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2009 RotoRob MLB Draft Kit: Key Pre-Season Questions

April 2, 2009 | By Tim McLeod | comment on this post
Will Arizona’s offense improve with Felipe Lopez as the new lead-off hitter? (The Associated Press)

Sorry for the silence with the 2009 RotoRob MLB Draft Kit in the past couple of days. The real world has been interfering with the Fantasy world. Damn you, real world! Damn you to hell!

Each and every year we enter the new season with question marks. Who does what and where, and how it implicates those all important decisions relating to our fantasy squads. The following series of questions and answers looks at some of the rather interesting stories that can shape your fantasy squad for the upcoming 2009 campaign.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Is Felipe Lopez going to be a difference maker at the top of the order?

Why not? He managed a great run down the stretch in 2008 and even an average season makes him a great asset relative to where he’s going in most drafts. Having signed a one-year deal with the Diamondbacks in the offseason, Lopez has a lot to prove this season in search of a long-term deal. He qualifies at every position other than first base and catcher and makes a great super sub on anyone’s fantasy team heading into 2009.

Atlanta Braves

Can Kenshin Kawakami make a successful transition to the Braves’ rotation?

I’m going to let my NPB bias kick in a bit here, as the news of Jordan Schafer breaking camp as the Braves’ starting centrefielder seems to be at least as intriguing a storyline. Kawakami has enjoyed a solid career in Japan and should be more than an adequate starter in the middle of the Atlanta rotation. My primary concern will be the switch from the six- to five-man rotation. The Braves will be monitoring those innings pitched very carefully heading into the dog days of summer. This past offseason Atlanta hit the free-agent market and signed Derek Lowe, traded for Javier Vazquez, and made its first foray into the Asian market to rebuild its starting rotation. This is a great example of how to successfully rebuild on the fly!

Baltimore Orioles

How long does it take Chris Ray to reclaim the closer’s job?

Looking at the spring results to date, I’d say this is going to be a sooner rather than later scenario. Ray is throwing with good velocity and in 11 1/3 IP has nine strikeouts and has allowed no earned runs this spring. George Sherrill, the incumbent, has allowed 15 hits in 6 1/3 IP with four earned runs. This looks like it could be a situation reminiscent of last spring when the Jays eased B.J. Ryan back into the closer role in Toronto. Ray might not be the everyday or even go on back-to-back days at first, but don’t anticipate seeing Sherrill closing full time much past the end of April.

Boston Red Sox

Do the Sox get a discount now that they only need one translator for a good chunk of their pitching staff?

The rotation is anchored by Dice-K, with both Hideki Okajima and Takashi Saito providing strong support for closer Jonathan Papelbon. A very solid spring by Junichi Tazawa leads me to believe that the Red Sox foray into the Asian market has been and will continue to be a successful one.

Chicago Cubs

Is Milton Bradley actually going to manage to get in 500 at bats?

Sorry, Cub fans, but with his history (he’s only reached that level once in his career), the odds would be very low on this one. I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand the love affair some have with Bradley. Sure, he hits for average and takes a walk, but come on folks, he has broken the 20-homer level a grand total of once, hit his career high of 77 RBI in 2008 and is no longer a threat on the base paths. Reed Johnson should get more than his fair share of opportunities this year with both Bradley and Kosuke Fukudome patrolling the outfield in 2009.

Chicago White Sox

Is Carlos Quentin’s wrist fully healed?

Currently, Quentin is sporting a .270 BA with two homers and 14 RBI in Spring Training. Of course, there is reason for concern as wrist injuries can be slow to heal. Just ask me — I’ve been on the DL since December 2007. The spring results have been very positive to date and with Quentin currently going late third to early fourth round, there is the potential for a solid bargain. Is there really that much of a difference between the potential upside for Josh Hamilton, a consensus Top 15 pick in fantasy leagues and a healthy Carlos Quentin?

Cincinnati Reds

Does Joey Votto make that next big step up the ladder at first base?

As evidenced by my desire to own him in most of my fantasy leagues in 2009, I’m betting he does. That great stretch run by Votto in 2008 has set the bar very high, but he has both the tools and skills to deliver. Is 30-100 with 10 thefts in the cards in 2009 for the slugging Canuck? This is certainly a distinct possibility, and it would be enough to elevate Votto into the top tier at first base.

Cleveland Indians

Can Kerry Wood stay healthy long enough to get 30 saves?

I’m betting a big no on this one. Wood is coming off his most successful season since that great 2003 campaign and still managed to miss enough opportunities for Carlos Marmol to contribute seven saves. For those taking the Kerry Wood plunge in 2009, make sure to have Jensen Lewis very close at hand.

Colorado Rockies

Where do the Rockies find the playing time for Ian Stewart in 2009?

Last year, Stewart delivered 10 homers and 41 ribbies in only 266 at bats. This spring, he has managed four homers and is tearing the cover off the ball. He has played at second base, third base, and in the outfield this spring, with the bulk of his early playing time this season likely to be in the outfield. Clint Hurdle has to find playing time for Stewart, doesn’t he?

Detroit Tigers

Can Justin Verlander get over that horribly inconsistent 2008?

Last year, he walked more batters, allowed more hits, and saw his strikeout rate fall. None of this was a good sign for the 26-year-old righty. Can he rebound in 2009? Of course, but the focus will have to be there and so far this spring he’s brought his “A” game. Verlander has posted a solid 2.30 ERA in 27 1/3 IP and has held the opposition to a scant .156 BA, and is more than deserving of being named the Opening Day starter. He has slid into the mid-rounds in most drafts, making him a solid buy with great upside potential.

Florida Marlins

Can Cameron Maybin live up to the hype after that short stint at the end of 2008?

Maybin is coming off a solid year at Double-A Carolina and followed that up by batting .500 in 32 at bats for the Marlins in September. Is he ready to be an everyday player? Yes. Is he going to live up to expectations? Probably not. The speed is very real, but at the tender age of 22, the power and batting average could be a struggle. Temper those expectations and hop on for the long-term ride, it has the potential to be a good one!

Houston Astros

Is a rotation anchored (or is that weighted down) by Mike Hampton and Brian Moehler going to get it done in 2009?

You know it’s going to be a long season for Astro fans when Hampton gets bumped up in the rotation and is scheduled to start the second game of the season. This could be the ugliest rotation in the game today and one certainly has to feel for Carlos Lee, Lance Berkman, and Roy Oswalt.

Kansas City Royals

Can Mike Aviles sustain that great second half of 2008?

The batting average is probably a reach, but the power is very real. Last year his combined totals in both Triple-A and with the Royals were a very solid 20 homers and 93 RBI. Aviles also qualifies at both second and shortstop for 2009, a nice bonus. If you’re looking for a quality middle infield in Rounds 11 to 12 in your fantasy drafts, Aviles could be very well be your man.

Los Angeles Angels

Is Kendrys Morales the answer at first base?

With the off-season acquisition of Bobby Abreu, the Halos don’t really need all that much from Morales in the first place. Morales certainly has big shoes to fill with the departure of Mark Teixeira, but even 15 to 20 homers with a steady .280 BA and decent defence, will more than get the job done.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Now that the honeymoon’s over, what version of Manny Ramirez do we see gracing the outfield for the Dodgers in 2009?

No, Manny didn’t get that four-year deal he was searching for in the offseason. Did anyone other than Ramirez and Scott Boras even believe that was an option? After the trade from the Red Sox last summer, Manny did what Manny does best, and tore the cover off the ball for the Dodgers. The love affair will continue into 2009 as the Dodgers look to return to the World Series for the first time since 1988.

Milwaukee Brewers

Is there one more year for Hell’s Bells to toil?

Trevor Hoffman, signed in the offseason as a stop gap measure for the Brewers, is heading into the season with a strained oblique and probably will miss the first several weeks of the season. Not that I’m overly enamoured with Hoffman, but when the other current options are Carlos Villanueva and Seth McClung, the Brewers better pray Hoffman is a quick healer. For some strange reason, this situation reminds me of the Eric Gagne signing from a couple years back. Is this a case of déjà vu all over again for the Brew Crew?

Minnesota Twins

Who gets the playing time in a crowded Twins’ outfield?

Jason Kubel, Denard Span, Carlos Gomez, Delmon Young, and Michael Cuddyer are all currently vying to fill the three slots in the Twins outfield and DH spot for 2009. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire is claiming that there will be plenty of at bats for all this season. However, there could be massive levels of frustration early on until the situation works itself out (either through performance or injury) or a trade is made. The revolving door strategy may work for the real game, but is certainly not favoured from a Fantasy perspective.

New York Mets

Who is Daniel Murphy and why is he slated to bat in the two hole in 2009?

The 394th overall selection in the 2006 amateur entry draft has made a rather rapid ascent through the Mets’ minor league system. The combination of great contact rates with average power and speed has been rewarded by Murphy being named the starting left fielder. He is undoubtedly going to score some runs batting second for the Mets and, overall, could be a nice grab in deeper leagues filling that last outfield slot.

New York Yankees

Can the Yankees investment in both A.J. Burnett and C.C. Sabathia vault them back into the playoff picture?

Sorry, Yankee fans, but a lot more is needed than the success of those two major off-season acquisitions. Maybe some semblance of health from both Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui? Derek Jeter getting the homers and stolen bases up over 11? Robinson Cano rebounding to those 2007 levels of production? Despite spending more on their pitching than the GNP of some Central American countries, the Yankees will have their hands full keeping up to both the Red Sox and Rays in 2009.

Oakland Athletics

Will Matt Holliday be on the roster come July 31?

It is fair to assume that Holliday won’t be returning to the Athletics in 2010. The soon-to-be free agent is going to command the type of package that will be far in excess of the frugal Athletics’ fiscal planning. Although A’s owner Lewis Wolff has publicly stated that he’d rather keep Holliday, the former Rockie slugger is assured of being a very hot topic of discussion as the trade deadlines near this summer.

Philadelphia Phillies

Can Jimmy Rollins rediscover his power stroke in 2009?

Now that it looks like Chase Utley is on schedule to be manning second base heading into the season, the next big question for the defending World Series Champs would be whether Rollins can find his thunder again. After seeing solid power progression in 2006 and 2007, those 11 HR in 2008 were very disappointing to say the least. Anything short of 20 homers will be seen as a disappointment for Rollins in the upcoming season.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Does Adam LaRoche finally manage to show up before the beginning of June?

Every year we see LaRoche leave the gate and stumble through the first couple months of the season only to end up with those 25 bombs and 75 RBI. If Spring Training is any indicator, that .241 BA and 18-3 strikeout –to-walk ratio suggests 2009 will be more of the same. Draft him late, find a capable substitute for the first six-to-eight weeks of the season, and enjoy the summer.

San Diego Padres

Is Heath Bell the answer at closer and will the anaemic Padre offence give him any save chances?

The song is the same, we just have a different face ringing the Bell for the Padres in 2009. The fact that the San Diego offense is nothing short of terrible should have little bearing, assuming of course the team can eke out at least 50 wins in 2009. Over the years many a fine closer has emerged from some of the worst teams in the game, and the Padres certainly qualify in that department. I mean think about it: you know that on the rare occasion when the Pads win, it will be a close game, meaning there will likely be a save chance.

San Francisco Giants

Will the Giants’ offense finally provide some support for Matt Cain?

One of these years, Cain will lower the free passes and get the run support needed to make the jump into double-digit wins. The 4.5 runs of support he received in 2008 is simply not enough. Hopefully an improved offense and some capable tutoring by the “Big Unit” will lead to better results in the win category in 2009. In an interesting little tidbit, did you know that Cain, who now has 650 inning pitched at the big league level, is four months younger than Tim Lincecum?

Seattle Mariners

Does Erik Bedard make it through June before going under the knife?

So far, so good. The Mariners are obviously going to be very careful and have Bedard on a strict pitch count, but I’m thinking that the extra incentive of free agency in 2010 is a good motivator for the 30-year-old southpaw. I’m betting against the odds and thinking that 25 starts is in order for 2009 for the frail southpaw.

St. Louis Cardinals

Is Ryan Ludwick for real?

A solid yes on this one. Finally Ludwick managed to maintain some semblance of health, and memories of the prospect coming up through the Athletics’ system were rekindled. Way back in 2001, Ludwick managed, at the tender age of 22, a very solid 25-homer, 96-RBI season for Double-A Midland. Expect some regression from that .299 BA, but another 30-100 season is a distinct possibility. The potential was always there, it was just derailed thanks to Ludwick’s incessant health issues.

Tampa Bay Rays

Can Carl Crawford rebound and regain his customary first round draft status?

The 2008 season was a very frustrating one for Crawford owners as the torn tendon band in his right hand cost him six weeks on the DL. As a result, Crawford posted the poorest numbers of his career. How can a player with that skill set have peaked in his mid 20s? He should be entering his prime power years and, if healthy, a bounce back is definitely on its way.

Texas Rangers

Is Elvis in the building?

Yes, he’s here, and with the shifting of Michael Young to third base this spring, Elvis Andrus is ready to ascend the mantle as starting shortstop for the Rangers. The odds of the 20-year-old being overmatched in his first go-round are pretty good, but if the glove holds up, the Rangers will stick it out with Andrus in 2009. The speed is very real, so if he can find a way to get to first base he could provide some steals out of the middle infield slot for your fantasy squad in 2009.

Toronto Blue Jays

Can a rotation missing A.J. Burnett, Dustin McGowan, and Shaun Marcum be competitive in 2009?

Surprisingly, I have to say the Jays’ rotation has at least possibilities. Jesse Litsch and David Purcey both have the potential to be adequate and Roy Halladay is without a doubt one of the best pitchers in the game. Ricky Romero, and either Brad Mills or Scott Richmond will round out the rotation. This starting five is certainly not going to vault the Jays into contention in a very tough AL East, but it looks like world beaters when compared to the Astros’ starting five (see above).

Washington Nationals

How do you get 14 outfielders into three slots?

Jim Bowden, last seen vacationing in the Dominican Republic, would probably be the only man on the face of the earth to know the answer to this question. The Nats signed Adam Dunn as a free agent and traded for Josh Willingham, while still having an over-paid Austin Kearns, Lastings Milledge, Elijah “Mr. Personality” Dukes, Willie Harris, Corey Patterson, and Wily Mo Pena still on the roster. Ed Wade is undoubtedly going to have his hands full straightening out this mess.


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