By Andrew Thell
– Prince Fielder’s fantasy owners and Milwaukee Brewers fans alike are in a tizzy over the bulky first baseman’s sluggish start, but it’s being a bit overblown. Don’t get me wrong, when a 25-year-old coming off a 46-home-run season and with a .543 career slugging percentage ends the first month of the season slugging .360 with just 2 homers it’s incredibly disappointing.
Slow starts are always a cause for concern. The fear here isn’t that he’ll have a bad season, just bad by his considerable standards. Is it possible this year Fielder hits .270 with 32 HRs? Sure, but I don’t see that happening. He’s too talented, and we’ve seen this before. Although players like Mark Teixeira and Adam LaRoche have much more well-publicized poor April splits young Mr. Fielder is no stranger to coming slowly out of the gates. In 2009 he hit just 3 blasts in April, in 2008 he belted just 4. For his career Prince has a modest .470 SLG in the month of April, by far his worst month. It might not be the 50+ HR season some were hoping for, but I think Tons of Fun will be just fine. And yes, the references to his weight might be kind of tired, but have you seem him lately? I love Fielder, but the guy is huge. You’re a professional athlete man, get it together.
– So Kelly Johnson, eh? Did not see that coming. I drafted him in my friendly fantasy league because I thought the dude has some talent, he was undervalued after one rough season, his new ballpark is great for lefty hitters, I thought the lineup surrounding him in Arizona could only do good things for his bottom line and I waited far too long to grab MI talent in a league with 3 MI slots. So I was what you might call optimistic, though that was somewhat precipitated by desperation. I thought there was 20-23 HR, 10-15 SB upside here, and I was admittedly being very generous with my own guy. Never in my most desperately optimistic dreams did I imagine Johnson would smack 9 home runs in April.
There’s absolutely no reason to think he can keep this up, but there’s also no reason to think Johnson can’t have a career year either. He’s entrenched himself atop the potent Diamondbacks lineup, so he should see pitches, get plenty of opportunity to run and cross the plate with frequency. The home-run pace has slowed in May, but Johnson has stolen 2 bags and if he can just stay active on the bases and average 3-4 HRs per month from here on out – what I initially pegged him to do – we’re looking at 25+ HRs, 10+ SBs and 90 runs. Not bad for your late-round gamble. I don’t see this as a sell-high opportunity as much as a chance to cash in on a career year. Besides, it’s not like your league mates are likely to pay full freight on Johnson’s current numbers – they likely hate the man at this point.
– The Minnesota Twins roster is as well-constructed and balanced as it’s been in nearly 20 years. Outside of third base they have the chance to have productive hitters in every spot in the order, which means nobody has to press to produce offense. It’s resulted in a team on-base percentage of .363, which is second only to the Yankees of New York. The man at the center of it all is Justin Morneau, who leads all of baseball with an absurd .483 OBP. His 24 walks tie Yanks first baseman Nick Johnson for most in baseball, but Morneau is getting a bit more production out of his at-bats – 20 runs, 6 HRs, 19 RBIs and a tidy 1.129 OPS. With so much support behind him in the lineup and quality table-setters like Denard Span, Orlando Hudson and some guy named Joe Mauer in front this has the makings of a huge year if Morneau’s balky back can hold up.
Checking in with the San Francisco Giants starters and Milton Bradley, after the jump …
– They’ll have to make the postseason first, but in a 7-game series the San Francisco Giants rotation is looking mighty scary. It’s a friendly environment for pitchers in AT&T park, and the Giants arms are taking full advantage with the starters notching 13 wins in leading the team to first place in the NL West at 16-10. We all know Tim Lincecum, the two-time Cy Young winner, can shut down an opponent on any given night (1.70 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 56Ks in 42.1 IP). The less heralded (but excellent) Matt Cain is also off to a stellar start with a 2.84 ERA and 1.01 WHIP – and he has the second-worst ERA in the rotation. That’s because Barry Zito and Jonathan Sanchez have been fantastic thus far. I’d say Zito is pitching like it’s 2002 again, but he’s been better than that Cy Young season – 5 wins, 1.49 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and an encouraging .182 BAA.
Sanchez has been his typical electric self with 37 Ks in 29 innings – but it’s disconcerting that he’s only gotten 27 innings and 2 wins out of 5 starts despite a 2.48 ERA. Of the guys mentioned above he’s the most likely to fall off because of a characteristic lack of efficiency. Sanchez, as always, simply walks too many batters (18 BBs) and struggles to throw strikes consistently. He doesn’t win games (8 wins in 32 starts a year ago) because he doesn’t stay in ‘em long enough to get a decision, and while he’s an extremely talented 27-year-old lefty with great strikeout ability, the act is growing a bit tiresome. I’m selling high in both leagues I own Sanchez.
– Every year there’s renewed optimism surrounding outfielder Milton Bradley – that’s what happens when a guy has that much talent and gets a change of scenery every 12 months. But after Wednesday’s outburst when he literally walked out on his teammates mid-game you have to wonder if the guy is getting toward the end of his considerable leash. When he’s on his game Bradley brings a great combination of on-base skills and pop, but when a guy is this cancerous in the locker room it’s hard to justify abiding such a dismal start.