February 2011

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Position Battles: Rockies Second Base

The Rockies were reportedly in talks with the Rangers to acquire Michael Young on two different occasions this offseason but the teams couldn't agree on a deal. Had the Rockies acquired him, the 34 year-old would've been the starting second baseman. The talks appear to have cooled off, although they can always be rekindled over the next few weeks. For now, the Rockies must decide between five players for the everyday job. I'll be keeping a close eye on this competition, along with over 50 other position battles that I've identified, over at MLBDepthCharts.com

Jose Lopez vs Eric Young, Jr. vs Chris Nelson vs Jonathan Herrera vs Ty Wigginton

Tale of the Tape

Lopez: 27 years old, $3.6MM salary 2010 stats: .239 BA, 10 HR, 58 RBI, 29 2B, 23 BB, 66 K, 3 SB in 593 ABs 2011 Outlook: Favorite to win starting job

Acquired from Seattle in early December, Lopez will be looking to get his career back on track after a terrible 2010 season in which he set career lows in OBP (.270) and SLG (.339). During the 2008-09 seasons, he averaged 21 HRs, 93 RBIs, and 42 doubles as the Mariners' starting second baseman before he was moved to third base prior to last season. A move back to second base and a move into Coors Field sounds like a pretty good prescription for whatever the problem was. 

Young: 25 years old, est. $425K salary 2010 stats: .244 BA, 0 HR, 8 RBI, 5 2B, 3B, 17 BB, 32 K, 17 SB in 172 ABs 2011 Outlook: Underdog to win starting job, more likely to serve as utility man (2B/OF) on big league bench or play regularly in Triple-A

The switch-hitter has the ability to wreak havoc on the base paths, stealing as many as 87 bases in a season while in the minors. In limited big league action, however, he hasn't shown an ability to reach base often enough to take advantage of his speed. He's also not a great defender and has spent some time in the outfield during the past few seasons. If he can provide average defense at second base and reach base at a clip a bit closer to his career minor league .382 OBP rather than his .308 big league OBP, he could be a great weapon to have at the top of the Rockies' lineup. 

Nelson: 25 years old, est. $414K salary 2010 stats: .313 BA, 12 HR, 55 RBI, 15 2B, 3 3B, 29 BB, 53 K, 7 SB in 319 ABs (AAA) 2011 Outlook: Underdog to win starting job, more likely to play regularly in Triple-A

The former first round pick is a bit of a dark-horse candidate but he might be the most well-rounded player on this list. Primarily a shortstop throughout his career, he played 27 games at second base and 11 games at third base in what turned out to be a breakthrough 2010 season that put him back on the Rockies' radar after two injury-plagued seasons. Prior to the '08 season, Baseball America ranked him as the #7 prospect in the organization and compared him to Gary Sheffield because of his excellent bat speed and rated his speed and arm as plus tools. If he can still flash those abilities and show that he's capable of playing a solid second base, he could make this a very interesting competition. 

Herrera: 26 years old, est. $425K salary 2010 stats: .284 BA, HR, 21 RBI, 6 2B, 2 3B, 25 BB, 36 K, 2 SB in 222 ABs 2011 Outlook: Long shot to win starting job, more likely to win bench spot as backup at 2B, SS, and 3B

Despite starting 47 games at second base last season and posting a .352 OBP, Herrera simply does not have the power or speed that is going to make him stand out in this group. He is a very good defender, though, and his ability to play shortstop makes him the leading candidate to backup Troy Tulowitzki and serve as a late-inning defensive replacement for Lopez or Young, if they were to win the starting second base job.

Wigginton: 33 years old, $4MM salary 2010 stats: .248 BA, 22 HR, 76 RBI, 29 2B, 50 BB, 116 K 2011 Outlook: Long shot to win starting job, more likely to serve as backup at 1B, 2B, and 3B

There's no mistaking Wigginton can provide 20+ home runs. He's done it in four of the last five seasons. He's just not going to do it as an everyday second baseman. His primary role will be to back up Todd Helton at first base and Ian Stewart at third base. Whether he gets more than an occasional start at second base will have more to do with how the others are playing. Sticking him out there on a regular basis is an unlikely scenario unless the others aren't producing or injuries factor into the equation. Look for him to bounce around the infield and get 350-450 ABs. 

Final Word

Lopez is capable of playing 1B, 2B, and 3B, but he wasn't acquired with that role in mind for him. That's the role Wigginton is likely to fill. The Rockies are counting on Lopez bouncing back and solidifying the position while the others (Young, Nelson, Herrera) battle for the last spot on the bench. But Lopez rebounding is no sure thing, especially considering how bad he was last season. They wouldn't be interested in Michael Young if that was the case. Still, I expect Lopez to do enough to win the job although Nelson and Young are talented prospects that are capable of making some noise in Spring Training. Don't count either one of them out. 

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Shortstop Rankings

We've covered catchers, first basemen, and second basemen, and now it's time to take a look at shortstops.  Average draft round from Mock Draft Central is in parentheses.    

  1. Hanley Ramirez (1) - $29.82
  2. Troy Tulowitzki (1) - $22.83
  3. Jose Reyes (3) - $19.15
  4. Jimmy Rollins (4) - $15.52
  5. Tsuyoshi Nishioka (37) - $13.82
  6. Rafael Furcal (12) - $10.63
  7. Derek Jeter (5) - $10.39
  8. Alexei Ramirez (8) - $8.40
  9. Elvis Andrus (6) - $5.02
  10. Ian Desmond (19) - $3.70
  11. Starlin Castro (14) - $3.07
  12. Alcides Escobar (37) - $2.64
  13. Stephen Drew (11) - $2.32
  14. Miguel Tejada (25) - $2.07
  15. Alexi Casilla (Not drafted) - $1.00
  16. J.J. Hardy (41) - $0.58
  17. Jason Bartlett (36) - $0.55
  18. Juan Uribe (28) - $0.50
  19. Asdrubal Cabrera (15) - $0.19

My first impression is that the shortstop position is barren in 2011.  It's always light, but there are fewer than ten guys I'd feel comfortable drafting in a 12-team mixed league this year.

Hanley and Tulo are being drafted second and fifth overall respectively, and I don't object to that.  It is so difficult to find a comparable player that you have to pounce.  Reyes in the third round is mighty interesting.  I think he'll be right there with Tulo, but as a reminder I like to project full seasons and I have Reyes at 625 ABs.

It's unclear whether Nishioka will play second base or shortstop, but Yahoo currently has him eligible at both positions.  I see him as a three-category contributor - .290 average, 100 runs, approaching 30 steals.  Even if he doesn't get to those lofty heights you'll probably turn a tidy profit.  Of course, there's risk in using an MLB rookie as your starting shortstop.

Not sure why a two-category guy like Andrus would go in the sixth round; maybe that's when people start getting desperate for a shortstop with Jeter off the board.  Drew always gets love from drafters, but .270-15-65-80-8 really is a $2-3 performance in a 12-team mixed league.

My advice is to go early for one of my top eight shortstops, and fill your MI slot with a second baseman.

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A Look At Danny Espinosa

We ranked the Nationals' Danny Espinosa 13th among second basemen recently, yet he's not being drafted inside the first 40 rounds.  Let's dive into the numbers on this potential sleeper.

Espinosa, a third-round pick in 2008, hit .268/.337/.464 in 542 plate appearances across Double and Triple-A in 2010 despite missing time with a hamstring injury.  He mashed 22 home runs and stole 25 bags, though he was caught 11 times.  He switched from shortstop to second base in August and got the call in September.  He played second base for the Nationals regularly that month, hitting .214/.277/.447 with six home runs and a couple of times caught stealing in 112 plate appearances. Espinosa had minor hand surgery in November but is expected to be fine for Spring Training.

Espinosa is penciled in as the Nationals' Opening Day second baseman for 2011, though Jerry Hairston Jr., Albert Gonzalez, and Alex Cora might be hanging around to step in if he falters.  Espinosa will probably bat toward the bottom of the order at least initially.

Baseball America says Espinosa projects as a "solid regular," a player with excellent bat speed and average foot speed.  They say he runs the bases well, though his caught stealing numbers don't back that up.  For him to be mixed league worthy in 2011, he needs to continue attempting steals at the pace he did in the minors (over 15% of the time once he reached first base).

Projection systems spit out something like .240-20-70-80-20 if he is to get 550 ABs.  In an MLB.com chat, Espinosa named his personal goals: 

I want to go out there and play every day. Personally, I want to play every single day and hit for a solid average. That's my biggest thing. I want to hit for a solid average and have a high on-base percentage.      

Obviously a strikeout-prone player can not simply will himself to a good batting average.  But the power/speed combo makes Espinosa a top 15 second baseman even with a .240 average.  If you can take the hit in that category, he's a good late-round pick as for your MI slot.  Espinosa is not alone as a low-AVG power/speed second baseman; the Rays' Sean Rodriguez provides a similar package but with more big league experience.

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Second Baseman Rankings

Our catcher and first baseman rankings are up; now it's time to look at second base.  As always, my dollar values reflect a 12-team mixed league with 23-man active rosters (C, C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, MI, CI, OF, OF, OF, OF, OF, DH).  Everything here is subject to change and open to suggestion.  Average draft round is in parentheses, courtesy of Mock Draft Central.

  1. Chase Utley (2) - $20.62
  2. Dustin Pedroia (3) - $18.97
  3. Robinson Cano (1) - $17.85
  4. Rickie Weeks (4) - $16.78
  5. Ian Kinsler (5) - $16.56
  6. Dan Uggla (5) - $14.75
  7. Tsuyoshi Nishioka (38) - $14.27
  8. Brian Roberts (11) - $11.28
  9. Sean Rodriguez (39) - $10.56
  10. Brandon Phillips (4) - $9.93
  11. Kelly Johnson (10) - $9.66
  12. Ben Zobrist (11) - $9.64
  13. Danny Espinosa (42) - $8.94
  14. Howie Kendrick (20) - $8.55
  15. Martin Prado (7) - $7.70
  16. Neil Walker (33) - $7.28
  17. Gordon Beckham (20) - $5.56
  18. Chone Figgins (8) - $5.56
  19. Aaron Hill (15) - $3.84
  20. Omar Infante (27) - $3.34
  21. Bill Hall (Not drafted) - $1.68
  22. Alexi Casilla (Not drafted) - $1.45
  23. Juan Uribe (28) - $0.95
  24. Mike Aviles (15) - $0.41

Let me start by saying that I am aggressive in my playing time projections.  I don't like to hedge and average Brian Roberts' last two seasons' AB totals and put him down for 431 in 2011.  I generally project as if the player is healthy, so Roberts gets 600 ABs from me.  So these dollar values don't really reflect injury risk, but I think that's necessary to make good rankings.  Last year if you put Rickie Weeks down for 400 ABs you might have not realized what he would do with 650.

With that in mind, Cano does not carry the injury risk of Utley or Pedroia.  Cano has the first-round ADP and I think that's justified.  But, a healthy Utley or Pedroia ought to be right there with him in value.  Kinsler in the fifth round strikes me as early given his health issues.  Then again, 600 ABs and he's literally my top-ranked second baseman.

This is a position that will win leagues, with potential massive bargains like Nishioka, Rodriguez, Espinosa, Walker, and Beckham.  I sprung for Beckham in the eighth round last year and I'm not convinced he's all that different of a player a year later.  There is a surprising number of second basemen capable of double digit home runs and steals.    There are too many steals at this position to go for a Uribe or even a Prado, in my opinion.  Prado, Phillips, Figgins are going too early for me.

Clearly to draft Nishioka over Phillips as your primary second baseman (assuming Nishioka qualifies at the position) is a risky move.  Nishioka has yet to play in the Majors and Phillips is a perennial 20/20 guy.  But if there is ever a year to pass on the big names at second base and stock up on two or three late-draft gambles, this is it.

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Position Battles: Rays Closer

The Rays had some work to do this offseason after losing six key relievers to free agency, including All-Star closer Rafael Soriano and setup men Joaquin Benoit and Grant Balfour. Here we are just a few days before pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training and their bullpen outlook remains questionable, to say the least. While they've brought in plenty of candidates to fill the vacancies, the team is without a clear-cut closer and Manager Joe Maddon recently floated the idea of going into the season with a closer-by-committee if no one claims the job in Spring Training. Probably not a good sign for a team that will be trying to defend their AL East crown. Let's take a look at the top candidates.

Kyle Farnsworth vs Joel Peralta vs J.P. Howell vs Jake McGee vs Adam Russell

Tale of the Tape

Farnsworth:  34 years old, $2.6MM salary 2010 stats: 3-2, 3.34 ERA, 64.2 IP, 55 H, 19 BB, 61 K, 9 holds 2011 Outlook: Favorite to be closer

An intimidating figure on the mound and armed with a mid-90's fastball, the reality is that Farnsworth has never been a regular closer in twelve big league seasons. Throw out a career-high 16 saves in 2005 and the 6'4" right-hander has averaged just one save per season. Prior to 2010, he had an ERA of 4.36 or higher in five of his last six seasons. But last year may have been his best since 2005. Opposing batters had a .634 OPS against him with right-handers not having much of a chance at all (.538 OPS). Here lies what may be a problem, however, if the Rays are counting on him to close out games for them. According to Baseball-Reference, opposing batters were 18-for-55 (.327 BA) against him during high leverage situations in 2010 as opposed to 37-for-184 (.201 BA) in low-to-mid leverage situations. It was the same story in 2009. He should have another chance in 2011 to prove that he can get outs with the game on the line. 

Peralta: 34 years old, $900K salary 2010 stats: 1-0, 2.02 ERA, 49 IP, 30 H, 9 BB, 49 K, 9 holds 2011 Outlook: Underdog to be closer, could get some save opportunities

It's hard to say why Peralta had his best big league season at age 34 or if his success will continue in 2011. A quick look at his FanGraphs player page shows that the right-hander used a 91 MPH fastball, curveball, and splitter to hold opponents to a .170 BA in 2010. Throughout his first few big league seasons, he threw as many as six different pitches. Maybe it's a case of Peralta focusing on his best pitches and scrapping the others. If that's all it was, it sure seems to have worked. Unlike Farnsworth, Peralta's numbers in high leverage situations were stellar. While he has just 2 big league saves on his resume, he saved 20 games in Triple-A last season, the fourth time he has done so in his minor league career. 

Howell: 27 years old, $1.1MM salary 2010 stats: Did Not Play 2009 stats: 7-5, 2.84 ERA, 66.2 IP, 47 H, 33 BB, 79 K, 17 Sv 2011 Outlook: Questionable for start of season (recovery from shoulder surgery); unlikely to be closer upon return but could earn job soon after

There might not be a competition at all if Howell hadn't missed the entire 2010 season recovering from shoulder surgery. After posting a 6.34 ERA in 33 starts over his first three big league seasons, Howell was moved to the 'pen in 2008 where he was 6-1 with a 2.22 ERA and 14 holds in 64 relief appearances. A year later, he saved 17 games with a 2.84 ERA in 69 games. Despite a mid-80's fastball, the left-hander has 9.9 K/9 as a reliever. His knuckle-curve and change up can be devastating on hitters. If he can show the same command of his arsenal once he returns to action (he's expected to return shortly after the start of the season), it might not be long before he's closing out games for the Rays again.  

McGee: 24 years old, est. $424K salary 2010 stats: 4-8, 3.07 ERA, 105.2 IP, 90 H, 36 BB, 127 K, Sv in 30 games (AAA/AA) 2011 Outlook: Underdog to be closer

The 24 year-old lefty was a starting pitcher for Double-A Montgomery in early August when he got the call to Triple-A Durham. With plenty of rotation depth in Tampa Bay, McGee was moved to the bullpen in anticipation of a late-season call-up. In his first relief appearance for Durham, he struck out five of six hitters in two perfect innings. Just over a month later, he was pitching out of the Rays' bullpen. While his big league stint was brief (5 IP, ER, 2 H, 3 BB, 6 K in 8 relief appearances), he was impressive enough that he goes into 2011 with a good shot to win a spot on the big league roster. His fastball-slider combo gives him closer potential but his lack of experience makes him a long shot to win the job out of Spring Training. 

Russell: 27 years old, est. $424K salary 2010 stats: 4-9, 4.88 ERA, 51.2 IP, 58 H, 32 BB, 51 K, 14 Sv (AAA) 2011 Outlook: Long shot to be closer

Like Farnsworth, Russell looks the part of closer. The 6'8" right-hander throws in the mid-90's and saved 14 games for Triple-A Portland in 2010. But his 10.1 H/9 and 5.6 BB/9 in the minors last year show that he's far from being a big league closer, let alone a middle reliever, at this point in his career. So why include him on this list? Sometimes, a slight mechanical adjustment can make a big difference. Working with a new pitching coach can sometimes do the trick. Out of options and one of the key pieces acquired in the Jason Bartlett deal this offseason, his spot on the roster appears to be secure. So the fact that he can focus more on making adjustments and less on results gives him a chance to take a big step forward this spring.

Final Word

If you ask me, the Rays are taking a huge risk by not bringing in a proven closer. The AL East might be the best division in baseball and it will be tough to rebound from a slow start. If Farnsworth and Peralta can hold down the fort until Howell returns, they should be fine. If not, you could see a new post daily on MLBTR addressing the Rays' search for a closer.

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First Baseman Rankings

We posted a solid set of catcher rankings a few days ago; now it's time to rank the first basemen.  As always, my dollar values reflect a 12-team mixed league with 23-man active rosters (C, C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, MI, CI, OF, OF, OF, OF, OF, DH).  Everything here is subject to change and open to suggestion.  Though they don't have 20 games played at first base from 2010, I've included Adam Lind, Freddie Freeman, Dan Johnson, and Juan Miranda.  Average draft round is in parentheses, courtesy of Mock Draft Central.

  1. Albert Pujols (1) - $41.46
  2. Miguel Cabrera (1) - $33.66
  3. Joey Votto (1) - $26.48
  4. Adrian Gonzalez (1) - $24.45
  5. Mark Teixeira (2) - $22.59
  6. Ryan Howard (2) - $21.97
  7. Prince Fielder (2) - $21.54
  8. Kevin Youkilis (3) - $20.22
  9. Adam Dunn (5) - $17.36
  10. Kendry Morales (5) - $16.02
  11. Paul Konerko (6) - $12.41
  12. Justin Morneau (5) - $12.21
  13. Billy Butler (8) - $9.76
  14. Derrek Lee (24) - $9.53
  15. Adam Lind (15) - $9.24
  16. Gaby Sanchez (20) - $8.85
  17. Carlos Lee (12) - $8.75
  18. Aubrey Huff (10) - $8.27
  19. Buster Posey (4) - $8.22 - if drafted strictly as a 1B
  20. Ike Davis (22) - $7.78
  21. Carlos Pena (19) - $7.66
  22. Michael Cuddyer (21) - $7.29
  23. Lance Berkman (28) - $6.88
  24. Freddie Freeman (31) - $6.29
  25. Adam LaRoche (17) - $5.06
  26. Dan Johnson (Not drafted) - $4.79
  27. Mitch Moreland (33) - $3.22
  28. James Loney (25) - $2.23
  29. Kila Ka'aihue (Not drafted) - $2.16
  30. Matt LaPorta (33) - $2.13
  31. Juan Miranda (Not drafted) - $1.08
  32. Justin Smoak (33) - $0.77

As always, drafting first overall comes with the huge advantage of building your team around Pujols.  Cabrera is a monster, yet Albert is worth 23% more.

I mentioned a few days ago that once the second round ends, the top seven first basemen will be off the board.  Of the Big Seven, only Pujols, Cabrera, Votto, and Gonzalez offer elite batting average, and only Pujols and Votto can steal you ten bags.  If you like Votto for a repeat of his MVP season rather than a mild step back, don't be shy about taking him earlier than seventh and even second overall.

If you miss out on the Big Seven, Youkilis, Dunn, and Morales are solid consolation prizes.  Though he's coming off a broken leg, Morales in the fifth round has potential for profit.

My Morneau projection is for 475 ABs, given the uncertainty around his concussion issues.  If everything looks peachy in Spring Training and you like him for 575 ABs, he's in Tex-Howard-Fielder territory.

Fantasy leaguers seem so desperate to have Butler when he has his long-awaited power breakout that he always goes earlier than his numbers warrant.  He's not a good play in the eighth round with Derrek Lee, Lind, and Sanchez capable of similar overall value if not the .300 average.  Toss in Carlos Lee, Huff, and Davis, and you'll find a slew of first basemen projected for an average in the .270s, 22-24 homers, and around 90 ribbies.  If someone manages to knock in 100 or hit .290, they'll separate themselves.  Sanchez's history suggests he could quietly swipe ten bags for you, and he's getting no respect right now.  Huff is going too early for me; I'm not expecting .290 or 100 runs scored again.

Next you find first basemen with warts like a low batting average or playing time concerns.  Take a flyer on Freeman or Moreland late for your CI slot.  With 575 ABs either player could jump to the $8-9 range and not hurt you in batting average.  Freeman is a Rookie of the Year contender as he'll apparently be handed Atlanta's starting job.  Also keep an eye on the Giants' Brandon Belt.  He gets a fantasy boost as an average runner who could steal 10+ bags in a full season.  At the moment he's blocked at first base by Huff, and the Giants' outfielder corners are crowded as well.

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Catcher Rankings

It's time to get serious and attempt some position rankings for mixed leagues.  This is how we find the undervalued players.  As always, my dollar values reflect a 12-team mixed league with 23-man active rosters (two catchers).  As such, the 24th-ranked catcher should be worth a buck.

Please note that these rankings are very much subject to change and I welcome your input.  I've included the player's average round drafted per Mock Draft Central in parentheses.  Also keep in mind that playing time is crucial to these rankings, and a swing of 75 ABs one way or another would move a player several spots.

  1. Joe Mauer (2) - $30.12
  2. Carlos Santana (10) - $22.92
  3. Buster Posey (4) - $22.87
  4. Victor Martinez (3) - $22.47
  5. Brian McCann (3) - $20.68
  6. Jorge Posada (14) - $13.90
  7. Geovany Soto (9) - $13.63
  8. Mike Napoli (10) - $13.54
  9. Chris Iannetta (28) - $12.34
  10. Kurt Suzuki (16) - $12.29
  11. Matt Wieters (12) - $11.97
  12. Miguel Montero (11) - $10.59
  13. John Buck (20) - $9.03
  14. A.J. Pierzynski (25) - $7.14
  15. Miguel Olivo (21) - $6.78
  16. Russell Martin (27) - $5.32
  17. Yorvit Torrealba (32) - $5.26
  18. Carlos Ruiz (19) - $5.25
  19. Yadier Molina (18) - $5.08
  20. Nick Hundley (Not drafted) - $4.37
  21. Rod Barajas (31) - $3.15
  22. Ramon Hernandez (33) - $2.90
  23. Chris Snyder (34) - $2.31
  24. Jonathan Lucroy (28) - $1.00

Carlos Santana deserves special mention.  He's not necessarily a better bet than all those catchers listed after him.  I simply think he will do big things if he gets 480 ABs.  It could be a fluke, but his nine steal attempts in 438 PAs last year lead to a seven-steal projection for 2011, which would top all catchers except for Martin.  Throw in a .280 average, 20 homers, and 80 RBIs, and you can see why Santana would sneak past guys with similar numbers but six fewer steals.  Santana is a riskier choice than backstops like Posey, V-Mart, and McCann, but that's balanced by his 10th round ADP.  He had knee surgery in August, and is now doing baseball activities and is expected to be ready for Opening Day.

Posada jumps out as a potential bargain.  I've put him down for 500 ABs, which might be aggressive but seems quite possible as a full-time DH.  He is coming off a minor November knee surgery and is 39, so that's why you'll find him in the 14th round.  But he's easily in the top ten if he can hit 20 homers and knock in 80.  Soto is another player coming off surgery; he had a September procedure on his shoulder.  If Soto finds 475 ABs he's a fourth-round value.

Iannetta is so far off the radar that he is not being drafted in mixed leagues.  He's the starting catcher for the Rockies and should have no problem reaching 20 home runs for the first time if he gets 450 ABs.  He only has to fend off Jose Morales for those ABs.  I can see Buck reaching 20 homers again, as the Marlins gave him a big contract and barring injury he should set a career-high in ABs.  Hundley also has a clearer path to a career-high in playing time, with Rob Johnson serving as his backup.

I've always been a big Napoli fan, but he does not have a starting job right now and I'm hesistant to project more than 400 ABs.  Bump him from 400 to 450 and he jumps to $17.53, so take a chance if you think he'll sneak in those additional ABs bouncing around at third-string catcher and backup 1B/DH.  Guys like Ryan Doumit, Jesus Montero, and Kelly Shoppach would also intrigue me with 450 ABs.  Injuries to catchers are common, which is why you have to watch RotoWorld like a hawk.

Back in August I was intrigued by J.P. Arencibia, labeling him the Napoli of 2011 minus playing time issues.  However, I am starting to think the better comp might be Barajas or Snyder.  Can Arencibia crack a .240 average or rack up decent RBI/run numbers at the bottom of Toronto's lineup?  It's possible he gives you 20 home runs and little else, so I'd take him only as a second catcher during the last few rounds.

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The Second Round

Aside from Ryan Braun and Josh Hamilton switching spots, the average first round on Mock Draft Central remains unchanged from when we examined it on January 10th.  Let's take a look at who's currently being taken in the second round.

13.  Roy Halladay
14.  Mark Teixeira
15.  Carl Crawford
16.  Alex Rodriguez
17.  Chase Utley
18.  Ryan Howard
19.  Ryan Zimmerman
20.  Joe Mauer
21.  Matt Holliday
22.  Tim Lincecum
23.  Prince Fielder
24.  Matt Kemp

I actually like the idea of taking Doc this early; he has it all with no reason to expect a dropoff.  Taking Lincecum in this round scares me though; he had multiple off months in 2010 and a continued drop in velocity.

First basemen Teixeira, Howard, and Fielder land here after we saw Pujols, Cabrera, Votto, and Adrian Gonzalez go off the board in the first round.  Once the second round ends, the seven first basemen typically considered elite will be gone.  Kevin Youkilis can be had in the third round, and then there is an earnings dropoff to Adam Dunn in the fifth (unless you're predicting big-time U.S. Cellular numbers).  I don't consider Kendry Morales, Justin Morneau, and Paul Konerko to be great value picks in the following rounds, so if you miss out on the top eight first basemen it may be best to go bounceback bargain-hunting late for the likes of Derrek Lee, Carlos Pena, and Lance Berkman.

A-Rod and Utley are both healthy now, but both players are now second rounders we wonder if they'll get back to elite levels.  I'm comfortable drafting either player in the second round and I can still see Utley putting up the best season among second basemen if Robinson Cano comes back down to Earth just a bit.  There is something to be said for drafting Zimmerman over A-Rod given the former's youth.

I love Crawford at #15; he could be a top ten guy.  Ditto for Mauer, who is still easily the best catcher even after last year's power dropoff.  Holliday is a top five outfielder and I'd take him over a lot of the big first base bats.  Kemp, who was drafted eighth overall before the 2010 season, just needs a little more stolen base success and some batting average recovery to return nice value at #23.  Then again, you can get Jayson Werth in the fifth round if you're willing to sacrifice some steals as compared to Kemp.

The second round will have a huge impact on your draft.  Last year there were big misses with Mark Reynolds, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Ian Kinsler, while others struck gold with David Wright, Troy Tulowitzki, Crawford, and even Joey Votto if you were willing to take him earlier than the consensus.

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Position Battles: Athletics Fifth Starter

The A's have been aggressive this offseason, adding David DeJesus, Josh Willingham, and Hideki Matsui to their lineup and Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour to their bullpen. Two additions that may have gone overshadowed are the signings of Rich Harden and Brandon McCarthy, a pair of talented but injury-prone pitchers who will battle it out for the last rotation spot along with a few others. An archive of over 50 position battles that I have identified are accessible over at MLBDepthCharts.com.  

Brandon McCarthy vs Rich Harden vs Bobby Cramer vs Tyson Ross vs Josh Outman

Tale of the Tape

McCarthy: 27 years old, $1MM salary 2010 stats: 4-2, 3.36 ERA, 56.1 IP, 51 H, 11 BB, 44 K in 11 games (AAA) 2011 Outlook: Favorite, along with Harden, to be #5 starter

Named the 49th best prospect in the minors by Baseball America prior to the 2005 season, McCarthy debuted later that season as a 21-year-old for the White Sox and posted a 4.17 ERA in 10 starts. After spending the 2006 season in the White Sox bullpen, he was traded to Texas, where he spent the past four seasons. His time with the Rangers was disappointing as he made just 44 big league starts in between elbow and shoulder injuries. While he didn't make it back to the majors in 2010, he showed enough in nine starts and two relief appearances for Triple-A Oklahoma City that six other teams were reportedly interested in his services. The A's thought enough of him to offer a big league deal worth a guaranteed $1MM with another $1.6MM in incentives. 

Harden: 29 years old, $1.5MM salary 2010 stats: 5-5, 5.58 ERA, 92 IP, 91 H, 62 BB, 75 K in 20 games (18 starts) 2011 Outlook: Favorite, along with McCarthy, to be #5 starter

Like McCarthy, Harden made his big league debut at age 21 and stayed healthy throughout his second season, making 31 starts and tossing 189.1 IP for the A's in 2004. While his first stint with Oakland can be considered a success based on his overall numbers (36-19, 3.43 ERA from 2003-2008), he made just 32 starts in three injury-plagued seasons from 2005-07 and was eventually traded to the Cubs in July 2008. In 38 starts over 1 1/2 seasons with Chicago, Harden was 14-10 with a 3.31 ERA, earning him a $6.5MM deal with the Rangers in 2010. Things did not go well in Texas, however, as Harden missed time with a gluteal strain and put up mediocre numbers for the first time in his career. He was removed from the rotation in September and left off the postseason roster. The A's are hoping a return to Oakland will revitalize his career, although a return to the rotation is no sure thing. He will prepare to be a starter in Spring Training but is open to pitching out of the bullpen, where he could benefit from a lesser workload.   

Cramer: 31 years old, $425K salary 2010 stats: 2-1, 3.04 ERA, 23.2 IP, 20 H, 6 BB, 13 K in 4 starts 2011 Outlook: Underdog, More likely to provide Triple-A depth

The left-hander made quite a journey in 2010, making his big league debut shortly after finishing up an impressive stint with Quintana Roo of the Mexican League, where he was on loan from the A's. He was returned to the organization in August, posting a 1.94 ERA in seven Triple-A starts before getting the big league call in September. Cramer is unlikely to beat out Harden or McCarthy for the final rotation spot but he'll likely be first in line should the team need an extra starter at any point during the season. 

Ross: 23 years old, $425K salary 2010 stats: 1-4, 5.49 ERA, 39.1 IP, 39 H, 20 BB, 32 K in 26 games (2 starts) 2011 Outlook: Underdog, More likely to start season in Triple-A rotation

The prospect rankings have been released and Ross is the organization's top pitching prospect, according to Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus. The right-hander was actually on the team's Opening Day roster last season, making the jump from Double-A to the big league bullpen. After a three month stint with the team, he was optioned to Triple-A so he could continue his development as a starter. Ross was shut down after just six starts, however, because of a sprained elbow ligament. He'll be in big league camp again this year hoping to make the team as a starter this time around. With the big league rotation in good shape and plenty of solid candidates for the final spot, it is more likely that Ross heads back to Triple-A where he can gain some valuable experience before returning to Oakland. 

Outman: 26 years old, $425K salary 2009 stats: 4-1, 3.48 ERA, 67.1 IP, 53 H, 25 BB, 53 K in 14 games (12 starts) 2011 Outlook: Dark-horse candidate, More likely to start season in Triple-A rotation

Well on his way to establishing himself as a very good big league starting pitcher during the 2009 season, Outman was shut down with an elbow injury that eventually required Tommy John surgery. Now he'll need to re-establish himself during Spring Training, having not pitched in a game since June 2009. In all likelihood, the A's aren't going to throw him right back into the big leagues but a good month or two in the minors will put him back on the team's radar. 

Final Word

Harden and McCarthy are injury risks but the A's are counting on at least one of these guys staying healthy and solidifying the back of the rotation. If both manage to stay away from injury, I think McCarthy gets the spot in the rotation with Harden getting a shot out of the 'pen. Depth is important, especially for a team that used 10 different starting pitchers last year, so having Cramer, Ross, and Outman as options could end up being a big part of the team's success. 

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