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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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