baseball and football. A glutton for punishment, he roots for his hometown Bills, Sabres and the New York Yankees. He hosts the RotoWire SiriusXM show every Wednesday and Friday and you can follow him on Twitter @KCPayne26.

Now that the Cactus and Grapefruit League games are under way, we'll be doing this column on a weekly basis. If you have any suggestions, critiques, or questions about a specific player, hit up the comments section.

Stock Up:

Joel Hanrahan, P, PIT - As I speculated a couple of weeks ago in this column, Hanrahan was named the Pirates closer to start the year. Evan Meek will handle set-up duties and be another closing option in the Pirates bullpen, Hanrahan probably won't have the longest leash. Still, his strikeout (12.9 K/9) ability makes him an intriguing target after the top two tiers of closers are off the board.

Manny Ramirez, OF, TB - Slowly but surely I'm coming around on Manny. I did my first public league draft this week and was happy to grab him. It's a standard 5X5, 10-team league and I landed him at pick 259. Great draft strategy on my part? No, I'd guess I was likely more aware that he's buried on the ADP chart right now on whatever site you use and took advantage of that. He hit cleanup in the Rays first exhibition game on Saturday and has received rave reviews from Evan Longoria and Joe Maddon. He'll shoot up those ADP charts quickly so make sure you don't wait on him too long.

Grady Sizemore, OF, CLE - It's not a coincidence that I'm putting Sizemore right after Ramirez considering how high each was taken in fantasy drafts two years ago. Sizemore, like Manny has completely dropped off after enduring two injured-ridden seasons. It looks like he won't be ready to start the season but has impressed so far in camp. Even if he misses the first couple of weeks, at age 28 he could put in a 20/20 season if he stays healthy. While that's a big "if" grab him if you're willing to roll the dice and need the outfield help.

Jake Peavy, P, CHW - All the reports from both the White Sox and Peavy indicate he's recovering faster than expected from his shoulder surgery. He was allowed to start working out without any restriction a couple of weeks ago and has not suffered even the slightest setback. Peavy will likely get some work in Cactus League games in the near future and has been throwing his breaking ball, which is always a good sign. He's starting to look like a good gamble, especially if he falls too far in deeper or AL-only leagues.

Pablo Sandoval, 3B, SF - While I try to not put too much stock in "player X showed up in the best shape of their career," Sandoval's weight loss (38 lbs.) and lowered body fat (30 to 19 percent) shouldn't be ignored. The weight loss will help him get his ISO back to 2009 form (.226) as opposed to last year's .140 mark. Past the ISO, not much else changed for Sandoval between 2009 and 2010. His walk rate dropped only .06% while his K rate actually dropped .1%. Basically, the weight gain and messy personal issues he was going through were likely the cause of the down year. Look for Panda to bounce-back this season towards his 2009 form.

Miguel Cabrera, 1B, DET - It doesn't sound like Cabrera will get any jail time and both the Tigers and he seem to be saying and doing all the right things. Therefore, I wouldn't adjust Miggie on your draft board unless you think opposing teams will leave a bottle of scotch in the Tigers locker room when they come to town. If you're a Cabrera owner already be thankful this happened now and not in the middle of April. Expect him to be under a watchful eye all season and hope that he feels the need to redeem himself by raking at the plate.

Dexter Fowler, OF, COL - I wrote in one of my blogs that I love Fowler as a sleeper this year. I think I wrote something along the lines of "if you miss out on Michael Bourn or Juan Pierre, Fowler is your man." Fowler struggled initially last year and a trip to Triple-A (a level he skipped and should not have) helped him a lot. He only stole 13 bases last year after 27 in 2009 and word is the team will be running wild this year. Fowler will be only 25 to start the year and showed his stolen base potential back on Apr. 27, 2009 with a five-SB game. If he ever fills out the Devon White comparisons will come to fruition; he could put up a 10/40 season as soon as this year.

Check Status:

Adrian Beltre, 3B, TEX - While many might have thought about downgrading Beltre this week due to his Grade 1 calf strain, I'm not too concerned until I hear something concrete from Texas. He'll miss the first 10-14 spring games due to his injury but should be fine after that, although there are reports he'll be out longer. Beltre is still taking batting practice and doing some light field drills in the meantime. A Grade 1 strain is the mildest of the three strain grades and means a little of the muscle tissue was damaged. When I knew I was putting Beltre in this week's column, I went back and looked at his history at Rangers Stadium in Arlington. Here's what he's done in that park over the last six years:

64-for-208 (.307 BA), eight home runs, 30 runs and 32 RBI

If you prorate those stats to the 589 at-bats he had last year in Boston, those numbers jump to:

23 home runs, 85 runs and 91 RBI

I realize this is a small sample size and he plays half of his games on the road. However, he hit better on the road last year (.327/.370/.583) than at home (.314/.358/.521) and the prorated numbers could be his floor since Texas is now his home stadium which should increase his comfort level when playing there. Right now monitor the calf to make sure this doesn't turn into something worse. It's likely a case of Texas being cautious and I see no reason to adjust Beltre on your draft board right now until there's a more negative report on his injury.

Jeremy Hellickson, P, TB - Hellickson has been dealing with a hamstring strain over the last week and the Rays have taken the wise, cautious route. He's expected to throw off the mound on Sunday after reporting it's been feeling better all week. Hope that he falls in your drafts as a result of this report; the kid is the best rookie pitcher in the majors this year.

Francisco Liriano, P, MIN - Nothing is going on with Liriano healthy or stuff-wise, but he may be moving east sometime in the near future. It's been reported that the Yankees have been keep a close watch on the lefty while Minnesota has been keeping an eye on the Yankees farm system. As a Yankees fan I hope they can keep Jesus Montero and ship some type of combination of Ivan Nova and another young arm or two. If Liriano gets dealt to the Yankees, expect some more wins but look for his peripherals to take a small bump in the wrong direction.

Downgrades:

Adam Wainwright, P, STL - I know this is an obvious one but I'd likely be criticized in the comments section had I neglected to mention him. Now that we've gotten past that, in keeper leagues he should still be targeted. He won't be kept for the lofty sum his fantasy contract is and will be only 30 to start next season. I'm not a huge fan of quoting a fluky stat like wins but Wainwright has 39 over the last two seasons which is the highest mark among pitchers. Even if you're planning to contend in your keeper league, still target Wainwright as he'll be a nice piece to dangle in front of the non-contenders at your trade deadline.

Brian Roberts, 2B, BAL - I'm going to go back to the "Busts" article I did before last season to state why I don't like Roberts, even when he's healthy. In that column I wrote that his BB rate (12.4%, 11.6%, 10.3%) had decreased while his K rate (15.9%, 17.0%, 17.7%) had increased the previous three years heading into the 2010 season. Last year he had a back injury and most recently he's dealing with a neck issue which makes me even more wary of taking him, now at age 33. I'm going to stay away from him completely, even though I like his lineup and he's not to come at too great of a cost (ADP around 120). I think second base is deeper than people think and I'd rather have a younger guy with upside who's less of an injury risk.