Fantasy Baseball Hot Stove: Matt Thornton, Addison Reed, Jesse Crain, Yoenis Cespedes

by Nicholas Minnix on January 26, 2012 @ 11:55:35 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.

Chicago White Sox manager Robin Ventura sees RP Matt Thornton as likely closer

Last year, as rotisserie owners will recall, the left-hander, in his first legitimate opportunity to seize the high-profile bullpen job, endured a miserable first month fraught with bad location and worse help from his D. It's probably again Thornton's job to lose, however. His post-April marks (2.45 ERA, 9.29 K/9, 2.63 BB/9) infer that the lull was short-lived.

Chicago White Sox RP Jesse Crain
Crain primed to scoop up some SV

Unquestionably, Thornton has the statistical profile of a closer. Although he probably won't match the fine work he did from 2008 through 2010, there's little reason to believe that he won't get close. Unfortunately, we don't have much on which to base a theory about Ventura will handle his 'pen or how many other left-handers it'll hold.

Thornton will end up with some saves this year, but he could also be trade bait if the ChiSox again miss the contention boat. That leaves right-hander Jesse Crain, 30, as an acceptable-if-uninspiring, cheap AL-only target; he has an outside shot at the role, and he could chip in with a few saves without doing roto damage, either way.

The highly desirable wild card is, of course, Addison Reed, the 23-year-old San Diego State product for whom Tim Heaney mentioned his affinity last month. The right-hander will get an opportunity, although probably not right away. Reed has three quality pitches and some of the most enticing peripheral indicators you'll ever see.

Thornton is a great late, low-risk target in mixed leagues. Reed's skill, upside and predestination make him the more exciting pitcher in whom to invest, though. If Ventura is happy with the youngster's setup work, the transition to the ninth won't be far off. Beware the possibility that AL players will be eager to bid him up.

Cuban OF Yoenis Cespedes granted free agency

Where he ends up will be the topic of headlines, but fantasy baseball players want to know if he can play. Some organizations absolutely love the 26-year-old's supposed five-tool set, especially the power he could bring from an up-the-middle position on the field.

Roto players have plenty of reason to be excited about Cespedes' potential, if these reports are true. They should check their enthusiasm at the draft room, door, however.

Cuba is an excellent source of baseball talent, but his transition from a regimented training schedule to an environment that requires greater independence, not to mention the possible culture shock, will be difficult. His development path could hinge greatly on which organization - a responsible and nurturing club or a disorganized and disconnected team - signs him.

At 26, Cespedes has already become set in his ways to a degree. He's known to have serious problems controlling the strike zone.'s Jesse Sanchez reported that the athletic outfielder registered a .333 batting average, 33 bombs, 99 RBIs and 11 thefts in 90 games in the 2010-11 season in Cuba. In his recently concluded Dominican Winter League stint, though, he had only five hits and struck out 10 times in 35 at-bats - a small sample with many possible excuses, but discouraging nonetheless.

Most players who've arrived from the communist compound in the Caribbean have struggled, at least initially. Kendrys Morales defected in 2004, began play in affiliated ball in 2005 but didn't make a mark in the bigs until 2008. By then, he was 25, one year younger than Cespedes is now. Alexei Ramirez proved to be an exception, having become an MLB starter in his age-26 season, his first in the U.S. But he possessed a different skill set, particularly in the area of plate discipline. How many other cases, position players or pitchers, are there?

Many observers apparently believe that Cespedes can start in the majors on opening day 2012, but there's a very good chance that he'll need some time in the minors. It in part depends on who inks him and how he adjusts. In a mixed redraft league, a pick on him could easily prove to be a waste. He'll certainly have some market as an AL or NL reserve, but it's too early to speculate how much. The reward could be substantial, but it seems unwise to have high expectations. Even his keeper league value is somewhat debatable, but at least he carries enough intrigue to be worthy of research and low-risk investment.

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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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