The Bogfella Scouting Notebook by Brad "Bogfella" Johnson
Fantasy Baseball 2011 is just around the corner, in fact, drafts are going on as we speak which basically means ... it's baseball season! This ongoing feature will highlight all of the lowdown related to pitching in the 2011 fantasy baseball season. We'll cover who's currently hot, and who's not, but more importantly, we will focus on who will be hot and who will not be hot going forward. After all, that's the real key to success.
Let's jump right in ...
This Week's Scouting Tip: Opportunity Knocks
Finding true pitching (or hitting) gems in fantasy baseball is reliant upon two very distinct factors. No, its not just who has the talent. That's certainly an important consideration, but your target player also needs the opportunity to contribute. If he is blocked by another player, if he is being handled conservatively by his MLB organization, or if he being forced to fill a role that limits his fantasy value, your guy may not be ready to help push your team to a league championship. Always keep that in mind when evaluating a hot prospect. We all love them, however we have to temper that love with a realistic evaluation of both his short-term and long-term opportunity.
The Watch List
Adam Wainwright is gone for the 2011 season. Tommy John surgery has eliminated a Top 10 starting pitcher from this year's draft lists. Scratching a 200+ innings starting pitcher for the season means one thing: opportunity is knocking for someone. So, who should you be monitoring as we get further into spring training?
We'll start with Kyle McClellan. An effective arm in the Cardinals bullpen, he has hoped for a chance to start and he has always prepared himself to do just that during the off-season. If he wins the job, you can probably expect a reasonable WHIP and ERA with an average strikeout rate. However, he may be limited in the innings he pitches and may be on pitch counts that would reduce his opportunities to pitch deeper into games and could cost him a few wins. That equates to a back of the rotation option in NL only or very deep mixed leagues.
If you prefer to focus on the high risk/high reward types, your guy may be Ian Snell. People have quickly forgotten the ability he flashed a few years ago while with the Pirates, but he's still young enough to resurrect his crumbling career. Snell struggled with his mechanics, tried countless adjustments, and saw both his velocity and command dip. In short, he's been a mess for the past 3 years. The Cardinals picked Snell up to see if they could bring him back to his former promise. Enter Dave Duncan. Consistently one of the most effective coaches in MLB, if anyone can flip the switch on Snell, Duncan would be that guy. While he was originally targeted for Triple-A to begin this season, Snell would be a prime candidate to step into the rotation if he's ready. Watch him this spring and see both how he performs, and how he is handled in spring games. If they get him back in synch, he has a middle of the rotation ceiling and could be a significant contributor to your fantasy team.
There are a couple of other possibilities. Youngster Lance Lynn could see some innings, but likely needs additional time in the minors. Similarly, their top prospect, Shelby Miller, has even more upside, but hasn't pitched above Low-A so the Cardinals will probably choose to avoid exposing him this early. Finally, rumors have been flying regarding free agent veteran Kevin Millwood. If none of the other options pan out, they might look that direction, but he's a high-priced alternative with little upside (and even less fantasy upside so he probably should not be on your list).
Caught In the Middle
A perfect example of high potential with limited opportunity would be Chicago White Sox lefty Chris Sale. He burst onto the scene last summer and showed some very promising ability. Given his 2010 success, he entered spring 2011 with a significant amount of hype - probably deservedly so. Jake Peavy is rehabbing from shoulder surgery and was questionable at best for opening day. Does Sale step in as the 5th starter? 2010 closer Bobby Jenks is gone. Does Sale take over the closer's role?
Unfortunately for Sale (and his fantasy owners), it's very possible that neither scenario will transpire. Peavy's rehab is going very well, and he may be able to assume the 5th starter role in April (with off days he may not be needed all that often early on), and premiere set-up man Matt Thornton is being given serious consideration to step into the role he has long coveted - closer.
Understandably, the Sox would prefer not to shift Sale back and forth between the rotation and the pen, so he is likely to open the season as a set-up guy for Thornton. If Thornton stumbles, he would be the favorite to take over, but for the foreseeable future his fantasy value is pretty much limited to holds leagues. He's worth stashing in keeper leagues, but he may have to wait for an opportunity to make a major fantasy splash.
It's still very early in spring training, but let's check this week's Scouting Notebook ...
Move them up a notch:
Erik Bedard (SEA)- He has a top of the rotation ceiling if he can stay healthy and he looked very sharp in his spring debut, notching 2 strikeouts in a scoreless inning. Obviously he is an extremely risky pick given his long history of injuries, however that will serve to keep his price down. The next hurdle will be finding the arm is still attached and making sure he is on schedule for another outing on regular rest. If you are the "throw caution to the wind" type you might want to take a flyer on him if he gets some innings under his belt.
Aaron Heilman (ARZ)- Primarily a reliever throughout his career, he has asked to be considered for a rotation spot this spring. He pitched a solid 2 innings (as a starter) in his first spring outing, and with the lack of standouts in the D'Backs consideration set, he might get that chance to start. If he does, he could provide a decent WHIP and ERA with an average strikeout rate. To succeed, he will have to stay down in the zone (he did that in his recent outing) and remain focused on inducing groundballs, but even then he's really only an NL only or deep mixed league back of the rotation guy, but you could do worse. Monitor his spring progress.
Ivan Nova (NYA)- His first spring appearance was fairly solid and he has probably moved to the top of the food chain for the Yankees #4 starting slot. The Yankees need someone to step up with their top kids (Banuelos, Brackman and Betances) probably needing more seasoning before getting thrown into the circus ring. Nova could be serviceable as a back of the rotation guy since the Yankees will probably put him in line for a few wins. His main competition (barring a deal) will come from Bartolo Colon - a power pitcher with too little power, and Freddy Garcia - a finesse pitcher with too little finesse. The job is there for the taking, and he could help at the back of your rotation.
Jake Peavy (CWS)- All signs so far this spring have been positive. He is a max effort pitcher so the fact that he has had no setbacks has to be encouraging. Assuming things continue to go well, he should be ready for opening day and can contribute to your fantasy team. On the cautious side, don't expect Petco-like stats with him in the AL, especially in a HR-friendly home park. Once he settles in you can probably anticipate a strong WHIP, decent ERA, and a decent strikeout rate. That makes him a fair value pick.
Move them down a notch:
Tim Stauffer (SD) - He put up very respectable numbers last season and he pitches in PETCO Park so he will get the attention of owners in your league. He was not at all sharp in an exhibition start against Seattle, but there were already reasons to avoid him this year. He has just adequate stuff, and is unlikely to justify the price you will have to pay for a San Diego "sleeper" in your draft. He's not a kid anymore and the potential for long term success is not something to bank on.
Scott Kazmir (LAA)- Just a few years ago he was one of the most exciting young lefties in MLB. Today he is struggling to remain a rotation option for the Angels. He had a shaky start against the Dodgers this past weekend, and he was as hittable as he proved to be all last season. His velocity is still down and he struggles with his command, leaving too many pitches up in the zone and out over the plate. He's young enough to bounce back, however you really need to see some positive signs before jumping on board.
Justin Duchscherer (BAL)- Unlike Bedard, Duchscherer has already had health issues this spring with soreness in his surgically repaired hip. His medical history is as long as Bedard's and although he can be effective when he does get to the mound, he probably doesn't have the upside, therefore he may not be worth the risk. The Orioles are no doubt being very cautious with him, and the soreness may not be a significant factor, but you should probably watch for a few consistent appearances before adding him to your 2011 draft list.
Craig Kimbrel (ATL)- Dominating numbers in late 2010 put him on the radar as the most likely heir apparent to the retired Billy Wagner as the Braves closer. However, his first spring outing was a disaster with command issues (it was known those might be a factor), and his velocity was also well off what you might expect. It's too early to write him off (early in spring training power pitchers are often still turning up the gas), but he needs to show some of that 2010 flash before you can write him down as a locked-in closer on your squad.
That's a wrap for this week, but for some of the most in-depth coverage of all things pitching in fantasy baseball for 2011, visit www.bogfella.com.