Sunday, March 21, 2004

Fantasy BB: Lesser-known players make for key picks

Breakout spring may impact season

Forget that "other" version of March Madness and set down those brackets for a minute, will you? Because real insanity is trying to figure out whether a hot spring training for a middle-of-the-road player is a sign of a breakout season or just a mirage under the March sunshine.

When it comes to those mid- and late-round "tweeners" you have to make a call on at fantasy drafts, spring training can often mean everything when trying to predict which guys will become your pet sleepers, and which will become pet peeves.

Below is a look at some players who are burning things up right now, and what it may - or may not - mean for your fantasy squad.

• Cory Lidle, starting pitcher, Reds. For a guy who is traditionally a second-half pitcher, what is Lidle doing using his best stuff in the spring? In his first 10 innings of March, he allowed only two earned runs and looked very sharp for the Reds, who are desperate for quality in the starting rotation. Maybe it's time for a role reversal, with 2004 seeing the 32-year-old righty coming out of the gate quick, but fading after the All-Star break. Anyone who owned him during the second half of 2001 knows what Lidle is capable of, and that means he should merit consideration as a middle-to-back of the rotation guy.

• Enrique Wilson, second baseman, Yankees. A-Rod, Jeter, Giambi ... and Enrique? Quit laughing, because the 30-year-old utility man is the leading candidate to start at second base for New York. He hit .500 (13-for-26) to start the spring with a nine-game hitting streak and would have to implode to lose the gig to Miguel Cairo or Homer Bush. Still, his sizzling spring aside, Wilson remains a career .253 hitter in seven big-league seasons. Hardly a super sleeper, but worth keeping on your radar screen, especially as a guy to nab off waivers should his hot hitting carry into April.

• Peter Bergeron, outfielder, Expos. Last spring, Bergeron got off to an 0-for-20 start in spring training and was sent packing to Triple-A Edmonton. This March, he's hitting over .400 with an eight-game hitting streak. While he's not yet a lock to be starting in the outfield on opening day, he at least appears to have the horrors of 2002 (.187 batting average) behind him. He's always had the skills to be a great player, and while you shouldn't jump all over him in your draft, consider using a late pick or watch the waiver wire for his name.

• Terrmel Sledge, outfielder, Expos. Montreal's prize prospect reached base 14 times in his first 22 plate appearances of the spring, helping keep him on the fast track to win the left-field job. After his big season at Triple-A Edmonton last year (.324, 22 home runs, 92 RBI), there's just one problem: Sledge tested positive for steroids in October while at a U.S. Olympic training camp. Given how lax MLB is on this issue, the bigger worry is how Sledge's power numbers will dip if he stays clean. Regardless, he's another guy who probably won't be drafted in too many leagues, but could become a hot waiver-wire commodity should he start fast.

• J.D. Drew, outfielder, Braves. Worth mentioning here because his ridiculous spring continues. Coming into this week, Drew had gone 8-for-11 with five home runs and 14 RBI. At this point, somebody in your league is likely to buy the hype and grab Drew earlier than he should. But if - and it's a big if - Mr. Drew stays healthy and plays 150 games in Atlanta's lineup, he'll be in for a monster season.

Hot box

Pick him up: Larry Walker, outfielder, Rockies. OK, OK, he's no spring chicken. He's coming off elbow and shoulder surgeries, he grows that annoying goatee and Clint Hurdle is talking about having him bat leadoff. But he still plays at Coors Field, he appears healthy - for the moment - and he's still Larry Walker. He'll probably slide further than he should in most drafts.

Sit him down: Mark Redman, starting pitcher, Athletics. After getting hammered for seven runs in three innings last weekend, Redman sported a 17.61 ERA for the spring. He's a notoriously slow starter whose ERA and WHIP (walks + hits per innings pitched) won't win him many admirers in fantasy leagues.

Keep an eye on: Jolbert Cabrera, outfielder, Dodgers. Cabrera has a pair of two-homer games this spring after hitting only six in 347 at-bats last year. Fluke? Surely, but he merits more watching if you're shopping for outfield sleepers in 2004.


John Nemo can be reached at

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