Rob Blackstien

Offseason Lowdown

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Prior Arrangements

Friday, March 30, 2007

With the regular season kicking off Sunday night, we'll use the final installment of Offseason Lowdown to take a look at some late spring training developments that could create some early-season value in unexpected places.

If you're a long-time owner of Mark Prior, I'm sure you know the drill by now. For the fourth straight season, Prior won't break camp with the Cubs. Except this time, instead of staying back to deal with a specific injury, the No. 2 overall pick from 2001 is headed to Iowa to build up his arm strength against Triple-A hitters.

Prior's loss is Wade Miller's gain, as the former Astro has parlayed a fine spring into the fifth starter job. Of course, Miller's battled his own injury demons, undergoing shoulder surgery after the 2005 season that limited him to just five starts last season with the Cubs.

While his upside is questionable, if Miller is back to full strength – and he's certainly pitched well enough this spring to make us think so – he could be worth a gamble. He averaged 15 wins per season between 2001 and 2003, but consistent shoulder problems since then have led to command issues. And yeah, it's only spring training, but a K/BB ratio of four to one is a very promising sign for Miller.

Meanwhile, Prior – still just 26 unbelievably – becomes a very interesting minor league pitcher to keep an eye on. Obviously, at this point we've got to temper our expectations of what he's capable of doing even if he were healthy. But that's the first step: let's see if Prior, able to make just nine starts last season because of shoulder woes, can continue to build up his velocity and strength in Triple-A and actually stay healthy. If so, he can still deliver a very nice return for NL-only owners.

Other recent developments with fantasy ramifications include:

  • Jeremy Hermida's injury has opened the door for Joe Borchard to see quite a bit of action in the first month of the season as the strong side of the RF platoon for the Marlins. It's unlikely Borchard will offer any value for an extended period, but he can certainly help NL-only league owners in April, especially if he flashes some of his long-promised power. Perhaps more relaxed now that he knows what his role will be from the outset, Borchard launched his first home run of the spring on Thursday.

  • An abdominal injury to Cliff Lee that will sideline him until perhaps late-April has allowed Fausto Carmona to grab a rotation spot for the Indians. Carmona pitched very well once he was shifted back into the rotation in September after the failed closer experiment, so he's definitely worth an early-season look given that he'll be in line to make three or four starts.

  • While we're discussing the Cleveland rotation, there was some concern that C.C. Sabathia would miss his Opening Day assignment after getting plunked on the wrist on Wednesday, but he insists he'll be good to go. Still, the injury appeared bad enough that the team was considering bringing top prospect Adam Miller back to camp. Miller is slated to begin the season as the top starter at Triple-A Buffalo, but don't worry. The pitcher many believed should have got the first crack at replacing Lee over Carmona will be showing up at some point. And when Miller does arrive, he may not be leaving.

  • Although he's apparently not hurt, Eric Gagne will begin the season the DL as Texas thinks he needs to get some more work in before he's ready to assume his role as the Rangers' closer. So we're back to Plan B in Texas, Akinori Otsuka. He already looked like a solid pick, but now Otsuka will be flying off the waiver wires with the news that he'll open the season as the closer. If Gagne can't come back (would that shock anyone?), Otsuka will retain top value all year, and if Gagne does return, Texas could very well look to deal Otsuka, so he may still wind up racking up saves elsewhere.

  • With the announcement that Ryan Madson will be the main set-up man for Philly, you need to bump him up your list. Madson has scrapped his curve and is instead employing his cutter and the experiment is working as he's enjoying a very nice spring. We all know about closer Tom Gordon's injury history, so Madson could wind up having some serious value this year should Flash run into health issues.

  • Carlos Quentin suffered a setback in his recovery from a torn labrum Thursday, so he's almost certain to begin the season on the DL. This opens the door for Scott Hairston to start the season as the D-Backs' right fielder. Hairston has been unstoppable this spring, batting .426 with six dingers. He's crushed Triple-A pitching for a few seasons now, so deserves another look in Arizona, but it may be short-lived with Quentin not expected to miss much time.

  • Dan Johnson will start the season on the sidelines because of a left hip issue. There's no clear indication of how long Johnson will be out, but it's conceivable that it could be as much as a couple of months. So that opens the door at first base, and increases the chances that Erubiel Durazo makes the team. Nick Swisher may also shift to first base full-time, a move that would allow Bobby Kielty to play every day, but Kielty has been dealing with his own issues this spring as he recovers from as knee injury. Right now, it looks like Durazo is the big winner here, and he's enjoyed a productive spring, so could be a decent pickup for the first few weeks of the season.

  • Alejandro De Aza enters the season as the Marlins' starting CF and while it's a great story, you've got to wonder how long it will last. There's not much in his minor league track record to suggest he's ready for a prolonged run at the job, but if you're seeking cheap steals, De Aza could be worth a sniff. Bear in mind, however, that Florida spent of ton of time seeking outside options this offseason, and in-house candidate Eric Reed enjoyed a massive spring, so they could turn to him if De Aza stumbles.

Rob Blackstien runs, a site featuring daily fantasy sports analysis. In addition to his baseball work on the site, he contributes to Rotoworld’s basketball coverage. Rob also writes for, and has contributed to Rotoman’s Fantasy Baseball Guide and Fantasy Football Guide.
Email :Rob Blackstien

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