- AJ Mass, Fantasy
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The Red Sox and A's may be done in Japan, but that doesn't mean the other 28 teams haven't been busy getting their acts together. Here's a sampling of the latest spring news and what it might mean to you from a fantasy point of view:
• Leave it to Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez to be a killjoy for all the fantasy owners who took Hanley Ramirez at the No. 1 overall spot in their NL-only drafts. Gonzalez was quoted on the team's Web site as saying he might not be giving his star shortstop the green light as much this season as in the past. When asked directly if he thought Ramirez would steal 50 bases, he replied, "I hope not. The reason being, the more your body gets banged up -- the wear and tear. He's a guy who hits .300, he hits you 30 [home runs], and has a chance to drive in a lot of runs. I'm scared, because the more you attempt to steal, even if you don't steal, you're diving back to first base. You're getting beaten up pretty good." Gonzalez said he would look to Alfredo Amezaga and Alejandro De Aza to make up the difference in the stolen base department, but at the end of the day had to confess that he really didn't have many other offensive weapons besides Ramirez, and as such, may have to let Hanley be Hanley. "We'll see," Gonzalez said. "If he has a chance to steal 50, as long as he's not beaten up, we'll see."
• Meanwhile, Jorge Cantu continued to prove he's going to be the best third baseman in the state of Florida, at least once all those other teams go back to their northern homes. Cantu hit his third spring home run against the Mets and raised his average to .397. Cantu is not going to make anyone forget the name of Miguel Cabrera, who manned the hot corner for the Marlins last season before being traded to Detroit this winter, but he's far more valuable than his cross-state counterpart, Willy Aybar could ever dream of being. "This is a rebound year for me,'' Cantu told the Palm Beach Post. "I sacrificed a lot of things to get myself better.'' If he gets better to the point at which he matches his 2005 output of 28 home runs and 117 RBIs, he could be the late-round steal of the year.
• Pittsburgh was very busy trying to finalize its roster for the start of the season, and all signs point to Zach Duke's name being included as part of the rotation. According to the Pirates' Web site, Duke was very much in command against Detroit on Wednesday -- he allowed only one run on six hits in five innings. He also struck out five batters and walked none. After missing most of last season with elbow tendinitis, it looks like Duke has regained his form, and could be a nice sleeper pick in deeper leagues. The Pirates also announced on their Web site that they have purchased the contract of Doug Mientkiewicz. The veteran first baseman had played several different positions this spring, including right field and at third base, and the added display of versatility has earned him the team's final bench spot. Pirates' general manager Neal Huntington said of Mientkiewicz, "He's probably in the best shape he's been in years. He's given us quality at-bats off the bench. Doug's done everything he's been asked to and more this spring." Although it's unlikely you'd want to draft Mientkiewicz -- especially for fear that you'd butcher the name's pronunciation, earning yourself ridicule from your league mates -- keep him in mind in the event Xavier Nady continues to struggle. Nady, the expected starting right fielder has been awful this spring, hitting only .192 and striking out nearly one of out every four at-bats.
• Sometimes, the cards are all stacked against you, and in the case of Anthony Reyes, one Card in particular, pitching coach Dave Duncan, may really have been against him. Despite pitching six innings of three-hit ball in a 3-0 victory over the Nationals on Tuesday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Reyes will not make the team's starting rotation. Duncan seemed to be unimpressed with Reyes, despite the results, citing a stiff wind blowing in from the outfield as the reason for his success. A team source told the newspaper that Reyes would make the Cardinals 25-man roster as a long reliever. Reyes, for his part, wants to be a starter, but he stopped short of saying he'd prefer a trade to staying in St. Louis. "I'm here. I love St. Louis," Reyes was quoted on the team's Web site, "This is where I want to be. But that stuff is out of my hands." Out of the rotation, Reyes loses whatever fantasy value he may have had as a possible late-round sleeper.
• It's a Catch-22 for Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Even though he probably played well enough to make the Texas Rangers' roster, Gerald Laird was a little bit better. Because the team would probably prefer "Salty" played every day, rather than waste away on the bench in a backup role, the Rangers have sent him down to Triple-A. As Rangers manager Ron Washington said on the team's official Web site, "Gerald came in here as the incumbent. We are very fortunate that we have two guys of major league caliber, but only one could get it. Salty is a guy who needs to play, he doesn't need to sit around." So another sleeper goes back into hibernation, at least for now, and Adam Melhuse, who hit .206 in 23 games for the Rangers last season before being shown the door in August, only to be invited back to spring training this year as a courtesy, gets to be Laird's backup.
• Another prospect whose 2008 dreams of big league glory will have to wait for another day is Homer Bailey. The 21-year-old, former first-round pick was sent to Triple-A Louisville by the Cincinnati Reds, according to a report on the team's Web site. The news did not come as much of a surprise, especially after Monday's start in which Bailey walked six batters in 4 1/3 innings. Dusty Baker said he expects Bailey to be a major league pitcher someday ... just not today. "I told him to go down there and when you come back, I hope you're here to stay for a long, long time," Baker said. "He has the stuff to win." Bailey's demotion likely means that both Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez will be part of the rotation, although you know good old Dusty wasn't going to commit to having two youngsters in his starting five without exploring every last option. "Anything is possible at this time," Baker said. "Everybody is still looking to better themselves in different areas and positions. You still look to see who comes across the waiver wires."
• Twins center fielder Carlos Gomez left Wednesday's game with a cramp in his left hamstring, according to a report on the team's Web site. Despite leaving the game, Gomez says he's fully intent on playing in each of the remaining three spring training games. "I'm ready 100 percent right now," Gomez said. "If I'm here, I want to play." The injury must not be serious at all, because manager Ron Gardenhire says Gomez talked him into letting him start Thursday's game. "He came in and said he wanted to go," Gardenhire said. "He said if he doesn't go tomorrow then 'you may think this and may think that,' so I said, 'fine, you're going.' But I told him, 'You're in trouble, if [you hurt] that hamstring again.'"
• If Livan Hernandez hasn't impressed Ron Gardenhire enough with his spring performance so far, perhaps there's an MLS team that may want to give him a tryout. Hernandez wowed the crowd, his teammates and his opponents alike by kicking a sure bunt single by the Rays' Elliot Johnson about 10 feet through the air, right into the glove of Justin Morneau. "That's usually no goal in hockey if you kick it in," Morneau said with a laugh. "That was unbelievable." Hernandez, who is scheduled to start on Opening Day for the Twins, went six innings on Wednesday, allowing one run on four hits and a walk, with five strikeouts.
• Chris Snyder's amazing spring continued on Wednesday. The Diamondbacks' Web site reports that the catcher went 3-for-3 against the Rockies, and raised his spring average to .390. What is all the more impressive is that Snyder is performing as well as he is without any competition for the starting job. With Miguel Montero having injured his finger earlier this spring and likely starting the season on the disabled list, Snyder hasn't had to worry about "if" he'll be the everyday backstop. Instead, he's been able to focus on the task at hand, which is simply "being" the Arizona catcher. With the catcher position full of fantasy question marks, perhaps Snyder's exclamation point of a spring will raise his stock a bit ... somehow he's only currently owned in only 1.7 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues.
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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