Wait one second Michael Pineda â€“ this is not the time to lose your fastball.
Not now. Not when New Yorkâ€™s most handsome 39-year-old left-handed pitcher just announced his return from a brief retirement. There are five pitchers to compete for three rotation spots, and Andy Pettitte has been assured one of them once his body returns to form (ETA May).
So that leaves Pineda, Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia vying for two spots. Knowing this, Hughes snuck into Pinedaâ€™s hotel room and slipped him a Mickey full of Phil Hughes Ferry Dust â€“ otherwise known as Dead Arm Flakes.
Pinedaâ€™s fastball has disappeared at the most inopportune time. After sitting in the mid-to-high 90â€™s for most of last season, the young righty hasnâ€™t pushed the radar gun over 92 mph this spring, and heâ€™s letting nobodies down in Florida knock him around at a .290 clip.
Itâ€™s hard to believe that Pineda wouldnâ€™t open the year in the Yankeesâ€™ rotation.
After all, he spent the entirety of 2011 in the big leagues and was one of the few bright spots during an otherwise grim season for Seattle. But Yanks skipper Joe Girardi has refused to crown Pineda with a seat on the Yankee Stadium bench, and because heâ€™s only 23, thereâ€™s been talk of Pineda starting the year in the minor leagues.
He has options left on his contract, while Freddy Garcia does not, and if Pinedaâ€™s arm isnâ€™t ready to go, the idea isnâ€™t totally inconceivable.
Nova, meanwhile, is having a disaster of a spring himself. Heâ€™s allowed 12 runs in 12 2/3 innings, including four homers. Many people, me included, believe in the notion that Nova was an over-achiever last year, and like Pineda, he also has minor league options available for the Yankees to use.
While Hughes has looked great in Spring Training and trade rumors have begun to swirl around Freddy Garcia, meaning the Yankees would like to show him off in the rotation, I wouldnâ€™t be surprised if Nova or Pineda began the season in the minors.
Sounds crazy, but itâ€™s at least enough of an argument to drop Pineda a few slots in your rankings and perhaps push Nova all the way out (if he was ever in).
Pettitte, on the other hand, could be a sneaky, but productive, fantasy pitcher. Donâ€™t be fooled by the Yankees only paying him $2.5 million â€“ Brian Cashman had little financial flexibility, and Pettitte wouldâ€™ve played for pennies. Remember, the Yanks offered him $10 million to come out of retirement before, so the New York brass has a ton of faith in the lefty. He threw just 129 IP in 2010 and won 11 games, so a 12-win season with respectable numbers across the board is a decent projection for a pitcher who shouldnâ€™t cost you much on draft day.
On to other transaction news: late March is the time of year when some of the gameâ€™s best prospects have their dreams crushed as theyâ€™re sent back to minor league camp.
Bryce Harper stole the headlines with his demotion, but thatâ€™s been written about everywhere, and surely you know heâ€™ll be up with the club by June or July as long as he doesnâ€™t struggle in Triple-A.
A bigger surprise, though, was the demotion of Aâ€™s top pitching prospect Jarrod Parker. Parker has been a trendy sleeper, especially in AL-only leagues, because of his premier jewel-prospect rating and his domination of minor league batters. Aside from a six-walk outing in his final Spring Training game, Parker pitched quite well, and Aâ€™s manager Bob Melvin told my good friend Jane Lee of MLB.com that the demotion was only temporary.
With the Aâ€™s trip to Japan set to open the 2012 season, and a flexible schedule that wonâ€™t require a fifth starter until mid-April, Parker could conceivably start the year in Triple-A and be up with the Aâ€™s within weeks. Of course there is the risk that they donâ€™t call him up until June to save a year of Super-Two status, but Parker is clearly a better option than Tyson Ross or Graham Godfrey, so it all depends on how the Aâ€™s choose to handle Tommy Milone (who pitched well during his brief stint with the Nationals last year) or Brad Peacock (who, despite spending the last five years in the minors, still may not be ready)
My guess is that Parker is up with the club within weeks, and while he wonâ€™t strike out a ton of guys, heâ€™s an effective young pitcher who could put up Trevor Cahill-type numbers if given a full season.
Now, to close out this week, Iâ€™ll fill you guys in on one of my favorite sleeper AL-only picks this year: Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks. Iâ€™m gonna kick myself in the ass for writing this now, just two weeks before the FantasyPros911 Experts League holds its AL-only auction, but with his demotion to minor league camp, I suppose itâ€™s my job to talk about him.
A lot of Red Sox folks think Middlebrooks is as good a hitting prospect as the club has. Itâ€™s widely believed that this will be the last year Kevin Youkilis spends in Boston and that Middlebrooks will take over the hot corner in 2013, but I could see it happening this year.
I met Will last summer while reporting for the Boston Globe and he was dominating the competition in Double-A Portland, where he hit .302 with 25 doubles and 18 homers in just 371 at-bats. As far as top prospects go, this kid is as level-headed as they come. Heâ€™s made steady progress throughout the teamâ€™s farm system since being a fifth-round draft pick in 2007, but last year was Middlebrooksâ€™ coming-out party.
He earned himself a promotion to Triple-A late in the season, and thatâ€™s where heâ€™ll start this year as he tries to cut down his strikeouts and become a more patient hitter. Heâ€™s also carrying a solid glove at third base, and considering how prone Youkilis is to injuries, I have a feeling Middlebrooks is going to see the Majors as soon as this summer.
The batting average might not be pretty to start, but if he racks up 250 plate appearances, he can hit 10 homers and drive in 30 runs. But for me, I can see a scenario where Youkilis knocks himself out for the season and Middlebrooks takes over full time. It might be a bit of a long shot, but this kid is definitely worth grabbing late in deep AL-only leagues or any type of keeper format.
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