- Brendan Roberts, Fantasy
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At Fort Lauderdale Stadium, spring home of the Baltimore Orioles, they give the beer men whistles. Like traffic-cop whistles, and they toot 'em constantly, even mid-at-bat. The park also is right next to a small airport, so some whole at-bats are completely drowned out by the sound of propeller planes flying overhead or jets taxiing down the runway. And the press box is basically suspended above the grandstands, hovering over it without much support. It's almost like a giant game of Jenga, and when a few people walk around in there at a time, it sways and bobs. (Shiver.)
But getting to see Jose Reyes at his best, Daniel Cabrera pitch, well, like he usually does and Luke Scott play "defense" (he dropped two balls) made it worth it. On to the details on this, the last day of my scouting trip to the Grapefruit League.
New York Mets at Baltimore (in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
"Daniel Cabrera is gonna hurt somebody." I jotted that down on my notepad no less than three batters into Friday's game. For those of you who haven't seen him pitch, let's just say guys like him don't grow on trees. He's 6-foot-7 and 258 pounds, and he throws in the high 90s. Plus, he throws over the top, giving him a "deeper" release point, which, combined with his height and the fact that he's standing on a mound, must make it seem like he's letting the ball go about halfway to the plate. If I were hitting, honestly, I'd be terrified.
Reyes wasn't, even though D-Cab gave him reason to be. He went up and in early in Reyes' first at-bat, but the little shortstop coolly lined the next pitch off the right-field fence for a double. Next at-bat, though, Cabrera lost control of a high-90s heater and nailed Reyes in the right shoulder blade. His first reaction was one of surprise; no more than two seconds later, it was extreme pain. Reyes dropped to his knees, and I put my finger on my editor's speed dial, ready to pass along the bad news. But Reyes was OK. After some tending to, he trotted down to first. And then to second (with a steal), capped by a head-first slide. And then to third (he stole that one, too). Then he made a nice turn on a double-play ball and singled in his next at-bat. Jose is OK, to the tune of a 22-for-67 (.328) spring. Whew! And in case you're wondering, Mets starter Orlando Hernandez came up and in a few times to Nick Markakis, which I believe was to send a message that the Mets didn't like Reyes getting hit.
As for Cabrera, he had a pretty typical outing for him. The 2007 major league walks leader (with 108 in 204 1/3 innings) walked five batters in five innings but allowed only three hits and two runs. And of course the HBP; he was tied for third in the majors in that category last season, with 15. And he almost hit Brady Clark in the back of the head. And throw in a wild pitch, too. Cabrera has a tremendous arm, but he just can't harness it. And I'm starting to lose hope in him, even though he's only 26.
His walk rate did improve last season, but high-walk guys rarely make dramatic turnarounds; they just have to do everything else well enough to make up for it. Now, Cabrera is constantly up in the zone, always has been, and because of his wildness, a lot of those pitches are up and in, which sets up his other pitches and works to his advantage. There's a reason he breaks a lot of bats. High fastballs are the most tantalizing pitches for most hitters to swing at, which means two things: He's going to get his share of strikeouts (and popups), but he's also going to walk a lot of guys and allow his share of home runs. And he did again last year, with 25 homers allowed.
It was obvious to me that any good hitter who actually works the count, as David Wright and Carlos Delgado did, can either wait out a walk or get a pitch navel-high to drive. Until he proves he can throw strikes and/or just keep the ball down, he shouldn't be considered worthy of owning even in mixed leagues.
Carlos Beltran was slated to start in center field, but the Mets slid him back to DH before the game, which was noteworthy given his knee troubles (he had surgery on both knees in the offseason). However, they were just being cautious. Beltran didn't appear to have any troubles, in fact. He wasn't wearing a bulky knee brace, he ran the bases well, and didn't appear to be favoring 'em whatsoever. I caught up to him after the game, and he said they're fine. Well, fine in that he'll "keep playing but continue to rehab," in his words. So will he steal? "Oh yeah," Beltran said. Spring training is winding down, and Brian Roberts is still an Oriole. The Orioles confirmed that, and Roberts played Friday. This has dragged on long enough that manager Dave Trembley said he won't answer any more questions about a Roberts trade. "He's the second baseman and leadoff hitter on this club," he said. Speaking of Trembley, he had some roster notes to announce. Relievers James Hoey and Rocky Cherry were placed on the DL while Jay Gibbons, whose 15-game suspension was put on hold until April 9, will travel with the team. Trembley said Tike Redman and Scott Moore were the "extra" guys (No. 26 and 27) right now, and Redman was sent outright to the minors Friday evening. That leaves Moore, who has been working at third base in hopes of making the team. I like the upside of the former Cubs prospect, but he's regarded by many as a "Quadruple-A" player, in that he can hit in the minors but can't in the majors. There's a good chance he's sent to the minors as the final cut, but would be the guy called back up if Gibbons ends up having to serve his 15-day suspension after all.
Trembley said that right now, Brandon Fahey and Luis Hernandez are both on the team. So which one of them will start at shortstop? "You'll find out [Opening Day]. I've decided, but I'm not telling you as a group." Brian Burres has been named the fifth starter, sending Matt Albers to the bullpen. However, because of off days early in the season, Burres likely will pitch out of the bullpen in the early going. I didn't see Burres pitch, but I liked Albers' arm action, for what it's worth. He has a nice delivery.
Speaking of the rotation, Cabrera, Jeremy Guthrie, Steve Trachsel and Adam Loewen will fill it out. Trembley says not to put too much stock into what number they are in the rotation. "Our staff isn't such that guys line up that way." Some people like Loewen, but I think Guthrie is the only guy in that group I'd own in a mixed league.
El Duque's leg kick was back. He went with a "mainstream" normal leg kick in his first start, supposedly to protect his sore right foot. But the high kick was back Friday, and manager Willie Randolph revealed after the game that Hernandez did that on his own.
So how'd he look? Well, slow, and that's without a radar gun for specifics. No surprise there. Hernandez is past even the point in which he has had to make adjustments to be effective. He's now to the point in which he has had to completely reinvent himself as a pitcher. He throws from multiple arm angles, changes speeds, hits spots and somehow manages to throw five or six strong innings, just as he did Friday, allowing one run through five to put himself in line for the win.
Perhaps it's because there aren't a whole lot of pitchers like him for major leaguers to look at, but opposing hitters just don't get good wood on many of his pitches (in a typical start, anyway). It helps that his breaking stuff is top to bottom and not as much side to side, but either way, he's tough to figure out. He's a junk-baller, like Harris from "Major League," though ostensibly sans the foreign substances smeared in secretive places.
After watching him, I went ahead and penciled him in as the Mets' No. 5 starter, but even El Duque is not sure about his health yet. He said after the game he felt good, and thus decided to go with his usual delivery. "Today it's good. But tomorrow, who knows?" Hernandez said. "I still have concerns." El Duque probably doesn't have mixed-league value because of his durability and effectiveness issues, but I think he's a good roster player in an NL-only league.
Ryan Church is one big, strong man, and he has what I believe to be 30-homer power with regular playing time. On Friday, he hit one to the left (opposite) field warning track, and Luke Scott dropped it. It was pretty impressive (the drive, not the attempt to field it). I've been trying to get Church late in mixed leagues and for decent buys in NL-only leagues. I was quite impressed with Adam Jones, not necessarily in center field but at the plate. He waited back on a slow offering in his first at-bat and drove it down the right-field line for a double. Of course, he then was doubled up on a looper to center that was caught. Roberts then doubled, so Jones' poor baserunning cost the team a run.
Trembley said it best about Jones: "Those of you who were here for that first intrasquad game had to be shaking your head. But yesterday he played center field like he'd been out there for a long time." He looked a little pull-heavy to me, but that often happens against El Duque. Jones won't start on my mixed-league teams, but he might finish on one or two of them.
Ruben Gotay was claimed off waivers by the Atlanta Braves, the Mets announced Friday. He'll probably make the club as a utility player, but don't look for much value from him, even in NL-only leagues. Mike Pelfrey blew the Mets' three-run lead in the ninth, taking the loss. He was in his fourth inning of relief, but he pitched pretty poorly even before then, eventually allowing nine baserunners in 3.2 innings. Still, he hasn't done a whole lot at the major league level to warrant many more opportunities. A few Mets fans shouted to Randolph to "send Pelfrey to Triple-A!" On the flip side, Greg Aquino looked pretty good, and he was throwing it pretty hard. Let's not forget that George Sherrill is hardly a lock to succeed in the Orioles' bullpen. Right now it's looking like Aquino might be next in line, which gives him AL-only value.
And a few of the less meaningful notes
Following a theme of this week, today's "all but forgotten" player is Jay Payton. He'll make the team, but don't look for him to play too much. And many speculate he might be shipped out of town by midsummer -- or before, if the O's need roster space. Oh, and Fernando Tatis probably falls in that (forgotten) class, too. He was with the Mets this spring, not the Orioles, and he has slimmed down so much that I hardly recognized him. He even ran pretty well. Then I saw him take a big swing and a miss for Strike 3 and knew it was him. A good sign heading into the season: John Maine came into the game third in the NL among starters with a 1.78 ERA. He also has 28 K's in 25 innings. Jorge Sosa (one earned run in 10 innings) and Mike Wise (one earned run in 9 1/3 innings) also pitched well this spring and could become deep NL-only middle relief options if they can keep it up. As I've mentioned, Scott dropped a couple of balls. I've heard he's not the greatest of
fielders, but I'll chalk this up to a bad day. As long as he shows us he can still hit, and he did that Friday, we're good.
Still find it odd when a visiting team is cheered more than the home team, but that's what happened Friday. A chant of "Let's go, Mets!" even broke out in the middle innings.
Brendan Roberts is a contributing writer/editor for ESPN Fantasy.
1dMarc Stein and Ramona Shelburne