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March 13, 2005

ESPN Column

Soriano Struggles, Cordero Improves
Last week, I wrote the following about ALFONSO SORIANO and his troubled hamstring tendon: “Once he shows he’s ready, erase your worries about him.? He is decidedly, unequivocally not ready. Soriano returned to action last week but was zero-for-seventeen so far until hitting a homer as I typed this report. Spring stats are fundamentally meaningless, but in this case, Soriano’s line is cause for concern. He is also playing very tentatively in the field. Ranger doctors say he’s physically healthy; a workout-free offseason and fear of reinjury are the source of his troubles. Perhaps one solid hit or quality defensive play will snap him out of his funk. Perhaps not. For fantasy owners, his situation has introduced substantial risk into what should be an easy decision.

First-round decisions should be no-brainers. It is not the round to choose the infirm, the reaches, the question marks. I do think Soriano will be fine and put forth a fine fantasy season. However, I’m not nearly as certain of this as I am about Pujols, Beltran, Guerrero, etc.. Were I drafting today, I’d drop him several places on my cheat sheet. Doing so effectively means giving him up to another owner who will take that risk. If you’re drafting this week, keep an eye on his status every day for signs of improvement. The overarching lesson is not to participate in a draft that occurs this early. Meanwhile, closer FRANCISCO CORDERO will throw in a simulated game Monday. Unless bad news comes from this event, don’t downgrade him.

2005 PROJECTIONS: Position: 3B. Spot in Batting Order: Probably #3. Plate Appearances: 675. Batting Average: .295. Runs: 100. Homers: 32. RBI: 100. Steals: 2. On-base Percentage: .355. Slugging Percentage: .525. Upside: Moderate. Blalock just turned 24 and has plenty of time to grow. Downside: Low. As steady a player as they come. Injury history: After platooning in 2003, he wore down as a full-time player in ’04. Texas may try to rest him a few more games.

In 2004, Blalock cured his biggest flaw from the previous year, inability to hit lefties. Blalock, like many Rangers, has a spotty road record with plenty of power (16 of his 32 homers) but only a .239 average. As mentioned above, I think he has more upside than downside. Third base has amazing depth this year, and Blalock is mixed in with a bunch of guys who should hit in the .280-.300 range with 30+ homers and 100 runs scored and driven in: Rolen, Huff, Chavez, Ramirez, and Beltre (who I expect to cool off from last year), for example. Any of them will suit you fine. Rolen I rank higher than the others, but otherwise don’t agonize over slight differences between these guys. Just grab one and focus your attention elsewhere.

2005 PROJECTIONS: Position: SS. Spot in Batting Order: Probably #2. Plate Appearances: 700. Batting Average: .310. Runs: 105. Homers: 18. RBI: 85. Steals: 12. On-base Percentage: .345. Slugging Percentage: .465. Upside: Low. Hard to see him improving on last year’s line of .313-114-22-99-12. Will have some streaky months but end up in good shape. Downside: Low. Steady like Blalock. Injury history: None. Ridiculously healthy.

For two years running, I’ve predicted Young to fall back slightly from his previous year’s statistics. Each time, he’s improved. I still expect him to decline just slightly, but at this point he could decline a fair amount and still rank among the best fantasy shortstops. If you’re looking for steals from a shortstop, you need to look elsewhere. Otherwise, except for Miguel Tejada, Young should rank among the top three in every other category. I place him fourth behind Tejada, Jeter and Renteria. Garciaparra obviously could surpass Young but has a difficult injury history.

Other Notes
GARY MATTHEWS continues to play very well, putting ever more pressure on Buck Showalter to give him regular time in place of LAYNCE NIX. Potential starter JUAN DOMINGUEZ has already been sent to AAA. With CHAN HO PARK pitching to “expectations? and PEDRO ASTACIO’s lack of velocity, both CHRIS YOUNG and RICARDO RODRIGUEZ might make the rotation. Watch, but don’t pick, in AL-only leagues.

Posted by Lucas at March 13, 2005 01:30 AM