Ian Desmond, Washington Nationals
The 24 year-old Desmond was recently named Washington’s starting shortstop, overtaking $8 million man Cristian Guzman. Though the club said it wasn’t a factor, Guzman (who missed time with a shoulder injury last September and this spring) has struggled to unleash throws from deep in the hole.
A third round pick in the 2004 draft, Desmond had a big year at the plate in 2009. He missed two months following surgery to remove the hamate bone in his left hand, but he hit a combined .330/.401/.477 between Double-A and Triple-A. A near-.400 BABIP helped him tremendously, though he did do a better job of working the count (9.1 percent walk rate). In a late-season stint with the Nationals, Desmond posted a .372 wOBA in 89 plate appearances. What do the projection systems say about him?
CHONE: .265/.326/.412, .324 wOBA
ZiPS: .270/.334/.388, .325 wOBA
FANS: .278/.335/.412, .330 wOBA
Desmond should be about a league-average hitter in 2010. At shortstop, that’s useful in NL-only leagues. For more on Desmond, see Dan Budreika’s breakdown and Marc Hulet’s Top 10 Nationals prospects list.
Franklin Morales, Colorado Rockies
As a starter in the minors, the 24 year-old lefty whiffed a batter per inning but walked a whopping 5.2 batters per nine frames. At the Triple-A level, Morales had 7.3 K/9 and 6.1 BB/9 in 168.2 innings. Shifted to the bullpen in 2009, he posted a 4.72 xFIP with 9.23 K/9 and 5.18 BB/9 in 40 innings.
At this point, Morales tries to overpower hitters with 92-93 MPH heat while hoping for enough weak swings to compensate for a lack of secondary stuff and control. Morales’ fastball has been a plus pitch in the majors (+0.57 runs/100 pitches), and he gets plenty of swings and misses: his fastball had an 8.4 percent whiff rate last year, compared to the six percent MLB average. However, his low-70’s curveball (-1.13) and high-70’s changeup (-0.66) lag behind, and his first pitch strike percentage in the bigs is just 50.9 percent (58 percent MLB average).
Though he’s far from a finished product, Morales is well worth picking up in all formats.
Jeff Clement, Pittsburgh Pirates
Clement was once considered a franchise building block in Seattle as a catcher with ample lefty pop. Now, he’s a 26 year-old first baseman aspiring to be the next Adam LaRoche in Pittsburgh. Though he has struggled in limited major league playing time (.237/.309/.393 in 243 PA), Clement has a career .279/.368/.492 line at the Triple-A level.
Problem is, that’s yawn-inducing now that he has fallen down the defensive spectrum. CHONE and ZiPS both project a .265/.340/.460-type season for Clement in 2010. That’s not bad, but consider that the average MLB first baseman socked to the tune of a .277/.362/.483 triple-slash in 2009. Clement will open the year as Pittsburgh’s starting first baseman, and he could have a little value in NL-only leagues. But he’ll have to mash to keep his spot.
Tom Gorzelanny, Chicago Cubs
The former Pirates prospect looked cooked in 2008, but his stuff bounced back in ’09 as he pitched well in seven starts and 15 relief appearances (3.73 xFIP). Gorzo has punched out 8.6 batters per nine innings with 2.5 BB/9 in Triple-A, and both CHONE and ZiPS figure that he’ll be a handy starter for the Cubs in 2010:
CHONE: 7.39 K/9, 3.61 BB/9, 1.15 HR/9, 4.43 FIP
ZiPS: 7.25 K/9, 3.74 BB/9, 0.98 HR/9, 4.25 FIP
His rotation spot isn’t guaranteed once Ted Lilly returns, but Gorzelanny has the talent to remain in the starting five and provide value in NL-only leagues.
Russell Branyan, Cleveland Indians
The Three True Outcomes nomad will start the season on the DL with a herniated disk in his back. Branyan isn’t likely to match last year’s .368 wOBA with the M’s (most projection systems have him regressing to the .350 range), and a balky back won’t help his chances.
On a positive note, CC Sabathia trade goodies Michael Brantley (left field) and Matt LaPorta (first base) will open the year in the starting lineup. Brantley offers a keen eye and high-percentage base thievery (46 SB in 51 tries at Triple-A last year), and LaPorta can put a charge into the ball (career .266 ISO in the minors).
Dustin McGowan, Toronto Blue Jays
When healthy, McGowan has been a quality starter (career 4.28 xFIP). But the 28 year-old hasn’t tossed a major league pitch since July of 2008 following shoulder surgery. He was recently shut down, so it doesn’t look like McGowan is particularly close to pumping mid-90’s heat and upper-80’s breaking stuff like he used to.
Melky Cabrera, Atlanta Braves
Fantasy players aren’t going to cry over spilled Melky, not with Heyward getting a chance to shine in right field. But with the best hitting prospect in the game making the squad, Cabrera goes from a possible sleeper in NL-only leagues (CHONE projects a .358 wOBA) to a part-time player who will share left field with Matt Diaz.
With Joe Nathan (Tommy John surgery) sidelined in 2010, Twins skipper Ron Gardenhire plans to enter 2010 with a closer-by-committee approach. That means Jon Rauch, Matt Guerrier, Jose Mijares and Jesse Crain could all get a shot at the ninth. Any owner who drafted Nathan, watched his elbow go boom and then picked up Rauch looking to recoup some value is probably getting all twitchy while reading this.