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.

———————————-

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.

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