It's time for the final Fantasy Baseball Grapevine of the 2008 preseason. The tweaks and switches are over - now the fun starts. Naturally, the fantasy world couldn't provide a neat transition toward the first pitch at the new Nationals Park. Injuries are stalling the recovery of two top-notch AL starters, a young NL sleeper starter broke into his team's rotation, and there's a new closer on the North Side. All this and more will prime you for the regular season.
Chris Snyder, Arizona Diamondbacks
The injury to fellow catcher Miguel Montero (finger) has given Snyder the majority of time behind the plate, but our ears perked up when Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin said that Snyder is one of the candidates to hit cleanup in their young lineup. Snyder had a great second half in 2007 (.292, 31 RBIs in 161 at-bats), so if given more time and a better lineup place he could carry that momentum into this season. Snyder might be draft material in deeper leagues, especially in two-catcher formats.
Paul Lo Duca, Washington Nationals
After recovering from offseason knee surgery, Lo Duca (knee) now inherits the starting job with Johnny Estrada (elbow) being placed on the disabled list. He's the more reliable Nationals backstop at this point in time, but counting on him for the long term is difficult. He could be used in deeper leagues, at least as a second catcher, but he doesn't have much upside for him to last the entire season in your starting lineup.
Morgan Ensberg, New York Yankees - Enters Rankings
After failing to convince the Yanks that he could start at first base, Ensberg made the squad as a backup corner infielder. Ensberg can also play third base but will likely compete with utility man Wilson Betemit for backup at-bats. With Shelley Duncan also in the first base mix, Ensberg is not worth owning unless the team has injury troubles.
Jayson Nix, Colorado Rockies
Nix was officially named the starter this week, meaning he'll hit eighth in one of the better lineups in the National League. He had enough of a balance between his excellent defense and his offense this spring (three home runs in 37 at-bats) to beat out Marcus Giles and third base prospect Ian Stewart. Those who stashed Nix in NL-only leagues now have a starter for the Rockies.
Eugenio Velez, San Francisco Giants
Velez's defense at third base has been criticized this spring, but his speed has kept him in the hunt for a job whether it be at second, third or short. He is still competing for time with veteran Ray Durham (hamstring), especially since Durham appears to be healthy. The Giants need another impact player on offense, and they could squeeze him in at second or third; his speed could prove valuable. Even if Durham is ready to go, Velez remains a high-upside steals threat that could be stashed on deeper rosters. Besides, Durham isn't exactly a rock health-wise.
Marco Scutaro, Toronto Blue Jays
The backup infielder likely moves into the starting lineup for the first few weeks, at least, of the season now that third baseman Scott Rolen (finger) is sidelined. Fantasy owners are already well aware of Rolen's injury history, so it's nice to know who will replace him, at least initially. Scutaro is a career backup and a .259 hitter with little pop or speed. He could be a solid short-term pickup in AL-only leagues, especially since he's eligible at second, third and short in many formats.
Jorge Cantu, Florida Marlins
Cantu won the third base job with an impressive spring (.379 average with a team-high 15 RBIs at press time), and the team cut his biggest competitor, Jose Castillo. Cantu immediately gains value in NL-only leagues given his guaranteed playing time, and he did hit 28 home runs in 2005. A spot in the middle of the order would make him an intriguing play.
Alfredo Amezaga, Florida Marlins
The super-utility player is expected to be the primary backup at the hot corner behind Jorge Cantu. Cantu has not proven to be a stable option over the last two seasons, and having Amezaga as insurance might make the leash a little shorter for Cantu. Amezaga played every position except catcher and pitcher last year, and his eligibility makes him a deep bench target in NL-only leagues. He's also a candidate for time in center field with Cameron Maybin in the minors, behind outfielders Cody Ross and Alejandro De Aza.
Jose Castillo, San Francisco Giants
It didn't take Castillo long to find work after the Marlins let him go. The Giants tabbed Castillo for his defensive reliability. He finds himself in the thick of a crowded battle that includes infielders Eugenio Velez, Rich Aurilia, Ray Durham and Brian Bocock in a wide-open infield situation. However, the situation opened up a bit when infielder Kevin Frandsen (Achilles') ruptured his Achilles' tendon, and shortstop Omar Vizquel (knee) is expected to miss the first week of the season. Since he can play every infield spot except for first, Castillo is someone to keep an eye on in NL-only formats since these situations are still unsettled. It seems likely that he'll be the team's man at the hot corner on opening day.
Joe Dillon, Milwaukee Brewers - Enters Rankings
Dillon made the Brewers squad because of his ability to play first base, second base, third base and corner outfield, and his stint where he hit .342 in 76 at-bats with the team last year has always kept his name in the mix for playing time. He would be one of the Brewers' go-to guys if a major injury were to occur. For now, though, he should remain on NL-only waiver wires.
Jeff Baker, Colorado Rockies - Enters Rankings
He enters our rankings now that he has made the team as a utility player. The mere fact that he has a roster spot propels him into our projections for this season. He was once one of the club's top prospects, but his relegation to backup at the corner infield and outfield spots means he's useless for fantasy purposes.
Justin Huber, San Diego Padres - Enters Rankings
The Padres will take any level of power they can have right now. Enter Huber, the former top prospect who was acquired from the Kansas City Royals for cash considerations and a player to be named later. The slugger had a strong spring (.346 at the time of the trade) and now enters the Padres' roster as a reserve with pop who might even challenge for playing time in the outfield. Watch the news to see if Huber can break the starting lineup.
Reed Johnson, Chicago Cubs
The Blue Jays didn't have room for Johnson, but the Cubs grabbed him as insurance for young center fielder Felix Pie and as a possible platoon candidate against left-handed pitchers. In fact, he might be tabbed to lead off against southpaws if he does crack the lineup. He's someone to keep an eye on as a bench option for NL-only waiver wires.
Alex Romero, Arizona Diamondbacks - Enters Rankings
The 24-year-old beat out Trot Nixon for a backup spot on the roster and gains a foothold in KFFL's rankings. Romero is a career .297 hitter in the minors and has stolen 78 bases in 670 games. Don't look for him expect perhaps in the deepest of NL-only leagues; he isn't likely to make an impact this season. He'll likely remain behind Chris Burke on the list of backup outfielders in the desert.
John Patterson, Texas Rangers
After the Nationals released the right-hander due to a lack of progress from his forearm troubles, the Rangers signed Patterson to a minor league contract. A major impact in the signing was Patterson's former relationship with Texas Rangers pitching coach Mark Connor with the Arizona Diamondbacks. This is a low-risk signing for the Rangers, who need all the possible impact pitchers they can find. However, you shouldn't follow suit just yet. Keep an eye on the AL-only waiver wire for him a little later in the season.
John Bale, Kansas City Royals - Enters Rankings
The 33-year-old journeyman locked up the No. 4 spot in the rotation with an impressive spring. He spent 2005 and 2006 in Japan before catching on with the Royals' farm system last year. He pitched 26 games for the big club and averaged 9.45 strikeouts per nine innings in a relief role. If the southpaw shows similar strikeout command, at the least he could eventually be worth some spot starts in AL-only leagues.
Brett Tomko, Kansas City Royals - Enters Rankings
Tomko will slide in behind Bale as the No. 5 starter. The right-hander posted a 5.55 ERA while splitting time between the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres last season in 40 appearances (19 starts). He's not worth much fantasy consideration even with the starting job.
Dave Bush, Milwaukee Brewers
Bush has found himself in the No. 3 slot in the rotation with right-hander Yovani Gallardo (knee) starting the season on the disabled list. His spot certainly isn't guaranteed for the long term with Gallardo expected to return by mid-April. Bush has won 12 games in each of the last two seasons. Although his role may seem in jeopardy during the first month of the season, he seems to be a favorite of manager Ned Yost. He's not a wise option in most mixed leagues. NL-only players might be able to use him if their pitching is weak.
Carlos Villanueva, Milwaukee Brewers
His move to the No. 4 spot in the rotation could produce another backend fantasy starter; he posted a 2.06 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP in six starts last September, including four effective starts of six innings or more. He still needs to work on his control for longer outings (he walked 15 batters during those starts), but Villanueva now makes for a mid-range NL-only starter as well as a sleeper candidate in mixed leagues. He's also a candidate to head to the minors once Gallardo is activated, so he's not a safe choice in shallow mixed leagues.
Manny Parra, Milwaukee Brewers
The more chic pick in the Brewers rotation, Parra locked up the No. 5 spot after a great start to his spring. Despite finishing with two rough outings - 13 runs allowed in 6 2/3 innings - Parra proved his worth with a 0.64 ERA and 15 strikeouts in his first 14 spring innings. However, the Brewers might eventually cap his workload, or Gallardo might push either Parra or Villanueva out of the rotation. Either way, Parra should be pounced on in NL-only leagues and deeper mixed leagues.
Mark Redman, Colorado Rockies - Enters Rankings
The journeyman southpaw appears to have won the No. 4 spot in the rotation and is scheduled to start the home opener. Redman had some relative success last year in five appearances (three starts) for the Rockies, posting a 3.20 ERA with 14 strikeouts in 19 2/3 innings pitched. Given that his lowest ERA as a full-time starter came in 2003 (3.59 with the Marlins) and that figure rose every year since then up to 7.62 last year, it would be hard to trust Redman even in NL-only leagues. Did I mention his 7.84 career ERA at Coors Field in five appearances?
Ryan Dempster, Chicago Cubs
The 2007 closer locked up the No. 4 spot in the Cubs rotation, and he helped himself by striking out 18 in 20 2/3 innings this spring despite a 5.23 ERA. He hasn't been a full-time starter since 2003 with the Cincinnati Reds, when he posted a 6.54 ERA in 22 appearances and 20 starts. His strikeout rates have been relatively high over the last few seasons (including a 7.42 figure as closer last year), but it should decline as Dempster goes for longer outings. You will likely find more reliable options than Dempster in shallow leagues, and probably deep ones. You could try him with a good matchup in NL-only leagues.
Jeff Niemann, Tampa Bay Rays - Enters Rankings
The imposing (6-foot-9, 280 pounds) right-hander didn't make the rotation out of spring training, but it wasn't because of poor performance. In 12 innings he allowed 12 hits and two earned runs. He also walked five and struck out only five. Niemann is still a top-10 prospect for the Rays and could be solid in the middle of the rotation down the road. He should get his first shot at major league hitters this year, but he's not an option in anything other than deep AL-only leagues.
Mike Gonzalez, Atlanta Braves - Enters Rankings
The southpaw could return in May from Tommy John surgery he underwent last May. Current Braves closer Rafael Soriano had some inflammation in his pitching elbow this spring and is entering his first full season in the closer role. If Soriano struggles, Gonzalez, who saved 24 games for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2006, could factor into the Braves' stopper situation this season. Gonzalez should certainly be on NL-only radars.
Kerry Wood, Chicago Cubs
The right-hander was officially named the closer by manager Lou Piniella Monday, March 24. Piniella further cemented his confidence in Wood by telling reporters that he thinks Wood can pitch consecutive days, possibly three in a row. Of course, managerial confidence doesn't guarantee fantasy success. We bumped up Wood because he now has the job, but for as much upside as he has in short outings, you always have to keep Wood's injury history in the back of your mind. If Wood is anything more than a No. 3 closer for your team, your bullpen might not be as safe as you think.
Denny Bautista, Detroit Tigers - Enters Rankings
Tigers setup men are dropping like manager Jim Leyland's cigarette butts, but Bautista has impressed this spring and is not just considered a default option. Fernando Rodney (shoulder) will start the season on the disabled list, meaning the flame-throwing Bautista has the first crack at the eighth-inning job. Leyland lauded his curveball, slider and fastball, which have carried the right-hander to a 1.42 ERA in 12 2/3 spring innings at press time. He could be picked up in deep AL-only leagues and entered on waiver wire watch lists for deep mixed leagues.
Keith Foulke, Oakland Athletics - Enters Rankings
The right-handed reliever had not pitched since 2006 before he resurfaced in regular season action against the Boston Red Sox during the Japan series, recording two strikeouts in two innings pitched. The 35-year-old was slowed by a strained calf in the beginning of spring training, but the team has pegged him to share setup duties with veteran Alan Embree. Keep an eye on him in AL-only leagues if you need some relief help.
Miguel Montero, Arizona Diamondbacks
Montero (finger) suffered a broken index finger earlier this month and is not expected to make the team's opening day roster. The 24-year-old hit 10 home runs in 214 at-bats last year and was originally slated to receive some time while alternating starts with Chris Snyder. He has taken some batting practice but has been held out of game action. Montero isn't worth consideration until he shows he is ready to return, and even then any attention he would gain would only come in NL-only formats.
Johnny Estrada, Washington Nationals
Estrada (elbow) was placed on the 15-day disabled list Thursday, March 27, retroactive to March 21. He had been bothered by elbow tendonitis throughout the spring and he couldn't improve in time to challenge Paul Lo Duca (knee) for playing time. Estrada has been taken in the late rounds of some deep mixed leagues, but he shouldn't be touched until he returns. If you own him and have a disabled spot on your roster, you could stash him and try to acquire Lo Duca so you handcuff the position. If there are better options on the waiver wire, you should head in a different direction.
Dan Ortmeier, San Francisco Giants
The acquisition of Castillo brings Ortmeier back for his second straight Grapevine appearance. His stock was already hurt when it seemed that the team was leaning toward starting infielder Rich Aurilia at first when the season kicks off. Ortmeier still expected to make the team, though, because San Francisco eventually wants to consider him in a platoon situation with Aurilia. Don't commit to him unless there's nothing else out there on the wire in NL-only leagues.
Marcus Giles, Free Agent
The Rockies released the second baseman, designating Jayson Nix as the starter. Giles received some trade interest from the Dodgers before he was released, but nothing came of those rumors. He could still find work somewhere in the NL West; the Dodgers could now scoop him up with Jeff Kent (hamstring) questionable for the opener. It's even possible that the Diamondbacks are looking for some reliable infield depth to back up upcoming free-agent second baseman Orlando Hudson, and the Giants could use another reliable infielder. For now, leave him on the wire.
Ian Stewart, Colorado Rockies - Removed from Rankings
The 22-year-old will likely get some more seasoning in the minors. The team wanted to see if he could surprise this spring and enter the starting lineup, but now they might stash him as insurance since third baseman Garrett Atkins is a free agent after this season.
Abraham O. Nunez - Removed from Rankings
With utility man Joe Dillon making the roster, Nunez doesn't look to be factoring into the Brewers' picture. Feel free to take him off your cheat sheets if you were inspired to include him.
Scott Rolen, Toronto Blue Jays
Here we go again. Rolen begins the season on the disabled list after he fractured the middle finger on his right hand in a fielding drill this past weekend. He had a screw placed in the finger and may not be available until May. KFFL had already given him a conservative projection, so this doesn't knock him down too far, but it definitely gives credence to our initial low ranking of him. He's, at best, a late-round gamble in deep mixed leagues, but he should be stashed on the DL on AL-only rosters.
Kevin Frandsen, San Francisco Giants - Removed from Rankings
His NL-only glory was halted when he ruptured his Achilles' tendon in a minor league game. Frandsen (Achilles') is expected to miss the 2008 season after he undergoes surgery Saturday, March 29. We removed him.
Matt Murton, Chicago Cubs - Removed from Rankings
The Cubs are trimming their roster, and Murton appears to be headed to Triple-A Iowa in favor of utility players Ronny Cedeno and Mike Fontenot now that outfielder Reed Johnson is in the picture. He is expected to accept the assignment, keeping him in the Cubs system and out of fantasy relevance for the time being. The Cubs had been trying to find a trade suitor, so keep an eye on the news.
Trot Nixon, Arizona Diamondbacks - Enters Rankings
Nixon was informed that he wouldn't make the team, and he accepted an assignment to Triple-A Tucson. He lost the battle with outfielder Alex Romero for one of the team's final roster spots. He has no value, even in AL-only leagues.
Scott Kazmir, Tampa Bay Rays
The southpaw's strained throwing elbow is one of the main targets for the eyes of fantasy players. Kazmir (elbow) is not expected to throw off a mound until the first week of the regular season. He is eligible to come off the disabled list April 5, but whether he will be comfortable at that point is the big question. Stash him on a DL spot; it's time to make other plans for the start of the season. He's unsafe to select as a fantasy ace in drafts, too.
Kelvim Escobar, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Escobar (shoulder) revealed this week that he has a torn labrum in his right shoulder, and the team shut him down indefinitely. Not only does this possibly shelf the right-hander for this season, but the pitcher also called it career-threatening. Escobar has said he will try to build strength in his shoulder in an attempt to avoid season-ending surgery. If you already didn't consider the injury-prone starter a risk after his initial shoulder woes this offseason, you should certainly look to avoid Escobar this season.
Jorge De La Rosa, Kansas City Royals - Removed from Rankings
An 8.03 spring ERA didn't help De La Rosa's quest for a spot in the Royals rotation. He officially lost that battle when the club designated the southpaw for assignment Wednesday, March 26. Given his combined 6.07 ERA over the last two seasons, De La Rosa wouldn't have been a safe fantasy option even if he made the rotation.
Kyle Davies, Kansas City Royals
The right-hander was optioned to Triple-A Omaha in another Royals pitching move. Davies was roughed up last year with both the Braves and Royals to a combined 6.08 ERA. Like De La Rosa, playing him even in the deepest of AL-only leagues would've been a dice roll. Starters John Bale and Brett Tomko were good enough to beat out the youngster, which is an indication of where Davies is.
Chris Capuano, Milwaukee Brewers - Removed from Rankings
He has been placed on the 15-day disabled list but has decided to hold off on Tommy John surgery on his damaged elbow. Capuano (elbow) consulted Dr. James Andrews for a second opinion Wednesday, March 26, and the surgeon recommended that Capuano undergo three to four weeks of rehabilitation. This keeps his options open for this season, but he has likely lost his spot in the rotation. Given his history of problems - he already had Tommy John surgery in 2002 - it's not worth taking the chance on Capuano.
Kip Wells, Colorado Rockies - Removed from Rankings
Wells lost out to pitchers Mark Redman and Franklin Morales in the Rockies rotation battle. He will remain on the team as a long reliever, but we took the right-hander out of our projections because of the lack of prospects for a starting role - or fantasy value.
Jason Hirsh, Colorado Rockies
Hirsh (shoulder), the original No. 4 starter coming into this season, is still being bothered by rotator cuff problems. He suffered a setback in his rehabilitation Thursday, March 27, and hasn't taken the mound for live action since March 1. There is no timetable for him to come back, so you should avoid him until he can actually take the field, or even approach it.
Jon Lieber, Chicago Cubs
Lieber lost out on the rotation and will start the year as a long reliever. His lack of guaranteed starts naturally led KFFL to tone down his projections; he won't be much of a factor unless the Cubs rotation sputters; he can serve as a swingman.
Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs
With Kerry Wood being named the closer this week, Marmol returns to his role as the primary setup man. The team will still count on him for eighth-inning work and often ask him to record more than three outs. Marmol is one of the elite non-closer relievers in the fantasy world because of his potential for a high strikeout rate. He still likely makes for a great bullpen alternative if you miss out on a low-end closer.
Alan Embree, Oakland Athletics
We stripped away some of Embree's saves for several reasons. We believed the A's had too many team saves compared to their total from last season, and the return of right-hander Keith Foulke could knock a few off his total. He could still be a moderate option for bullpen depth in AL-only leagues.
Kiko Calero, Oakland Athletics - Removed from Rankings
The team placed the right-hander on the 60-day disabled list. Calero (shoulder) has a torn right rotator cuff, and the A's are expected to be using Foulke in the mix with southpaw Embree. Calero shouldn't be considered.
Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum, who competes in LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.
During baseball and football season, he appears on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio on Thursdays and Sundays, and every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.