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Setting the Trends: Blackley meeting old expectations

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Travis Blackley was, many years ago, one of the best pitching prospects in the Seattle Mariners organization -- the "crown jewel" -- according to then-manager Bob Melvin.

But after a poor showing in his first go-round with the team in 2004, coupled with nagging arm injuries and a poor attitude, Blackley became -- and he said this himself -- "Triple-A filler," bouncing between the farms teams of Seattle, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Arizona, Oakland and the Mets. He went through the gamut of being "kicked around," as the Australian was traded, released (twice), added off waivers and even selected in the Rule 5 Draft.

After making his Major League debut in 2004, Blackley pitched 8 2/3 additional innings in 2007 with the Giants before being cast into obscurity. In 34 2/3 total major league innings -- with a shoulder surgery in between -- Blackley managed a 9.35 ERA, 2.077 WHIP and gave up 11 home runs. He wouldn't see the majors again until 2012.

Before we get to the 2012 part of Blackley's story, though, it's important to note that he pulled a move that once changed the fortunes of Ryan Vogelsong and, in a stretch of a comparison, Cecil Fielder: spending a season (2011) in Asia (in this case, South Korea, pitching for the KIA Tigers in the Korean Baseball association). He also spent some time in Mexico and Australia.

In February, Blackley signed a minor league deal with the San Francisco Giants and was assigned to the PCL. In 23 1/3 innings with the Fresno Grizzlies, Blackley went 3-0 with a 0.39 ERA. He was called up to San Francisco, thrust into a relief role and released after putting up a 9.00 ERA in five innings. Days later, the A's -- managed by ... Bob Melvin! -- picked up the discarded lefty, who threw six relief innings before being tabbed to start against the Twins on May 28. He allowed one run in five innings and, outside of giving up five runs in his next outing against the Rangers, Blackley has been stellar. As impressive as his current 3.15 ERA is, it gets even better when you just isolate his stats as a starter: a 2.92 ERA with the WHIP staying at 1.05. He even got his revenge on Texas five starts after they tagged him for five runs, holding them to one run in seven innings on July 1.

There's no telling how long this will last for Blackley. On one hand, there's very little in any set of numbers he's produced in the last seven years that would suggest he will keep this up. On the other hand there is everything else the numbers don't show -- a renewed work ethic, a Vogelsongian season in Asia, his former top prospect status and a refreshing outlook on how he approaches each game. For a Fantasy team looking to go for broke and make a run at the title this year, Blackley makes for a very intriguing option.

On to the Roster Trends!

Most Added Players (as of 7/25)
Player % increase
1. Josh Rutledge, SS, COL 24
2. Homer Bailey, SP, CIN 23
3. Ben Sheets, SP, ATL 22
4. Francisco Rodriguez, RP, MIL 14
5. Francisco Cordero, RP, HOU 18
6. Danny Espinosa, 2B, WAS 17
7. Paul Maholm, SP, CHC 17
8. Lorenzo Cain, OF, KC 17
9. Casper Wells, OF, SEA 16
10. Jose Quintana, RP, CHW 10

Most Added Highlights

Josh Rutledge, SS, COL
Jump in Ownership: 24 percent (from five to 29)
Reason for the jump: Rutledge is Colorado's new starting shortstop and is hitting .341, with one home run, six RBI and five doubles over 11 games.
Why you should join the crowd: First, Rutledge has the job right now, which sometimes is the most important factor when dealing with players owned in less than 30 percent of leagues. But he also has an impressive track record, with a .320 career minor league batting average. In 87 games with Double-A Tulsa this year (Rutledge skipped Triple-A entirely on his path to the majors), he had hit 13 home runs and stolen 14 bases. And, at least through his first 11 games in the majors, Rutledge has shown that he can hit at this level.
Devil's Advocate: The biggest obstacle between Rutledge and universal ownership -- right now -- is the eventual return of injured shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. When that happens, one of three things could occur:
1. Marco Scutaro, currently starting at second base, will be traded or moved to third (currently manned by Jordan Pacheco and D.J. LeMahieu), clearing the way for Rutledge to start at second base.
2. Rutledge moves to third base.
3. Rutledge is optioned to the minors.
Those three scenarios will probably play out in that order, from most-likely to least. The Rockies are currently 17.5 games out of first place in the NL West and 16 behind the second wild card spot. They are likely seeing what Rutledge is capable of and would probably embrace the fact that they now have a tradeable asset in Scutaro if Rutledge can keep this up.

Less than 50, more than 50
Players owned in less than 50% of leagues who should be owned in more than 50%
Player % owned
1. Carlos Marmol, RP, CHC 48
2. Mark Reynolds, 3B, BAL 47
3. J.D. Martinez, OF, HOU 45
4. Erik Bedard, SP, PIT 45
5. A.J. Griffin, SP, OAK 38

Francisco Cordero, RP, HOU
Jump in Ownership: 18 percent (from five to 23)
Reason for the jump: Cordero is the new closer for the Houston Astros.
Why you should join the crowd: From 2007 to 2011, Cordero had 194 saves, an average of 39 per season. His ERA over that span was 2.94 and he struck out, according to Baseball Reference, 8.7 batters per nine innings. He was a two-time All-Star in that span and finished among the top five in saves in the National League four out of those five years.
Devil's Advocate: Cordero's 2012 has been far ... uglier. His 5.60 ERA is the highest of any season in his 14-year career and his 1.76 WHIP ranks as his third-highest. He's also giving up hits at a much higher rate (12.2 H/9) than he has at any other time in his career (8.1 lifetime average). On top of it all, Cordero is 37 and faces a possible challenge in the Houston bullpen from Wilton Lopez, who has a 2.68 ERA and 1.03 WHIP so far this season.

End game in demand
The most-traded closers
Player Number of trades
1. Jose Valverde, RP, DET 316
2. Jonathan Papelbon, RP, PHI 305
3. Aroldis Chapman, RP, CIN 303
4. Rafael Soriano, RP, NYY 285
5. J.J. Putz, RP, ARI 284

Casper Wells, OF, SEA
Jump in Ownership: 16 percent (from three to 19)
Reason for the jump: With the trade of Ichiro Suzuki to New York, Wells is pretty much cemented in a starting role with the Mariners.
Why you should join the crowd: Wells showed some power and speed in the minor leagues, with highs of 27 in home runs and 25 in steals.
But...: Both of those highs came in the same season (2008), when Wells split time between Single-and Double-A. They haven't really carried over to any other seasons.
Back to the Good Stuff: Wells probably won't hit for much in the way of batting average, but that power may be for real -- he had 11 home runs last year in just 215 at-bats and has six so far this year. Adding to the fun of owning Wells is that he could find himself batting anywhere from first to third -- he has hit from all of the top three spots in the last four days.
Devil's Advocate: Wells will see some of his power sapped by his home park, and will likely lose at least a little bit of value by not having Ichiro in the lineup. With Justin Smoak now in the minors, Wells may also be looked upon to carry more of the offensive load, leading to him possibly pressing and seeing his numbers drop a little off their current pace.

Cody Ross, OF, BOS
Jump in Ownership: 12 percent (from 61 to 73)
Reason for the jump: In his last six games, Ross has hit .333, with three home runs, nine RBI, and a 1.152 OPS.
Why you should join the crowd: Even having missed a month between May and June with a foot injury, Ross still has 16 home runs on the season. With Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury back in the lineup -- and with Adrian Gonzalez having a solid July (.382 average, three home runs) -- Ross has plenty more chances to drive in runs from the fifth spot in the lineup, where he's been hitting lately. On top of that, Ross has been playing a good amount of DH with David Ortiz sidelined, allowing him to give his previously-broken foot a bit of a rest from all the running in the outfield.
Devil's Advocate: Ross' career high in home runs is 24, and he's only hit 20 or more home runs twice in his career. In the last three seasons he's averaged just 15 home runs.
The Devil's Advocate's Devil's Advocate: Ross has played most of his career for teams with pitcher-friendly parks (Florida and San Francisco, most recently). Fenway Park seems to be far more accommodating to his shots to left field. If Ross was still playing in San Francisco, for instance, he would have lost at least two home runs thanks to the park's dimensions, according to ESPN's Home Run Tracker. In short, Fenway Park, which has turned plenty of decent hitters into 30 home-run threats, could do the same for Ross.

Desperate Measures
Players owned in less than five percent of leagues who could be helpful
Player % owned
1. Carlos Gomez, OF, MIL 4
2. Jonny Gomes, OF, OAK 4
3. Cody Ransom, SS, MIL 3
4. Logan Forsythe, 3B, SD 3
5. Hisashi Iwakuma, RP, SEA 2

Jayson Werth, OF, WAS
Jump in Ownership: Four percent (from 66 to 70)
Reason for the jump: Werth is on a rehab assignment and is close to returning to the Washington lineup.
Why you should join the crowd: Before going down with a broken wrist in May, Werth was enjoying the beginnings of an Adam Dunn-style renaissance season, with a .276 average, three home runs and three steals through early May. He has the capability to hit 15 home runs the rest of the season with 10 steals, 15 doubles and a .275 average. He'll also return to a Nationals lineup that includes a little more offensive pop in the form of Bryce Harper.
Devil's Advocate: Werth admitted that, while his wrist feels great, his timing is a little off at the plate, so it might take him a few games to get back to early season form. And there's no guarantee that he won't just revert to 2011 form, either -- Werth was a disaster in his first season with the Nationals, hitting .232 with just 20 home runs and a .718 OPS.

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
Rangers' Ross Ohlendorf (groin) leaves Thursday's game
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(11:41 pm ET) Rangers pitcher Ross Ohlendorf was removed from Thursday's game against the Rockies due to recurring tightness in his right groin, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports.

Ohlendorf tossed a scoreless inning and struck out two Thursday in his first appearance since March 15 but continued to battle groin issues. He's competing for a spot in the bullpen.


Yankees 3B Chase Headley wants more action in the field
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(11:39 pm ET) Yankees third baseman Chase Headley has played the fourth most innings on the field for the team with 78, but he has only had 13 chances at fielding balls, reports the New York Times. He is hoping that he gets more opportunities going forward.

“It’s crazy,” Headley said. “I’m begging for ground balls.”

Headley came over from the Padres last spring having spent his entire career there. He seemed to suffer the same circumstances there with limited chances to field balls. He spoke to some of his current teammates and his infield coach.

“I’ve talked with Joe Espada,” Headley said of the Yankees’ new infield coach. “And Didi and Stephen — I just want a routine, easy ground ball.”

Headley, who won a National League Gold Glove in 2012, has been using his practice time to stay sharp.

“Sometimes you’ll do a drill where the coach will flip the ball so you’re reading the swing and it’s a little bit more gamelike,” Headley said. “But there’s really no substitute for getting ground balls, and unfortunately that’s out of your control in spring training, so you do the best you can with it. The good thing is I’ve done it for a long time, so I’ll be fine.”


Rangers' Nick Martinez tosses six scoreless innings Thursday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(11:15 pm ET) Rangers pitcher Nick Martinez allowed just five hits and one walk in six scoreless innings while striking out four in Thursday's spring start against the Rockies.

Martinez is battling for the final spot in the team's rotation and did a good job making his case Thursday, limiting the Rockies to just one extra-base hit. He allowed a run in his spring debut but has delivered 8 2/3 scoreless innings in his last two appearances to lower his spring ERA to 0.84.


Rockies' Christian Friedrich impressing with slider
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(11:07 pm ET) Rockies pitcher Christian Friedrich has hit his stride with his slider as he continues to build upon a strong performance from last season after being moved to the bullpen, MLB.com reports.

"I saw a real good slider, the slider we saw last September -- the one that disappears, especially to left-handed hitters," manager Walt Weiss said. "He's in a good place. Maybe the velocity is not quite what it was when we saw him in September. It's ticking up. But the slider is a swing-and-miss pitch."

Friedrich has surrendered just one earned run in six innings while striking out two batters and walking two.

"The hard thing that every pitcher does when they feel they've got the stuff is, they want to show everybody they've got the stuff," Friedrich said. "I've had games where I was teetering on the edge of, 'I feel really good tonight; let's see what comes out,' then there's a lack of execution. As a starter, some days the two-seamer was 87, 88 [mph]. Now it's coming out harder, 90 [or] 91."


Diamondbacks' Peter O'Brien seeing time in outfield
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(11:03 pm ET) Diamondbacks catcher Peter O'Brien spent his second consecutive day in the outfield during a minor-league game Thursday, and he hasn't been behind the plate since developing throwing problems earlier in March, the Arizona Republic reports.

"I think he's going to play some outfield (once the minor league season starts) and catching isn't out of the question, but we're still talking internally to figure out what's best for him," farm director Mike Bell said.

While the team has been reluctant to publicly acknowledge O'Brien's catching issues, he's unlikely to be the long-term answer behind the plate, as general manager Dave O'Brien reportedly indicated in January. The Diamondbacks figure to roll with Tuffy Gosewisch as the team's primary catcher unless an addition is made.


Reds' Michael Lorenzen tosses three one-run innings Thursday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9:57 pm ET) Reds pitching prospect Michael Lorenzen surrendered one earned run on four hits in three innings in Thursday's 13-2 win over the Indians.

"It went good," Lorenzen said after the outing, per MLB.com. "My fastball command was good. The tempo was good. That was the most important thing for me -- tempo and fastball command. I was able to go out there and accomplish my goal for the day."

Lorenzen came into Thursday's start having allowed no hits and six walks in two innings in his previous appearance. He threw 45 pitches in Thursday's game and another 20 in the bullpen to reach his pitch-count target.

"I worked on some breaking balls," Lorenzen said. "I gave up some two-strike hits with my breaking ball. I didn't finish them. They were a lot better in the bullpen with a couple of adjustments that I made."

The Reds are looking at Lorenzen for a long-relief role but could use him as a starter at some point this season.

"That gives him a chance to get to 80-85 [pitches] in his next outing, which to me, means he's ready to start," manager Bryan Price said before the game. "You can safely say he could throw 90-95 pitches in his first start of the season."


White Sox 3B Conor Gillaspie says plantar fasciitis is not an issue
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(9:57 pm ET) After initially being bothered by plantar fasciitis at the beginning of spring training, White Sox third baseman Conor Gillaspie said he is over the injury, reports MLB.com.

"It's fine," Gillaspie said. "First thing [in the morning] and last thing at night, it's kind of sore, but as far as affecting me playing, it doesn't. It did a little bit when I first got here, but it has gone away. Credit to [White Sox head athletic trainer] Herm [Schneider] for working hard with me every day on that."

While Gillaspie will likely be dealing with discomfort in his foot for most of the season, he said it's nothing he can't manage.

"The workload lessens as you get into the season as far as practice hours go. Obviously, I'm hoping that calms it down a bit, having a little less to do," Gillaspie said. "It's not a big issue."


Mets' Matt Bowman shines in spot start vs. Nationals
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9:48 pm ET) Mets pitching prospect Matt Bowman surrendered just two hits and one walk in five scoreless innings while striking out four in Thursday's 8-3 win over the Nationals.

"He was extremely impressive against a very good team," manager Terry Collins said after the outing, per MLB.com. "These guys, like all pitchers, are starting to get in shape. They're starting to get their stuff going and you see what they really have, and what they can really feature. I can understand why he's very much liked around here and how he showed up in this camp. From what I saw tonight, the command of his stuff, the poise, he's a pretty impressive-looking pitcher."

With the Mets set to open the regular season against the Nationals, the team held Opening Day starter Bartolo Colon out of Thursday's matchup and opted to use Bowman, who has posted a 1.80 ERA in 10 innings this spring.


White Sox SP Brad Penny allows six runs vs. Dodgers
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9:34 pm ET) White Sox pitcher Brad Penny struggled in Thursday's spring loss to the Dodgers, giving up six earned runs on eight hits and three walks in four innings while striking out two.

"I went out there and I was kind of letting it go, throwing more than pitching," Penny said after the outing, per MLB.com. "I got behind. I was working on the cutter today, which I thought was better than it has been. So, just too many balls over the plate."

Penny is competing for a spot in the team's opening rotation while Chris Sale is sidelined. He's put together a 6.89 ERA in 15 2/3 innings this spring.


Angels' Jered Weaver strikes out eight Thursday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9:25 pm ET) Angels pitcher Jered Weaver allowed four runs (three earned) on six hits in 5 1/3 innings while racking up eight strikeouts in Thursday's spring start against the Cubs.

Weaver brought a 1.69 ERA into the outing and though that mark rose more than a full run Thursday, the starter has posted an excellent 18:1 K:BB ratio in his last three starts.

"It's always not to walk guys; it's something I've always taken a lot of pride in," Weaver said after the outing, per MLB.com "It's been coming along good. I'm not out there trying to strike people out, but it's happened a little bit. … Everything's coming along nice, location's good, offspeed stuff is good when I need it, so I'm happy with where I'm at."

Weaver is on pace to deliver his best spring numbers since 2008.


 
 
 
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