Monday, March 3, 2008

Is Pirates' Zach Duke worth a look?

SARASOTA - Recently I was talking myself into Zach Duke being a viable fantasy starter this season. After all, he's a 6-foot-2, 220-pound, 24-year-old lefty once heralded as the Pittsburgh Pirates' future ace. A lot to like there, right?

Duke helped a lot of fantasy teams when he got called up in 2005 (8-2, 1.81 ERA in 14 starts), but things have gone horribly wrong since then (10-15, 4.87 ERA in 2006; 3-8, 5.53 ERA in 2007), and he's had a bout of elbow tendinitis and been surpassed by the Pirates' other young arms - Tom Gorzelanny, Ian Snell and Paul Maholm.

Duke still has a lot of room to grow, and I've seen him tabbed in some corners as a 2008 sleeper. I was thinking about jumping on board too - until I witnessed Duke get roughed up in his first spring start on Saturday, a 12-11 loss to the Cincinnati Reds at Ed Smith Stadium (above). Duke gave up homers to Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn in the first inning and surrendered four earned runs and six hits in two innings.

Now, I know pitchers don't put a lot of stock into the results of spring games, so we shouldn't overreact here and figure Duke was a fluke back in his rookie season. But it was just a little subtle reminder for me that maybe there's too much risk involved with drafting him this year. If you're taking a Pirates pitcher, you'll be better off going with Gorzelanny or Snell, guys with big strikeout totals who won't hurt your ratios and have already proven their values over a full season. Or better yet, take Matt Capps, who's primed for a nice season as the Buccos' closer. Let someone else take a chance on Duke.

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