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Keep eye on Rockies' Nicasio as a sleeper

While I'm personally rooting for ageless left-hander Jamie Moyer to become a member of the Colorado Rockies' rotation this April, the fact is he doesn't have much fantasy relevance. Yes, Moyer did manage to concoct a 1.10 WHIP over 19 starts for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2010, but it's tough to expect the same productivity in 2012. He is, after all, 49 years old. Instead, fantasy owners should be watching Rockies right-hander Juan Nicasio. He's neither overcoming age nor elbow problems, but his story is similarly uplifting, and likely will be statistically important.

Nicasio sports a 3.06 ERA over four spring starts for the Rockies, and it appears he has locked up a rotation spot behind right-handers Jeremy Guthrie and Jhoulys Chacin. Nicasio isn't likely to challenge Roy Halladay or Clayton Kershaw for top NL pitcher honors, but last season, his big league ERA stood at 3.95 entering his 13th start, a Friday night game at Coors Field against the Washington Nationals. I can still remember just hoping Nicasio would live after taking an Ian Desmond line drive off his head in the second inning. Nicasio's skull and neck broke and he suffered bleeding in the brain. ESPN.com colleague Jerry Crasnick spoke to Nicasio and teammates about his remarkable comeback a month ago, but since then, the story has advanced.

While I'm hardly implying that Moyer's return to the big leagues is a publicity stunt -- his ERA is an even 1.00 this spring and he's earned his kudos -- let's be honest: he's 49. Nicasio was born two months after Moyer made his major league debut in June 1986 by beating Steve Carlton at Wrigley Field. (I watched it!) Nicasio is more control artist than pure strikeout stud, but his 58 strikeouts in 71 2/3 innings reflects an above-average strikeout rate of 7.3 whiffs per nine innings. In the minors, Nicasio fanned more hitters, but also allowed many hits, in some part due to the ballparks he pitched in, but he's also generally around the plate. Still, there's potential for him to be serviceable in deeper leagues, and again, who would have thought even that was possible after watching him lie on the mound after being hit last year. And if you're worried about the Coors Field factor, don't: In Nicasio's six home outings before the awful finale, his ERA was 1.57 and his WHIP less than 1, and he was 4-0. Nicasio allowed two runs in that Aug. 5 game.

ESPN Fantasy projects Nicasio -- who is not close to being selected in ESPN live drafts and is owned in 0.3 percent of mixed leagues -- for eight wins and 111 strikeouts in 133 innings and a reasonable 4.13 ERA and 1.29 WHIP. Sure, in a mixed league one can do better, but I'm sure many of you play in far deeper formats. What if Nicasio makes 30 starts? Nicasio went for $7 in the LABR NL-only auction three weeks ago, as I recall a bidding war that included interested colleague Tristan H. Cockcroft. In Tout Wars NL this past weekend, Nicasio went for $6. He was a dollar pick in the far deeper mixed league, but the fact he was chosen at all in a 15-team format tells you he's become relevant. Moyer, now 49 and a really nice guy, was not selected in either league.

For now, I wouldn't choose Nicasio in a 10- or 12-team league, but go the extra buck in NL-only leagues.

Briefly, here are my thoughts on other Rockies hurlers:

Chacin: The walks always scare me. Then again, the walks were generally what kept me away from one-time ace Ubaldo Jimenez as well (and avoiding him these days would be wise). Chacin's strikeout rate dropped quite a bit last season, while he again issued four walks per nine innings. That's a lot. Chacin led the NL in free passes, but there was a disturbing trend: The guy was unusable in the second half. His ERA was only 4.31, so it masked the dropping K rate, but his WHIP was 1.55. From first half to second, Chacin's K rate went from 7.8 to 5.7. I think Chacin's worth taking a late chance on if you've got bench space, and he's been more than capable at Coors Field, but he's the No. 79 starting pitcher in ESPN average live drafts because memories of his second half remain. In NL-only leagues, Nicasio is a better value later/cheaper.

Drew Pomeranz: On the surface it might seem like the young lefty would have been far better off in Cleveland, before being included in the Jimenez trade. While Coors Field remains a hitters' haven, I don't avoid Rockies pitchers like I used to. I will avoid Pomeranz this year, though. The kid has major strikeout potential but remains inexperienced, with five starts at Double-A and none in Triple-A. I think he'll make the rotation but struggle initially, but for those in dynasty leagues who don't need immediate returns, go get him. He profiles as a 200-strikeout guy with upside, even with Coors Field behind him.

Guthrie: Well, he's durable, but in his case, I think he was better off in the AL East with Baltimore, facing the likes of the Yankees and Red Sox. Guthrie isn't a strikeout guy and while he'll face pitchers in the NL, there's major WHIP damage ahead. Guthrie has allowed 86 home runs the past three seasons. I don't think he'll allow quite that many in 2012 alone, but Bronson Arroyo (46 homers allowed in 2011) will have competition on the leaderboard. Innings eaters are only valuable if they deliver good innings.</p