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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
Padres' Wil Myers hoping to prove the doubters wrong
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9:43 pm ET) Padres outfielder Wil Myers is hoping he can prove the doubters wrong this season, according to MLB.com.

Myers not only has a lot to prove at the plate, but he also wants to show that he can handle his new defensive position. "Going into this year, I have a lot of doubters out there. I not only want to prove them wrong but prove to myself that I can play a good center field," Myers said.

He continued, "I've played a lot there in the minor leagues. And hearing everyone say, 'I don't think he can play center field,' is going to motivate me to play a great center field."

Manager Bud Black seems encouraged by Myers' defensive play thus far. "He's looking good, good angles, good routes, good hands, athletic," Black said. "His speed is fine. His strides look good tracking fly balls. He's an athletic guy. From what we've seen so far [it's been] all good."

The 24-year-old hit .222/.294/.320 over 325 at-bats last season. 


Red Sox SP Kelly on spring debut: 'I know what I need to work on'
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9:04 pm ET) Red Sox starting pitcher Joe Kelly surrendered four earned runs on seven hits in 1 2/3 innings in his spring debut Thursday, striking out two and walking none.

"Stuff wasn't as crisp as it usually is," Kelly said after his outing. "88 mile fastball, don't think I've done that since I was 13. I know what I need to work on. ... I threw 44 pitches, will look to build up to 100 pitches. I'm not going to beat myself up. Will watch some video, work on things. ... Four-seam not as crisp as I would like. Just not there yet, but that will come. I threw all four pitches today, that's a plus."

Kelly said during the offseason that he planned on winning the AL Cy Young Award in 2015. He went 6-4 with a 4.20 ERA and 66:42 K:BB ratio in 96 1/3 innings between the Cardinals and Red Sox last season.


P Yoan Lopez to make debut for Diamondbacks on Saturday
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(9:03 pm ET) Diamondbacks pitcher Yoan Lopez will make his spring training debut this Saturday, according to MLB.com. 

The 21-year-old Cuban right-hander is competing for a spot in Arizona's rotation this spring. Lopez signed a deal that included a signing bonus of over $8 million. 


Twins' Michael Tonkin hoping to catch on with the club
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9:03 pm ET) Twins pitcher Michael Tonkin is hoping to break camp on the 25-man roster, according to MLB.com.

Tonkin has been up and down the past two seasons, but is competing for a bullpen spot this spring. He has one option year left on his contract, but he's hoping he can break camp with the major-league club.

"It would be huge," Tonkin said. "It's a pretty important year for me. Just the business side of it, having just one option left. It's important to show them I can be a big leaguer. I feel like I'm ready."

Tonkin, 25, posted a 4.74 ERA over 19 innings last season. 


Black: Shawn Kelley 'brings talent' to Padres bullpen
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(8:56 pm ET) Padres pitcher Shawn Kelley was traded to San Diego this offseason, and manager Bud Black spoke Thursday about the talent and experience the lefty brings to the Padres bullpen, U-T San Diego reports.

"You've got some guys now who are starting to get some tenure, some experience, in (Dale) Thayer and (Nick) Vincent and (Kevin) Quackenbush," Black said. "Shawn brings a little bit of that service time, but more importantly, he brings talent. He's got a good arm, he's got a good, live fastball, he's got a good slider, he's pitched at the backend of bullpens, he's been around some good closers, he's been in good bullpens."

Kelley threw his slider 57.7 percent of the time last season, second among all qualified relievers, but has confidence throwing his pitches in any situation.

"I have no problem throwing both pitches (fastball and slider) of the plate, up and down to lefties," Kelley said. "I think with the advanced scouting reports and all the information we have, every lefty has at least one hole or two against a righty, and I feel like I have something I'm comfortable doing to match that. ... I'll do whatever I have to do to exploit a lefty's weakness."

Set to become a free agent after the season, Kelley went 3-6 with a 4.53 ERA and 67:20 K:BB ratio in 51 2/3 innings with the Yankees last season.


Diamondbacks encouraged by Yasmany Tomas
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(8:54 pm ET) The Diamondbacks were encouraged by Yasmany Tomas' play at third on Thursday, according to azcentral.com.

Tomas didn't make every play, but was able to convert on five of his six chances at the hot corner. Manager Chip Hale said the team was "encouraged" by what Tomas showed during the game. 

Hale also complimented Tomas at the plate, even though the infielder doesn't have a hit yet this spring. "He's much lighter on his feet than you would think he is," Hale said. "Even running down the line, he doesn't get hits every time but when he hits it, he hustles down the line and looks like he can get down there pretty good."

Tomas is attempting to win the third base job during camp. He's expected to open the year in the majors even if the team converts him back to the outfield. 


Mariners designate Ji-Man Choi for assignment
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(8:46 pm ET) The Mariners have designated first baseman Ji-Man Choi for assignment on Thursday, according to MLB.com.

Choi fractured his fibula during Wednesday's game, and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks. He will be replaced by Edgar Olmos on the 40-man roster. 


Dodgers P Clayton Kershaw pitches two perfect innings Thursday
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(8:40 pm ET) Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw's first spring training game had him retire all six batters he faced in two innings. 

In Thursday's 6-1 win over the White Sox, Kershaw recorded three strikeouts. 

"It felt good. The first one is just good to get out there and make sure you feel good physically," Kershaw said, via the Associated Press. "The results are obviously something that you look for, but maybe not the most important thing.


Mariners place Edgar Olmos back on the 40-man roster
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(8:38 pm ET) Mariners pitcher Edgar Olmos has been placed on the team's 40-man roster, according to MLB.com.

Olmos went over to the Rangers briefly, but was sent back to the Mariners after it was revealed he had a shoulder issue. Olmos will replace Ji-Man Choi on the 40-man roster.


Braves sign Peter Moylan to minor-league deal
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(8:23 pm ET) The Braves have signed pitcher Peter Moylan to a minor-league deal, according to MLB Trade Rumors.

Moylan had Tommy John surgery last season, but is hoping to be able to pitch in games in April or May. The 36-year-old posted a 6.46 ERA over 15 1/3 innings in 2013. 


 
 
 
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