Camp notes: Utley may be ready by Opening Day

February, 20, 2009
02/20/09
9:43
AM ET

• All-everything fantasy second baseman Chase Utley told the Philadelphia Inquirer on Thursday that he gives himself a realistic chance of being ready for Opening Day. "My chances are fair to quite fair," Utley said. This is potentially the beginning of tremendous news for Utley's pre-draft value; if his surgically repaired hip allows him to go right away in April, he's probably going to be undervalued in most fantasy drafts. Healthy, he's an obvious first-rounder. (See Stephania Bell's take on Utley's injury Video).

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• Panic among Alfonso Soriano owners abated a bit Thursday, as Lou Piniella backed off his musings about moving Soriano out of the Cubs' leadoff spot, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. While there's little question that Soriano could hit just about anywhere in Piniella's lineup, he'll almost certainly maximize his fantasy value in the lead base-stealing spot. Of course, that means his legs have to stay healthier than they've been the past two years, when he's stolen only 19 bases each season.

• Speaking of leadoff hitters, Joe Torre ruffled some Rafael Furcal owners' feathers Thursday when he told the Los Angeles Times he may rest Furcal as much as once per week during the season. Now, while the sentiment of keeping Furcal healthier than this past year (when the shortstop played in only 36 games) is terrific, the idea of limiting him to as many as 15 percent fewer at-bats than his potential maximum sounds just awful. For example, from 2002 to 2006, Furcal averaged 153 games a season. Chop off a game per week, and that could bump him down to as few as 130 games, which would no doubt lop off some of the many, many runs and stolen bases Furcal's owners anticipate. Clearly, though, it's February, and we shouldn't jump off a bridge just yet.

• And just to get all the lineup news out of the way at once, Dusty Baker told the Cincinnati Enquirer that Brandon Phillips will be the Reds' cleanup hitter again this year. That sounds potentially bad for a guy who's supposed to run a lot, but Phillips hit in the four-hole in 114 games this past year (and 27 games elsewhere), and in those 449 cleanup at-bats managed 19 homers and 19 steals. He'll be fine.

• Did I say the lineup news was done? I lied. A quick note from the Denver Post indicates the Rockies are thinking about using Ryan Spilborghs as their leadoff hitter now that Willy Taveras is plying his trade in Cincinnati. That officially makes Spilborghs a mixed-league sleeper.

• The Denver Post also reports that Rockies lefty Jeff Francis will undergo exploratory surgery on his pitching shoulder next week and miss the entire season. The former 17-game winner and first-round draft pick was a mess all through 2008 because of shoulder troubles. Unfortunately, until doctors know exactly what's wrong with his arm, it's hard to forecast a return to glory for Francis. But we'll know more next week.

Brian RobertsJames Lang/US PresswireBrian Roberts may finally be able to shed all those long-standing trade rumors and settle in as the Orioles' second baseman.
• The Baltimore Sun reports that the Orioles and Brian Roberts will make Roberts's four-year contract extension official Friday. Roberts will earn $40 million over those four seasons, which makes him much less likely to be traded to a team like the Cubs, who were hot and heavy for him at the beginning of 2008. Roberts figures to play in Baltimore for at least most of the next five years.

• The Sun also reports that Felix Pie has been a no-show at Orioles camp to this point because of visa problems. If you're still salivating for some five-tool goodness from Pie, though, don't worry: he's expected to be in America soon. Of course, this begs the question: Why in the world are you still salivating over Felix Pie?

Jered Weaver told the Orange County Register he's dealing with shoulder soreness, but that it's the same thing he battles at the beginning of every spring training, every season. It sounds like nothing, but keep an ear to the ground just to be sure; Weaver lasted until the 18th round of our first ESPN.com experts' 10-team mock draft this week, despite double-digit wins, 152 strikeouts and a WHIP below 1.30 in 2008. He's not a stud, but he's eminently ownable.

• Tony LaRussa told the Cardinals' official Web site that Joel Pineiro will be the fifth man in the team's starting rotation to begin the season. This is the first time since 2005 that the team has basically known its starting rotation before a single spring training game. Barring injury, the rotation will be Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Kyle Lohse, Todd Wellemeyer and Pineiro. Hey, I didn't say they were all great. I just said the Cardinals know who they are.

Tom Glavine and the Braves finally arrived at an incentive-laden one-year contract with a $1 million base salary, and Glavine seems pretty well inked into the Atlanta rotation. He'll be 43 by Opening Day, of course, and was awful in 13 starts for the Braves in '08 before requiring shoulder surgery. He could get double-digit wins, but Glavine will continue to be a non-strikeout-acquiring WHIP-killer who should be avoided in all but the deepest NL-only leagues.

• Brewers prospect Mat Gamel, who would appear to have shot at filling an opening at third base because of Bill Hall's torn calf muscle, has a "shoulder impingement" according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, and won't be allowed to throw for the next week or two. Gamel's stick would make him an intriguing NL-only rookie right away if he makes the big league club, but of course, this doesn't help. Then again, it's not like the Brewers haven't ever rushed a sweet-hitting, terrible-fielding third baseman to the majors before, right, Mr. Braun?

• The Indians designated former bonus baby third baseman Andy Marte for assignment Thursday, giving them 10 days to trade or release him. While there's still a chance Marte winds up accepting an assignment to the Tribe's minor-league system, there may be another big league club willing to take an up-close look at all that potential that's never come to fruition in the bigs.

Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner across all three of those sports. You can e-mail him here.

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