Why I Picked These Guys

 

 

Itís still very early in the off-season which is one of the major reasons why the XFL Draft at Ron Shandlerís First Pitch Arizona is so challenging.No players have changed teams due to free agency or trade and each owner is basically drafting players strictly on perceived talent.Toss in that itís a keeper league making draft inflation a little squirrelly Ė for example, many of the best third basemen were kept so that any time a decent third baseman came up in the draft his price skyrocketed Ė and some of the final results can be a little difficult to interpret.That said, Iíll be happy to shed some light on why I targeted the players I did.

 

Carl Crawford was my first get.My team needed speed and he was one of three players I thought had a chance to provide 40+ steals along with a modicum of power.The other two were BJ Upton and Jose Reyes, neither of whom would likely go for less than $30.That was an important factor as I only had about $80 to spend on the entire draft.†† First the bad: heís recovering from arm surgery so thereís a chance he may not be ready for the start of the season.The early reports are that heís ahead of schedule on his rehab, but that can be taken with a grain of salt, as most players report to be ďahead of scheduleĒ until they arenít.Heís also coming off two terrible, injury-plagued years in Boston after nine very productive years in Tampa so there is some concern he has either lost his mojo or is now injury-prone or both.However, he has a career batting line of .303/.350/.479 with 50 steals in 541 ABs vs the NL, and a .313/.359/.515 with 27 steals in 291 ABs in NL Parks, so the risk of spending $22 seemed worthwhile.

 

Carlos Quentin was the next get.I needed a hitter capable of hitting 30+ homers and he was one of a pool of a dozen or so that I would be satisfied acquiring.Half of those in that group, however, were established, consistent producers like Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Adrian Gonzalez, Curtis Granderson and Matt Holliday.To roster any of those guys was going to cost upwards of $45 and no less than $30, so again, there was a salary concern.Of the remaining names in my list, Quentin was most appealing because he produces a decent on base percentage (.374 last year) and even while injured this past season he hit 16 homers in a little over half a season at Petco.And this year the Padres will move the fences in by 11 feet in the power alleys.I once read a study that concluded that most home runs fall within five feet of the outfield fence.If I recall correctly the percentage was 80% but that seems high. Regardless, moving fences in or out as little as five feet could have a dramatic effect and the Padres are moving theirs in by more than twice that.I have to think that will add at least five home runs to a full-season total.The question with Quentin is (and always has been) can he manage to stay healthy for a full season.Word is that heís altered his off-season workout this year to do a better job of staying on the field.I hope heíll at least be worth the $18 I paid.

 

The next get was Mat Latos.He was actually part of my back-up plan but his name came up earlier than I had hoped and he didnít exceed what I was willing to pay ($20).Much of the attention in Cincinnati went to Johnny Cueto and Aroldis Chapman for the seasons they had, but Latos quietly had a very good year.His velocity has gone down each of his four years in the majors and he did post a career low BABIP in 2012, but he was also victimized by a career high home run/flyball rate.On the plus side, his fastball velocity did see a slight uptick over the last two months and it really wasnít down much over what it was in 2011.Another thing working in his favor is that his groundball rate has increased in each of the last three years and his walk rate improved.There really was nothing to suggest that he canít continue to be a very solid pitcher in 2013.†††

 

I was tempted to jump on the Tim Lincecum bandwagon because of the dominant post-season he had, but I think his performance was a bit misleading.While his velocity was back to where it was last season, he was coming out of the bullpen and only having to pitch a couple innings and thus was able to go all out with every pitch.Unless he shows additional velocity in spring, Iím not optimistic about a full rebound.I was also tempted to buy Yovanni Gallardo or Jon Lester. Both have the reputation of being ace pitchers but I think theyíre more big game pitchers than aces.The distinction is that a big game pitcher is one who performs well in the biggest games of the season, whereas an ace pitches well above the norm all the time.Neither Lester nor Gallardo have a track record that indicates they are aces. Lester has never had a WHIP below 1.200 and Gallardo has never been below 1.220.Compare that to Latos, who has posted a WHIP over 1.200 only once in his career and that was during his rookie season.

 

I also bought Derek Holland who has improved each year under pitching coach Mike Maddux.In 2011, he was among the leaders in shutouts pitched and in the second half that year went 9-1 with an ERA of 3.06 and a WHIP of 1.2113.In 2012, he had another strong second half, going 7-3 with an ERA of 4.40 and a WHIP of 1.1433.The improvement from 2011 to 2012 was at least partially obscured by a low strand rate (67.9%, meaning the bullpen let him down more than average) as well as a much higher than average home run/flyball rate (15.2%) that should come down.†† His walk rate went down, strikeout rate went up and over the second half his velocity ticked up by a half mile an hour.For $6, he seemed like a solid buy.

 

The market for middle infielders was pretty meager to start with so it was either pay through the nose for one of the premium ones ($37 for Jose Reyes, $30 for Jimmy Rollins, $19 for Erick Aybar, $18 for Asdrubal Cabrera) or bottom fish for some upside.Andrelton Simmons was one of the last shortstops available who was pretty much assured of playing full time.In his brief stint in the majors before he suffered an injury he did not seem overwhelmed at the plate, which was a major concern when he was called up.His glove will play so the only question is whether or not he will continue to hit.He has a little bit of power and hints of 20-steal speed.

 

Glen Perkins was one of three closers I had targeted.He might sound like an unusual choice since the Twins are in no position to challenge for the division and so opportunities might be scarce.However, the Orioles didnít look like much before last season either and their closer, Jim Johnson, ended up with 51 saves.Perkins is not Johnson.For one, he has a very respectable strikeout rate.In fact, over the second half (32.2 innings) he struck out 34 batters while walking only 3.He averaged 95 mph on his fastball and possesses one of the more under-rated sliders in baseball.With as much as the Twins need to focus on improving this off-season, Iím hoping they donít feel the need to replace a closer who was 12 out of 13 in opportunities over the second half with a 1.93 ERA and a 0.5816 WHIP.

 

Francisco Liriano probably sounds like another unusual choice as well.Iíve always thought he possessed tremendous talent and that eventually someone would figure out a way to harness it.For as good a pitching coach as Rick Anderson is, the Twins style of pitching Ė pound the strike zone with straight fastballs and change-ups Ė did not suit Lirianoís repertoire.Instructing him to pitch to contact was anathema for a pitcher with a swing-and-miss slider like Lirianoís.I also have tremendous respect for the work Don Cooper does on the South Side of Chicago, but that park is not a great fit for Lirianoís flyball tendency.I am hoping he signs with an NL team in a big park this winter.American League lefties have a long history of success coming to the NL, at least the first time around the league and I think combined with a forgiving park that will be enough to restore a lot of Lirianoís confidence and luster.And although the sample might not be predictive, in 18 starts against the NL Liriano is 9-5 with a 3.31 ERA, 1.1196 WHIP and 126 Ks in 119 innings.

 

Mark Rogers was another upside play.There are a lot of moving parts that have to fall into place for him to pay off big, but he has the repertoire of a top of the rotation starter with four above average pitches, two of them plus.If he can stay healthy (his biggest issue to date) he could develop into the 2013 version of Jeff Samardzjia.

 

Among my last positions to fill was the utility spot.I had a list of what I thought would be cheap outfield speedsters, topped by Adam Eaton of the Diamondbacks.Although he did not run much in his debut, heís averaged 40 steals a season the last three years (including his college numbers) and produced an on base percentage over .400 at every level except the majors and even there he finished at .382.By the time his name came up in the draft I had less than $10 left for 3 or 4 spots but I figured that maybe I had enough to roster him even though there were several teams that had a lot of money left to spend.Jeff Winick, in fact, had been sitting on his money so long that it had started earning interest.When Eatonís name finally dropped, Iím sure I offered a bid but it might as well been Darrin McGavin from ďA Christmas StoryĒ shouting ďNaddafinga!Ē for all the good it did me.When the blood letting was done, Eaton was on Doug Dennisí roster for $18.My immediate alternative was Rajai Davis who I could have had for a couple of bucks, but I settled on Jarrod Dyson for $1.Hopefully this offseason heíll learn to play centerfield competently enough to deserve playing time.There are still a good number of speedsters available for the spring draft so if signs point to Dyson being a no-show, then there are at least some alternatives.

 

Next stop: the spring supplemental draft to fill out the reserves.