Fantasy Baseball Hot Stove: Clayton Kershaw, Francisco Liriano, Mark Melancon, Danny Hultzen

by Nicholas Minnix on November 17, 2011 @ 12:10:07 PDT


Your fantasy baseball draft isn't far off.'s Fantasy Baseball Hot Stove surveys free agency, trades, salary arbitration and injuries that will affect your rotisserie or head-to-head baseball league. You're cleared for your MLB offseason program: The Arizona Fall League, Baseball Winter Meetings, Rule 5 draft and more will shape your fantasy baseball rankings.

NL Cy Young Award goes to Los Angeles Dodgers SP Clayton Kershaw

At age 23, the uber-talented southpaw went 21-5 with a 2.28 ERA, a 9.57 K/9 and a 2.08 BB/9 in 233 1/3 innings. He's repeatedly proven to be difficult to hit, and in 2011, taking four balls against him was no longer an option. In his ascension to elite status, Kershaw has defied convention by casting aside adversity relatively easily ... because he just is that good.

Los Angeles Dodgers SP Clayton Kershaw

So, what now? You'll receive no warnings about the pitfalls of drafting him at his 2012 price here. It's simply a matter of the strategy you embrace; if you're willing to pay that much for pitching, he's not a bad bet.

Kershaw, with his silky smooth mechanics, a longer winter break and a residence in the NL West, may have an easier time repeating his success than Justin Verlander will. The left-hander should give you close to your money's worth; he just won't give you bucks back.

Minnesota Twins SP Francisco Liriano will pitch in DWL this winter

The Twinkies preferred that Liriano skip winter ball last offseason. He was coming off a rebound campaign that yielded a 14-10 record, a 3.62 ERA, a 9.44 K/9 and a 2.72 BB/9 in 191 2/3 frames. That came a year after he struggled in his 136 2/3 innings, going 5-13 with a 5.80 ERA, a 8.03 K/9 and a 4.28 BB/9.

It was in the Dominican Winter League stretch prior to 2010 that the southpaw rediscovered his mid-90s fastball velocity and some feel for his slider. Perhaps Minnesota is rethinking its strategy because Liriano was 9-10 with a 5.09 ERA, a 7.50 K/9 and a 5.02 BB/9 in 134 1/3 stanzas this past season.

The Twins have been reluctant to engage in what they would view as overworking Liriano, 28, because of his history with elbow and shoulder problems. The southpaw's heavy reliance on a slider is likely mechanically unsafe for his arm in the long term, however. He'd probably benefit from keeping his arm stretched out more so than he has from allowing his slinger to become dormant and developing a less stressful arsenal. Also see: the Texas Rangers' philosophy for developing pitchers.

Liriano's price will make him a tempting investment in 2012. There'll be little harm in pursuing him, and the 25 to 30 innings he's scheduled to toss in the DWL may improve his preparedness for ST. He'll remain an injury risk, however. Reports on his velocity, mechanics and command will mean a little more than they do for other pitchers next spring.

Houston Astros plan to stick with RP Mark Melancon as closer

And why shouldn't they? That's the role for which Melancon was predestined. GM Ed Wade, who announced this particular arrangement, stated his desire "to fill our needs with as many young players as we can." Relief pitchers with closing experience flood the free-agent market, but Houston has no interest.

Melancon, who turns 27 next March, rode his dinger-limiting repertoire of curveballs, changeups and fastballs with heavy movement to 20 saves in 25 chances, with a 2.78 ERA, a 7.99 K/9 and a 3.15 BB/9 this past season. The righty doesn't generate quite as many swings and misses as the prototypical closer and so is a little more at the mercy of the BABIP gods.

The Astros are going to stink, and they're probably not going to generate a large number of save chances. Barring an injury or an extended period of futility, though, Melancon is their guy. He won't cost much, comparatively speaking, so he's a decent target, especially if you don't pay much for saves.

Seattle Mariners will give P Danny Hultzen chance to win rotation spot in ST

The club's first-rounder in 2011, the No. 2 overall pick, received his first exposure to professional ball (unofficially) in the just completed Arizona Fall League. The southpaw pitched 19 1/3 innings in his six games, giving up 16 hits, three earned runs and five walks while fanning 18.

Those numbers mean very little, even in the pitching-starved AFL, where the hitters reign supreme, make it rain and rein in even the best hurlers. Observers of Hultzen noted that he possessed great poise, polish and command, however. He has the traits that would allow him to ascend to the majors rather quickly.

Only AL players should have this strikeout-tossing lefty, as a possible reserve pick or end-game investment, on their radars, for now. Hultzen, who'll be 23 in a couple of weeks, could quickly become mixed-league material, too, but there's a lot of distance between "could" and "will." Just get to know the name.

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About Nicholas Minnix

Minnix is baseball editor and a fantasy football analyst at KFFL. He plays in LABR and Tout Wars and won the FSWA Baseball Industry Insiders League in 2010.

The University of Delaware alum is a regular guest on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio and Baltimore's WNST AM 1570.

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