Camp notes: Hanson, Wieters headed to minors

March, 27, 2009

• The Braves announced that starting pitching phenom Tommy Hanson won't make the major league club, reassigning him to Triple-A. Considering Hanson has thrown 98 innings above Class A, this wasn't completely unexpected, but the young righty did post a 2.45 ERA and fan 14 batters in 14 2/3 innings in four spring appearances. As the Rays are doing with David Price, the Braves might simply be trying to limit Hanson's major league service time; if they bring him up in late May, Hanson (and Price) will avoid becoming Super-Two players, and thus have their arbitration eligibility delayed a year. Now, the Rays avoided this issue with Evan Longoria in '08 (after they sent him down at the beginning of April) by signing him to a six-year deal with three club-option years, so he's under Tampa's control until he's 31. But that hasn't happened (yet) with Price or Hanson, which leads me to believe we won't see either guy in the first third of the season.

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• The Baltimore Sun reports that the Orioles will send catching prospect Matt Wieters to the minors Monday. The 22-year-old prospect has hit .343 so far this spring, but these demotions of stud prospects are less about whether the team can get help from a player right away and more about saving a year of eligibility. Gregg Zaun will be Baltimore's catcher to begin the year, and Wieters likely will come to the majors in late May.

• There was lineup news out of the Bronx on Thursday, as Joe Girardi has decided to flip-flop Johnny Damon and Derek Jeter in the Yankees' order. Jeter will now be the leadoff hitter, while Damon will hit No. 2. Newsday reports that Girardi "likes the way Damon has looked" while hitting second this spring, which encouraged him to make the change. The newspaper also speculates that this could mean Brett Gardner is ahead of Melky Cabrera for the Yankees' center-field gig: If Gardner hits ninth, moving Damon to second would split up the two left-handed hitters in the order. Fantasy-wise, this could mean a slight runs bump for Jeter, but those who interpret this as an indication that the shortstop will steal more bases are probably mistaken. After thieving just 15 and 11 bags the past two years, that part of Jeter's game seems to be on the serious wane.

• Charlie Manuel told The Philadelphia Inquirer that his Opening Day lineup will include both Chase Utley and Pedro Feliz. This had been expected, but in Utley's case, it's still very nice to hear. Whether or not you can still draft Utley as fantasy's best second baseman depends on whether you believe his surgically repaired hip can hold up to six months of pounding. I tend to think he'll have a small drop in production, but that he's elevated himself back to being the No. 1 2B. But I think I'd still be too scared to grab him in the first round of a mixed league.

• The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that Brewers management told Ryan Braun not to swing a bat for the next few days because of the strained muscle in his side. Braun told reporters the injury is a "non-issue," and that the team is being overcautious, and that an MRI reportedly showed no significant damage. But Braun has also said that his current injury is related to the one that caused him to struggle through most of last September, so the Brewers' concern seems justified. The team does still expect Braun to be ready to go for Opening Day.

Carlos MarmolLisa Blumenfeld/Getty ImagesCarlos Marmol's draft stock has dropped a bit given the uncertainty over his role in the Cubs' bullpen.
• The Chicago Sun-Times reports that Lou Piniella expects to decide on the Cubs' closer this weekend. He'll be choosing between Carlos Marmol, who struggled in the World Baseball Classic, and Kevin Gregg, who's been relatively unconscious this spring. This is clearly a very important fantasy decision, and I'm guessing Sweet Lou is looking for any excuse to pick Marmol. But Marmol got lit up Thursday night, allowing two runs in an inning. We'll get the official word on this decision before Monday.

• As for another NL closers' battle, the Rockies' Clint Hurdle tells the Denver Post he'll choose between Huston Street and Manny Corpas in the next few days, and that Street has narrowed the gap between the two pitchers with some fine spring outings of late.

• The L.A. Times reports that Brian Fuentes looked better in his Thursday outing, though they didn't discuss whether his velocity actually returned. Angels manager Mike Scioscia still seems adamant that his new closer will be ready to go on Opening Day, though. Fuentes has a stiff back, which bodes poorly for a ton of use this year. I'm treading just a little bit lightly right now when it comes to Fuentes.

Francisco Cordero had another terrible outing Thursday night, walking two, throwing a wild pitch and allowing three runs in two-thirds of an inning. Like Fuentes, Cordero has had velocity troubles this spring. The Reds don't seem to think their closer is hurt, but he's another guy you need to be wary of right now, if only because he's returning from ankle surgery. If Cordero were to spit the bit early in the year, one assumes Jared Burton or David Weathers would get first crack. If that were the case, I'd certainly like Burton more.

• The L.A. Times reports that Ervin Santana officially will miss the season's first month because of a sprained ligament in his elbow. The good news is that Santana has already begun a throwing program, and, barring a setback, looks likely to avoid surgery. The Angels' rotation is in relatively dire straits right now: Kelvim Escobar probably won't be ready to go at the season's outset, Santana is out and John Lackey has elbow tightness that caused him to miss his most recent scheduled spring start. Joe Saunders and Jered Weaver are fine (so far), and Dustin Moseley seems penciled into the rotation because of Escobar's recovery from shoulder surgery. Now Nick Adenhart and Shane Loux look likely to battle for Santana's rotation spot (Adenhart has the lead there). If Lackey can't go on Opening Day, both of those kids could find themselves in the rotation.

• So much for Justin Duchscherer as my favored sleeper. The Duke's draft value was super-low through all of March because of elbow problems, but in recent weeks he had been making noise about how he felt better, and thought he might even be ready to pitch in the season's first week. Scratch that. The A's official site reports that Duchscherer didn't last an inning Thursday night in a minor league game, and is now virtually certain to start the year on the disabled list. Bob Geren told the San Francisco Chronicle that there's no chance Duchscherer pitches the first week of the regular season, and the paper suggests that "exploratory surgery might be the next step." That isn't good.

Cole Hamels threw a 48-pitch bullpen session Thursday, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer, and reported no pain in his left elbow. He's scheduled to throw 70 pitches against the Red Sox on Saturday.

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Chad Billingsley, who was scheduled to throw a bit on the side to test his strained groin Thursday, didn't perform that test and was scratched from his next spring start, according to the Dodgers' official site. The team is reportedly still hoping Billingsley will throw a bullpen session Friday.

• The Braves announced that Rafael Soriano might begin the year on the disabled list because of a strained muscle in his side. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the Braves aren't exactly sure of the extent of Soriano's injury, which occurred Tuesday, so there's a chance he'll be OK to go to start the year. But it sounds as though they're bracing for the worst from their primary setup man.

• No need to worry about Torii Hunter's face, which was struck by a batted ball that bounced off the center-field wall and smacked his nose. Hunter returned to the Angels' lineup Thursday night and drilled two homers.



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