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• Miguel Cabrera owners, I hope you're sitting down for this, but the certain first-round pick will begin the season batting fifth, not third, according to Mlive.com. Don't fret, though, because that might not be as bad as it seems. While statistical data does support that hitters in the No. 5 hole generally earn about 30 fewer plate appearances than those in the No. 3 hole (and that's over a full season), Cabrera shouldn't be any worse off batting behind Gary Sheffield and Magglio Ordonez than he would have following Curtis Granderson and Placido Polanco. Neither has had an on-base percentage below .350 this century, and Sheffield's career mark is .397, Ordonez's .370. In other words, there's no reason to downgrade Cabrera due to this news.
• Regarding the aforementioned Tigers lineup, in case you're wondering, Sheffield was absent from Wednesday's spring training opener only because he was dealing with his legal case against former agent Scott Boras, not due to health concerns.
• Mlive.com also had some good news Wednesday on Joel Zumaya, who is recovering from shoulder surgery. He has begun his throwing program, making 45 throws at 60 feet, though it's already known he won't be ready for Opening Day. The Tigers have yet to set a return date for Zumaya, though it's looking increasingly likely he'll be back before the All-Star break. That's not good news for Todd Jones; the sooner Zumaya returns, the more pressure Jones will face for the closer role. Jones did catch a break, though, with news that Fernando Rodney had an MRI exam on his sore right shoulder on Tuesday. Rodney won't throw again until Monday, and while there's plenty of time for him to be ready by Opening Day, he's looking like a risky handcuff to Jones.
• Scott Spiezio was released by the Cardinals on Wednesday, hours after news broke that a warrant has been issued in Orange County, Calif., for his arrest. It's not the first time he has dealt with off-the-field issues; he spent five weeks on the restricted list late last year after entering a rehabilitation facility for substance abuse. Spiezio certainly has more pressing things to deal with than baseball right now, and this almost assuredly rules him out for 2008. Not that he was much of a fantasy option, but with the Cardinals really hurting for outfielders, he might have gotten a look this spring.
• I'm not about to panic with regard to Scott Kazmir, who talks like a man committed to making his scheduled his Opening Day start. Though the left-hander will rest his strained elbow for two weeks, he was quick to respond when told Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman suggested he might miss one or two regular-season starts. "That's not going to happen," he told the Tampa Tribune. Of course, at 24 years old, Kazmir isn't the kind of commodity the Rays will rush back or take risks on, so it's probably not entirely his call, either. Still, when I'm making my ranking adjustments, I'm accounting for Friedman's 1-2 missed start estimate, no more. For fantasy, that probably amounts to a buck or two, or perhaps a round, no more.
|Rocco Baldelli may not see the field much early in spring training.|
• Don't count on Jason Schmidt being in the opening day rotation, at least not judging by manager Joe Torre's comments. According to the Los Angeles Daily News, Schmidt has a tired arm, an unsurprising development considering the right-hander's rehabilitation program after shoulder surgery has had him throwing since November. "I'm not planning on him when the season starts," said Torre. Fantasy owners shouldn't, either. Granted, this might be a dead-arm period for Schmidt, something most pitchers generally experience in late March, but the Dodgers have every reason to play it safe with the veteran. The estimate has him being back around April 15, and even then, he shouldn't be counted on to make more than 20-25 starts all year, if that many.
• Torre, incidentally, seemed to take a page out of the Dusty Baker book of coddling veterans, telling the Daily News that Nomar Garciaparra has the "inside track" to earn the starting third base role. Torre, at least in recent years, has tended to lean more toward veteran players, à la Baker, something fantasy owners need to prepare for when evaluating those third base and left field battles. Andy LaRoche is probably going to need a lights-out spring, or a disastrous one from Garciaparra, to win the Opening Day role, while Andre Ethier might be stuck getting a fraction of Juan Pierre's playing time in left. If you're drafting early, it's worth taking those estimates into account.
|Jeremy Bonderman hasn't quieted any doubters yet this spring.|
• Bonderman's counterpart, Mike Pelfrey, tossed two shutout innings against the aforementioned Tigers lineup missing merely Sheffield, not a bad effort at all. With Orlando Hernandez looking somewhat questionable for Opening Day, Pelfrey could get a short-term look in the No. 5 starter role, and he has No. 2/3 starter upside in the long haul. NL-only owners should take the chance on him breaking camp in that spot.
• In that game, Brandon Inge sneaked in a few innings in center field. Barring a trade, the Tigers are going to find creative ways to sneak his bat into the lineup, among all three outfield spots, the corner infield spots, designated hitter and even catcher. I'd project him today based on 300 at-bats, which is enough to make him AL-only worthy.
• Mark DeRosa will miss a few days after undergoing a surgical procedure Thursday to stop the irregular heartbeat that has plagued him on occasion for years, according to the Chicago Tribune. "By the end of [next] week, hopefully he'll be going full throttle again," said Cubs physician Stephen Adams. This shouldn't have any adverse effect on DeRosa's chances at being the team's Opening Day second baseman; a potential trade for Brian Roberts is the only real threat to that. With those rumors indeed a possibility, though, DeRosa shouldn't be treated as more than an NL-only middle infielder.
• Danny Richar finally made it to White Sox camp on Wednesday after being delayed in the Dominican Republic by visa problems, according to the Chicago Tribune. He admitted he was concerned he'd lose his chance to compete for the starting second-base role, and to that point, Juan Uribe and Alexei Ramirez absolutely will be given a long look due to Richar's late arrival. AL-only owners should look to Richar as the favorite for the role, but as it's no guarantee he'll win it, he's a late-round pick at best.
• Perennial spring-opener starter -- or at least by his claim he is -- Jake Westbrook will see his string snapped this season, skipping his scheduled start in Thursday's opener due to a sore arm, according to the Indians' official Web site. He's not too concerned about the injury, but will throw a bullpen session instead, so at to not risk it. "If I get in front of a hitter, I might try to do too much and hurt it more," he said. That Westbrook is battling arm issues this early in the year is a concern, though he did have a 3.54 ERA and 1.35 WHIP in his final 19 starts of 2007. In other words, he's less appealing in mixed leagues today, but don't forget about him entirely in AL-only formats.
• Here's an interesting revelation: In discussing the Rockies' second-base battle, the Rocky Mountain News named Jeff Baker as Jayson Nix's primary competition, entirely omitting Marcus Giles' name. If true, that might paint Nix a strong favorite for the role, as he's by far the better defender of the two, with Baker's experience coming primarily at the corner infield and outfield spots. Baker would be the more appealing fantasy choice if he somehow proves capable of the everyday chores, so tab him an NL-only sleeper. Giles' stock, meanwhile, should take a hit as a result of the news.
|Hanley Ramirez is staying put at the leadoff spot for the Marlins.|
• Troy Patton, perhaps the top prospect the Orioles received in the Miguel Tejada trade, continues to experience pain in his left shoulder, according to the team's official Web site. Sorry, Orioles, no refunds, though it seems Patton might not contribute much, if anything this season. Believed to be the favorite for the fifth-starter role this spring, Patton is believed to have a SLAP (superior labrum anterior to posterior) tear in his labrum, and if he doesn't show improvement in the coming weeks, he'll likely be sent in for surgery. On one of the weaker teams in baseball, the rookie lefty wouldn't have been a strong fantasy choice anyway, but scratch him off your sleeper list even in AL-only formats.
• To their credit, the Rangers stuck to their word, batting Ian Kinsler leadoff against a left-hander Wednesday. Frank Catalanotto is supposed to lead off against right-handers, but there was an intrasquad game against a righty earlier in the week in which Kinsler batted first, so I can't say I'm ruling out the possibility, not yet. Kinsler's RBI total might suffer in the No. 1 hole, but his .355 on-base percentage in 2007 suggests he'd be a big-time runs scored option with 25/25 potential if he locks down the everyday role.Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.