Fantasy Camp Notes: Kazmir provides scare
Here's the latest news from around spring training, and what it means from a fantasy point of view:
• Score one for those who have been hesitant to elevate Scott Kazmir to the pitching elite. According to Jayson Stark of ESPN.com, Kazmir walked off the field without throwing a pitch in the Rays' intrasquad game Tuesday. The St. Petersburg Times reports that the 2007 AL strikeouts leader will miss approximately two weeks after a precautionary MRI on his left elbow. "Warming up, I was feeling great," the Rays left-hander said. "And just on my last warm-up pitch, getting ready for the game on the mound, I just felt a little discomfort. And I just wanted to stop it right there. I didn't want to keep throwing." We'll know more when the test results come in, but even if it turns out to be nothing more than a temporary discomfort, perhaps Kazmir's stock in fantasy drafts will normalize a bit.
• In other Rays news, the St. Petersburg Times reports that Willy Aybar and Joel Guzman have finally gotten their visa issues cleared up, and they will be reporting to camp this week. Both players have a shot to be the Rays' starting third baseman, and manager Joe Maddon is anxious to see what they can do, especially Aybar, who was once a top Dodgers prospect, but missed all of 2007 with an injured wrist and some legal problems. "I've heard all about [Aybar], read all the different numbers and everyone speaks well about his offense, his plate discipline, his hitting abilities," Maddon said. "And I've heard different things about his defense -- I want to see that -- I've heard he could be a pretty good defender." Certainly, if Aybar impresses Maddon, that could help the team make the decision not to rush Evan Longoria to the majors. So let's not rush to give Longoria the job just yet.
• Omar Vizquel has torn the medial meniscus cartilage in his right knee and is expected to miss four to six weeks, according to the Giants' official Web site. Vizquel will turn 41 in April, and at his age, one has to wonder if that time estimate isn't merely optimism. With Vizquel out, the San Francisco infield does sort itself out, however. Kevin Frandsen, who was going to compete with Ray Durham at second base, now takes over at shortstop. Durham won't have to worry about losing his job, and Rich Aurilia also breathes a deep sigh of relief, because he gets to play third base without worrying that he'll be pushed aside at the hot corner if both Frandsen and Durham have a decent spring.
• The Chicago Tribune reports that Joe Crede looked sharp defensively in his first game since undergoing season-ending back surgery in June 2007. Crede, who went 0-for-2 in a five-inning intrasquad affair, is competing with Josh Fields for the third base job, and many have speculated that Crede might be traded if he can prove that he's fit enough to play. For his part, Crede isn't concerned: "I'm going in assuming I'm going to be here in Chicago and whatever happens after that, happens." At least for now, though, it appears Crede will at least be somewhere, and that's what's most important when considering whether or not to draft him.
• Lyle Overbay has a lot more uncertainty when it comes to his injury. Overbay's right hand was broken in a game against the White Sox in June 2007, and after that he never felt right. His average plummeted from .312 in 2006 to a woeful .240 in 2007. The teams' official Web site reports that manager John Gibbons thinks Overbay will be fine. "He looks like the old guy," Gibbons said. But Overbay is a bit more cautious, saying he'll know better in a few weeks if the hand has completely healed. If not, look to veteran Matt Stairs, who hit 21 home runs last season, to see an increased workload at first base.
• Another Blue Jay attempting to come back from injury could be back a lot sooner than anyone thought. ESPN.com's Jayson Stark reports that only 10 months after undergoing Tommy John surgery, Blue Jays closer B.J. Ryan has looked and felt so good this spring, the club hasn't ruled out the possibility that he could be ready by Opening Day. If Ryan gets the OK from his surgeon, Dr. Timothy Kremchek, he could throw live batting practice Thursday, work a simulated game as early as Sunday and then pitch in either "B" games or minor league spring games "in his first couple of outings," John Gibbons said. "And after that, we'll see where we're at." This news makes it clear that you don't want to overpay for the services of Jeremy Accardo, and if you do select the fill-in closer, you're going to want to have Ryan on your roster as well so you won't be taken by surprise if he does come back sooner, rather than later.
• Has "The Biggest Loser" joined the league's biggest winner? Not yet, but Boston is hoping that turns out to be the case. Bartolo Colon is indeed in Red Sox camp, not that you'd be able to miss him if you were there. According to the team's official Web site, Colon arrived a bit out of shape, having not thrown seriously in nearly three weeks since pitching in the Caribbean Series on Feb. 6. "There are no limitations from a physical standpoint," pitching coach John Farrell said. "It's just a matter of getting him back into playing shape and building up his arm strength to the point of facing hitters." Farrell also added that Colon is aware that he has work to do. "I don't know the exact number of pounds that might have to be lost here. I think there's some self-acknowledgment on his part that he is a little bit overweight right now, and we'll work to arrive at a playing weight that he's been accustomed to." Looks like Bartolo is going to start the season in the minors, or at the very least in extended spring training. The best strategy when deciding when, and if, to draft Colon? Weight and see.
• According to The Associated Press, Tony La Russa plans to put his pitchers in the eighth spot in the batting order during spring training, a practice he intends on continuing once the season gets underway. This is not a new tactic for La Russa, who began the move last season with 56 games to go. The Cardinals played .500 ball during that span, but more interestingly, the team's run production actually increased from 4.3 to 4.6 runs per game. Additionally, the pitchers actually raised their on-base percentage to .248 (they hit while .217 in the ninth spot in the order). If it works, and at the same time gives Albert Pujols a chance to have a guaranteed first inning at-bat, yet also essentially bat cleanup for the remainder of the game, who are we to argue?
• Three years, five trips to the disabled list. That's what Bobby Crosby has endured since winning the AL Rookie of the Year in 2004. But for 2008, at least for now, according to the San Jose Mercury News, Crosby feels just fine. But Crosby probably wouldn't blame you if you didn't go ahead and pick him for your fantasy roster. "I know there are doubters out there, doubters in the media, doubters [among] fans, and for a decent reason," the A's shortstop said. "I've had a couple years where I haven't played up to my capability. I understand that. I'm not going to [use] any excuses. I haven't played well, so that gives me motivation." It's been a long time since that 22-home run season, but if Crosby really is healthy and stays that way, he'll at least have nearly 200 more at-bats to work with in 2008.
• Another player who says he's feeling better this spring is Jason Giambi. According to Newsday, the Yankees slugger says, "This is the best I've felt in a really long time." So good, in fact, that he's ready to play first base on a regular basis. There are a lot of people who are in the first base mix, including Shelley Duncan, Morgan Ensberg and Wilson Betemit, but certainly none of those players are making $21 million in 2008. Like a giant jigsaw puzzle, there's only one right solution to the Yankees' everyday lineup, and with Melky Cabrera in center field, you have to move Johnny Damon to left, which means Hideki Matsui goes to the designated hitter spot, and that leaves Giambi at first base. So don't expect huge chunks of playing time for the rest of the first base pretenders.
• According to the Akron Beacon-Journal, Eric Wedge has decided that C.C. Sabathia will be the starter for the Indians on Opening Day. Of course, he hasn't yet told Sabathia the news, and isn't planning to either. "I didn't think I needed to tell him," Wedge said Tuesday. "I mean, if you can't assume that the Cy Young Award winner is going to start the opener, then when can you?" Perhaps Wedge is on to something. With a battle going on in both left and right field, perhaps Wedge can just sit back and see which two players among David Dellucci, Jason Michaels, Franklin Gutierrez and Ben Francisco run out there at the start of the first game. That could make his ultimate decision a whole lot easier.
A.J. Mass is a fantasy football, baseball and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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