Carlos Beltran sits alone in the dugout, surrounded by clothes. Forty shirts hang to his right, 20 pairs of pants to his left. "How do you like this one?" asks the wardrobe guy from GQ, as he pulls a bright pink shirt from its hanger. Beltran laughs and responds, "I'll wear whatever you want me to wear but if I were picking, it wouldn't be that one."
He rolls his eyes, not in disgust, but in mock disbelief at what comes along with beingthe $119 million centerfielder of the New Mets. "They have me modeling," he says with a smile. On his first day of spring training at Tradition Field in Port St. Lucie, Fla., he posed for two photo shoots. On his second day, he did two more, including one for The Magazine. On the third day, he taped a public service announcement with Pedro Martinez for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. On the fourth day, Mets PR director Jay Horwitz said with a weary smile, "Carlos is going to kill me."
The moment Beltran emerged from the clubhouse for the first time with "Mets" in script across his chest, 15 cameras followed him everywhere, as if he knew where the buried treasure was located. "We had maybe two cameras in Kansas City," he says of his 5 years with the Royals. It's a long way from KC to GQ, but so far, Beltran has been relaxed and patient with all the attention. "It was a circus," teammate Mike Cameron says of Beltran's arrival. "I told him, 'Don't let it get to you.' It's crazy. There's always so much going on. And if anything goes wrong, he's the first one the media are going to go to."
Very little went wrong for Beltran in the postseason last year. He showed us what it must have been like to watch Mickey Mantle in the '50s, gliding through the Minute Maid Park outfield, hitting clutch home runs and running the bases as well as anyone in the game. "You bet I got a good look at him," says new Mets manager Willie Randolph. "Me, and everyone else in the world. He was incredible. But I wasn't surprised. With the Yankees, we saw him play for years in Kansas City. We already knew how good he was."
Even before he's played his first game, Beltran is already the best centerfielder the Mets have ever had. He's precisely what the franchise needed: a young, charismatic player who can draw fans to Shea Stadium and help the Mets compete with the Yankees for the back pages of the New York tabloids. The Mets had to have another bat in the middle of their lineup; switch-hitter Beltran jacked 38 homers last year, plus another eight in the playoffs. They had to improve their outfield defense, which was atrocious at times last year. With Beltran in center and Gold Glover Cameron moving to right, the D is significantly better. They needed more speed; among players with at least 200 attempts, Beltran's .893 stolen-base success rate is the best in baseball since the stat was first tracked in both leagues in 1951.
The big fantasy question: how will Beltran's numbers play at Shea? Last year the Mets' 40-year-old dump ranked 24th among all big league ballparks in batting average (.257) and homers (152) and 25th in runs scored (698). In only six games there, Beltran has batted .176 with 1 HR, 1 RBI. But that won't stop him from being a top-five pick in most fantasy drafts.
In reality, the Mets need all the help they can get in baseball's best division. The Braves, who have won 13 straight titles, are demonstrably better, having added two potential 20-game winners to their rotation in Tim Hudson and John Smoltz. The Marlins signed Carlos Delgado to a team that's only two years removed from a World Series championship. The Phillies have more talent than they showed last season.
"On paper, we're much improved," says Mike Piazza. "We've had good talent before and not won. But the attitude here is so much better with Pedro and Carlos."
Beltran allowed his wife, Jessica, to pick where they're going to live in New York. She chose Long Island. "It's 25 minutes from the ballpark," he says. "That's without traffic. It might be an hour with traffic. But she's happy."
So is her husband. He's quickly become the face of the franchise, as well as the cover of the Mets' pocket schedule. He looks like a movie star, which is why GQ is setting up racks in the dugout.
As the wardrobe guy opens another trunk of clothes, Beltran just smiles and says, "You have underwear in there, too?"
DRAFT DAY IS COMING, AND YOU'RE JUST NOT READY. SO WHILE THE GUYS TUNE IT UP IN THE SUNSHINE, WE'RE GIVING YOU ALL THE ANSWERS BEFORE THE BIG TEST. BECAUSE, YOU KNOW, WE CARE
A bunch of big names have changed teams, leagues or coasts. How will they change your game?
CARLOS BELTRAN, CF, NYM They said Shea would kill Piazza's numbers, too. And he never offered speed and D.
ADRIAN BELTRE, 3B, SEA Coming off career highs across the board. First year of a big contract + pitcher-friendly Safeco = way overvalued.
ARMANDO BENITEZ, RHP, SF He's a regular-season save machine, and Barry's Boys will give him plenty of ops.
MATT CLEMENT, RHP, BOS Had trouble keeping leads at Wrigley. Pitching at Fenway could be a Stephen King novel.
CARLOS DELGADO, 1B, FLA Remember those centerfield bombs at SkyDome? Those are outs at Dolphins Stadium.
J.D. DREW, OF, LAD He stayed healthy during his contract year. Don't roll the dice for two in a row.
SHAWN GREEN, RF, ARI Moving from LA to Arizona is big: the BOB played host to the fourth-most runs in the league.
TROY GLAUS, 3B, ARI Worry more about his strikeouts than his right shoulder. Live with the K's, love the 35 bombs.
TIM HUDSON, RHP, ATL Local kid has great natural stuff, and Leo Mazzone will help bring him to the next level.
RANDY JOHNSON, LHP, NYY A perennial top-five pick, RJ now has some big bats behind him. Add wins to the long list of Unitdominated categories.
JEFF KENT, 2B, LAD The California native said he'd always wanted to play for the Dodgers. Unfortunately, they waited too long.
PEDRO MARTINEZ, RHP, NYM Changing leagues and getting to face the pitcher again might bring out the best in Pedro. Then again, the tabloids might bring out the worst in him.
MARK MULDER, LHP, STL Pitching with this kind of run support ought to make the former 20-game winner a stud again.
CARL PAVANO, RHP, NYY after watching Javier Vazquez crumble last year, you have to wonder if he can handle NYC.
EDGAR RENTERIA, SS, BOS He just exchanged Pujols and Rolen for Ortiz and Ramirez, so his numbers should stay solid.
DAVE ROBERTS, CF, SD If Bruce Bochy keeps him in the lineup vs. lefties, he'll swipe 50 at cavernous Petco.
SAMMY SOSA, RF, BAL His home run totals the last four years: 64, 49, 40, 35. But he couldn't have landed at a better ballpark to start the climb back.
RICHIE SEXSON, 1B, SEA As if he weren't a question mark already with his balky left shoulder, Sexson hurt his value by going to Safeco. JAVIER VAZQUEZ, RHP, ARI Banished from the bright lights to the desert. Actually, it's just what he needs to return to dominating form.
JARET WRIGHT, RHP, NYY Was he a one-year wonder? The South Bronx is a tough place to find out. Versatility can be an asset in fantasy, too. Plug in these guys where you need 'em most.
Versatility can be an asset in fantasy, too. Plug in these guys where you need 'em most.
1 PEDRO FELIZ, 1B-3B-SS, SF Name another 30-homer threat who can also play three positions. Okay, Aubrey Huff, but that's it.
2 CHONE FIGGINS, 3B-OF-2B-SS, LAA This underrated utilityman could give you 30 steals and 100 runs.
3 BRANDON INGE, 3B-C-OF, DET As Detroit's starter at third, he'll play. His potential 15 HRs, with catcher eligibility, make him very, very valuable.
4 JUAN URIBE, 2B-SS-3B, CHW Somehow he started hitting after leaving the Rockies, but who are we to complain?
5 AUBREY HUFF, 3B-1B-OF, TB This guy might be better off if he played one position. Whatever. Despite bad Aprils, he drives in 100 for you.
6 MICHAEL CUDDYER, 2B-3B-OF-1B, MIN His 20-HR pop is far more impressive at second than at the other spots; anyway, he'll play.
7 B.J. UPTON, SS-3B-OF, TB
8 CLINT BARMES, 2B-SS, COL Hot-hitting rook played nine games at each spot. So pretend you're Clint Hurdle (yikes!), and move him back and forth.
9 AARON BOONE, 3B-2B-SS, CLE Don't assume he's just a third baseman; he played 19 games at second and five at short in 2003.
10 OMAR INFANTE, 2B-SS-3B-OF, DET Often overlooked despite his 16 HRs and 13 SBs.
FIRST AT LAST
Guillermo Mota is a human Scrabble rack. From his name come words that may portend his success as a closer: arm, out, grit, guile, glare, gamer. He's also a walking, talking anagram, the best of many being: I'm Mr. Out All Ego. If Mota is indeed Mr. Out, the Marlins might be flat-out the NL's best team. "No one wins anymore without a good closer," says Jack McKeon. "Mota has a chance to be a very good one."
The 31-year-old righthander has six years in the bigs, but only five career saves. In 2003- 04, he was one of the best setup men in baseball for theDodgers. He wasn't quite that good after being traded to Florida last July, but because vet Armando Benitez bolted to San Francisco as a free agent, Mota gets his first real shot at closing. "I've learned from the closers I've been around: Benitez, Gagne, Urbina," he says. "Now it's my turn."
From Eric Gagne, Mota learned his changeup, which complements his mid-90s heater and slider. "Sometimes he overuses his changeup," McKeon says, "but when you throw 97-98, you should use it." To help with pitch selection, Mota has his old LA catcher, Paul Lo Duca.
Everything seems to be in place. But just in case, the Marlins signed ex-closers Todd Jones and Antonio Alfonseca. Someone needs to replace the 47 saves put up last year by Benitez, whom McKeon still calls Beniquez. But what's in a name?
In Mota's case, quite a lot.
COMING UP SHORT?
He grew up wanting to be Derek Jeter, not Melvin Mora. So when the Devil Rays made B.J. Upton the second overall pick in the 2002 draft, it seemed clear they had their shortstop of the future. Now, two seasons and 100 errors later, it's not so clear. The future? Absolutely. A shortstop? "Honestly, I can't answer that," GM Chuck LaMar admits.
It took Upton just 857 ABs to hit his way into the big leagues. But after being called up last August, he wound up with almost as many positions (three) as homers (four). "He wasn't ready-defensively," says Lou Piniella. So after watching Upton make seven errors in 16 games at short, Piniella gave his 20-year-old phenom a tour of the left side (13 games at third, one in left). Upton never complained. But if he's going to fulfill his mission to be a shortstop, that E total needs to shrink. "They've told me, 'Just make the easy plays,' " he says. "It's the easy ones that get me."
This winter, Upton took grounders three times a week with his brother Justin's high school team in Virginia. He even spent a weekend working with Ozzie Smith. But LaMar still hedges: "If I said I'm 100% convinced he'll be a shortstop, I'd be lying." Yes, Jeter and Chipper Jones each had 56-error seasons as minor league shortstops. "But those guys grew out of those errors," LaMar says. "At a certain point, you need to see progress."
The D-Rays plan to send Upton back to Triple-A Durham to start the season. But they'll be watching closely. "It's a huge decision," LaMar says. "Fortunately, it's one we can't lose."
CLOSING THE GAP
1 FRANCISCO RODRIGUEZ, RH, LAA The AL's top setup man will be as good in the ninth as he was in the eighth. The Slider's about to take center stage.
2 GUILLERMO MOTA, RH, FLA
3 B.J. RYAN, LH, BAL Walked 35 and K'd 122 in 87 IPs. With Julio injured, his days as a setup man are over.
4 JEREMY AFFELDT, LH, KC Great curveball, makeup and feel for pitching. His big drawback is pitching for a bad team.
5 MIGUEL BATISTA, RH, TOR Odd, intelligent, able to handle pressure. But his 97:92 K's-to-BBs ratio as a starter must improve for him to have any chance.
6 CHAD CORDERO, RH, WAS Only 22, Cordero has shown signs in two seasons: 9.13 K's/9 IPs. Great closer at Fullerton.
7 RYAN DEMPSTER, RH, CHC Wicked slider, goofy enough to close, but his 4.72 BBs/9 IPs is fourth worst among active pitchers with 750 IPs.
8 GREG AQUINO, RH, ARI Ex-infielder saved 16 last year. Now the pressure's on, because the D-Backs actually think they're contenders.
9 SHINGO TAKATSU, RH, CWS He can't throw 90 mph, but he saved 19 in 20 ops last year with his Gene Garber-frisbee slider.
10 HUSTON STREET, RH, OAK Take a flier on this heady kid. If Octavio Dotel is dealt in July, you'll already have his replacement.
Some are harder to handle than others. But when you catch one clean, it's pretty sweet.
1 MAGGLIO ORDONEZ, RF, DET
2 BOB WICKMAN, RHP, CLE Closed 13 of 14 games to reclaim the job last year. He should keep it, considering his competition is a Riske alternative.
3 AARON BOONE, 3B, CLE Now that his hoops days are over, he could return to being a top-tier 3B.
4 RAUL MONDESI, OF, ATL Used to be a productive numbers guy, when he actually showed up to play. The Braves need him to.
5 KENNY LOFTON, OF, PHI Lack of contact hitters in Philly's all-or-nothing lineup will allow leadoff man Lofton to run wild.
6 JASON GIAMBI, 1B, NYY Once a fantasy first-round pick, Giambi now just hopes to be in the lineup. Anyone's lineup.
7 ANDY PETTITTE, LHP, HOU His tender elbow makes this former ace a 22nd-round projection.
8 JUAN GONZALEZ, OF, CLE Had 35 HRs and 140 RBIs the last time he played in Cleveland. Sure, that was four years ago, but take a chance late.
9 RICK ANKIEL, LHP, STL The ultimate Comeback Kid could slip into the back of the rotation. Remember Chris Carpenter last season?
10 BILLY KOCH, RHP, TOR Had his best years with the Jays, and the closer's job is there for the taking.
The bullpen at the Mariners' Cactus League camp was all but empty. A couple of coaches looked on as a trio of veterans worked out. But as 18-year-old Felix Hernandez began warming up, a crowd formed quickly. Scouts, club execs and autograph collectors gathered to check out projected greatness.
Hernandez seemed wholly unaffected, tossing freely, not trying too hard to impress. He has a smooth delivery that generates powerful fastballs. "It's like he's been here for years," one club official says. Not only that, he expects to be here for years to come.
Pat Rice, a Mariners minor league instructor, went to Venezuela to scout Hernandez when the pitcher was 15, and was stunned by his arm strength, his breaking ball and his command. "After about 10 throws," Rice says, "I was like, 'How quickly can we get him to the States?' " Hernandez signed with the M's at 16, in 2002, and reached Double-A last year. In 218 innings of pro ball, he's whiffed 263 hitters. "If I had to compare him to somebody-and I don't mean in his delivery, but where he is at this age-it's Dwight Gooden," Rice says. Doc went 17-9 in the majors at age 19, then 24-4 at 20.
The 6'3", 190-pound Hernandez is expected to start the season in the minors. He could end it in Seattle. New manager Mike Hargrove was among those who zeroed in on Herndandez's workout. The pitcher enjoyed the attention. "It perks up my emotions," he said through a translator.
When Hernandez finished up with one last fastball, GM Bill Bavasi turned around and went inside. Nothing he'd see the rest of the day could possibly compare.
SAVE THAT TIGER
Magglio Ordonez isn't a reclamation project in the truest sense. He hasn't been bouncing around independent leagues, he isn't with his fifth team in five years and he hasn't missed a paycheck. The only place he's been lately is a doctor's office.
Now he says his surgically repaired left knee, which limited him to 52 games last year with the White Sox, is healthy. He doesn't wear a brace and has no restrictions. "It feels really good," Ordonez says. "I want to test everything. It's the mind. You want to make sure that you're 200%."
One hundred percent would be plenty. In the five seasons before 2004, Ordonez averaged .312 with 32 HRs and 118 RBIs. Several teams considered signing him, but his two knee surgeries scared them off. Still, the Tigers gave him a five-year deal for $75 million, plus two option years that could make it worth $105 million. They have an escape clause in the first year if Ordonez spends 25 days on the DL with a knee injury. "He's such a solid guy," one GM says. "You knew he'd do whatever it took to get back."
For Ordonez, that meant going to Austria for a shockwave procedure not sanctioned in the U.S. He's only 31, and good hitters don't lose their swings that fast. "I couldn't run for five months," he says. "That was hard."
Now he intends to take out his frustration on all those teams that passed on him. That's his reclamation project.
Though they're long shots at best to crack Opening Day rosters, grab them now. You'll thank us later.
1 FELIX HERNANDEZ, RHP, SEA
2 IAN STEWART, 3B, COL The last time the Rockies spent a first-round pick on a hitter, they landed Todd Helton.
3 DELMON YOUNG, OF, TB Dmitri's little brother is the best overall hitter in the minors.
4 ANDY MARTE, 3B, ATL Offensively, he's similar to Miguel Cabrera. On D, he's better off at 3B.
5 JOEL GUZMAN, SS, LAD At 6'6", could move over and be Adrian Beltre's successor at third.
6 PRINCE FIELDER, 1B, MIL Sure, Lyle Overbay had a breakout 2004, but Prince may have even more power than Big Daddy.
7 HANLEY RAMIREZ, SS, BOS By 2006, Ramirez could be a better all-around SS than Edgar Renteria.
8 JEFF FRANCOEUR, OF, ATL The Braves will solve their outfield problem as soon as Francoeur, who has 30/30 potential, is ready.
9 LASTINGS MILLEDGE, OF, NYM The Mets' 2003 firstround pick has the best overall tools in the minors.
10 CHRIS NELSON, SS, COL Only 19, this 2004 firstrounder looks like the next slugging shortstop in the Tejada mold. Multiply that by Coors.
It doesn't take X-ray specs to see that what's below the surface with these guys isn't pretty.
1 JASON GIAMBI, 1B, NYY Under this sort of scrutiny, his only hope is to show he's better than .208/12/40-in a hurry.
2 SAMMY SOSA, RF, BAL If it all goes bad for the O's, fans will take it out on him.
3 MILTON BRADLEY, CF, LAD He faded to .267/19/67, and threw a bottle into the crowd. The next blowup could happen anytime.
4 A.J. PIERZYNSKI, C, CWS
5 KEVIN BROWN, RHP, NYY His infamous wall-punch and Game 7 flameout will be hard to top. But he'll come up with something.
Nomar Garciaparra could have signed three-year deals with two West Coast clubs, but he chose to return to the Cubs for one year and $8.25M. Nomar knows what he was in 2004: hurt. And what he believes he's capable of in 2005: a third batting title, 30 HRs, 110 RBIs and much better defense.
By December, when it came time to make the decision, the sore Achilles that limited him to 81 games, nine homers and little mobility last season felt fine. And his right wrist felt better than it had since he aggravated a longstanding tendon problem in 2001, after he won batting titles at .357 and an incredible .372 in 1999 and 2000. His OPS in those two seasons was a combined 1.027.
On top of all that, Boston was finally behind him. Did Nomar turn into something of a misanthrope in his last 12 months with the Red Sox? You bet. In spring training 2003, his contract negotiations became contentious because the club stopped at $60M for four years, and he wanted Jason Giambi money.
About the time Nomar married Mia Hamm a year ago, he got word that the Red Sox had lowered their offer to four years, $48M. Then he heard he'd been traded to the White Sox for Magglio Ordonez, fallout from the aborted A-Rod deal. To compound his misery, Mia was away for the summer, training for the Olympics.
In February, an optimistic Nomar showed up in Cubs camp wearing a smile. "The Red Sox did it," he said. "Now the Cubs can do it." He also wore a Hamm's cap-in honor of the beer company. No relation, but it's the thought that counts.
Flipping through a fantasy baseball preview mag at a bookstore in January, new White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski discovered to his chagrin that, even in a world in which only stats matter, he gets downgraded for being known as a bad clubhouse guy.
The Giants got Pierzynski for Joe Nathan a year ago, then cut him this off-season after signing free agent Mike Matheny. As Pierzynski looked for a job, every prospective employer asked about his rep. "It's a shame, because a lot of the stuff wasn't true," he says.
Unnamed Giants complained that Pierzynski once played cards instead of reviewing scouting reports, that his attendance record in meetings was poor, that he was a difficult teammate-all of which he denies. In January, a San Francisco paper published a bizarre report: that Pierzynski once kneed Giants trainer Stan Conte in the groin as Conte checked on him after a foul tip hit Pierzynski in a similar spot. As the story goes, Conte asked Pierzynski how he felt, and the catcher responded, "Like this." Says Pierzynski: "I didn't hit him, didn't come close. I can't really see me kicking some guy in the groin in front of 15,000 people and nobody reporting it until now."
Pierzynski signed a oneyear, $2.25M deal, and fantasy owners are in perfect position to capitalize. He's a 28-yearold lefthanded-hitting catcher with a career .294 average, coming off a career-high 77 RBIs. And he's determined to change his image. "We're getting a guy who knows the league, someone who has a track record of winning," says Sox GM Kenny Williams.
The Sox-and you-should get a kick out of that.
Who's about to cash in? Who's counting his cash? Here are a few helpful hints.
1 NOMAR GARCIAPARRA, SS, CHC
2 CHRIS CARPENTER, RHP, STL Should be healthy. Should be a big winner. If so, he'll soon be rich.
3 BILLY WAGNER, LHP, PHI That monster year the Phillies were expecting? Here it comes, just in time for free agency.
4 PEDRO MARTINEZ, RHP, NYM Mets will baby him in first year of big deal, limiting his stats.
5 J.D. DREW, OF, LAD Last year was first time he'd played more than 135 games. Now he's got his money. Hmm.
6 CARLOS LEE, OF, MIL He's a hitter you can build around (.305/31/99, 103 R's), with an option for 2006.
7 JEFF WEAVER, RHP, LAD He'll be way harder on himself than you will be, especially since it's his walk year.
8 ARAMIS RAMIREZ, 3B, CHC Presumably, he was paying attention to Adrian Beltre's $64M payday.
9 LARRY WALKER, OF, STL Another productive summer could earn him one last big contract.
10 LANCE BERKMAN, OF, HOU Knee surgery came at a bad time for him, but a good time for you-now he's a draft-day steal.
10 EDDIE BALLGAME'S COMMANDMENTS
"You're not doing fantasy baseball again this year, are you?" That's what my wife said as we were finishing up our Valentine's Day dinner. Okay, maybe she didn't actually say it, but I know she was thinking it. And I don't blame her a bit. After all, 162 games with a potential lineup change every day for six months does seem a bit much, especially coming off the cushy life of leisure that is fantasy football. So why then do we continue to punish ourselves year after year? Because fantasy baseball is more than just a hobby, more than just a game. It's a religion. And with the highest of high holidays rapidly approaching (Draft Day), it's time for me to share my Ten Commandments.
1 THOU SHALT NOT DRAFT INJURY PRONE PLAYERS. As tempting as Austin Kearns and Phil Nevin might seem, do yourself a favor and stay away. They've killed seasons before. They'll kill again.
2 THOU SHALT NOT OVERPAY. Why spend a third-round pick on David Ortiz or Mark Teixeira when you could get similar 1B numbers from Paul Konerko five rounds later? You're better off using that high-rounder on a middle infielder (Michael Young) or a starting pitcher (Roy Oswalt).
3 THOU SHALT TAKE A-ROD'S NAME IN VAIN. Sure he swiped 28 bags last year, but Albert Pujols will hit 40 points higher. Take Pujols.
4 THOU SHALT NOT USE BENCH SPOTS FOR OFFENSE. Six days a week, they give you nothing. Carry 12 pitchers instead.
5 HONOR THY MIDDLE RELIEVERS. Unsung heroes like Tom Gordon, Mike Gonzalez and Scott Linebrink can work miracles on your numbers.
6 THOU SHALT NOT COVET ROOKIE PITCHERS. Sure, Scott Kazmir and Jeff Francis are sexy mid- to late-round picks, but youth equals inconsistency equals frequent migraines for you. Just say no.
7 THOU SHALT NOT WORSHIP CLOSERS. Unless they're named Gagne or Lidge.
8 ALLOW NEIGHBORS TO COVET THY PLAYERS. When you grab Victor Martinez in the sixth round and your leaguemate shouts "D'oh," take note. Odds are he'll be willing to overpay for him later in a trade.
9 THOU SHALT STEAL. It's easy to overlook SBs, but hard to win without them. Can't score Carl Crawford or Scott Podsednik? Brian Roberts or Rafael Furcal (walk year) will do just fine.
10 REMEMBER DRAFT DAY AND KEEP IT HOLY. Now go do your homework.
They all had big years in '04, but as a smart fantasy player, you're approaching with caution.
1 JARET WRIGHT, RHP, NYY
2 DEREK LOWE, RHP, LAD Sinkerballer joins team that replaced 3B Adrian Beltre and 2B Alex Cora with Jose Valentin and Jeff Kent.
3 TROY PERCIVAL, RHP, DET His K totals the past four seasons: 71, 68, 48, 33. And no K-Rod to set him up.
4 VINNY CASTILLA, 3B, WAS Maybe the ex-Rockie thought that DC meant Duplicate of Coors.
5 JEROMY BURNITZ, RF, CHC Another Coors casualty. At home: .322/.386/670. On the road: .244/.327/.448. Plus, he's replacing Sammy.
6 KENNY ROGERS, LHP, TEX Won 18 games last season with a 4.76 ERA. Chances are he won't get 5.77 runs a game again.
7 RUSS ORTIZ, RHP, ARI So bad the last two months of 2004 (6.11 ERA) that he wasn't even in the Braves' playoff rotation. Still, the D-Backs gave him $33M.
8 J.D. DREW, RF, LAD Hey, have you heard this before? He gets injured a lot.
9 ERIC MILTON, LHP, CIN Flyball pitcher in a little park. With the Reds, it's hard to imagine another 14-6 record.
10 JASON MARQUIS, RHP, STL Won 14 games in four years, then 15 last season. He wasn't that bad; he's not that good.
Billy Beane was doing some reconnaissance on Joe Blanton at a Sacramento River Cats playoff game last September when he picked up on a subtle sign. After Blanton threw an inside fastball and the hitter yanked a line drive foul, the guessing game began in the scouts' section. "He's gonna go down and away," said Matt Keough, Beane's assistant. "No he's not," Beane replied. "He's going to come right back in, because he's pissed off."
Five months later, Oakland's GM smiles at the memory of what happened next. "Son of a gun, if he didn't throw one inside, freeze the guy and strike him out," Beane says. "That's just Joe's mentality." Blanton, 24, is best known as a first-round pick in Oakland's Moneyball draft of 2002. He's a quiet Kentucky kid who grew up with the classic bluegrass fantasy of sinking threes at Rupp Arena. "But I couldn't jump and couldn't shoot," says the 6'3", 225-pound RHP. So he played on Kentucky's baseball team, and ranked eighth in the country in strikeouts as a junior in '02.
After Blanton posted a K's to BBs ratio of nearly 5:1 in the minors, the A's summoned him for a look in September. With Danny Haren, Dan Meyer and Blanton all new to the rotation, Beane has strengthened the bullpen so that five or six innings a start will suffice.
Is Blanton ready? The A's know this much: if the kid fails, it won't be because he's scared.
For Jaret Wright, even being in a position to fall is a feat in itself. Last season with the Braves, he had nearly as many wins (15) as in his previous five years combined (17), earning him a three-year, $21 million contract with the Yankees. "He was our most consistent starter," says Bobby Cox. "He's a tough kid, a great kid."
That's all true, but Wright is moving to a DH league, which means he'll face David Ortiz instead of Russ Ortiz. He's also stepping into baseball's most pressurized situation-the Yankees a year after their historic ALCS collapse to the Red Sox. Wright thrived in Atlanta because, on Leo Mazzone's advice, he stopped trying to overpower every hitter. Wright throws a lot of fastballs. If he throws too hard and loses his command, he'll have problems in New York, especially without Mazzone to steer him.
The Braves offered Wright, 29, three years and $12 million to stay, not even close to the Yankees' offer. Still, how many really good pitchers do the Braves let get away? Not many. Jason Schmidt is the notable exception, but he was young and unproven when he was traded. How many pitchers get better after they leave the Braves? Not many. Kevin Millwood, Tom Glavine, Denny Neagle, Damian Moss, John Burkett, Mark Wohlers and Steve Avery didn't. How many pitchers have had their best years in Atlanta? A lot. Ask Millwood, Burkett or Wright.
Maybe Wright will have an even better season in New York. But history suggests he won't.
If these guys are still on the board in the later rounds, don't get caught napping.
1 AARON ROWAND, CF, CHW Late bloomer provides power (24 HRs), runs (94) and SBs (17). Could hit 30 and drive in 100.
2 NOAH LOWRY, LHP, SF His 6-0 record and 3.82 ERA are impressive, but it's his 7 K's/9 IPs that makes him stand out.
3 SCOTT KAZMIR, LHP, TB Don't expect a lot of W's, but the K's will keep on coming: 11.07/9 IPs.
4 JASON LANE, CF, HOU He's no Carlos Beltran, but the Astros expect 25 to 30 HRs and 100 RBIs.
5 DALLAS MCPHERSON, 3B, LAA It's hard to forget Troy Glaus. To make it happen, he'll have to be more Hank Blalock than Sean Burroughs.
6 DAVID WRIGHT, 3B, NYM The answer to the Mets' age-old question at 3B. Look for 25 dingers.
7 NICK SWISHER, LF, OAK Moneyball guy with serious run-scoring potential: Steve's son had 103 walks in 125 Triple-A games.
8 J.D. CLOSSER, C, COL Switch-hitter batted .299 at Triple-A and .319 in 36 games for the Rocks. And it wasn't all Coors: .328 road BA.
9 ALEX RIOS, RF, TOR He can't replace Delgado's power, but he will make you happy in the BA and steals categories.
10 JOE BLANTON, RHP, OAK