Monday, February 18, 2008

ESPN's preview of the Rays

I'm not nearly as big of a fantasy buff as my counterpart Jules, but I did take some time out to read and break down ESPN's fantasy preview of the Rays and I was surprised by some of the things I read.

On Eduardo Morlan:

In the longer term, however, newly acquired Eduardo Morlan wears the closer-in-waiting mantle. The 21-year-old is one of the top relief prospects in the game and should be drafted in keeper leagues if he makes the team out of spring training. Otherwise, track his progress.

I think this is the first time I've seen ESPN mention Morlan as a closer-in-waiting. I can't wait to see what this guy can do.

On Eric Hinske:

Eric Hinske is a forgotten man after wasting away on the Boston bench the last two seasons, but the 2002 Rookie of the Year is only 30 years old and still has skills worthy of substantial playing time. His plate discipline, batting eye, and flyball rate are all on a three-year upswing, and his solid power is intact. Hinske even has decent speed. His only real skill deficiency is an inability to hit left-handers. He can play all over the diamond, too, and if a Cliff Floyd injury should leave him in a platoon with Gomes at designated hitter, there's big profit potential here considering his low price tag.

When the Rays signed Hinske I said this could turn out to be their best move of the offseason. With the recent success of Ty Wigginton and Carlos Pena, Why not Eric Hinske? A Hisnke/Gomes platoon wouldn't earn any gold gloves in the OF, but sure would smash a lot of home runs.

Stephania Bell on Rocco Baldelli:

Baldelli was plagued last season with not one but two bad hamstrings that kept him on the DL for months, eventually ending his season. Just as he seemed poised to return, he would aggravate one side or the other to the point in which he could no longer run. Unless you're a pitcher, you need to run in baseball. (One could argue National League pitchers do need to run, but the truth is everyone forgives them if they can't.) If you're an outfielder, you need to run on offense and on defense. The Devil Rays took all sorts of steps to solve the hamstring mystery, including retraining Baldelli's running style. There is reason to hope Baldelli will turn a corner with this situation and come back to put together a solid career. Unfortunately, however, based on his 2007 season, there isn't enough evidence to support the notion that he can endure the season without one of the two hamstrings failing. Hope from afar; let someone else take the gamble.

Rocco continues to be the wild card for the Rays. Basically the whole balance of the lineup is on Rocco's legs. If healthy, Rocco can be a .300/20 HR/100 RBI guy which would be a huge lift to any lineup.

Here are some of the not surprising storylines; CC will continue to be a fantasy stud and Evan Longoria is the prospect to watch for 2008. There is also a piece about how David Price could move through the Rays system as fast as Tim Lincecum did for the Giants.

The part of the article I wanted to take a closer look is the choice of Edwin Jackson as the Rays "Top Sleeper."

Edwin Jackson has thrown 272 major league innings that span parts of five different seasons, and to say that he hasn't experienced much success would be an understatement. His career ERA is a lofty 5.64 and his career WHIP is an ugly 1.72. With the exception of his 22-inning debut season back in 2003, Jackson has never even posted single-season numbers in those categories better than 5.45 and 1.67. There are, however, signs of progress. Jackson's primary issue has been poor control, but his walk ratio is on a three-year upswing. Jackson, a sixth-round pick in 2001, was rushed to the majors by the Dodgers, then continued his baptism by fire in the Tampa organization, traditionally one of the worst franchises in the majors at developing pitchers. His numbers have been artificially inflated by low strand rates for four years running, and last year he showed enough progress in his strikeout and walk rates to remain in the rotation for the entire year. Still only 24, Jackson and his live arm have a high ceiling as he slowly learns his craft. The breakout might not yet be imminent -- he's a sleeper only in deep or keeper leagues to start the 2008 season -- but it's coming.

Edwin Jackson is a jekyll and hyde case. Nobody can figure out if he's turning a corner or just had a strech of luck. He had the game of his life on August 11th against the Rangers, throwing a four hit shutout while striking out eight and walking only one. I remember watching that game and it seemed as if Edwin was getting stronger in the later innings, pumping 98 & 99 MPH fastballs in the 8th and 9th. Less than a month later the other Edwin Jackson showed up. In 3.1 innings against the Yankees Jackson gave up 7 runs(6ER) and 5 walks. Even though you never know what you get with E-Jax, he did make some strides post-All Star break. There was a significant difference between Jackson's first 16 starts and his final 15.

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His ERA went down a full 2.75 runs and he his BAA was 38 points lower. He gave up less hits, runs, earned runs, and home runs. However, while his WHIP was a little less after the ASB his K/BB Ratio was actually worse. After watching Edwin these past two years you marvel at his stuff and then shake your head at the lack of control. So while you may see a big dip in ERA, the core problem of control remains if you look at the poor K/BB Ratio. There is another positive sign from Jackson. Like the article mentioned, his walk ratio is on a three-year upswing, so if he can harness some of that wildness he could take a big step foward this year. We'll see how working with the same pitching coach two years in a row also helps.

This is a make or break year for Edwin Jackson. He has the inside track on one of the two remaining rotation spots. But unlike last year or the year before there is a line of pitchers like Jeff Niemann, Mitch Talbot, later on this year David Price and possibly Wade Davis poised to take his spot. Another plus on Jackson's side is he's out of options. The Rays do not want to put Jackson on waivers because he'll be claimed immediately by another team who will take a shot on the once top prospect. If Jackson fails as a starter the Rays will almost certainly try him as a reliever again. The problem with that is Jackson is a notoriously slow starter. His ERA for pitches 1-15 is a whopping 11.76. However, it goes down after that; 15-30 is a 5.61 and 30-45 a 2.16 before jumping up again. It will be interesting to watch which Edwin Jackson shows up this year.