March 2012

2012 Fantasy Baseball Challenge, Pt. 3

Thanks for joining us once again. In parts one and two of our fantasy baseball analysis, we successfully assembled a 12-man roster using only former Tulsa Drillers. Unfortunately, the team was not a winner. But looking beyond our roster, let’s examine six more Drillers alumni who can make solid contributions to our roster or make their first big splash at the big-league level in 2012.

#1: Colby Lewis, SP, Rangers.

With a stout bullpen and offense in Arlington, former Driller Colby Lewis looks poised for a solid 2012 campaign. We can see Lewis being drafted in Round 17 or 18, and he could reasonably take Chacin’s spot as the third pitcher on our roster. (But we’re biased, so get over it.)

The first-round pick in 1999 made 25 starts for the 2001 Drillers, going 10-10 with a 4.50 ERA. While he struggled with control, Lewis posted 162 strikeouts in 156 innings. Baseball America ranked him the 82nd-best prospect prior to the 2002 season. Fast-forward six years, and after bouncing around three MLB organizations, Colby Lewis signed a two-year agreement with Japan’s Hiroshima Carp in 2008.

There, he would hit his stride, posting a 26-17 record with a sub-3.00 ERA in 54 total starts. Remarkably, control issues disappeared as Lewis walked a minuscule 46 batters in 254.1 innings, striking out 369. Those mind-boggling numbers in Japan motivated the Rangers to gamble on Lewis with a two-year deal, including an option for 2012.

Lewis made good on the gamble with two years of 200+ innings and 32 starts. Bad luck hit Lewis in 2011 as his ERA ballooned to 4.40, but his peripherals again indicated solid control and a good walk-to-strikeout ratio. We can do a lot worse in Round 18.

Our Guess: 14-11, 3.91 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 182 K.

#2: Drew Pomeranz, SP, Rockies.

Fun fact: Brothers Stu and Drew Pomeranz pitched for the Drillers in consecutive years – Stu pitched out of the bullpen in 2010 and Drew made two starts in 2011. We should ask @BarryLewisTW how many other teams can say that.

(uncomfortable pause) Moving on…

Drew Pomeranz, the key prospect in the deadline swap that sent Ubaldo Jimenez to Cleveland, made one start before hitting the DL with an emergency appendectomy. He made one more start for Tulsa in September before advancing to Colorado. He dazzled with 10 scoreless innings for Tulsa, allowing two hits while striking out seven. In Colorado, Pomeranz struggled to a 5.40 ERA but showed promise with 13 strikeouts compared to only five walks in 18.1 innings.

Remove one bad start in Houston and we see a much different line: 2-0, 2.75 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 4 BB, 10 K. We’re nitpicking here, but this shows the 23-year-old left-hander will have growing pains amid flashes of brilliance. Also, buyer beware; Pomeranz has only pitched 119.1 innings in his young professional career. We think he’s the favorite to land in the middle of their 2012 rotation, but that role likely comes with an innings limit – a safe guess is about 150 innings.

Pomeranz’s walks-per-nine rate has dropped from college to the minors and again in the majors. And while his control and strikeout power provide some upside, we’re going to preach patience with him this season. Pomeranz is a good play in weak match-ups, but be ready to stream him when his cold streaks inevitably come.

Our Guess: 8-10, 4.51 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 118 K.

#3: Travis Hafner, DH, Indians.

Believe it or not, “Pronk” began his career in Texas and played for the Drillers in 2001. Smashing 20 home runs with 24 doubles and 74 runs batted in, Travis Hafner appeared a legitimate power threat at first base. Equally impressive was  Hafner’s plate discipline as he posted a .396 on-base percentage. After making his Rangers debut in 2002, he was traded to the Cleveland Indians in a four-player deal where he excelled at first base and DH.

In 2011, however, Hafner hit the DL twice, making five trips in the last four seasons. He still managed double-digit home runs and modest run production, but the risk of Hafner being a part-time player remains high. At the very least, Hafner is a decent play during a hot streak; dump him when, not if, he gets hurt.

Our Guess: 39 R, 13 HR, 45 RBI, .276 AVG.

#4: Juan Nicasio, SP, Rockies.

There’s a lot of upside with Nicasio heading into 2012, but we’re still unsure how to gauge his health after his freak injury last season. Reports out of Spring Training mention Nicasio hitting 97 mph with his fastball (a plus pitch that sat at 94-95 mph in Tulsa) and showing “full recovery.” While we hope Nicasio excels in the Rockies rotation, we think it’s best to tread lightly.

The Drillers’ 2011 Opening Day starter dominated in Tulsa. Across nine starts, he sported a 5-1 record with a 2.22 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 56.2 innings; he quickly earned a call-up to the Rockies on May 28.

In June, he battled with inconsistency and his ERA ballooned to 5.08. Then, on August 5, a line drive from Washington’s Ian Desmond struck Nicasio in the face, causing him to collapse on the mound. The episode brought a skull fracture and a C-1 vertebrae (neck) fracture, thus ending his 2011 season. Reports out of spring training are positive, and Rockies manager Jim Tracy believes what he’s seeing is “a miracle.”

Nicasio has approached 180 IP only once – his breakout 2010 campaign in Modesto. So a 160-inning limit makes sense regardless of the injury. By comparison, he has more minor-league seasoning than Drew Pomeranz, but Nicasio’s poise and “stuff” are more major league-ready, leading us to believe he’ll quietly have the better year.

Our Guess:  9-6, 3.98 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 139 K.

#5: Charlie Blackmon, OF, Rockies.

Charlie Blackmon made his Drillers debut in 2010, one that inspired his own cheer (“Charlie” instead of “Charge”). The 2008 second-round pick raked in 86 games with 100 hits, 11 home runs, 53 runs, and 55 driven in. He also swiped 19 bases, showing athleticism and a gritty playing style.

Blackmon debuted with the Rockies in June with Dexter Fowler on the disabled list; after a string of multi-hit games and a stolen base in five straight, he finished with a modest .255 in 27 games before a fractured left foot ended his season.

Blackmon will likely make the team as a fourth outfielder in 2012 while guys like Tim Wheeler wait patiently at Colorado Springs. Unfortunately, a healthy Carlos Gonzalez, Fowler, and Michael Cuddyer will severely limit his at-bats. He may have to sit unless injuries occur. Or, he can play right field on occasion whenever plays first or third base.

Our Guess:  21 R, 4 HR, 13 RBI, 7 SB, .280 AVG.

#6: Ian Stewart, 3B, Cubs.

The Rockies traded Stewart and RHP Casey Weathers, two former first-round picks, to the Cubs for D.J. Lemahieu and Tyler Colvin this off-season. Weathers has a shot at making the Cubs’ bullpen and Stewart is the favorite at third base.

Stewart played 120 games at Tulsa’s hot corner in 2006 and hit .268 with only 10 home runs. But 41 doubles, seven triples, and 71 runs batted in suggest he may have simply been unlucky. He posted a career-best 25 home runs with Colorado in 2009, but his performance took a dive ever since, culminating in an abysmal 2011 (.156, 0 HR, 6 RBI) and a demotion to Triple-A.

As Stewart gets a fresh start in Chicago, can we expect much in a bounce-back season?  A low contact rate and a career 27.9% strikeout rate in parts of five seasons suggest we should makee conservative projections. But perhaps the change of scenery will help Stewart rediscover the power stroke that tantalized scouts in his days as a prospect. Cubs hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo is talented, but this will challenge him.

Stewart makes a decent play for your corner infield slot (CI) in NL-Only leagues, but we’re still not convinced Stewart is a sleeper until we see him get back on track. A full, healthy season with the Cubs would be a good start. We have faith in you, Stewie.

Our Guess: 43 R, 15 HR, 57 RBI, 4 SB, .234 AVG.

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That’s it for the 2012 Tulsa Drillers draft analysis. Did we forget anyone? Which former Drillers do you think will make a significant impact in 2012? Do you think you can draft a better team than we did? Let us know – hit us up on Facebook or Twitter.

2012 Fantasy Baseball Challenge, Pt. 2

Welcome to part two of our 2012 fantasy baseball challenge. If you recall, we posed the question to our fans: Can we build a competitive fantasy baseball team composed entirely of former Tulsa Drillers players? We continue our analysis here as we list the final six members of our roster.

DID YOU KNOW: Two of our first six players are former first-round draft picks (Troy Tulowitzki, 2007; Mark Teixeira, 2001).

First six picks: SS T. Tulowitzki; 1B M. Teixiera; OF M. Holliday; P C.J. Wilson; 3B M. Young; P U. Jimenez.

And remember, we’re picking the best options from former Drillers still currently active at the MLB level. We mentioned “murky waters ahead” and these next six prove our point. Here we go:


#7, Round 16: Carlos Pena, 1B/DH, Rays.

Peña was a powerhouse for Tulsa in 2000, smacking 28 home runs with 105 RBIs and 117 runs scored, drawing national attention. Baseball America named him the 11th-overall prospect in 2001 and the next year he was traded to Oakland. (Fun fact: Peña is the only former  Driller depicted in the 2011 film Moneyball.)

After bouncing around the majors, Peña found a home with the 2007 Rays. 46 home runs, 121 runs batted in, and a staggering 1.037 OPS set franchise records in the process and Peña was named 2007’s AL Comeback Player of the Year. His average has dropped dramatically since, but his power remains. A return to Tampa in 2012 means 450+ at-bats at 1B, which will provide good power in later rounds of our draft at the expense of batting average.

Our Guess: 73 R, 28 HR, 86 RBI, 2 SB, .231 AVG.

#8, Round 19: Jhoulys Chacin, SP, Rockies.

Jhoulys Chacin made 18 starts for Tulsa in 2009, going 8-6 with a 3.14 ERA and 86 strikeouts before a trip to Triple-A Colorado Springs. He earned a #46 ranking in Baseball America’s Top-100 Prospects list.

Chacin then put together two solid seasons in Colorado, managing a mid-3 ERA with 288 total strikeouts in 331.1 innings. By comparison, he looked more hittable last year; His terrifying slider seemed less terrifying, and his strikeouts-per-nine-innings rate dipped below 7. But we predict a breakthrough is on the horizon for the 24-year-old.

Refining and using a changeup more might help leverage his slider as a strikeout pitch once again. His potential as a 200-inning workhorse is there, and we think he has yet to show his front-of-the-rotation talents to their fullest extent. The Rockies’ recent acquisition of Jeremy Guthrie pushes Chacin back down to the #2 spot in the rotation, taking some of the burden off his shoulders as he continues to refine his craft. Round-19 value for Chacin means he is a diamond in the rough for our roster.

Our “Bold” Guess: 12-11, 3.58 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 177 K.

#9, Round 21: Dexter Fowler, OF, Rockies.

In 2008, Dexter Fowler amassed 141 hits in 108 total games for Tulsa. A pure hitter, he scored 94 times, stole 20 bases, and dominated with a .335 average. Fowler looked the part of the center fielder the Rockies craved atop their now-potent lineup and, in some ways, still shows that talent.

Fowler sported a .363 on-base percentage in 2011 but only hit .266, looking timid at times in stolen base opportunities. We think that will change in 2012 as he takes the lead-off rolein the Rockies lineup. With the addition of Marco Scutaro, the first five hitters appear to be Fowler, Scutaro, Tulowitzki, Gonzalez, and Cuddyer – i.e. plenty of opportunities for Fowler to score. Simply put, he can get on base, hit and run well, and score plenty of runs for us in a very late draft round. With some upside attached, he’s a bargain.

Our Guess: 96 R, 8 HR, 56 RBI, 34 SB, .276 AVG.

#10, last round: Chris Iannetta, C, Angels. **Sleeper Pick: Wilin Rosario, C, Rockies.

As of February 2012, the only former Driller with a full-time catching gig is Chris Iannetta. He played a total 63 games for Tulsa in late 2005 and early 2006, swatting 13 home runs, driving in 37 runs, and scoring 45. He hit a combined .296 in Tulsa but has only managed to hit .235 in his major league career.

In 2011, he hit .238 and a career-worst .172 on the road; he only hit 14 home runs and drove in 55 runs in a career-high 112 games. Iannetta now appears in a potent lineup headlined by Albert Pujols, but we have modest expectations for the 28-year-old in 2012.

Our Guess:  42 R, 14 HR, 53 RBI, 5 SB, .236 AVG.

The more intriguing option is recent alumnus, 23-year-old Wilin Rosario. He set career highs in his second season with Tulsa – 101 hits, 21 home runs, and 52 runs scored in 102 games – but his plate discipline regressed, resulting in a .249 clip and career-low .284 on-base percentage. His struggles at the plate continued in a September call-up. Rosario hit .204 with three HR in 16 games, striking out 20 times in 54 at-bats.

Rosario might end up being the back-up to veteran Ramon Hernandez at the MLB level, but it’s anyone’s guess how much playing time that situation will allow. As an injury replacement or a young catcher-in-transition, the Rockies may give Rosario a lot of rope, which we think means a lot of power, a lot of strikeouts, and a low average. Think J.P. Arencibia of the Blue Jays, circa 2011. But don’t be surprised if Rosario sees time in Triple-A Colorado Springs to address those strikeout issues we saw at the end of last season. Pay attention and be ready to pick him up on free agency when he gets hot.

#11, last round: Seth Smith, OF, Athletics.

Seth Smith played all over the outfield for Tulsa in 2006, hitting .294 with strong power numbers – 46 doubles, 15 home runs, and 71 runs batted in. In three seasons with the Rockies, however, he failed to improve on them and eclipse the 20-HR plateau. In 2011, Smith again faltered against left-handed pitching and hit only .248 on the road for Colorado. The team felt it was time to cut ties with the former first-rounder, and he was traded to Oakland this off-season in exchange for two pitchers.

Unfortunately, we’ve probably seen the best of Smith’s playing abilities by now. And if history serves us correctly, the 29-year-old is due for a big regression without Coors Field to pad his stat line. Just think of Matt Holliday in Oakland circa 2009, when he looked mortal. The 29-year-old Smith looks primed for a similar drop-off, meaning we should expect less, not the potential for more.

Our Guess:  39 R, 12 HR, 46 RBI, 6 SB, .254 AVG.

#12, last round: Eric Young Jr., 2B, Rockies.

As of March 2012, no former Driller has a starting 2B job. And with the Rockies’ acquisition of Marco Scutaro, it seems they are content with a veteran as utilitymen like Eric Young Jr. continue to develop.

In 2008, second baseman Eric Young Jr. scored 74 runs and stole 46 bases in 105 games, again showing the near-elite speed that has wowed scouts. He was only successful in 74% of his stolen base attempts in ’08. By 2011, however, his success rate shot up to 90%, going a combined 44-for-49 in stolen base attempts. Young might still put up 25-SB speed in a part-time role with the Rockies in ’12 but the playing time will be sparse.

Our Guess: It’s too early to tell. The Mets reportedly have an interest in Young, but the Rockies currently have EY2 as a bench player alongside Chris Nelson and Jonathan Herrera. Until we see guaranteed playing time, it is dire straits for our fantasy team.

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So let’s take a quick look at our complete Tulsa Drillers lineup:

C – Chris Iannetta/Wilin Rosario

1B – Mark Teixeira

2B – Eric Young, Jr.

3B – Michael Young

SS – Troy Tulowitzki

OF – Matt Holliday, Dexter Fowler, Seth Smith

DH – Carlos Pena

SP – C.J. Wilson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Jhoulys Chacin

With serious questions at catcher, second base and the outfield, there’s a sufficient lack of production in our lineup. Plus, no former Drillers appear in the closer role with any major league team, giving us goose-egg in the saves category. This team is not a winner, but it’s still cool to see Drillers alumni contribute at the major-league level with some of them among the top options at their positions.

In part three of our analysis, we will examine a short list of former Drillers (veterans and rookies) who can make solid contributions to our roster in 2012. These won’t be players you pick and stash on your bench from Day One. Rather, these are the former Drillers who will appear on your league’s waiver wire and provide a mid- or late-season stat boost. Stay tuned.