Jeff Niemann (RHP)—Rays—At 6'9" and 270 lbs. Niemann is quite intimidating, out on the mound, to say the least. It appears he has earned a job in the Rays starting rotation this spring, now that David Price has been sent down.
Niemann has been working on his split-finger pitch at the pitching coach's request this spring with mixed results. With a pitcher of his size, it often comes down to mechanics and that is the case here.
He has left his splitter up at times and it is getting hammered. When the season starts he will be throwing his downward plane fastball and featuring a very tight curve that is nearly impossible for righties to pull. The splitter is supposed to act more as a change and that should serve him much better once play time is over.
Nick Adenhart (RHP)—Angels—The Angels are losing starters left, right, and center already this year, thus all but guaranteeing Adenhart a place in the rotation. He was on the fast track up until control problems hurt him a bit last season both in the minors and in his few big league starts.
It appeared that he was trying to be too perfect with his location and this led to uncharacteristic wildness, something he has appeared to correct this spring. His fastball has the highly sought after inward slice to right handers and his change-up has improved greatly the past two seasons.
He can now throw all three pitches for strikes and change speeds on each, which is a great way to project success in the big leagues.
The Angels do a tremendous job of calling a game based on what is working for their starters at that moment. They will be able to get Adenhart through some early season struggles if there are any.
His makeup and natural ability should earn him some positive fantasy numbers this year and he makes for a very nice find in the late rounds of any draft.
Clay Bucholz (RHP)—Red Sox—It appears Bucholz is back to form after a turbulent 2008 season that saw him spend time on the disabled list, AA, and AAA.
To date, his spring ERA stands at just 0.46 with 15 strikeouts in his 19 2/3 innings. Although the Red Sox are stacked with starting pitching it would be very irresponsible to send Bucholz back to the minors at this point in his development.
His curve-ball and change-up are back to their plus-plus status and with Brad Penny out for some time, this is the perfect opportunity to allow Bucholz to take the next step. I believe in this kid big time and believe it is only a matter of time before he is the ace of the staff. With as good as the Red Sox will be this yea, it is absolutely mandatory that Bucholz be drafted in all fantasy legues.
Trevor Cahill (RHP)—Athletics—What excites me the most about Cahill is his nasty knuckle-curve ball that can make even the best of hitters look silly at times. That pitch is one of the very best "out" pitches of any young starters coming up and quite possibly the reason he is being handed the No. 4 spot in Oakland's rotation. Well that and the fact that Justin Duchscherer won't be back for awhile, after having arm surgery last week.
I believe Cahill will need to hide the ball better at the major league level because hitters here will cheat a bit and gain an advantage by noticing his grip, especially on the curve ball.
Cahill will help fantasy owners by striking people out and staying around long enough in games to qualify for wins and keep his ERA respectable.
There is some concern with his motion possibly causing back strain down the line, but he is a big kid who doesn't seem affected by aches and pains, at least at this point in his career.
Those are a few of the guys I have on my radar as we near the 2009 season. What are your thoughts? Agree? Disagree? Post your comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org