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Fantasy Baseball: First Impressions, Part I

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Fantasy Baseball: First Impressions, Part I
(Photo by Rob Tringali/Getty Images)

If you missed it (and if you're fantasy baseball fanatic, you didn't), the Matt Wieters Era finally began on May 29. His sidekick in hype, David Price, made his season debut just a scant four days earlier. Perhaps inspired by seeing Orioles and Rays fans stampeding to the ticket counter, the New York Mets, Atlanta Braves and Chicago White Sox all followed suit by calling up their own franchise saviors, Fernando Martinez, Tommy Hanson and Gordon Beckman seemingly within minutes of each other.

Let's take a look at the first impressions these kids are making on the fantasy baseball owners burning up the waiver wires to add them to their own rosters...

Matt Wieters: I'll leave the hyperbole up to the folks at the hilarious Matt Wieters Facts website, but let's just say that those possessing a Y chromosome haven't been this excited since Jessica Biel finally revealed her true talents in Powder Blue. But don't start casting that Hall-of-Fame plaque just yet. Wieters was batting just .229 as of this writing, without a homerun or RBI to his name. He does sport an unsightly 8:1 K:BB ratio, mildly surprising given his minor league track record of patience.

Those expecting "Joe Mauer with power" to be their fantasy savior this season may be sorely disappointed. He plays the most physically and mentally demanding defensive position on the diamond, so any extra work he does this summer will be dedicated to learning about the Orioles pitchers and opposing hitters, not adjusting his own swing. He'll have to survive in the batter's box on talent alone and, while that talent is prodigious, that may not be enough for a 23 year old with barely a season's worth of professional experience.

For perspective, here's how some of the best hitting catchers in major league history fared in their real exposure to the big show:

Mike Piazza - 21G, .232 1 HR 7 RBI
Carlton Fisk - 16G, .283 2 HR 6 RBI
Johnny Bench - 26G, .163 1 HR 6 RBI

There are exceptions (both Mauer and Brian McCann got their careers off to solid statistical starts), but regardless, patience will be the order of business for Wieters owners. They may have to wait until 2010 for their investment to truly pay off.

David Price: Though he made is major league debut last season, Price is still a rookie and, perhaps excepting Hanson, the most hyped pitching prospect in all of baseball. Rays fans and fantasy baseball owners surely questioned Tampa's decision to send Price to Triple-A Durham to open to the season, but the prudence may well have paid off.

Not only did the Rays delay Price's service time clock (no small factor for a small market team like the Rays), not only did Price gain valuable experience while pitching for the Bulls, not only will they be better able to control Price's innings load this season, but they also got a good look at what Jeff Niemann and Andy Sonnanstine could offer the big club this season. Since in Sonnanstine's case the answer is "not much," expect Price to stick around Tampa even after Scott Kazmir returns from his injury prompted hiatus.

That said, don't expect miracles. Other recent, similarly talented young arms have experienced plenty of growing pains once they started facing major league hitters:

Max Scherzer - 115.1 IP, 2-8, 3.59 ERA
Clayton Kershaw - 171.2 IP, 8-10, 4.35 ERA

Going back a little farther, we begin to see a trend developing:

Jon Lester - 81.1 IP, 7-2, 4.76 ERA
Chad Billingsley - 90 IP, 7-4, 3.80 ERA

And how about some future Hall-of-Famers:

Tom Glavine - 50.1 IP, 2-4, 5.54 ERA
Greg Maddux - 31 IP, 2-4, 5.52 ERA

Frankly, it almost behooves Price to start slowly as many pitchers who came out of the gate dominating (Dwight Gooden, Fernando Valenzuela) ultimately flamed out more rapidly than Paris Hilton's "acting" career.

Since this post is already obscenely long and I'm running out of clever celebrity comparisons, we'll cover Martinez, Hanson and Beckman in the next edition of Fantasy Tipster's First Impressions early next week.


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