Continuing on with the AL West…
Los Angeles Angels:
Jordan Walden strikes out 100 batters – Twice a top 81 prospect (2008: 81, 2007: 70), Walden failed as a starter, but looks like he could become the next great middle reliever for the Angels. It was a tiny sample, but he dominated in his 15-inning stint out of the pen last year striking out 23 batters. The Angels aren’t afraid to give a reliever they like 70+ innings and Walden’s recent history as a starter could lead to some 2-inning relief stints. Even if your league doesn’t use holds, Walden is a nice $1-2 addition to the back end of your AL-Only staff if only for the strikeout help.
Howie Kendrick hits .347 – Seems like predictions of a Kendrick batting title have been floating around for years. Now a 6th-year big leaguer, he finally played his first full season last year (injuries shortened most of the others), but hit an underwhelming .279 in 616 at-bats. He still has the skills to rack up hits and this could be the year he finally delivers on the batting average promise of his prospect days. Some seem to believe second base is thin this year, but it’s really not so don’t reach for Kendrick even if you think he could explode for this big season. I think it is better to use the 2B depth to fill in your middle (2B/SS) position since shortstop is such a wasteland.
Coco Crisp stays healthy and goes 20-50 – Like the Carlos Quentin prediction, this one is more of a health one than anything else. Crisp has never played more than 145 games in a season, but he will need to this year if he’s to meet this 20 home run/50 stolen base projection. He is seemingly always nicked or bruised with something or other. The skills are there, as evidenced by his excellent 75-game sample last year (8 HR, 32 SB), but he needs to find a way to play 150+ games.
Gio Gonzalez takes another step forward with the control and tops his ’10 ERA – The easy play is to predict an ERA regression for Gonzalez as his control, though improved, is still high at 4.1 BB/9. But what if he is just getting started? What if he regains his K/IP stuff from 2008 and 2009 while improving that 4.1 walk rate and takes the ERA even lower? I feel like I have been touting Gonzalez forever, but he will be just 25 this year and 2010 was just his first full season. He is a star in the making and it could come as soon as 2011.
Michael Pineda throws 175 innings of 3.50 ERA – I have preached time and time again that seasons like Tommy Hanson’s rookie year in 2009 (128 IP, 2.89 ERA, 1.18 WHIP) are the exception and not the rule with freshmen pitchers, even the best prospects. I still firmly believe that, but Pineda could be another exception. He is going to secure a rotation spot out of camp and the 22-year old will combine major league-ready stuff with a friendly home ballpark and quality supporting defense. He will eventually become a legitimate #2 behind Felix Hernandez, but he’s a good spec play in keeper leagues right away because he could easily hit the ground running with the factors working in his favor. The 175-inning count would only be 35 more than last year across AA and AAA so the Mariners don’t have to limit him too much.
Erik Bedard throws 180 innings – The skill isn’t in question so even projecting a sub-3.00 ERA with 180+ Ks wouldn’t be terribly bold. It’s all about keeping Bedard healthy and getting him on the mound every fifth day. He’s a late round upside play that can pay massive dividends just by staying healthy. Easier said than done, but I think Seattle finally gets some returns from that awful trade with Baltimore that brought Bedard to the Pacific Northwest.
Nelson Cruz hits 44 home runs and steals 31 bases – From a pure 5-tool skills standpoint, Cruz is one of the best players in all of baseball. I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves for that, though, because in his two big seasons he has only played 128 and 108 games, respectively. If he can make it 150+ games, he can have an all-time fantasy baseball season.
Elvis Andrus hits .324 and steals 56 bases – Too often the fantasy community pigeonholes players and closes off the possibility of growth within their profile after one bad season. I think Andrus might be falling into that category a little bit already (he’s 22!!!). He regressed some in his sophomore season, there is no doubt about it. He hit for less average, had a disgustingly bad .301 SLUGGING PERCENTAGE and was only 32-for-47 (68%, 72% is the break-even point for SBs) on the basepaths. So now he’s a no-hit slick fielding shortstop with some speed for the rest of his career? After his rookie season, he was the next big thing, but a slight regression as a 21-year old now has many down on him. There is often too much overreaction to one season whether positive or negative. Stepping off of my soapbox, Andrus is a talented ballplayer who has legitimate growth potential in his profile. And we could see a large dose of it in 2011.
Next up: NL East