Adrian Beltre is being taken in the top-25 overall this season in fantasy baseball drafts. To me, that's crazy early. I'll explain why Beltre has more in common with Troy Tulowitzki than you think and why that should cause you some pause. In the outfield Lance Berkman is already dealing with a gimpy wheel while Corey Hart might return from his knee issue much sooner than anyone thought he would. Nolan Reimold is another outfielder looking to return from a significant injury. If he's healthy, he could have a significant role with the Orioles. Finally, Denard Span is going back to his old batting stance in the hope that it will enable him to recapture his previous success. On the hill Clay Buchholz says his hamstring is fine, Ted Lilly's shoulder is coming along and Brandon McCarthy says it's all systems go with his health.
Is Adrian Beltre Being Overvalued?
Adrian Beltre is going to miss the first round of the World Baseball Classic with a minor calf issue. This brings up a point that seems to concern only me in the world of fantasy baseball – Beltre's health. People seem to blindly think that Beltre is a top-25 player this season. I think that's just crazy talk. As great as Beltre was last season (.321-36-102) I think we need to pump the breaks a bit here. The reasons follow.
(1) Beltre is 33 years old, not exactly old, but he started his career so young that he's already blown past 2,100 career games. There's a lot of wear and tear on that body.
(2) Beltre has failed to appear in 125 games in two of the past four years. Anyone notice that? To compare Troy Tulowitzki, you know the guy who is ALWAYS injured, has also failed to appear in 125 games twice in the last four years. Everyone thinks Tulo is a huge health risk but he has as many 125 games seasons the past four years as Beltre.
As for his performance...
(3) Though Beltre has hit over .320 in two of the past three years, he's only hit .300 in three of his 14 seasons.
(4) He's still not a patient hitter as he's had a walk rate of less than 6.5 percent the past four years. The last time he was better than 0.50 in the BB/K ratio was also way back in 2008.
(5) Josh Hamilton is lno onger beside him in the lineup. Nelson Cruz could end up facing a suspension for PED use depending on how things are handled with the Florida case. Lance Berkman, who I'll touch on in a second, is also a huge injury risk (he's already hurt). There's not likely to be as much lineup depth this year as in the recent past for the Rangers.
I'm not saying the ship is sinking with Beltre, and he should be very good once again this season. But I do believe there are a few fairly significant reasons why there should be a bit more trepidation for those willing to spend a second round pick on him this season.
Around the Outfield
What a shocker... Lance Berkman is already dealing with a right calf strain. The 37 year old missed a month of action with a calf issue in his other leg, and his knees have been giving him trouble for a while now. I don't doubt that Berkman can still hit, he's just a year removed from batting .301 with 31 homers, but he's been unable to play 140 games in three of the past four years and was only out there for 32 contests last year. He's in a great park to hit, and he's back to his comfort zone in Texas, but even with the ability to slot in as the designated hitter on a daily basis he's still a player that you should add as a depth play and hope, not one that you should be rostering with the intention of playing on a daily basis.
Corey Hart is hoping to return from knee surgery in late April (and yes, I know he is slated to play first base but he also appeared in 53 games in right field last year so I'm including him in this section. Deal with it). He thinks he might be able to return by April 20th. Hart was thought to be out for possibly four months, and given that the surgery was performed on January 25th a late May return was seemingly in the forecast. Turns out he might substantially beat that estimate. Even if he does miss all of April, he'll still have time to get more than 450 at-bats this season, and each of the five times he has recorded that many at-bats he's done deep at least 20 times with 63 RBIs. He doesn't run anymore, you might recall that he stole 46 bases in 2007-08, but he's a very stable option with the wood in his hands. As for Hunter Morris, the presumptive fill in at first base since Mat Gamel is out for the year after re-injuring his knee, continues to see his outlook dim. He's an NL-only option who could carve out a role with a solid start to the season even when Hart returns. Morris killed it last year hitting .303 with 28 homers and 113 RBIs, though that was accomplished at Double-A. That's right, he's never had an at-bat at Triple-A or in the big leagues, so it's fair to guess just how effective he would be even if he was given a shot to play on a regular basis early in the year.
Nolan Reimold is coming back from spinal fusion surgery on his neck, so the team is going to ease him into action this season. If he proves that he's healthy he should see ample time in left field and at DH this season. The Orioles will be playing Nick Markakis and Adam Jones in the outfield on a daily basis with Reimold and Nate McLouth splitting time in left. At designated hitter it looks like Wilson Betemit is set to fill that role. Yeah, like I said, Reimold should have plenty of playing time if he's over his health issues. What type of player is Reimold? A potentially solid one. His homer upside is a bit capped thanks to a 47 percent ground ball rate, but he still has 20 homer pop. He can also steal a base, think low double-digits, and that obviously adds a bit to his value. However his approach isn't exactly elite as he owns a career 0.51 BB/K ratio. Still, he's a solid target in AL-only leagues.
Denard Span says he is trying to rediscover the swing he had in 2009. He's been studying film with the Nats' hitting coach and they noticed that Span's hand position had changed a bit and he had become a bit more upright with his stance as well. He's implemented the changes in an attempt to get back to the guy who hit .311 with a .392 OBP in 2009. It's likely asking too much of Span for anyone to expect that level of production, but given that his career marks are .284 and .357 there's certainly a good chance that he ends up having a pretty big season hitting at the top of the Nationals order.
For your viewing pleasure... Ashley Lawrence.
On the Hill
Clay Buchholz said that his sore hamstring felt good after he threw batting practice Wednesday. After winning 17 games in 2010 he's won just 17 the past two years. The owner of a 3.92 career ERA so you can safely put that 2.33 ERA from 2010 out of your mind – he isn't going to repeat that number. Hate to break it to you as well, but he's just not that strong a fantasy option either with a career 6.66 K/9 mark, a total he last reached in 2008 folks. He needs to stay healthy to give you wins, but we all know how uncertain they can be by this point, don't we?
Ted Lilly isn't throwing every other day like the rest of the Dodgers arms, but he's throwing every three days as he works his way back from shoulder surgery. According to reports he is doing well, and there seems to be a very realistic possibility that he will be ready to take the mound soon, an if he does, there's a chance he will be ready to start the season on the active roster. Lilly is aging, he's 37, and pitchers coming off shoulder work are always a risk, but there's still a lot to like here given that it won't cost you anything to roster him this year. Don't forget that over the past four seasons that Lilly has a 3.54 ERA, a 1.10 WHIP (not a misprint), an a 3.37 K/BB ratio. Numbers like that would play in any league.
Brandon McCarthy reported that he felt fine after throwing batting practice Monday, the first time he's faced big league hitters since he took that ball off his head last season. "Anything you would have thought might have been there wasn't. I was more nervous about where my command was at, where my stuff was at." Obviously this is great to hear. My warning though is this with McCarthy – he's always hurt. In his career he has one season of 170 innings (2011). It's also his only season of 160, 150, 140, 130 or 120 innings. For a guy who began his career in 2005 as a starting pitcher, how has he thrown 115 innings just one time? It doesn't matter how skilled he is if he's never on the hill. It also won't help that he's moving from a solid pitcher's yard in Oakland for the offensive environment in Arizona.
Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive on Sirius 210 and XM 87, Monday through Friday at 5 PM EDT. For more of Ray's analysis you can check out BaseballGuys.com or the BaseballGuys' Twitter account where he tirelessly answer everyone's questions.
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