Monday, March 10, 2008

Down on the Farm

Over the last few weeks on "Down on the Farm" we focused on position battles and players looking to make a fantasy and major league impact this season for their teams. While we tried covering everyone a few players slipped through the cracks. This week we will focus on a few players who look to breakout this season.

(1) Johnny Cueto-SP Cincinnati Reds: I knew at some point I would be writing on Johnny Cuento but I didn't think it would be until the second half of the season. No one went into this season questioning Cueto's talent just if he was ready for the big leagues, as he has only pitched a total of 83 innings above High-A ball. As Spring Training began it didn't look as though the Reds had any room for their talented 22 year old right hander. In the off season the team brought in Jeremy Affeldt, Josh Fogg and Edinson Volquez to compete with holdover Matt Belisle and stud rookie Homer Bailey to compete for the final three spots in the rotation. It seemed the Belisle and Bailey were going to take two of the spots leaving the other one up for grabs with Cueto being the long shot to get the job. Now after a great start to the spring and following up an impressive 2007 campaign, in which he went 12-9 with a 3.07 ERA and 170 K's in 161 innings, Cueto looks to firmly claim one of the rotations spots for himself. The Reds are looking to compete this year and there is no reason not to let their best arms into the rotation this season. Having Cueto and Bailey in the rotation all season will go a long way to making them a contender. If he makes it look for Cueto to get between 10-12 wins with a ERA in the 3.60-3.75 range with 150+ strikeouts. He should be a great late round sleeper pick for your fantasy team.

(2) J.R. Towles-C Houston Astros: Seeing J.R. Towles as the Astros number one catcher on their depth chart should make fantasy owners smile, as Brad Ausmus is no longer Houston's every day backstop, making that line up that much better. On top of just replacing Ausmus, Towles brings a lot of offensive potential to the Astros lineup, which should be among the leagues best. Last season in the minors Towles hit .287 (AVG)-11 (HR)-62 (RBI) in just 349 at bats. He also had a brief call up last season where he hit .375 in 40 at bats, showing the Astros enough to give him the starting job. Towles is not a huge power guy and 15+ home runs seem to be his range though he will add a few steals to go with that. Towles will hit the ball and bring in some good fantasy numbers, he should be a must have in NL leagues and a solid sleeper in mixed leagues.

(3) Luke Hochevar-SP Kansas City Royals: Hochevar became the top pick of the 2006 draft, after holding out from the Dodgers after they had drafted him in the supplemental first round in 2005. Since being picked first he hasn't done much to live up to his top prospect billing. In his only full year of minor league work, Hochevar posted an unimpressive 4-9 record to go along with a 4.86 ERA in 26 starts. These numbers seemed to make it unlikely Hochevar would have a role with the Royals in 2008, but the team is giving him a chance in Spring Training to earn a roster spot. So far that gamble is paying off as Hochevar has impressed early on in camp and is beginning to make his way up the Royals depth chart. If Hochevar can get it all together he could be a front of the rotation starter before the season is out. I think Hochevar will get at least one month in AAA but should be ready for the rotation after that. Look for 8-10 wins this year with a 140 K's. As of now Hochevar should only be considered in AL only leagues as a sleeper, but keep an eye on him in mixed leagues as the season progresses.

(4) Brandon Jones-OF Atlanta Braves: Brandon Jones has been a top prospect for the Braves the last couple of seasons but hadn't lived up to his potential, that all changed last season. When Jones tore through AA and AAA hitting a combined .295-19-100 with 17 stolen bases in 535 at bats and even earning a big league call up. Unfortunately Jones doesn't figure to duplicate those numbers this season as he will likely platoon in left field with Matt Diaz, severely limiting his at bats. Jones has the talent to be an every day player with 25 HR power and with a strong first half of the season could win the job full time for the second half of the year. Right now Jones should be a late round option in NL only leagues, but will become an option in all formats when he gets the full time nod in left.

Hope everyone has a good week and see you all next Monday!

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