Bringin' the Noise: A pair of aces

Nearly two decades ago Barry Bonds'(notes) frame resembled Olive Oyl, Randy Johnson's(notes) golden mullet had yet to unlock its mystical powers and Sid Bream's well-groomed lady tickler was driving road beef wild.

That same year, 1990, also marked a tipping point in Atlanta Braves history.

The perennial laughing stock of the NL West in the late 80s, Bobby Cox's club was slowly building a dynasty one lethal arm at a time. Two homegrown southpaws, Tom Glavine(notes) and Steve Avery, along with acquired hands John Smoltz(notes), Pete Smith and later Greg Maddux(notes), were entrusted to resurrect an organization wrought by futility.

Although Glavine, a freckle-faced hockey phenom from Massachusetts, was considered a marquee prospect, the hype surrounding him paled in comparison to Avery. The third overall pick in the '88 amateur draft was the poster boy of the franchise's future. Even before his first big league pitch, his cardboard likeness created mass hysteria among adult and prepubescent card sharks (the Noise included) in hobby shops across the nation.


Armored glove, brass knuckles, Southern League championship ring -- no matter what Medlen clenches, his grade school youthfulness and scrawny Lincecum-like build aren't intimidating. But his stellar 10.65 K/9 at Triple-A Gwinnett certainly is.


Unfortunately, Avery's meteoric rise was short-lived. After going 47-25 with a marvelous 3.17 ERA and 1.19 WHIP from '91-93, his career path buckled. Spurred by a heavy early workload (222 IP/year), the then 24-year-old was plagued by injuries and ineffectiveness, forever dimming his once lucid star.

However, his under-publicized teammate, Glavine, went on to earn historic accolades in his 23-year career, including 10 All-Star appearances, two Cy Young awards, a World Series MVP and 300-plus career victories.

Flash forward 19 years …

The 2009 Braves, similar to the Year of the Ice (Vanilla), are blessed with two electric pitching prospects destined to propel them into the next decade – Tommy Hanson(notes) and Kris Medlen(notes).

Hanson, like Avery before him, is the more ballyhooed prospect. His blazing 92-95 mph fastball, devastating off-speed junk (12-to-6 curve, hard slider, change) and remarkable Triple-A numbers (47.2 IP, 1.70 ERA, 12.20 K/9, 2.67 BB/9) have caused many in the fantasy community to erotically combust. His "Eastbound and Down" appearance has generated a similar response from female trailer park citizens.

Unsurprisingly, the shadow cast by the 6-foot-6 flamethrower has disguised the dynamite contributions of the 5-foot-10 Medlen, both figuratively and physically. The miniature magician, ranked as the ninth-best prospect in the organization by Baseball America, has been equally dominant at Gwinnett. Don't let those pinchable cheeks fool you. Equipped with a sharp-moving 92-94 mph fastball, filthy curve, change and slider, the 23-year-old has compiled spectacular numbers. In 37.2 innings, he's posted a 1.19 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 2.42 BB/9 and 10.65 K/9. His bulldog demeanor, pinpoint control and ability to coax favorable contact (44.3 GB%) are extraordinary qualities. Comparatively, he's a higher strikeout version of Kevin Slowey(notes). Cox has marveled at the kid's general make-up and ability to throw strikes:

"He's throwing great. He's got three-plus pitches, and he's quick as a cat. I think he's picked off five guys, which is hard to do from the right-hander's side."

With the ancient Glavine still holding on at 43, Medlen, who makes his major league debut Thursday against Colorado, will be given a trial run until the future HOFer fully recuperates in the minors. If he's effective, the versatile rookie could remain with the club in a relief role until Glavine eventually succumbs to aging. Remember, he accumulated an insane 25:1 K:BB as a reliever in the Arizona Fall League last year and was worked out of the pen in spring training. It's not unfathomable to think he could become the third closing option behind Mike Gonzalez(notes) and Rafael Soriano(notes).

Expected to clear waivers in most Y! leagues today (May 21), he's someone worth chasing in deeper mixed (14-teams) and NL-only formats. Of course, given the uncertainty of his rotation tenure, you're not dropping proven talent for his services.

The enormous Avery-like expectations for Hanson are completely warranted. He's a rare treasure with gigantic upside. But as we've learned from the past, the masked Medlen just might reveal himself to be Atlanta's true future ace.

Fearless Forecast: 98 IP, 5 W, 4.28 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 86 K

Here are this week's flames, lames and stars of video games:

Fantasy Flames
Gary Sheffield(notes) NYM OF 716 24
Market Value: Moderate Buy (14-team mixed, NL-only)
Lowdown: Even at a crusty 40-years-ancient, Sheffield can still seriously harm an opposing pitcher with one flick of the wrist. No longer the monster masher of the past, the 500-homer member has dialed down the power in an attempt to become a more consistent, productive hitter. Even he admits, "numbers aren't my thing anymore." But thrust into an expanded role with Carlos Delgado(notes) sidelined for the next several weeks, the Mets' newest cleanup hitter has delivered plus production. Since May 13, he's raised his BA nearly 60 points, compiling four multi-hit games. Homers will be a premium, but given his sharp eye (17.4 BB%) and career best 88.4 contact percentage, appreciable BA, RBI and runs yields are expected.
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 335 at-bats, .282 BA, 8 HR, 52 RBI, 56 R, 2 SB
Cristian Guzman(notes) WAS SS 153 59
Market Value: Strong BA/R Buy (12-team mixed, NL-only)
Lowdown: As noted by the Noise's esteemed colleague Andy "Grizzly" Behrens on Wednesday, the Nats shortstop is the king of impatience (2 BB in last 174 at-bats). Heck, only David Ortiz(notes) homers, Kerry Wood(notes) saves and Mets fan commode dives are rarer occurrences than Guzman walks. Though leadoff hitters are encouraged to work counts, Manny Acta isn't concerned with his table-setter's aggressive tactics. Based on Guzman's returns, there's no reason to worry. Hitting a ridiculous .377 on the year, he's collected 17 multi-hit games and is on pace to exceed the century mark in runs. His average will likely settle around .320 by year's end and he's stowed the running shoes, but the 31-year-old will undoubtedly be one of the most undervalued MI in virtual baseball.
Fearless Forecast: 330 at-bats, .310 BA, 3 HR, 31 RBI, 68 R, 3 SB
Ben Zobrist(notes) TB SS, OF 171 45
Market Value: Strong Buy (12-team mixed, AL-only)
Lowdown: Botching lineup cards and not playing the Zorilla everyday suggest Joe Maddon needs to wipe the fog off his glasses. It's mind-boggling an ultra-versatile weapon with blossoming power and a smooth glove hasn't earned daily time, especially in right over Gabe Gross(notes). However, with Pat Burrell(notes) disabled, Zobrist should finally take the field routinely. Stretching back to last season, the switch hitter has tallied a homer once in every 15.1 at-bats. Because of his passive-aggressive approach and favorable 0.84 GB/FB ratio, his sudden transformation from ground-ball weakling to long-ball warrior isn't an anomaly. With three appearances at second and one at third, he'll likely gain additional eligibility by midseason, catapulting his value. Obtuse commenters need to come to their senses: Zobrist is for real.
Fearless Forecast: 273 at-bats, .272 BA, 14 HR, 54 RBI, 46 R, 8 SB
Gerardo Parra(notes) ARI OF 1085 16
Market Value: Strong Buy (14-team mixed, NL-only)
Lowdown: The Rico Suave of the desert has transitioned smoothly from the minors. Seeing regular playing time with Conor Jackson(notes) shelved, the 22-year-old has smacked nine hits, three for extra bases, and driven in seven in his first 28 at-bats, all from the two spot. A strong contact hitter with marginal pop and plus wheels, the rookie compiled a .361 BA with three homers, 12 RBI and seven steals in 108 at-bats at Double-A Mobile prior to his promotion. Felipe Lopez(notes) and Miguel Montero(notes) have also raved about his fearless attitude and intense focus. A.J. Hinch believes he's "talented enough" to hold down a regular job, which suggests Jackson could be shifted back to first or the slumping Chris Young shipped to the minors to keep Parra's bat in the lineup. Owners with depleted outfields should seriously contemplate adding the widely available youngster.
Fearless Forecast: 245 at-bats, .288 BA, 3 HR, 46 RBI, 57 R, 12 SB
Alcides Escobar(notes) MIL SS 1000 2
Market Value: Prospect Watch (14-team mixed), Strong Buy (NL-only)
Lowdown: Rickie Weeks'(notes) season-ending wrist injury could eventually propel Escobar to the next level. The highly-touted prospect, who Baseball America ranked tops among shortstops, showcases an identical profile to the Rangers' Elvis Andrus(notes). In 157 at-bats with the Nashville Sounds, he's posted a respectable .273-2-12-29-18 line. His 6.1 BB% this season indicates patience isn't one of his strong suits, but his blazing speed and defensive wizardry are qualities that will surely earn him a promotion by midseason. If the undynamic duo of Craig Counsell(notes) and Casey McGehee(notes) flounder, J.J. Hardy(notes) or Bill Hall(notes) could be shifted to second to pave the way for Escobar. It's also possible the 22-year-old, who is already experimenting with action at the four, could fill the void. If he's recalled and earns regular at-bats, he could provide a sizable steals boost for MI deprived owners in deep mixed leagues.
Fearless Forecast: 188 at-bats, .270 BA, 2 HR, 27 RBI, 31 R, 15 SB
Jorge De La Rosa(notes) COL SP, RP 687 47
Market Value: Strong Buy (12-team mixed, NL-only)
Lowdown: Prior to Wednesday's implosion versus Atlanta, El Conquistador conquered NL opponents in his previous two starts. Sipping from the Fountain of Truth, the Rockies lefty racked 24 strikeouts in 15 innings. Excluding the drubbing by the Braves, he's posted a 2.76 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 8.46 K/9 and 3.83 BB/9 in 101.1 innings since August 1 of '08. Per Baseball Monster, that output ranked just ahead of rotation mainstays Cliff Lee(notes) and Rich Harden(notes). De La Rosa's improved command, groundball-coaxing skills (1.11 GB/FB), increased reliance on his fastball and change and magnified concentration explain his emergence. Colorado pitchers, especially winless ones, typically frighten fantasy managers, but De La Rosa is no Denny Neagle. Occasional sidetracks will occur, but the widely available lefty should be more than serviceable.
Fearless Forecast: 146.1 IP, 7 W, 3.93 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 140 K
Matt Harrison(notes) TEX SP 797 32
Market Value: Moderate Buy (12-team mixed, AL-only)
Lowdown: Mistakenly described as "terribly vanilla" by the Noise in early March, Harrison has converted many doubters. Since April 27 he's notched four wins and posted a 3.29 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and marvelous 21:4 K:BB in 35 innings. According to Baseball Monster, that's the 10th-most valuable yield among starters in mixed leagues. The teaming of Taylor Teagarden(notes) has done wonders for Harrison's confidence and command. If he can continue to induce abundant groundballs (1.40 GB/FB) and dodge the long ball, double-digit wins and a sub 4.00 ERA are attainable. Being a contact pitcher, his strikeout totals will be unexciting, but he should be a sound fifth starter in 12-team and deeper mixed leagues.
Fearless Forecast: 131 IP, 8 W, 4.21 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 72 K
Josh Outman(notes) OAK SP, RP 250 8
Market Value: Moderate Buy (14-team mixed, AL-only)
Lowdown: One of the previously unknown products shipped from Philadelphia to Oakland in the Joe Blanton(notes) deal, the hard-throwing Outman has quickly developed into a fantasy force. Equipped with a 93-96 mph fastball that occasionally touches 97, a plus slider, change and curve, the southpaw has confounded hitters. Since May 1, he's totaled a sparkling 2.42 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 8.14 K/9 and 2.85 BB/9. His air-shot heavy 0.74 GB/FB ratio and 1.38 HR/9 rate are unattractive numbers, but pitching half his games in the cavernous Coliseum should limit the damage. Run support will be an ongoing issue, but his valuable K dividend alone makes Outman ownable in deeper mixed leagues.
Fearless Forecast: 127 IP, 6 W, 4.34 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 119 K
Fantasy Lames
Andre Ethier(notes) LAD OF 101 96
Market Value: Strong Buy (all leagues)
Lowdown: No one has missed Manny's Marley-like locks more than Ethier. Since Ramirez's departure, the lefty swinger has failed to record a multi-hit game, going 6-for-53 (.113 BA) with zero homers and three RBIs. More alarming, according to his uncharacteristic 0.80 GB/FB ratio and 13.3 infield fly-ball percentage, he's popping up weakly too often. But despite the massive downslide and unfriendly peripherals, the slumping outfielder is worth purchasing at a discounted rate. Joe Torre agrees. Simply put: Ethier is too good a hitter for a month-plus slump to endure. His growing patience and solid contact numbers (85.7 CT%) are identifiable with a .300, not a .250, hitter. He'll rebound soon.
Fearless Forecast: 375 at-bats, .291 BA, 14 HR, 61 RBI, 63 R, 3 SB
Jermaine Dye(notes) CHW OF 84 97
Market Value: Strong Buy (all leagues)
Lowdown: Some fantasy pundits would lead you to believe Dye's slowly-eroding superficial stats are a sign he's finally succumbing to Father Time. But, his peripherals profile paints a different picture. Yes, he's striking out at a more prolific rate ('08 K%: 17.6, '09: 25.2), but his batted ball and contact resume is nearly identical to previous South Side campaigns. Mired in a 7-for-36 nosedive (.194 BA), his BA has plummeted 20 points. Frustrated by the downturn, the normally docile Dye has even expressed his emotions outwardly. Still, the 35-year-old, who hit .328 with 16 homers and 40 RBI in June/July last season, is expected to reverse course rapidly. With two dingers and five RBIs in his past two games, your opportunity to buy low is fading.
Fearless Forecast: 420 at-bats, .285 BA, 22 HR, 67 RBI, 64 R, 2 SB
Hank Blalock(notes) TEX 1B, 3B 144 85
Market Value: Strong Sell (all leagues)
Lowdown: Hank the Bank is on the verge of foreclosure. Immersed in a 12-for-60 swoon, the brittle corner infielder has drastically dropped off after a notable April. Pressing at the dish, he's been overly trigger happy, indicative in his unsightly 27:5 K:BB split. He's also suffered from a severe case of the dips, apparent in his 21.4 infield fly-ball percentage. Logging at-bats in the 4-5 spot in one of the AL's most feared lineups is conducive for top-flight power totals. But given his fragile past, he can only deceive the injury imp for so long. Elite prospect Justin Smoak, who is tearing it up at Double-A Frisco (.338 BA, 6 HR, 24 RBI), would likely earn a promotion if Blalock is traded or sidelined for an extended period of time. Traded this week for Juan Pierre(notes), Adam Wainwright(notes) and Aaron Harang(notes) in one-for-one Plus league deals, he's someone to advertise to a homer-strapped owner before an inevitable DL stint occurs.
Fearless Forecast: 278 at-bats, .260 BA, 12 HR, 44 RBI, 39 R, 0 SB
Jose Lopez(notes) SEA 1B, 2B 671 58
Market Value: Moderate Sell (12-team mixed, AL-only)
Lowdown: Lopez, a popular mid-round sleeper selection back in March, is still hibernating. Due to his silent bat and questionable defense, rumors have begun to circulate the two-bagger could be benched. Currently wallowing in a 15-for-77 slide, he's homered just once and driven in a measly six runs since May 1. Last season, Lopez was one of fantasy's most consistent contributors, hitting .300 and exceeding 14 RBIs and 13 runs in four-of-six months. But his stark rise in fly balls ('08 FB%: 35.6, '09: 45.9) and inside swing percentage ('08: 64.0, '09: 68.9) proves he's become more pull conscious. Until he relaxes at the dish, drives pitches to the opposite field and flashes serviceable leather, he'll continue to be a toxic asset. Maybe odd numbered years are unlucky for Lopez.
Fearless Forecast: 423 at-bats, .271 BA, 9 HR, 47 RBI, 48 R, 3 SB
Nick Swisher(notes) NYY 1B, OF 129 77
Market Value: Moderate Sell (all leagues)
Lowdown: The fun-loving Belushi of the Bronx has suddenly become laughable. Swisher, perplexingly dreadful in the jet stream-aided confines of Yankee Stadium (.127 BA, 1 HR, 2 RBI), has gone from must-start to road-only material. Further damaging his value, he's registered just six hits in his past 51 at-bats, cutting his batting average from .312 to .234. He's also tallied the highest strikeout percentage of any qualifying hitter this month (42.7 K%). Obviously, any level-headed owner knew he couldn't maintain a BA above .280, but the massive power outage is worrisome. With the mirror-kisser, A-Rod, back in the mix, Swisher should be able to recover. But if his home woes extend, don't be surprised if Xavier Nady(notes) wrests away at-bats once he returns from injury in roughly 10-14 days.
Fearless Forecast: 350 at-bats, .252 BA, 19 HR, 59 RBI, 64 R, 2 SB
A.J. Burnett(notes) NYY SP 827 97
Market Value: Moderate Sell (all leagues)
Lowdown: Burnett's prankster playfulness might be acceptable amongst his peers, but his ghastly 5.02 ERA is a joke to fantasy owners. The $82.5 million hurler might feel more comfortable, but his insipid walks rate tells a different tale. In his past six outings, he's notched just three quality starts, surrendering a horrendous 5.42 walks per nine. When matched with his unspectacular 1.02 GB/FB and dwindling K/9 ('08: 9.39, '09: 7.44), his noxious amount of free passes is ERA poison. Burnett, swapped for Trevor Hoffman(notes), Carlos Quentin(notes) and Chris Carpenter(notes) this past week in Y! Plus league one-for-one deals, is an overrated brand name worth dishing.
Fearless Forecast: 137 IP, 9 W, 4.76 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 124 K
Brian Bannister(notes) KC SP 186 60
Market Value: Strong Sell (all leagues)
Lowdown: One of the game's more cerebral pitchers, Bannister, a well-known sabermetrics embracer, is a contact pitcher who has fooled owners with smoke and mirrors. Through six starts, he's yielded more than three runs just once, totaling four wins and a dynamite 2.75 ERA. The widely-owned hurler has wooed many in fantasyland by attracting more grounders ('08 GB%: 37.5, '09: 44.2) and keeping the ball in the park (0.50 HR/9). But without overpowering stuff, his increased fastball reliance will eventually come back to bite him. Field Independent Pitching forecasts (4.00 projected ERA) support this claim. Bannister won't draw a dependable bat in a one-for-one swap, but his quality ERA, WHIP and wins numbers labels him a prime deal sweetener.
Fearless Forecast: 120 IP, 7 W, 4.46 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 64 K
Ricky Romero(notes) TOR SP 148 26
Market Value: Hold (AL-only, very deep mixed)
Lowdown: Romanticized by the Noise four weeks ago, Romero, who suffered a crippling oblique injury in mid-April, is now on the outside looking in. After skyrocketing his ownership numbers with three dazzling early season starts (2 W, 1.71 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 1.41 GB/FB), the former first rounder is spoiling in Las Vegas due to the shockingly fruitful efforts of Scott Richmond(notes), Brian Tallet(notes) and Robert Ray(notes). The odds of the Toronto trio holding their own over a prolonged time period seem long. However, Romero must perform adequately in the minors to earn another shot. On May 18, his first start since being activated from the DL, he conceded four earned runs in five innings. Keep him stashed in Grand Canyon-deep leagues, but don't be surprised if he's trapped in Triple-A through the All-Star break.
Fearless Forecast: 77 IP, 5 W, 3.88 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 49 K

*All Fearless Forecasts are projected numbers from today forward

To remind colleagues Jeff Passan and Mark Pesavento of the $50 donation they'll be contributing to the Noise's import beer fund, Nelson Cruz's(notes) long-ball tally will be noted each week. Remember, the original bet was over/under 25 homers.

Caribbean Cruz connections since last week: 1 (Umm, Nelson, the Noise is thirsty for a beverage that is more than "triple hops brewed." Pick up the pace.)
Season total: 8
Moonshots to the money: 18
Pace: 33