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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
White Sox sign James Baldwin, release J.D. Martin, Joe Savery
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:16 pm ET) The White Sox have signed outfielder James Baldwin and released pitchers J.D. Martin and Joe Savery, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.

Baldwin was a fourth-round pick of the Dodgers in 2010 and hit .217/.292/.414 with 14 home runs, 43 RBI and 28 stolen bases in 374 at-bats with high Class A Rancho Cucamonga last season.


Indians reassign Jerry Sands to minor-league camp
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:12 pm ET) The Indians have sent outfielder Jerry Sands to minor-league camp, the Cleveland Plain-Dealer reports.

Sands has done a fine job this season, hitting .316/.381/.421 with one home run in 38 at-bats, but has lost out on the competition for a bench spot.


Dodgers 3B Juan Uribe (illness) back in lineup Monday
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1:10 pm ET) Dodgers third baseman Juan Uribe returned to the spring lineup Monday against the Diamondbacks after sitting out Sunday due to an illness. Uribe is batting .225 (9 for 40) through 16 spring games.

Marlins' Jarred Cosart set to return to mound Wednesday
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1:02 pm ET) Marlins starting pitcher Jarred Cosart is scheduled to start Wednesday's spring game against the Nationals, according to The Palm Beach Post. He threw a bullpen session Sunday after being scratched from his last spring start due to a blister on the middle finger on his right hand.

Cosart is 0-2 with am 8.49 ERA in four spring starts.


Cubs option Javier Baez, reassign Kris Bryant, Addison Russell
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:59 pm ET) The Cubs cut three of their key young players from major-league camp Monday, optioning infielder Javier Baez to Triple-A Iowa and reassigning third baseman Kris Bryant and shortstop Addison Russell to minor-league camp.

Baez was initially expected to open the season as the team's starting second baseman after racking up 213 at-bats in his rookie season in 2014. He hit just .169/.227/.324 with nine home runs, 20 RBI and five stolen bases last season but also struck out 95 times. Baez struggled to make an impact at the plate this spring, collecting just nine hits in 52 at-bats while striking out 20 times.

Bryant has been one of the best hitters in either spring-training league in 2015, going 17 for 40 with nine home runs and 15 RBI. He is expected to make his major-league debut during 2015. Russell, the biggest name from the trade that sent Jeff Samardzija to Oakland last season, hit .324/.359/.486 with one home run in 37 spring at-bats.

With Baez and Bryant out of the picture, the Cubs will likely choose between Arismendy Alcantara, Mike Olt and Tommy La Stella for playing time at second base and third base.


Mets acquire left-handed reliever Alex Torres in trade with Padres
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:53 pm ET) The Mets acquired left-handed reliever Alex Torres from the Padres on Monday. The Padres acquired pitcher Cory Mazzoni and a player to be named later in the trade.

The Mets have been trying to fill the void in the bullpen due to the absence of left-handed reliever Josh Edgin, who will miss the 2015 season due to Tommy John surgery.

Torres arrived in San Diego last January in a trade with Tampa Bay. He went 2-1 with a 3.33 ERA in 70 relief outings for the Padres in 2014. He is 7-4 with a 2.55 ERA over three MLB seasons.

Mazzoni is 24-12 with a 4.11 ERA over four seasons in the minors. He has mostly been used as a starter in the minors (53 starts, 12 relief appearances).


Indians option OF Tyler Holt to Triple-A Columbus
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:47 pm ET) The Indians have optioned outfielder Tyler Holt to Triple-A Columbus, the Cleveland Plain-Dealer reports.

Holt made his major-league debut last season and went on to hit .268/.307/.296 while also striking out 25 times in 71 at-bats. He was 11 for 42 with one double, one triple and three stolen bases this spring before being sent down.


Reds announce cuts Monday, release veteran Paul Maholm
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:46 pm ET) The Reds made another rounds of cuts Monday, which included the release of veteran pitcher Paul Maholm, who was competing for a spot on the pitching staff this spring.

Other moves Monday included optioning pitcher Pedro Villarreal to Triple-A Louisville, as well as reassigning pitcher Nate Adock, infielder Ivan De Jesus Jr., infielder Irving Falu and catcher Kyle Skipworth to minor-league camp.


Rangers SS Elvis Andrus (back) scratched from lineup Monday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:42 pm ET) Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus has been scratched from Monday's starting lineup due to stiffness in his lower back, the team announced.

Andrus has been in the midst of a fine spring, hitting .389/.410/.639 with one home run, two doubles and two triples in 36 at-bats.


Nationals' Span happy with progress after from core muscle surgery
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:31 pm ET) Nationals outfielder Denard Span has been able to run sprints in the outfield, swing a lighter bat than he is used to and throw from as far as 200 feet over the last week, according to The Washington Post. Span is recovering from core muscle surgery March 9.

“The last three days were really good,” Span said on Sunday. “Overall, it’s been feeling a lot better than I anticipated or a lot of people anticipated feeling this soon.”

Span is expected to stay back in Florida for extended spring training when camp ends. He doesn't have a timetable for his return, but estimates are he will be back in early-to-mid-May.

“Mentally, I’m a lot better than I was before surgery and a little bit after surgery, just knowing that I’m getting better each day and inching closer to getting back to re-joining the ball club and doing what I love to do,” he said. “It’s been a tough six months for me. I’ve been dealing this since the season ended last year. The last few days, just to be out here sprinting and doing things that I normally do has been very easing to my mind.”


 
 
 
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