Weekend Windy City fantasy baseball observations: White Sox's Alex Rios, Cubs' Jeff Samardzija

      April 9, 2012 @ 23:48:18 PDT

Cautiously optimistic about Alex Rios

I'd been a proponent of a 2012 Rios rebound for some time. The historical record of performance regression alone suggested a significant bounce-back was a good possibility.

The only detracting factors were his plate discipline marks, recorded on his FanGraphs page. They implied that, in the last couple of years, he'd begun to make contact more often - particularly on pitches outside the strike zone, which resulted in more weakly hit balls. I chalked some of that up to health issues, but how much is difficult to say.

As opening day approached, I was becoming less and less confident in that prediction. The Chicago White Sox's right fielder had an OK spring, but it wasn't just the results (15-for-62, three walks, nine K's) that were uninspiring. When I saw him (which was a selective sample, granted), it appeared to me that he still struggled to make solid contact, and he looked uncomfortable with the go-with-the-pitch approach that Jeff Manto has pushed him to adopt.

That appeared to be the case in his first two at-bats on Saturday against the Texas Rangers, too. But in his third at-bat, although he flied out to right, he hit it pretty well on the nose, and the swing looked natural. In his fourth, of course, he homered to straightaway center.

Rios was hitless on Sunday night, too, but he drew two walks. Before it's possible to draw conclusions, we need to see more from the 6-foot-5, 215-pounder. But he's been more selective. The signs are encouraging. I think it's OK to be cautiously ... optimistic. Mark Gonzales (Chicago Tribune) has some notes on Rios that will help to make the case.

Jeff Samardzija is probably for real

On Sunday, the right-hander came within one Starlin Castro throwing error of tossing the first complete game in April for the Chicago Cubs since Mark Prior did it in 2003. (That tidbit first came courtesy of the WGN broadcast team.) The next man up for the Washington Nationals, Adam LaRoche, jacked one to right, and that was all she wrote for Samardzija, who was otherwise outstanding.

Chicago Cubs SP Jeff Samardzija
Samardzija goes deep, scores

Of course, it's easy to say in hindsight when you look at his line: 8 2/3 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 8 K. Samardzija walked no one, but his recent track record points to the likelihood that he'll have major problems with his control rate soon enough, right?

Not necessarily. Learning to work in and around the strike zone has been his primary goal since Dale Sveum and Chris Bosio agreed to let him make the transition back to starter.

Yesterday, he was remarkably efficient. He threw 79 of his 110 pitches (71.8 percent) for strikes. He worked while ahead in the count all day. (From the WGN crew, again: first-pitch strikes to 25 of 31 batters.) And he was consistently hitting 97 mph - in the ninth inning. His four-seamer has some tail, and his splitter and two-seamer have become real weapons.

The defense (other than Castro's foul-up) behind the 6-foot-5, 225-pounder was top-notch on Sunday. He yielded a few fly balls that would've been more dangerous on a hot summer day. He's going to experience some hiccups, no doubt.

But the Samardzija that was on display this past weekend was a much more mature pitcher, and fantasy baseball managers in deep leagues should take note.

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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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