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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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Mariners SP Roenis Elias moves past elbow soreness
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(10:12 am ET) Mariners starting pitcher Roenis Elias is doing well after being shut down late in the season due to elbow soreness, according to MLB.com. Elias intends to spend the offseason at his home in Texas and resume his normal throwing program before he reports to camp in the spring.

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(10:11 am ET) Mariners outfielder Dustin Ackley is expected to visit with a specialist to determine a course of action he might take to deal with a nagging left ankle injury, according to MLB.com.

Mariners SP Danny Hultzen expected to have no restrictions this spring
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(10:07 am ET) Mariners starting pitcher prospect Danny Hultzen, who missed the 2014 season due to rotator cuff surgery on his left shoulder, will be shut down until spring training after throwing three times in the Instructional League, according to MLB.com. Hultzen threw 25 pitches in his last outing Tuesday.

"They said it was really impressive," general manager Jack Zduriencik said. "He feels really good and is now shut down. He’s finished for the fall. He showed an average fastball, really good curve and changeup. He was confident and his delivery is sound. So he’ll go home and come back in January and be ready for spring training."

Hultzen is expected to have no restrictions during the spring.

"We were real cautious. There was some talk of putting him in the Fall League, but we’re going to back off a little," Zduriencik said. "This kid has been through a lot this year. The fact he’s been on the mound in Instructional League is enough. There’ll be a challenge for him next year regardless of how he reports physically, where is he going to be innings-wise after missing a whole year like this."


Geovany Soto suffers thumb injury in wild-card game
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:59 am ET) Athletics catcher Geovany Soto was forced to leave Tuesday's wild-card game against the Royals in the bottom of the third inning due to a left thumb injury. Soto actually hurt his thumb applying a tag with his glove hand on Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer as he attempted to steal home in the first inning, according to MLB.com.

"He kind of pulled his thumb back on the jersey on the play at the plate, and after that it kept getting worse and worse," manager Bob Melvin said. "Certainly as a catcher you need your thumb, especially when Jon Lester is throwing cutters."


Angels SP Matt Shoemaker has no doubt he'll pitch in ALDS
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(9/30/2014) Angels pitcher Matt Shoemaker completed a bullpen session without any issues on Tuesday, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Shoemaker told the paper he feels he could throw 100 pitches in a game and that he has no doubt he'll pitch in the ALDS. Right now, he is a candidate to start Game 3 for the Angels.


Dodgers SP Hyun-Jin Ryu slated to throw simulated game Wednesday
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9/30/2014) Dodgers starting pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu, who has been out since mid-September due to a shoulder injury, is slated to throw 45 pitches or three innings during a simulated game Wednesday, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Red Sox SP Clay Buchholz undergoes knee surgery Tuesday
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9/30/2014) The Red Sox announced Tuesday starting pitcher Clay Buchholz had successful surgery to repair the meniscus in his right knee. The team added he is expected to make a full recovery.

C.J. Wilson expected to start Game 2 of ALDS for Angels
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9/30/2014) Angels manager Mike Scioscia told reporters Tuesday he will announce Wednesday the starter for Game 2 of the ALDS. It is expected to be C.J. Wilson, according to The Orange County Register.

Angels' Matt Shoemaker could be candidate to start Game 3 of ALDS
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(9/30/2014) Angels pitcher Matt Shoemaker (oblique) will throw a bullpen session Tuesday with breaks to simulate multiple innings, according to The Orange County Register. He could start Game 3 of the ALDS for the Angels.

Marlins expecting to have Giancarlo Stanton on roster in 2015
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9/30/2014) Marlins president David Samson said even if the team can't sign outfielder Giancarlo Stanton to a long-term deal, he is still expected to be part of the Marlins' plans next season, per The Miami Herald.

"He’s on this team [in 2015] either way," Samson said. "I can’t wait until after the season to sit down with Giancarlo and [agent] Joel Wolfe and talk about contract. We’re ready. We want him to be a Marlin well past his arbitration years.

"We hope that he believes in us and believes in Miami and believes in the direction of this team and recognizes that he has a chance to be the leader of a successful team for many years to come."


 
 
 
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