- Tristan H. Cockcroft, Fantasy
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What's been going on around the National League in the past week? Tristan H. Cockcroft takes a quick-hitting look at the news and notes for each of the 16 NL teams:
National League East
ATLANTA BRAVES: The Braves added SP Mark Redman to their active roster on Monday, assuring him a rotation spot, with the left-hander starting either the fourth or fifth game of the regular season. He hasn't managed better than 11 wins, 102 strikeouts or a 4.71 ERA in any of the past three seasons, limiting his fantasy appeal, though there's matchups potential in him, especially when facing lesser teams like the Marlins, Nationals and Pirates. Kelly Johnson appears on his way to securing the starting second-base role, batting .269 (14-for-52) with two home runs and a .339 on-base percentage this spring. Though Martin Prado has outplayed him -- .368 AVG (14-for-38) -- Johnson has been getting the bulk of the playing time out of the leadoff spot, an indication he'll continue in that role into the regular season. He was a .281 career minor league hitter with double-digit ability in homers and steals, and as Atlanta's leadoff man, Johnson could be one of the more underrated runs-scored options of 2007.
FLORIDA MARLINS: Monday's acquisition of Jorge Julio ends the Marlins' search for a closer, despite the fact that in-house candidates Kevin Gregg, Matt Lindstrom and Henry Owens have all performed well enough to be interesting sleepers. Gregg has a 1.93 ERA, eight strikeouts and five walks in 9 1/3 spring innings; Lindstrom has a 0.87 ERA, four strikeouts and four walks in 10 1/3 innings; and Owens has a 0.90 ERA, nine strikeouts and two walks in 10 innings. For fantasy purposes, none of the three is an ideal handcuff for Julio owners, though with all three pitching well, keep tabs on them in the early weeks in the event one steps up in that role. OF Jeremy Hermida is expected to begin the season on the disabled list with a bone bruise on his right knee, an injury he suffered when he fouled a ball off it on March 17. He's unlikely to return before late April, most likely leaving right field to Joe Borchard and Cody Ross, neither of whom would be of NL-only appeal in a platoon role. More important is that Hermida's now entering a second consecutive season in which he's being limited by injuries, meaning another disappointing year could be in order. Drop him down your draft sheets, as he's now only a late-round NL-only option.
NEW YORK METS: SP Mike Pelfrey will begin the season as the Mets' fifth starter, though it's possible he won't start in the first two weeks due to off days. He has a 2.84 ERA in 19 spring innings, and finished 2006 with a 2.98 ERA in 22 starts between four levels (the majors included), and scouts have always raved about his front-of-the-rotation potential. There's a chance, considering New York's shaky rotation, that Pelfrey could be the team's most valuable fantasy starter, and based on the upside, he's a smart mid-to-late-round NL-only selection. RP Duaner Sanchez has been diagnosed with a small fracture in his right shoulder, and will require surgery that will sideline him for much of the season. With Guillermo Mota set to serve a 50-game suspension to begin the year, Aaron Heilman steps up as the Mets' primary set-up man for April and May. In the event CL Billy Wagner gets hurt, Heilman would presumably step in.
PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES: RP Jon Lieber might be headed to the DL due to an oblique problem that should sideline him for more than a week. He might have been a candidate for an opening-week start with Freddy Garcia battling mild biceps tendinitis, but now seems likely to return to the bullpen once healthy. Lieber should see some time in some team's rotation this season, keeping him in the mix for late-round NL-only consideration, but be patient, as it might take time before that happens. Cleanup man Ryan Howard has struggled this spring (.218 AVG, 20 K's, 55 AB), while No. 3 hitter Chase Utley has been on quite a tear (.368 AVG, 6 HR, 57 AB), leading some to wonder whether Howard will suffer from a lack of lineup protection in 2007. He's probably going to be pitched around more often this season, making a repeat of last year's 58 home runs unlikely, but if he walks 125-plus times, it'll only help his batting average. Howard shouldn't a cause for worry yet; he remains capable of a .300-plus batting average and 40-plus homers, making him well worth a first-round selection.
WASHINGTON NATIONALS: OF Nook Logan, the projected opening-day center fielder, will instead begin the season on the DL with a strained right groin, clearing up some of the confusion in the left-field race. Ryan Church will shift to center and rookie Kory Casto will begin the season as the favorite to start in left ahead of Chris Snelling. Both Casto and Snelling possess great hitting skills, though Casto's more durable and a better power hitter, plus, in the long haul he can fill in at either corner outfield or infield spot. He batted .276 for his minor league career and averaged 21 homers and 85 RBI the past two years in the Washington system, and could be a useful short-term fourth/fifth NL-only outfielder. The release of Travis Lee presumably opens up the first-base role for Dmitri Young, now a .292 hitter (7-for-24) with one homer in nine spring games. He'll be spelled at times by Robert Fick and could eventually be replaced by Casto if he starts slowly, but with an everyday job his for now, he's not a bad $1-3 gamble in NL-only leagues.
National League Central
CHICAGO CUBS: Though the Cliff Floyd signing once appeared to rob Matt Murton of much of his fantasy value, all indications are that the Cubs will limit Floyd's playing time in the early weeks while he continues his recovery from a foot injury. That'll allow Murton to start the bulk of the time in left field in April, perhaps for enough time that he'll prove too valuable to sit, even against right-handers. Keep in mind he batted .295 with a .782 OPS against righties in 2006, and .261/.807 as a rookie in 2005, so it's not like Murton profiles as an ideal platoon mate. He could easily be a more productive player than Floyd in the long haul, capable of a .290 batting average and 15-20 homers, and he'll come cheap, even in NL-only formats. RP Kerry Wood is headed for the DL to begin the season after reporting shoulder stiffness following his appearance on Sunday. He was once viewed as a popular handcuff to CL Ryan Dempster, but a terrible spring and continued health concerns have greatly lowered his draft stock. Bob Howry is now looking like a much smarter handcuff choice for Dempster owners.
CINCINNATI REDS: Manager Jerry Narron plans to begin the season splitting up his left-handed hitters, using them in the second, fourth and sixth spots in the order, a decision that could have a profound impact on Adam Dunn's fantasy value. The three-time 40-homer hitter has been batting second in recent spring games, and might occupy that role in the regular season, which isn't as bad an idea as it might sound. Dunn is an on-base specialist who has thrived in the No. 2 hole over the years; he has batted .274 with 24 homers and a .917 OPS in 94 career games there, his best rates of any of the five spots in which he has appeared in at least 25 games. Any loss he experiences in RBI should be made up in runs scored, and he'll probably pick up a handful more at-bats, helping his chances at easily hitting 40 homers for the fourth straight year. Brandon Phillips, meanwhile, appears the favorite to bat third between Dunn and Ken Griffey Jr., a great position for his fantasy potential. Phillips is a streaky batting-average option, but it's not unthinkable he could be a 20/20 player in that lineup spot, with an underrated amount of RBI. At a weak second-base position, he could easily be a top-five player.
HOUSTON ASTROS: 3B Morgan Ensberg claims the shoulder problems that contributed to his poor 2006 have subsided, and his spring numbers -- .286 AVG, 3 HR, 49 AB -- seem to back that up. Remember, he was a 36-homer, 101-RBI man two short years ago, and he did kick off last year with 18 homers and 38 RBI in his first 55 games, so it's clear he has elite power potential when he's 100 percent. Ensberg's a player who frequently slips to the final rounds of mixed drafts, perhaps a result of the depth at third base this season, but he's not a bad gamble at that price based on his decent spring. SP Fernando Nieve is shaping up as one of the better final-round sleepers for NL-only leagues, with a 2.81 ERA in 16 innings this spring. He remains in the mix for the fifth-starter spot, and should make the team even as a reliever if he falls short in that race. Nieve had a 3.29 ERA and 1.236 WHIP for his minor league career, and could be a cheap source of strikeouts and matchup consideration if he makes it into the rotation.
MILWAUKEE BREWERS: 2B Rickie Weeks entered camp with lingering concerns about his wrist, which he had surgically repaired last August, though in the past week he finally appears to be turning the corner. He's hitting .455 (5-for-11) with one home run in his last four games, raising his spring batting average to .302 (16-for-53). Weeks' strikeout rate -- one per 3.53 at-bats -- remains a concern, though if he stays healthy, he could easily be a 20/20 performer who scores close to 100 runs, putting him among the best fantasy choices at his position. He's a high-risk, high-reward type, though lately he's showing more potential for reward. SS J.J. Hardy has batted .295 (18-for-61) with two homers through 19 spring games, but even more encouraging is that he has only one strikeout to date. He has been plagued by injury the past three years, but at age 24, still has time to get his career back on track. As a middle-infield option, especially in NL-only leagues, he's not a bad late-round gamble.
PITTSBURGH PIRATES: Manager Jim Tracy announced on Friday that Jose Bautista will be his starting third baseman, a decision that seemingly will relegate Jose Castillo to a utility role. Neither player has had a great spring, with Bautista batting .235 without a home run in 51 at-bats and Castillo .289 with no homers in 45 at-bats, so it's a competition that could linger into the regular season, especially with Freddy Sanchez nursing a knee injury. Bautista has underrated power, having managed a .283-23-90 stat line at Double-A Altoona two years ago, so in NL-only formats, he's not a bad late-round corner infielder. Castillo, meanwhile, should continue to fill in at second base, with ordinary numbers, until Sanchez's return. Second base is slated to be Sanchez's everyday role, but a sprained medial collateral ligament will probably send him to the disabled list to begin the season. Keep tabs on Bautista and Castillo in early-April games, because Sanchez could take over at either position once healthy.
ST. LOUIS CARDINALS: The Cardinals' rotation to begin the season has SP Anthony Reyes slotted in for game five, following Chris Carpenter, Kip Wells, Braden Looper and Adam Wainwright, but don't take that as a knock on his talent. Reyes was one of the team's most effective starters this spring, with a 2.70 ERA in five starts, and in a ballpark that leans more toward pitching than old Busch Stadium, he could be one of the year's better breakout candidates. St. Louis doesn't plan to skip starters as off days allow initially, so feel free to draft Reyes in the late rounds. OF Jim Edmonds made his exhibition-season debut on Sunday, going 0-for-1 with a walk as the team's No. 2 hitter. He won't occupy that role in the long haul, as Chris Duncan should bat there, but Edmonds might bat second a few more times to get in some extra at-bats to prepare for opening day. At 36, he's probably not going to get any healthier, but Edmonds can still be a .260-25-75 type given 125 games.
National League West
ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS: OF Carlos Quentin has a small tear in the labrum of his left shoulder, which puts his opening-day status in jeopardy. He'll take a cortisone shot on Thursday and hopes to resume taking batting practice this week, which might only cost him a few regular-season games. Quentin could still be DL-bound, in which case Scott Hairston (.391 AVG, 3 HR, 46 spring AB) would stand to pick up a few starts in right field. Hairston, currently Arizona's fourth outfielder, remains a decent sleeper in deep NL-only formats. Monday's trade of Jorge Julio opens up the role of primary set-up man to Jose Valverde, a valuable spot taking into account Valverde's level of inconsistency the past couple seasons. Those in NL-only formats looking for sleepers for saves should check out Tony Pena, who has a 2.70 ERA and four saves in 10 spring innings. He's one of the more talented arms in the Arizona bullpen and could easily be elevated to eighth-inning reliever in the season's early weeks.
COLORADO ROCKIES: SS Clint Barmes was demoted to Triple-A Colorado Springs on Friday, and apparently will be groomed to take over at second base for 2008. He's unlikely to be much of a fantasy factor the remainder of his career, though with Kazuo Matsui and Jamey Carroll manning the position for now, it's possible Barmes could yet make a respectable career for himself with a bounce-back year in the minors in 2007. The Rockies also demoted OF Cory Sullivan to Colorado Springs on Friday, assuring that veteran Steve Finley will make the team as the fourth outfielder. Owners of Brad Hawpe and Willy Taveras can't be happy, as each stands to lose a handful of at-bats to Finley, though Finley's sub-.250 batting averages the past two seasons could mean an early-season release should he struggle. Don't read into the Coors factor with Finley; his .312 batting average and .952 OPS in 78 career games there were mostly accrued during the prime of his career.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS: With OF Jason Repko (groin) due for surgery that could end his season, the Dodgers acquired OF Brady Clark from the Brewers on Monday, filling their need for a right-handed hitting backup outfielder. Interestingly enough, Clark hasn't been much better a hitter against lefties -- .270 AVG, .758 OPS -- for his career than righties -- .282/.742 -- but in L.A., he'll spot in for the team's three left-handed hitting outfielders a couple times per week. Should a starting role open up, Matt Kemp would probably be the Dodgers' first choice to step in, though Clark could still easily net 200 plate appearances and bat .280, giving him marginal NL-only value. An MRI on SS Rafael Furcal's ankle came back negative, and he intends to play on Opening Day, an awfully encouraging sign considering the initial concerns about his injury. He might be limited on the base paths in the first few games of the regular season, but if he can get in a game by the weekend, feel free to evaluate him at 100 percent. SP Brett Tomko will begin the year as the Dodgers' No. 5 starter, despite his 5.14 ERA in 14 spring innings. He's not a bad late-round NL-only pick or perhaps an occasional matchups option in mixed formats, though it's only a matter of time before Chad Billingsley proves he's too talented to keep in the bullpen.
SAN DIEGO PADRES: The projected left-field platoon of Terrmel Sledge and Jose Cruz Jr. is looking brilliant so far this spring, and there's a good chance the duo might shape up as one of the more underrated pure platoons in baseball in 2007. Sledge has batted .288 with six homers in 52 at-bats, Cruz .270 with four homers in 37 at-bats, and remember that their batting averages aren't strong indications of their regular-season potential because the Padres haven't used a strict platoon strategy during the exhibition season. They certainly will in the regular season, though the team no longer plans to have them lead off; that's now Marcus Giles' job. In the No. 8 hole, runs and RBI opportunities won't be plentiful, but Sledge's .288 batting average and .924 OPS against right-handers in the minors last year, and Cruz's .320/.947 rates against left-handers the past two seasons, could make each a valuable NL-only commodity. Based on the ratio of righties to lefties, though, expect Sledge to earn two starts for every one Cruz does.
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS: It's official; OF Barry Bonds will begin the season as the Giants' No. 3 hitter, after more than four years of batting in the cleanup spot. For fantasy, the decision should carry little impact on his statistics, though he'll now have two speedsters -- OF Dave Roberts and SS Omar Vizquel -- hitting ahead of him, which could be good for him in the RBI department. More important is that No. 2 hitter Vizquel could see more quality pitches to hit, helping slow the effects of age -- he turns 40 on April 24 -- on his hitting numbers. He's an underrated source of a .280-.290 batting average and 20-plus steals. 1B Rich Aurilia, meanwhile, stands to lose a bit of value hitting lower in the lineup; once he recovers from a strained right groin, he'll likely be slotted in fifth or sixth. Don't count on a repeat of his standout 2006 numbers.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
Tristan examines news from each of the teams in the National League.