It sure is nice that Spring Training games are underway. Researching players for your upcoming draft is fun in the early going, but nothing beats good, old-fashioned box scores and stats lines.
Yes, stats in Spring Training can be misleading at best and meaningless at worst. But for Minor Leaguers in big-league camp, any good impression they can make will only help in their climb to the Majors and onto your fantasy roster.
With that in mind, the Futures Exchange will look around Spring Training camps.
In the Bigs
Brewers 3B Ryan Braun should be in this category with a question mark -- In the bigs? -- because with Corey Koskie's health up in the air, it's unclear what Braun's chances are. As of right now, however, Braun is being given every opportunity to win the third base job in Milwaukee. He certainly hasn't hurt his chances early on, going 6-for-10 with three homers, eight RBIs and a stolen base. A few more days like that and they won't be able to send him down. ... The flip side is Alex Gordon. It sounded like the Royals were prepared to have him open the season as the third baseman with a decent spring, moving Mark Teahen to the outfield. Starting out the Cactus League schedule 1-for-9 is not a way to cement that position. It's still too early to write him off, but watch him carefully. If he starts pressing, the Royals could have him begin the year in Omaha.
There are a couple of interesting arms contending for back-of-the-rotation spots. In Arizona, Micah Owings is a part of a large group of pitchers vying for the No. 5 slot (technically, there are two spots with Randy Johnson expected to miss a little time). He got things going in the right direction by tossing two scoreless innings with just two hits and three strikeouts. Of course, several of his competitors also have gotten off to good starts. Enrique Gonzalez tossed three scoreless innings on Monday and Dustin Nippert was strong, too. Sure, a rookie No. 5 starter shouldn't get people too excited, but the D-Backs could be interesting this year and this competition is worth watching all spring. Over in Florida, things are looking interesting in Nats' camp. Matt Chico, the lefty who came over last August from the Diamondbacks, tossed three scoreless innings and allowed just one hit. Granted, it was against a Dodgers split-squad, but this puts him at least in the discussion for a rotation spot. And if you look at the other options, Chico's worth rooting for, especially if you're in an NL-only keeper league.
A Phone Call Away
Michael Bourn is still very much the Phillies' center fielder of the future. There were some who felt the job should be his had the Aaron Rowand trade been consumated. Rowand is still in town, which means Bourn gets some more development time in Triple-A, which isn't a bad thing. Going 6-for-13 with a pair of steals to start the spring certainly will help remind the powers that be that he's not far from being ready. You should be ready, too, especially if you're in a deep keeper league, because when Bourn puts it all together, he'll be a fantasy stud. ... Red Sox OF Jacoby Ellsbury also will head to Triple-A and he, too, has a pair of steals to open the Grapefruit League season. But he's gone just 1-for-7 in the early going, definitely a case where early spring stats should be disregarded.
Everyone needs to have Travis Buck on their radar screen. He showed up to A's camp in unbelievable shape and the 39 doubles he hit in a half-season last year will start turning into home runs. The injury bug already has hit the A's big-league outfield a bit early. If that continues, Buck could get the call sooner rather than later.
A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned Brandon Wood in a potential third basemen list. Sometimes, I get lucky. The Angels officially announced not long after that Wood was indeed moving to the hot corner and he's been working there tirelessly every day this spring. If he settles in nicely and starts going off in Triple-A, the Angels may decide they'd rather move Chone Figgins around the field and hand the job to Wood and his ridiculous power potential.
It's amazing to think that a guy who came in with such hype in such a big media market has kind of become a forgotten man, but that's what's happened to Alay Soler with the Mets. Mike Pelfrey and Philip Humber are ahead of him on the depth chart, but Soler has looked good this spring, allowing just one run in five innings. Pelfrey tossed two scoreless frames, but Humber got lit up in his lone outing. All three could form a pretty deep rotation at Triple-A New Orleans to start the year.
A Year Away
Those who have read the Futures Exchange in the past know I love to mention catchers whenever possible, realizing how hard they are to find in fantasy and how difficult it is to develop a good one in real baseball. I'm not sure how good a fantasy catcher Kurt Suzuki will be, but the A's job behind the plate should be his in 2008. He's hit .283 in the Minors and is the kind of guy who probably will hit more than pepole expect. He's off to a nice 2-for-4 start this spring.
In full disclosure, I can't just bring up when I was smart (Brandon Wood). In this section on Fantasy Opening Day, I talked about how the Pirates' Neil Walker was primed to have a big season. I also added how he's shown the ability to stay behind the plate. Oops. Walker, like Wood, is now a third baseman. Unlike Wood, this move is definitely permanent. So cross Walker off your catching list, but add him to your third base list. Early reports on his defense were encouraging, and without having to catch, his bat could take off quickly.
Scott Elbert, also mentioned here last time as someone who needed to refine his command, had none of it in his spring debut. In two innings, he allowed just one hit but yielded two runs -- one earned -- after walking four. He did strike out three, but he'll obviously have to throw more strikes if he wants to get to Los Angeles in 2007. It was not a good debut for one of my favorite breakout candidates, the Marlins' Chris Volstad. The right-hander gave up six hits and four runs -- two earned -- in 2 2/3 innings.
Down the Road
There aren't too many who fit this category in big-league camp, but it should be noted that Pirates' 2006 first-rounder Brad Lincoln has been delayed in getting going because of a tender elbow. The Pirates are optimistic that he'll only miss a few weeks, but they've had some rough times with pitching prospects in the past. This could delay Lincoln, who most thought would move quickly, from jumping on the fast track. ... Brandon Morrow was taken one spot after Lincoln (No. 5 overall) and the Mariners prospect was able to get his feet wet with a scoreless inning. Some see him as a reliever eventually, but the M's will let him start for now.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.