MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Houston Astros

Happy Thursday -- well a happy Thursday to all but one team's fan base because just like that we have our first decent-sized injury of spring training. Astros starting pitcher Framber Valdez has a fractured left ring finger, which happens to be his throwing hand. We don't have an official timetable just yet, but it's all but certain Valdez will not be ready by Opening Day. Valdez was awesome last season, finishing as a top-25 starting pitcher in both Roto and H2H points. And it was just Wednesday on Fantasy Baseball Today that Scott named Valdez as the SP he is ending up drafting most often. The pitching landscape is already thin. We didn't need this!

On the rest of the podcast embedded below, we hit on a bunch of top prospects and, of course, our favorite sleepers. I'll save you from the whole "what is a sleeper?" debate but basically they're undervalued players. And if you're interested in undervalued players, well, you've come to the right place. I actually believe that if I let Scott White talk about all of his sleepers, we'd still be doing the podcast right now. From Trey Mancini all the way down to Adbert Alzolay, we've got you covered. 

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Framber Valdez injury fallout

Valdez has been diagnosed with a fractured ring finger on his pitching hand. As of now, there is no timetable on the Valdez injury, but here is what Astros GM James Click had to say about it: "At this point, the medical staff needs to do additional tests and imaging before deciding on the next steps. We will know more in the upcoming days."

By the numbers:

  • Valdez finished as the SP25 in Roto, SP20 in H2H points leagues with a 3.57 ERA, 1.12 WHIP
  • Valdez had a 60% groundball rate, leading all qualified SPs
  • Valdez pitched 7+ innings in six of his 11 starts

Scott is not the only one disappointed by the Valdez injury. It's easy to see why Scott was so high on his value relative to his ADP. In addition to performing at a high level in 2020, all of the underlying metrics suggested Valdez was not a fluke.

So now what? Where do we move Valdez in the rankings and how do we approach him in our drafts? Scott says it makes sense to drop him in the rankings if he's going to miss time: "I'd probably drop him behind Ian Anderson and Sixto Sanchez, but also behind Lance McCullers, Patrick Corbin and Charlie Morton -- some of those bounceback candidates."

And I haven't made my rankings changes yet, but I'm thinking about dropping him right below Sanchez and that would make him SP41. His ADP according to Fantasy Pros is 105.8 and if we slide him down to where Soroka is ranked that will put him at 163.2.

This remains a fluid situation as we await the timetable on his return but it's certainly a situation to keep an eye on and you can likely expect Valdez to begin to fall in upcoming drafts. As far as who might replace Valdez in the Astros rotation? Scott doesn't feel like it's anyone you need to get on your radar in 12-team mixed leagues.

News and notes

  • Victor Robles exited Wednesday's spring game against the Marlins after he was hit by a pitch on his arm. The bigger news is that he was leading off against a righty with Juan Soto batting second and Trea Turner batting third. Manager Davey Martinez really wants this to be a thing. I'm not really a Robles guy but the ADP is 177.2.
  • J.T. Realmuto, who has a fractured thumb, will undergo an X-ray at the end of the week to determine whether he can remove his cast.
  • Pablo Lopez, whom I have as a breakout this season, has been working on a breaking pitch to add to his fastball, sinker, cutter and changeup. Lopez had this to say: "As a starting pitcher, your main focus is you have to go through the lineup three or hopefully four times, so the more good pitches you have that you feel comfortable throwing in any count, the more unpredictable you remain, which is a huge weapon. You don't want to fall into patterns. You don't want to become too predictable."
  • Lopez finished with a 3.61 ERA, 1.19 WHIP with over a strikeout per inning with a decent-sized jump in his swinging strike rate, going from 10.2% in 2019 to 12.1% in 2020. The ADP is 140.8.
  • Miles Mikolas is dealing with a shoulder injury. He also had surgery on his right flexor tendon last July and was expected to be ready for Opening Day. Now I'm not so sure. Daniel Ponce De Leon?
  • Jon Lester will have a thyroid gland removed and the team hopes he will be back pitching within a week. We wish you well, Lester, but you're not a Fantasy option anymore.
  • This isn't Fantasy news but Yankees manager Aaron Boone had surgery to get a pacemaker and should be back with the team within the next week or so. Best wishes to Boone, but speaking of those Yankees, Corey Kluber made his debut on Wednesday night, threw two perfect innings with three strikeouts, four whiffs on 22 pitches. As for the velocity, Kluber threw seven sinkers and two four-seamers in the start and here's the average velo for each: sinker 91.1 MPH, four-seam 90 MPH. Back in 2018, both of those pitches averaged 92.4 MPH, but there's obviously still time for him to build up. 

What matters in the spring

On yesterday's episode, we talked early spring standouts, but they won't be the only players to shine in the coming days before the start of the regular season. With so many players set to stand out -- for better or worse -- it's important to know what actually matters. You don't want to be one who moves Shohei Ohtani too many rounds up your rankings just because he hit a mammoth moon shot to center field off a pitcher he may never see again in regular season action. 

Chris took a deep dive what Fantasy managers should take away for the spring action. There are six main things he says every manager should be tracking: Injuries, lineup changes, position battles, mechanical changes, velocity readings, new pitches and prospects gaining hype. More importantly, he broke down what specifically you need to be looking for in each of those things and how current players scattered all throughout your rankings are impacted by it. Chris makes the case for why you actually want to jump on the Andrew Vaughn bandwagon but shouldn't make too much Jared Duran is doing early in the spring and more. 

Draft recaps!

Whenever I'm this close to the regular season opener and I still have some of my most important drafts upcoming, I can't get enough of reading draft recaps -- real leagues, mocks, it doesn't matter -- it's all I want to read. If you're the same way, we've got some draft results and recaps from two leagues with very different settings for you.

  • Scott hosted a salary cap style draft 12-team H2H points league and he wrote about it on Tuesday. This draft got a little crazy and that's normal. It can tend to get that way in salary cap style drafts where everyone has a budget to build their roster however they want. Everyone was on to the SP scent and the prices for SPs got out of control early. What made things crazier is that almost everyone had the same strategy -- to spend most of their budget on SPs! Scott broke down which teams mastered the unexpected draft and you'll find full results as well.
  • Chris completed his Tout Wars 12-team Roto league and wrote about it on Tuesday as well. This was a 5x5 Roto league but not your ordinary 5X5 league. This is a 5x5 Rotisserie league with runs, RBI, home runs, and steals plus on-base percentage instead of batting average; on the pitching side, we've got strikeouts, ERA, and WHIP, but we're replacing wins with innings pitched and saves with saves plus holds. Because of this, Chris adjusted his entire strategy and loves how his team came out. And btw, Chris saying he loves how his team came out means more than just about anyone else saying it -- he's the last one of us three to ever brag about the team he drafted. Chris broke down his strategy, the draft results and more.

Favorite sleepers

  • Scott's No. 1: Trey Mancini

Scott: "Trey Mancini is my favorite sleepers. And you couldn't call him a breakout because that already happened. But he is a sleeper because he's getting drafted much later than I think he should given what I expect him to deliver. Forget SBs, because he's obviously not a contributor of those, but the other four categories -- .291 batting average, 35 home runs, 97 RBIs, 106 runs scored -- that's what he did in 2019. He obviously missed all of 2020 recovering from colon cancer but it seems like that recovery is in good shape.

Mancini is currently going off the board at an AD9 of 173.8. And as Scott said, Mancini is exactly the kind of value he is referring to what he says OF is always going to have options and it may not be a position you need to fill early because players like Mancini are available later.

The ADP is 184.4, according to Fantasy Pros. You might be skeptical of me choosing someone who hit just two home runs and now they're deadening the ball, but Solak does have a solid history of power in the minor leagues, and last season the Statcast numbers in general, were not great, but max exit velocity, which usually translates well within game power, was 111.7 mph and that ranked 43rd of 142 qualified hitters. And he's going to run. So I think he's probably a better Roto play, but I think he is a sneaky 15-15 candidate and there's an outside chance that Solak can get to 20 HRs and 20 SBs.

Scott: "One player I'm most enamored with recently is Edman, who obviously doesn't have the same hype he did a year ago. His production in 2020 wasn't nearly as good as in 2019, but now he may be batting leadoff for the Cardinals. And if he's gaining second base eligibility -- he already has shortstop, third base and outfield eligibility -- he's going to be quadruple eligible within the first week of the season. Edman is a base stealer who probably scores a lot of runs and will probably hit for a high average."

Scott: "See the big-time power Riley showed as a rookie and then couple that with the strikeout rate which went from 36.8% to 23.8%. Baseball America gave him at their last report a power grade similar to Pete Alonso level power -- that's 40 HR power potential. And if his strikeout rate is something that sticks, I think you're talking potential stud there in Austin Riley.

I'm with Scott on this one, 100%. The surface numbers don't look great from last year, but the expected numbers according to Statcast are much better for him. He's not going to bat in the middle of the Braves lineup, but as Scott pointed out, lineups are not stagnant and he'll probably move up the order if he's hitting at a 40-homer pace. Riley's ADP is 232.8 right now and I have him inside the top 200 in both formats right now. 

He has made 31 starts for the team since the start of 2019 and he has a 3.91 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP during that time with 165 strikeouts across 172 and 2/3 innings -- so almost strikeout per inning. Of the 31 starts Pineda has made since 2019, he's allowed three earned runs or less in 26 of them. If he stays healthy, he can return top-40 SP value and he's going off the board as literally the 70th starting pitcher off the board.

Scott: "Late in the year, Canning's slider came back to him and in the meantime he was working to develop a curveball. That paired with his slide made everything better. In his final five starts, his swinging strike rate jumped from 9.9% to 14.5%. That led to a big jump in K per nine rate -- from 7.5 in his first six starts to 10.4 in his final five starts. All the numbers got better in those last five stats and it's not uncommon to see him go completely undrafted."

Scott: Elieser is incorporating a changeup into his mix. Last season, with just the two pitches -- the fastball and the slider -- he was similar to Drew Smyly in getting a ton of strikeouts. He had an 11.9 K per nine. He had a 3.16 ERA with a 1.01 WHIP. But he only had six starts before he got hurt and the longest start was 5 1/3 innings. But Hernandez has a stated goal of pitching deeper into games. With an ADP of 274.2, he costs us next to nothing. Upside wide, he certainly meets the definition of a sleeper.

Scott also likes Drew Smyly -- maybe even more than Hernandez -- at a 251 ADP, per Fantasy Pros.

Assuming he's healthy, if he comes anywhere close to the player he was in 2018, we could have a real steal on our hands. In 2018, Haniger had a .285 batting average, 26 home runs, 90 runs scored 90 three RBI and eight steals. That was good enough to be the 33rd overall player in Roto and tied for the 13th-best OF in H2H points leagues. That's not what I'm expecting for Haniger but with an ADP of 254.8, he's almost free.

Scott also namedropped Andrew Vaughn, Alex Kirilloff as sleepers he is excited to draft a lot of and I'm just as enthusiastic about Kirilloff specifically. He isn't just your typical OK power hitter. If you add up everything, in 2014 minor league plate appearances, Kirilloff had just a 16% strikeout. He can come in and make an impact right away.

  • Scott's Rapid-fire sleepers
  1. Josh Bell
  2. Mitch Garver
  3. Gio Urshela
  4. J.D. Davis
  5. Aaron Hicks
  6. Jared Walsh
  7. Brendan Rodgers
  8. Bobby Dalbec 
  9. Jorge Polanco
  10. Willie Castro
  11. Willie Calhoun
  12. Nick Senzel
  13. Hunter Renfrow
  14. Daulton Varsho
  15. Ty France
  16. Bonus relief pitcher sleepers: Will Smith, Amir Garrett

And a super, super deep sleeper we both like is Adbert Alzolay. Keep an eye on him in if you're playing in leagues with super deep rosters. There is a lot of upside there. Alzolay most definitely qualifies as a sleeper and someone you should add to your insurance list now.

So which Fantasy baseball sleepers should you snatch in your draft? And which undervalued first baseman can help you win a championship? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy baseball rankings for every single position, all from the model that called Will Smith's huge breakout last season, and find out.