I will be providing weekly updates on whether different player's performances are for real and whether they will regress to the mean. It is important to remember during the first weeks of the season that a player's early season numbers do not dictate performance for the rest of the season. It is important for owners to continue to understand that he or she should be paying for future performance, and not on previous results.
Jonathan Broxton/Greg Holland P, KC - With Joakim Soria undergoing Tommy John surgery, Broxton's stock benefited immediately from the open closer position. Many are expecting Ned Yost to make Broxton the closer in order for the Royals to build up some trade value for the reliever before July's deadline, assuming the club is out of the playoff race by then. Obviously, Broxton's fantasy value increases when he is named the closer. However, Greg Holland is the future closer, considering he posted a 1.85 ERA (2.21 FIP and 2.67 xFIP) along with a strong 11.10 K/9 and 2.85 BB/9 in 2011. He compliments his 94 mph fastball with one of the best sliders in baseball, and I expect him to be the closer by the time the 2012 season ends.
Matt Thornton P, CHW - Many expected Robin Ventura to officially announce Thornton the closer sometime in the coming days, and I fully expect him to hold on to job for the entire season. Thornton lost the job last season because of a terrible start to the 2011 season, and not as some members of the media would tell you, because he couldn't handle the role. He still average more than 95 mph on his fastball, and he has added a cutter that will sit between 88-91 mph along with his slider. (Even though he posted a higher ERA in 2011 than we are accustomed to seeing (3.26 ERA), that was influenced by an extremely low strand rate (61.2 percent) and higher BABIP (.326). Those numbers should improve in 2012, and I would expect an ERA in the 2.90-3.10 range, with a strikeout rate around 10.00 K/9. He is a better bet than some other established closers out there.
Danny Duffy P, KC - Duffy earned one of the final spots in the Royals rotation after Felipe Paulino landed on the disabled list. Duffy displays strong velocity from the left side (averaged 93.3 mph last season on fastball), but both his curveball and change-up need some work. His 5.64 ERA last season was hurt by a high BABIP (.329), and he can be solid matchup type of starter in deeper leagues. If anything, he should provide above average strikeout totals.
Yoenis Cespedes OF, OAK- We saw some of the good and bad of Cespedes over the two games in Japan. He hit an impressive home run in the seventh inning of the second game to give the A's the win, and he held his own against Felix Hernandez hitting a tough breaking ball for double. However, Cespedes didn't show the best plate discipline during the Japan series, striking out in half of his at-bats. There will be some growing pains this season, but the his 20-plus home run power should shine through in 2012 and he probably be hitting higher in the lineup sooner rather later for increased RBI opportunities.
Rick Ankiel OF, WAS- Ankiel was officially added to the 40-man roster on Saturday by the Nationals, and it looks like he will be the Opening Day center fielder with Roger Bernadina playing in left field. Ankiel has an opportunity to fully claim the center field job from Bernadina with Mike Morse starting the season on the disabled list. Ankiel's power and ability to swipe some bases gives him value in very deep and NL-only leagues. His 24 percent career strikeout rate will keep his batting average just below .250, but if he can surpass 400 plate appearances this season, he should be able to chip in more than 11 home runs. I would still stay away from him in standard leagues.
Jeff Samardzija P, CHC- Samardzija officially secured a spot in the Cubs rotation this week after being switched back and forth between roles at the major leagues and Triple-A over the last few seasons. His four-pitch repertoire (fastball, slider, cutter and splitter) will serve him well in the rotation, but he will have to lower his walk rate (5.30 BB/9 career rate) if he is going to be a viable fantasy option. Most projection systems have him registering more than a 7.5 K/9. He won't be able to repeat his .253 BABIP and 5.3 percent HR/FB ratio, but I am projecting him to finish with a 3.75-4.00 ERA. Pretty good numbers considering his ADP is around 32.
Carl Crawford OF, BOS- Reports have been surfacing, specifically from the Boston Globe, that Crawford's surgically repaired wrist will sideline him at least until May. Before this news, I thought Crawford was being severely undervalued in drafts because of his poor 2011 season along with the wrist injury. Even if he plays in just 120 games this season, Crawford can still provide some quality as he should steal 20 plus bases along with .285/.330/.445 slash line and 12-16 home runs. His batting average was down last season because of an increased strikeout rate (19.3 percent), but that should decrease since his swinging strikeout rate from last season (8.8 percent) was below his career rate (9.3 percent). Keep an eye out for news over the next week or two to get a better handle on the situation.
Ryan Raburn 2B/OF, DET - Jim Leyland has yet to name an Opening Day starter at second base, but Raburn looks to be the front runner considering his wonderful spring. If he can amass over 500 plate appearances (either at second, left field or DH), he can be a very useful fantasy player considering his versatility and his power. 20 home runs would not be out of the question with regular playing time. Raburn won't ever be more than a .250-.260 hitter because of his high strikeout rate (24.3 percent career rate), but he is definitely worth a pickup in standard leagues if any owners are thin on second basemen.
Mike Carp OF/1B, SEA- Carp was the season's first regular season injury casualty as he landed on the DL because of a sprained left shoulder he sustained diving for a Kurt Suzuki double in the first game of the Japan series against the A's. Carp is one of the few fantasy options in the Seattle lineup, and there is a chance he might only miss as few as six games because of the off days from now until the start of the season. He is still worth holding onto because of his 20 home run power, but owners should expect more of a .250 batting average this season. His .343 BABIP from last season will be hard to duplicate in 2012 (though his 24.2 percent line drive rate might say otherwise).
Michael Pineda P, NYY- Pineda left Friday's game with tightness in shoulder, and was subsequently placed one the disabled list the next day with shoulder tendinitis. The inflammation hopefully explains Pineda's decreased velocity this spring, and owners should be thankful it is not a serious injury. There is no timetable for his return as of now, but one should expect the Yankees to be cautious considering the depth at the position. Freddy Garcia will slide into the final spot in the rotation in Pineda's absence, and with Andy Pettitte waiting in the wings, we probably won't see Pineda take the mound as a starter in New York until May.
Dustin McGowan P, TOR- Just after announcing McGowan to a contract extension, the Blue Jays announced that he will start the season on the disabled list because of plantar fasciitis. There is no timetable for a return as of this moment, and he might not have a job when he returns. This type of injury has been known to linger, and if Henderson Alvarez and Kyle Drabek pitch well in his absence, he might be relegated to the bullpen because of his injury history.
Randy Wells P, CHC- Wells, who was optioned to Triple-A on Friday, was the roster casualty after the decision to put Samardzija in the rotation. 2011 was the 29 year-old's worst season in the majors. He saw a dip in velocity along with weaker peripherals and groundball rates in addition to a higher HR/FB ratio (12.3 percent). A low BABIP (.273) kept Wells from having an awful 2011. He won't hold any value this season unless there is a significant injury in the rotation or Samardzija is completely ineffective.