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Tuesday, February 19, 2019

2019 FANTASY BASEBALL PLAYER ANALYZER: MANNY MACHADO SS/3B SAN DIEGO PADRES

It took for the start of spring training but the Manny Machado sweepstakes have mercifully come to an end after the shortstop/third baseman came to terms on a 10-year deal worth $300 million with the San Diego Padres.  There is an opt-out after Year 5 but Machado will now call spacious Petco Park home which is not the greatest development for his fantasy baseball prospects despite his otherwordly talent.  Now in terms of the numbers, Machado was once again a five-tool monster in 2018 in a year split between the Baltimore Orioles and Los Angeles Dodgers:

.297
37 HR
107 RBI
84 R
14 SB
9.9 BB/9
14.7 K/9
.304 BABIP

Clearly Machado still has his five-tool ability down pat and in particular, it was nice to see the steals again which had started to fluctuate wildly over the last few seasons.  The fact Machado is still just 26 and tremendous walk and strikeout rates mean he will likely be within those numbers again in 2019; with maybe a bit less in the home runs, RBI, runs departments given the fact he will now call Petco Park home.  The Petco Park environment is a bummer for those who were hoping Machado would land in a launching pad park like in New York with the Yankees or in Philadelphia.  Be that as it may, Machado is still worth a late first-round pick after his nice payday. 


Monday, February 18, 2019

2019 FANTASY BASEBALL PLAYER ANALYZER: WHIT MERRIFIELD 2B/OF KANSAS CITY ROYALS

As spring training camps opened and the first drafts got underway for 2019 fantasy baseball, it was a good time to take stock of the game as a whole in terms of themes and where certain positions stand.  In the not to recent past we have had the steroid home run era, followed by a pitching dominant run, followed now by a more recent long ball comeback.  Through most of that era, stolen bases remained pretty much unchanged in terms of this being a potent part of the game and thus, a solid number of players were key contributors there.  Alas, 2019 has brought about change on that front and none of it good as the stolen base all of a sudden is becoming endangered right before our eyes.  Where at one time 60-steal seasons were a yearly occurrence, we now have the Kansas City Royals' Whit Merrifield leading the majors in 2018 with only 45.  While 45 is a tremendous number on the surface, the fact this total led the league tells you all you need to know about how the stat is becoming quite scarce.  As a result, guys like Merrifield and the increasingly few who steal bases in high numbers are commanding a very high price at the draft table and changing strategies on how to handle the category.  

Now in terms of Merrifield the player, speed is clearly the name of the game here as last season's 45 years followed 34 the year prior when he first put his name on the map.  Having cemented his status as a top-of-the-order guy for the Royals where the steals play very well, Merrifield also has shown an ability to hit for average (.280 or better each of the last three seasons) and also knock a few homers as well.  While the 19 homers Merrifield hit in 2017 seemed to be a bit of an outlier, the 12 he smacked a year ago are still a decent total for someone who helps everywhere else.  Then there is the eligibility as Merrifield qualifies both at second base and the outfield to begin the season.  With the Royals being arguably the most aggressive baserunning team in the game, count on Merrifield once again going north of 40 steals and also scoring 80-plus runs with his average coming in around .300.  While the cost will be high, Merrifield is someone you should feel comfortable with targeting as early as the third round this spring in your draft as the durability and dependable numbers make him well worth the investment.  

2019 PROJECTION:  .294 14 HR 65 RBI 88 R 44 SB  


2019 FANTASY BASEBALL CLOSING TIME: NO CRAIG KIMBREL IN BOSTON MEANS GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY FOR MATT BARNES OR RYAN BRASIER

While the free agent market for All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel moved as slow as rush hour traffic in downtown Los Angeles this past winter, it was widely assumed by most in the industry that the veteran would eventually re-up with the team. Even when camps opened, this was still the consensus line of thought.  Alas, it took Red Sox chairman Tom Werner to come out on Monday and say it was "unlikely" the team would bring back Kimbrel and so now focus needs to shift towards who will take over saves for the upcoming season.  Given that the Red Sox are still considered to be the top team in baseball once again, there should be plentiful saves for whomever gets the assignment and on that front, speculation should center on either Matt Barnes or Ryan Brasier. 

When you compare the two, it would appear as though Barnes should be considered the favorite given his extreme strikeout ability which is always a major prerequisite for finishing games.  In fact, Barnes was downright Kimbrel-esque on that front last season as his 14.01 K.9 was downright massive and it helped mask what was a bit of an elevated 3.65 ERA considering how much heat he possesses. The problems with Barnes is that he has almost no experience closing games and his horrible 4.52 BB/9 a year ago is some downright brutal control that is not such a good thing for high-pressure ninth-inning situations.  As far as the first issue, we all know there have been endless power arms who dominate in the seventh and eighth but moving into the ninth causes them to turn to mush due to mental weakness.  We are not saying this is what is in store for Barnes if he closes games but it is surely an unknown.  Then there is the awful control which is always a problem no matter the inning.  At the very least though, Barnes should be in line as the favorite due to his overpowering nature.  With regards to Brasier, he is a bit of a mystery as he didn't pitch at all in 2017 and only logged 33.2 innings with the team where he put forth an impressive 1.60 ERA.  While Brasier is not a strikeout guy (7.75 K.9), he has very good control (1.87 BB/9) which is a nice bonus.  Given that Brasier is still finding his way after not pitching in 2017, we still think he is a step or two behind Barnes in terms of closer hierarchy. 

If you break it all down, we would tab Barnes as the guy who will likely lead the Red Sox in saves this spring but the exhibition schedule is likely to determine where this goes.  With just one spot to work with, Barnes would be the add but this could be another spring fluid situation. 


2019 FANTASY BASEBALL,SECOND BASEMAN RANKINGS

The second baseman are up next as we continue our look, at the initial positions rankings to begin the new fantasy baseball season.

1.  Jose Altuve
2.  Javier Baez
3.  Whit Merrifield
4.  Ozzie Albies
5.  Gleyber Torres
6.  Scooter Gennett
7.  Jonathan Villar
8.  Daniel Murphy
9.  Travis Shaw
10. Rougned Odor
11. Robinson Cano
12. Dee Gordon
13. Cesar Hernandez
14. Nick Senzel
15. Jed Lowrie
16. Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
17. Yoan Moncada
18. Brian Dozier
19. Jonathan Schoop
20. Jeff McNeil
21. Ketel Marte
22. Marwin Gonzalez
23. Joey Wendle
24. Ian Kinsler
25. Jason Kipnis

Sunday, February 17, 2019

2019 FANTASY BASEBALL SPRING TRAINING REPORT: PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

By Michael Wong

Clearwater, Fla.--As of this writing, the Philadelphia Phillies have still not officially signed either Bryce Harper or Manny Machado despite the former at least rumored to be nearing a deal.  Even without those two though, the Phillies did some nice things over the winter such as trading for shortstop Jean Segura and signing outfielder Andrew McCutchen and prospective closer David Robertson.  Given the offensive leanings of their ballpark, the Phillies present a bunch of fantasy baseball-friendly options for their potential new owners this spring.

1.  The hype machine went into overdrive last spring when it came to Phillies 1B/outfielder Rhys Hoskins as he came off a ridiculously potent half-season debut the year prior as visions of an easy 40 home runs danced in the heads of many when drafts got underway last March.  Alas, Hoskins had a bit of a slow start to the year and overall let some of his owners down despite 34home runs and 96 RBI.  The .246 average in particular was ugly for Hoskins as his fly ball rate was a very high 51.5 percent.  On the flip side though, Hoskins' 13.2 BB/9 rate was terrific and his 22.7 K/9 was not awful by any means for a pure slugger.  While the draft price remains high here, Hoskins can very easily go past the 40 homer mark this season with an average that improves to .260 or better as his unlucky .272 BABIP figures to move back somewhat towards the mean.

2.  Underrated on a yearly basis, shortstop Segura is primed for another very good season in moving from spacious Safeco Field to the much more potent launching pad in Philadelphia.  Turning just 29 in March, Segura continues to help in all five standard ROTO categories as he did in 2018.  The 10 home runs Segura hit last season should improve in his new digs and the fact he swiped 20 bags a year ago show the speed is still very much a factor.  Also having hit .300 or better each of the last three seasons, Segura's boring veteran label makes him a terrific buy after Round 2.

3.  The arrival of the veteran Robertson to the back of the Phillies' pen should have him in the closing conversation with hard-throwing youngster Seranthony Dominguez.  Be that as it may, manager Gabe Kapler seems to relish not having an official closer and so both guys could see time finishing games.  Robertson does have the vast experience edge over Dominguez though and so you need to go with the former Yankee if you have just one spot to use. 

4.  Another boring veteran who is still quite productive is McCutchen who is now going to his fourth team in one season-plus.  While the steals could vanish for good as soon as this season, McCutchen is money in the bank in terms of 20-plus home runs and 80-plus numbers in RBI and runs scored.  Given the durability here as well, McCutchen's top OF 3 status holds true for at least another season.

5.  Having just donned a Phillies uniform a week ago, All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto separated himself from the rest of the catching pack even more from an offensive standpoint.  Realmuto's move from Miami to Philly puts him in a much better ballpark in terms of numbers and 20 bombs with 80 RBI and runs are going to be in play.  While we wouldn't bank on many steals anymore, it is easy to see that Realmuto stands alone in terms of being a high-end hitting catcher this season. 


2019 FANTASY BASEBALL DRAFT SLEEPER: TYLER GLASNOW SP TAMPA BAY RAYS

The Tampa Bay Rays are known for a horrible ballpark, horrible attendance, and a knack for developing high-end power pitchers.  While the first two issues are undoubtedly negative, the third has been one that has resulted in some terrific fantasy baseball sleepers over the years and also the development of slam dunk aces as well.  The latest candidate for such development could very well be hard-throwing but erratic Tyler Glasnow who is already hitting 98 on the gun in the early stages of spring training.  Already lauded for a very potent fastball, Glasnow stalled out in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization due to some truly terrible control which ultimately led the team to deal him to the Rays last summer.  Still just 25, Glasnow pitched better once with the Rays last season and wound up finishing the year with a very impressive 136 K in 111.2 IP which will get the attention of anyone in the fantasy baseball community.  Add in the early velocity explosion and Glasnow is picking up steam as a prime sleeper this spring.

Digging in a bit more on Glasnow, the power repertoire is very obvious and the fact he averaged 97.3 on his fastball last season didn't get the attention it deserved.  That is likely due to the walks of which there have been plenty so far but that is par for the course with most young power arms in their early development.  The question is whether or not Glasnow can improve in that area but 2018 perhaps hinted that he very well could.  While Glasnow's 2018 4.27 BB/9 was ugly, it was vastly improved from the 6.39 and 5.01 marks the previous two seasons.  If Glasnow can further dip that number and combined with the tremendous 10.96 K/9 a year ago, we have something very interesting here.  Of course, the AL East is brutal and wins may be tough to come by but there is little debate Glasnow is an impressive arm who has the raw stuff to serve as a sizable sleeper this season.  Given that the price is not going to be overly high this spring, Glasnow should be a prominent name on your draft cheat sheets.

2019 PROJECTION:  10-7 3.75 ERA 1.32 WHIP 177 K  

Saturday, February 16, 2019

2019 FANTASY BASEBALL FIRST BASE PRIMER: THOSE WILL DRAFT/AVOID

With the initial batch of first baseman fantasy baseball rankings having been posted earlier in the day, here is how yours truly will handle the following players in terms of my interest in drafting them or avoiding them altogether. 

FIRST BASEMAN I WILL DRAFT

Freddie Freeman, Paul Goldschmidt, Anthony Rizzo:  As I have said numerous times in the past, I am always interested in having a first baseman and five tool outfielder among my first two picks but this season the top-tier at the position are limited to these three.  I would be fine owning any of these perennial All-Stars and that goes for Goldy who I think simply had an extended slump to begin 2018 and nothing more.  Yes, the steals are likely eroding for good but the new start in St. Louis should further reinvigorate him.  Rizzo is another one who is likely looking at improved numbers across the board this season after he too came out of the gates slow.  The advanced metrics were all friendly for Rizzo though as his K rate was never lower and he continues to draw walks.  Get back on board fully.  Finally, Freeman can be a bit annoying with the injuries and fluctuating power but this is truly one of the best hitters in the game.

Jose Abreu:  Now moving squarely into the boring veteran category, Jose Abreu still is as consistent as they get in terms of 25 homers, 90 RBI, and a useful average.  Sign me up.

Miguel Cabrera:  Yes the injuries are becoming a big problem for the aging Cabrera but when on the field, his hitting has been as good as ever as the exit velocities all check out and the power is still apparent.  With the draft price as cheap as ever, Cabrera is worth one last look.

Ian Desmond:  One of the most beat up players in fantasy baseball the last few seasons given the fact he has not exactly exploded since landing in the friendly confines of Coors Field, Desmond is still doing the 20/20 dance and qualifies at more than one spot on the diamond. 

Jose Martinez:  Having hit .300 each of the last two seasons with moderate power, Martinez will work nicely in your CI or UTIL slot as he helps everywhere but stolen bases.

FIRST BASEMAN I WILL AVOID

Edwin Encarnacion:  There is no debating the fact the power remains potent but everywhere else seems to reveal trouble when it comes to Seattle Mariners first baseman Edwin Encarnacion.  Now in his mid-30's, Encarnacion is striking out like never before and his walk are way down also.  Those are trends you don't want to see in terms of possible ownership.

Max Muncy:  It was an amazing breakout for the Los Angeles Dodgers' Max Muncy during the first half of the 2018 season but a lot of those good vibes went away after the break as opposing pitchers began to figure him out.  While you like the eligibility at first and second base, Muncy could be another flash in the pan who got exposed the more he played. 

Matt Carpenter:  Kudos to St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Matt Carpenters for going nuclear with his power a year ago but I am not paying for a career-year and also given the injury issues which have cropped up lately. 


2019 FANTASY BASEBALL FIRST BASEMAN RANKINGS

1.  Freddie Freeman
2.  Paul Goldschmidt
3.  Anthony Rizzo
4.  Rhys Hoskins
5.  Cody Bellinger
6.  Matt Carpenter
7.  Jose Abreu
8.  Joey Votto
9.  Jesus Aguilar
10. Miguel Cabrera
11. Whit Merrifield
12. Matt Olson
13. Edwin Encarnacion
14. Ian Desmond
15. Daniel Murphy
16. J.T. Realmuto
17. Travis Shaw
18. Max Muncy
19. Joey Gallo
20. Eric Hosmer
21. Robinson Cano
22. Luke Voit
23. Jose Martinez
24. Brandon Belt
25. Yuli Gurriel
26. Jay Bruce
27. C.J. Cron
28. Buster Posey
29. Jurickson Profar
30. Ryan Braun
31. Peter Alonso
32. Ryan Zimmerman
33. Ryon Healy
34. Miguel Sano
35. Tyler White

  

Friday, February 15, 2019

2019 FANTASY BASEBALL SPRING TRAINING REPORT: NEW YORK YANKEES

By Michael Wong

Tampa, Fla.--The New York Yankees didn't sign Bryce Harper or Manny Machado (yet?) but still improved a team that won 100-plus games in 2018 and gave the World Series-winning Boston Red Sox their toughest test in the postseason.  With the rotation serving as a main point of concern, GM Brian Cashman moved quickly to trade for Seattle's ace James Paxton and then re-signed both C.C. Sabathia and J.A.Happ.  While the loss of star shortstop Didi Gregorious until around July is a big loss, Cahsman did his best to fix that issue as well by signing former Colorado Rockie infielders Troy Tulowitzki and D.J. LeMahieu.  It is these and some other issues that confront both the team and those who will garner ownership in terms of fantasy baseball in 2019.

1.  Perhaps the player who carries the most concern/intrigue going into spring training is catcher Gary Sanchez who had a season to forget in 2018 as he battled injuries and was hideous at the dish to the tune of a .186 average.  Despite the horrid year, Sanchez still was the same stud who cracked 33 homers the year prior and expectations remain very high here given that he is still only 26.  With catcher looking as barren as ever when it comes to capable offensive players, Sanchez will continue to demand a high cost at the draft table.  In terms of where he will go from here, a fully healthy Sanchez will surely be nothing but a positive and the fact he dealt with a shoulder problem which is about as bad an injury as there is for a hitter could mean a quick move back to superstar numbers.  Digging a bit deeper, Sanchez' .197 BABIP was comically unlucky last season and his 12.3 BB/9  rate remains supreme.  Those are both very good indicators Sanchez could easily return to hitting .260 or better with all of that natural power.  Again, we always advise avoiding paying the freight for catchers but Sanchez seems worth the bounce back cost if you decide to go that route.

2.  While he heard his name in trade rumors all offseason, the Yankees ultimately held onto third baseman Miguel Andujar which will turn out to be the correct call given how tremendous a natural hitter the kid is.  Coming off a monster 2018 debut when he slammed 27 home runs, collected 92 RBI, and batted .297, Andujar is already a terrific offensive player who is still a few years away from his prime.  30 home runs and 100 RBI with a .300 average is certainly not out of the question here for Andujar this season and this may be the last time he ever comes this cheap.  Get on board.

3.  In one of those rare numbers quirks, there was a strong consensus that slugging outfielder Giancarlo Stanton had an "off" year in 2018 despite hitting 38 home runs, scoring 102, and collecting 100 RBI.  That's what happens when you hit 59 bombs the season prior and then move into an offensive haven that is Yankee Stadium amid great fanfare.  Be that as it may, Stanton took some time to adjust to his new home and the high expectations that come along with it but his numbers overall still graded out very well.  Of course, Stanton's ugly 29.9 K/9 didn't help his .266 average but it is not like he hit .230 either.  Now with a full year in the city under his belt, Stanton could easily sail past 40 dingers this season with his customary 100-plus tallies in runs and RBI.

4.  It will be interesting to see how the numbers are impacting for James Paxton after moving from a prime pitcher's park in Seattle to the launching pad that is Yankee Stadium after coming over in a winter trade.  While he rightfully carries an injury-prone tag due to annual DL stints that all Stephen Strasburg owners would understand, Paxton's extreme strikeout rates (11.68 K/9 last season) make him very attractive for fantasy baseball purposes.  Still, you have to forecast some increase in ERA and WHIP for Paxton given his new park and division and the injury threat won't be going away any time soon which further adds to the risk here.  In other words, don't break the bank for Paxton at the draft table but let him come to you.

5.  First baseman Luke Voit is a bit of a puzzle as the power explosion he put up out of the blue during the second half of 2018 failed to match his minor league rates and evoke some Shane Spencer memories for followers of the club.  Right now Voit has the inside track to the starting job over the forever hurt Greg Bird but the leash may not be as long as you would think here.  While we respect what Voit accomplished last season, you never should pay for career seasons and especially when they are such a shock like this situation.


2019 FANTASY BASEBALL PROSPECT WATCH: NICK SENZEL INFIELDER/OUTFILEDER CINCINNATI REDS

And now for the do-over.  Such a setup exists for top Cincinnati Reds third base prospect Nick Senzel whose injury-marred 2018 campaign put a temporary halt on what was shaping up to be a charge to the major leagues.  Originally the second overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft, Senzel quickly showcased a five-tool approach at the dish that hinted at some potential blockbuster fantasy baseball production as he further developed.  Despite his extreme youth, Senzel was expected to be promoted to the Reds during the course of the 2018 season until a torn finger tendon scuttled those plans.  Now fully healthy as spring training begins, Senzel is already being talked up as being the team's starter centerfielder to begin the season according to manager David Bell. 

As a result of the optimistic news, Senzel shoots right near the top of the prospect lists for 2019 fantasy baseball and we again remind you that there is true five-category ability here which always plays very nicely in the fake game.  Prior to the finger injury last season, Senzel was putting up such production as he hit 6 home runs, stole 8 bases, and batted .310 in the 44 games he took part in at Triple-A before things took a turn for the worse.  Already having eligibility at third base, a move to the outfield will boost Senzel's versatility in terms of qualifying at more than one position and that goes very nicely with the offensive numbers.  While we always have to worry about the arbitration garbage each April for top prospects like Senzel, the fact he would have likely already been in the majors if not for getting hurt could very well remove this threat for him this spring. 

2019 PROJECTION: .288 15 HR 65 RBI 75 R 17 SB  


Thursday, February 14, 2019

2019 FANTASY BASEBALL CLOSING TIME: NO CLOSER NAMED YET BY NED YOST

Just like San Francisco Giants counterpart Bruce Bochy did the day prior, Kansas City Royals managed Ned Yost would not name a closer for the team as spring training got underway on Thursday.  Yost mentioned that former starter Wily Peralta did a good job in the role during the second half of 2018 but also mentioned returning setup man Tim Hill and free agent signee Brad Boxberger as possible options.  

Taking them one at a time, Peralta looked good on paper as possibly another failed starter who turned into a high-end reliever almost overnight as he put forth a 3.67 ERA and 9.17 K.9 last season but the underlying metrics were quite ugly.  For one thing, Peralta's 6.03 BB/9 was laughably bad and is about as bad a number as you could get for a closer.  In addition, his .279 BABIP was quite lucky and when adjusted, resulted in FIP (4.73) and XFIP (4.66) ERA's that were downright hideous.  So one can see why an advanced metrics guy like Yost would not automatically jump back in on Peralta.

As far as Boxberger is concerned, he was generally solid for long stretches of 2018 in nailing down 32 saves for the Arizona Diamondbacks but the final 4.39 ERA was ugly no doubt.  Just like with Peralta, Boxberger's 5.40 BB/9 rate was brutal but he had the much better K rate at 11.98.  Boxberger also has going for him a more extensive career as a closer which can also count for something extra when Yost tries to decide things there.  

Regarding Hill, the former Royals third round pick was mediocre at best during his 2018 MLB debut in logging a 4.53 ERA as a 29-year-old rookie.  Having the best control of the three with a 2.76 BB/9, Hill comes up on the short end of things in strikeouts with his 8.28 mark.  

So in essence, there are a whole bunch of bad options here and honestly, whoever comes out on top if Yost doesn't use a committee should be right at the bottom of your closer cheat sheets.  In fact, you are probably better off avoiding this situation altogether.  


2019 FANTASY BASEBALL SPRING TRAINING REPORT: PITTSBURGH PIRATES

By Michael Wong

Bradenton, Fla.--The Pittsburgh Pirates have fully moved on from the successful Andrew McCutchen era beginning in 2018 and in the process, began ushering in a youth-based movement that has brought forth some very interesting prospects that can be key contributors both to the team itself and those who take part in fantasy baseball.  In our second stop of all the major league spring training sites, let's delve into some of the more pertinent fantasy baseball topics centering on the team.

1.  Now another year removed from a PED stain, outfielder Starling Marte is ready to further cement his OF 1 status and make a firm move toward a possible 20/40 campaign in 2019.  Marte came close to such a mark last season as he smacked a career-high 20 homers to go with 33 steals and a .277 batting average mostly working in the number 1 or 2 spots in the Pirates order.  While Marte turned 30 last October, he doesn't appear to have lost any speed as he has now stolen 30 or more bags in five of the last six seasons.  While Marte's power has never really taken off beyond being a 15-20 homer guy, the fact he helps in all five standard ROTO categories and is excellent in steals which is the toughest slot to fill with effective players is key.  Even though the steroid bust was concerning, Marte has proven since that he is still very capable of providing some monster numbers on a yearly basis.

2.  Some focus needs to be placed on a very promising and quite young Pirates rotation which is fronted by the hot-and-cold Chris Archer but then is followed by intriguing Jameson Taillon, Joe Musgrove, and Trevor Williams.  Now in terms of all four guys, I have them ranked Taillon-Archer-Musgrove-Williams in terms of potential fantasy baseball impact.  Taillon in particular is very interesting as the former 2010 second overall pick has massive velocity and comes off a 2018 where he logged a 3.20 ERA and 8.43 K/9.  Now it needs to be said that Taillon has had a very tough go of it in terms of health with a past bout with cancer and some arm issues.  That all seems to be behind him now as Taillon looks like a guy who can graduate to SP 2 status this season.  While the K rate is not totally indicative of the fastball potency Taillon has, the tools are all there for him to graduate into an upper-level guy.

3.  Speaking of Musgrove, there may not be a better control pitcher in all of baseball as his 1.79 BB/9 last season was incredible and went nicely with FIP and XFIP ERA's that were in the mid-3.00 range.  While Musgrove's 7.80 K/9 is just average, the fact he doesn't beat himself with walks and also has a nice array of pitches to keep hitters off balance makes him a very good SP 4 candidate.

4.  The catching situation bears watching in Pittsburgh as veteran Francisco Cervelli has always been an underrated bat throughout an injury-marred career but he is now being pushed by the interesting Elias Diaz.  As far as Cervelli was concerned, he hit a career-best 12 home runs a year ago and drove in 57 batters which actually qualifies him as one of the better offensive catchers in the game.  Be that as it may, Cervelli is 32 and Diaz batted .286 with 10 home runs in just 277 at-bats last season.  So while Cervelli figures to open the season as the starter, Diaz has enough promise to push him out before you know it.

5.  Josh Bell remains on the upside radar for at least one more spring as the first baseman did hit 26 home runs in 2017 before slumping to only 12 last season.  What is interesting about Bell is that both his 17.8 K/9 and 13.2 BB/9 rates from last season were tremendous but a 48 percent ground ball rate doesn't help in terms of getting the power back on track.  Lauded for good pure hitting skills during his development, Bell should still be picked in the draft as a backup first baseman who still has a chance to up his numbers this season.


2019 FANTASY BASEBALL DRAFT SLEEPER: GARRETT HAMPSON SS COLORADO ROCKIES

An annual tradition when it comes to spring fantasy baseball drafts is for the playing community to go all ga-ga over any young Colorado Rockies hitting prospect which is a tradition that has gone back to almost since the opening of Coors Field.  Given the annual offensive bonanza that hitters whose home base is Coors help bestow on lucky fantasy baseball owners, this habit makes complete sense in every way.  So each spring we all fight over Tom Murphy or David Dahl no matter the cost as we have visions of the next young Carlos Gonzalez or Charlie Blackmon on our hands.  Enter in 24-year-old Rockies shortstop prospect Garrett Hampson who likely will be the next in line in terms of being a highly targeted sleeper this spring given his team and also for his speed-oriented skills that are becoming in very short supply each year. 

So in terms of Hampson and his ability, the former third-round pick really put himself on the prospect map in 2018 when he first put up a 4 home run/19 stolen base/.304 line at Double-A and then followed that up with a 6/17/.314 slash respectively at Triple-A.  Those swell numbers enabled Hampson to get the call to Colorado during the later portion of the season where he more than held his own as he hit .275 in 40 at-bats with another 2 stolen bases.  Taking altogether, Hampson hit 10 home runs and stole 38 bases while serving as a batting average asset in doing a fairly good Whit Merrifield impersonation.  We all know how valuable Merrifield has been the last two seasons as he led MLB in steals in each campaign and so that gives you an idea of what Hampson is capable of doing if he can get make the team out of spring training.  With very good walk rates and decent enough strikeout numbers in the minors, Hampson could very well approach a .280/10-home run/40-steal season if all breaks right.  Since Hampson is actually a bit off the radar even for being a property of Colorado, this is one guy you may want to stash for your second-half of the draft this spring.

2019 PROJECTION:  .278 8 HR 74 R 56 RBI 28 SB  


Wednesday, February 13, 2019

2019 FANTASY BASEBALL CLOSING TIME: MARK MELANCON AND WILL SMITH TO BATTLE FOR CLOSER ROLE IN SPRING TRAINING

While meeting with the team's reporters on Wednesday, San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy was asked if he had a closer in mind heading into spring training and more specifically if Will Smith had done enough the second half of 2018 to earn the gig at the start of camp.  True to form, Bochy admitted he won't name a closer just yet but seemed to indicate that veteran closer Mark Melancon is possibly a slight favoritre over Smith if all things are equal.  Now in terms of the two "combatants", Melancon has a few things going for him that would give him the edge.  The first is that he has the vast experience edge over Smith and he was considered to be on the best stoppers in the game as recently as 2016 when he logged a 1.64 ERA.  Additionally, Melancon has two years to go on a four-year deal worth $60 million that won't look so good if it is being operated in a setup capacity.  Finally, there is the old adage of Melancon being righthanded as opposed to Smith being a southpaw and that goes back to managers preferring using their top lefty arms for matchups in the late innings.  

Now as far as Smith is concerned, he was excellent closing games for the Giants in replacing injured Melancon and later Hunter Strickland in logging a 2.55 ERA and monstrous 12.06 K/9.  Long one of the top setup pitchers in baseball, Smith has all the tools necessary to be a very good closer and certainly being the guy in San Francisco.  Smith also outpitched Melancon a year ago as the latter had a higher 3.23 ERA and very shaky and below-average 7.15 K/9.  Again all things being equal, Smith would be the easy call but Melancon actually has to be considered a slight favorite for all that we discussed prior.  At the very least, this is one spring training closer battle which needs to be watched closely once the games get started.  


2019 FANTASY BASEBALL SPRING TRAINING REPORT: BALTIMORE ORIOLES

Sarasota, Fla.--The Baltimore Orioles begin our tour around spring training sites in baseball as we look at pressing topics from a fantasy baseball perspective.

1.  Granted a fresh start with the Orioles and likely inheriting leadoff duties, veteran second baseman Jonathan Villar is in the running for being the top base stealer for 2019 fantasy baseball.  We already saw Villar go nuts on that front in 2016 when he burst to 62 steals with 19 homers and a .285 average in 2016.  Alas, we made it a point to not fully buy into that awesome performance as Villar is not a .285 hitter given his ongoing strikeout issues and the power was also well past previous norms.  So it went as Villar predictably bombed the following season and then wound up getting traded in 2018 to the Milwaukee Brewers after some more struggles.  Once in Baltimore, Villar was a new player as he ran wild again with 21 steals in 54 games and popped 8 home runs.  Likely manning leadoff to begin the new season, Villar is very much in play as a 40 steal guy who could even approach the 50 mark since the Orioles will rely on him to generate offense.  Capable of hitting 15 home runs to go with those steals, we could be looking at the cheapest 15/40 guy in the game.  As long as you accept a likely mediocre batting average, Villar could pay off nicely as a mid-round comeback selection.

2.  Speaking of speed, outfield prospect Cedric Mullins has plenty of it but he looks like a one-trick pony for those who are involved in AL-only or very deep leagues.  While there have been plenty of steals in his development, Mullins his jut .267 at Triple-A a year ago before struggling to just a .235 mark with the Orioles last season.  With steals in such demand, Mullins at the very least should be monitored early on to see if he can stick.

3.  Mark Trumbo will be back after an injury-marred 2017 campaign to man the DH spot and we all know there is easy 25 home run power here at the very least.  Trumbo is clearly a good fit for Camden Yards with his power and those in deeper formats surely can take on those 25 bombs.  However, Trumbo has never been a batting average asset and so he is best left as a bench bat,

4.  Boy the Baltimore rotation is hideous.  Fronted by this site's favorite punching bag Dylan Bundy, the Orioles will also trot out some very underwhelming veterans such as Andrew Cashner, Nate Karns, and Alex Cobb.  Outside of maybe Bundy, none of these guys should be owned anywhere.

5.  Mychal Givens will open up the season as the Orioles' closer but saves chances will be few and far between.  Even beyond that issue, Given was very shaky overall as a pitcher last season as he logged a 3.99 ERA and 1.19 WHIP.  The strikeout rates have always been impressive here but Givens has very poor control which will be a potential ongoing issue.  

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

2019 FANTASY BASEBALL CATCHER PRIMER: THOSE WHO I WILL DRAFT/NOT DRAFT

Yesterday I shared with your my initial catcher rankings for the 2019 fantasy baseball season and so today the focus shifts to those backstops yours truly will likely be drafting/not drafting this spring. 

CATCHERS I WILL FOCUS ON

Williams Astudillo:  Listed at just 5-9 but carrying 225 pounds, Minnesota Twins backstop Williams Astudillo is a very interesting sleeper candidate given his rare contact skills that resulted in just a 3.1 K/9 rate in his 30 game debut with the team in 2018.  Prior to the promotion, Astudillo hit 12 home runs, stole 7 bases, and batted .276 at Triple-A so there are some intriguing tools here for what will likely cost a very late round pick.

Danny Jansen:  As I preach every spring, looking for value is the way to go at catcher and that included young prospects on the verge or making/sticking in the majors or veterans who are coming off a down season.  Qualifying for the former would be Toronto Blue Jays catching farmhand Danny Jansen who hit 3 home runs and batted .247 for the team in his 81 at-bats debut in 2018.  While just a former 16th round pick, Jansen has batted .291, .328, and .275 the last two seasons in the minors split between Double-A and Triple-A and his 44/49 BB/k rate at the latter level last season really show an ability to handle the stick.  With Russell Martin having been sent on his way, Jansen will have every opportunity to make the starting spot his own.

Wilson Ramos:  Those if you who are longtime readers of the site know how I pump up Wilson Ramos every spring and for good reason as he really can hit and yet always come cheap at the draft table due to perennial injury woes.  Now the injury threat is real and will only be exacerbated with no DH in the NL after Ramos inked a deal with the New York Mets but the numbers are always there on a per game basis.

Omar Narvarez:  Not sure how believable the 9 home runs in 322 at-bats were for Omar Narvarez with the Chicago White Sox a year ago as he filled in for the suspended Welington Castillo but a fresh start presents itself in Seattle where Mike Zunino departed.  Narvarez has shown very good bat control in the form of high walk totals and impressive strikeout rates which could make him the rare catcher to hit for average however and if the power does hold from last season, we could have something here.

Francisco Mejia:  I loved Mejia going back to 2017 and that won't change now despite a bit of a rough debut with the San Diego Padres last summer.  Still considered a top-ten prospect heading into the season, Mejia has done nothing but hit in the minors with a very long line of impressive averages to go with power that could approach 20 bombs.  Even better, the Padres plan on having Mejia play all over the field which will add to the versatility. 

Wilson Contreras:  Not sure the price will fall that far given how catching remains incredibly shallow but I will take a shot and buy low if the Chicago Cubs' Wilson Contreras gets dinged at the draft table coming off a very rough 2018 campaign.  After looking like a future star in 2017, Contreras dropped off everywhere last season to the point he was being released outright last summer.  There is still youth and upside remaining though so don't hesitate to try again.

CATCHERS I WILL AVOID

Buster Posey. Salvador Perez, Gary Sanchez, J.T. Realmuto:  I put all four of these guys together because they all represent the consensus most costliest options at catcher which I won't pay the freight on.  A year ago at this time Posey and Sanchez were drafted among the first four rounds and both bombed badly which just adds another chapter to the endless narrative of how foolish it is to draft a catcher early.  Stay the course avoiding such a strategy. 


Monday, February 11, 2019

2019 FANTASY BASEBALL NEWS BREAK: DIDI GREGORIOUS (TOMMY JOHN) TAKES PART IN THROWING SESSION MONDAY

                                                                     

Rehabbing New York Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorious took a sizable step forward in his recovery from Tommy John elbow surgery as he successfully completed a throwing session at the team's spring training complex.  While a nice development for sure, it is widely expected Gregorious will remain out at least for the first two months of the season. 

Analysis:  Gregorious will likely see his draft spot all over the place this spring as the guy has really developed into one of the best offensive shortstops in baseball and the allure to add his bat at a discounted rate will be strong.  What also will distort the draft cost a bit is not knowing when Didi will in fact return as some projections had it as early as the end of May and some as late as August.  

2019 FANTASY BASEBALL CATCHER RANKINGS

After a long pause, spring training beckons the start of the 2019 fantasy baseball season. Let's get the rankings going with the putrid catcher fraternity.  Once again, IGNORE the high cost items and go value here as it simply doesn't pay to go for the high-priced items.  How did it turn out for those who went with Buster Posey or Gary Sanchez a year ago? 

1.  J.T. Realmuto
2.  Gary Sanchez
3.  Salvador Perez
4.  Wilson Ramos
5.  Buster Posey
6.  Yasmani Grandal
7.  Yadier Molina
8.  Wilson Contreras
9.  Francisco Mejia
10. Yan Gomes
11. Jorge Alfaro
12. Williams Astudillo
13. Omar Navarez
14. Danny Jansen
15. Kurt Suzuki
16. Mitch Garver
17. Francisco Cervelli
18. Chance Sisco
19. Mike Zunino
20. Isaiah Kiner-Falefa
21. Jonathan Lucroy
22. Elias Diaz