Next in the blog series is evaluating AL starting pitchers performing well this spring…
Doug Fister, Tigers: I already wrote about Fister in one of my columns this spring, but he is worth talking about again because of his hot spring. Fister was absolutely outstanding after landing on a contender at the July trade deadline. It's true he had a .245 BABIP in the second half last season, but even if it rises back to the norm (.290-.300) in 2012, Fister should still post a respectable stat line. He's going to be backed by what should be one of the best offenses in the majors. Fister is a mid-rotation Fantasy arm with upside.
Clay Buchholz, Red Sox: Buchholz's numbers this spring are an added bonus, but the best news is that he is healthy and it appears he is past the back issues that plagued him last season. I'm not guaranteeing he is going to post similar numbers to what he did when he was healthy in 2010 (17-7, 2.23 ERA, 1.20 WHIP) because he was a bit lucky that season (.261 BABIP). However, Buchholz is the 47th most drafted starting pitcher in Head-to-Head formats and 43rd most drafted in Rotisserie formats, and he definitely has the potential to outperform his draft position. Crazy as it sounds, but I've been in drafts where Buchholz falls to the late rounds. That's excellent value if you get him there.
Francisco Liriano, Twins: Liriano begged the Twins to pitch in winter ball this offseason as he said it would prepare him for the season. The Twins obviously were very hesitant to oblige given Liriano's past health issues. However, it seems Liriano knows best. Liriano got his wish and the results thus far have been fantastic. Take out his one bad spring start, Liriano has yielded just two hits and one walk in 10 scoreless innings in his other three spring starts. Not to forget he has 18 strikeouts in 13 innings. You know the risks with Liriano, but he finished as a top 35 Fantasy starting pitcher in 2010, so he could end up a steal on Draft Day if he reverts back to that form.
Brett Cecil, Blue Jays: While we are on the topic of bounce-back candidates, Cecil definitely could be in the mix for comeback player of the year in 2012. I'm a big fan on players who are highly motivated. I know not every player bounces back, but I've got a good feeling about Cecil. He came to camp 30 pounds lighter, and even when he has a good performance this spring he always finds the negatives. It doesn't seem he will rest until he reverts back to the guy that was a 15-game winner in 2010. I can still see Cecil having a high WHIP and you likely still won't get a ton of strikeouts from him, but I wouldn't be hesitant to take a late-round flier on him in deep formats.
Derek Holland, Rangers: Holland to me gets tossed aside in Fantasy drafts because he wasn't a bonus baby, but that's why I like him even more. Holland pitched his way from a 25th-round pick in 2006 to one of Baseball America's top 35 prospects in 2009. He won 16 games last season and the fact he is pitching well this spring is encouraging because Holland doesn't usually shine this time of year. Holland does have a career 1.41 WHIP and his strikeouts per nine innings dropped to 7.4 last season, but I'm encouraged because Holland became more of a ground-ball pitcher in 2011 and that will definitely help him when he pitches at his hitter-friendly home park. I would take Holland for the middle of my Fantasy rotation any day.
Rick Porcello, Tigers: Porcello is one of those cases where he is a decent MLB arm, having won 10-plus games in each of his first three seasons, but it just doesn't translate into Fantasy gold. Porcello switched his offseason routine to mirror that of AL MVP Justin Verlander, but that doesn't mean he becomes an instant AL Cy Young candidate. Also, Porcello usually has excellent spring stats, so he is a player that we can't get caught up in the numbers. I'll wait to see how he performs in the regular season before I jump on the bandwagon.
Brian Matusz, Orioles: I believe I'm going to take the same wait-and-see approach with Matusz. His spring numbers are encouraging since he struggled last spring and that led to a down season. Catcher Matt Wieters continues to rave that the old Matusz is back, but batters are still hitting .282 off of him this spring, which is why I remain concerned. Also, the O's aren't expected to contend, so Matusz might struggle for wins again. I'm not going to get caught up in the hoopla and I will leave Matusz as a late-round flier.
Luke Hochevar, Royals: He's no Brien Taylor, but Hochevar hasn't exactly pitched like a No. 1 overall pick in his MLB career. But maybe now is the time we start taking notice. Hochevar is coming off a very strong second half, which he went 6-3 with a 3.52 ERA, .222 opponents' batting average, .263 BABIP and struck out 68 batters in 79 1/3 innings (12 starts). The difference appears to be Hochevar is finally developing into a pitcher and not just a thrower. He's getting better movement on his pitches, especially his sinker, and manager Ned Yost keeps commenting that when Hochevar gets beats, he's getting beat on good pitches. His win potential still could be a concern, but if Hochevar gets off to a fast start, then I'm ready to back the right-handed hurler.Coming up... NL pitchers