In exactly three days, the most wonderful time of the year is here. Just as the sun sets and the clock strikes 8, I’ll be cracking open a red bull with spreadsheet in hand as the Ice Cold Conference (ICC) holds its fifth fantasy baseball draft. I made a statement to my family earlier this week that they found a little shocking, but, nonetheless, I feel it’s true: I look forward to this draft more than I ever looked forward to Christmas as a child. What brought me to this conclusion is the phrase, “Happier than a kid on Christmas morning!” I just feel that that metaphor doesn’t get the job done when anticipating the ICC's draft. For now, while I am at maximum capacity for fantasy baseball knowledge, I want to pick up where I left off two weeks ago with more players who I really love/hate for 2008. Focusing specifically on potential injury sleepers that you may want to target/avoid.
The first pool of players is the walking wounded. They came into spring training with a twinkle in their eyes and an extra kick in their step, but now find owners shying away from drafting them. First, Scott Kazmir has experienced the most trouble this spring. It all began during a February 26th warm-up session when Kazmir felt his elbow get “jammed up.” Isn’t this course identical to that taken by Francisco Liriano and Rich Harden before their Tommy John surgeries? Scouts have never liked the combination of Kazmir’s small frame and arm torque for this particular reason. Kazmir, however, eventually worked his way back to throwing live batting practice on March 13th, only before the Rays shut him down again and ruled out for at least the first week of the season. For me, this is scary because, though I love Kazmir’s potential, elbow issues are not something to mess arounf with. I know that many owners are going to be looking to buy low or draft low on Kazmir this year, but I would definitely stay away from him in this condition. Elbows, especially of the throwing variety, are something that I leave to Dr. James Andrews… and off my team.
From the bad, we look at something a little more optimal. Did everyone see Rich Harden’s debut against the Red Sox today? How filthy did he look? Harden is a starter that really intrigued me the entire off-season. In early February, Harden described his own physical condition as “tremendous,” and I think that’s what really did it for me. Since that day, I’ve been monitoring his starts and, more importantly, how his right shoulder and elbow feel after each outing. Today, however, Harden let the cat out of the bag as he held the Red Sox to one run over six innings with nine strikeouts. Nine K’s against a line-up as patient as the Red Sox? That's absurd! You know he was dealing this morning with a stat line like that. I wouldn’t get out of control when eying a guy like Harden in your draft though. He’s still and injury risk, but he would make a good (with the potential to be great) 5th or 6th pitcher for your fantasy rotation.
Francisco Liriano pitched well all spring, but was only rewarded with a trip to Triple-A. Not fair? I know, but he should be back in the Twins rotation by early-mid April and ready to rock-and-roll soon thereafter. The precaution with Liriano stems from the fact that his fastball is not quite as fast as it should be. Earlier this month his fastball clocked between 88 and 90 mph, once touching 93. This is a far cry from the consistent 95 that Liriano was throwing two years ago. For any owners entering a draft, I think considering this decrease in velocity is important when filling out your starting rotation. While Liriano is an attractive name and option for your team, you should probably sit back and let him fall a few rounds before pouncing. What’s the worse that can happen—you nab a few solid veteran arms and let someone else take the risk? I say if you can get him as a reserve then take him. Anything above that though may be too risky now.
Did anyone else feel sick when you heard about the cartilage damage in Yovani Gallardo’s knee? Yeah, me too. I considered this young stud the current ace of the Brew Crew. He was just flat-out dominating last year and I couldn’t imagine letting anyone else in my league have him in 2008. However, God intervened, resulting in the shutting down of Gallardo on February 17th. Now, more than a month later, Gallardo participated in live game action today (March 26th), pitching three innings, striking out two, and allowing no runs. Gallardo probably won’t build up his endurance enough to start his season with the big club in Milwaukee, but he also probably won’t start the season on the DL. Gallardo’s potential, which in my opinion is higher than both Harden and Liriano, still makes him a legit pick for your pitching staff. Just please, please, please don’t make him the first pitcher you take. That would be stupid, and stupid people don’t read my blog.
Now enough with these young guns, let’s get to the elder statesman of the injury-sleeper stable: John Smoltz. This past week, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution declared Smoltz as a “likely” candidate to start the season on the DL. Smoltz however said the discomfort in his shoulder would not have stopped him from making a regular season start. Who’s telling the truth and who’s lying? Well there appears to be a middle ground here. As the Journal-Constitution said, Smoltz probably will start the season on the DL, however, the DL is retroactive to April 6th. That said you’re only going to be missing out on the cagey vet for one start is the shoulder ailment is not as bad as he says it is. Personally, I’ve always liked Smoltz and his ability to defy nature. I don’t like him enough to be my ace, but he fits in nicely as a number three or four in a mixed-league fantasy rotation. I wouldn’t let these shoulder woes scare you away from the Braves’ ace.