|Players to Watch in Spring Training|
Written by Daniel Paulling (Contact & Archive) on March 19, 2006
Now that Spring Training is upon us, we get to prepare for our fantasy drafts. Isn't life great?! Warm weather AND drafts. There are stories in every camp, but we are paying attention to the unknown quantities today. What will these guys put up this coming season? Perhaps Spring Training will help answer those questions for us.
OF Rocco Baldelli, Tampa Bay Devil Rays - After the 2004 season, the D-Rays' center fielder underwent the knife for knee surgery; last season, he went under the knife once again, this time for Tommy John surgery. The knee is good, but it might limit how many steals he gets this year. The elbow isn't 100% just yet, and it rarely comes around quickly. We might see him get limited playing time because of all the depth in the D-Rays' lineup, so you better hope his elbow comes around very quickly.
CL Eric Gagne, Los Angeles Dodgers - There were a lot of questions surrounding Gagne's right elbow. The closer had surgery last season on it, but managed to avoid Tommy John. This winter, he kept his recovery secret, rehabbing in Hawaii until reporting to Dodgers' camp. The right hander left to deal with some "family issues" the previous week, but returned Wednesday to pitch a perfect inning (five pitches) against the Orioles. He seems back, and you know what that means.
SP Aaron Heilman, New York Mets - His work in the bullpen has been absolutely exquisite the previous few seasons. His work in the starting rotation has been absolutely unbearable the previous few seasons. The ballclub decided to put Heilman into the starting rotation, all the while giving up their starting pitching depth through trade. We'll have to see if his success from short outings can carry over into six or seven innings at a time.
1B Conor Jackson, Arizona Diamondbacks - The ballclub put a lot of pressure on their future star by re-signing Tony Clark after his thirty homer season and then giving Jackson the every day job. If Jackson doesn't hit in Spring Training, the venerable Clark will have his starting job back. I wouldn't be too worried, because Jackson has a .332 career batting average in the minor leagues. Be wary for Jackson's lack of power, however.
3B Dallas McPherson, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim - When Troy Glaus left for free agency after the 2004 season, fans in Anaheim (not LA) were a little nervous. After all, he had just led them to a World Series one season earlier and continually put up good statistics. The Angels let him walk, however, because McPherson put up good minor league numbers and was knocking on the door for a much smaller price tag. However, with super utility man Chone Figgins and minor leaguer Brandon Wood almost ready, McPherson desperately needs a hot Spring Training. Somewhere around center of the earth hot, to be exact.
1B Justin Morneau, Minnesota Twins - He caused everyone a lot of angst last year (except for me, since I didn't draft him) because of his playing through bone chips in his shoulder. The sweet-swinging lefty didn't have surgery this offseason, which means the problem can crop up this year again. If he doesn't do too well in Ft. Myers with the Twins, avoid him like the plague.
RP Shinji Mori, Tampa Bay Devil Rays - The 32-year-old import has talent -- after all, he struck out Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi back to back in a Japan All Stars vs. US All Stars match up. The Rays traded away Danys Baez and Lance Carter, who were the only two players that could reasonably save games for the team next year. This leaves Mori to battle it out with Chad Orvella to get the limited number of saves in Tampa Bay. Both have had not-so-great springs so far, but one of them will be saving games. You didn't really think Dan Miceli had a chance, did you?
OF Corey Patterson, Baltimore Orioles - Wow, no one has ever been as hated as much as this guy has. Fantasy owners drafted him very highly the past two seasons, expecting homers and stolen bases, a rare combination. However, Patterson failed to put up one or the other, all the while accompanying his play with a low batting average. He might have needed a chance of scenery, so take another chance on him, if you're feeling lucky.
SP Oliver Perez, Pittsburgh Pirates - I want to preface this blurb by saying I'm not disappointed he broke his toe while kicking a laundry cart. It showed he wants to compete and expects good results every time he toes the rubber. That's good for the Pirates and good for fantasy owners. Watch him this spring to see if the Perez from 2004 shows up (the excellent, fantasy staff ace one) or the Perez from 2005 (the one who didn't put up good numbers). We know the talent is there, so we can expect something close to it again. Watch his number of walks given up.
SP Sidney Ponson, St. Louis Cardinals - He reported to camp about twenty pounds heavier than what the Cardinals wanted, but this franchise has done good work turning pitchers around. Recent examples are Chris Carpenter -- the 2005 National League Cy Young Award winner -- and Woody Williams -- who was invaluable from 2002 to 2004. The right hander is fighting for the fifth spot, so watch him carefully; he could be a source of cheap wins. Or he could utterly fail, even though he has previously been knighted in Aruba.