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Archive for Monday, April 10, 2006

Don’t panic; it’s still early

Now is time for tweaks, not major moves

April 10, 2006

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Manic fantasy baseball fans, here's a strong suggestion after the first few days of the baseball season: Chill out.

Perhaps you bought a major-league season package for your cable TV. Perhaps you're watching games, or at least real-time box scores, online.

Perhaps I'm talking to myself here.

Regardless, it's easy to get consumed with watching and analyzing every at-bat for each of your players.

Don't overreact to the first few games of the season. It's easy, after a long baseball-deprived winter, to give additional weight to those first few days.

That's an impulse to ignore.

Albert Pujols is not going to hit 240 home runs. Nor will Tigers first baseman Chris Shelton hit 324, even though he hit two in game 1 of 162. A six-month season has a way of evening things out, and the best plan is to watch for a few weeks before making any major moves.

That said, the first week does offer some clues worthy of attention. Where are players batting in the lineup? What tendencies does a manager show in terms of bullpen use, or base stealing? Who is injured, and what players are getting opportunities to shine because of it?

Conversely, what traditional trends are no longer true in 2006?

Answers to these questions, in the form of minor additions and subtractions to your team, are all you should be focusing on this first week.

Meanwhile, here are some players to keep an eye on:

Rising stars

Fernando Rodney, RP, Tigers

True, veteran Todd Jones already is playing catch and is expected to return later this month. But this is the same Todd Jones whose huge mustache was scarier than his presence on the mound from 2001 to 2004, before his unlikely rebirth last year with the Marlins. Be very wary.

Meanwhile, Rodney has the stuff to close and now has the opportunity to audition for the role. The well-paid Jones will get ample opportunity to win the job back, but Rodney may be the backup closer with the highest upside in the American League.

Nick Markakis, OF, Orioles

The Baltimore outfield is a bit crowded, but Markakis stands out. Manager Sam Perlozzo said he wouldn't keep the 22-year-old on the roster unless he could find him plenty of at-bats. He's on the roster. Expect other Orioles OFs (Luis Matos, Jeff Conine, Corey Patterson) to see more time on the bench while Markakis roams all three outfield positions. Markakis is raw, having skipped Triple-A, but he has an uncanny eye and the skills of Jeremy Hermida. He hit a home run in his first start Wednesday against Tampa Bay and .280-15-70 is not out of the question. Somehow he's relatively unknown. Grab him early and enjoy the ride.

Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Padres

Now San Diego is talking about surgery for Ryan Klesko's bum shoulder. That's good fortune for former super prospect Gonzalez, who finally has the opportunity to play. The first baseman can flat-out hit, and easily could hit 20 home runs if given an extended chance to play. Looks like he has it.

Falling fortunes

The Coors Field Effect

Eleven runs. That's what the Rockies and Diamondbacks combined to score in the first two games of the season, at the hitter-friendly confines of Coors Field. Only one time all last year did the Rockies and their foes combine to score 11 runs or fewer in back-to-back games. A couple of possibilities here:

A) That's one heck of a humidor.

B) Eight humidors could produce more runs than the current Rockies lineup.

It appears to be the latter. Todd Helton and the Toddlers made Brandon Webb and Orlando Hernandez look like Cy Young and Walter Johnson in the first two games of the season. Unless the ball starts jumping again at Coors, don't depend on the young Rockies for much production.

Devil Rays pitchers

I know I said to avoid getting too caught up in the first week. However, it's hard not to worry about this bunch, who threw fine batting practice to the grateful Orioles in the first few games of the year. The law of averages would have us believe that at some point the Rays' pitching staff will start getting people out. It would seem that way. Avoid this group other than ace Scott Kazmir, who clearly has the talent to succeed.

Quick hits

Don't let Cardinals 2B Aaron Miles fool you. His 4-for-5 opening day was similar to his 5-for-6 opener last year. He's prone to huge games, but that means tons of 0-fers as well. Take out his three four-hit games last year and his .306 BA was .253. He's a frustrating fantasy play Houston starter Wandy Rodriguez isn't ace material, but he'll start twice next week against the weak-hitting Nationals and Diamondbacks. He could be a nice play If you avoid one player next week, make it Royals P Joe Mays. He's coming off a pounding by the Tigers, and he visits Yankee Stadium and Tropicana Stadium, where he has a combined 9.97 ERA over the last three years.

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