I recently conducted a Q&A with David Bloom of Around The Majors. David's answers to my questions are in italics.
1. What do you think are the most compelling roster and position battles that will last until the final days of Spring Training, providing us with something to focus on until Opening Day?
I think the Reds left field position battle is worth following. The Reds have long time minor leaguer Chris Dickerson penciled in after a strong debut last season hitting .304/413/.608 in 122 plate appearances. The thing about Dickerson is that he consistently strikes out a lot and has never really achieved this type of production throughout his minor league career. However, the left handed hitting Dickerson could still achieve double digit home runs and stolen bases. Although Jacque Jones and Jerry Hairston are also in the mix for left field, it’s really only Jonny Gomes who seems to be Dickerson’s main competition. In Gomes, the former Tampa Bay Ray, he has demonstrated a few periods of success across his 5 year major league career, but has never been able to put it all together. In recent years the right handed batting outfielder has bounced between AAA Durham and the Rays big league club. His defense has never been good, and seems better suited for an American league team where he can DH. I am inclined to think this starts off as a platoon situation between Gomes and Dickerson. I expect Dickerson to get some starts in center as well, and depending on how Willy Taveras produces will determine if Dickerson stays in left field.
2. Which individual players that switched teams during the offseason do you think will benefit most from the change of scenery?
One player that comes to mind in the AL is Pat Burrell who signed with the Rays. He can be used in the DH role which better fits his defensive abilities at this point of his career. He is a slugger that can bat in the middle of the Rays lineup and make a lot of the hitters on the Rays better with the added protection in the batting order. In the National league, one player that comes to mind is Javier Vazquez of the Braves who is back in the National league where he has had a lot of success in the past. Vazquez, mainly a fly ball pitcher, pitched a lot better than his ERA indicates. His .308 BABIP seems to indicate he was unlucky in 2008, since his peripheral were strong with a 8.64 K/9 along with a decent WHIP.
3. Most people agree that Matt Wieters will be an impact fantasy (and real) baseball player as soon as he plays in the majors. Are there any other rookies that you expect to have a fantasy impact prior to September?
One player that seems to be on the fast track is one of my personal favorites in Jordan Schafer who I saw play in person last season playing against AA Carolina. For the second spring training in a row, he is tearing the cover off the ball. It seems Bobby Cox is in his corner, and it’s just a matter of time before he gets his chance to play center field on a regular basis. As well, we all know about David Price from the 2008 World Series. Eventually, he will be a fixture in the Rays pitching rotation for years to come. One other prospect who plays catcher like Wieters is Angel Salome of the Brewers. He missed some time last year due to a drug suspension, but hit an outstanding .360/.415/.559 in AA.
4. What team do you think is likely to surprise people this year...both in terms of team performance, and the viability of its players on fantasy rosters?
I am thinking the team that will surprise in 2009 is the Reds in the National League Central. Last year, we found out about pitcher Edinson Volquez as he came on the scene to be a top of the rotation pitcher. The Reds pitching is pretty solid and will be the key to the turn around. Aaron Harang is gearing up to have a comeback season and hopes to be in the conversation as the ace of the staff once again. Second year pitcher Johnny Cueto , along with Bronson Arroyo make up a solid middle of the rotation pitchers. Micah Owings who came over in the Adam Dunn trade has been impressive so far this spring, and could soon be known as the newest pitcher the Reds stole from another organization.
5. Are the people predicting 83-85 wins for the A's crazy, or is their progress rebuilding really that far along?
I am thinking Billy Beane has really done a fine job rebuilding this organization with his tear it down, build it up approach. He restocked the organization with young talent which also allowed them to make key deals for players such as Matt Holliday, who will still be a good player even though he is away from the thin air in Colorado. With the Angel taking a hit both on personnel and injuries, the AL West is there for the taking. The 83-85 wins are certainly achievable.