Spring is in the air down in Florida and out west in Arizona. Mitts are popping. Bats are cracking. Elbows are getting sore. And you? Well, if you're anything like me, you're fiending to join the pitchers and catchers and everyone else as they report because you're ready for some baseball. Fantasy baseball, in particular.
I've been tweeting my pre-spring training division predictions for the last several days and it's gotten me thinking about who this year's rebound guys could be. You know, the guys who you decided to build your roto squad around that let you down. Basically, the reasons you did not win your league last season. Who are the most likely bounce back players of 2010?
3B David Wright - I'm positive that I'm not the only one picking Wright, the face of the Mets, to turn it all around this season. But that doesn't mean we're all right. No pun intended. CitiField took it's toll on D-Wright's power numbers in '09 and stayed in his head all season to the tune of a career low .837 OPS and a Placido Polanco-esque 10 home runs. Factor in the 140 strikeouts and you have the prototypical example of someone trying to hard. Expect Wright to enter the 2010 season with his head clear knowing that Jose Reyes is back at the top of New York's lineup and Jason Bay is providing some pop to the middle of the order. It should all add up to a fantasy steal if you take Wright with your 3rd round pick. Expectations of .315-100-24-100-30 are not out of line.
SP Scott Kazmir - The electric little lefty entered 2009 hoping to overcome injury and inconsistency. Many fantasy pundits had him on this same list this time last February. Here's hoping Kaz doesn't make it an annual thing. Signs point to the still only 26-year-old having turned the corner once he was dealt to the Angels. Prior to the trade, Scotty was floundering with his mechanics in Tampa and even got sent down to the minors briefly after being removed from the Rays' rotation. Clearly, a change of division did him some good. With L.A. Kazmir went 2-2 with a 1.73 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP in six starts. Amazing what getting away from the Yanks and Red Sox can do for a pitcher, huh? His K/9 rate was still a little down, 26 punchouts in 36.1 innings is nothing to be vexed about. If you're a risk/reward kind of fantasy player, this is your man. He can be had as a SP4 and could possibly produce high-end SP2 numbers.
OF B.J. Upton - This is not as much of a "should" as a "must" bounce back guy. If he doesn't turn it around in 2010, Upton can go ahead and recalibrate his career goals. Think Mike Cameron, at best. Journeyman type who never quite becomes a star, but always has a job. Obviously, B.J. is as toolsy as it gets and that's one reason I believe the world will see more 2007 than 2009 from him this season. But, after two sub-par years, Upton has certainly learned that talent can only take you so far in the majors. Hard work and heart have to eventually come into play. In '07 we saw a determined player who had worked hard in the offseason and spring training to learn two new positions. That work translated into performance on the field, both offensively and defensively. Now, three springs later, B.J. has been passed in fantasy value by his younger brother Justin out in Arizona. That has to sting his pride at least a little bit. Spring training numbers generally don't mean a whole lot, but pay attention to Upton over the next few weeks. His performance should be a big indicator of whether he's back to top form or still just skating by on talent.
SP Ricky Nolasco - This one has all the markings, if you know what to look for. Nolasco is injury free, in his "age 27" season, and his '09 numbers are skewed badly by three horrific starts. Throw out those three games and you go from a 5.06 ERA down to a 3.99 ERA. Amazing what nine bad innings can do to your numbers, huh? Despite being perceived as having such an offyear last season, Ricky still struck out 195 in just 185.0 innings and finished the season strong. He was 11-4 with a 3.82 ERA, 141 K's, and a sparkling 1.08 WHIP from June 7 and on. All of these things add up to a probable fantasy steal for you. Nolasco could easily be a top-25 SP in 2010 while you sit back and patiently wait to select him in the 10th round of your 12-team draft.
RP Carlos Marmol - 2009 was supposed to signal the christening of Marmol as the Cubs' closer for years and years to come. Not so fast, my friend. While Carlos ultimately wound up in that position, it wasn't easy and didn't come without it's share of bumps and bruises. First there was the World Baseball Classic, where Marmol underperformed and imploded while trying to anchor the bullpen of the highly touted Dominican squad. Next, it was Kevin Gregg who got a jumpstart on Marmol in the closer race in Chicago by pitching well throughout the spring. Finally, the walks. Oh, those walks. Nearly one BB per inning for a pitcher who had been a WHIP wunderkind in 2007 and 2008. This year provides a clean slate for Marmol, however. No WBC to fret over. No Kevin Gregg with whom to compete. And, without those distractions, I fully expect no more control issues. Draft Marmol as a second closer around the 12th round and reap the benefits of a rare RP who actually helps you in K's too.
Good luck boys and girls.