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Reality Check: False hope springs eternal

Senior Fantasy Writer
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What happened here?

Four days into the regular season, Lorenzo Cain is 1 for 11, Todd Helton is back to playing his age and the Brandon Belt-to-the-minors movement is no longer considered blasphemy.

Guess we're not in Arizona anymore.

Well, the Diamondbacks still are. And teams like the Twins, Astros and Yankees never were. But whether you use the Cactus or Grapefruit League as your basis for comparison, the point is this: Spring training is so last month.

Nobody cares that Carlos Santana hit .200 during the exhibition season now that he's had a two-homer game. Nobody remembers that Ricky Romero, Adam Wainwright and Josh Beckett all posted spring ERAs below 2.00 now that they've burned their Fantasy owners one time through the rotation.

Nobody will ever bring up those four players' spring numbers again. And all it took was three real games to render them obsolete.

So what are we waiting for with all the other players?

Oh, I see. It's different with them. Yeah, you were so enamored by Cain's .371 batting average, five homers and five steals this spring that you drafted him to be one of your starters in the outfield, and now you just really need it to work out.

See the problem there? You're basing your decisions on what you want to happen rather than what's actually happening. But this isn't Star Wars, and you aren't Obi-Wan Kenobi. You can't just walk up to Cain, wave your hand, say, "Those aren't the numbers you're looking for," and, wham, he's Shane Victorino.

The biggest issue I have with spring training is that it creates a false sense of reality. Between the batting orders, the box scores and the win-loss records, all the elements of honest-to-goodness major-league competition are there -- except, of course, for the competition.

I'm not just talking about the influx of career minor-leaguers who -- let's face it -- have no business playing against All-Star-caliber talent. That's part of it, but of greater concern to me is the wide range of incentives and goals among the major-leaguers themselves. Some players are competing for jobs. Others can afford to sleepwalk for a month. Some have systematic approaches to spring training, working in a pitch here or a pitch there. Others just do whatever comes naturally to them. Some actually care about the results. Others are just going through the motions. And through it all, the ballparks, schedule and playing environment only vaguely resemble the real thing.

Most Added Players (as of 4/9)
Player % change
1. Hector Santiago, RP, White Sox 43
2. Alfredo Aceves, RP, Red Sox 40
3. Fernando Rodney, RP, Rays 33
4. Rafael Furcal, SS, Cardinals 26
5. Kyle Lohse, SP, Cardinals 25
6. Chone Figgins, 3B, Mariners 24
7. Jake Arrieta, SP, Orioles 24
8. Jeff Samardzija, SP, Cubs 22
9. Joel Peralta, RP, Rays 19
10. Javy Guerra, RP, Dodgers 18

You get the idea, right? In the end, the numbers are virtually meaningless.

Now, here's where I add the second layer that makes a seemingly straightforward argument suddenly more complex: It still might work out, you know. The whole Cain thing -- or Helton or Belt thing, whatever -- still might go exactly the way you want it to go. Yes, the sooner we can move on from spring numbers, the better off we'll be, but assessing a player based on four days of data would be just as short-sighted.

Notice I didn't condemn Romero, Wainwright and Beckett to bad seasons just because they had bad starts. All are still ace-caliber pitchers, and all could still go on to put up fantastic numbers. But whatever unrealistic expectations developed because of their spring numbers have since gotten a healthy dose of reality. And now, instead of Cy Young, their owners are probably thinking, "Eh, maybe I should just be happy with the status quo."

And that's precisely the point.

When assessing a player -- be it a proven commodity or a potential breakout -- you have to rely on the full spectrum of the information at your disposal. Sure, spring numbers helped forecast breakthrough seasons for Alex Gordon and Michael Morse last year (who, by the way, were doing as poorly through three games as Cain is this year), but Fantasy owners had good reason to buy into them even before the exhibition season began. Gordon was earning rave reviews for a new swing he developed with hitting coach Kevin Seitzer, and Morse was coming off an 11-homer performance during a two-month stint filling in for an injured Josh Willingham. Last spring didn't make them sleepers. It just provided reassurance for what was already there.

So here's the question: How excited were you about Cain before his spring performance?

Did you see him as a Victorino-type player whose varied skill set would make up for his lack of a standout category, or did you see him as career minor-leaguer who thrived on disproportionate competition as a 25-year-old at Triple-A? Did you see Helton as an on-base specialist who might just have another productive year in him as part of a solid Rockies lineup, or did you see him as a constant injury risk whose declining power numbers made him hardly worth the trouble? Did you see Belt as a high-upside player whose combination of patience and power should make him a force in the heart of the Giants lineup in the not-too-distant future, or did you see him as a Quadruple-A type whose numbers were inflated by Triple-A Fresno?

If the former, great. You should be happy waiting him out, regardless of the outcome. But if, in tallying up your reasons for liking a player, all you can come up with is, "Well, he had a good spring," you might need to a do some soul-searching.

So do I like Cain, Belt or Helton? That's really not the point. In most leagues, I'd probably hold on to Cain and Belt because of their upside (with Helton being more of an as-needed option), but if I found out another potential breakout player who had gotten off to a hot start was still available on the waiver wire, I wouldn't let the spring numbers prevent me from making the switch.

In the now ... A look at how recent events have impacted certain players' Fantasy value

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Hector Santiago, RP, White Sox: With Santiago's rise to the closer role, unexpected as it may have been, comes surprising job security. It's genuinely his role. Unlike Alfredo Aceves in Boston or Brad Lidge in Washington, he's not just filling in for an injured player, and unlike Fernando Rodney and Joel Peralta in Tampa Bay, he doesn't have to contend with anyone else for saves. Plus, the White Sox really seem to want him closing because he's equally effective against both lefties and righties and allows Matt Thornton and Jesse Crain to remain in their setup roles. Of course, he actually has to perform to remain the closer, but considering he wasn't even on the radar for saves before spring began, he seems to have a knack for rising to the occasion.

Jair Jurrjens, SP, Braves: Though Jurrjens' performance at the Mets on Saturday -- three runs on seven hits in 4 1/3 innings -- is hardly the expectation for him going forward, it was a welcome reminder that at less than his best, he's actually pretty ordinary. He's fine if you don't need strikeouts and just want a guy who can eat innings with a respectable ERA and WHIP, but his counterpart from Saturday's game, R.A. Dickey, has been doing the same thing, only better, for the last 3 1/2 months (dating back to last season). And he's owned in 36 percent fewer leagues.

Javy Guerra, RP, Dodgers: You'd think Guerra's two saves in two near-perfect innings this season would have solidified his place as a top reliever in Fantasy. And yet he's still owned in only 14 percent more leagues than Kenley Jansen. Guerra has 21 saves in the Dodgers' last 77 games, which would translate to 44 over a full season, not to mention a 2.01 ERA and nearly a strikeout per inning during that stretch. Those numbers are about as good as it gets for a closer, so even if Jansen's pure stuff is better, the Dodgers would be as foolish to mess with a good thing as you would be to leave a player with Guerra's saves potential on the waiver wire.

Edinson Volquez, SP, Padres: Volquez's electric stuff combined with his move to a pitcher's ballpark made him a top sleeper entering 2012, and it's not like either factor has changed since then. But unfortunately, neither has he. His problem since his breakout 2008 and subsequent Tommy John surgery has been poor control -- he's averaging 5.4 walks per nine innings over the last three seasons -- and while his 11 walks compared to 13 strikeouts in 20 2/3 innings this spring was discouraging, his four walks in five innings Thursday is pretty much a telltale sign that he'll deliver more of the same this year. If you don't like Jonathan Sanchez, you won't like Volquez either.

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Adam Dunn, 1B, White Sox: True, Dunn's sudden collapse last season is still without explanation, but that's no reason to ignore what he's doing now. His prodigious power returned this spring, when he hit six homers, and was on display with his towering blast to right field in the team's season opener Friday at Texas. If you include spring training both years, he already has half as many homers in 2012 as he did in all of 2011, and though any comparison involving spring numbers is dicey, the difference in bat speed is noteworthy regardless of the level of competition.

Down the line ... A brief update on some of the minor-leaguers who have caught the attention of Fantasy owners

Matt Adams, 1B, Cardinals: With three homers in four games, Adams is looking more than qualified for Triple-A Memphis after hitting .300 with 32 homers in 463 at-bats for Double-A Springfield last year. Of course, between Matt Carpenter (who is already on the roster) and Allen Craig (who is due back from knee surgery in the next few weeks), the Cardinals are already overloaded with heavy-hitting corner infield-outfield types, but with Carlos Beltran, Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday all on the wrong side of 30, the next opening is just around the corner.

Yasmani Grandal, C, Padres: Though he never had a chance of making the opening day roster, Grandal found his stroke midway through March, hitting .450 (9 for 20) with two home runs in seven games to close out spring training. So far, he has picked up where he left off at Triple-A Tucson, going 5 for 10 in three games. Though overshadowed by fellow catcher prospect Devin Mesoraco while with the Reds, Grandal only has Nick Hundley standing in his way now. Already 23 and with an advanced approach at the plate, Grandal might only be a couple months away from taking over full-time.

Michael Taylor, OF, Athletics: Taylor doesn't have quite the long-term appeal of Adams or Grandal, but at age 26, he's clearly in a now-or-never stage with the Athletics. And so far, he's doing his best to make sure they regret sending him down, going 7 for 15 with a homer at Triple-A Sacramento. The Athletics are already having enough trouble finding at-bats for Collin Cowgill, so Taylor might just have to bide his time until someone gets injured. His size and strength still make him an intriguing enough prospect for you to consider stashing him in a deeper AL-only league.

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

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Player News
Mariners catcher prospect John Hicks on the radar for MLB callup
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(4:35 pm ET) Mariners catcher John Hicks might not be on the radar as an elite prospect, but after posting a .288/.337/.419/.756 slash line through four minor-league seasons, he at least has the attention of the Mariners' decision makers.

“He’s a catcher who has the ability to do a lot of things,” manager Lloyd McClendon said, per The News Tribune. “His bat plays. He’s got a bright future. He’ll probably see significant playing time this spring.”

Hicks is expected to open the season at Triple-A Tacoma, but he could make his MLB debut in 2015.

“Listen, you’re on the 40-man roster,” McClendon said. “You’re on that roster for a reason. That’s to (the club to) protect you in case we have injuries. Then you move up.

“So, yeah, there’s a chance he could see time in the big leagues this year if there’s an injury.”


Twins P Ryan Pressly hoping to earn bullpen spot
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(4:25 pm ET) Relief pitcher Ryan Pressly was able to crack the Twins' roster in 2013 only to spend most of last season in the minors, thanks to three minor-league options he had left. 

This spring training, Pressly is looking to do enough to prove he deserves a spot on the Twins roster once camp is over. 

"We'll see how everything kind of plays out," Pressly said. "It's going to be interesting. You've got guys like [Michael] Tonkin and Lester [Oliveros] who are going to come out of the gates swinging. I just have to control what I can control. So, it's about who shows up and who has a good spring, and I'm hoping I have a good spring like I did in 2013."

With Triple-A Rochester, Pressly posted a 2.98 ERA with 63 strikeouts in 60 1/3 innings. When he was called up to the Twins in July, he posted a 2.86 ERA in 25 games. 


Padres shortstop Alexi Amarista grateful to have starting job
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(4:21 pm ET) Padres shortstop Alexi Amarista is ready for the challenge of entering the season as a starter for the first time in his career, per MLB.com.

"I'm blessed that they gave me the opportunity and that gave me more confidence, being an everyday player," he said.

Monitoring Amarista's progress will be one thing Padres general manager A.J. Preller will watch closely this spring.

"I think, in general, we're really more anxious just to see how the spring training goes for the infield, in the middle of the infield, with Alexi and Clint Barmes, we're hoping we're covered," Preller said.


Twins C Josmil Pinto has eyes set on improving defensively
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(4:20 pm ET) Twins catcher Josmil Pinto struggled defensive last season. He was unable to throw out a base steals in all 20 attempts in 2014. Pinto, who is an early favorite to secure a backup spot behind Kurt Suzuki this season, told reporters he played Venezuela this offseason to get more reps and improve his skills defensively, according to MLB.com.

"That's the first reason I went to Venezuela," Pinto said. "I wanted to catch a couple games and improve my defense. It was the first year I played a complete season. So it was good.

"Improving my defense is the most important part to me making the team," Pinto said. "And I want to make the team."


Hernandez's absence could hurt chances of making Astros' rotation
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(4:13 pm ET) Astros starting pitcher Roberto Hernandez, who is expected to compete for a spot in the rotation, has still not arrived for spring training due to visa issues.

While he is throwing bullpen sessions in the Dominican Republic, manager A.J. Hinch said Friday that Hernandez's absence could cost him a chance to earn a spot in the rotation.

"It's going to depend upon him showing up ready to go," Hinch said, per MLB.com. "He is a veteran guy, so I don't sense that he's going to come in unprepared. But once games start, we're starting to get a little bit behind."


Royals' Yost: We're going to give Raul Mondesi a 'good look' in camp
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(4:11 pm ET) Royals manager Ned Yost told reporters he's going to give shortstop prospect Raul Mondesi a "good look" during spring training, per MLB.com.

"We are just here to give him a good look, let him play and get some experience and let him enjoy big league Spring Training," Yost said. "Everything jumps out. He's that kind of guy. He just stands out a little bit. He's going to be a special player."

Mondesi, the son of Raul Mondesi Sr. and the youngest player in camp at 19, is the top prospect in the organization, after signing for $2 million as an international free agent in 2011, according to MLB.com. He hit .211/.256/.354 over 435 at-bats in the Carolina League in 2014. He could be in line for a Double-A promotion in 2015.


Royals OF Alex Gordon says he feels great after hitting off tee
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(4:06 pm ET) Royals outfielder Alex Gordon, who had surgery on his right wrist in December, remains on track to be ready for the start of the season, according to MLB.com.

"We don't have a progression. It's just day by day," Gordon said. "After we swung it today, we talked about how we are going to approach it [Saturday], and I think that's how we are doing it right now. If it was during the season, obviously it would be pushing it forward a lot quicker, but we are just taking it slow and trying to be smart about it."

Gordon has taken the next step in his rehab after hitting off a tee Thursday and Friday.

"I had about 20 or 30 swings, and it felt great," Gordon said. "As long as it doesn't come back with any pain or suffering tonight, I'll probably have a little soft-toss. It's pretty exciting. Honestly, it is. That's not a joke.

"I turned it loose the last 10 swings [Friday], and it almost felt like the more I turned it loose, the better it got. That's a good sign that most of the discomfort, if there is any, comes from lack of swings and being stiff."


Reds' Billy Hamilton given green light to work on bunting in spring
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(4:00 pm ET) Reds outfielder Billy Hamilton told reporters he feels less pressure this season now that he's entering his sophomore season in the majors, per MLB.com.

"I'm just more comfortable, more relaxed," the Reds sophomore speedster said before Friday morning's workout. "I've been able to come here and not put so much pressure on myself. My work ethic is going to be the same, always, every single year. But it's more relaxing now. I come in every day being able to breathe."

The 24-year-old hit .250 as a rookie in 2014. He also finished second in the National League with 56 stolen bases. Hamilton revealed that he's working more on his bunting this spring, after registering 15 bunt hits last season. The club has given him the green light to experiment on his bunting in game action this spring.

"Bunting can be a big part of my game, which I didn't use as much as I should have last year," Hamilton said. "Bunting for base hits can get you out of different kinds of slumps and when you're not feeling good at the plate.

"If it's two outs or two strikes, this is the time to work on it," Hamilton said. "Even if it's 3-2, they gave me permission to [bunt]. It's something I might not do during the season, but you want to work on it in a game versus just here in practice."


Braves OF Melvin Upton Jr. out at least two months with foot injury
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(3:52 pm ET) The Braves announced Friday outfielder Melvin Upton Jr. could miss at least two months after tests revealed inflammation in his left foot. Upton will be in a short leg cast fot two weeks, then a walking boot for 4-6 weeks.

Upton missed Friday's workout after he was seen limping following batting practice Thursday, per MLB.com. He went through a round of treatment Friday before being sent for an MRI.

The Braves initially declined to speculate on the severity of the injury until Upton went for further testing.

"[The discomfort] is more in the toe area, but we're calling it a foot [injury]," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said Friday morning.

Upton was listed as the starting center fielder on the depth chart on the team's official website. The backups were listed as Todd Cunningham and Eury Perez.

Upton is entering the third year of a five-year, $72.25 million contract. However, his first two years with the Braves have been largely disappointing. He has a .198/.279/.314/.593 slash line in two seasons in Atlanta.


A's claim Alex Hassan off waivers, place A.J. Griffin on 60-day DL
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(3:39 pm ET) The Athletics announced a pair of roster moves on Friday, per the team's official website. The club claimed outfielder Alex Hassan off waivers from Baltimore, and placed pitcher A.J. Griffin on the 60-day disabled list, as he continues to work his way back from Tommy John surgery.

 
 
 
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