Saturday, March 14, 2009

Greetings from spring training

BRADENTON - We're lucky enough to live within a couple hours' drive of about 13 MLB spring training sites here on Florida's Gulf Coast. It's one of my favorite things about living in the Sunshine State ... other than the sunshine, of course. And all the old folks. Love my seniors!

I usually try to take in as much spring training action as I can, not just because I love baseball, but also because it gives me just a little extra insight as I prep for the fantasy season. Sure, the games don't matter that much in the grand scheme of things, but it's nice to get an up-close look at some of the players I may or may not be building my team around in a couple weeks.

I've been slacking in my spring travels so far in 2009, however. I did venture up to Tampa to take part in the madness that is Yankees camp shortly after pitchers and catchers reported ... but of course I picked the one day they decided to go on a team billiards outing. But today I got to soak in some 80-degree weather at the Yanks' 13-10 split-squad win against the Pirates at charming McKechnie Field. Here are a few fantasy-related tidbits I came away with:

g I got to see two of the majors' top outfield prospects in action: New York's Austin Jackson, who slugged a two-run homer, and Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen. The pair of 22-year-olds have lots of similarities, as the Bradenton Herald's John Lembo reports, and both figure to be fantasy contributors in the near future. McCutchen, who hit .284 and stole 34 bases last year at Triple-A Indianapolis, figures to get the first crack at the big leagues, if not on the Pirates' Opening Day roster then soon after. Jackson probably has a bigger hill to climb as he's blocked by a few high-priced Yankees outfielders, but we could see him in the bigs in 2009 if Johnny Damon runs into any more health problems or the Brett Gardner/Melky Cabrera experiment in center doesn't pan out. Both McCutchen and Jackson will probably go undrafted in most mixed leagues this year but they're two power/speed guys you should be keeping tabs on.

g The Yankees' Mark Teixeira made the trip down to Bradenton and went 0-for-3. As I've mentioned previously, it might be a rocky transition to life in pinstripes for Tex - no Alex Rodriguez in the lineup for a month and a half at least, plus he's a much better second-half hitter (.303 average, .966 OPS) than first-half (.277, .877). But ultimately I have few worries about the 28-year-old hitting machine, who willl enjoy the same fabled right-field porch dimensions at the new Yankee Stadium and perhaps the best offense he's been a part of to date. He's definitely worth a late first-round pick, and I've placed him in my preseason top 10.

g Matt Capps is a guy I'm penciling in for about 35 saves this year, and yet he'll likely be a bit undervalued because a) he missed a bunch of time with a shoulder injury last year and b) people tend to underestimate closers on teams that aren't expected to win a ton of games. But he's certainly got the guts to handle the role and did a fine job the past two years when healthy - 39 for 47 in save opportunities with ERAs of 2.28 and 3.06, plus 103 strikeouts to just 21 walks during that time. He didn't have a great outing Saturday - one hit, two walks, two Ks, one earned run in an inning of work - but he's still a very sold fantasy closer who shouldn't break your bank.

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