Join SI.com's James Quintong in a discussion of some of the latest news in football, baseball and other sports and how it relates to fantasy teams and leagues.
5/18/2007 04:25:00 PM
The next big thing ... eventually
Stephen Drew has struggled so far in his rookie season, but the question is will he break out this year, when everyone expects it or in a couple of years when people aren't?
Many fantasy owners love to jump on all the top prospects, hoping to pick up the next big star at a cheap price, especially in keeper leagues, before anyone else knows. And while trying to speculate on youngsters can be fun, it can also be a maddening proposition. Sometimes you can have last year's bumper crop of rookies (Hanley Ramirez, Jonathan Papelbon, Prince Fielder, etc.) or you can have this year's iffy crew.
While it appears guys like Tim Lincecum and Hunter Pence are living up to the early rookie hype, the same can't be said for Alex Gordon and Carlos Quentin. Meanwhile, the jury is still out on guys like Chris Young and Delmon Young. And others like Billy Butler, Mike Pelfrey and Brandon Wood are already back in the minors.
In non-keeper leagues, it shouldn't be a very tough decision to either bench or cut struggling rookies. If they're not producing, replace them with those who can and maybe you can grab the young ones later in the season should they turn it around.
Keeper leaguers face a tougher dilemma, whether to stick with the lagging production now for bigger things next year or to trade them with still decent "potential" value for more established players to help now. You hope to get the most value now because any further drop in production means a lower price tag next year.
However, it's when that price tag is at its lowest in the years after the rookie season when you could get the biggest steal. Players such as Fausto Carmona, J.J. Hardy and even Jack Cust have had their share of disappointments early in their careers and now all three are looking good right now.
Carmona had a 1-10 record last year plus some spectacular blown saves for the Indians; now he's won five straight as is one of the hottest pitchers in the league. Hardy appeared to be the weak link among the Brewers' stacked infield (depending on how you counted Bill Hall or Ryan Braun), but his recent power surge has him leading the NL in homers and RBIs. And Cust was a great DH prospect for years but had been bouncing around the minors before going on his little tear. It may not last, but it's been fun watching his mini-resurgence.
A bad season or two can knock a formerly highly rated prospect into waiver-wire fodder. Sometimes players were rushed into a bad situation before their game could round into shape. Others just couldn't make the transition to the majors. And others are mysteries. But in some cases, it's not a bad thing to keep an eye on some of the more hyped prospects after they've hit hard times because if they find themselves in a the right situation, they could produce in a big way.
The Reds have done that with Brandon Phillips last year and Josh Hamilton this year (at least until his latest slump). Phillips was one of the Indians' top infield prospects for a while but after an array of problems landed with Cincinnati, where he's been a top fantasy infielder. Hamilton's rise and fall has been well documented, but after going in the Rule 5 draft, everyone has seen why he was so hyped to begin with.
So if you're losing patience with Gordon or practically any of the Diamondbacks' top young hitters, just stand your ground. Even if they don't turn it around now, be very aware that they could be the steal or sleeper pick a few years from now.
Other fantasy notes: -- You knew Josh Beckett's great fortune couldn't last and he's now back on the DL with torn skin around his middle finger. He'll miss a couple of starts. Devern Hansack was called up to take his place in the rotation.
-- Speaking of the Red Sox, Hideki Okajima got his second save of the year in the tail end of a doubleheader, giving Jonathan Papelbon a rest. Okajima still has not allowed a run since Opening Day.
-- Ray Durham left Thursday's game with a groin injury, so he may be rested for this weekend's series with the A's. Kevin Frandsen would get extra time at second.
-- And Tim Lincecum is doing just fine after a rough first start. Lincecum got a no-decision Thursday against the Astros, but held Houston to just two hits and one unearned run while striking out 10 in seven innings.
-- The Fausto Carmona train keeps on chugging as he outdueled Johan Santana, pitching a four-hit shutout for his fifth straight victory. And to think he was sent down at one point during the win streak. Meanwhile, Santana is just 4-4 despite not allowing more than three runs in his last three starts. Santana did strike out 11 but gave up back-to-back homers to Victor Martinez and Ryan Garko for the only runs. Don't worry, Santana is due for his summer breakout.
-- Garko is in the middle of a seven-game hitting streak, and he may stick at first base. Andy Marte is supposed to return soon for the Indians, but he may stay in the minors with Casey Blake manning the hot corner to keep the right bats in the lineup.
-- It looks like Scott Thorman will be the Braves' primary first baseman after Craig Wilson was cut to make way for the return of backup catcher Brayan Pena. Atlanta will keep Jarrod Saltalamacchia on the roster, and there's a chance he'll see some time at first base instead of behind the plate.
-- Rocco Baldelli did indeed go on the disabled list with a hamstring injury, and he's been in a bad slump lately as well. Greg Norton takes his place on the roster, but expect Elijah Dukes and B.J. Upton to see time out there in center in his place for the Devil Rays.
-- Staying in Florida, Mike Jacobs also officially goes on the DL with a thumb injury, and he too has been a big disappointment. Aaron Boone has done a decent job filling in at first base and is at least a marginal NL-only fill-in for a couple of weeks.
-- Jon Rauch picked up his third save for the Nationals, although it appears Chad Cordero will get his closer's job back this weekend. Rauch has been solid in the role, so he's a good insurance policy no matter what.
-- On the other hand, Mike Gonzalez is on the DL for the Braves with an elbow injury, but with Bob Wickman back from injury, Gonzalez wasn't going to see many saves anyway. Rafael Soriano will still have a major role as a setup man and part-time closer.
-- The Tigers have called up youngsters Zach Miner and Andrew Miller to the rotation thanks to illnesses/injuries to Mike Maroth (late scratch on Thursday) and Jeremy Bonderman (finger blister). Miner was outdueled by Julian Tavarez on Thursday but had decent stats at times last season. Miller is the Tigers' first-round pick last year who got hit hard in a September cameo last season. However, he is obviously part of Detroit's future, so he becomes just the latest top prospect to make into the bigs this season.
-- You may want to keep Jason Giambi benched this weekend in the interleague series against the Mets. With his heel injury, the Yankees aren't going to risk using him in the field, so the usual first base platoon of Doug Mientkiewicz and Josh Phelps will be in place at Shea, with Giambi pinch-hitting instead of being the DH.
-- Of course, pinch-hitting isn't all that bad at times, especially seeing what Carlos Beltran and David Wright did Thursday afternoon as the Mets started a de facto B team with the afternoon start after a late-night game Wednesday. It was amusing to see both Endy Chavez and Carlos Gomez both starting in the outfield, although each will get considerable playing time with Moises Alou making his annual trip to the disabled list.
Rafael Furcal has three straight four-hit games through Tuesday.
As you'll hear me and everyone else preaching through at least this month, it's marathon, not a sprint, and you should just be patient with some of your slow-starting stars. You might even snag a top player for a low price if an owner is giving up on him.
So here are a handful of top players now starting to turn the corner, in time to get your team in order as the weather starts to heat up.
Rafael Furcal: It's been an impressive May so far for Furcal, who has hits in 14 of his last 16 at-bats. His average on the last day of April was .203. It's .297 entering Wednesday's action -- a whopping .426 in May. He still needs to get the steals going, but now he's hitting, so the rest of his game will follow suit.
Randy Johnson: A nine-strikeout, one-hit, six-inning outing in Coors Field appears to have gotten the Big Unit back in his game after struggling to a 6.00 ERA in his first four starts. The 37 K's in 30 innings does bode well for better performances this summer now that he's closer to good health.
Carlos Zambrano: He's got his ERA to a season-low 5.13 after allowing one run in eight innings to the Mets on Tuesday, and now has won three of his past four starts. He's bound to turn things around, although he could stand to strike out a few more batters. Zambrano easily beat John Maine, who has given up six runs in his last two outings, as he's slowing down after a great start.
Ichiro Suzuki: His average was down as low as .260 on May 6. Since then, he's on an eight-game hitting streak, including a five-hit attack against the Angels to get his average up to .312, where most of us expect him to be. He's still only got five steals, and three during this latest binge, but like Furcal, as he's getting on base more, so will the chances to run.
Carlos Lee: He's very streaky, but when he's on, he's really dialed in. He has eight multi-hit games in 14 appearances in May and sports a nifty .491 average with four homers and 15 RBIs, including two long balls on Tuesday. Houston has suited him well, but what happened to the stolen bases?
Dan Johnson: The injuries around the lineup have allowed Johnson and Jack Cust to hang around and produce. Cust's recent power surge has been well documented, but Johnson has a 15-game hitting streak and is hitting .385. That seems a long way from his .234 mark that included a length trip to the minors last year.
Carlos Pena: A .333 average in May after a .213 start in April is making him a decent fill-in at first in mixed leagues and a must-have in AL-only leagues for a Devil Rays team needing help with Rocco Baldelli slumping and hurting.
Other fantasy notes: -- My colleague Jason Grey has the lowdown on the A's closer situation now that Huston Street is on the DL. With Justin Duchscherer hurting, it's a bit unsettled right now.
-- Felix Hernandez returned from the DL, giving up three runs, seven hits and seven walks but striking out five over 3 2/3 innings against the Angels. The pitch count limited his action, but it won't be long before he puts up the big games again.
-- The Diamondbacks are scrambling for help at third base with Chad Tracy landing on the DL with an rib case injury. Alberto Callaspo would've been the next choice, but he's on the restricted list. Backup catcher Robby Hammock played there Tuesday night. The team will call up Mark Reynolds, a top hitting prospect but a defensive liability.
-- Jesse Litsch got his major league career off to a good start, going 8 2/3 innings and allowing just one run and four hits to the Orioles. Toronto could use the pitching help with Roy Halladay out, and this could get him a couple of more starts.
Devin Hester had six return touchdowns last season, but how many can he score on offense this season?
John W. McDonough/SI
Devin Hester may thrill many fans with his return abilities that he most famously showed off at the Super Bowl, but fantasy owners should be leery of him even though he's about to move to offense this season.
Hester is a very intriguing and sometimes frustrating player for fantasy owners depending on your league rules. He may have had six returns for touchdowns in the regular season last year, but the majority leagues probably counted them for the Bears special teams.
There are some leagues that count return yardage and scores for individual players, but usually just wide receivers and running backs, which wouldn't have applied to Hester, who was officially a defensive back last year. Even in individual defensive player leagues, his TDs didn't always make up for the lack of production as an actual cornerback as he recorded just nine tackles all season.
Now he'll be in the wide receiver mix, but how he'll be used is still a mystery. He could be a slot receiver like Dante Hall was used in Kansas City. He might get looks in the backfield as a change-of-pace to Cedric Benson or catch passes from there like Reggie Bush. The Bears can get creative with his great speed, but fantasy owners would like consistent production, and if you want that out of a Chicago receiver, you're better off with Muhsin Muhammad or Bernard Berrian.
A good comparison to Hester's potential production on offense would be Hall, who's now with the Rams but was a default third receiver for most of his time in Kansas City. Hall does have three 100-yard games in his career, but none since 2003. And even with the Chiefs receiving corps mediocre at best for most of his career, he's only broken five catches in a game once (an 11-catch, 124-yard game against the Broncos in December 2003), and in the past three years, he hasn't had more than 66 yards in a game. In total, he's scored nine TD as a receiver (11 as a returner) and despite his speed, he's only averaged 11.1 yards a catch (and a career-low 7.8 last season). There are better options at wide receiver, although adding about 100 return yards a game is helpful, depending on how it's scored.
We'll have to see what minicamp brings with regards to Hester's game, but it's best to be wary of him as a receiver. Sure, he'll have a few nice plays over the course of a season, but can he do it regularly to warrant a spot on the roster? Remember that it took Bush a while to find his game as both a runner and a receiver, and he was getting far more snaps than Hester will this season.
Hopefully, Hester's move to offense won't hurt his return game, as there were rumblings that playing receiver on a regular basis cut into Hall's special teams production. In which case, the move could affect the Bears defense/special teams production if he's not scoring as often.
In the end, if your team counts return yardage with offensive stats, Hester isn't a bad option for your third or flex position, but remember that it's hard to get that many return scores again. If the return game doesn't apply, Hester is a late-round flyer at best, although a couple of good performances could make him a popular waiver-wire target.
John Smoltz injured his finger trying to make a tag in Monday's game.
-- It was interesting to see four key members of the Braves' early 2000s staff all going on Monday to wildly different results: Kevin Millwood got hurt again in his return from the DL; John Smoltz dislocated his pinky finger, which could shake up Atlanta's pitching staff; Tom Glavine had a so-so no-decision against the Cubs; and Greg Maddux flirted with a perfect game and went the distance to beat the Reds.
Smoltz's injury is of the highest concern given his decent start to the season. It's possible Smoltz might not even miss a start, but keep a close eye on the situation. Meanwhile, the Braves will get Bob Wickman back as early as today and he's going to return to his closer's role. Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez both pitched well in his place but saves won't be as forthcoming.
-- Daisuke Matsuzaka is starting to look like the heavily hyped pitcher everyone expected. Matsuzaka earned his first complete game in the majors, allowing just one run and six hits to the Tigers. Even better is that he didn't walk a batter, the first time he's done that in the big leagues. It's hard to buy low on him now.
-- Jason Bergmann also flirted with a no-hitter on Monday before giving up a homer to Brian McCann in the eighth inning but finishing with 10 strikeouts and just two hits. He's arguably the best pitcher on the Nationals staff with Shawn Hill on the DL, for what that's worth. He might be worth picking up to face the Orioles this week, but be careful after that, although he's had two straight starts where he's allowed just one run.
-- It looks like Andy LaRoche and Wilson Betemit will be splitting time at third for the Dodgers instead of LaRoche taking over on a full-time basis. Betemit has hit better of late, just as LaRoche joined the team, so there's hope for him after all. However, this move will keep LaRoche's value down for now if he's not getting regular at-bats.
-- The National League's leading home run hitter entering Tuesday is now J.J. Hardy after he belted his 12th of the season against the Phillies on Monday. He's got to cool off at some point, but his owners have to take it while it lasts. Hardy is now just two RBIs behind Alex Rodriguez (39-37).
-- Jeremy Hermida finally made his 2007 debut after a knee injury landed him on the DL. Injuries have been a concern for him, but he should be back as the regular right fielder for Florida, bumping Joe Borchard to the bench.
Frank Thomas may not get many at-bats this weekend with the Blue Jays playing at Philadelphia to open interleague play
While Chipper Jonesmay not like its current format, interleague play is back this weekend, which could shuffle a few fantasy lineups because of the addition or elimination of the DH. To give you the early heads up if you have to set lineups for the rest of the week, here is a look ahead to this weekend's slate and who might be affected, especially since there doesn't seem to be any real pattern as to who is hosting:
Diamondbacks at Pirates: Let's just get the non-interleague matchup out of the way first.
White Sox at Cubs: Jim Thome probably won't return from the DL before this weekend anyway, so it's as wash.
Yankees at Mets: Jason Giambi's heel is a reason for his recent slump, so it's unsure if he'll rest more with no DH or if he'll play first in front of Josh Phelps and the surging Doug Mientkiewicz.
Braves at Red Sox: David Ortiz can stay at DH this week. This could be a spot for the Braves to keep Willie Harris in the lineup.
Reds at Indians: Travis Hafner is safe at DH. Cincinnati has some options at DH, possibly getting Jeff Conine or Scott Hatteberg in there, or moving Ken Griffey Jr. in from the outfield for a day.
Blue Jays at Phillies: Frank Thomas most likely will get squeezed out of at-bats this weekend.
Cardinals at Tigers: Gary Sheffield will remain at DH for Detroit, while the defensive challenged Chris Duncan can keep his bat in at DH for St. Louis, opening up a spot for So Taguchi.
Dodgers at Angels: Shea Hillenbrand can stay at DH, while the Dodgers could use either pinch-hit specialist Olmedo Saenz or give the recently benched Wilson Betemit some extra at-bats.
Giants at Athletics: Jack Cust's power binge should keep him in the lineup for a while, most likely at DH, although he has put in some outfield time as well. It wouldn't be surprising to see Barry Bonds take on the role for San Francisco this weekend.
Rangers at Astros: While Sammy Sosa has been the DH most of the season, could he return to the field this week to keep his bat in the lineup?
Marlins at Devil Rays: Florida has a bunch of DH candidates, from any of the outfielders not starting that week, to Aaron Boone, who's hit well to start the season, but nothing to get excited about. More interesting this week is Tampa Bay playing its series against the Rangers this week at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex.
Orioles at Nationals: Kevin Millar probably loses some at-bats with no DH.
Twins at Brewers: Jason Kubel has been quiet this year, so Minnesota's DH spot won't be missed.
Royals at Rockies: Mike Sweeney might get some at-bats at first base this week with both Ross Gload and Ryan Shealy on the DL, which could set him up for extra playing time at Coors, although Shealy could be back by the middle of the week and ready to face his former team.
Padres at Mariners: Jose Vidro stays at DH for Seattle. Potential candidates for San Diego include Russell Branyan and Kevin Kouzmanoff (whoever isn't playing third that day).
Other notes: -- So much for Jorge Julio returning as the Marlins' closer as Florida dealt him to the Rockies for Byung-Hyun Kim, who's had a miserable season himself. Julio has little value in Colorado, while Kim could be in the closer mix but would have to battle a ton of pitchers for saves. Either way, you probably want to avoid both of them.
-- The Blue Jays have now lost closer B.J. Ryan for the season and now ace Roy Halladay for 4-6 weeks after an appendectomy. This coming off two horrible starts where he allowed 16 earned runs in 10 1/3 innings. And to add insult to injuries, Shawn Marcum (an emergency starter in place of Victor Zambrano) pitched six no-hit innings but was pulled in favor of Jason Frasor, who then blew the no-hitter by allowing a homer to the Devil Rays' Carlos Pena.
-- David Wright appears to be finding his game again, hitting .375 with a homer in his last six contests, and surprising everyone by stealing three bases against the Brewers on Sunday.
-- Speaking of the Mets, it was a nice debut by Carlos Gomez, who went 2-for-4 with a double, a stolen base and two runs scored starting in place of the injured Moises Alou. Gomez had 17 steals in the minors, so the speed is there, but he probably will get a start or two against lefties once in a while. Gomez was called up to replace Mike Pelfrey, who has struggled in the Mets rotation and was sent to the minors. Jorge Sosa, who has put up two good starts in a row, will be the one to stick around when Orlando Hernandez is expected to come off the DL this week.
-- Speaking of the DL, Shawn Hill is headed there with an elbow injury despite being by far the Nationals' best starting pitcher this season. Hill heads to the DL just as Chad Cordero returns from bereavement leave, and just after Jon Rauch picked up a save on Sunday.
-- Kevin Millwood returned to the Rangers from the disabled list on Monday afternoon, then promptly left after getting just five outs thanks to aggravating a hamstring injury. Millwood allowed a grand slam to Casey Kotchman in his first inning back.