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MLB Barometer: The Jerk

Howard Bender

Howard Bender

Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over a decade on a variety of web sites. For more from him, you can find his personal musings on his blog RotobuzzGuy.com or follow him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy. For questions, thoughts or comments you can email him at rotobuzzguy@gmail.com.

With Opening Day less than three weeks away and fantasy baseball drafts in full swing, it's time for the MLB Barometer to return to its weekly check on whose fantasy stock is on the way up and whose is sinking like the Titanic. We'll discuss which risers to believe in and which to avoid, as well as which cold players are expected to heat up. By the end of reading each week, you'll have a firm grasp on which players are considered must-starts, which ones should be riding the pine, and most of all, which direction you should be throwing your FAAB dollars.

In addition to that, we'll also be discussing other important topics that are sure to have a major impact on your fantasy season. There's more to winning your league than just picking players who are performing well at the moment. It's about reading the signs and understanding how certain trends will affect your team, now just now, but how they will impact your team further down the road.

For now though, let's stick to the immediate task at hand which is getting the right players onto your roster on draft day. There's plenty happening right now, from the action in the World Baseball Classic to extensive injuries being dealt with to position battles being fought in camp. So let's get to it and see who should be pulling your focus.

On the Rise

Jedd Gyorko, 2B, SD - First off, for those not in-the-know, the correct pronunciation is “jerk-oh.” There it is. Get it all out now because you're going to be hearing it quite a bit as we wrap spring training and head into Opening Day. After a spectacular 2012 that saw the 24-year-old infield prospect pop 30 home runs between the Double and Triple-A levels, expectations were riding high. However, with Chase Headley firmly entrenched at the hot corner, the only way Gyorko was going to get a legitimate shot was to switch to the other side of the diamond and try his luck at the keystone. He's continued to swing a hot bat this spring and while the team hasn't made an official announcement just yet, he is now expected to be the Padres' starting second baseman on Opening Day. While the starting gig will certainly boost his overall value, be wary of the fact that his biggest power production comes via the very hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League (PCL). That league has churned out a number of “power hitters” who failed to live up expectations in the majors. Look for him to hit a few bumps in the road during the early goings of the season, but overall, he should prove to be a solid choice.

Scott Kazmir, SP, CLE - No, that's not a typo. You're really seeing Kazmir's name. Given his extensive history, you might be surprised to see that he's only 29 years old, but it's even more surprising is that he hasn't given up a single run through 11 innings this spring and apparently, he has the inside track on winning the team's fifth starter job to open the season. You never like to put too much stock into a player's spring totals, but the Indians are apparently doing just that and his favorable spring has pushed him ahead of other contenders such as Trevor Bauer and Daisuke Matsuzaka. Save for about 17 minor league innings in 2011, Kazmir hasn't pitched since 2010 and he hasn't pitched effectively since 2008. He could prove to be an interesting late-round sleeper. The investment would certainly be minimal. Just make sure you watch him string together a few good starts before activating him.

Matt Carpenter, 2B, STL - He started the spring looking to crack the Cardinals' 25-man roster as a super-utility player, but Carpenter has done much more than that and has suddenly played himself into a platoon with Daniel Descalso over at second base. He proved himself worthy of consideration after batting .294 with six home runs and 46 RBI in just over 300 at-bats last season and now this spring he's hitting .382 with five doubles over 34 at-bats. Depending on your league's eligibility requirements, Carpenter could be a huge asset as he may qualify at first, third and the outfield, in addition to playing second base this season.

Michael Wacha, SP, STL - Though he was just reassigned to the Cardinals minor league camp, Wacha impressed plenty by throwing 11.2 scoreless innings this spring with an eye-popping 15:1 K:BB ratio. Just 21 years old and fresh off the college circuit, Wacha has posted an incredibly dominant strikeout rate during his extremely short professional career. St. Louis has plenty of arms to consider for the early part of the season, but should the back-end of the rotation fail, we could be seeing Wacha at some point in the second half which could make a huge impact. Dynasty and keeper league owners should consider the stash right now while re-drafters can probably wait until a callup is more imminent.

Sergio Santos, RP, TOR - The “who will be healthy first” race between Santos and Casey Janssen is apparently being won by Santos right now. Both are dealing with arm issues, but the latest news has Santos likely ready for Opening Day after a recent, successful session in which he threw an 18-pitch minor league inning. Janssen has not yet reached that level in his recovery and with the start of the season looming; it could be Santos who starts off the season as the Jays' closer. Janssen is supposed to be given the job back once he does return, but this shoulder injury has hampered him for some time now and his recovery timetable continues to be stretched out. Santos has held the job before, so there's no reason to believe he can't hold down the fort for an extended period of time.

Sliding Down

Zack Greinke, SP, LAD - It was worrisome when word broke that Greinke was heading in for an MRI after experiencing elbow soreness, but concern was assuaged when test results came back clean. Or were they? Unfortunately, the problems have persisted and Greinke isn't expected to throw in a game situation for another week, giving him almost a three-week layoff. He'll need a side session before getting into a game situation again and an evaluation will be made after that. With the money invested though, the Dodgers aren't going to rush him back so the possibility of starting the season on the DL is suddenly now in play.

Greg Holland, RP, KC - Those who followed Holland last season understood that his ratios were skewed by a disastrous first few weeks of the season in which he tried to pitch through a rib injury which turned out to be a stress fracture. Once he returned from his time on the disabled list, Holland was dominant, posting a 1.92 ERA from May through the end of the season with a double-digit K/9 in four of the five months. His only knock was too many baserunners thanks to an unusually high .364 BABIP and a 4.57 BB/9. Until now. Reports are coming in that Holland's velocity is down by as much as four mph this spring and although the results have been good, there is concern moving forward. He should continue to be drafted in the middle rounds, but the need to handcuff him to Kelvin Herrera has grown immensely.

Mark Teixeira, 1B, NYY - The wrist injury and the 10-week recovery timetable are obviously a concern here as Tex isn't likely to return to the Yankees' lineup until the end of May, but even more troubling is the concern moving forward. For the last few seasons, Teixeira has been long on power and short on average, but a wrist injury can be extremely detrimental to a power hitter in the long run as the ability to turn on a fastball or simply to drive through a pitch is dramatically hindered. Should this injury sap a good part of his power, even the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium isn't going to help him. If he is unable to return to full strength, we could be looking at just a 20-home run season with a .250 average which pushes him down significantly in the first base rankings.

Justin Ruggiano, OF, MIA - Last year's late-blooming golden boy could do no wrong as he posted a career-best .313 average with 13 home runs and an impressive .222 ISO. But as the spring pushes on and he sits with a strained lower back, more people are raving about the recent performances of former Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan and upstart Gorkys Hernandez, while suddenly running down Ruggiano for his defense and pointing out that last season's .401 BABIP is completely unsustainable. The talk of a platoon has been more prevalent as of late and there is apparently no guarantee that Ruggiano even has a starting job when he is able to get back into game action. He'll be dropping down draft boards over the next three weeks. Don't be the one to end his free-fall.

Luke Hochevar, SP, KC - The former first-round pick has officially hit rock bottom. After years of watching him struggle on the hill, the Royals have made Hochevar's move to the bullpen official. He was competing for the No. 5 spot in the rotation with Bruce Chen and Luis Mendoza, but the coaches had seen enough and figured they would use these next three weeks to help him acclimate to a setup role. It's not like his value was high to begin with, but if you had any hope of him turning things around, like the Royals did for so many years, you can now put those feelings to bed.

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