FLB: Spring Training Notebook 2/27
• Bobby Abreu strained his right oblique on Monday, and the Associated Press reports he'll miss the next two weeks of spring training. Joe Torre told reporters Abreu should be ready for Opening Day, and denied that the Yankees will renew their interest in giving Bernie Williams a major-league contract as a result. For now, it still seems safe to draft Abreu up high, but it's not like oblique issues don't ever return in spades. Keep an eye on this.
• Looks like Planet Manny will have to revolve around the Andromeda Galaxy in his old car. Manny Ramirez surprised the Red Sox by reporting three days earlier than he said he would, in lieu of attending a car show in New Jersey. Man-Ram took some BP Monday, raked, giggled, and probably ate some Cocoa Pebbles. He's a first-rounder in every format.
• The Seattle Times reports that Jose Lopez is taking longer than the Mariners thought he would to recover from a sprained ankle he suffered playing winter ball. Lopez will miss at least a week of spring training games. I still think he makes an intriguing sleeper for '07, but keep an eye on him.
• Pretty good news from Nationals camp, as John Patterson will start a spring training game this Saturday. Looking forward, pitching Saturday would put Patterson on track to pitch Washington's opener at home against the Marlins. That's a cool first step. Of course, you still have to decide if you want to be the fantasy owner who pays what you'll likely need to pay to get Patterson (he'll be a top-20 starter in most mixed leagues), and whether you can stomach the risk that he goes down again.
• The Boston Globe reports that the Red Sox haven't handed the closer's role to Joel Pineiro, and that he'll have to win the job this spring. In the meantime, Mike Timlin, who's probably second in line for saves after Pineiro, had to stop throwing a batting practice session this weekend after just 10 pitches because he experienced a pain in his side. This kind of thing happens all the time in the spring, but still, it's not the kind of smooth news Boston would like. Is it just me, or does everything here add up to Jonathan Papelbon taking the closer's role back again in April? I think you almost have to bump him up your draft lists, just because of the possibility.
• Heady words from the San Francisco Giants in the Oakland Tribune on Monday, where the team said they think Brian Wilson (the pitcher, not the burned-out Beach Boy) "has the demeanor" to be the team's closer as early as this spring. Armando Benitez certainly has the job to begin the year, but c'mon, does anyone expect him to stay simultaneously healthy and effective? Didn't think so. Wilson is a must-handcuff for those with stones big enough to draft Benitez, but he may even be more than that. He may be a sleeper worth storing on your fantasy bench.
• Mike Scioscia told the L.A. Times that Bartolo Colon is "unlikely" to pitch at all in spring training, and thus won't be seeing any major-league games for at least the season's first month. Colon suffered a torn rotator cuff in '06, and it's hard to imagine he'll have all his velocity back in the first half of this season. Don't be fooled by the name; unless your very deep league has DL spots, Colon is a must-avoid.
• The Baltimore Sun reports that Hayden Penn injured his ankle on Sunday, and had to have X-rays on Monday. It's not wonderful news for the 22-year-old righty, who's making a bid for Kris Benson's fifth spot in the Orioles' rotation. At this point, it seems more likely that Steve Trachsel will get that position in the rotation, but fantasy players would be far more interested if Penn could come away with the job.
• The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that Brewers' manager Ned Yost has made out "several lineups" for the upcoming season, and all of them have Rickie Weeks hitting leadoff. That's pretty good news for Weeks's stolen-base potential, though he's obviously going to have to stay healthy to make your large Draft-Day investment in him pay off.
• Nelson Cruz is reportedly the heavy favorite to come away from spring training with the Rangers' right field job. "(Cruz) doesn't have to beat out anybody," new Texas manager Ron Washington told the team's web site. That may be so, but there are a bunch of guys looking for playing time in that Texas outfield, and if Cruz stinks this spring and, say, Brad Wilkerson, Frank Catalanotto and Sammy Sosa all tear the cover off the ball, Washington will certainly have a decision to make.
• Speaking of young players who seem guaranteed starting jobs, Ned Yost also mentioned that Corey Hart is all but locked into right field for Milwaukee, which is sweet music for fantasy players who've been waiting for Hart to hit it big for the past couple years. (And I'll avoid the obligatory "Sunglasses At Night" reference here.) Yost told the Journal Sentinel: "It would be the direst of emergences before I pulled Corey in and put him at first base. ... Corey is our rightfielder." Here's hoping he runs as much as he hits in '07.
• Termel Sledge won't be a full-time player to begin 2007, according to the North County Times. He'll play left field against right-handers, but will likely be spelled against lefties by Jose Cruz Jr.. Sledge still may be the top candidate to lead off for San Diego, so he's not without value. But don't pencil "Sister" in for 500 AB just yet.
• Toronto manager John Gibbons has told reporters he expects to have Alexis Rios batting sixth in his lineup this year, while Lyle Overbay will bat second. (Frank Thomas and Troy Glaus will hit between them). Overbay's high on-base percentage does seem to make this a wise baseball move, though fantasy players would rather see Rios in the No. 2 slot, simply because it would probably mean he'd run more.
• Crowded outfields really do seem to be one of the spring's leading stories; Baltimore's is no exception. When the Birds signed Jay Payton, they no doubt told him he'd be a major part of their outfield plans, perhaps starting in left field. Then they signed Aubrey Huff, too, and that went out the window. Now the team has Huff, Corey Patterson and Nick Markakis in the outfield, Kevin Millar to play first, and Jay Gibbons to DH, which means Payton (a notoriously squeaky wheel) is a man without a place to play. The Baltimore Sun reports that Payton could spell Patterson in center against "tough" left-handed pitchers, but outside of injury, it's hard to see Payton having any fantasy value at all.
• Mark Kotsay is already experiencing back problems in Oakland's camp, as he reported tightness and had to miss Monday's workout altogether. Considering how badly Kotsay struggled with similar problems last year, he may not be much of a candidate for a bounce-back season. It's possible that both Dan Johnson and Shannon Stewart, who were presumed to be competing for the same spot in Oakland's lineup, could see lots of time together.
• Maybe the Yankees should just go back to buying established veterans; this player development stuff is hard work. Humberto Sanchez the blue-chip arm New York got from Detroit in the Gary Sheffield trade, is still suffering from pain in his right forearm, and Newsday reports he had an MRI on Monday to find out the cause of this recurring discomfort. Sanchez had health troubles through most of last year's second half, which was probably why the Tigers were willing to deal him at all. Sanchez doesn't figure in the Yankees' 2007 plans, but he's 23, and certainly meant to be a cornerstone of the team's future rotation.
Christopher Harris covers fantasy baseball, football and NASCAR for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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