You know how on a mini golf course, you might be playing well, and then you meet a green where the hole lies in a hump or mound. . Nothing feels worse than thinking you’re going to reach the top, sink the shot, only to realize you’ve come up inches short, back comes your ball, and now you’re in the same or worse position, plus a stroke and the blow to your confidence to-boot.
For many of MLB’s recurrent disappointments of years past, which clubs are poised to conquer the proverbial hump in 2010, who will find themselves back where they started, and can any fantasy sense be made of this?
Kansas City Royals W
Perpetual underdog Kansas City Royals have posted one winning season since 1994, however the 2010 club finally looks poised to move in the right direction in the seedy AL Central. Acing arguably baseball’s best young pitcher Zack Grienke, GM Dayton Moore is set to finally fulfill is prophecy of turning the royals from a last place team into a team that might finish somewhere in the middle. Acquisitions of veterans like OF Scott Podsednik who atop the order should be a spark-plug and run-generator, and C Jason Kendall who’s known as a positive presence in the clubhouse and strong defensively, bring leadership, and offensive support to the Royals who were lacking prior. I felt as though they expected too much from their younger position players in ’09 and the pick-up of once promising superstar Josh Fields is a risk with a tremendous upside. Plagued with injury, if Fields can stay healthy we might see a glimpse of the budding star who replaced third basemen Joe Crede in Chicago. KC boasts a strong, hard-throwing bullpen with Juan Cruz and 100 mph man Kyle Farnsworth as well as one of baseball’s best closers and all-star, Joakim Soria whose drawn comparisons to Mariano Rivera in recent years.
The real key might lie with their tenured guys and, Dejesus, Gordon, Butler, coming into their own as leaders and consistent hitters. Alex Gordon has had difficulties living up to his decorated college career at Nebraska and has suffered injury. His dislocated thumb last Saturday will likely result in a 2-3 week absence, but Fields should have no inhibitions filling his cleats at third. Gordon is long due for a breakout season and to enter the ranks of MLB’s best third basemen. Don’t let the thumb injury deter you; he’s worth a late round fantasy pick as he sits well down the list. DeJesus is often overvalued, but Butler and Aviles are tempting (remember these are possible late round scores). This team will go far with fundamental baseball, and is no longer a bottom feeder in the AL Central.
Jim Riggleman’s been dropping hints as of late, that 21 year old righty, Stephen Strasburg will be playing in the minors to start 2010. Even after glowing endorsements from C Ivan Rodriguez. Last year in the twilight of his career at San Diego State, a top scout boasted,
“You could put him in a rotation right now, and he could be a No. 2 or No. 3 starter,”
“Right now, he’s better than A.J. Burnett.”
The talk of D.C and area, the tall righty carries a slider in the mid-nineties, a fastball that sits in high nineties, a knee buckling curve ball and a well manicured changeup in his arsenal. Washington, give your fans something to watch and simultaneously give your future star a full dose of MLB hitting. By not starting Strasburg, who has to be better than someone in your rotation, you’re telling your team their future will have to wait, which could hurt morale among veteran players. He’s 21 and not exceedingly young. With an 0-6 in Grapefruit action and only 1B Mike Morse showing any offensive pulse; expect more of the same in Washington amidst the fierce NL East and another last place finish, but some fantasy diamonds in the rough. 3B Ryan Zimmerman, OF Josh Willingham and SS Cristian Guzman tend to be undervalued. I often look at low end teams for late round scores like these.
Seattle Mariners L
I’m not sold on this team. The only players that stoke me are the returning guys, Hernandez and Suzuki. Eric Bedard however, is still showing signs of an impending breakdown, like when my ’94 Nissan Sentra started sounding like Susan Boyle going no. 2 after hemorrhoid surgery. The city has an unbreakable bond with Griffey and he’ll likely be the teams DH following arguably the worst year hitting of his glorious career in ’09 at .214. As a fan I love to watch him play, from an organizational standpoint, he may become an offensive liability. I don’t feel like monotonous bad boy Milton Bradley has anything physically or mentally left after his Chicago experience and feel a fit coming. Figgins was paid too high above market value. Brandon League has not shown any commitment to developing his amazing raw talent. They do possess one of the strongest rotations in the league with Hernandez, Lee, Rowland-Smith, Bedard? and ex-pirate Snell, but pitching has never been this team’s problem. This team has no one to cash in runs; Jose Lopez is likely your biggest bat. If your league accounts pitching, Hernandez is a really strong pick, otherwise no one’s landing on my fantasy radar. I see a strong start in a weak division and obviously not a last place finish, but an underwhelming result.
Baltimore Orioles W
A top to bottom roster comprised of strong defensive talent and looming offensive breakout seasons from CF Adam Jones and C Matt Wieters. Coupled with proven hitters the likes of Tejada, Atkins, Scott and run generator Brian Roberts and you have a competitive, watchable season ahead in Baltimore. Kevin Millwood has proven that he does has much left to give (strange how that was under debate when he left Philadelphia years ago), pitching almost 200 innings in ’09 posting a 3.67 ERA. If he can inspire that staff, look for the Orioles to make tremendous strides in the right direction this season and be competitive in this division for years to come. P Brian Matusz has looked strong in Grapefruit action as well. Fantasy wise Matt Wieters is a solid risk as a “tier 2” catcher, but 2B Brian Roberts, OF Adam Jones, OF Nick Markakis and 3B Miguel Tejada are all safe early round picks. Tejada’s ability to hit the long ball seems to be dwindling but he has not skipped a step with runners on base cashing 86 RBIs in ’09. To think the O’s finish any higher than third in the AL East is nonsensical. A very likable team here, I presume a hot start which will obviously taper leaving them and Tampa to battle it out for a respectable third place.
Oakland Athletics L
Moneyball is nonsensical. The groundbreaking (at the time) book snubs some of the game’s best like Prince Fielder and Alex Rodriguez as being not of Oakland’s ilk. Seemingly, Billy Beane has turned the club into a minor league team as they seem to dish all their young talent away, landing them a last place finish in ‘09. The AL West is tightening. Another last place finish dawns. Kurt Suzuki is a good pick if you wait late to take a catcher.
Arizona Diamondbacks W
This team is good, if pieces of paper with depth charts and 40-man rosters could play each other. Regardless, barring irreparable injury there is no way this team finishes last. Justin Upton may be a second round fantasy pick, but the starting rotation alone will carry this team to the postseason (my highest endorsement); hopefully they don’t throw “Billy” Buckner if it comes to a game 6 though.