The White Sox are going to go with some "veteran" options in every sense of the word to fill out the back end of their rotation this season, and I got a chance to see both of them up close before spring training ended. How will each of them fare, and does either have any fantasy value this season?
The 37-year-old (we think) Jose Contreras rebounded somewhat last year after a horrible 2007 campaign, but he was still a barely viable option in deep AL-only leagues before his season ended with a torn Achilles tendon in August.
Contreras was touching 92 mph at times in his final camp tune-up, which is where his velocity has been topping out the past couple of years, though he was mostly working in the 86-89 mph range with his usual array of arm slots and release points. The movement wasn't quite there compared with what it usually is, but he was still keeping batters off-balance. He wasn't throwing his mid-80s slider all that much, concentrating on his 75-78 mph slow splitter as his primary secondary pitch, and there was good sink and deception on it.
Still, despite some decent results this spring, there's not a lot to pin a resurgence on this season. The fastball is still going to be hittable, and his slider hasn't had quite the same bite in the past two years. I don't see him being a play in AL leagues.
Bartolo Colon, who will turn in 36 in May, pitched well enough late in camp to earn a rotation spot. His last decent fantasy season was in 2005, but he acquitted himself well in seven starts for the Red Sox last season.
Colon had offseason surgery to take out some bone chips in his elbow, which limited him in the early stages of spring training and put his readiness to start the season in question, especially when his velocity was sharply down in his early bullpen sessions and first two spring games.
Colon had an impressive relief outing to finish camp, working five shutout innings and striking out six against the D-backs on Saturday. Colon's velocity got better as the outing went along, starting out at 86-88 mph and increasing to where he was throwing 89-92 and touching 93 by the end, which is about where he was with the Red Sox last year, a good sign that the elbow issues are likely behind him. He was hiding the ball well, which made it look a touch faster, and there was decent tail on the end of the pitch.
He really wasn't throwing a lot of secondary pitches, because he was commanding the fastball well. That's always been his style, as even in his heyday he would throw secondary pitches only 20-25 percent of the time. He mixed in his low-80s slider and change, with the change having better separation than I saw last year but the slider somewhat flat and lacking its usual speed. Still, it was effective enough.
Colon has never been known for his um, conditioning, and back, elbow and shoulder problems in recent years mean his days of being a 200-inning workhorse are likely long gone, but he showed enough for me to think he can still be effective and potentially useful in deep leagues. I have him on reserve both in a deep AL-only and a deep mixed league to see if he can find some of his old form. The cost of acquisition is certainly right.
• Sticking with the White Sox's rotation for a moment, John Danks looks to be all systems go to repeat his breakout campaign of last year.
The addition of a cutter allowed him to take off last year, as it gave him a pitch with which he could jam right-handers and force ground balls. It also allowed Danks to rely less on his curve. As he has gotten more settled into the big leagues, he has been able to pick up velocity with his fastball, as his command has progressed to the point where he doesn't necessarily have to take something off to locate.
Far from being a soft-tossing lefty, Danks sits regularly at 92-93 mph. Though he didn't have great feel for his 86-89 mph cutter in the outing I saw, I wasn't too worried because there were a couple of good ones, and we can forgive some inconsistency in camp, especially as he's shown the ability to add and subtract velocity off it in the past. What impressed me the most was that both his change and curve looked very good. The changeup has always been a big part of Danks' repertoire and its sink and depth looked in midseason form. However, the curve was better than I saw last season, and was a plus pitch. After picking up the cutter, Danks put his curve in his back pocket, using it sparingly in 2008, but seems to have made it a point to bring it back this year, and based on this outing, it could be back with a vengeance.
Danks is getting relatively overlooked in many drafts, sliding later than he should. He's currently the 50th starting pitcher off the board in ESPN drafts according to average draft position (ADP), and that number is too low. Ted Lilly, for example is going at No. 32, and that's in the range Danks should be this season.
• I have to admit I was wrong on Ryan Dempster. Given his control issues in the past while working in the bullpen, I didn't think the transition to starting last year was going to work out, but not only did it work out, it exceeded the wildest expectations. All he did was post the lowest walk rate of his career, while posting a strikeout rate higher than many of his seasons in the bullpen.
Even so, all last year I was waiting for the wheels to fall off -- and of course they never did -- and even this spring I was still somewhat skeptical about his ability to do it again. I'm not sure why, perhaps it was all those years of waiting for him to harness his stuff and getting burned.
Dempster looked sharp and ready to post a solid season again in the outings I saw this spring. His delivery, which became much more controlled, deliberate and repeatable last year, was still sharp. Plus, he sported that same glove waggle he added in 2008 for deception. He finally found some mechanics last year that slowed his delivery down and allowed him to stay in rhythm, and he made them work.
His 90-92 mph fastball had good sink, his 83-86 mph slider was still a nasty out pitch, with tight, late break, and he's got a solid average 83 mph change mixed in to keep batters off the other two pitches. He was not only throwing strikes, he was also throwing strikes with his secondary stuff at any point in the count. You should put him on your roster with confidence.
• Naturally, when talking about the Cubs' rotation these days, everyone wants to know how Rich Harden looks.
More from Grey
Jason Grey has more scouting reports on rookies Nick Adenhart and Trevor Cahill, as well former prospects Kyle Davies and Anthony Reyes. To see his scouting reports on these other sleeper pitchers, log in to ESPN Insider.
Harden did not have a great camp, not really getting stretched out (topping out at 76 pitches in one outing), allowing seven homers over his last 11 innings, and never going five full frames. To be fair, he did have a nasty bout of food poisoning in mid-March that caused him to lose seven pounds, and he pronounced himself healthy and strong to make his first start on April 10. With Harden, just taking the mound is half the battle.
Harden's velocity was down a bit when he did pitch this spring, only occasionally hitting 93 mph, and usually working 89-91 mph. Again, given his somewhat aborted camp and not feeling 100 percent, it's not necessarily a red flag just yet, given that his delivery looked free and easy.
Harden is a fastball/changeup pitcher after drastically reducing his use of a split last season. He was homer-prone this spring largely because he had problems with the feel of his 80-83 mph change, leaving numerous ones up in the zone to be pounced on. There was some good sink on it at times, but he rarely had it working in camp. His slider has been basically just a "show me" pitch over the past three or four seasons. The pitch has some late tilt, but Harden uses it just to throw a hitter off-balance on occasion, and was that way in camp as well.
The line has always been that a healthy Harden is a productive Harden, but that wasn't necessarily the case this spring. We'll give him some of the benefit of the doubt given that he was sick at a key point in camp, but there could be some bumps in the road in the early going. Be prepared and don't necessarily make a knee-jerk reaction and cut him quickly if he starts slow.