XFL 2013 Nativity

March 28, 2013



For people who play fantasy baseball, March is a lot like Christmas: it is the month for their fantasy baseball team drafts and auctions.They go into each with the anticipation and eagerness that little kids have on Christmas, anxious to find out what gifts they will be getting in the form of undervalued players and sleepers.Of course, like any Christmas there are a few presents that arenít, shall we say, desirable; in fantasy, these are the players that no one really wants but has to take at the end of a draft to fill out the roster.Preparation plays a key role in the outcome of both events: kids drop not-so-subtle hints as to what they want from Santa, while savvy fantasy players orchestrate how they want their auctions to go weeks in advance accounting for numerous eventualities.††


The XFL spring draft is a little different than others in that most of the active rosters are already filled from last yearís November auction.The spring draft is just to fill out the reserves, which includes players who will see action this year as well as prospects from the minors and other sources.†† My own experience this year didnít go quite as plannedÖ but what draft does?†† Fortunately, I had a Plan BÖ and a Plan CÖ and a Plan D so I wasnít completely unprepared and overall Iím pretty optimistic about the results.


First things firstÖ I had the third pick overall and my first choice was going to be Jedd Gyorko.He would have filled two needs: a third baseman while Chase Headley is out the first month of the season, and after that as middle infield depth should Kelly Johnson not get his swing back in order (or if Rickie Weeks gets injured).Iím far more worried about the former than the latter.Weeks is due for a healthy season.However, I pretty much knew going in that I was not getting Gyorko because Jeff Winick was picking first.He and I have a similar eye for talent, he has ARod on the DL and thus was also in need of a third baseman.I was hoping Gyorko would drop to me, but I was not optimistic.


My second choice was Hyun-Jin Ryu.He looked awful to start the spring but once he warmed up it was pretty easy to see why the Dodgers were so hot to sign him.He doesnít have overwhelming velocity on his fastball, but he has a nice curve and change, and commands both sides of the plate very well.Still, I knew I wasnít getting him because Ron Shandler was picking second and he always takes a pitcher with his first pick.I thought there was a chance that he might take Kyuji Fijikawa since he had Jim Johnson as one of his closers (Iím not optimistic he keeps the job all season), but he didnít.It was the right choice.


That left me withÖ meh.My choices realistically were between Jeff Keppinger (to play the Jedd Gyorko role, albeit with significantly less power) and Yasiel Puig, whom I like talent-wise, but the Dodgers already have Crawford, Kemp and Ethier all signed to long-term deals and are in ďwin nowĒ mode.One of the more intriguing aspects about Puig is the constant physical and baseball-skill comparisons to Bo Jackson.But for all that athletic ability, Bo Jackson didnít post an on base percentage above .300 until he was 26 years old and even then it was only .310.The XFL on base percentage as a category instead of batting average so even if Puig is the next Bo Jackson he wonít be completely studly for another 4 years and much of that time will be spent in the majors where his salary in this league will keep rising.Iím not saying heís not worth the risk; just that the real payoff might not happen for 4 or 5 more years.Of course, thereís always the chance that one of those Dodger outfielders gets injured and Puig gets the call.But if that doesnít happen, or heaven forbid Puig struggles against AA pitching, then he canít help me this season.Like the Dodgers, Iím in ďwin nowĒ mode and really canít afford to get nothing with my first pick.Another hitting option would be to take Lance Berkman, who hasnít looked too bad this spring and should fare pretty well as the primary DH and occasional first baseman in Texas.That said, heís coming off knee surgery and does not have a particularly scintillating record of staying healthy the last three years.He should be fine for the first month but after that?†† Who knows.


Or I could take a starting pitcher.There was one that Iíve liked for a while now, at least stuff-wise.Heís still pretty young, doesnít have a great track record for strikeouts and he pitches in front of a defense that isnít very good.On the plus side, his home park is pretty friendly for pitchers, the offense behind him should be very good and their bullpen is deep so the chance of netting a good number of wins is promising.Normally his lack of strikeouts would be enough for me to take a pass on him.However, he bears more than a passing resemblance to another starter who appears to be in the twilight of an awesome career.Both pitchers are tall - the youngster is 6í 5Ē and the fading star is 6í 6Ē.Both are heavy groundball pitchers (better than 50% of balls in play) and had uninspiring strikeouts rates both in the minors and early in their major league careers.The youngster had a K/9 of 5.35 and a BB/9 of 2.53 (2.11 K/BB) in the minors and his average fastball velocity has ticked up past 92 mph recently; the fading star had a K/9 rate of 5.90 and a BB/9 of 2.93 (2.01 K/BB) in the minors and his average fastball velocity at the same age and during his peak was a tick above 92 mph.Both pitchers made a significant change to their pitching after their age 23 season: the fading star changed his arm slot, while the youngster abandoned his slider in favor of a curveball that had been abandoned out of high school but had been one of the big reasons he was so highly prized on draft boards.The youngster is Rick Porcello, who has been a revelation this spring (yes, I know, itís just spring).The fading star is Roy Halladay.Iím not saying that Porcello is the next Halladay but the shape of his career to this point bears some striking similarities.


There were a couple of other pitchers that I liked as well Ė Ross Detwiler, Jose Quintana, Brandon Maurer - but Porcello was the one who seemed to have the most going for him.Worst case scenario is that he gets out of the gate slowly and the Tigers trade him to another team, hopefully in the National League where heíll gain the advantage of regularly facing the opposing pitcher in the batterís box.Thatís still a winnable situation.With Strasburg, Darvish, Latos and Holland already in the fold, and Liriano only a month or so month away, the only thing I really needed was reliable innings and a good chance for wins.Iíd like to think Porcello fills that bill, and possibly offers more.


So I took the big leap; I took Porcello.Oh, and my Jedd Gyorko/Jeff Keppinger temporary third base replacement?Alberto Callaspo, which I believe translates from Spanish to ďit could have been worse.ĒActually, thatís not fair because Callaspo has good bat control (walks almost as often as he strikes out and he walks better than 10% of the time) and last year he was brutalized by balls in play.Give him something close to a .300 BABIP and heíll be hitting .280 with an on base in the .350 neighborhood.The bonus is that in a good year he might reach double digits in homers and steals, and heís penciled in as full-time third baseman for a loaded Anaheim line-up this year.†††


I also took a chance on Justin Smoak.Given his track record in college, the minors, last September and this spring, I have to think there is something there worth having.Of course, thereís the very real possibility that his previous 1258 major league at bats do, in fact, tell the real story.However, I have always maintained that most players need about 1500 major league at bats before they become completely comfortable against the level of competition in the majors and reveal their true selves, so maybe Iím just 250 at bats or so early.


It wasnít my intention to load up on minor league speedsters but there really wasnít much power to be drafted other than Puig and he went with the 10th pick overall.Iím a big fan of Addison Russell not only for the obvious tools he possesses, but also because shortstop in Oakland is an absolute wasteland.If Russell handles A-ball well enough to get a promotion to AA this year, he might very well make the leap to the majors next season.Plus, since I already have Addison Reed, I wanted to corner the ďAddisonĒ market.Ok, not really.


The other speedsters I drafted were Delino DeShields Jr., Alen Hanson and Slade Heathcott.I have no illusions that any of them other than Russell will develop even average power but if they steal 40 bases a year, which seems well within their potential, thatís just one fewer thing Iíll have to worry about.


Where I think I did very well was picking up plus-plus minor league arms in Lucas Giolito and Allen Webster to go along with already-rostered Trevor Bauer and Taijuan Walker.Webster is additionally intriguing because his velocity out of the pen offers the potential of becoming the next Jonathan Papelbon in Boston, especially given the current flux in that bullpen.


Along those lines, I drafted Junichi Tazawa and Rex Brothers with an eye toward saves as both seem the best choice to take over as closer should something happen to the current save leaders.Rafael Betancourt is old, his fastball is straight and he pitches in Denver so when his fortunes go, they are going to go fast and very badly.Brothers has the best stuff to replace him.The Red Sox bullpen figured to have Joel Hanrahan as the guy in the 9th but Iím not optimistic heíll make a smooth transition from the small town NL environment in Pittsburgh to one of the most player-unfriendly fishbowls in the AL in Boston.And the rest of the closing candidates for the Sawx have significant warts: Bailey canít seem to stay healthy and Bard hasnít found consistent mechanics.Andrew Miller is an intriguing possibility but I only have one roster spot to speculate on Boston saves and Tazawa appears to be the next veteran in line.


Youíll probably laugh but I also drafted two of my favorite old warhorses, Johan Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez.Santana was actually very good last year before he threw his 130+ pitch no-hitter:


Before Ė 68 innings, 2.38 ERA, 1.0294 WHIP with 68 strikeouts

After Ė 49 innings, 8.265 ERA, 1.7551 WHIP with 43 strikeouts


So there does appear there may be something left in the tank (he is, after all, only 34) if he can get healthy.†† Thatís a big if given the track record of smallish, power lefties (they usually age badly after age 29), but I thought it was a risk worth taking.I would have liked to have drafted Andrew Cashner for similar reasons (awesome when he was healthy but how often that will happen is a big question mark going forward) but he was already taken fairly early in the draft.


(Editorís note: a day after this was written, Santanaís MRI revealed another tear in his shoulder capsule which could very well mean the end of his career given that it took him nearly two years to recover from the last one. Looks like this pick bit the dust already.)


I took a flyer on Ubaldo because he seems to have smoothed out his mechanics this spring so that he could approach some semblance of consistency.That said, his velocity is way down from his halcyon half-season when he was averaging 96 mph, but at least it seems he knows where the current 92-93 is going.That should be a good thing, plus that park and the outfield addition of Michael Bourn should help.


I probably should be embarrassed to say that I also took Ronny Cedeno, but someone has to get the at bats at shortstop in Houston.Until Carlos Correa is ready that person is not likely to be very impressive.At worst, I have him for a month and can pick up a new insurance policy off waivers in May.That said, heís played most of his career in parks where flyballs usually find leather and now heís going to a park where thatís not necessarily the case.Heís reached double digits in homers and steals before (although not in the same season) and his selectivity at the plate (walk rate versus strikeout rate) is trending in the right direction.Oh, who am I kiddingÖ heís Ronny CedenoÖ but heís my Ronny CedenoÖ at least until May.


The last guy I will profile was almost an afterthought but could get some decent playing time in Minnesota: Darin Mastroianni.Aaron Hicks won the starting centerfielder job in spring and he is the long-term solution there.However, should he struggle in his first exposure, Mastroianni will be the one picking up the playing time.Likewise, Chris Parmalee is slated to hold down the right-field job but heís pretty much a place-holder for Oswaldo Arcia.If Parmalee struggles and Arcia is not yet ready, again Mastroianni should be the primary to fill the gap.In 168 ABs last year he stole 21 bases and posted a not-completely terrible .328 on base percentage.His minor league rate was .368 so last yearís performance was pretty much in line with expectation.If he ends up getting 300 at bats this year as the fourth outfielder, that could mean 30-40 steals.If he ends up with 500 ABs, he might lead the league.


Admittedly I did not crush the draft and come away with a super-shiny roster 1 through 40, but with the team I had coming into it I didnít really need to.All I needed to do was fill some gaps and gamble on some upside and pick up some tradable commodities.I think thatís how it played out.Weíll know for sure in October.