Bringin’ the Noise: Pronkosis

Just three weeks ago Travis Hafner was widely considered a diseased player. Quarantined on most waiver wires, his deteriorating condition, Pronkosis, was thought to be incurable. Owners who drafted him unprotected were bound to suffer from headaches, strange burning sensations and unbearable goose eggs.

But only two weeks into the season, North Dakota's most revered jackass has suddenly rediscovered his long-distance stroke. Still, despite the remarkable reversal, skeptics continue to litter virtual street corners with Pronk prevention pamphlets. Their denial is understandable.

Last season, Hafner's expected rebound from a lackluster '07 was squelched by persistent shoulder pain. For weeks, he was an albatross around owners' necks, mustering little statistical reward as he battled through the discomfort. By late May, with his strength completely sapped, he succumbed to the injury. Owner confidence in Hafner drowned in Lake Erie. After an unsuccessful reappearance in September, he underwent arthroscopic surgery to clean out his impaired right shoulder.

Since then, Hafner's comeback journey has been arduous. This spring, he slowly reconstructed his swing, honed his timing and, most importantly, pieced together his shattered confidence. Initially the results were execrable. For weeks, he pounded the ball into the turf, collecting just one extra-base hit and a batting average well below the Mendoza Line. Scouts commented his swing looked pedestrian. Fantasy owners kept their distance. However, the maligned slugger, and Cleveland skipper Eric Wedge, attributed his issues to poor timing not decreased bat speed:

Last year, Hafner's John Hancock, and fantasy value, wasn't worth a pint of Burning River Pale Ale, but a scorching start to '09 has owners and fans drunk with optimism (Getty)

"My bat speed feels good. It's not only about having better at-bats, it's a matter of consistency. Power-wise it's as good as it's ever been. It's just a matter of getting a little better feel for it in the game. Squaring balls up, hitting balls hard, that will come. After that you start to drive the ball. Right now, the focus is on putting the barrel on the ball, using the whole field and seeing the ball well. After that, it will be time to start driving the ball."

For the love of John Jaha (AL Comeback POY in '99), we should've listened.

By late March, Pronk's fearsome side resurfaced. The Indians basher slapped nine hits in his final 22 spring at-bats, including two homers. That late-spring tear has carried over into the regular season. So far, he's hit safely in seven of eight games and has jacked three homers in a mere 28 at-bats.

Still the $64,000 question remains: Is Pronk really back?

Although the sample size is microscopic, Hafner's strong peripherals are a positive rebound indicator. His historical passive-aggressive approach hasn't waned and he's driving the ball with more authority. From 2007-2008, he posted an uninspiring 1.34 GB/FB ratio, this year it's 0.86. If he can maintain a GB/FB under 1.00 while continuing to log a healthy line-drive rate (27.8 LD% in '09), a final tally somewhere between his '06 and '07 campaigns is certainly possible. Remember, prior to last season's horrendous effort, Pronk's average line from '04-'07 was .296-32-109-93, which ranked in Yahoo!'s overall top 50.

Of course it's ridiculously early, and Hafner is one shoulder tweak away from again sucking hind teat, but he's already regained a sense of fantasy respectability. At 31, he has plenty of gas left in the tank and with OBP machines Grady Sizemore, Mark DeRosa, and Victor Martinez batting atop the Indians lineup, as the cleanup hitter, he's in an excellent run-producing position. If you trust he can accumulate 450 at-bats, he isn't that much of a risk based on the minimum investment needed to secure his services. This week in Yahoo! Plus league one-for-one swaps he was acquired for David DeJesus, Matt Lindstrom and Carlos Gomez.

Pronkophobes need to disrobe the hazard suits. Hafner is no longer fantasy's bubonic plague.

Fearless Forecast: 472 at-bats, .279 BA, 28 HR, 99 RBI, 87 R, 1 SB

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

Fantasy Flames
Nick Swisher NYY 1B, OF 5 91
Market Value: Strong Buy (all leagues)
Lowdown: The ultra-versatile Swisher, who punched out Gabe Kapler in an inning of relief at Tampa on Monday, has already achieved more as a Yankees pitcher than Carl Pavano ever did. Aside from his pitching prowess, the 28-year-old has smacked nine extra-base hits, including four homers, and has driven in 11 in just 28 at-bats. Based on his passive-aggressive approach and fly-ball heavy ways, he should continue to post lucrative totals batting in the middle-of-the-order. Joe Giriardi commented earlier in the week, he'll continue to find regular playing time for Swisher, especially with Xavier Nady sidelined. Given the protection and table-setters around him, this could finally be the year he again comes close to the 35-100 plateau.
Fearless Forecast: 485 at-bats, .266 BA, 28 HR, 88 RBI, 85 R, 3 SB
Andruw Jones TEX OF, DH 91 9
Market Value: Moderate Buy (12-teams-plus mixed), Strong Buy (AL-only)
Lowdown: Donning Rangers threads, the once-putrid Jones is emitting a spring fresh scent. Detailed two weeks ago in the Weekly Rundown, Ron Washington has occasionally slotted the 31-year-old as the DH into the cleanup spot against southpaws. In three starts he's collected six hits, four of those extra-base slaps, four RBIs and eight runs in 11 at-bats. Jones still believes he's an everyday player but is comfortable with his current role. Due to Hank Blalock's fragility and Chris Davis' vulnerability to epic slumps, it's possible the five-time All-Star could earn an expanded role. Until that happens, Washington will play a daily game of Stratego to maximize the Rangers offense. For now, Jones is a top-flight power contributor for owners who employ stream tactics.
Fearless Forecast: 335 at-bats, .262 BA, 15 HR, 58 RBI, 47 R, 2 SB
Elijah Dukes WAS OF 202 62
Market Value: Strong Buy (all leagues)
Lowdown: Possibly frightened by Dukes' uncontainable rage, the Nationals front office, in novice fantasy-owner fashion, optioned Lastings Milledge to Triple-A Tuesday. Milledge's lack of commitment both on (poor defense, impatience) and off the field (missed team meetings) was the reason for the demotion. Washington's firebrand, who was a fantasy lame just one week ago, benefits greatly from the move. His keen eye (15.3 BB% in '08), marked athleticism and across-the-board contributions are very attractive characteristics for managers in any sized league. After a terrible spring, he's been exceptional batting .381 with a homer, five RBIs and three runs. Look for him to thrive as the everyday two-hitter.
Fearless Forecast: 486 at-bats, .266 BA, 18 HR, 66 RBI, 85 R, 19 SB
Travis Snider TOR OF 44 50
Market Value: Strong Buy (12-teams-plus mixed, AL-only)
Lowdown: The rookie sensation, whose nickname is "Lunchbox," has been a waiver wire superhero blasting three bombs in his first 22 at-bats, including two titanic shots at the Metrodome. The 21-year-old uber-prospect has been cloaked somewhat by Adam Lind's scorching start, but he's beginning to attract the spotlight. Superman strong with power to all fields, Snider will continue to be a valuable long-ball source. Although he'll likely ride the pine against southpaws, his days as the Jays' No. 9 hitter are numbered. Another smoking week and he'll most certainly move up into a more RBI-friendly position.
Fearless Forecast: 463 at-bats, .278 BA, 21 HR, 75 RBI, 64 R, 2 SB
Joe Thurston STL 3B, OF 166 4
Market Value: Moderate Buy (14-teams-plus mixed), Strong Buy (NL-only)
Lowdown: Thurston, shades of Joe McEwing and Jose Oquendo, is a utilityman who can "do it all" according to Tony LaRussa. With his fourth organization since debuting with the Dodgers in '02, the multi-eligible hook made the Cardinals club as a nonroster invitee. So far, he's amassed four multi-hit games and five RBIs in five starts. A gap hitter with double-digit steals upside (.316-11-64-84-19 at Triple-A in '08), he should see regular action splitting time between third and second. Right now he only qualifies at outfield in Y! leagues, but he'll eventually have the versatility of a Swiss Army knife. The 29-year-old will normally bat down in the order, but he's a fine deep league MI commodity forged from the Marco Scutaro/Clint Barmes mold.
Fearless Forecast: 436 at-bats, .277 BA, 8 HR, 52 RBI, 46 R, 11 SB
Tommy Hanson ATL SP 422 38
Market Value: Strong Buy (all leagues)
Lowdown: If you're a fantasy owner who fiends for the addictive qualities of a powerful young arm with high-strikeout potential, it's time to acquire Hanson. To no one's surprise, the Braves opted to recall Jo-Jo Reyes to replace Tom Glainve instead of baseball's brightest pitching prospect. In these economically challenging times it's probably not wise to start the arbitration clock early. But after Hanson's first two mouthwatering Gwinnett starts (10.0 IP, 0.90 ERA, 17:4 K:BB), its obvious Reyes is only a placeholder. Walks will be a bugaboo (3.77 BB/9 at Double-A last year), but with three plus offerings (mid-90s fastball, hard slider, 12-to-6 curve) and an adequate change, the 22-year-old will occasionally mystify big league hitters, similar to Max Scherzer last season, sometime after June 1.
Fearless Forecast: 111 IP, 6 W, 4.13 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 113 K
Kyle Davies KC SP 101 55
Market Value: Moderate Buy (12-teams-plus mixed, AL-only)
Lowdown: The Piano Man's "Streamweaver" yielded mediocre results in his second start (5.2 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 5 K), but he's definitely developed into a viable option in deeper formats. A former premiere prospect in the Braves organization, the 25-year-old is an advancing talent. His previous major league returns have been relatively unexciting, but with a quality cutter now a weapon in his arsenal, his 9.24 K/9 may be legitimate. Run support will be problematic, but if he continues to coax numerous ground balls (45.5 GB%) and limit free passes (2.13 BB/9), the righty's value could springboard like teammate Gil Meche's did a season ago. At this point, he's worth a trial run.
Fearless Forecast: 155 IP, 10 W, 4.23 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 124 K
Zach Duke PIT SP 21 53
Market Value: Moderate Buy (12-teams-plus mixed), Moderate Sell (NL-only)
Lowdown: Based on his sparkling early season efforts, even Somali Pirates would be scared of this Buc. The once highly touted Duke, who went 8-2 with a 1.81 ERA in '05, has posted consecutive spectacular starts to open the season, yielding just one earned in 15.1 innings. Due to his rocky history it's hard to believe his dynamite start is anything but a mirage, but Ryan Doumit is convinced Duke has regained his '05 stuff and swagger. The southpaw is a classic contact pitcher who leans heavily on location to induce grounders. Because he misses few bats, he must locate pitches flawlessly to be successful. Ride the hot streak, but the quality starts likely won't last long.
Fearless Forecast: 183 IP, 9 W, 4.46 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 95 K
Fantasy Lames
Chris Davis TEX 1B, 3B 564 96
Market Value: Strong Buy (all leagues)
Lowdown: Uprooting trees and toppling rickety structures with his whiff-happy ways, Davis has pulled up lame off the blocks. The laid back infielder recently commented his impatience and timing, not mechanics, are the primary culprits for the swoon. Seeing the ball better at night, it appears the mammoth lefty has finally found a rhythm, cranking two homers in his past two contests. Still, prolonged droughts are bound to reoccur based on his plate demeanor. Expectations for a banner campaign haven't subsided, but those who subscribed to Bill James' projections (.302-40-118-107) may suffer a letdown. Absolutely purchase his services at the sale price, but don't overspend. If Jones continues to rake and Davis struggles, it's possible "Crush" could lose a few at-bats.
Fearless Forecast: 498 at-bats, .272 BA, 31 HR, 91 RBI, 79 R, 3 SB
Alexei Ramirez CHW 2B, SS, OF 786 98
Market Value: Hold (all leagues)
Lowdown: So far, the South Side Mummy has remained entombed. Doing his best Pedro Cerrano impersonation, Ramirez has struggled identifying pitches and laying off breaking balls, which has led to an unhealthy 25.0 strikeout percentage. The always straightforward Ozzie Guillen remarked earlier this week because of advanced scouting his star shortstop's troubles will persist unless adjustments are made. Batting primarily in the unkind 7-8 spot, Ramirez must exercise patience to break out of his 4-for-28 slump. Keep in mind the Cuban import underwhelmed in April and May last year (.244 BA, 2 HR, 7 RBI) so its possible chilly temps are also to blame. There's no reason to panic, yet.
Fearless Forecast: 500 at-bats, .280 BA, 23 HR, 79 RBI, 71 R, 12 SB
Chris Iannetta COL C 1041 91
Market Value: Strong Buy (all formats)
Lowdown: Labeled a "breakout candidate" by his teammates and fantasy fans alike, Iannetta has performed pitifully in the early going. Only 1-for-17 with a solo homer, his 70.0 fly-ball percentage indicates he's become too pull-conscious. Don Baylor noted earlier this week he's been working with the youngster on squaring the ball better and staying on top of pitches. Because of his passive-aggressive mentality (14.4 BB%, 27.6 K% in '08), he should be one of the more valuable catchers in fantasy once he irons out the mechanical kinks. Swapped this week for Kevin Gregg, Conor Jackson and Denard Span in one-for-one Y! Plus league transactions, Iannetta is someone to pitch a discounted offer for.
Fearless Forecast: 405 at-bats, .266 BA, 20 HR, 76 RBI, 67 R, 0 SB
Derrek Lee CHC 1B 565 97
Market Value: Moderate Sell (all leagues)
Lowdown: D-Lee steadfastly denies Father Time has negatively impacted his production, but his sluggish start to '09 suggests otherwise. Mired in a 7-for-32 (.219 BA) slide to start the season, Lee has homered once and collected just three extra-base hits. Since reaching his career zenith in homers in '05 (46), his power production has rapidly deteriorated. More disconcerting, he tallied a career worst 1.33 GB/FB mark in '08. At 33, he should still rack a number of respectable seasons, but if the current trend extends, he'll be lucky to eclipse 20 homers. He's essentially Conor Jackson with a higher price-tag.
Fearless Forecast: 590 at-bats, .288 BA, 18 HR, 86 RBI, 88 R, 6 SB
Billy Butler KC 1B 1056 33
Market Value: Hold (14-teams-plus mixed, AL-only), Moderate Sell (shallow mixed)
Lowdown: The Ass-O-Meter's needle has remained flatulent this season. Although Butler has made tremendous strides defensively, his bat continues to wallow in powerless mediocrity. The former top prospect showcased a slimmer frame and ample pop in spring training, but with only two extra-base hits in 26 at-bats he's already become a wavier casualty in shallow leagues. Unfortunately, his groundball-dominated peripherals (1.50 GB/FB) and high strikeout totals (26.9 K%) don't suggest a turnaround is imminent. Until he starts driving the ball with more authority, push him to the pine. There's still hope for a breakthrough season, but he's quickly earning the reputation of being post-break-only useful.
Fearless Forecast: 465 at-bats, .282 BA, 15 HR, 78 RBI, 69 R, 0 SB
Edinson Volquez CIN SP 1147 98
Market Value: Moderate Sell (all leagues)
Lowdown: Excessive freebies have pulled the plug on Electric Edinson. As was the case for much of the second-half last season, Volquez has been hampered by spotty command. Reds Reporter penned a wonderfully detailed entry on the ace's issues citing the righty has made little to no adjustments from last season, unlike his opponents. If alterations aren't made, the opposition will continue to rocket his fastballs skyward. Based on his horrendous '08 finish and early control woes, it's safe to assume he'll likely finish with an ERA in the 4-plus range. Once he records a quality start, consider dishing him to a strikeouts starved owner.
Fearless Forecast: 175 IP, 11 W, 4.16 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 181 K
Randy Johnson SF SP 1142 82
Market Value: Moderate Buy (all formats)
Lowdown: Due to his ancient age (45) and atrocious start, the fantasy masses are starting to believe The Mullet has lost his magic.Johnson and manager Bruce Bochy mutually agree his stamina isn't where it should be and he's falling behind in counts too often. As a result, hitters have teed off. So far, he's surrendered an uncharacteristic four homers in 8.2 innings. The future HOFer is more elusive than overpowering in the penultimate phase of his career, but once his strength rebounds occasional brilliant starts should be expected. Even with his fastball velocity nowhere near the vicinity it used to be ('07: 92.3 average speed, '09: 90.6), he's still a trustworthy K source. Buy low.
Fearless Forecast: 166 IP, 10 W, 3.92 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 160 K
Kevin Slowey MIN SP 1145 90
Market Value: Moderate Buy (all formats)
Lowdown: Tagged a Noise man-tasy during the drafting season, Slowey has opened '09 at a sloth's pace. Surrendering a career-high 13 hits against Toronto in his last outing, the Twins' control freak is having difficulty uncovering the source of his problems. Although mentally bruised, his delivery appears smooth. Still, his 10 ER and 3.18 HR/9 mark in 11.1 IP are worrisome. Eventually Slowey's pinpoint command will reappear, but given his disturbing fly-ball-heavy nature (career 46.8 FB%), homers could become an ongoing annoyance. Despite the calamitous start, he's worth inquiring about while the trade price is slashed. This week in Y! Plus league solo transactions he was dealt straight up for Brett Myers, Huston Street and Pat Burrell,
Fearless Forecast: 175 IP, 12 W, 3.87 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 142 K

Cruz Counter
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 tater tally will be noted each week. Remember, the original bet was over/under 25 homers.

Caribbean Cruz connections since last week: 3, including a grand salami off Radhames Liz on April 15
Season total: 5
Moonshots to the money: 21