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2014 Draft Prep: Pitching staff rankings

Senior Fantasy Writer
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The Top Two

St. Louis Cardinals
Cincinnati Reds

The Cardinals are, simply put, awesome. There's little not to like here, starting with an ace at the top of the rotation (Adam Wainwright) all the way down to No. 5, where the underrated Joe Kelly (2.69 ERA over 37 appearances last season) will compete with the electric-armed Carlos Martinez (2.69 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 9.3 K/9 over four minor league season) for the last spot. ... The Reds opened up a rotation spot for Tony Cingrani, who brings a low ERA and WHIP and plenty of strikeouts to a team now managed by Cincinnati's former pitching coach, Bryan Price. Both the Reds and Cardinals have stud closers, and the bullpens are solid -- although the Reds, with the underrated J.J. Hoover (2.86 ERA/1.11 WHIP, 9.1 K/9 last season) and Sam LeCure (2.66 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 9.7 K/9) in middle relief, could have a slight edge. The Reds don't get the top spot because of some injury concerns -- Johnny Cueto had three trips to the DL last season and Mat Latos is coming off elbow (bone chips) and knee surgeries.

Four Excellent Staffs

Detroit Tigers
Pittsburgh Pirates
Tampa Bay Rays
Atlanta Braves

The Tigers have arguably the scariest 1-2 punch (Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer) in baseball at the top of their rotation, but their season may rest on Rick Porcello (an extreme groundballer who got a huge infield defensive upgrade behind him this offseason) and Drew Smyly (who will transition into the rotation after a 2.37 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and 9.6 K/9 in a relief role last season). If Porcello and Smyly click, this could be an elite rotation. But Verlander's 2013 velocity issues and offseason surgery hold them back just a little bit. ... The Pirates finished third in staff ERA last year, and will get a full season out of Gerrit Cole, Wandy Rodriguez, and the quietly effective Charlie Morton (3.26 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in 20 starts last year). If pitching coach Ray Searage can do with Edinson Volquez what he did last year with Francisco Liriano, the Pirates could finish top five in ERA again. ... The Rays ended up keeping David Price this offseason, giving the rotation a huge 2014 boost. Alex Cobb is near-elite and could make the jump this season, while Matt Moore looks to bounce back and Chris Archer should build on his 3.22 ERA and 1.13 WHIP from last season. ... The Braves are the defending ERA champs, but the recent spate of spring injuries is cause for concern. This is a rotation that could feature Freddy Garcia and David Hale instead of Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy for stretches. Alex Wood -- who had a 3.13 ERA and 77 strikeouts in 77 2/3 innings last season -- is a tremendous sleeper in this rotation. He could be Medlen 2.0. Julio Teheran, Ervin Santana and Mike Minor should be able to carry this staff.

Four Very Good Staffs

Washington Nationals
New York Yankees
Oakland Athletics
Los Angeles Dodgers

The Nationals added Doug Fister to the rotation in a December trade with the Tigers. He has a career 1.21 WHIP, and he hasn't finished a season with an ERA above 3.70 since 2010. Stephen Strasburg could get to elite status this season, while Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann aren't too far behind. The team lacks a stud in the No. 5 spot, but Tanner Roark could surprise. ... The Yankees added Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka to the rotation, and Michael Pineda should have a solid season coming off shoulder surgery. But the fortunes of the staff may rest on CC Sabathia, whose ugly 2013 raised a good amount of red flags. ... With Bartolo Colon gone, the A's are losing about 200 innings of low ERA (2.65 last season) and WHIP (1.17), but they've proven several times that it's foolish to count them out. Scott Kazmir needs to keep his renaissance momentum going, while Dan Straily remains a high-upside wild card -- the 25-year-old was all over the place in 2013, with four months of 4.40-plus ERA and two of 3.07 or lower. His K/9 decrease also hurts his value, but Straily did look magnificent in September, with a 2.10 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. Injuries to A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker kill the buzz a little, but Drew Pomeranz could sneak into the rotation and end up being a major sleeper. ... There's not much to not like about Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Hyun-jin Ryu as the top three in the Dodgers rotation. But the final two pieces -- Dan Haren and Josh Beckett -- are the keys to this staff either being one of the best in the game or a borderline disaster. Haren has battled back issues in the past, but had a 3.29 ERA and 1.05 WHIP from July 2013 forward, striking out 84 batters in 87 2/3 innings. And while Beckett missed most of 2013 with surgery to correct thoracic outlet syndrome, he's the owner of a career 3.94 ERA and 1.24 WHIP, with most of that ERA damage coming as a member of the Red Sox rotation, in the AL East, pitching in a very hitter-friendly environment.

Three Staffs That May Surprise

Miami Marlins
New York Mets
Seattle Mariners

Laugh all you want at the Marlins and Mets, but they have some young, intriguing talent on the rosters. Nate Eovaldi doesn't get the sexy strikeout numbers, but his 94.1 mph average fastball last season was seventh-highest in the majors (among pitchers with 100-plus innings pitched). Jose Fernandez is a stud, while Jacob Turner produced a 3.74 ERA in 2013 and Henderson Alvarez sported a 3.59. Their average age? 22 1/2. And that's with electric prospect (and 22-year-old) Andrew Heaney on the way. ... The Mets added the ageless Bartolo Colon in an offseason signing, and he will anchor a staff that includes the underrated Dillon Gee (3.62 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in 32 starts last season) and the good-when-he's-not-hurt Jonathon Niese. Zack Wheeler could be Shelby Miller 2.0 this season, and Daisuke Matsuzaka finished 2013 with a heaping dose of hope -- a 1.37 ERA in his final four games. If Matsuzaka can park his ERA in the 3.50 area, the Mets could have a better-than-average staff. ... The Mariners have an ace in Felix Hernandez, a stud in Hisashi Iwakuma (who should be back to form by May), and a future stud in Taijuan Walker (who needs to quickly get past his spring shoulder issues). The forgotten man here is James Paxton, another young hurler who had a 1.50 ERA and 0.92 WHIP over four starts last season. Paxton was a bit erratic over a four-year minor league career, but he was a top prospect in 2012 and 2013 and can carry a low ERA with decent strikeout rates. The larger confines of Safeco should be a welcome change from the hitter-friendly PCL, where Paxton produced a 4.45 ERA over 28 appearances last year.

Five Solid Options

Boston Red Sox
Los Angeles Angels
Arizona Diamondbacks
Texas Ranger
San Francisco Giants
Milwaukee Brewers

John Lackey repeating his 2013 season seems somewhat unlikely, while Felix Doubront has a good amount of risk paired with his upside. ... The Angels have some really intriguing parts in the rotation. Jered Weaver is great, C.J. Wilson turned around his 2013 (after having bone chips removed in the offseason), Hector Santiago has a 3.30 ERA and nearly a strikeout per inning as a starter (over 150 innings) and is moving to a friendlier home park, and while Tyler Skaggs' 5.43 ERA in a handful of major league innings leaves much to be desired, he was twice pegged as a top 15 prospect by Baseball America, carrying a 3.34 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, and 9.8 K/9 over 498 2/3 minor league innings. ... The Diamondbacks have successfully cornered the market on relatively low-strikeout, boring starters who probably won't wow you with ratios, but should be able to compile one of the better rotation ERAs in the majors. The key here is a bounceback from Brandon McCarthy, who struggled early in the season, but had a 3.27 ERA over his final five starts. ... The Rangers have one of the best pitchers in the majors in Yu Darvish, and an underrated asset in Alexi Ogando (3.12 career ERA and 1.14 WHIP), but the most interesting project would be Robbie Ross. The lefty has been great out of the bullpen the last two years, but excelled as a starter in the minors (2.88 ERA and 1.17 WHIP over 381 2/3 innings). Ross is a longshot to make the rotation, but if he snags that No. 5 spot, he could be a great AL-only sleeper candidate. ... The Giants' fortunes may rely on Tim Lincecum, who has been one of the biggest Fantasy mysteries over the last two seasons. The 29-year-old went from two Cy Young Awards to a 4.76 ERA and 1.39 WHIP over the past two seasons. The good news is that his strikeout rate was still a robust 9.0 K/9 in that two-year stretch. The bad news is that it's decreased every year since 2008. ... The Brewers added a jolt to the staff with the signing of Matt Garza this offseason, but both he and Yovani Gallardo are similarly risky, with injuries (Garza) and a decrease in velocity (Gallardo) hindering their prospects for full, solid campaigns.

Three Rotations That May Not Be As Bad As You Think

Colorado Rockies
San Diego Padres
Kansas City Royals

You're not going to find Fantasy gold on the Rockies, but this isn't the same terrible pitching staff of old. Jorge De La Rosa (16 wins, 3.49 ERA), Jhoulys Chacin (14 wins, 3.47 ERA), and Tyler Chatwood (eight wins in 20 starts, 3.15 ERA) all posted sub-3.50 ERAs last season. Throw in the potential of Brett Anderson and the (likely) mid-season arrivals of prospects Eddie Butler and Jon Gray, and this staff actually has a shot at five starters in August all sporting ERAs below 3.50... The Padres have one of baseball's hardest throwers in Andrew Cashner; he's going to be joined at the top of the rotation with two reclamation projects -- Ian Kennedy and Josh Johnson. Kennedy has been pretty erratic throughout his career, but was very good in 2011 (21 wins, 2.88 ERA, 1.09 WHIP). Johnson has Cy Young-caliber stuff, but needs to stay healthy. If they can click, this could be a scary rotation in a spacious home park. ... The Royals have James Shields up top and Yordano Ventura at the back end. Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie aren't going to strike out a lot of batters, but they will flirt with 200 innings and produce a sub-4.00 ERA.

Four That Need Things To Break The Right Way

Baltimore Orioles
Toronto Blue Jays
Philadelphia Phillies
Chicago White Sox

Here's what each team needs to happen for them to outperform expectations:

Baltimore: Kevin Gausman and Chris Tillman have to fulfill their potential, and Ubaldo Jimenez needs to replicate 2013 (3.30 ERA, 9.6 K/9) and not fall back into 2011-12 form (5.03 ERA, 8.0 K/9 over 365 innings).

Toronto: Brandon Morrow needs to stay healthy, R.A. Dickey needs to prove that 2013 was an injury-riddled fluke, and Drew Hutchison has to capitalize on potential. Bonus points if Ricky Romero (1.29 ERA and 1.14 WHIP over seven spring innings) and his seemingly-cured knees can get back to his pre-2012 form.
Philadelphia: Cole Hamels needs to avoid complications from the shoulder issues, A.J. Burnett hopefully remembers all the good advice Ray Searage gave him, and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez needs to deliver on the hype.
Chicago White Sox: Erik Johnson needs to produce Hector Santiago's numbers over a full season -- although there's a decent chance he can improve on them (2.21 ERA and 1.08 WHIP over three seasons in the minors). Chris Sale is elite and Jose Quintana is underrated. They need Felipe Paulino to hit the ground running and claim that fifth spot in the rotation, picking up momentum from his start to 2012 (1.67 ERA, 39 strikeouts in 37 2/3 innings).

The Bottom Four

Minnesota Twins
Cleveland Indians
Houston Astros
Chicago Cubs

The Twins may crawl out of this group if Alex Meyer and Kyle Gibson show up halfway through the year (or earlier). And they do have a staff with a lot of talent (Phil Hughes, Ricky Nolasco, and Vance Worley have all posted solid seasons, while Mike Pelfrey was a top prospect and Kevin Correia has been good for stretches in the past). ... The Indians have tons of potential in Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber, but there's also a large amount of injury and regression risk. This is a rotation that could finish in the bottom 10 or top 10, but probably nowhere in between. ... The Astros have an interesting staff. Scott Feldman had a career year in 2013, and Jerome Williams has the potential for a decent ERA and WHIP. If Brad Peacock can get into the rotation and deliver on his promise, things could be looking up. For now, though, the Astros don't look to have a ton of Fantasy upside heading into the season. ... The Cubs do have potential -- Jeff Samardzija had a 2.85 ERA and seven games with seven or more strikeouts at the start of June last season, before slumping the rest of the way out. But the rest of the pitchers -- while they won't be disasters -- don't have the kind of upside needed to carry the Cubs out of the bottom spot heading into 2014.

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Player News
Tigers' Blaine Hardy hoping to reign in his accuracy in 2015
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(10:53 pm ET) Tigers pitcher Blaine Hardy is using this spring training to work on his control. Hardy struggled in 2014 with his control, walking 20 batters in 39 innings pitched.

"Last year I walked more people than I would've liked," he said to MLB.com. "That's definitely a learning point, learning the strike zone. It's a little bit different, a little bit smaller, but more consistent. With that being said, I felt like I had a good year, and hopefully I'll be able to come in and do the same thing with less walks."

Manager Brad Ausmus didn't think Hardy's season was as bad as people believe it was.

"I thought he did a good job for us, quite frankly," Ausmus said. "It kind of irks me a little bit when people want to split players' seasons up: Player X had a good year, but he really struggled in the second half. He still had a good year.

"Guys are going to struggle at some point in the season. It's probably more likely they struggle in the second half as they tire, but you can't discount what they did in the first half. Those games are just as important to win."


Rockies' Jhoulys Chacin faces hitters for first time Saturday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(10:47 pm ET) Rockies pitcher Jhoulys Chacin is feeling good about his health so far in camp. Good enough, in fact, that the 27-year-old faced hitters Saturday for the first time this spring.

Sunday, Chacin said he was without pain.

"Today I feel normal -- not like before," Chacin said. "I threw everything and felt good. I need to get into games to really feel back to normal, like it did two years ago [14-10 with a 3.47 ERA in 31 starts]. I know I've got a long way to go. I don't know what my velocity was, but it'll come up a little."

Chacin injured his rotator cuff in the middle of last season, forcing him out of action for nearly half the season.


Indians P Gavin Floyd comes out of live BP session pain free
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(9:24 pm ET) Following his first live batting practice of spring training, Indians pitcher Gavin Floyd came away without any pain the elbow he broke last season.

With the Braves in 2014, Floyd fractured his elbow in a game against the Nationals on June 19. The injury required surgery, which ended his season. Sunday morning's batting practice marked the first time he'd thrown to a batter since that game. 

"It's just another step," Floyd said via MLB.com. "It's the first time I had a significant bullpen, cooled down for a little bit and then got back out there. I felt really good. I've just got to continue to make progress and build up strength. Usually, that's just by doing it over and over again, and using spring to do that."


White Sox's Gordon Beckham working at multiple infield positions
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(8:30 pm ET) Gordon Beckham's main goal this spring training is to win the White Sox's starting second baseman position. 

But for now, the White Sox are planning to use him at multiple positions in the infield during Cactus League play, according to MLB.com. This is somewhat new for Beckham, as he played second base during his first five-plus Major League seasons with the White Sox. 

Though Beckham is looking to earn the starting job at second base, he seems to be enjoying playing multiple spots so far. 

"I'm actually kind of enjoying running around," Beckham said. "I like popping around the infield. I know the coaches and the people making the decisions know I can play second base and know I can play it well. There has been an emphasis on them just telling me to get some work in other places."

Beckham actually played shortstop in college at the University of Georgia and played that position, as well as third base, after the White Sox traded him to the Angels. He was brought back to Chicago on a one-year deal. 

Beckham hit a single-season worse .226 for both the Angels and White Sox a season ago. 


Giants' Tim Lincecum to 'piggyback' starter this week
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(8:20 pm ET) Giants manager Bruce Bochy said pitcher Tim Lincecum will see a relief appearance early this week, according to MLB.com

Lincecum is generating rave reviews for his performance early on in spring training. However, he won't be getting a start this week. Bochy said Lincecum will "piggyback" either Madison Bumgarner (Tuesday), Jake Peavy (Wednesday), Ryan Vogelsong (Thursday) or Yusmeiro Petit (Friday) this week. 

This means Lincecum will come in and get a starter's workload in relief. 


Giants' Jake Peavy to start Wednesday for Giants
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(8:16 pm ET) Following Madison Bumgarner's exhibition start on Tuesday, the Giants will go with Jake Peavy to start Wednesday's Cactus League game against the Athletics, manager Bruce Bochy announced via MLB.com

Ryan Vogelsong will pitch Thursday against the Cubs and Yusmeiro Petit will go Friday against the Rangers. 


White Sox's Gordon Beckham working at multiple infield positions
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(7:52 pm ET) Gordon Beckham's main goal this spring training is to win the White Sox's  starting second baseman position. 

But for now, the White Sox are planning to use him at multiple positions in the infield during Cactus League play, according to MLB.com. This is somewhat new for Beckham, as he played second base during his first five-plus Major League seasons with the White Sox. 

Though Beckham is looking to earn the starting job at second base, he seems to be enjoying playing multiple spots so far. 

"I'm actually kind of enjoying running around," Beckham said. "I like popping around the infield. I know the coaches and the people making the decisions know I can play second base and know I can play it well. There has been an emphasis on them just telling me to get some work in other places."

Beckham actually played shortstop in college at the University of Georgia and played that position, as well as third base, after the White Sox traded him to the Angels. He was brought back to Chicago on a one-year deal. 

Beckham hit a single-season worse .226 for both the Angels and White Sox a season ago. 


Phillies pitcher Paul Clemens fighting for spot in bullpen
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(7:16 pm ET) Phillies pitcher Paul Clemens has been told he has a great arm. But Clemens, who posted a 5.51 ERA in 48 appearances with the Astros over the last two years, knows it'll take more than that.

"Some pitching coaches tell me how incredible my arm is and that I could play for a long time, so I think I've been showing some guys what I bring to the table," Clemens said. "I had a couple really good conversations with front office and some guys around here, so it's definitely motivating."

He wants to be able to pick out his spots better during spring training, knowing he has to impress as a non-roster invitee.

"Sometimes I think I get too overzealous with my fastball and I just pound it and pound it and pound it. So picking my spots more, being smarter. You can't really challenge guys at this level. Once in a while you've got to pick your spots, but you can't challenge too many guys, even the guys you don't really know their names as much. You've still got to pitch."


Athletics to ease Coco Crisp into action this spring
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(7:08 pm ET) Athletics manager Bob Melvin wants to take things slow with veteran outfielder Coco Crisp this spring, reports MLB.com.

"I'll probably hold him out the first few because I'm going to cut down on his workload," Melvin said Sunday.

Crisp, who is dealing with a case of pinkeye, was held out of an intrasquad scrimmage, even though he was able to take part in batting practice.


Cardinals' Jhonny Peralta hoping to recreate 2014 season in 2015
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(7:05 pm ET) Cardinals shortstop Jhonny Peralta wants to be able to do a lot of the things he succeeded doing in 2014. 

"I think what I did last year was pretty good for my first year in the National League," Peralta said. "I felt good about the home runs I hit. I know the average wasn't at .300, but I finished better than I started."

Peralta hit .263 with 21 home runs and 75 RBI in 560 plate appearances. His manager, Mike Matheny, wants to see a similar guy in 2015.

"He's been very consistent with getting himself ready and what he needs to do and who he needs to be. He came in here last year with a very workmanlike approach and went about it to build up for opening day," Matheny said.


 
 
 
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