FLB: Spring Training Notebook 3/14

Ben Sheets was very good in an exhibition start against the Mariners on Tuesday, allowing his early-drafting fantasy owners to exhale. Before this game, Sheets had thrown five innings and allowed four runs, to go with four hits, three walks and just two strikeouts. On Tuesday, Sheets tossed five scoreless innings, walking none, striking out two and allowing just two hits. Breathe.

• Talking about Mark Prior in a Monday article, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that Prior is a "dark horse" candidate to win the fifth spot in the Cubs' rotation, and that Angel Guzman, Wade Miller and Neal Cotts all may have the drop on Prior at this point. Prior continues to get drafted, and I suppose I can see it in NL-only leagues where you're taking a flyer at the end of your draft. But mixed-leaguers should stay far away.

• The Kansas City Star reports that Mark Grudzielanek expects to play in the Royals' final game of spring training and be ready for Opening Day. While team management believes otherwise, Grudzy said, "It's totally my call. I don't care what they say. I don't care what anybody says. When I feel right, I'm going in. That's it." Um, okay there, Mark. Easy, tiger. If this is true, of course, you'll have to bump Esteban German back down your AL-only draft list.

Ivan Rodriguez led off an exhibition game for the seventh time on Monday, according to the Detroit Free Press, and it hasn't always been against lefties; the paper reports that Pudge has been in the top spot four times against southpaws, and three times against, um, northpaws. Manager Jim Leyland hasn't commented yet on whether this move is permanent, but clearly something is up. Considering Curtis Granderson struggled badly against lefties last year (.218 average, .671 OPS), it's conceivable Rodriguez could fill the one hole in such circumstances. It's not like I-Rod is suddenly a base-stealing threat if he's up top, but the move would hurt Granderson's value some and give Pudge an extra at-bat per game.

Lou Piniella told reporters that he's grown more convinced that Alfonso Soriano can handle playing center field defensively, and that he's strongly leaning toward using him there to begin the season. That's good news for Jacque Jones owners, as it means Jones' home in right is safe, and Felix Pie can continue to get seasoning in center at the minor-league level.

• The Associated Press reports that Mets second baseman Jose Valentin was scratched from Tuesday's exhibition game because of a sore neck. "I fell asleep on the bus ride over and must have pinched something," said Valentin. In other news, Valentin just signed a multimillion-dollar endorsement contract with La-Z Boy Vans, Inc., a division of You've-Got-To-Be-Kidding-Me Enterprises.

• The L.A. Times reports that Erick Aybar played center field in an exhibition game against the Royals on Monday, in order to "expand his versatility." The newspaper speculates that the Angels are sending a message to Gary Matthews Jr., and that they might suspend Matthews if he doesn't address the HGH accusations that continue to swirl around him.

• The East Valley Tribune reports that the Marlins were scouting Jorge Julio Monday, with the idea of putting their protracted closer issues to bed. Julio is a high-dollar setup man with the Diamondbacks, and presumably Arizona would have to pick up some of the $3.6 million he's due this season. But it's safe to say Florida has the minor-league talent to make it worth the D-Backs' while.

• The Rangers sent Edinson Volquez back to Triple-A to begin the season, which isn't that much of a surprise considering how badly he pitched during his August and September audition last year (1-6, 7.29 ERA, 2.07 WHIP, 17 BB and 15 K). Volquez is still just 24, but the bloom is off his rose, for sure. Keep an eye on how he does in the minors, but don't bother drafting him in AL-only leagues.

• The Miami Herald reports that Taylor Tankersley threw on the side again on Tuesday, and the Marlins still believe he could be ready for Opening Day. However, the idea of Tankersley starting the year as Florida's closer has sailed.

John Danks turned in another good exhibition outing Tuesday, allowing one earned run in three innings of relief against Texas. Danks has surprised the White Sox with how far along he is this spring, and he's now locked in a battle for the team's fifth-starter position with Gavin Floyd, who allowed six runs in 3.2 IP in the same game. Floyd still figures to get the first bite at the apple in April, but the 22-year-old Danks might not be far behind.

Akinori Iwamura had to leave Tampa's Monday exhibition game against Detroit because of exhaustion, according to the St. Petersburg Times. "I was exhausted a little bit and need to get used to it," Iwamura said through an interpreter, referring to playing in games on five consecutive days. Hmm. Does that sound like an everyday major-league third baseman to you? Iwamura is 1-for-17 so far this spring.

Hong-Chih Kuo tested positive for a banned substance before the Asian Games in December, but the L.A. Times reports that Kuo is unlikely to be disciplined by Major League Baseball. He's still probably an underdog for the Dodgers' fifth-starter role, but with this news, he's still got a chance.

• How about the preponderance of beanballs this spring? Michael Young took a heater off the noggin on Tuesday and had to leave the game. According to the Dallas Morning News, Young suffered a cut over his left ear and had to go to the hospital to be checked out. He's fine, though if he doesn't play in a few games this week, you'll know why.

• The Red Sox official web site reports that Jonathan Papelbon struggled with his curveball in a simulated game on Monday and, at one point, allowed six hits out of seven batters. Papelbon needs a third pitch (to go along with his fastball and slider) now that he's a starter, but the old deuce hasn't gone well to this point. Keep an eye on this.

• The Baltimore Sun speculates that Jay Payton could actually wind up being the Orioles' primary left fielder this year, and that Jay Gibbons, who was recently told by the team to hang up his first baseman's mitt, might have to be content splitting DH at-bats with Kevin Millar. Apparently, Baltimore is nervous about having Aubrey Huff play the outfield, which really seems like something they should've thought of before signing him, but that's neither here nor there. Under the scenario the Sun proposes, Huff would play first, Payton would play left, and Gibbons and Millar would platoon at DH. Whether or not any of this holds up remains to be seen.

Christopher Harris covers fantasy baseball, football and NASCAR for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.