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By the Numbers: Signs of things to come?

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This will hardly be the first time that you will hear that spring stats mean little, and it certainly won't be the last. So you probably don't need to be told not to freak out over Joey Votto's strikeout binge. Owners also seem to be ignoring the cold snaps that Emilio Bonifacio and Dexter Fowler are enduring, realizing that the progress each made last season hasn't gone down the drain. Similarly, few owners, if any, are buying into the notion of Cliff Pennington or Will Venable becoming .300 hitters.

Echoing the sentiment expressed in Nando Di Fino's recent column, spring stats do matter in some selected cases. From a practical standpoint, they are worth paying attention to, because they can make the difference as to who wins a position battle or earns one of a team's final roster spots. In some cases, spring stats also raise our attention to an otherwise underappreciated player. For example, Joe Mather looked like a promising source of power a few seasons ago, but after lingering in Triple-A for several seasons, he had been largely forgotten. An explosive spring performance has landed Mather on the Cubs' opening day roster, and with a key injury to a regular player, Mather could matter in NL-only leagues.

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Here are a dozen more players who have put up head-turning stats this spring. Whether they have drawn attention in a good way or a bad way, each has deviated far enough from expectations that their Fantasy fortunes for 2012 may have changed as well. In some cases, the hype generated by spring stats is much greater than the actual impact those stats should have on your assessment of a player's value. For some players, though, an unexpected spring performance gives us reason to take a closer look at how we will use them this season.

Lorenzo Cain, OF, Royals: Cain's scorching spring didn't really have an impact on his role with the Royals; he was already set to be their starting center fielder. However, it may have raised his profile among Fantasy owners in standard mixed leagues who have made him a common late-round pick. Cain has a .403 batting average through 23 games, but what has probably surprised many owners is his five home runs. He already took his power game up a notch at Triple-A Omaha last season, hitting 16 home runs, while playing in a home park that plays fairly neutral. Before you count on Cain as a power-speed threat, remember that his new home -- Kauffman Stadium -- is not neutral, but rather pitcher-friendly. Cain could deliver a .300-plus average with 20 steals or more, but a 10-homer season is far from a given.

Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Pirates: Ever since making his debut in 2010, Alvarez has been whiff-prone, but his problems last year stemmed from an enormous drop in power. Alvarez practically ceased to hit the ball in the air, and the problem got even worse after a pair of minor league stints. You could look at Alvarez's two Grapefruit League homers as a mildly encouraging sign, but not within the context of his 20 strikeouts and one walk in 42 at-bats. Yes, this is an incredibly small sample, but there really isn't enough good news within it to project a turnaround for Alvarez this season.

Chris Johnson, 3B, Astros: As a rookie, Johnson overachieved with a .308 batting average, but his minor league history suggests that he is far better than the sophomore who hit just .251. Johnson has been a good line drive hitter throughout his career, and he was yet again last season, as he belted one of every four balls he hit for a liner while popping up infrequently. That makes his .321 BABIP look suspiciously low. His .333 spring batting average doesn't mean that he is bound for another .300 season, but it shows what Johnson is capable of when he is not the victim of apparent bad luck on balls in play. He deserves the second chance he is getting to be the Astros' starting third baseman, and unlike last season, he should be able to stave off Jimmy Paredes in any ensuing competition for playing time.

Alex Liddi, 3B, Mariners: The lament that Fantasy owners have over Liddi has been, "if only he didn't strike out so much." Few were surprised when the slugger missed on 40 percent of his swings (according to StatCorner data) and struck out 17 times in 40 at-bats in last season's big league debut, but he did clout three homers and three doubles in his brief trial. This spring, Liddi has answered the laments with a relatively modest eight Ks in 35 at-bats. That was enough to get Liddi onto the active roster for the Mariners' opening series in Tokyo against the A's. Because the sample of spring at-bats is so small, it would take just a handful of strikeouts to get Liddi back to his usual rate, but his progress on this front is worth watching. With seven spring doubles and a homer, there are no signs of Liddi's power disappating, so he could be a factor in the Mariners' crowded third base situation at some point this season.

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Gregor Blanco, OF, Giants: In the minors and during his limited time in the majors, Blanco has done mainly two things: walk and steal a few bases. And I do mean a few, as the 28-year-old has not profiled as much more than a 20-steals-a-year guy for most of his career. True to form, Blanco has done a good job of getting on base this spring with the Giants, but he also leads all players with 12 stolen bases. There could be something to Blanco's uptick in steals, as he nabbed 24 bases in just 74 games at Triple-A last season, and his stolen base success rate has improved dramatically over the years. Though Blanco is not assured of regular playing time, he is nearly assured of a roster spot. With semi-regular play, he could wind up being a surprisingly robust source of steals for owners in mixed leagues.

Luke Hughes, 1B/2B, Twins: With five home runs in just 56 spring at-bats, some might be tempted to call the 27-year-old Aussie "Luke the Fluke." Hughes has only eight dingers over his 294 major league at-bats, which isn't too bad for a middle infielder, but he is capable of hitting for even more power. Hughes posted high home run per flyball ratios at neutral parks in Double-A and Triple-A. The problem is that Target Field is one of the toughest places for a major leaguer to homer, so many of Hughes' flyballs will turn into outs there. Then again, some will become doubles, as Target Field is also one of the better venues for in-the-park flyball hits. Hughes still has a shot to be the Twins' everyday second baseman, and if he wins that position battle, he is a worthy option in deeper leagues. As of this writing, he is owned in just two percent of the leagues on CBSSports.com.

Edinson Volquez, SP, Padres: By all outward appearances, Volquez has had a nice spring, going 2-0 with a 3.48 ERA and 1.11 WHIP over five starts. Don't be fooled. The area where Volquez needs to improve most is his control, and he gave us no evidence that it will be any better this season. The former Red has walked 11 batters in 20 2/3 innings during Cactus League play, and he also mustered just 13 strikeouts. Moving to PETCO Park should certainly help Volquez to improve on last year's 5.71 ERA, but when you're putting runners on at such a high rate, favorable park factors will help you only so much. I'm avoiding Volquez in all mixed leagues for now.

Jeff Samardzija, RP, Cubs: Samardzija has had his control issues, but unlike Volquez, he has given Fantasy owners a glimmer of hope this spring. He pitched well enough to be a surprise addition to the Cubs' rotation, but instead of achieving a 1.00 WHIP with smoke and mirrors, Samardzija gave out a single free pass over 20 innings, while preventing 16 batters from making contact. At times in the minors, he has shown good control, and the last time Samardzija was a full-time starter -- back in 2009 at Triple-A Iowa -- he issued just 27 walks in 89 innings. With a change in role and a pattern of inconsistency, Samardzija is not without his risks, but at this point, I would trust him as a low-end option in mixed leagues before I would use Volquez.

Felix Doubront, RP, Red Sox: Doubront entered spring training far down on Boston's rotation depth chart, but it appears that he has locked up a starting role. He claimed his rotation spot with a Grapefruit League campaign that produced a 2.70 ERA, but that belies the fact that Doubront allowed a lot of baserunners, amassing a 1.44 WHIP. That has been a pattern of Doubront's in the minors, as he has been good at avoiding home runs and stranding baserunners, aside from a period in the middle of last season after he returned from a groin injury that landed him on the disabled list. He has the potential to be a left-handed Jhoulys Chacin who can help with strikeouts and ERA while putting your WHIP at risk.

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Luis Mendoza, RP, Royals: Through five starts, Mendoza led all qualifying starters in spring training with an 0.54 ERA. That, along with an injury to Felipe Paulino (forearm), helped Mendoza to claim the Royals' fifth starter job. Part of Mendoza's success this spring is owed to getting 16 strikeouts in 16 2/3 innings, but he has been a contact pitcher for his entire career, and that's not likely to change now. He also has not allowed a single home run, and between his solid ground ball tendencies and the AL Central's bevy of pitcher's parks (U.S. Cellular Field being a glaring exception), Mendoza could continue to avoid the gopher ball. If he can stay in the rotation, Mendoza could succeed in a Carl Pavano sort of way. That would make him, like Pavano, a decent option in AL-only leagues.

Kyle Drabek, SP, Blue Jays: Drabek has the upper hand on the fifth starter's spot that opened up when Dustin McGowan developed a foot injury. He started last season in the Jays' rotation and fared well after facing the Twins, Angels and Mariners in his first three starts, but things unraveled quickly with the succession of difficult matchups that followed. In the starts just prior to his June minor league demotion, Drabek had a harder time inducing grounders, as his line drive rate soared, and even Triple-A hitters were able to hit him hard. Drabek's ground ball mojo has returned this spring, but we need to see that continue for more than a handful of Grapefruit League innings. Assuming Drabek does begin the year as the fifth starter, he may only be needed to make one start. Given that he still has a lot to prove, it's best to leave him on waivers, even in deep formats, until we have a better sense that he is worth a roster spot.

Kyle Weiland, SP, Astros: When the Astros pulled the surprising move of releasing Livan Hernandez, it all but assured Weiland of starting the season in the Houston rotation. Even if Hernandez wasn't jettisoned, Weiland made a strong case for a starting role, putting together a 2.86 ERA and 1.18 WHIP this spring. With eight walks over 22 innings, Weiland's control has been a little better than normal, but that's been a relative weakness for him over the longer haul. Walks haven't hurt Weiland in the minors, though, because he has made up for them with extremely low line drive rates. There is a certain randomness to this particular stat, but back-to-back years with a line drive rate below 15 percent is intriguing, to say the least. Though he didn't show it during his brief trial with Boston last year, Weiland could also help with strikeouts. He won't be the rookie to make the biggest impact in Fantasy this year, but Weiland could become a factor in deeper mixed leagues if he can translate his minor league success to the majors.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Al Melchior at @almelccbs . You can also e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Rangers' Jurickson Profar hoping to play every spring game
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(6:53 pm ET) Rangers infielder Jurickson Profar is hoping to play every spring training game, according to FoxSports.com.

Profar missed all of last season due to a shoulder injury, but is working his way back during the offseason. He'll likely be behind the other position players, and may have to serve as the team's designated hitter early on during spring. The 21-year-old Profar came into last season listed as one of the top prospects in the game. 


Reds, Paul Maholm agree to deal for 2015
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(4:12 pm ET) The Reds and pitcher Paul Maholm have agreed to a minor-league contract for 2015 with an invitation to spring training, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman.

Maholm, who is recovering from ACL surgery in August, made 30 appearances in 2014 for the Dodgers, posting a 1-5 record with a 4.84 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 70 2/3 innings pitched.


White Sox pitcher Jeff Samardzija willing to listen to long-term deal
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:32 pm ET) New White Sox pitcher Jeff Samardzija's agent, Mark Rodgers said Sunday he and his client "owe it to Chicago to consider an offer" on a long-term contract, according to Jim Duquette of MLB Network Radio.

However, Rodgers also said they would need to see how things go for at least half of a season before deciding whether to stay with the club.

Samardzija was traded to Chicago in the offseason from Oakland and has one-year remaining on his current contract.

Samardzija finished 2014 with a 7-13 record between the Cubs and Athletics, posting a 2.99 ERA with 202 strikeouts in 219 2/3 innings.


Scott Boras: Andruw Jones hopes to return to majors in 2015
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:18 pm ET) Agent Scott Boras said outfielder Andruw Jones wants to return to the majors for another season in 2015 and that at least two teams are interested in signing him as a designated hitter.

Jones has spent the last two seasons playing in Japan. In his major-league career, Jones totaled 434 home runs and 1,289 RBI.


Royals' Luke Hochevar nearing return from Tommy John surgery
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(12:00 pm ET) Royals pitcher Luke Hochevar has been able to throw off a mound and expects to soon be at the full strength, reports The Kansas City Star.

Hochevar is recovering from Tommy John surgery, which caused him to miss the 2014 season and said he expects to be at full strength once spring training is underway.

"I'm conditioning my arm," Hochevar said. "Once spring training comes around they're going to monitor me for a little while, but once they cut me loose I become a regular guy again."

In 2013, Hochevar produced a 1.92 ERA in 58 games. While Hochevar said he's looking forward to returning, he wants to be cautious with his body.

"Hopefully, I'm ready in two weeks," Hochevar said. "But you never know and I'm not going to put a timetable on it. I'm going to listen to my body. I need to look long term, not just career-wise but season-wise. Me on the shelf is no good. If it takes me an extra two weeks, a month, whatever it is, I need to be mindful of that."


Report: Padres 'in touch' with Phillies regarding Cole Hamels
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:09 am ET) The Padres are "in touch" with the Phillies in an attempt to land pitcher Cole Hamels, FOX Sports reports.

The Padres have made plenty of upgrades across the roster since general manager A.J. Heller took over, and it's possible they don't have the ammunition to land the Philadelphia ace in a deal. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said last week that he didn't expect Hamels to be traded before the start of the season. Hamels went 9-9 with a 2.46 ERA and 198 strikeouts in 204 2/3 innings in 2014.


Report: Orioles sign Mark Hendrickson to minor-league deal
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1/31/2015) The Orioles have signed Mark Hendrickson to a minor-league deal with an invitation to spring training, CSNBaltimore.com reports.

Hendrickson, who last pitched in the majors in 2011, spent 2014 with York of the independent Atlantic League, posting a 1.54 ERA and 34:11 K:BB ratio in 52 2/3 innings over 55 appearances.


Rangers' Matt Harrison expects to open season on 60-day DL
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1/31/2015) Rangers pitcher Matt Harrison said Saturday that he expects to open the season on the 60-day disabled list as he continues to recover from spinal fusion surgery, the Dallas Morning News reports.

"My job is to just get as healthy as I can and get myself right so I don’t have something happen like it did last year when I tried to come back," Harrison said. "I’m just going to focus on that and get ready to contribute whenever it may be."

Harrison is dealing with some stiffness in his right side, which will cause him to throw from a distance of 90 feet for a second consecutive week rather than progress to 105 feet. He hopes that he'll get his hips to rotate more and loosen up with more stretching and more throws from the 90-foot distance.


Report: Rays sign Ronald Belisario to minor-league deal
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1/31/2015) The Rays have signed pitcher Ronald Belisario to a minor-league deal with an invitiation to spring training, the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Belisaro made 62 appearances with the White Sox in 2014, posting a 4-8 record, 5.56 ERA and 47:18 K:BB ratio in 66 1/3 innings. He'll compete for a bullpen spot during the spring.


Dodgers SP Zack Greinke hasn't decided whether to opt out
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1/31/2015) Dodgers pitcher Zack Greinke said Saturday that he's yet to decide whether to opt out of his contract at the end of next season but added, "There's not really better options anywhere besides here," the Los Angeles Times reports.

Greinke is set to make $23 million in 2015, and he's due another $71 million over the following three seasons if he remains under his current contract. The Dodgers said earlier this offseason that they wouldn't discuss a contract extension with the pitcher during the winter.

Greinke went 17-8 with a 2.71 ERA and 207:43 K:BB ratio in 202 1/3 innings in 2014.


 
 
 
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