- Christopher Harris, Fantasy
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Thirty teams, 30 burning fantasy questions. Throughout the preseason, we put one of these questions to an ESPN.com analyst for an in-depth look at the most interesting, perplexing or dumbfounding fantasy facet of each major league team.
What are we to make of Cameron Maybin's surprising spring?
Well, Maybin's spring got a little less surprising over the weekend, when he went 0-for-8 with five strikeouts. Still, if you'd have told me the 21-year-old Marlins rookie would have three homers and a .913 spring OPS through Sunday's game against the Dodgers, I admit I'd have been dubious. That one of those dingers came Friday with the Marlins down 1-0 with two out and one on in the bottom of the ninth can't be completely lost on Florida manager Fredi Gonzalez.
I have to admit: I still think there's a decent chance Maybin doesn't make the Marlins' major league roster out of spring training. Listen to what he told the Miami Herald before Friday's game: "A lot of times decisions are made before the end even comes up." That sounds to me either like a kid who knows something we don't about the center field gig in Florida, or a kid who's trying to prepare himself for disappointment.
Alejandro De Aza has also been fantastic this spring, with three homers and a .444 batting average; De Aza turns 24 on April 11, and while he's certainly not considered much of a fantasy prospect and didn't get much big league experience before he hurt his ankle in '07, he still probably does represent the safer path in center for the Marlins to start '08. De Aza isn't anyone's future franchise cornerstone the way Maybin is, so Florida probably doesn't need to worry about exposing him "too early" and having him fail, the way they're presumably concerned about Maybin. The fact is that when Maybin's played this spring, he's hit ninth most of the time, which isn't exactly the showcase spot in a lineup.
In the end, though, maybe it doesn't matter all that much if Maybin starts in the minors, provided he tears the cover off the ball. De Aza probably won't excel offensively, and with their pitching staff in extreme makeover mode, the Marlins probably aren't going to be very good. At some point, playing De Aza or Cody Ross (who's got an intriguing bat but probably isn't a full-time defensive center fielder) will be counterproductive, and Maybin will get the call. So the question is: Whether it's in April or July, once Maybin wins the big league center field job, will he be rosterable in 2008 fantasy leagues?
Unfortunately, I tend to think not. And let's get this straight: I'm a big believer in Maybin's career. He's a 6-foot-4 guy who can fly, a potential .300 hitter with pop. But most of that statistical goodness probably isn't happening this season. In his 49-at-bat introduction with Detroit last fall, Maybin struck out 21 times and hit .143. Then he had a hurt shoulder for a couple weeks in the Arizona Fall League and wound up with just 32 at-bats there. Then he tweaked his hamstring early this spring. Even in his three minor league stops in 2007, Maybin had contact issues: in 323 at-bats, he struck out 91 times. That he managed an on-base percentage north of .400 (and an OPS north of .900) while failing to make contact so frequently speaks to his potential, but there aren't a lot of soon-to-be-21-year-olds with high strikeout totals who immediately jump to major league stardom. It's the same reason I'm dubious about the 2008 fantasy potential of Arizona's Justin Upton. The majors just aren't a good place to learn how to make contact.
In keeper leagues, Maybin is another story; he's someone to consider drafting high, if he isn't already kept in your league. But in a redraft situation, let someone else get caught up in the NL Rookie of the Year hype. More often than not, these mega-prospects disappoint in their first couple of seasons. I guess if you're taking a flier on him as a bench guy, that's one thing. I suppose I can't argue with that. But assuming he's going to be the Marlins' leadoff hitter all year, and that he's in line for 30 steals, is a risk you probably shouldn't take.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner across all three of those sports. You can e-mail him here.
17hMarc Stein and Ramona Shelburne