In 10 days I head to Glendale, Ariz., for my annual spring training trip, this time with my 10-year-old twin sons in tow. It's easily my favorite baseball-related trip of the year, as the season promises hope, the crack of the bat and things none of us could possibly predict. Here are a few of my predictions, many are a stretch, but how boring would it be to predict that Roy Halladay will win 20 games and that the Astros will lose 100 games?
1. Bryce Harper will make the team out of spring training and win the NL ROY by hitting .280 with 27 home runs and 90 RBI. The smart thing to do would be to keep him down a few weeks to delay his free agency, but that's not happening.
2. The Giants will jerk Brandon Belt around again. OK, that was an easy one.
3. Theo Epstein is smart, but Anthony Rizzo will be a complete bust. I just didn't like what I saw in his spring last year.
4. Jon Lester will win the AL Cy Young. His stuff is still filthy, and I think he's embarrassed how things ended last year - chickengate and, of course, the collapse.
5. Miguel Cabrera and Mark Trumbo will combine for fewer than 30 games played at third base.
6. Wil Myers will be up by June and finish the year as the Royals' best hitter.
7. Jesus Montero will spend enough time at catcher to meet your league's 20-game qualification - by late May.
8. Tim Lincecum will be the third best pitcher ... on his own team.
9. Kenley Jansen, Addison Reed and Grant Balfour will lead their teams in saves, while Carlos Marmol, Huston Street and Chris Perez will not.
10. For fantasy owners, Billy Hamilton should probably be the No. 2 overall NL-only prospect behind Harper. Hamilton really progressed with the bat over the second half last year, and though he's set to open only in High-A, if there's anybody playing pro ball today who can invoke Vince Coleman comparisons, it's this guy. Prediction: the Reds win the NL Central, Hamilton swipes 120 bases in the minors and makes the postseason roster as a pinch-runner.
Brett Myers to the bullpen
The decision to shift Brett Myers from the rotation to the closer role has been widely panned, and rightfully so. Perhaps the Astros just felt like they had to do whatever it takes to open up a spot for Livan Hernandez or Zach Duke, but in reality, this is all about marketability. Myers has combined for 439 innings the last two years, posting xFIPs of 3.67 and 3.75. Still, the Astros (wrongly) believed his mid-season trade value would be minimal as a solid No. 3 or 4 on a contending team, and higher as a shut-down closer. The last time we saw Myers in that role was 2007 when he saved 21 games for the Phillies with a 10.9 K/9IP. It remains to be seen how many saves the Astros will afford Myers, but any team whose biggest offensive threat is a still-decent, but declining Carlos Lee and whose projected starting outfield is J.D. Martinez/Jordan Schafer/Brian Bogusevic isn't a team that will score a lot of runs.
In terms of fantasy impact, we've seen bad teams feature closers with 40 saves, so consider Myers a potential top-20 closer who could rack up 70-plus strikeouts. Previously to this news, Wilton Lopez, Brandon Lyon and David Carpenter had been expected to compete for the closer job, so now they will be competing in-season to succeed Myers who is likely to be traded by July 31. With the Astros playing for 2014 and later, look for Carpenter to get a look at closer. He features a fastball that sits easily in the 92-95 range and at 26, he's the youngest of the trio. Lyon is like a character in a horror movie that won't die, so don't automatically assume that he won't build upon his 78 career saves, but when you factor in the likes of Juan Abreu, Lyon appears to be a longshot to have any real value this year.
In the rotation, Wandy Rodriguez, Bud Norris and J.A. Happ are locks, with Jordan Lyles, Kyle Weiland, Henry Sosa, Lucas Harrell, Duke and Hernandez competing for two spots. Lyles is just 21, so the Astros could choose to give him more seasoning, but he's by far the most talented of that motley group. Weiland was terrible (7.66 ERA) in 24.2 innings last year, but he's still young and has No. 4/5 type potential. I wish I could tell you how this will play out, but the only pitchers I trust are Rodriguez, Norris and, to a lesser extent, Lyles. Avoid the rest.
Johan Santana progressing
The pessimist in me sees the injuries and declining strikeout rate and says "stay away," but this is still Johan Santana, and at age 32 there could very well be more left in the tank. That's not to say that he's going to be a No. 1 starter ever again, but 180 innings of 4.00 ERA ball with 160 strikeouts is possible this year, with the potential for a bit more. Watch him closely this spring and hope to strike gold (or at least silver). Keep this in mind, though:
Note: FBv = average fastball velocity.
Slower pitches, fewer strikeouts and fewer ground balls. Not a good combination. On the plus side, his control is still very good, though not elite (sub-2.0 BB/9IP) as it once was. By all accounts, Santana is progressing well this spring and hopes to pitch his first spring game Tuesday. I'll have my MLB.TV subscription fired up by then and will tune in for that one.
Tommy Hanson, Matt Moore battling injuries already
For Hanson, it's the concussion; with Moore, an abdominal strain. Hanson suffered his injury in a minor car accident, but it's not expected to impact his availability for the start of the season. What you should be more interested in is how he fares with a new delivery. I'm no doctor, but to me, Hanson's future as a potential No. 1 is seriously in doubt. He was off to a great start last year before suffering a shoulder injury that was eventually diagnosed as a small rotator cuff tear. He chose to rehab rather than undergo surgery, but will the new delivery result in the same explosive stuff? We'll have to wait and see. In 77 career starts, the 25-year-old has a 3.28 ERA, 8.4 K/9IP and 2.9 BB/9IP, but can he take that next step and compete for Cy Young awards? I'm not so sure.
Moore, on the other hand, appears poised to win a Cy Young at any point in the near term, with a likely innings cap the only thing holding him back from giving Justin Verlander
a run for his money in 2012. His injury appears minor, but that won't stop the Rays from taking all precautions with the young lefty. Still, Moore did total 164.1 innings last year, so the innings cap won't be overly draconian - perhaps in the 175 range. That could still be enough for him to top 200 strikeouts with a sub-3.25 ERA and a WHIP in the 1.17 range. That's a top-15 fantasy pitcher.
Arizona No. 5 starter job
Arizona is set in spots 1-4 with Opening Day starter Ian Kennedy
followed by Daniel Hudson, Trevor Cahill
and Joe Saunders
. Josh Collmenter
is the early favorite for the No. 5 slot, but two young pitchers with much higher ceilings are looking to push Collmenter out - Trevor Bauer
and Tyler Skaggs
. Here' how this trio fared last year:
Ignore Bauer's ERA, as it came in a limited 25.2-innings sample. He's considered more advanced at this point than the younger Skaggs, but consider that Skaggs is left-handed and had a 2.50 ERA and 11.5 K/9IP in 10 Double-A starts, while Bauer hit a slight speed bump at the same level. Both are expected to open the year in Triple-A, but both are knocking at the door and should see big-league time this year.
Relievers converting to the rotation
It appears we're seeing more teams try this transition with one of their relievers this year than most, perhaps due to the success the Rangers had recently with C.J. Wilson
and Alexi Ogando
. Who are likely to have success and who can we expect back in the bullpen sooner rather than later? Let's order this list starting with the pitcher I think is more likely to stick, and end with the least likely:
1.Neftali Feliz (TEX) -
Panic not about Feliz's spring results, as he's working to refine a changeup that wasn't needed in his prior role as a closer. Feliz is listed at 6-foot-3, 215, so he's big enough in theory to handle a larger workload, and with his ability to miss bats, he's a potentially very valuable fantasy starter. Keep in mind that a Joe Nathan
injury could move Feliz back to the closer role, and that possibility, however slight, certainly doesn't hurt his value. I worry that the WHIP is going to be in the 1.30-1.35 range due to his lack of top-tier control, but he could also be good for 170 strikeouts.
2. Chris Sale (CHW) -
In the two years since he was drafted in 2010, Sale has tallied just 104 professional innings, but he's now being looked at as the team's No. 5 starter with the loss of Mark Buehrle
to Miami. Sale is likely to have success in his new role, but I expect an innings cap in the 150 range, with the White Sox skipping him whenever possible. Sale averaged an impressive 95.3 mph with his fastball in a relief role while striking out 79 in 71 innings. Expect that number to drop a couple mph with the move to the rotation. He'll still be a solid fantasy starter, but don't look for a true breakout until 2014. It certainly helps that he does a good job keeping the ball on the ground, but expect some growing pains.
3. Aaron Crow (KC) -
Crow appears set to spend time in the Royals rotation, but it was reported this week that the organization doesn't expect him to last the entire year as a starter. In addition to Crow, the Royals have Luke Hochevar
, Jonathan Sanchez
and Bruce Chen
as locks, with Felipe Paulino
and Danny Duffy
firmly in the mix. Crow finished last year with a 2.76 ERA as a reliever, even making the AL All-Star roster (who didn't?), but the Royals appear committed to trying Crow in the rotation. It helps that the Royals have a pretty deep bullpen, allowing them to give Crow a shot as a starter. Figure Crow tops out as 20 starts this year before hopefully moving to a starting role full-time come 2013.
4. Dan Bard (BOS) -
With the moves to acquire Mark Melancon
and Andrew Bailey
while subsequently investing $0 in the rotation, the Sox are all in on Bard as a starter. I'm just not sure I see this working, as Boston does not have a starter who topped 200 innings, and just two (Josh Beckett
and Jon Lester
) who topped 114 frames. I think Bard can pitch 150 solid innings, but at some point, the Red Sox will have to bring in another starter to eat innings, and then someone has to go back to the pen.
5. Alfredo Aceves (BOS) -
Aceves was so valuable in a swingman role for Boston last year, that I foresee a similar role in 2012. He did make four starts in 2011, ultimately finishing with a fine 2.61 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in 114 innings, but unless Franklin Morales
can show that he's able to go 80 innings himself, Aceves doesn't seem long for the rotation.
6. Aroldis Chapman (CIN) -
With Ryan Madson
and Sean Marshall
aboard, the need for Chapman in the bullpen has been lessened somewhat, but I'm just not sure this move works. First, the Reds already have five solid starters, so there's no obvious spot for Chapman in the rotation. Second, barring a sudden ability to find the strike zone with non-Marmol frequency, Chapman could approach 120 walks as a starter, doing serious damage to a fantasy owner's WHIP. Finally, the Reds have options on Chapman, and that could lead to his opening the season in the Triple-A Louisville rotation. I actually expect that to happen, and if he can build up his endurance level and go six-plus innings with regularity, perhaps we seem him in the Reds rotation, but not likely before June.
Regan, a five-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner, was named the 2010 Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year.
Follow @vtadave on Twitter.