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By the Numbers: The second time around

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Coming into the 2012 season, it looked as if Fantasy owners had a lot to look forward to from the 2011 class of rookie starting pitchers. Not only did that cohort include the AL Rookie of the Year award winner (Jeremy Hellickson), but it also included a top three finisher in the NL voting (Vance Worley).

Neither Hellickson nor Worley has lived up to the standards they set for themselves last season, much less exceeded them. And the disappointment doesn't end there, as Michael Pineda, Cory Luebke, Danny Duffy, Brandon Beachy and Kyle Drabek had their seasons curtailed or wiped out due to surgery. Josh Collmenter and Alexi Ogando both missed time as well, and both have spent most of the year in the bullpen rather than in the rotation.

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Not every sophomore starter turned out to be a bummer, though. While Pineda (81 ADP) and Hellickson (126 ADP) left their Fantasy owners with buyer's remorse, Mike Minor (194 ADP) and Marco Estrada (279 ADP) have provided an ample return on a minimal investment. Whether a second-year starter's stock went up or down this year, there is something to be gained by looking at each of a pitcher's first two seasons to gather some clues about where his value will lie in 2013. That's exactly what we'll do here this week, scouring over the limited big league track records of 10 pitchers from last season's rookie crop. For each pitcher, we will take a look at what changed for him since last season and what that might mean for him going forward.

Henderson Alvarez, Blue Jays: Coming into this season, Alvarez appeared ready to help owners in standard mixed leagues, at least as a streaming option. As a minor leaguer and as a rookie, he showed the ability to keep his ERA low by way of a high ground ball rate. He also looked like a good bet for a low WHIP, since he had consistently put up microscopic walk rates. While Alvarez has never been a strikeout pitcher, he has been exceptionally hittable this year, striking out batters at the lowest rate in the majors, and by a large margin. Just because Alvarez doesn't get swings-and-misses doesn't mean he can't improve his K-rate and other stats, but he has to get called strikes at an above-average level, and he hasn't done that this year. As a 22-year-old who skipped over Triple-A, Alvarez just may need more seasoning, and the potential for much better performance is still there. Going into next season, though, there will be no reason to draft him outside of AL-only leagues.

Alex Cobb, Rays: Cobb's promising rookie season was cut short when he had surgery to remove a blockage near his rib, and he was slow coming out of the gate once he entered the Rays' rotation in May. Since late July, Cobb has not only hit his stride, but for the first time, he is replicating the low walk rates he compiled in the minors. Cobb has also punched up his strikeout rate as he has rung up called strikes on an astounding 24 percent of his pitches over his last six starts. The good news for owners who have Cobb this season is that, according to the Tampa Tribune, he will remain in the rotation for the rest of this campaign, even though Jeff Niemann has returned from his fractured fibula. Cobb should also have at least as much value next year, and he is worth a late-round grab in standard mixed leagues.

Marco Estrada, Brewers: Coming out of his first two seasons at Triple-A (in 2008 and 2009), Estrada looked to have only modest promise in Fantasy, as his low walk rates would have to compensate for mediocre strikeout rates. After missing most of 2010 with shoulder issues, Estrada faded even further into obscurity. In his rookie season with the Brewers, Estrada started getting strikeouts, but having been used mainly in a relief role, it was still not clear he would have much Fantasy value if he ever got a chance to stick as a starter. That opportunity came this season, and the strikeouts remained even with the uptick in innings. In fact, the hints of strikeout potential were always there with higher-than-average swinging strike rates in the minors. His ability to post a low WHIP gives him the upside of a Jake Peavy or Ian Kennedy, but like those two flyball pitchers, there is also the potential for a high ERA. At the very least, Estrada will be a legitimate late-round option in standard mixed leagues next year, and he could be a steal as such.

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Dillon Gee, Mets: Gee is done for the season, as he had surgery to repair an artery in his right shoulder. However, he logged 17 starts before his surgery, giving us a decent sample size, and he should be able to give owners a full season next year, so it's worth taking a look at how Gee has fared. In his rookie season, Gee put up a similar ERA (4.43) and WHIP (1.38) to those he registered the previous two years in Triple-A -- and those weren't very impressive. In addition, he sustained a dramatic drop in his strikeout rate, so owners had little reason to anticipate Gee's sophomore effort. In 2012, Gee improved his strikeout and walk rates, and if not for a mediocre strand rate, his ERA would likely have been well below 4.00, but instead he finished with a 4.10 mark. Given that Gee posted good strikeout-to-walk ratios as a prospect and that his ERA could decline even without improved skill ratios, he appears poised to increase his Fantasy value even more next season.

Jeremy Hellickson, Rays: Owners waiting for the strikeout-artist version of Hellickson to reemerge this season could not help but be disappointed. At least if he could have matched last season's 2.95 ERA and 1.15 WHIP, that would have softened the blow of a 5.9 K/9 rate, but both marks grew this year. Hellickson's strikeout, walk and ground ball rates were all subpar last year, which made his Rookie of the Year campaign look a little fishy, but he was able to prevent hits and runs with a 14 percent popup rate. So far in 2012, Hellickson has been getting popups more than a third less often, and that has left him with stats that are more typical of someone who pitches to contact but without great control. All those infield flies allowed Hellickson to post the lowest BABIP (.224) since 1988, and it's too much to expect him to lower his ERA and WHIP that way again. It's more realistic to view him as a late-round option in standard mixed leagues.

Lance Lynn, Cardinals: Lynn's path has mirrored Estrada's in some ways, at least up until the middle of this season. Lynn's numbers as a minor league starter were unexciting, but as a rookie, he blossomed in a relief role. His conversion to the rotation went exceedingly well through the middle of July. That's when his command went south, as he has walked 16 batters over his last 29 2/3 innings. As Lynn has struggled to locate his pitches, hitters have been taking fewer strikes, swinging and missing less often and scorching him for more line drives. Command had not been a serious problem for Lynn at any previous level, so this recent skid has the look of a garden-variety slump or maybe a sign of fatigue. Though his recent performance has earned him a bullpen demotion, Lynn has shown that he can be a productive starter, and as long as the Cardinals plan to use him in the rotation next season, he is worth a mid-round pick, though he could likely be had for cheaper.

Mike Minor, Braves: As Lynn was starting to flame out in midseason, Minor was just getting warmed up. The Braves' lefty registered a 6.20 ERA through the end of June, and he looked to be in danger of losing his rotation spot. Since then, Minor has failed to record a quality start only once in nine tries, and the one exception was the result of him being lifted early due to a rain delay. The sharp control that underpinned Minor's success at Triple-A has finally shown itself at the major league level, as he has walked only eight batters over his recent nine-game stretch. Minor is probably overperforming right now, but he is certainly better than the pitcher who allowed walks and homers at astronomical levels back in May and June. Owned in 66 percent of the leagues on CBSSports.com, Minor is currently underowned and underappreciated, and he should start next season in a healthy portion of standard mixed leagues.

Ivan Nova, Yankees: Nova's frustating sophomore season took a turn for the worse last week when he went on the 15-day disabled list with rotator cuff inflammation. He should be back again this season, but given how homer-prone Nova has been, he won't have much value when he does return. This year's version of Nova found a way to get batters to swing and miss at his curveball more often, but it hasn't paid off, as he has gotten clobbered when throwing his fastball and slider. Nova's heater, in particular, has really let him down. Last season, it was a big reason why he got grounders on 55 percent of hit balls, but this year he has been getting less vertical movement, and that rate has dropped to 46 percent. The low ground ball rate could be an aberration, and if Nova can get both his curveball and fastball working, he could take a huge step forward. It's way too risky to assume that will happen, so Nova should be considered a late-round option at best next season.

Chris Sale, White Sox: Of the pitchers featured here who made the conversion from a relief role this year, Sale has had the greatest success by far. Though his K-rate has shrunk somewhat, he has still struck out nearly a batter per inning, and he has managed to make dramatic improvements in his walk rate and strikes thrown percentage. Sale has been a top 12 starting pitcher this year, and even being conservative, he hasn't given Fantasy owners any reason to doubt he belongs in the top 20.

Vance Worley, Phillies: Through the middle of July, Worley seemed to be proving that his rookie season was no fluke, as he had a 3.47 ERA through his first 15 starts. Though he lacks dominating stuff, Worley was able to compile a robust strikeout rate due to his ability to get called strikes at one of the highest rates in the majors. Over his last seven starts, Worley has been fooling batters less often and getting fewer strikeouts and allowing more runs in the process. The Phillies' organization had downplayed the impact that Worley's bone chips were having on his performance, but now that he is set to have elbow surgery to remove the bodies within the next couple of weeks, it raises more questions about the link between the bone chips and the decline in performance. Until more is known, Worley should be viewed with suspicion in standard mixed leagues on Draft Day 2013.

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' Shin-Soo Choo goes hitless in return Thursday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(3/26/2015) Rangers outfielder Shin-Soo Choo (triceps) returned to the lineup Thursday, going 0 for 4 while serving as the designated hitter in his team's 6-3 win over the Rockies.

Choo had been sidelined since March 15 due to a triceps injury and was reported to be targeting a return Saturday, but he was able to remain in for the entire game Thursday, picking up four at-bats in his role as DH. He's managed just four hits in 22 at-bats this spring.


Rangers' Fujikawa confident in return from Tommy John surgery
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(3/26/2015) Rangers pitcher Kyuji Fujikawa is scheduled to pitch Friday, and the Rangers will be keeping a close eye on the pitcher to determine if he has fully recovered from Tommy John surgery or if he'll need time in the minors to open the season, MLB.com reports.

Fujikawa hasn't allowed a run in four Cactus League outings but has struggled a bit in two camp games. He remains confident his recovery is on track.

"This is still spring training, not the regular season," Fujikawa said. "It's only going to get better. Coming into spring training, the surgery was out of my mind. As a player, I am really confident. I am not sure what my role will be, but I'll be confident whatever the situation is."

Manager Jeff Banister is looking for the pitcher to build off his spring success.

"The guy is coming off Tommy John," Banister said. "There are good days and bad days. He has logged a couple of good ones. Let's see that continue."


Twins Trevor Plouffe wants to cement his place at third
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/26/2015) Twins third baseman Trevor Plouffe is completely aware of the threat that Miguel Sano brings when it comes to the third base spot. Sano is considered by many to be a can't-miss player. But Plouffe is trying not to let that affect him or his play. 

“You can’t think about anything like that,” Plouffe said. “You can’t worry about what other people are saying about you. I’m more focused on getting this organization out of this rut that we’ve dug ourselves over the last four years.”

After moving around the infield for years, Plouffe seems to have found his place at third. The 28-year-old has a batting average of .245 with 62 home runs, 224 RBI and 398 strikeouts in five seasons.


Rangers' Ross Ohlendorf (groin) leaves Thursday's game
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(3/26/2015) 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
(3/26/2015) 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
(3/26/2015) 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
(3/26/2015) 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
(3/26/2015) 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
(3/26/2015) 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
(3/26/2015) 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."


 
 
 
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