- Tristan H. Cockcroft, Fantasy
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What's been going on around the American League in the past week? Tristan H. Cockcroft takes a quick-hitting look at the news and notes for each of the 14 AL teams:
American League East
Baltimore Orioles: Could there be a more surprising story among starters the past month than the Orioles' Jeremy Guthrie? Though he's only 3-1 on the season, he has a 1.68 ERA, 0.74 WHIP and .182 BAA in seven starts, exceptional numbers for fantasy. Of course, a closer look at Guthrie's performance reveals a somewhat light schedule, including starts against the Athletics, Nationals and Royals, as well as the Blue Jays and Devil Rays at times when each team was battling cold spells on offense. Plus, he has a .238 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play), indicating he has been a tad lucky. Still, that's meant less as a knock on Guthrie -- who has a low-risk ratio of 1.53 walks per nine innings and a 1.46-to-1 ground ball-to-fly ball ratio -- than it does identify him for who he is, a matchups type. For as long as he continues to pitch efficiently, keep spotting Guthrie in, except against the strongest offenses.
Boston Red Sox: Any time J.D. Drew is battling an injury, even the most minor of ailments, that red flag has to pop up in a fantasy owner's head. After all, over the years he has developed a reputation as one of the most injury-prone players in the game, deserved or not, primarily a result of his having missed 265 games from 2001-06. That's why it's a real concern, despite the Red Sox insisting he would be available for Monday's game, that Drew missed Saturday's and Sunday's contests with a strained right hamstring. More distressing, though, has been the veteran's performance to date. Through 47 games he's a .222 hitter with a .650 OPS, by far the worst numbers of his career. Now, it's possible that the whole "new surroundings" theory could be to blame here; after all, he had only .251/.806 numbers through the first two months of 2005, when he was just starting a new contract with a new team, the Dodgers. He'd manage .358/1.196 rates in 24 games from June 1 forward before being lost for the season, and we all know how productive he was in 2006. As the Red Sox's No. 5 hitter, Drew should continue to get every chance to turn his season around, risky or not. He's probably not the .283-hitting, 20-homer man he was a year ago, but a .280 mark, 15 more homers and plenty of RBIs could be in his future, health willing.
New York Yankees: Bad luck continues to strike the Yankees in the health department particularly, with the most notable news this week that Roger Clemens' 2007 debut was pushed back from Monday due to soreness in his right groin. He might have that start pushed back to the weekend interleague series against the Pirates, but further delays to the start of his season can't be ruled out. That's especially frustrating coming on the heels of news that top prospect Phil Hughes rolled his ankle while rehabilitating his hamstring injury last week, costing him at least another four to six weeks. With both Clemens and Hughes on the shelf, rookie Tyler Clippard should continue to stick around in the Yankees rotation, giving him a little value in AL-only formats. ... Doug Mientkiewicz, meanwhile, suffered a mild concussion, cervical sprain and a fractured right wrist in a collision with the Red Sox's Mike Lowell on Saturday, costing him perhaps as much as two months. With Mientkiewicz sidelined, Johnny Damon has been taking grounders at first base while spotting in as the designated hitter for Jason Giambi, now on the DL with a torn tendon in his left foot. Damon's shift to first base/DH should help ease the strain on his sore back and legs, but the most significant development of the Giambi/Mientkiewicz injuries is the impact on Josh Phelps. The former platoon mate for Mientkiewicz could pick up everyday at-bats between first base and DH, and be a cheap source of power and RBIs in AL-only formats.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays: Rotation changes abound for the Devil Rays, as both J.P. Howell and Andrew Sonnanstine were recalled from Triple-A Durham on Saturday, bumping both Casey Fossum and Jae Seo. Fossum and Seo were among the most hittable pitchers in baseball, and with the Durham pitching staff as a whole managing a 3.67 ERA and 1.29 WHIP, among the better teams in the International League, the moves make some sense. Howell tossed eight innings of one-run ball on Sunday, albeit against the Royals, a team rich in left-handed hitters. Sonnanstine, meanwhile, will make his MLB debut on Tuesday against the Blue Jays, a much tougher matchup. He had the best numbers of any of the team's pitchers while at Durham, with a 6-4 record, 2.66 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in 11 starts, and for his career he has a 2.56 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. Both pitchers are considered decent, but not elite, prospects, so pick both up as AL-only reserves to see how they fare. Expect the Devil Rays to continue to mix and match starters, with Durham starters Jason Hammel and Jeff Niemann next in line for opportunities, until they find a combination they like. I'd call Niemann the most likely to make a fantasy impact, Sonnanstine second.
Toronto Blue Jays: Lyle Overbay will miss four to six weeks after he suffered a broken left hand as a result of being hit by a pitch from the White Sox's John Danks on Sunday. It's a significant loss for the Blue Jays, a team rich in right-handed hitters but thin from the left-handed side, and one without many quality fill-ins. Some might think Frank Thomas could be a candidate for first-base duty in Overbay's absence, but perhaps in an effort to get two left-handed bats in the lineup, the team will use Matt Stairs at first base for now. Stairs has been one of the hotter hitters in the AL the past three weeks, batting .313 (15-for-48) with seven home runs in his last 17 games, and he'll warrant a good share of AL-only consideration. In addition, rookie Adam Lind, who had struggled of late, should pick up a good amount of playing time in left field for the next month-plus. He's hitting only .202 (18-for-89) with two homers in 30 games since May 1, but taking into account his gaudy minor league numbers, Lind should warrant at least AL-only attention.
American League Central
Chicago White Sox: Remember spring training 2006, when speedster Jerry Owens was considered a potential sleeper as a candidate for the White Sox's open center field role? Things might not have panned out for him then, but after Darin Erstad suffered a Grade 2 sprain of his left ankle swinging at a pitch last Thursday, Owens finally got his chance when Erstad landed on the DL. Owens has started each of the team's past three games, stealing two bases in the process, and AL-only or larger mixed-league owners looking for help in stolen bases should take a look at him. He was batting .305 in 48 games at Triple-A Charlotte, but what was most impressive about his stat line was that he had 23 stolen bases despite having reached base safely only 85 times all year, two of those home runs. Owens is a true speed demon, and if he can merely keep his on-base percentage around .330-.340, not an unreasonable expectation, he should swipe double-digit bases in Erstad's absence.
Cleveland Indians: Jeremy Sowers should consider himself awfully fortunate that the Indians currently lack a reliable alternative to him in their rotation. Since May 1, he has an 8.80 ERA and .328 BAA in six starts, meaning he's the leading candidate for a demotion once Jake Westbrook returns from the DL. The problem, though, is that Westbrook didn't pitch well at all in his first rehabilitation start on Friday, allowing five runs in 1 1/3 innings for Triple-A Buffalo, leading to another potential minor league start or two. He's still working up his stamina coming off an abdominal problem, and might be a few weeks off being useful again for fantasy. Meanwhile, top prospect Adam Miller, the other most logical Sowers replacement, is out three more weeks with a strained flexor tendon in his right middle finger. He has a 2.45 ERA, .228 BAA and six quality starts in seven tries for Triple-A Buffalo, but hasn't pitched since May 12. We'll see Miller with the Indians sometime before year's end, assuming a quick, full recovery, but don't count on it coming before the All-Star game taking into account his recent missed time.
Detroit Tigers: Keep tabs on Chad Durbin's performance in his next couple of starts, because coming off a mediocre, 5 1/3-inning, five-run effort against the Indians on Saturday, the right-hander could be fighting for his rotation spot with another poor outing or two. That's due to the extraordinary performance of Andrew Miller at Double-A Erie, as the left-hander has three consecutive quality-start efforts and a 0.79 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in those outings since making a spot start for Jeremy Bonderman on May 18. Combining all his numbers between the Tigers, Class A Lakeland and Erie, Miller has a 2.30 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and .237 BAA in 11 starts, backing up the notion that he's one of the game's best pitching prospects. He should be back the next time a rotation spot opens up for the Tigers, and he has the talent to make an immediate fantasy impact when that happens.
Kansas City Royals: How much longer can the Royals afford to keep Alex Gordon around in the hopes he'll finally adjust to MLB pitching? The top prospect continues to struggle, batting only .179 (17-for-95) with 24 strikeouts since May 1, after hitting .173 (14-for-81) with 29 strikeouts in the month of April. He continues to look overmatched at the plate, begging the question whether a month or two of Triple-A seasoning might not be in his best interest. After all, Mark Teahen was demoted for less than this a year ago. Gordon has the talent to someday be a perennial All-Star, but he's quite a bit further from making a fantasy impact than you'd expect this deep into the year. It's possible with a month of minor league time he could bounce back with a surprising second half, but Gordon doesn't even warrant keeping on hand in shallow yearly formats at this point.
Minnesota Twins: Rookie Kevin Slowey offered his fantasy owners a quality start in his MLB debut on Friday, probably assuring he'll be around for awhile. So, the next question becomes, when will Matt Garza join the Twins' stable of talented young starters, with Boof Bonser another member of that group? Garza himself has wondered that, as he voiced his frustration with the team when Slowey was recalled last week, particularly with regard to Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson wanting him to stop relying so heavily on his fastball. Anderson feels that Garza shouldn't be throwing 90 percent of his pitches off the fastball, despite the fact that the right-hander has a 3.19 ERA and .235 BAA in 11 starts for Triple-A Rochester, including six quality-start efforts in his last eight turns. Anderson's comments could indicate a promotion isn't imminent for Garza, but the way he has pitched, he has to be under consideration by the All-Star break at latest.
American League West
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: The Angels must feel pretty confident about Bartolo Colon's sore triceps, promoting Joe Saunders to take the veteran's turn in the rotation Saturday, then returning the left-hander to Triple-A Salt Lake immediately afterward despite his quality-start effort for the win. Colon isn't an outright guarantee to make his next scheduled start, Friday at St. Louis, either, though the Angels could always put him on the DL before them and bring Saunders back. Considering Colon allowed 15 runs (14 earned) in 10 2/3 innings, with a .420 BAA, in his last two turns, it's possible his problem is indeed the time that will only be cured with a couple weeks' rest. That's why AL-only owners should keep Saunders on hand. He's turning into one of the more reliable fill-ins in the game, with a 3-0 record and 2.22 ERA in four starts this season, 10-3 with a 4.07 ERA in 17 starts since the beginning of 2006, all that despite a 1.43 WHIP in the latter time span. Colon and Kelvim Escobar are each a bit injury prone, making it likely Saunders should sneak in 10-15 useful starts before season's end.
Oakland Athletics: So much for Jack Cust's ridiculous power rate in his early days as a member of the Athletics. Since he batted .306 (15-for-49) with eight home runs and 20 RBIs in his first 15 games with the team, he has hit only .071 (2-for-28) with one extra-base hit, a double, and 13 strikeouts in his last nine contests. In addition, with Mark Kotsay now fresh off the DL, there's additional competition for at-bats between the outfield and designated hitter roles in Oakland, which has caused Cust to sit out three of the team's past four games. Plus, with Mike Piazza perhaps due for a return from the DL and into the DH role by the end of June, Cust's roster spot could be in jeopardy if he doesn't show signs of improvement in the next several days. Consider him only a cheap source of power in AL-only formats at this point, and a risky one in batting average at that.
Seattle Mariners: Felix Hernandez hasn't seemed at all himself since his return from the DL, a real worry since the injury that cost him nearly a month was an elbow issue, a troubling ailment for such a young pitcher. He has yet to notch a quality start in five tries since being activated, with a 7.52 ERA and .363 BAA, and is coming off his worst start of the season, a six-inning, seven-run effort against the Angels last Wednesday. "King Felix" also left his May 25 start with a sore back, and in his last three turns he has averaged 94 pitches per outing. It's possible the Mariners are limiting his workload once again, as they did a year ago, which might lead to a statistical performance not unlike his 2006, as opposed to the 17-shutout-inning performance he managed in his first two starts of this year. Consider that Hernandez had a 3.92 ERA and 1.24 WHIP in 20 starts from this date forward last season, which might not be far off his finish to this year.
Texas Rangers: Victor Diaz is still not quite an everyday player for the Rangers, but since his promotion on May 1, he has done everything he can to warrant AL-only attention. He has 14 starts in the Rangers' last 32 contests, including eight in the team's nine games against left-handed pitchers. Diaz is a .320 hitter (8-for-25) with three home runs against lefties this season, but more importantly, he's also a respectable .282 hitter (11-for-39) with four homers against righties. One interesting stat: Diaz is only 5-for-27 (.185) with no homers and 10 strikeouts at home thus far, meaning he's not capitalizing on his hitter-friendly home ballpark yet. He'll be a streaky type, taking into account his one strikeout per 3.36 at-bat career rate, but there's a bit of short-term value in him for now.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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