BY ROB SHAW
Kyle Drabek was a top prospect when the Blue Jays acquired him from the Phillies for perennial Cy Young contender Roy Halladay. The Blue Jays fan base was hoping that Drabek would be able to make an immediate impact, but that did not occur at all in 2010, as the son of former Pirates All-Star Doug Drabek found some success at Double-A, while also walking four batters per nine innings. That is a statistic that Drabek could get away with in the minor leagues, but a different story in the Majors. Drabek lost all three starts in 2010.
Last season, it was assumed that Drabek would hold a spot in the starting rotation, and sure enough he did open the season with the Blue Jays. The stay did not last long as he ended the season with just 14 starts and a 6.06 ERA. The main issue was his lack of control, as he ranked as the worst in the Major Leagues in BB/9 as well as BB/K.
Now 24 years old, Drabek is getting another opportunity this season and he shined bright in the first two games. In fact, Drabek walked just one batter in his second start as he pitched into the eighth inning and surrendered just one earned run to a solid Orioles offense. Suddenly, Drabek was again en vogue and was a hot pickup in fantasy baseball.
Alas, doubt has returned to the mind of this fantasy expert. Even though Drabek remains undefeated with a 2-0 record and the Blue Jays have won all three of his starts, his control was lost in his last start, as he issued six walks in 5.1 innings. The fact that the Royals did not capitalize has a lot to do with Drabek’s ability to miss bats (he boasts 15 K’s in 18 innings) and a little bit of luck.
On Thursday, the Orioles face Drabek for the second time this season. In many ways, Drabek remains a wild card as he has great stuff, including a 94 MPH heater with movement, but if his control is lost the numbers could take a hit. I’d expect a bit of regression for the next few months of the season. I see Drabek offering up an ERA closer to four and could end up on a career path similar to fellow Blue Jays hurler Brandon Morrow. In other words, Drabek is not for the risk adverse. He will have moments of glory, but also fits of frustration.
By Erik Hahmann
New York Yankees
New York comes into the season as not only a juggernaut in real life, but in the fantasy realm as well. Their offense is anchored by the best infield in baseball, led by Alex Rodriguez, who fully healthy should go back to putting up MVP-type numbers. The infield is rounded out by Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, and Mark Teixiera, each of whom is capable of ranking in the top 3 at their respective positions. New addition Curtis Granderson should flourish in hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium – he hit 30 homers in far less friendly Comerica Park last year. Home plate is once again manned by Jorge Posada, who even given his advanced age should put up above-average numbers.
CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett lead a strong rotation, with newcomer Javier Vazquez making for an excellent number-three starter. Phil Hughes moves to the rotation and is a rare Yankees sleeper; he was once an elite SP prospect before he became a lights-out bullpen guy, and he’s the number-five starter to start the season. Joba Chamberlain should get a good amount of K’s in the 7th-8th inning role, setting the table for the always reliable Mariano Rivera to once again be the one of the best closers in the game.
An emphasis on defense led the Sox to acquire several new players this off-season. Adrian Beltre could have a bounceback season at 3B now that he is in a more hitter-friendly park – assuming he’s finally healthy. Marco Scutaro is coming off a career year at age 35, so expect some regression from his 2009 season. Center field is now manned by Mike Cameron, with Jacoby Ellsbury and his 70-steal potential shifting to left. Expect regulars like Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, and J.D. Drew to continue to put up their usual stellar numbers. Playing in Fenway for a full season, in a solid lineup, could also boost Victor Martinez‘s already high fantasy value.
The strength of the team is the rotation. Jon Lester and Josh Beckett lead the way as one of the top 1-2 punches in the game, with John Lackey a close third. Moving to the AL East should slightly hinder Lackey’s numbers, so downgrade him a bit. The closer position is filled by Jonathan Papelbon for now, with Daniel Bard poised to take over if Papelbon falters.
The Rays set a team record for runs scored last season, and this year’s offense could be even better. Evan Longoria has put up outstanding numbers in his first two seasons and could exceed them this year as he vies for the AL MVP. Last year’s fantasy darling, Ben Zobrist, moves up to third in the order (ahead of Longoria) though he might struggle to approach 2009’s monster numbers. Carl Crawford should make his (probable) last season in Tampa Bay a good one, getting on base and stealing 50 or more bases. Jason Bartlett enjoyed a career season in 2009 and should regress, as his BABIP was a sky-high .364. A player who should stick around all season is Sean Rodriguez, who was acquired in the Scott Kazmir trade last season. He’s hit the cover off the ball this spring and could provide strong multi-positional value at 2B/OF.
The pitching staff is once again led by James Shields and Matt Garza, with Garza a popular pick for a breakout season; both Shields and Garza ranked among the unluckiest pitchers in the baseball for run support, and could both win more games with a little more luck on that front. Jeff Niemann, David Price and Wade Davis all offer upside as well, with Davis penciled in as the fifth starter, with a chance to compete for Rookie of the Year honors. Rafael Soriano has looked shaky in his first outings as the Rays’ new closer and has a history of injuries. J.P. Howell could make a good insurance policy for Soriano, assuming Howell himself can return healthy in the near future.
One of the more exciting teams to watch this season might well be the Baltimore Orioles. Rookie starter Brian Matusz has the skills to be an above-average performer this season, even in the rugged American League East. Veteran Kevin Millwood will start Opening Day for the Orioles. Millwood is a workhorse who should give Baltimore much needed innings at the top of the rotation.
What everyone will pay to see, however, is the O’s exciting young offense, led by Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, and Matt Wieters. Markakis drove in more than 100 runs last season and looks poised to do the same this year. While Jones had a slightly down 2009 season at the plate, he did lower his strikeout rate and up his walk rate, a very good sign for a young hitter. He could attain 20 HR/15 SB status this season. It was hard for Wieters to live up to the hype that preceded him last season, but he did an admirable job. It could all come together this season, with 20 HR and a .290 batting average very real possibilities – big numbers from the catching position.
The Blue Jays might not have the talent to finish even fourth in the division, but they still have a few interesting fantasy options for this season. Aaron Hill was one of the biggest surprises in baseball last season, exploding for 36 HR and 108 RBI at second base. He did have a fairly low OBP (.330) and his 36 home runs were 19 more than his previous career high, so some caution is advised. The other member of the Jays’ lineup to enjoy a breakout season was Adam Lind. The 26-year-old seemed to finally put it all together during his first full year with the team, putting up a .300 AVG+, 30 HR+, 100 RBI+ season. He shouldn’t have an issue putting up similar numbers this season.
An inexperienced pitching staff is led by Shaun Marcum, who hasn’t pitched since 2008. Ricky Romero, a Rookie of the Year contender last season with a 13-9 record and 4.30 ERA, might be the safest play of any of the Blue Jays starters.
For more information on the AL East, check out Bloomberg Sports fantasy kits
Since converting into a full-time reliever in the 2007 season, Downs has been one of the best set-up men in baseball. His ERA hasn’t finished above 3.09 and his Ground Ball Percentage (GB%) has never fallen below 55.7% in that time frame. That last part is important since keeping balls on the ground, and by extension in the yard, is an important part of a closer’s duties. Downs did save nine games a season ago, but Blue Jays Manager Cito Gaston seems like he’d rather Downs fill the type of roving reliever role that J.P. Howell has with the Rays, saying: “I’ve got a feeling that Scott, he’ll pitch anywhere you want him to pitch. He’s not going to be upset if he’s closing or not closing.” Not a good sign for the Scott Downs For Closer supporters out there.
Taking everything into consideration, Gregg looks like the Jays’ most likely pick. Losing teams rarely spend nearly three million dollars on a reliever that’s not finishing games for them, and 20-plus saves for Gregg at the trade deadline could make him more attractive to a contender, potentially enabling the Jays to add prospects to their farm system. Gregg’s Average Draft Position is 329th, making him a cheap late-round pickup that could end up paying dividends – even if only for a few months.