2014 Draft Prep: Top 10 Fantasy storylines
Will Seattle hurt Robinson Cano's Fantasy value? Will Xander Bogaerts live up to the hype in his rookie season? Our Scott White shares his top 10 Fantasy storylines heading into 2014.
So you think you have it all figured out.
Uh-huh. Then why are you here?
Face it: No matter what you've observed in the spring, what you've deduced from BABIP and xFIP and what you've determined by God-given intuition, you still have questions. Big ones. The kind that could change the course of your season. And no matter where you search for answers, you won't get them until the bell rings. Maybe not even then, given the importance of sample size.
Yup, it's all a big guessing game, with so many different theories floating around that you still don't know where to land.
So to help clear things up, here's where I land on some of the biggest questions you're probably asking yourself right now. If you subscribe to the same logic, hey, you have your answer. If not, well, you have an answer then, too.
Either way, you're a step closer to figuring it all out.
Will Seattle destroy Robinson Cano as we know him?
For a good four years now, Cano has been a staple in the first round of Fantasy drafts, delivering elite numbers at a premium position with virtually no risk. Yet his move from the Yankees to the Mariners this offseason has Fantasy owners fearing the worst: Disrupt the equilibrium, and the whole foundation collapses.
It's true many of the high-dollar free agents in recent years -- Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols, Carl Crawford, etc. -- disappointed in their first seasons with their new teams. It's also true Cano is going from a notorious hitter's park -- especially for left-handed sluggers -- to a notorious pitcher's park, as well as from a winning environment to a losing environment. But rather than construct a doomsday narrative from a few hand-picked examples, I choose to trust in cold, hard facts such as this one: According to people with the technology, time and ambition to measure the height and distance of each of his 27 home runs last year, all would have left Safeco Field.
That doesn't mean he's a lock for the same numbers in the bigger ballpark, but the effect is probably overstated in his case. Have a little faith in the track record and trust him to join the much longer list of high-dollar free agents who were just fine, at least to start out.
Trust me: Anyone you might consider drafting instead has more practical concerns, such as the ability to stay healthy.
What do you do with a late first-round pick?
If you've taken part in enough mock drafts, you know exactly what I mean.
The worst thing you can do for your Fantasy team is botch your first-round pick, so with it, you want not just studly, but safe. Unfortunately, this year's player pool doesn't have enough of that to go around.
I limit the list of true first-rounders, meaning both studly and safe, to seven: Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, Paul Goldschmidt, Robinson Cano, Andrew McCutchen, Joey Votto and Clayton Kershaw. So if you pick eighth or later, unless someone does you a favor (most often by letting Votto slide), you won't feel comfortable no matter which direction you go.
The candidates include Chris Davis, who exceeded everyone's expectations last year, Ryan Braun, who just got busted for PED use, and Carlos Gonzalez, Jacoby Ellsbury, Troy Tulowitzki and Hanley Ramirez, who are no strangers to the DL. You pretty much have to take one since their best is better than everything else that follows, but how do you decide?
The end of the first round is your one and only chance to secure one of the elite shortstops, who only last that long because of the inherent injury risk. So if you don't trust any of your options there anyway, you might as well grab one of Tulowitzki and Ramirez and put yourself ahead of the competition at a position.
Pair him with one of the safer second-rounders, which include Prince Fielder, Adam Jones and Edwin Encarnacion, who looks fully recovered from offseason wrist surgery, and you make the most of a bad situation by spreading the risk around.
Will we see the Ryan Braun we all know and ... um ... love?
I get it. You want to punch Braun in the face for being a manipulative little sneak, taking personal exception to something that wasn't at all personal. Listen, I don't want to be friends with him either, but I could say the same about plenty of players I'm happy to draft.
If you pass him up on moral grounds, hoping to send a message he won't actually receive, you're obviously not serious about winning. But if you pass him up because you fear massive regression with his PED use now (theoretically) behind him, well, you're not alone.
Understand, though, we still haven't seen this scenario play out for a player of his caliber. Melky Cabrera bombed after his PED suspension, but he was nothing before it started. Alex Rodriguez's numbers dipped, but he was so old when MLB turned up the heat that he likely would have declined regardless. Braun has been nothing short of a first-round type in Fantasy for his entire seven-year career, and he's still in the thick of his prime at age 30. A track record that long and that impressive can't be entirely artificial.
Of all the players you could draft late in the first round or early in the second, he's the one with the best chance of producing like Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera. If you agree he won't utterly destroy you, then you should agree the reward outweighs the risk late in the first round. I tend to gravitate toward the shortstop duo of Troy Tulowitzki and Hanley Ramirez at that point, but if Braun lasted to my second pick, I'd have a hard time saying no.
Jose Fernandez already established himself as an ace?
Yeah, Fernandez won NL Rookie of the Year last season and finished third in Cy Young voting, but come on. He's all of 21 years old and has yet to pitch even 180 innings in the big leagues. Isn't ranking him ahead of mainstays like Justin Verlander and David Price putting the cart before the horse?
I mean, yeah, technically. But the fact I acknowledge it and still don't care to change anything shows how good Fernandez has the potential to be, even in his second season.
We're talking best-pitcher-in-baseball-type ability. If the Marlins traded him to the Dodgers tomorrow, putting him in the same situation as Clayton Kershaw, they'd be Nos. 1 and 2 in my rankings.
His numbers at face value are intimidating enough, but dig a little deeper, and you'll wonder how anyone can look him in the eye and live to tell about it. From June 1 on, which was about the time the Marlins loosened the reins on him, giving him a a third trip through the batting order more starts than not, he had a 1.50 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings. That's 17 starts, many of them against teams he was facing for the second or third time. The conditions were optimal for a reality check, but instead of the league catching up to him, as so often happens with young phenoms, he lapped it.
With the expected increase in innings this year, he'll pile up points even with a miserable supporting cast backing him.
Does the changing closer landscape make relief pitcher a higher or lower priority?
Maybe you're so accustomed to measuring closers by saves and saves alone that you don't notice such things, but Craig Kimbrel isn't so much the exception anymore.
Oh, he's still No. 1. Longevity (yes, all of his three years in the role) earns him something in the way of trust, but in terms of strikeout rate and WHIP, Greg Holland was actually better last year. Kenley Jansen wasn't far off, and of course, Aroldis Chapman always compared favorably. Throw in Koji Uehara, Trevor Rosenthal and Ernesto Frieri and that makes seven closers with the potential for 100-plus strikeouts, about 30 more than the average closer.
Among starting pitchers, that's like the difference between Chris Sale and C.J. Wilson, and in Rotisserie leagues especially, it matters. In Head-to-Head points leagues, it doesn't so much because strikeouts are worth only half a point each, making saves still the primary differentiator. So just for right now, let's limit the discussion to Rotisserie formats.
In those formats, a team can set itself apart in strikeouts by targeting the right closer. Now, though, it's not just one or two closers that make a difference, but seven, which means if yours is one of the few that goes without, you'll have to play catch-up. And particularly if you're like me and normally choose to pass on the elite starting pitchers in the early rounds, you're already playing catch-up in strikeouts.
So while in the past, I've been adamant about waiting for saves, settling for whichever closers last the longest, and still generally subscribe to that approach, I'm OK with drafting a 100-strikeout type at the right value. Kimbrel in Round 4 isn't it, but Rosenthal in Round 8 or 9 may be.
Does Cole Hamels' shoulder make him too scary to draft?
The prognosis for Hamels seems to change every time he touches a baseball, which perhaps should make the answer here a resounding "yes." But his last bullpen session at least has me entertaining the possibility of drafting him again.
By now, his balky shoulder has Fantasy owners so concerned that you can get him about where you'd get unspectacular types like Jon Lester and C.J. Wilson, after up-and-comers like Gerrit Cole, Michael Wacha and Tony Cingrani have already come off the board. That's a substantial discount for a pitcher who I ranked alongside Madison Bumgarner before his shoulder troubles began.
But they did begin, and for all we know, they're here to stay. Yes, he felt great in his bullpen session and said he could face hitters next week, which might put him back on track to return in late April. But all it takes is another twinge like he felt in early March, and he's at best shutting down for a week and at worst making an appointment with a specialist.
You don't want him as your first, second or even third starting pitcher in standard mixed leagues, and in NL-only leagues, where the alternatives are in short supply, you may not want him at all. But for where he's going now, as a boom-or-bust type in the middle rounds, he's more likely to win you your league than lose it for you.
Just what's so special about Xander Bogaerts?
So he's a prospect. Whoop-ti-do.
Mike Moustakas was a prospect, too, and we're still waiting for him to deliver on his potential.
Bogaerts came up for six weeks last year, did nothing of significance, and you expect people to draft him like Pablo Sandoval just because "well, he's supposed to be good someday?"
No, not just because of that. Have you seen the shortstop pool lately? It thins out pretty quickly. It has its studs in Troy Tulowitzki and Hanley Ramirez, its semi-studs in Jose Reyes, Jean Segura and Ian Desmond, and its unheralded speedsters in Elvis Andrus and Everth Cabrera. But after that, you're kind of just hoping to get lucky.
So what does that have to do with a third baseman like Bogaerts? He'll be shortstop-eligible only a week into the season.
And do either have Bogaerts' upside? He's not just a prospect; he's a coverboy-of-the-prospect-handbook-type prospect. Scouts have compared him to Tulowitzki, a player who routinely hits .300 with 30-homer power. Sometime in the not-too-distant future, Bogaerts will be a first rounder in Fantasy. If he gets even two-thirds of the way there this year, for the price you paid to get him, he could win you the league.
He's this year's ultimate lottery ticket player. If you draft him and he doesn't pan out, the loss is inconsequential, but if he does ... eureka!
Does Yankee Stadium change the outlook for Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran?
While some parks are rarely showcased to a national audience, most baseball fans are intimately familiar with Yankee Stadium and know that its most defining characteristic, at least in terms of on-the-field impact, is its short porch in right field, which makes it one of the easiest places for a left-handed hitter to hit a home run.
The three biggest hitters the Yankees signed this offseason -- the ones destined to be drafted in every Fantasy league -- bat left-handed. Or at least primarily left-handed. Beltran, of course, is a switch-hitter.
The most notable of this trio is Ellsbury, who showed he has power with an out-of-nowhere 32 home runs in 2011 but has yet to hit even double-digits in any other season. Of course, up until now, he played half his games at Fenway Park, one of the most difficult places for a left-handed hitter to hit a home run. Johnny Damon, another left-handed hitter known to have modest pop, went from Boston to New York at a more advanced age than Ellsbury and averaged five more home runs per season there. Even a jump to 15 homers would make a big difference for a player already deserving of a first-round pick.
McCann, meanwhile, has become a dead pull hitter in recent years. Of his 20 home runs last year, 16 were to right field. Of course, he'll have to stay healthy to make the most of his new home, which is easier said than done after averaging just 117 games over the last three years, but the possibility compels me to tier him with Yadier Molina and Jonathan Lucroy rather than Matt Wieters and Evan Gattis, at least in Rotisserie leagues.
The case for Beltran isn't quite as compelling, especially since his age predisposes him to decline, but the move to Yankee Stadium only improves his chances of defying the odds again.
How late is too late to draft a catcher?
To a degree, it depends on your format. Some leagues (typically Head-to-Head) require owners to start just one catcher while others (typically Rotisserie) require them to start two. And obviously, the size of your league makes a difference as well.
But assuming a standard 12-team, one-catcher league, there is no "too late."
Yeah, players like Joe Mauer, Buster Posey and Carlos Santana are better than what you'll find in the late rounds, but the position is as deep as it's ever been. I count 13 players -- Mauer, Posey, Santana, Yadier Molina, Jonathan Lucroy, Wilin Rosario, Brian McCann, Salvador Perez, Matt Wieters, Wilson Ramos, Evan Gattis, Jason Castro and Yan Gomes -- capable of providing legitimate mixed-league production, and that doesn't even include sophomore sleepers Travis d'Arnaud and Mike Zunino and potential breakouts Devin Mesoraco and Yasmani Grandal.
So that's 13 catchers for 12 teams -- more than enough to go around. Yes, you'll find other positions that are at least that deep, but those players often get drafted to fill utility spots. Catchers inherently score less than other positions since they sit more often, giving them fewer at-bats, so nobody in their right mind drafts one as a utility player. And most likely, nobody drafts one as a backup either.
Maybe you wouldn't want to wait until the very last round, just to be safe, but you can expect to get a Ramos or Castro type as late as Round 20 in a one-catcher format. No, they won't quite deliver elite numbers, but the value is too good for you not to take advantage.
Other than George Springer, which potential midseason call-ups belong on your radar?
Maikel Franco may not win the job from Cody Asche this spring, but he's the Phillies third baseman for the long haul after hitting .320 with 31 home runs and a .926 OPS between high Class A and Double-A last season. He doesn't offer Springer's speed, which makes him seem like the less appealing player for Rotisserie purposes, but his timetable is comparable. A hot start at Triple-A puts him in the majors potentially as soon as late May. And considering he had just 70 strikeouts in 541 at-bats last year, an outstanding ratio for a power hitter, compared to Springer's 161 strikeouts in 492 at-bats, a poor ratio for any hitter, he might have the easier transition to the big leagues.
Other than Springer, Franco is the only worthwhile draft-and-stash in mixed leagues, but AL- and NL-only owners should be willing to wait even longer for other prospects of their caliber. Oscar Taveras hasn't gotten a chance to strut his stuff this spring, his debut delayed by his recovery from ankle surgery, but he remains an impact bat just a Matt Holliday or Allen Craig injury away from contributing. Archie Bradley is the minors' best arm and has dominated at times this spring. You don't expect Brandon McCarthy to hold up all season, do you? Noah Syndergaard should follow in the footsteps of Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler with a midseason arrival, and Jameson Taillon, the player selected right after Bryce Harper in the 2010 draft, is finally on the verge of contributing for the Pirates.
Eligible at shortstop, Javier Baez has monster power and will arrive at some point this year, whether at third base, second base or shortstop, and Kris Bryant, another masher selected second overall last year, could soon follow. The Twins may take a patient approach to Byron Buxton, widely considered the top prospect in baseball, but if they do call him up this year, you'll be happy you invested a late-round pick in him.
Josmil Pinto doesn't quite have the upside of the rest of this group, but in two-catcher leagues, he's worth a draft-and-stash for whenever the Twins decide to play for the future, eschewing Kurt Suzuki.
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