Spring scorchers: Who's for real?
Liriano, Stanton raising hopes with impressive performances
Spring Training can sometimes serve as a purveyor of false hope. Guys start hot and suddenly the entire fantasy world is abuzz.
Is Player X poised to bust out after a few seasons of failing to meet expectations? Has Player Y proven he's primed to bounce back? Who the heck is Player Z and why is everyone yapping about him?
There's only so much info that can be monitored and processed. Yet there's no doubt that for an owner, watching that late-round sleeper pick turn into a star is one of the most rewarding aspects of fantasy baseball. Or at least a suitable face-saving consolation prize for a cellar-dwelling squad in July.
So which spring scorchers are for real this year? Only time shall tell, but for the moment here are a few educated guesses:
Francisco Liriano, P, Twins: Liriano has been en fuego since carving up the Dominican Winter Leagues, going 1-0 with a 2.70 ERA and a 16/1 K/BB ratio over 10 innings this spring. Once considered to be merely in the running for the fifth-starter job in Minnesota, the hard-throwing southpaw may very well go into the 2010 season as the Twins closer. With Joe Nathan's season officially done, the back end of the Minnesota bullpen has been thrown into flux, and Liriano's name keeps popping up as a prime candidate to take over fireman duties.
Mike Stanton, OF, Marlins: Stanton, ranked No. 3 on Baseball America's 2010 prospect list, has crushed three homers and knocked in seven runs in just six games this spring. The 20-year-old outfielder is a pure power hitter, having cranked a combined 67 taters over the last two years across three Minor League affiliates. Between his status as a highly touted prospect and the way he's swung the bat in the Grapefruit League, it's looking more and more like the young basher is going to be in the outfield mix for the Marlins this year.
Sean Rodriguez, INF/OF, Rays: Acquired by the Rays in last August's trade for Scott Kazmir, Rodriguez carried some heavy expectations from the Angels organization. Looking at his spring stats -- he's batting .405 with five jacks and 12 RBIs in 15 games -- you'd think he was playing with house money, not for a job on a Major League roster in a high-pressure environment. Add to that his Ben Zobrist-like ability to handle middle infield as well as outfield duties, and it looks like Rodriguez may be ready to stake his claim in the bigs this year.
Chris Davis, 1B, Rangers: Davis struck out once per every 2.61 at-bats last season, a staggering rate that sunk his average and torpedoed his mixed-league value. It also earned him a midsummer demotion to the Minors, during which time the young slugger focused on improving his contact skills. The results spoke volumes, as he batted .327 and whiffed only 39 times in 165 at-bats after returning to Texas. That trend has continued this spring. Davis is hitting .409 with two long balls and 10 RBIs while fanning once per every four at-bats. The 24-year-old has a wealth of talent, and his plate discipline is finally starting to evolve, too.
Jorge De La Rosa, SP, Rockies: De La Rosa found a groove right around the All-Star break last year and surged to a 10-2 record, a 3.46 ERA and a 9.58 K/9 mark in 15 second-half starts. Those hoping he can keep it up can draw encouragement from his spring numbers: In four appearances over 14 innings, the hard-throwing lefty is 1-1 with a 1.93 ERA and an 11/3 K/BB ratio. If De La Rosa can start 30-plus games for the second consecutive season, he has a good chance to notch his first 200-strikeout campaign.
Tim Hudson, SP, Braves: Hudson came back strong last year after recovering from Tommy John surgery, going 2-1 with a 3.61 ERA in seven starts down the stretch. He's been on point this spring as well, winning two of his four starts while compiling a 1.93 ERA. At 34, the wiry righty has endured a lot of wear and tear on his arm, but he still knows how to pitch.
Nick Johnson, DH, Yankees: With so much firepower in the Bronx, the main prerequisites for success in the lineup are good plate discipline and health. With a career .402 on-base percentage, Johnson could find himself crossing the plate with regularity -- assuming he stays on the field, of course. Aside from a minor back tweak in early March, the 31-year-old has done that this spring, batting .333 with three homers, six RBIs and a .483 on-base percentage in 10 games. When Johnson is healthy, he's among the best in the game at churning out at-bats.
Dontrelle Willis, SP, Tigers: Willis has sent a few ripples of intrigue throughout the fantasy realm with his strong start this spring. The once dominant southpaw has held opposing batters to a .152 average over 10 innings of work while posting a 0.90 ERA. However, the control issues that have been his Achilles' heel for some time are still there, as he's handed out five walks in those 10 frames. That is the most telling stat given that the D-Train has faced a lesser caliber of hitters in Spring Training.
Mike Sweeney, 1B, Mariners: Sweeney has scorched the ball so far this spring, batting .609 with six extra-base hits and six RBIs in seven games. While that's encouraging, it's not uncommon for an elder statesman like Sweeney to enjoy that kind of success in March, when pitchers typically throw a steadier diet of hittable fastballs. That said, the 36-year-old is a career .298 hitter and had success in a backup role with the Mariners in 2009, something he should be able to replicate this season.
J.P. Arencibia, C, Blue Jays: Arencibia, who was rated the No. 43 overall prospect by Baseball America in 2009, came out of the gates swinging a big stick in Spring Training. He's clubbed three long balls in 15 spring at-bats, but has just four total hits and has been retired in seven of his last eight plate appearances. With veterans John Buck and Jose Molina set to handle the backstop duties in '10, the 24-year-old Arencibia will have time to improve on the .236 average he put together last year at Triple-A Las Vegas.
Jaime Garcia, SP, Cardinals: Garcia, selected by the Cardinals in the 22nd round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, has looked good throughout Spring Training, posting a 1.04 ERA over 8 2/3 innings with 12 Ks. He has handed out five walks in that time, though, which indicates it's going to be difficult for the 23-year-old to make the big league roster. While he's still in the running for the fifth starter role on the Redbirds, it's unlikely he'll have a major impact in 2010.
Matt Chaprales is a fantasy writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.