« ESPN Fantasy Column | Main | Non-Weekend Photo »

March 01, 2007

ESPN Fantasy Column

I’m not going to offer outfield predictions yet because I haven’t a clue right now. It’s not so much a question of predicting quality, though unproven Nelson Cruz and back-from-the-void Sammy Sosa present their difficulties. Instead, it’s figuring out who will play.

The Rangers have eight outfielders on the 40-man roster with Major League experience. They also have this non-roster invite named Sosa. They’ll be fighting for playing time at just four positions (outfield plus DH). 2,800 plate appearances spread amongst nine hitters? Awkward.

We can eliminate two straight off. Freddy Guzman has practically no chance of making the team out of Spring Training. The Rangers didn’t sign Marlon Byrd to a Major League deal because they thought Guzman was The Answer. Likewise, Victor Diaz hasn’t a prayer.

The optimal lineup might involve starting Brad Wilkerson, Kenny Lofton and Sosa in the outfield plus Frank Catalanotto at DH against righties, then Wilkerson, Byrd, and Nelson Cruz plus Jason Botts against lefties. That requires seven outfielders. If Texas carries twelve pitchers, two catchers, and five infielders, it has slots for only six outfielders. Very awkward. Unfortunately for Botts fans, getting from six outfielders to five is painfully simple: if Sosa makes the team, Botts does not.

What else is most likely? Lofton and Catalanotto will probably start every game against righties and sit against lefties. The platoon will limit each of them to about 500 plate appearances. Byrd will replace Lofton against righties, giving him around 150. Guzman may get a large mug of coffee holding about 50 appearances, and perhaps Diaz squeezes in with 30.

The rest is frightfully unknown. Not much on which to base a fantasy strategy, is it?

So, with the probables out of the way, here are my semi-educated guesses that are subject to change based on injuries, Spring Training performance, and the flavor of yogurt I eat for breakfast.

Sosa will become 2007’s version of Phil Nevin. He’ll make the team, bat fifth, and hit just well enough to keep a full-time job for a while. After a lengthy slump, Texas will platoon him and eventually cut bait. Let’s give him 250 plate appearances.

Nelson Cruz will make the team, but, as with much of last year, start only against lefties. He’ll gain more starts after Texas bids Sosa adieu, but not enough to qualify for the batting title. Say 400 appearances.

Poor Jason Botts will finally get a real chance at a regular Major League job by June and achieve about 300 plate appearances. Or, perhaps Texas will again trade for a big bat in July, and Botts will again spend the late summer torching the Iowa rotation.

Wilkerson makes out better than anyone. With no serious platoon split and no obvious successor to left field, he plays frequently and attains 600 PAs.

Making all these predictions on March 1 is the height of foolishness, and in a few months I’ll probably look back on this exercise with embarrassment. But, they do reveal a common thread, which is that Texas may not have a single outfielder worth drafting in average-sized mixed leagues.

Really, who do you want? Lofton has the .300 average and plenty of steals, but he also won’t play every day, hasn’t surpassed the modest sum of 80 runs in three years, and is a negative in homers and RBI. Catalanotto likewise won’t play full-time and undercuts his .297 lifetime batting average with bland career highs of 83 runs, 13 homers and 59 RBI. Cruz and Botts are unproven 26-year-olds. Sosa is an unproven 38-year-old. Wilkerson is coming off shoulder surgery, and I believe he struck out in 142% of his at-bats last season. Most of these players will be pretty good baseball players and help Texas win. They’re just not nearly as likely to be good fantasy players, at least in mixed leagues.

The situation is fluid. I’ll try to explain it as March progresses.

Posted by Lucas at March 1, 2007 10:51 AM