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Fantasy Baseball 2011: Chase Utley, Brandon Belt, Closer Battles, and Other Spring Training Thoughts

We are in the middle of spring training and many teams are making roster decisions that will impact fantasy rosters on draft day. Here are some things to consider as draft day approaches:

The Phillies are looking at upgrading in right field, rather than second base with Chase Utley's status still uncertain. As every day goes by, it is more likely that Chase Utley starts the season on the disabled list. ESPN's Buster Olney speculates in Saturday's blogpost that Utley may need some serious surgery:

To be clear about Chase Utley's medical condition: Only the Phillies and Utley and the player's doctors know exactly what kind of surgery he is working to avoid, by meeting with specialists. Reading the tea leaves in the bits and pieces of information that have come out, officials with other teams are wondering if he is looking at the same kind of microfracture surgery -- the same type of operation that required months of rehabilitation for Grady Sizemore.

Not good news for the Phillies or Utley owners.

More after the jump:

Matt Thornton appears to be the favorite to win the closer's job in Chicago. Thornton's K/9 increased from 10.82 to 12.02 last year and his K/BB has been in 4.00 range the last 3 years. He is a solid choice at closer as he will fantasy owners in 4 categories. He has struck out more than 80 batters the last two years, so if you are looking for a closer who will get you Ks, Thornton is an alternative.

Nationals closer in waiting, Drew Storen, was rocked for two home runs yesterday and now there is talk that he may start the season in the minors. Ugh. I own Storen in the UBA league at $5 and thought I had a cheap closer for 2011 back in February. Here is what Jim Riggleman said after Storen's rough outing yesterday, via Adam Kilgore at the Washington Post:

Here’s what Manager Riggleman said when asked about Storen’s security: "I don’t think that anybody who’s watched us in the last week has seen anybody securing any jobs in the bullpen, with the exception of Burnett. Everybody else has thrown good and just hasn’t pitched good. Nobody is happy with the results. You don’t like the way we’ve been getting beat on in our bullpen the last three or four days."

Kilgore mentions that there may be a chance that Storen starts the season in the minors, but says it is unlikely. I imagine Sean Burnett is now the favorite to start the season as the National's closer, at this point, but there are a few more weeks left of spring training.

Speaking of closers, the Braves will start the season with a closer by committee with Craig Kimbrel and Johnny Venters closing games. Unless this situation changes, Kimbrel will drop in my closer rankings, but he will still be valuable as a setup man who can pile up the Ks.

Giants first base prospect Brandon Belt is making a solid case for making the Giants roster out of spring training. GM Brian Sabean has stated that if Belt makes the team he will play everyday, and now Aubrey Huff will start seeing time in the outfield this spring, according to Alex Pavlovic:

 Speaking of first basemen in the outfield, Bruce Bochy said that Aubrey Huff will start seeing time out there next week.

The Giants will be a better team with Belt at first base to start the season, but I wonder if the Giants will give the veteran outfielders a month of two before he gets called up.

With that said, here is more from Henry Schulman at the SF Chronicle:

Giants general manager Brian Sabean said if Belt makes the team, he will hit seventh and not be thrown to the wolves in the middle of the lineup.

More significant, Sabean said the decision will be based on whether management believes the Giants will be a better team at the start of 2011 with Belt than without him. The two years left on Aaron Rowand's contract and the lack of minor-league options for Travis Ishikawa and Nate Schierholtz will not be big factors.

I know one UBA league owner who has the #2 pick in the minor league draft who is rooting for the Giants to start him in AAA.

The Yankees moved outfielder Brett Gardner to the leadoff spot yesterday, with SS Derek Jeter moving to the two hole in the lineup. I read that Jeter is still hitting alot of ground balls this spring, There is also talk that the Yankees may consider dropping Jeter in the lineup if he continues to hit like he did last year. Could be move to 8th or 9th in the Yankees lineup this season?

The Pirates plan to move outfielder Andrew McCutchen to the 3rd spot in the lineup, and fantasy owners wonder whether he will limit his stolen base opportunities this season, even though manager Clint Hurdle wants the Buccos running more this season. Colin Dunlap from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette has these quotes from McCiutchen:


If McCutchen stays at third in the order and isn't shifted to the leadoff spot, would he be more apt not to steal knowing Pedro Alvarez is hitting behind him?

"It is not going to change my approach. It is not going to change his approach," McCutchen said of himself and Alvarez. "I'm still going to be going."

Music ot the ears of McCutchen owners. I can see a 40 SB season from him this year. Jose Tabata could approach 40 SBs as well. Ron Shandler, from Baseball HQ, projects Tabata's SB upside at 50 SBs this season.

Angels first baseman Kendrys Morales will probably start the season on the DL, giving first base prospect Mark Trumbo a chance to prove his solid 2010 season in AAA was no fluke. Trumbo hit .299-.366-.575 with 36 HRs and 122 RBIs last year with a solid 126-58 K/BB rate.

The Rangers have yet to make a decision on whether closer Neftali Feliz will start the year in the rotation, or in the familiar closer spot, and owners who have already drafted him this year in early drafts have to be concerned. It appears Alex Ogando will get the first crack at the closer gig if Feliz is in the rotation to start the season.

Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco got knocked around yesterday, giving up 6 runs against the Astros. Count me as one fantasy owner who will not bid on or draft Nolasco this year. I see him falling to the very latest of rounds in mixed leagues, and the mid-teens in NL-only leagues.