Around the AL: Wells leading off, Garza's debut
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:
Baltimore Orioles: Garrett Olson's MLB debut on Wednesday wasn't that extraordinary, as he walked five batters in 4 1/3 innings of work, throwing only 46 of 87 pitches for strikes (52.9 percent). Still, it was apparently enough to earn him a longer look in the Orioles' rotation while Steve Trachsel nurses a strained gluteus. In 17 starts for Triple-A Norfolk, Olson managed a 7-6 record, 3.46 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and .211 BAA; he also was ranked sixth among Orioles prospects by Baseball America in the preseason. He's a middle-of-the-rotation type for down the road, though he'll need to display better command to succeed as a rookie. AL-only owners should pick up Olson on the hopes that he'll pitch well enough to stick in the rotation and perhaps develop into a matchups option in the season's second half. More likely, though, he'll need time to get fully comfortable, so perhaps he'll be more fantasy-worthy in 2008.
Boston Red Sox: According to a report in Tuesday's Boston Globe, top pitching prospect Clay Buchholz was told after Monday's game at Double-A Portland that he's being promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket. At Portland, the right-hander is 7-2 with a 1.77 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, .180 BAA and 116 strikeouts in 86 2/3 innings and 16 starts (positively dominating numbers). He entered the season as the No. 51 prospect overall as ranked by Baseball America, but with his start to the year, he could enter 2008 as one of the top prospects in baseball, if he's not called up before that. A hot start for Pawtucket could put Buchholz in line for a promotion to the Red Sox before year's end if a rotation spot opens, so AL-only owners need to add him now. He is about as talented as anyone currently pitching in the minors and is a prime keeper-league prospect.
New York Yankees: Phil Hughes, nearing a return from hamstring and ankle problems, threw two innings in a rehabilitation stint for Class A Tampa on Monday. He allowed only an unearned run and threw 20 of 36 pitches for strikes, and he noted that he felt more comfortable the deeper he got in the outing. It'll take some time for Hughes to build up the stamina to be ready to help the Yankees, but he'll make his next start for Double-A Trenton on Saturday and perhaps be activated before the end of the month. Expect the rookie right-hander to make four or five rehab starts, then become the leading candidate to bump Kei Igawa from the Yankee rotation. Of course, by July 31, the Yankees might have a more proven starter in that No. 5 spot, so don't get your hopes up too high with Hughes. He's as capable as any rookie of offering 6-8 helpful second-half starts, but the Yankees aren't exactly the best team in baseball at counting on rookies.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays: Al Reyes landed on the DL surprisingly last Wednesday, a strained rotator cuff perhaps explaining his struggles of late. He had a 15.19 ERA, .346 BAA and had allowed three home runs in his last six appearances, not that those numbers would have put him at risk to lose his job. One could make the case that Reyes' injury actually helps his fantasy value in the season's second half; it significantly decreases the chances the Devil Rays will be able to move him before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, to a team that might have only used him in setup relief. He could be back in two weeks, though his injury history will remain a concern the rest of the year. He had Tommy John surgery in October 2005, so full health even after his return is no guarantee. Keep Reyes on hand, as the right-hander was one of the more effective relievers around the first three months of the season, with 17 saves in 18 chances and a 3.06 ERA. In his place, Gary Glover, he of the 5.32 ERA and 1.52 WHIP this season, is the favorite for saves, not that he's any guarantee to last in the role. He's worth an AL-only pickup, but is no lock to hold off a Shawn Camp or anyone else who steps up with a brief hot streak.
Toronto Blue Jays: The Blue Jays' lineup is getting healthier, as Reed Johnson, out since April 11 due to surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back, returned from the 60-day DL on Friday. He didn't reclaim his leadoff role, though; that spot remained reserved for Vernon Wells, who batted there in 13 of the Blue Jays' 16 games heading into the All-Star break. Johnson's return shouldn't send too many shock waves through the fantasy world, but he's a serviceable AL-only option and mixed-league consideration during his hot streaks. A batting average close to .290 should be expected with decent runs scored (a full-year pace of 85-90), though Johnson's primary asset to his MLB team is his on-base percentage, fueled by a high rate of hit-by-pitches. With him back, Adam Lind returned to Triple-A Syracuse after batting a disappointing .218 (38-for-174) with five homers in his last 56 games. He remains an intriguing youngster, but don't count on him making a significant impact before 2008. ... Lyle Overbay, out since June 4 with a broken right hand, is 4-for-15 (.267) with one homer and five RBIs in four games of a rehabilitation assignment for Double-A New Hampshire. He could be back for the Blue Jays' first game of the second half, Thursday at Boston, and after a few games to get back to full speed, should again be a fine AL-only first baseman or mixed-league corner infielder.
Chicago White Sox: After much speculation that he might be traded this month, Mark Buehrle instead signed a contract extension with the White Sox on Sunday, killing any chances of his being traded this season. He'll get four more years at $56 million and no-trade protection through 2008, so AL-only owners can breathe a sigh of relief (since he won't be traded to the National League). Of course, Buehrle's remaining in Chicago does limit his fantasy value. His White Sox don't offer much run support, ranking last in the AL and second-last in MLB in runs per game (4.12), and he'll continue to call homer-friendly U.S. Cellular Park his home. In addition, one has to wonder whether contract security might rob Buehrle of some of his motivation. Realistically, the left-hander might manage a 3.50 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and only 5-7 wins in the season's second half, good but not great numbers. Another note regarding his return: It greatly increases the chance Jose Contreras and/or Javier Vazquez might be traded this month.
Cleveland Indians: Though Ben Francisco appears to be making a name for himself while David Dellucci nurses a strained hamstring, don't be too hasty to call him a potential second-half standout. Sure, he's a .385 hitter (10-for-26) with three homers in his last eight games, six of them starts, and he was a .329 hitter in 61 games for Triple-A Buffalo, but nothing in Francisco's profile suggests he's a great long-term bet. He hasn't cracked the team's top-30 prospects as ranked by Baseball America since 2004, and even then he placed only 29th. It's possible he's capitalizing on facing pitchers wholly unfamiliar with his weaknesses. Francisco has the ability to be a decent stand-in or reserve outfielder as a big leaguer, and AL-only owners can pick him up to ride the hot streak, but don't expect it to last for too long. Expect him to return to the bench or Triple-A once Dellucci returns.
Detroit Tigers: The Tigers may yet get Joel Zumaya back before the season ends, as he'll resume a throwing program shortly after the All-Star break. His right middle finger, in which he ruptured a tendon in May, has healed ahead of schedule, and it's not out of the question he could be ready to rejoin the Tigers bullpen sometime in August. Expect the team to be more focused on getting Zumaya up to 100 percent come playoff time than getting him into a prominent role during the regular season, but he'll be an interesting pitcher to watch late this year and during the offseason. Closer Todd Jones' two-year contract expires during the winter, and a healthy return from Zumaya this year could make him a much better bet to take over that role to begin 2008. ... Neifi Perez was suspended for 25 games by MLB on Friday after testing positive for a banned stimulant. It's not much of a loss for the Tigers or for fantasy; he was batting .172 and hadn't started any of the 33 games in which he has appeared. Still, this could signal the beginning of the end of Perez's career as one of the weakest players in baseball the past decade.
Kansas City Royals: Mike Sweeney underwent knee surgery last Thursday and will miss at least six weeks. That creates a prime opportunity for rookie Billy Butler to step up and nab the designated hitter role on a permanent basis in the next month. Butler, 21, has batted .319 (15-for-47) with three homers and 10 RBIs in 15 games since his most recent promotion from Triple-A Omaha in mid-June, and there was little doubt at the time of his call-up he was one of the best pure batsmen in the minor leagues. He was hitting .291 with 13 homers and 46 RBIs in 57 games for Omaha this year, and is a .336 hitter who averages one homer per 21.0 at-bats (24 per 500) for his minor league career. A .280-plus batting average and double-digit homers is within Butler's reach in the second half, and if he gets there, it'll be tough for the Royals to return him to the minors once Sweeney is healthy.
Minnesota Twins: Matt Garza tossed six shutout innings Friday in the second game of a doubleheader against the White Sox, and the performance was apparently enough to earn him a longer look in the rotation. He'll take over the rotation spot vacated when fellow rookie Kevin Slowey was demoted to Triple-A Rochester last Thursday, and should get at least another couple of turns to prove himself. Though Slowey had the better numbers of the two while they were at Rochester, the right-hander proved awfully home-run prone with the Twins, allowing 11 in his last five starts and 13 in seven overall. It's clear he could use a little more development time in the minors, while Garza might be ready after making nine starts for the big club in 2006 and managing a 3.62 ERA, 1.35 WHIP and 95 strikeouts in 92 innings for Rochester. He'll be risky as anything more than a matchups type initially, but AL-only and larger mixed owners should pick him up.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Ervin Santana is once again in jeopardy of being demoted to Triple-A Salt Lake, due to his constant struggles on the road. Since he managed back-to-back quality-start efforts on the road during interleague play, the right-hander has allowed 14 runs (13 earned) on 14 hits, four of them home runs, in 8 1/3 innings in his last two road starts. In addition, his troubles seem to be spreading into his home outings; he finished the first half 0-3 with a 9.90 ERA, 1.95 WHIP and seven home runs allowed in four starts, adding in his two home appearances. One has to wonder whether Santana might be pitching at a bit less than 100 percent, as he has been especially hittable during that span (.360 BAA). As always, Joe Saunders is next in line should a rotation spot open for the Angels, and AL-only owners should keep him stashed on the bench for now. Whether it's due to continued struggles by Santana or an injury to another starter, there's a decent chance Saunders will make 6-8 starts in the season's second half.
Oakland Athletics: Rich Harden's return to the rotation didn't go well on Saturday, as he allowed four runs on five hits and three walks in 2 2/3 innings. In addition, since then, the news has only gotten worse. Harden complained of more shoulder trouble the day after his start, and was scheduled for an examination by Dr. Lewis Yocum on Monday. The right-hander might be headed back to the DL, as the way general manager Billy Beane was talking in a San Francisco Chronicle report, he'll miss at least the next two weeks. It's possible that Harden might even be done for the season, should he require surgery, which wouldn't be a bad thing considering how long the team has been trying to heal him with regular rest and rehabilitation. His owners shouldn't count on much more from him the remainder of the year, and keeper-league owners should keep tabs on his diagnosis, as a surgery decision could cut into a portion of his 2008.
Seattle Mariners: Could there be a streakier pitcher in baseball than Jeff Weaver? He's one of the hottest pitchers in the game the past three weeks, with a 0.98 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and .208 BAA in his last four starts, and in six starts since his return from the DL, he's 2-0 with a 1.67 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and .232 BAA. Of course, while it appears Weaver is once again safe to use in AL-only formats, or as a mixed-league matchups consideration, don't forget his start to the season; he was 0-6 with a 14.32 ERA, 2.59 WHIP and .459 BAA in his first six turns. Spacious Safeco Field does help Weaver's chances, though it's important to remember that he has historically fallen prey to shaky stretches. Enjoy his hot streaks while they last, because they generally don't for more than a month or two.
Texas Rangers: Mark Teixeira should return from the DL Friday at the Angels; his quadriceps apparently is no longer a problem. He'll make a one-day rehabilitation appearance for Double-A Frisco on Wednesday, as a test to ensure he can make it through a full game without any problems, and then he'll fly west with the Rangers on Thursday. The short rehab stint might mean Teixeira will need a few games to regain his timing at the plate, and accounting for the Angels' strong pitching staff, it's better to take a wait-and-see approach as far as using him in Week 15 of the fantasy season. As for Teixeira's second-half chances, while he'll be at risk to reinjure his quadriceps, his track record offers encouragement. He's a .289 hitter with a .931 OPS after the All-Star break for his career, and he had .291/.998 second-half rates in 2006. Teixeira could be a .290-hitting, 15-homer contributor.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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