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2012 Draft Prep: Why spring matters

Senior Fantasy Writer
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We've heard it repeated, every year: spring training doesn't matter. Besides crushing the spirit of my 12 year-old self, who, come March, would religiously check the spring training standings every day in the local Syracuse newspaper to see how my Yankees and Blue Jays were doing (Syracuse was the home of Toronto's Triple-A affiliate, so they held some sentimental value), this adage has gotten a bit annoying. And I think some people are coming around to realize that -- even if it's just a little bit -- spring training statistics do matter.

Take, for instance, Tigers pitcher Drew Smyly.

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Coming into spring training, Smyly had one year of professional experience, splitting 2011 between Lakeland and Erie in the Detroit farm system. According to The Baseball Cube, Smyly struck out 130 batters in 126 innings, with a 2.07 ERA and 1.03 WHIP. He gave up two home runs on the entire season. He's currently in competition for the fifth spot in the Detroit rotation and has put up a stunningly-impressive 1.13 ERA over eight innings so far this spring. And that's not counting a masterful minor league performance last week, in which Smyly threw four shutout innings, striking out eight batters. As the fourth inning began, Tigers manager Jim Leyland apparently told Smyly that he had 15 pitches left on the day. Smyly went out and threw 12 pitches, striking out the side.

On Wednesday, Smyly started a spring game against the Cardinals, who trotted out all of their starters. Smyly threw 4 2/3 innings, allowing three runs on three hits. He walked two and struck out three. He gave up a fifth inning home run to Tyler Greene. He'll have one more start before Leyland makes a decision.

So to say spring training doesn't matter not only crushes the dreams of tween baseball fans across upstate New York, it also isn't true. If it didn't matter, Drew Smyly would be back in the minor leagues. Instead, he might have a serious impact on the fortunes of what could turn out to be baseball's best team. And, more importantly, he gave potential owners a look at what he's capable of against major league hitting. If he wins that fifth spot, he could be a sly sleeper pick.

Other observations if you're in one of the many leagues that have yet to draft ...

Red Sox pitchers seem to be going later than they should be: I'm mainly looking at Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, who are currently carrying ADPs of 51 and 166. Lester has a chance to be a top-five starting pitcher and Buchholz missed a chunk of last year with recurring back problems. I'm sure that Lester's somewhat-rocky 2011 and Buchholz's injury-plagued campaign are playing into their decreased values, but don't be surprised if you're sitting around with your friends in October having to listen to them brag about how, "I got Buchholz in the 12th round."

Speaking of October: If I had the ability to travel seven months into the future, here are six players whose stats I would immediately check before doing anything else:

1. Lorenzo Cain: It's not that I'm not sold on Cain's ability, I'm just not sure what to expect from him. Could he have a breakout 30 home run season, but hit .255 and steal 11 bases? Maybe. Could he also have a serviceable 15 home run season while batting .310 and stealing 35 bases? Possibly. I know Cain is talented, I'd just like to know from where that talent is going to spring, so I can build around him accordingly.

2. Brett Lawrie: Lawrie seems at times to be the real deal, but he also seems to be a little bit overrated. This glance to the future is based solely on how many home runs Lawrie will finish with. 30? 40? 45?

3. Shelley Duncan: Duncan could either go down the Jose Bautista/Carlos Quentin road of "Guy with power who just never got a solid shot at playing time" or "Guy who once again got hot early, then disappeared, then hit 10 homers in September." I'm not sure which way to go on this, because if he wins that job in Cleveland's left field (and all indications are that he will) and holds on to it, he can be a really dangerous source of power. But if they decide to platoon him or if he gets hurt, it might lead to the annual marginalizing of Shelley Duncan. I want to grab him late in drafts, I just don't know which historical precedence path to follow here.

4. Carl Crawford: I'm pretty much all-in with Crawford this year, chalking 2011 up to an aberration; a hybrid of pressure to perform over a large contract and adjustment to a new team. I don't think anything he does or doesn't do this year will be tied to his wrist surgery. It's more of his ability to bounce back from a bad season and show that he didn't lose any of his skill.

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5. Grant Balfour: Come October, Balfour could have 40 saves or he could have 13. I'm in the small camp that says 40, apparently. I see Balfour pulling a Kyle Farnsworth, emerging from middle relief to grab the closer job and just running with it, with a trail of doubters in his wake.

6. Alex Rodriguez: He's incredibly focused, and -- although this is just speculation -- I'm guessing he's dialed in and eager to prove that 2011 was an injury-marred fluke.

Fun CBSSports.com tip that I learned today: This is for those of you who have old, vestigial leagues that show up when you're looking for your current ones and just annoyingly take up space. Hover over "Fantasy" on your home screen. All your team logos and names should show up. Go to "Manage Logos," which is just to the left of "Fantasy News and Alerts." This will take you to a screen where you can hide teams from that little box.

"Yu Darvish" ... There's a scene in the cult classic Donnie Darko where Drew Barrymore's character says, "Donnie Darko," and Noah Wylie's simply replies, "I know." That's kind of how I'm feeling about Yu Darvish. He's in the general sub-consciousness. We don't really know what to think of him yet. But ... he's there. I don't know how his stats are going to look with all the factors facing him -- the mid-summer Texas heat, the changeover to Major League Baseball, the changes in routine. But Darvish is somehow on every one of my teams this year. And fine, it's partially because he'll be easy (or at least interesting) to root for, and partially because, if he does well, I can just pat myself on the back and tell everyone, "I drafted him, look at me, I'm a genius." But I think that if you look at the starting pitchers who come over from Japan -- outside of a few exceptions -- they find success. Or at least lots of strikeouts. Even Kei Igawa, as disastrous as his rookie season in New York was, struck out about seven batters per nine innings.

Al Melchior = man among boys: After probably our 20th draft/auction combined between the two of us this week, I mentioned to Al that he could probably do our Wednesday afternoon draft -- comprised of everyone associated with the Fantasy Baseball 360 show (debuts next week!) -- with his eyes closed. This quickly spiraled into an "I'll do it if you do it" dare, where we decided we'd pick blindly in the 17th round of a 21-round draft. Al went first and landed on Kyle Farnsworth. Four picks later, I clicked on David Freese.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Nando Di Fino at @NandoCBS . You can also send our staff an e-mail at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Rockies' Jhoulys Chacin ready for bounce back 2015 season
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:46 am ET) Rockies pitcher Jhoulys Chacin had a tough 2014 season. After injuring his shoulder in spring training, Chacin struggled in 11 starts, posting a 1-7 record with a 5.40 ERA in 63 1/3 innings. He suffered right rotator cuff strain, which forced him to miss nearly half the season.

However, manager Walt Weiss is happy with Chacin's progress this offseason.

"He's doing great. He's been throwing and working out really hard. He's had a really good offseason," Weiss said to The Denver Post.

Teammate and pitcher Jorge De La Rosa thinks 2015 will be much kinder to Chacin.

"He surprised me a lot," De La Rosa said. "He was playing catch with me every day (in Scottsdale, Ariz.), and his arm looks really good. His ball really had some life, and he's lost some weight. I think he's getting stronger. He's going to have a good year."


Report: Braves sign reliever David Carpenter
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1/24/2015) The Braves signed relief pitcher David Carpenter, reports Baseball America.

Carpenter spent the last three seasons pitching for the Angels. During his career, Carpenter has pitched 43 innings and produced a 5.23 ERA.


Rockies' Troy Tulowitzki wants to move past injury concerns
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1/24/2015) Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki has heard the rumors about being injury-prone and he said it only motivates him to play better, reports MLB.com.

Tulowitzki only appeared in 91 games during the 2014 season and said his main goal for 2015 is to stay on the field.

"I've heard that I'm injury-prone. I've heard that I'm getting older. I like it," he said. "That stuff fuels me. It makes my workouts better. It makes me want it that much more. I just want to prove that I can do it. For so long, I've worked so hard to try to stay on the field. That's what keeps driving me - to stay on the field, help this team win and try to solidify myself as the best player in the game."

He added that he wants to play between 140 and 160 games, but he knows it will be a challenge as he gets older.

"It's been a battle for me, no doubt," Tulowitzki said. "I do everything I possibly can to prepare for the season and make myself healthy."


Red Sox's Hanley Ramirez confident he can play outfield
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1/24/2015) When Hanley Ramirez makes his spring training debut, he’ll be trying to learn new teammates and a new position.

The Red Sox signed Ramirez in the offseason with the intent of having him play in left field. Ramirez has never played in the outfield during his career, but has been working on outfield mechanics, including tracking balls and hitting the cutoff man. Ramirez believes the switch from the infield to the outfield will be seamless, once he receives enough experience, reports ESPN.com.

"I think if I put in all the work that I need to put to get better it's not going to be that hard," Ramirez said.


Tigers sign pitcher Al Alburquerque for $1.725 million
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/24/2015) The Tigers have re-signed pitcher Al Alburquerque to a $1.725 million contract with a $12,500 bonus for 75 appearances, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman.

Alburquerque originally filed for $2.05 million in arbitration while Detroit offered $1.375 million, according to Heyman. The five-year veteran went 3-1 in 2014 with a 2.51 ERA in 72 games. 


Astros ask third baseman Matt Dominguez to learn first base
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1/24/2015) With the Astros recently acquiring infielder Luis Valbuena, third baseman Matt Dominguez has been asked to start learning how to play first base, reports the Houston Chronicle.

"You get a bigger glove, so it can't be that hard," Dominguez said.

Dominguez has spent the last two seasons as the full-time third baseman for the Astors, but he will compete with Valbuena for the starting role this season. If Valbuena wins the third base job, the Astros want Dominguez to be able to switch to first base.

"[Astros manager A.J. Hinch] thinks I'm going to be a third baseman, but he wants to also help me try to make the team by adding a little more versatility and move around a little bit more," Dominguez said. "Do whatever I need to do."


Citing health, Allen Craig hopes to play well for Red Sox
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1/24/2015) After declaring himself healthy, Red Sox outfielder Allen Craig hopes to justify the Red Sox’s decision to trade for him, reports the Boston Herald.

Craig suffered a ligament tear in his left foot in 2013 and struggled throughout 2014, hitting .215 with eight home runs and 46 RBI.

"I'm just going to go to spring training and compete wherever I'm at and just play the game like I always have," Craig said. "The Red Sox traded for me because they believe in me, so I want to go out there and play well."


White Sox C Tyler Flowers: 'It's my job to lose' behind the plate
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1/24/2015) White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers told reporters he doesn't plan on giving up his starting job easily, per MLB.com. On Thursday, Geovany Soto signed a minor-league deal with an invite to spring training.

"I really don't think there's much of a question going in there," Flowers said. "I would definitely say it's my job to lose. Barring an injury, there's really no doubt I'll be the guy catching opening day."

Flowers avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year deal, worth $2.675 million for this season. The 28-year-old hit .241/.297/.396 with 15 homers and 50 RBI over 407 at-bats in 2014.

"At this point, there's no reason to move off of that," general manager Rick Hahn said. "Competition is good. It brings out the best in people. And if someone comes in and fights for that job and earns it, I'm sure we'll be flexible. But certainly, we view Tyler as the starter."


Red Sox 2B Dustin Pedroia: 'I plan on playing 162' games
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1/24/2015) Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who is coming off September wrist surgery, told reporters he plans to play all 162 games this season, per Comcast SportsNet Northeast.

"I plan on playing 162," said Pedroia. "[Farrell] said that because my numbers were impacted [by the injury]. But I don't look at it any different. I mean, I played 178 games (in 2013) with a torn thumb. Obviously, I'm human -- the next year, you're going to have a tough time."

Pedroia has been limited the past three seasons due to a number of injuries. He injured his wrist in the home opener and wasn't the same the rest of the way. The 31-year-old Pedroia hit just .278 with seven home runs, 33 doubles and 53 RBI in 135 games last season. He has hit fewer than 10 home runs in two straight seasons.

Pedroia reiterated that he's at 100 percent to start spring training.

"I'm back...you'll see," Pedroia said. "I'm good, ready to go. If [the season] started tomorrow, I'd be good. I'm very excited. Obviously, after last year, it didn't go very well, so we've got a lot of stuff to prove.'"


Report: Brandon Beachy finalizing deal with new team
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1/24/2015) Free agent pitcher Brandon Beachy is zeroing in on an agreement with a new team, reports Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN Twin Cities on Saturday. Beachy, who drew interest from several teams this offseason, is not expected to return to Minnesota, per the report.

The 28-year-old missed all of 2014 while recovering from Tommy John surgery. He owns a 3.23 career ERA along with a 275:86 K:BB ratio in 267 2/3 innings across 46 starts.


 
 
 
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