Ackley, Cozart look for hot starts

Published Apr. 4, 2012 1:00 a.m. ET

Fantasy Fever is a weekly piece that provides fantasy advice on lineup calls, sleepers, waiver-wire moves and rookie spotlights, along with the occasional ramble or four. Enjoy.

Start ‘Em

C: A.J. Pierzynski, White Sox
Although Pierzynski was rumored to see action in the two-hole for the White Sox this spring, he will likely bat fifth when the South Siders open this week. If Adam Dunn reverts into an OBP monster and Paul Konerko continues his consistent output, the Chicago catcher could see a plethora of ribbie opportunities. For his part, Pierzynski hit .287 last season and cut down his strikeout rate to a diminutive 6.6 percent, his lowest rate since 2004. This low punch-out propensity should at least correlate to constructive outs that could produce an RBI or two.

1B: Justin Morneau, Twins
Granted, somewhat of a risky proposition, but the 2006 AL MVP is ending camp on a high note, hitting .461 in his last eight games with three homers and 12 RBI. Morneau will begin the year at DH to defend against health dangers in the field, further assuaging owners’ worries on his availability. For the sake of the good people of Minnesota, who have tragically seen Morneau, fellow Twin Joe Mauer, NBA rising star Ricky Rubio and NFL All-Pro Adrian Peterson all succumb to injuries in the past calendar year, let’s pray no additional impairment befalls their All-Star basher.

The expectation of Morneau’s past production of 30 bombs and 100 RBI is probably a pipe dream, yet for those seeking sound performance at the plate, Morneau is your man.

2B: Dustin Ackley, Mariners
For those that weren’t hip to Ackley’s debut last year (.273/.348/.417, six homers, 36 RBI and 39 runs in 90 games), the Tokyo series should have raised some eyebrows, as the Seattle second baseman contributed two hits, including a solo shot to deep center, two RBI, two runs and a swipe in the season opener. The former first-round pick does have a strong susceptibility of striking out (79 Ks in 2011, with three strikeouts in the first two games of 2012); nevertheless, Ackley routine stuffs the stat sheet, extremely effective in all facets of the game. Don’t let Safeco Park’s affability towards pitchers (the park ranked 26th in runs allowed last year) deter your decision to invest in Ackley.

3B: Chase Headley, Padres
Not the greatest of spring trainings for Headley, although he did manage to post a .379 OBP and four homers in the Cactus League. Additionally, don’t read too much into the third baseman’s .289 average in the 2011 campaign, as his .368 BABIP suggests a regression. So after these two forewarnings, why are we buying the 27-year-old Headley? Projected to hit third in an improved San Diego lineup, Headley will be a solid source of RBI and runs for a player currently owned in just 28 percent of Fantasy Baseball leagues. Another benefit is Headley’s prowess on the base paths, with a contribution of 15-20 steals attainable. Fantasy managers would be shrewd to select the cornerman while they can.


SS: Zack Cozart, Reds
The rookie shortstop is slated to bat second in a lineup that finished with the second-most runs on the Senior Circuit in 2011, and his proclivity of producing two-baggers in spring training earned Cozart the nickname “Daily Double.” In an abbreviated appearance in the Show last season (one that was cut short by injury) the greenhorn hit .324 in 11 games, including two home runs. In an offensively challenged position like shortstop, taking a gamble on Cozart could reap major dividends.

OF: Jayson Werth, Nationals
Try to shake off the stink from Werth’s 2011 and concentrate on the positives: his speed (19 steals last year), power (four jacks in spring training), and looks (a cross between the wrestler Edge and Grizzly Adams). Before last season’s abomination, Werth averaged 29 homers, 84 RBI, 92 runs, 18 swipes and a line of .279/.376/.513 from the previous three years. Werth is only 32 years old, so any fears that the outfielder is losing tread on the tires are unfounded. The Nationals lineup lacks a bit of luster until Michael Morse returns, but the offense is dangerous enough to facilitate a few runs and ribbies in Werth’s direction.

SP: Brandon McCarthy, A’s
I’ve been preaching from the pulpit all preseason on the value of McCarthy, and his showing against Seattle does little to deviate from that stance, as the Oakland ace went seven innings of one-run ball in a no-decision last week. McCarthy’s 2.86 FIP was tops in the American League in 2011, and was 8-4 with a 1.07 WHIP and 3.15 ERA in the second half. The argument against McCarthy states the A’s offense isn’t much to speak of, and perhaps Coliseum’s dimensions slant his stats in a more favorable light. The former is hard to rail against, although the arrival of Yoenis Cespedes could provide some pop to the lineup. In reference to the latter, the variance isn’t as pronounced as believed, as McCarthy owned a 1.10 WHIP at home compared to a 1.15 WHIP on the road. In short: for a dude whose average draft position is in the 200s, McCarthy is going to be quite the grab in fantasy.

RP: Kenley Jansen, Dodgers
Held in less than 20 percent of leagues, Jansen is the closer in waiting in Chavez Ravine. Like Washington’s Tyler Clippard, Jansen retains value even in formats that don’t account for holds in the scoring system thanks to ridiculous K/9 rate of 16.10. For those seeking an additional silver lining, projected Dodgers closer Javy Guerra’s role is hardly set in stone, meaning a few saves could tricky Jansen’s way.

Sit ‘Em

C: Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers
At first glance, Lucroy’s first season as full-time starter was respectable, submitting a .265 average with 12 homers and 59 RBI. Alas, Lucroy’s output fell off the table in the second half, hitting .240 with just four round-trippers. Also disconcerting was the discrepancy between Lucroy’s home-and-away splits, posting a .292/.335/.469 line in Milwaukee but just a .240/.292/.317 stripe on the road. The depth at catcher is shallow, so understandable if you have to insert the Brewer backstop in the lineup. Just remember to temper expectations.

1B: Gaby Sanchez, Marlins
Remember that amazing first-half performance that earned Sanchez an All-Star berth? Me either, especially after Sanchez’s woeful display at the end of the summer (.225 average, six homers and 28 RBI) nearly submarined my hopes of a fantasy playoff berth. Personal spite aside, Sanchez’s spring training did not convey a sense of turnaround, as the Miami first baseman hit .228 in 21 games. As better options exist in the opening weeks at the position, solely consider Sanchez in NL-only leagues.

2B: Darwin Barney, Cubs
If on-base percentage is a scoring category, Barney will be your team’s weak link. Even in average-only formats, Barney’s .238 mark in the second half of 2011 is cause for concern. While it’s only his second season as starter, Barney is no spring chicken, turning 27 in the fall. Batting second would seem to help his significance; unfortunately, the Chicago lineup is putrid to the point of irrelevance. Oh, and his .310 BABIP suggests likely regression. For those failing to grasp the meaning behind these insinuations: I’m not too high on Barney making a relevant impact anytime soon.

3B: David Freese, Cardinals
Yes, I know he went 3-for-5 with two RBI against the Marlins. Bear with me…

Every spring, a playoff protagonist from the previous fall is given elevated stature in rank thanks to their postseason heroics. Freese has been bestowed this honor in 2012, as baseball pundits have graded the third baseman as high as No. 10 at his position. Freese certainly has the upside to achieve this standing, but let’s pumps the breaks on the reigning World Series MVP for a second. Injuries have impeded Freese from logging more than 100 games in a season in the Bigs, and the loss of Albert Pujols, as well as the advancing ages of Lance Berkman and Carlos Beltran, could have a profound impact on the St. Louis offense. Keep an eye on his early production, but don’t wish for the moon from Freese.

SS: Jimmy Rollins, Phillies
Not only has Rollins missed 101 games the last three seasons, but his performance when on the field has been pedestrian at best. Need proof? His average output the past three seasons: .255/.316/.403, 15 homers, 60 RBI and 78 runs. Alright, but nothing to write home about. Has that stopped owners from drafting the three-time All-Star like he’s still in his 2007 MVP form? Of course not! If you ride with Rollins, make sure to have a suitable substitute in the wings.

OF: Josh Hamilton, Rangers
The season hasn’t started and the much-maligned star is already dealing with a groin injury and migraines. Combine the health-related issues with the distractions of a contract extension and other off-the-field matters, and there’s simply too much baggage to endorse Hamilton at this juncture of the season.

SP: James Shields, Rays
Shields’ 3.42 FIP (compared to last season’s 2.82 ERA) and .258 BABIP are alarm enough that a storm is brewing, but his first two starts are against high-octane offenses New York and Detroit. That’s what we in the business call, “not promising.” While we’re here, it’s nice to know that Joe Maddon took our advice to heart and discarded the dead raccoon on his head. Sure, Maddon claims it was for charity, but I like to think our plea factored into the equation. You’re welcome, America.

RP: Brad Lidge, Nationals
Understand the pickup with Drew Storen on the sidelines, but Henry Rodriguez and the aforementioned Clippard are better selections. Lidge did have a 1.40 ERA in 25 games in 2011; however, he was far from steady, walking 6.1 batters every nine innings, leading to a bloated 1.50 WHIP. Too much risk involved with Lidge as your fantasy closer.

Waivers Watch: Mat Gamel
Once a highly-touted prospect, Gamel faded in Milwaukee’s farm system framework after underwhelming stints at the big-league level, hitting .222 in 85 games the past four years. However, with the exodus of Prince Fielder, Gamel will get the opportunity to validate his previously vaulted merit. The Brewers still brandish a potent offense with Rickie Weeks, Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez and Corey Hart, providing a bountiful table of ribbies for Gamel to harvest. With the added value of third base eligibility to his resume, no reason for Gamel to be owned in only 7 percent of leagues.

The Real Debate
Money has been at the forefront of the baseball world the past week or so with Magic Johnson and company whipping out $2 billion for the Dodgers while the Reds rewarded MVP Joey Votto with a $200 million contract. While the extravagance of the cash involved in these deals is certainly a hot topic, the Real Debate should be this: why aren’t we making a bigger deal of Washington’s $116 million acquisition of the above-mentioned Werth last season? Don’t get me wrong, I like the man, but $116 million for a guy with just three seasons of full-time starter status and one All-Star appearance under his belt? That’s borderline triple what Werth is, uh, worth. Keep this in mind when the Nats can’t afford to keep Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper in a few years.

Rookie Review: Tyler Pastornicky, Braves
Concededly, Pastornicky holds little fantasy at this moment after a rough spring showing (.221 average, caught stealing in three of five attempts). Nevertheless, just because the slick-fielding 22-year-old won the job with his leather isn’t an excuse to disregard him in the fantasy forum. Pastornicky did hit a combined .314 in stops in Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett last season with an admirable .359 OBP, 27 stolen bases and 65 runs. And with Atlanta’s loaded lineup, Pastornicky could assist in runs and…ok, you caught me. I really just wanted to write “Pastornicky” multiple times. Still, keep your eye on the young gun in the A-T-L, especially those in NL-only leagues.

Trade Talk
There’s an epidemic on our hands, folks. Closers are going down faster than the careers of the Farrelly Brothers (you’ve seen the trailers for The Three Stooges, right?), prompting panic amongst proprietors to secure a dependable relief arm. This quest has correlated to rash, impulsive trade proposals, ones that usually include a second-tier starting pitcher or viable bat. Saves are one of the easier stats to find on the waiver wire, especially when a team is aiming to fill a void. Abstain from this movement, as the juice isn’t worth the squeeze in this venture.

This Week in Sam LeCure
For those unfamiliar with the awesomeness that is LeCure, the Reds relief pitcher has the swagger of Ricky Vaughn and the facial hair of Yosemite Sam. The former Texas Longhorn is in his third-season with Cincinnati, serving as a jack of all trades: part-time long reliever, part-time starter, full-time bad mother, if you catch my drift. More importantly, LeCure is a must-follow in the Twitter world (@mrLeCure), spewing sagacious theories on baseball, life, and mustaches. More importantly, LeCure is one of the more underrated arms in the NL, owning a 1.00 WHIP in 77.2 innings in 2011 despite his varying roles. We’ll be keeping tabs on one of baseball’s most colorful characters all season long.

Big League Chew Player of the Week: Jamie Moyer, Rockies
Congrats to the 49-year-old Moyer for making the Rockies rotation out of camp, giving geriatrics everywhere hope that they’re just a scout’s discovery away from fulfilling their dreams. In a related note, I’ve always contemplated taking a year-long sabbatical from work to learn the knuckleball and giving the game one last go. Hey, it would at least make for a good book, right?

Spit Your Tobacco at: Marlins’ new unis
So the franchise ditches their fluorescent, pretentious, irreverent digs for…newer fluorescent, pretentious, irreverent digs. Touche, Miami.

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