The World of Fantasy

Fantasy frenzy is just heating up and last week we had our first league draft. Several hidden names that are coming off the injured list fell further than they should have and rookies were getting a little more play in the latter rounds. If there is anything we have learned over time…it is to pick a closer early. Find out why by staying on top of the action with the weekly fantasy report from TheInsiders Sports Network!

NATIONAL LEAGUE:

Arizona Diamondbacks: The D-backs have reorganized their ownership group and vows to generate enough cash to make a run at big name players during the Œ04 season and re-sign free agents (such as recently acquired 1B Richie Sexson whose deal expires at the end of this season); the ageless Steve Finley, who turns 39 in two weeks, will hit in the lead-off spot, manager Bob Brenly announced; Alex Cintron was also named the starting shortstop and will bat in the fifth spot in between Sexson and Shea Hillenbrand; speaking of Sexson, he is vowing to cut down his strikeouts this year. That's very convenient considering he‚s in a contract year. Regardless, the D-backs are a great fit for the slugging first baseman and would fit well into your fantasy team.

Atlanta Braves: Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone is known for making magic. Perhaps his biggest project this spring will be John Thomson. The 30 year old right-hander always puts up decent numbers and pitched over 200 innings last season. With Mazzone's influence, Thomson will better his 13-14, 4.85 record from last season. In some leagues, Thomson may fall and give you a lot of value from a pretty low round pick.

Chicago Cubs: The Chicago Cubs Mark Grudzielanek had a career year last year, hitting .314, scoring 74 runs for the Cubs last year, splitting time between hitting leadoff and second for the eventual division winners. The Cubs resigned Grudzielanek for significantly less this offseason, and also signed free agent Todd Walker a few weeks after resigning Grudzielanek. This put two players who were very good as starters at second base vying for the same position with the Cubs. However, Walker has made it clear that he is willing to take the backup role, and be a utility man for the Cubs so that he will have a shot at winning it all. This may bode well for the Cubs, however this will not go over well with fantasy owners, as the two players will split some time at second this year. Currently, Grudzielanek is injured and Walker will be seeing the majority of time during Spring Training, however the job is Grudzielanek according to manager Dusty Baker. Walker should get plenty of time, as he can play many positions, and could be a good late round fantasy pickup, however do not count on big numbers from either man.

Cincinnati Reds: The Reds are toying with the idea of trading Adam Dunn to Los Angeles as the Dodgers try to add some offense. Dunn is an appealing player to add, but needs to boost his average if he is going to become a more valuable fantasy pick. Dunn is a career .241 hitter, but sank to .215 last season. If he can get at least back to his career numbers, his power numbers - he hit 27 homeruns in 2003 - are good and he would be much more valuable.

Colorado Rockies: In a recent fantasy draft Larry Walker dropped to the 18th round. Don't let that happen to you. If he is still on the board in round 15 take a look and snag old reliable. He may not be what he once was, but he is certainly better than any other 15th rounder. Look for him to bounce back for his final hoorah in 2004 and post 100 RBI's for the last time in his career.

Florida Marlins: In 2003, 2B Luis Castillo had a very good year at the plate. He hit .314 and scored 99 runs. However, most fantasy players draft Castillo hoping for him to produce in one specific category, stolen bases. In Casillo's first four seasons with the Marlins he had 163 stolen bases. That's an average of 41 stolen bases a season. Last year, Luis finished well below that average with only 21 stolen bases. Even more disturbing than his low total of stolen bases was the number of times he was caught stealing in 2003. Castillo was caught 19 times out of 40 attempts in 2003. Luis attributed this to a hip injury that prevented him from being able to make the sharp pivot to the right necessary to get a good jump. After a full off-season of rest the hip injury should be fully healed and look for Luis to return to his former self on the base paths and dramatically increase his steals total from 2003.

Houston Astros: The Astros made a huge free agent signing in 2002 when they signed Jeff Kent to play second base for them, moving All Star second baseman Craig Biggio to centerfield. Kent had a good year in 2003, although he had a slight injury problem, missing 20 games due to a sore wrist. He still had 93 RBI's, hitting .297 with 22 homeruns. Kent, however, is not getting any younger, and at 36 years old, his numbers should dip a little. He will still be one of the best second basemen in the league, and would be a good pickup at second for any fantasy owner. Kent will need to be healthy all year long however, and with age comes older bones, and his wrist problems could continue in 2004. Despite that, Kent is a good offensive player in a typically defensive position. He will lead second basemen in homers, and should help your fantasy team.

Milwaukee Brewers: With the loss of Richie Sexson, OF Geoff Jenkins is Milwaukee's only top hitter left. So where does that leave him? Hard to say, but it wouldn't be a surprise if teams start pitching around Jenkins without another legitimate threat in the lineup. However, all is not lost as the additions of Junior Spivey and Craig Counsell should help increase his RBI opportunities with better hitters at the top of the lineup. So, Jenkins numbers could suffer a little bit, but don't expect them to fall too much.

Montreal Expos: If Claudio Vargas is healthy, he could be a good addition to your fantasy roster. The rookie went 6-8, 4.34 last season, but missed time in July and August with a sore shoulder. The good news is that he returned to pitch very well in September and should be almost a lock to win a spot in the starting rotation in 2004. With any luck, Vargas could be a 12-15 game winner.

New York Mets: Who will be the biggest beneficiary of the improved Mets' defense? How about Jae Seo! After the Mets' defense allowed 14 unearned runs in Jae's starts last season, Seo's win total could improve from the 9-12 mark he posted in his rookie season last year after the free-agent signings of Kaz Matui and Mike Cameron vastly improved the Mets' defense. Here's a telling stat about Seo last year: he went just 1-4 in his last six starts but allowed two or fewer runs in five of those starts to bring his final ERA down to 3.82 on the year. In fact, Seo allowed two or fewer earned runs in eight of his last ten starts!

Philadelphia Phillies: Eric Milton has always been a pretty good pitcher, but he's in a spot now, where he can prove just how good he is. Milton should have plenty of offense to back him up in Philadelphia. If his first spring start – 3 perfect innings against the Yankees - is any indication, Milton is healthy and ready to fit very well into the Phillies rotation. Milton could get overlooked in some drafts and give you good value as a mid to late round addition.

Pittsburgh Pirates: For years, Daryle Ward has been marked as a player ready to break out. But every time, he either hasn't produced or just hasn't gotten a fair shot. Well, now with the Pirates, he might be at his final opportunity. The lineup has plenty of question marks so Ward will have ample opportunity to earn a regular spot in the lineup. If Ward finally produces like some predict he can, he could be a great sleeper pick for a fantasy team.

San Diego Padres: Terrence Long talks of being more aggressive at the plate this year. He says he got away from it last year and suffered. Unfortunately, Long will struggle for at bats in San Diego with Jay Payton, Ryan Klesko and Phil Nevin ahead of him, but he will spell each enough to push the 350 at bats plateau. Still, given his history, it would be wise to look elsewhere.

San Francisco Giants: Balco, Balco, Balco. Who‚s tired of this yet? Initial reports out of Scottsdale protray Bonds as aloof and unresponsive to questions. Basically, it‚s same old Barry. On the baseball side of things, the hard throwing (but occasionally thick headed) Felix Rodriguez is showing off a new curve ball this Spring. That‚s good considering his lack of a curve was a big reason for the Giants falling short of a World Series victory in Œ02 and not advancing past the first round of the playoffs in Œ03; Jeffrey Hammonds made a nice impression in the Giants‚ 9-3 Cactus League debut against the Cubs with a grand slam; Jason Schmidt, recovering from off-season elbow surgery to repair a torn tendon in his pitching elbow, faced batters for the first time this spring during an eight-minute batting-practice session last week. He faced Ray Durham, Michael Tucker, Barry Bonds and Edgardo Alfonzo. Tucker and Durham whiffed at Schmidt's change-ups, and no one (yes, even Barry) made any worthy contact; Trainer Stan Conte is still holding Robb Nen back as a precautionary measure. This is an awful wait-and-see situation.

St. Louis Cardinals: The Cardinals are going to have to make a choice this offseason when it comes to who will play second base for them in 2004. Current candidates include Bo Hart, Marlon Anderson, and Brett Butler. Hart will be the fan favorite, as his hard nose play and big callup last year really excited fans when Fernando Vina went down with an injury. Anderson would be the best choice for the Cardinals however, but he may not be the best pick for fantasy owners. Anderson hit .270 with 67 RBI's and 19 stolen bases last year for the Devil Rays. Anderson has the potential to do the same again in 2004, however expect his numbers to drop back down to the .250's, like his career average. Hart is better defensively, but his offense is rather suspect. Don't expect either man to get a full year of playing time this year, as which ever does not earn the starting spot will earn a lot of time. Hart would be better for the utility role, and the Cardinals will probably do that, however, you may want to avoid both of these men to shore up your two bag.

AMERICAN LEAGUE:

Baltimore Orioles: 2B Brian Roberts did a superb job filling in for the injured Jerry Hairston Jr. last season and it now appears he's got the inside track on Hairston's job again this spring after Hairston broke a finger in their intrasquad game this week. Roberts hit .270 with 23 stolen bases last season and even projected a 20-20 season for himself this year. While that's not very likely to happen, Roberts should have no problems collecting at-bats again this season and he could play his way into keeping the starting nod at second base when Hairston comes back. Roberts is a guy to keep in mind.

Boston Red Sox: Keith Foulke crosses the country from Oakland to Boston, and that's about it. In terms of save totals, you shouldn't expect much less than his performance for the A's in 2003 when he posted forty-three in forty-eight chances with a 2.08 ERA. Will he go 9-1 again? No. But he will again be on a playoff contender capable of winning one-hundred games, so he remains a top closer amongst the likes of Eric Gagne, John Smoltz, Mariano Rivera, and Billy Wagner. He only got better as the season went along last year, having a 2.68 ERA prior to the All-Star break and then 1.24 thereafter. One thing, however, that can't be told right now is how he will respond to the intense climate in New England. Stay tuned.

Chicago White Sox: The White Sox have handed the job at second base to Willie Harris this year, and are hoping that he can live up to his potential. This will be Harris's first full years in the majors, and the White Sox think Harris will be their future at second. Unfortunately for the Sox, the future will not be this year. Harris is not going to put up astounding numbers at the plate this year, and the best that the Sox can hope for is a solid defensive year out of him. He will be having a developing year this year, and just try to get adjusted to life in the big leagues. Harris may be able to muster a .250 average at best, and should not be on your fantasy team. He has potential for the future, but he is not an all star prospect for the Sox. Avoid him this year in your draft, but keep an eye on him just in case he gets it.

Detroit Tigers: The Tigers acquired OF Rondell White over the offseason, but what type of production should you expect from White after his first All Star season, entering one of the largest parks in baseball? It's hard to say, but assuming he stays healthy, his power numbers will probably decrease a bit, but his average should go up and his double numbers should increase also. Depending on where he hits in the lineup, he might also get protection from Dmitri Young and/or Pudge Rodriguez, which should help him even more. So, injury issues aside, White could be a solid addition.

Kansas City Royals: You have to love a player in the final year of his contract. Carlos Beltran is in just that position and is poised for a monster season. The fact that the Royals have a shot at the AL Central title will give him even more incentive. Look for Beltran to up all of his numbers, finishing somewhere near the 30-32 homerun mark with 110 RBI and an average possibly as high as .315 or .320.

Minnesota Twins: Johan Santana had a bone chip removed from his elbow last October and felt some pain while throwing in camp earlier this week. It was determined that the pain was simply from routine rehab associated with the surgery. Keep in mind though that Santana had elbow problems back in 2001 and had other nagging injuries that have been obstacles in his career. One strategy might be to grab him late in the draft, hope for the best and then look to deal him around mid-season.

New York Yankees: It's hard to believe there's any "sleepers" on the Yankees team, but there is kind of one. Jose Contreras, the starter! Contreras was more famous last year for his contract than for his performance out the pen. While he was very good at times, what got lost were his incredible performances in the rotation. Contreras went 6-1 with a 2.39 ERA and 0.99 WHIP in his nine starts last season. He's got one year under his belt; he's in one of the better rotations in baseball, being supported by perhaps the best offensive lineup in baseball. These are the signs for a breakout campaign.

Oakland Athletics: Mark Mulder made his spring debut by throwing off a mound for the first time in what seems to be a millennium. He threw well, hard and painfree; It's a battle at first base! Scott Hatteberg or Eric Karros? The anticipation is enough to make you chew your fingers until you reach your elbows, isn't it? No? Didn't think so, but if you‚re desperate for a first baseman, Oakland looks like they're platooning at first; new arrival, Mark Redman, made an inauspicious debut with the A's in their 8-7 loss to the Brewers by going 1.2 innings and giving up 3 runs on five hits and two walks. Oh wait. Spring training doesn't count. When the stats count come April, Redman (and, of course, any A's starter) wouldn't be a bad pick-up for any fantasy team.

Tampa Bay Devil rays: Looking to add speed to your roster? Look at Tampa Bay's Carl Crawford and Rocco Baldelli. The pair combined for 82 steals last season and both players can likely improve on their stolen base numbers. Look for Crawford to finish somewhere around the 60 mark and for Baldelli to move from his 27 steals to near 35 in 2004. The D'Rays may look to use some speed to help their offense and Crawford and Baldelli have plenty to offer. Both also hit in the .280 range last season, so they help you there, too.

Toronto Blue Jays: How good can Orlando Hudson be? He had nice numbers last season (9-57-.268-.328) and can improve on those numbers. Keep in mind that 2003 was Hudson's first year as a regular and he just turned 26, so he's generally at the point in his career where players tend to really develop. There aren't a lot of great second basemen available and if you miss out on the prime picks, you might as well fill out your roster at other spots where the top players are still available and then come back to get one of the average second basemen. The upside to getting Hudson is that he is on his way up and this could be a pretty big season for him.


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