- Christopher Harris, Fantasy
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Yes, Brian Bannister is a golden god.
There. Are you happy?
Bannister figured outside -- well outside -- my top-60 list of starting pitchers last week, and he hasn't moved up here in the middle of Week 2. That's either because I nobly refuse to be buffeted by the variable winds of the day's event, or because I'm a stubborn little punk. No, Roy Oswalt didn't look very good. Yes, Jon Lester rebounded in a large way. Ted Lilly was dreadful. Bannister limited the 1927 Yankees (oh, wait, it was the 2008 Tigers) to two hits and no walks in seven innings. But I'm not going to change my opinion of pitchers after a week.
So you're going to notice a lot of continuity in the starting pitching rankings in this column from week to week. I like the guys I like, and I'm not going to back off because they had a bad month, let alone a bad seven days.
However, what happens when a guy like Pedro Martinez leaves his first start with a "mild" hamstring strain, and it turns out he's going to miss 4-6 weeks? Yeah, now it's time to get moving. You'll notice that Pedro drops 16 spots in my hierarchy.
You won't see Bannister, Jon Garland, Vicente Padilla, Kyle Lohse, Tom Glavine, Kevin Millwood or Livan Hernandez on my list, but those are names to watch and even consider picking up in deeper leagues. What if they keep it up for several starts? Well, let's cross that bridge when we come to it. As for guys like Oswalt, Lilly, Aaron Harang and Ian Snell, who didn't pitch very well in their first outings? Let this be a lesson: it's way too early to do anything with them. Heck, on May 1 it'll still be way too early to do anything with them. Don't panic.
Comings and Goings
With Pedro out of the rotation, the Mets' schedule will allow them to go with four starters until next weekend. When they need a fifth, right now it seems like it might be Nelson Figueroa for a couple outings before Orlando Hernandez is ready. (El Duque had an encouraging bullpen session Monday.) This also means Mike Pelfrey has a lot more rope than previously thought. Adam Wainwright tossed three innings and allowed one run in the Cardinals' aborted season opener Monday, but the team has decided not to realign its rotation, so Wainwright won't pitch again until Saturday. Josh Beckett threw 64 pitches in a Class A intrasquad game Tuesday and should be ready to come off the DL to start Sunday for the Red Sox in Toronto. This whole "back injury" sounded a little vexing at the time, but in retrospect I believe the Sox were treating it very cautiously and simply didn't want their ace to make an 18-hour flight to Japan. He should be fine. Yovani Gallardo is expected to rejoin the Brewers' rotation on or about April 19. He has a rehab start on Friday to begin testing his surgically repaired knee in game action. If that and two other such starts go well, he'll be back in the season's third week. John Smoltz, too, appears just fine. He threw in a minor-league game last Sunday and reported no shoulder problems, so he will make his 2008 major league debut Sunday against the Mets. Dustin McGowan has a bad case of the flu and may miss Thursday's start. Shaun Marcum might be pushed up to take McGowan's place in the series-ender in New York. Carlos Zambrano's injury looked scary to me, but the Cubs say he only had forearm cramps and should be able to make his next start. Derek Lowe and Oswalt were struck by batted balls in their respective openers, but each should make his next start without incident. Jorge De La Rosa will be traded from Kansas City to Colorado, and you don't want any part of him there, either. Jason Schmidt will throw a bullpen session today for the Dodgers, giving the team a better sense of where he stands. I still find it hard to believe he'll be a factor in the season's first half, but the Dodgers say he's willing to pitch through pain, so he could come back sooner. As expected, Randy Johnson is on the 15-day DL as he rehabs from back surgery. He could be available to the Diamondbacks in mid-April. Scott Kazmir says he's throwing pain-free, but he still hasn't pitched in a game. He's not expected back for the Rays until May at the earliest. Mark Prior is on the 60-day DL, so you won't see him pitching in the bigs until the end of May at the earliest, though he did throw batting practice Tuesday.
Eye on the Minors
It wouldn't be fair to include a guy like Francisco Liriano in this section; he's due to throw in two minor league games just to make sure the kinks are entirely worked out after Tommy John surgery. He'll then join the Twins' big league rotation. I'm also not including Bartolo Colon, who is very fat. Here are five other guys you need to watch early in the minor league season.
1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers: Kershaw is just 20 years old (in fact, he turned 20 in March), and his youth is the only reason the lefty isn't with the Dodgers' big league team right now. He overmatched hitters on a few occasions this spring, but he's not ready to pitch deep into games yet. He threw 122 innings in '07, and the Dodgers will be watching him carefully in '08. But if someone gets hurt, or Schmidt can't get healthy quick enough, there'll be temptation to bring Kershaw up in May or June. If that happens, even mixed leaguers might need to pounce.
2. Nick Adenhart, Angels: Adenhart threw 153 innings at Double-A in '07, putting him about a year ahead of Kershaw in terms of development, and Adenhart was no less impressive during spring training. With John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar out, the 21-year-old Adenhart made a good case for the Angels' fifth starter, but in the end the team decided to give guys like Joe Saunders and Dustin Moseley a chance. If and when they or Ervin Santana underperforms, Adenhart will probably make his big league debut. He's not the fireballer Kershaw is, but he's got three pitches and polish.
3. Gio Gonzalez, Athletics: Gonzalez has been a hot potato in his young professional career, having been dealt three times already, but he's reached his landing spot, at least for a while. The 22-year-old lefty has already pitched two years at Double-A, and he mowed down 185 batters in 150 innings last year. He throws in the low-to-mid 90s with a sharp curve and induces grounders. Control has been his bugaboo, but it has improved. Fellow lefty Greg Smith had a better spring and thus might be the first pitcher called up, but if Joe Blanton winds up getting traded, there could be room for both youngsters in Oakland's rotation.
4. Adam Miller, Indians: Doesn't it seem like Miller's been around a long time? He's only 23, though, and while his arm and finger problems in '07 were discouraging, he's still a potential midseason call-up if he lights up Triple-A. He has a 96-mph fastball and a wicked slider, a good makeup but not the greatest mechanics and, of course, he's got that injury history. The same finger problems that cropped up at the end of '07 kept him out of spring training entirely in '08, which isn't a great sign. There are a couple guys with less upside (Aaron Laffey and Jeremy Sowers) who would be likely to get the call if someone like Cliff Lee struggles, but if the Tribe makes the bold move and promotes Miller, fantasy owners would have to pay attention.
5. Luke Hochevar, Royals: The talk throughout the spring was that Hochevar might make the Royals as a reliever, but that always sounded kind of dumb to me. The former No. 1 overall pick turns 25 in September, so you have to believe Kansas City wants to get something out of him in the bigs this year. He'll probably be in Triple-A Omaha's rotation, and if he pitches better there than he did in '07 (5.12 ERA, 44 strikeouts, 21 walks in 10 starts), there's little reason to think the likes of John Bale and Brett Tomko would impede a promotion. Hochevar throws hard and has a heavy sink to his fastball, but he has trouble commanding his offspeed stuff. He'd be worth watching in the majors, though he might not merit an automatic add in mixed leagues.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writing Association award winner across all three of those sports.
You can e-mail him here.