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April 12, 2006

Fantasy Focus

NL FAAB Focus

by Jan Levine

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Atlanta

  • P Chuck James: James made a meteoric rise from High-A Myrtle Beach to the majors last season, logging a 2.12 ERA and 193 strikeouts in 161.1 innings spread over three levels. He doesn't possess overpowering stuff, but knows how to pitch and spots his fastball well to both sides of the plate. James is Atlanta's top starting pitching prospect, and was expected to spend much of the season at Triple-A to work on developing a third pitch, but changed the team's mind with a strong spring. He will work out of the bullpen, although his future on the team lies in the rotation, and that won't be an option this year unless several starters develop injuries. That said, Horacio Ramirez is already on the DL, Jorge Sosa got rocked in his first start, and John Thomson was pitching hurt all spring, so it's not too far-fetched to envision a scenario where James is taking a turn every fifth day by midseason. James' value is much greater in keeper leagues, as he should be a member of the team's rotation in 2007. Mixed: $1; NL: $5.

  • P John Thomson: Horacio Ramirez's strained hamstring opens the door for Thomson to move back into the Braves' rotation. Thomson had lost out on the fifth spot to Kyle Davies and was working in the bullpen; he logged his first start of the season Monday against Philadelphia. He got off to a good start in 2004, but an injury to the tendon of the middle finger on his pitching hand sidelined him for three months. When he returned, he was unable to recapture that early-season form. This spring, an elbow injury set him back, and he was moved to the pen to start the year, though no word was given to the permanence of that move. If Thomson pitches well, the likelihood is that he will either remain in Atlanta's rotation or be traded elsewhere to be a starter. Mixed: $2; NL: $8.

  • INF Wilson Betemit: Chipper Jones left Sunday's game against the Giants with what appears to be an ankle injury, and it looked quite painful. If he were to miss a significant period of time, it would be Betemit who would get the lion's share of playing time in his absence. Betemit was once the star of Atlanta's minor league system, but faded as he advanced to Triple-A. Almost forgotten, he made the roster as a reserve last season and made the best of his playing time when several starters were hurt. He hit with decent power and got on base at a good clip. Watch for news on Jones--in an NL league, you could pick up a decent everyday player for a while. Mixed: $2; NL: $10.

Chicago Cubs

  • OF Angel Pagan: When Pagan was acquired by the Mets in January in a cash deal, nobody anticipated his monster spring. After hitting .381 with five homers and 10 RBI in 42 at-bats, he won a job as a backup outfielder with the Cubs. He had a big 2004 season in the minors for New York, but last year, all of his averages and his K/BB ratio and SB/CS fell, paving the way for the trade. A switch-hitter, Pagan can play all three outfield positions, and could see a decent number of at-bats in right field against lefties, as Jacque Jones, the starter there, hit just .201 against southpaws in 2005. Mixed: No; NL: $2.

Cincinnati

  • INF Rich Aurilia: Aurilia played his way out of the starting shortstop job for the Reds in 2005, so this year he'll be the jack-of-all-trades for Cincinnati. Manager Jerry Narron has said that Aurilia will see time at both second and third base, shortstop, and even at first base against some tough lefties in place of Scott Hatteberg. Aurilia could see close to 300-350 at-bats with this arrangement, and given that half of them will probably come at home--where he had a .941 OPS last year--he is worth a roster spot in deep NL-only leagues. Mixed: No; NL: $5.

Houston

  • P Fernando Nieve: Nieve was first signed back in 1999, and something of a late-bloomer, not advancing past Low-A until 2004. He is quickly making up for lost time, using his fastball/slider repertoire to blaze through four levels since then. Nieve saw his ERA jump by more than two runs at Triple-A last season, and was expected to open the year at that level to work on adding an off speed pitch, but he parlayed a strong run at the end of March into a role with the parent club. He will spend his time in Houston in the pen, unless Wandy Rodriguez and Taylor Buchholz both struggle, which minimizes his value in single year leagues. Mixed: No; NL: $3.

Los Angeles Dodgers

  • 1B James Loney: The injury to Nomar Garciaparra opened the door for Loney to be called up to the major leagues. In his weekly Rotowire column, John Sickels noted the up-and-downs that have marked Loney's career since he was drafted by L.A. in the first round in 2002. The big unanswered question is will his power come as he matures, or is he someone that juts has a good eye at the plate and a solid stroke, someone who tops out at 12-15 home runs annually? For the short-term, Loney should split time at first base with Olmedo Saenz while Nomar is out, but the power question makes a "minimal bid and hope you get lucky" approach seem prudent. Mixed: No; NL: $2.

  • INF Olmedo Saenz: Saenz is the other beneficiary of Nomar's injury, and in the short-term, he should see the biggest increase in playing time. He was productive in part-time play last season for L.A., and absolutely crushes left-handed pitching, but he wore down and struggled in a full-time role. Pick him up until Nomar comes back, and then dump him until the next short-term playing time opportunity arises. Mixed: No; NL: $4.

  • P Danys Baez: Eric Gagne is on the shelf for at least the next six to eight weeks after his latest elbow surgery. He wasn't quite 100 percent even before the news came out that he needed another date with the surgeon, so we're not quite sure what to expect even when he does come back. All this means Baez is the closer for now, and will get plenty of save opportunites not only for the next two months, but probably even after Gagne comes back. Compare him to some of the other newly minted NL closers like Tim Worrell, David Weathers, or whoever ends up with the job in Atlanta--this is the guy you want to target. Mixed: $15; NL: $30.

St. Louis

  • INF Aaron Miles: Miles beat out Junior Spivey and Hector Luna to win the Cardinals' second base job. Midway through the spring, that looked like a remote possibility, because he was nursing a bone bruise on his wrist, but Miles made up for lost time with a big push right before the regular season began. Miles had four hits, two runs batted in and two runs scored on Opening Day, giving him at least a little longer leash. However, given his inability to hold down the job in Colorado, it may only be a matter of time before the same thing happens in the Arched City. Mixed: $1; NL: $7.

  • OF Skip Schumaker: Schumaker isn't known for his bat, but he is a superior defensive player and has the speed to be a solid role player off the bench. With Larry Bigbie on the DL, the Cardinals are using a form of platoon in left field between Schumaker, So Taguchi, and John Rodriguez. Pick him up if you are desperate for short-term outfield help in NL-only leagues. Mixed: No; NL: $0.

San Diego

  • 2B/OF Eric Young: EY has always displayed the ability to fill in successfully at second base or in the outfield, which should be his role again this season. With Josh Barfield at second base and several other regulars who have a tendency to miss time during the year, he should get a healthy number of at-bats in 2006. Young will provide you with good on-base percentage and stolen bases at a fraction of the cost compared to starters that fail to post those kinds of numbers. Mixed: No; NL: $4.

San Francisco

  • P Tim Worrell: Another year, another Armando Benitez injury and another stint as the Giants' closer for Worrell, who last filled that role for San Francisco in 2003. Worrell had a mediocre spring and is no youngster, but saves are saves, regardless of who gets them for you. Benitez is expected back in another week or so, meaning Worrell's run will be short-lived, but given Armando's injury history, you could do worse than having him occupy a reserve spot when Benitez returns. Mixed: $2; NL: $9.

  • P Kevin Correia: Called up to replace the injured Noah Lowry, Correia will get typical fifth starter treatment in April, meaning that he'll work out of the bullpen for the short-term, pick up a start on April 15th, and then might go back to the pen. Lowry's injury should keep him on the shelf for at least a month, maybe up to six weeks, at least if it's similar to other oblique injuries we've seen, so it's possible that Correia could get five to six starts at most. Mixed: No; NL: $2.

Jan Levine is a baseball writer at RotoWire. He can be reached here.
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