Welcome to the first edition of the AL Only Playground. Over the course of the coming season I'll bring you news, injury updates, player acquisition & trade reviews, and anything else that could help you in your AL only roto league. For a lot of us this is draft weekend. For those who really stick by the book you may even be drafting next week or weekend once the season has already started. I have my hometown AL only keeper auction tomorrow night and I can honestly say I haven't looked forward to something this much for quite some time. I'm sure my wife would be thrilled to hear that. Since this is still a preseason edition of the Playground it'll have a slightly different feel - more news and notes today, but I'll also throw you a sleeper pick I feel very confident in. Let's dive in.
Rotations - I can see clearly now
As we near first pitch, teams are now finalizing their opening week pitching rotations. Let's take a look at some pitchers who will break camp with their team.
Starting in the Pacific Northwest look for 22 year old - 2012 Seattle Mariner minor league pitcher of the year winner - Brandon Maurer later in your drafts or auctions as he's won the number four spot in the Seattle rotation. This news is sort of bitter sweet for me as Erasmo Ramirez will now start the season in AAA. You'll remember Ramirez was a sleeper for me back in January. (I suppose as long as Cobb continues to pitch well, those calls won't be a total bust). It's important to Remember Maurer has never pitched above AA, but I like the skills and would be willing to go $2-$4 to roster him this season. Keep your eye on Ramirez however, as he could be worth a FAAB bid once called back up - how long do we really think Blake Beavan, new delivery and all, will survive?
I detailed the Rick Porcello - Drew Smyly outcome here - check it out if you haven't already.
We also saw Toronto demote Ricky Romero to A ball as his struggles from last year continue. J.A. Happ will start the year as the Jay's 5th starter and I would encourage people to throw a buck or two his way in the end game in hopes of turning a decent profit. There's some underlying skill there. After all, the Jays bet in favor of the skills as well, extending Happ two more years.
Dan Straily - 24 - will start the year as the A's 5th starter. I'm not sure what's in store once Bartolo Colon is eligible to return from his suspension unfortunately, but this unknown should present a decent buying opportunity on Straily. If given a chance to spend a good sized portion of the season pitching for the A's, Straily has everything I look for in an undervalued/high performing SP.
In Houston, Brad Peacock and Erik Bedard will round out their 4 and 5 rotation spots. Peacock has strike out potential, but the lack of control and the team he'll be pitching for makes him an after thought for me heading into drafts. Bedard is a player you can gamble on late if you want. Personally, I can think of some better ways to spend a few bucks later in an auction and again will look elsewhere.
From pitchers I won't touch to a pitcher I have no idea how to rank/project (helpful I know), Scott Kazmir is back in the majors, locking down the No. 5 spot in the Indians rotation. In 13 spring training innings, Kazmir struck out 13 while walking 1 batter and giving up 5 earned runs. Reports say his fastball velocity is back as well. Someone at your draft will take a chance on Kazmir. Will it be you?
The White Sox named Dylan Axelrod their 5th starter earlier this week and I believe he could be a decent $1 SP in AL only leagues. Axelrod's skill set doesn't scream potential, but it's also relatively safe for a back end AL only starter. If you can get him for a buck or in the reserve round, take a flyer and see what he can do this year.
With news that Phil Hughes will start the season on the DL for the Yankees (shocking), David Phelps will get at least one turn through the rotation to start the year. Not only does he possess an awesome first name, he's a pretty talented kid. With Hughes struggling with a back injury, Phelps is worth an investment while many owners believe his role is temporary as it could become permanent as soon as mid April.
Who gets the final three outs in Detroit?
Moving away from the rotation, we also learned a couple days ago Bruce Rondon was being sent to AAA, leaving us all to wonder who will close in Detroit. There's no doubt Jim Leyland will have plenty of options, which makes guessing the favorite all but impossible. I like Al Alburquerque's strike out potential, but I'd be lying if I said his control didn't worry me some. Benoit seems like the logical choice to me, but I keep hearing about his inability to pitch on back to back days. Dotel also has closing experience, and could have the trust of Leyland who is more of an old school type of manager. It actually wouldn't surprise me to see Benoit and Dotel split time for the first month or two, Alburquerque work his way into the mix mid May, and the Tiger's trade for a closer by the deadline. Considering most AL only leagues have small to no benches, I'm not sure I want to invest too heavily in this situation.
Brett Lawrie will being the season on the DL with a strained left rib cage. Lawrie is eligible to return April 6th, however it's not clear if the Jays will activate him immediately. Make sure to have a back up third baseman if you've rostered Lawrie this season.
Oakland A's import - Hiroyuki Nakajima is likely to begin the season on the DL with a strained left hamstring. Look for Scott Sizemore and Jed Lowrie to man the middle infield for the A's in the meantime.
Jason Giambi will also start the season on the with a strained lower back. Giambi is eligible to return April 9th for the Indians.
Wilson Betemit of the Baltimore Orioles has a PCL tear in his knee and will be out for a couple of months at this point. As of now the team does not believe it will require surgery. Betemit's injury allows utility player, Ryan Flaherty to make the club without question. Flaherty has some position flexibility and a little power/speed combo that is attractive for the right price.
Chris Tillman was also placed on the DL by the O's with Abdominal Soreness. His DL stint is back dated to March 22nd. Now Chris knows how I feel getting out of bed everyday after the gym. Not so easy is it? Joking aside, Tillman is a pitcher I like this season, and there's a chance his DL stint will help lower his draft day price.
Stephen Drew is still not fully recovered from his concussion and is currently on the 7 day DL. No time table is set for his return at this point. In the mean time look for Jose Iglesias to get some reps at short stop for the Red Sox.
David Ortiz has not officially been placed on the DL with a heel injury as of writing this (Friday night) but everything I've read is pointing that direction. For some reason this injury is worrying me more than others. It might be the time it's taken Big Papi to heal, or it might be the fact it's a heel injury and his nick name includes the word BIG.
Curtis Granderson, Phil Hughes (mentioned above) Derek Jeter (probably starting on the DL) Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Brian Cashman (well just his ego after running a line up of Travis Hafner, Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay out there on opening day) We're all already aware of the Yankee situation.
Worth a flyer - I'm a believer
We all know by now, you can't take spring training stats and expect a player to go from dud to stud. Well, I am throwing that out the window with this call and hoping you will take my advice - Draft Justin Smoak.
Justin Smoak has had an incredible spring, hitting .418/.468/.782 in 18 games (55 at bats) including 8 doubles and 4 home runs. But for me, it's not even about the numbers. Well it is to a degree, with what he did in September as another large contributor. I duck now as you throw empty cans and make obscene gestures in my direction. "Spring training stats and September stats... who the hell is this guys?" I am someone that has watched a lot of horrible Justin Smoak at bats. In fact, Justin Smoak was traded to my favorite team as a birthday present. Well not really as a birthday present, but the Mariners did acquire him on my birthday, so I just put two and two together. Needless to say Smoak has been more a pack of socks than a new golf club on the birthday present scale. But that was the old Justin Smoak. The new Justin Smoak looks completely different to me since his recall from AAA last season. His swing is much shorter from the left side, his hands are starting closer to the pitcher, he's letting the ball travel and finally driving the ball with authority. No longer is his left handed swing long and loopy causing weak contact or pop ups. Smoak may never become the hitter some thought he'd be (the Teixeira comps were pretty lazy in my opinion), but a .265 BA, 28 homer season from Smoak would make quite a few fantasy baseball owners happy this year. I say it happens.
Last Sunday I talked about Aaron Hicks getting the opening day nod for the Twins. It now appears Jackie Bradley will also make the jump from AA and will start for the Red Sox in left field. Both outfielders are far from sure things for the 2013 season, but could provide fantasy owners with some speed and a little pop if given regular playing time. It's difficult for me to say which player I like more as I believe Hicks has a better chance of playing all season as long as he performs. Then again, perhaps Bradley is making the team because Ortiz's injury is worse than the Red Sox are letting the public know. Or maybe the Red Sox really do feel Bradley is ready to contribute and are willing to go through the growing pains with him. I am sure they wouldn't mind seeing what they have, and opening the door to an Ellsbury trade since it appears he's gone after this season anyway. Playing time equal, I'd prefer Bradley for the 2013 season, but it's close. I do like that both seem to have a good idea of the strike zone and should provide some counting stats in both power and speed. As I mentioned in my article on Sunday, find your price and stick to it. In my AL only keeper league which uses OBP instead of BA, I'll likely make a run at one of these guys, but won't break the bank for either.
That does it for the first edition of the AL Only Playground. You may be asking yourself, what's with the title? To be honest I've been thinking all week about what I could name this weekly piece that would tie into the American League theme. After failing to come up with anything I deemed worthwhile, I gave myself my typical internal pep talk and told me "Just have fun with it". DING - What's more fun and disorganized than a playground? Adults don't answer that.
With that, welcome to my thought process and the playground, we'll do it again next week.
You can find me on twitter @dmojr where I am always available for AL only questions, trade talk and waiver wire advice