Kris Bryant and Javier BaezUSA Today Sports, Getty ImagesKris Bryant and Javier Baez are both headed to Triple-A. What's the fantasy impact?
Lost in the predictable mass outrage of the Chicago Cubs sending future Hall of Famer -- well, I jest -- Kris Bryant to Triple-A Iowa on Monday is the fact that his infield buddy Javier Baez is joining him. Not all demotions are equal. The Cubs never made any secret that Bryant was heading to the minor leagues not because he wasn’t ready for the big leagues, but due to frankly antiquated rules about service time and team control and money. It’s understandable and absolutely the correct move, and don’t worry, the slugging Bryant won’t be in Iowa for long. For Baez, he is surprisingly packing his bags because he keeps proving he is just not ready for the majors, and since he’s owned in more than two-thirds of ESPN standard leagues, that’s kind of a big deal. Let’s start with the big winner here, because it’s not Bryant or Baez:
Danny SalazarFrank Victores/USA TODAY SportsDanny Salazar still has great strikeout potential but he won't start the season with the Indians.
The plight of Cleveland Indians right-hander Danny Salazar is a reminder that being able to throw a baseball harder than most everyone else isn't always a ticket to statistical stardom. Salazar, a flamethrower who shined in 2013 when he fanned 65 hitters over 52 innings in 10 starts, couldn't replicate that success in 2014 in the majors or minors, and now he's again ticketed for Triple-A Columbus. Salazar's spring numbers were ugly with an 8.18 ERA and 1.72 WHIP over four starts, which won't make those who have already drafted him pleased. As of Monday morning, Salazar was still a top-75 pitcher in ESPN ADP, ahead of several notable options such as teammate Trevor Bauer, Milwaukee Brewers right-hander Matt Garza and Kansas City Royals lefty Danny Duffy. While Salazar is every bit a strikeout guy -- unlike the pitchers the Indians chose for the back of their rotation -- something is clearly missing, and at this point, he's not worth selecting in a 10- or 12-team standard league and I wouldn't rely on him in any format, really. He was already on my bust list, though depending on cost, sure, I would have saved a bench spot for him. Salazar fanned 120 hitters in 110 big league innings last season, and it was unfortunate the rest of his numbers didn't translate well. His hits allowed outnumbered his innings pitched, a bit unusual for a guy who can hit 98 mph regularly, but an inflated BABIP of .344 played a role there. I didn't see any of Salazar's spring outings, but then again he had little trouble missing bats, whiffing 15 over 11 innings. Hitters also squared him up quite well, making five of their 14 hits go for home runs. It's also been suggested by those who cover the Indians that Salazar needs a bit of work on maturity and preparation, so we'll see how he reacts in April. What struck me about Salazar in big league games last season was just how straight his otherwise electric fastball generally looks, and there's not much that can be done about that. Of course Salazar throws hard. According to the Bill James Handbook, he threw 783 pitches at 95 mph or more last season, eighth in the circuit, and Salazar tossed only 110 big league innings! What's odd is all the other AL pitchers in the top 10 of that category were successful in 2014, leading analysts and fantasy owners to really like Salazar's potential. Hey, I still do. It's why analysts are recommending New York Yankees right-hander Nathan Eovaldi as well. He throws hard. The issue with each of them is that when hitters can time a straight 95-98 mph heater, they can catch up to it, and Salazar doesn't throw other pitches consistently for strikes -- namely his slider and changeup. When he does, watch out, but I also wouldn't be surprised if he is a future closer. With Eovaldi, he led the National League in hits allowed last season, despite throwing fewer than 200 innings and in a pitchers' park. He's not in a pitchers' park now.
[+] EnlargeT.J. House
Atsushi Tomura/Getty ImagesCould T.J. House be this year's version of Corey Kluber?
As for Cleveland's rotation -- viewed now as a special place to be due to pitching coach Mickey Calloway and the Cy Young-like emergence of right-hander Corey Kluber -- I don't think right-hander Zach McAllister makes that next step up to dominance, but I could see lefty T.J. House becoming 10-team relevant. As discussed by myself and colleague Tristan H. Cockcroft on Monday's Fantasy Focus Baseball #06010 podcast, House is intriguing because as a rookie he made 18 starts and produced a 3.35 ERA that wasn't at all fluky; his xFIP was 3.10 and the team should be improved defensively, especially when shortstop prospect Francisco Lindor gets promoted. House was second among all pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched in ground ball percentage last season -- at better than 60 percent -- but he also gets enough strikeouts with his terrific slider. If I knew Salazar and House would make 30 starts this season in the majors, I'd take House for ERA, WHIP and reliability, and Salazar solely for the strikeouts. Now it looks like only one of them has a shot at 30 starts. AL roundup: Looks like I was wise to get Texas Rangers outfielder Ryan Rua on several deep-league teams. He appears to have won a starting nod with Nate Schierholtz and Ryan Ludwick being released. … Don't get too excited about Boston Red Sox catching prospect Blake Swihart yet. Sure, Christian Vazquez might not play this season, but the team has defensive-minded veterans Ryan Hanigan and Humberto Quintero. I bet Swihart gets half a season in Triple-A, at least, and then perhaps a trip to Philadelphia in the Cole Hamels trade? Dare to dream! … I wasn't drafting overrated Detroit Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander before the triceps strain; I'm sure not doing it now. Look for a pending DL stint. … Need a sleeper power source with second-base eligibility? The Houston Astros demoted third baseman Matt Dominguez, freeing the position for former Chicago Cubs platoon option Luis Valbuena. … If choosing between rookie second basemen likely to have won starting jobs, I'll take the stolen base upside of Micah Johnson of the Chicago White Sox over the steady Devon Travis of the Toronto Blue Jays. NL roundup: The Philadelphia Phillies have apparently settled on Rule 5 pick Odubel Herrera as their center fielder, and Ben Revere will handle left field, where his poor arm will better serve the team. It doesn't affect Revere's statistics. Since everyone seems to be asking, Herrera is indeed in ESPN's system as David Odubel Herrera, and with notable shortstop eligibility. With batting average and stolen base upside -- but neither close to Revere's level, for example -- he's a perfect NL-only middle infielder. As for who loses playing time, you didn't want Grady Sizemore anyway. … I'd like to see the St. Louis Cardinals give lefty Marco Gonzalez the last rotation spot now that lefty Jaime Garcia seems DL-bound, but word is Carlos Martinez will get it. If Martinez can get lefty hitters out, he'll be terrific. I'm a bit skeptical. … Even if the New York Mets place second baseman Daniel Murphy on the DL with his hamstring issue, don't let him slip far in drafts. Murphy is underrated and can still reach double-digit stolen bases.

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Masahiro Tanaka, Carlos Gomez and Mookie BettsUSA TODAY Sports, Getty ImagesMasahiro Tanaka, Carlos Gomez and Mookie Betts are all high on Eric's rankings lists.
I can’t recall ever finishing a draft or auction and thinking, “Wow, that one was simply perfect.” Perhaps that’s pessimistic, and on occasion the projected statistics for the players add up wonderfully and you’re the so-called leader in the clubhouse, but none of that really matters in March. Players will get hurt, performance will vary for good and bad for your teams and others, and work will need to be done to take this quality preseason team into September with a legitimate chance for victory. Still, it’s tough to use the word perfect because there’s always a player or two or three you would have rather ended up with. The purpose of this exercise, to create the perfect draft for ESPN standard formats (5x5 categories, 10 teams, 1 catcher, 3 bench spots), shouldn’t be taken as gospel for your league. For one thing, my projections probably vary from yours. Two, while I use ESPN average live draft position to determine which players will be available at the spots I select, obviously nobody can say for sure that a certain player will or will not be chosen earlier in your league, whatever format it is. Finally, while I almost always prefer to draft first or last in the first round, regardless of sport, I’ve placed myself in the middle of each round. Let’s say I have the fifth overall pick. OK, here we go! Round 1: Carlos Gomez, OF, Milwaukee Brewers: All credit to Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw, who is currently going fourth overall in ESPN ADP, but I’ve got Gomez in that spot. He’s the only hitter with 20 home runs, 20 stolen bases and a .280 batting average in each of the past two seasons, and it should happen again. Plus, he gives you a lot more than 20 steals! Time to give credit to Gomez, too, and he’s a nice building block for a standard fantasy roster (although not for points leagues)! Round 2: Adam Jones, OF, Baltimore Orioles: Oddly enough, I don’t recall drafting the consistent Jones on any teams this season or last year. In fact, I’ve been rather negative in describing his fantasy value long-term, for someone with so little plate discipline just shouldn’t be able to provide the stats he does every year. But he does! And as I eventually trusted Gomez, I shall with Jones. The truth is I don’t like picking in the middle of each round. I’d certainly prefer getting Mike Trout first overall and then two big bats with picks 20 and 21. This will suffice and no, it doesn’t matter that each of my first picks are outfielders. Round 3: Ian Desmond, SS, Washington Nationals: Again, this is not a very good points-league pick, since he strikes out a lot, but this is a standard format we’re dealing with. Desmond and Gomez are the only players in baseball with consecutive 20/20 campaigns. The only ones! And Desmond has done this for three straight seasons and at shortstop, hardly a deep position. OK, I might not be winning batting average in this league, but with three players that run, I won’t need to reach for a fellow who mainly provides stolen bases and little else. Round 4: Zack Greinke, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers: A problem will loom for this exercise in that starting pitching is being selected considerably earlier than I like to choose it, pretty much across the board. I’ve got Greinke going two rounds after this, but I do acknowledge it’s nice to secure a safe, reliable ace so my No. 1 pitcher is someone I can count on for four-category production. So I’ll reach a bit from my personal ranks for Greinke. I’m OK with this.
[+] EnlargeAdrian Gonzalez
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY SportsAdrian Gonzalez is a stable option for batting average and run production.
Round 5: Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Dodgers: Not every pick needs to be an upside pick. Perhaps few of mine are. Regardless, I’ve got Gonzalez ranked two rounds better than this, but because his home run total is deemed below average by some, he slips in drafts. I’ll take the safe batting average and power stats and remember he doesn’t miss many games. Round 6: Brian Dozier, 2B, Minnesota Twins: This could have been predicted. I also rank Dozier greater than the ESPN crew does, and when it comes to those drafting, for ADP purposes, the batting average likely turns them off. Yes, Desmond/Dozier is not a batting title waiting to happen. But it’s another 20/20 option and if Dozier hits third in the lineup, with Joe Mauer moving to second, I think Dozier produces more power, perhaps to the detriment of his stolen-base total. Round 7: Todd Frazier, 1B/3B, Cincinnati Reds: I’ve been saying for months I don’t see his 2014 season all that unreachable again. So we welcome more power and speed to the Kara-squad! Round 8: Masahiro Tanaka, SP, New York Yankees: If I’m confident in my offense, and not seeing any pending available hitters I must have, of course I’ll take a strikeout hurler with the potential to be a top-10 guy. Tanaka was on his way to such heights last season. I realize his elbow could implode whenever, but I also believe that can happen to any pitcher. Jacob deGrom of the New York Mets is the next pitcher in ESPN ADP. Is he totally safe from injury? None of them are. There’s pitching depth, so if a potential ace slips a bit, why not act? There’s always a deGrom emerging on free agency every May anyway. Round 9: Mookie Betts, OF, Boston Red Sox: Well, I just had to. He’s going to play regularly and he’s going to be special and by the way, I’ve got him ranked two rounds better than this. At least. Round 10: Jay Bruce, OF, Reds: This is the first example of choosing a player coming off a rough season and using my “forget about last year” corollary when seeking out a bargain, which Bruce surely is. All those years of production shouldn’t be forgotten so quickly. Yes, Bruce was bad in 2014. Before that, he was a reliable power source. And we all need power. Round 11: Garrett Richards, SP, Los Angeles Angels: He’s fine. Go ahead and miss a start or two. He made only 26 starts last year and the numbers were awesome. I remain perplexed why so many are so scared of him. It’s not an elbow or shoulder problem.
[+] EnlargeHuston Street
AP Photo/Jim MoneHuston Street is often a relatively cheap option for saves.
Round 12: Huston Street, RP, Angels: I seem to be getting him on many teams, not because I really like him but because this is the part of the draft I’m prepared to get saves, and he always seems to be left. Round 13: Steve Cishek, RP, Miami Marlins: Same thing as Street, really, and as with the Angels, I project a playoff team, which for save purposes is certainly better than investing in a 65-win outfit. Round 14: J.D. Martinez, OF, Detroit Tigers: Tremendous value this late if you believe his 2014 was legit. Other than batting average, I believe it was. Round 15: Lucas Duda, 1B, New York Mets: He’s ranked among my top 100. Why is Houston Astros DH Chris Carter going so many rounds earlier than Duda? Only 11 players hit 30 home runs. Duda was one of them and it wasn’t a fluke. Round 16: Ben Revere, OF, Philadelphia Phillies: Another player in my top 100 being misjudged by most. The speed and batting average are real. I might have too many stolen bases, but I need the batting average, and what a great trade chip! Round 17: Ian Kennedy, SP, San Diego Padres: Time to fill the rotation, and the fact that there are potential 200-strikeout options available makes me pleased and proves the point about depth. Round 18: Jose Quintana, SP, Chicago White Sox: So underrated. Round 19: Phil Hughes, SP, Twins: When you don’t walk hitters, good things happen. For him, it will be a good thing when his ERA drops even more. Round 20: Neftali Feliz, RP, Texas Rangers: Got my third closer and he’s a bargain. Feliz wasn’t great in 2014, but he’s throwing better this spring and there is upside with a team getting so much offense back.
[+] EnlargeScooter Gennett
AP Photo/Morry GashScooter Gennett can provide decent power, speed and batting average at a reasonable price.
Round 21: Scooter Gennett, 2B, Brewers: Reasonable minds can debate his actual statistical upside, but I expect double-digit home runs, at least 15 steals and a strong batting average. Not bad this late. If not Gennett, I would have taken Orioles bounce-back shortstop J.J. Hardy. Round 22: Yasmani Grandal, C, Dodgers: I need a catcher and this is my sleeper option. People draft catchers too early in ESPN formats. You need only one. This one has upside. If he’s awful, Wilson Ramos of the Nationals or Wilin Rosario of the Rockies should be available on the waiver wire, so there’s little risk. Round 23: Steven Souza, OF, Tampa Bay Rays: Perhaps I’ve been too aggressive in hyping this older prospect, but his minor league numbers were very, very enticing. He has a starting job. He’s my only bench hitter, but by the way, I have plenty of power and speed on this offense. Batting average is another story, but I only need to be middle of the pack in the category. Round 24: Kevin Gausman, SP, Orioles: Upside! Potential ace! And he’s on my bench, so I don’t even have to use him in April. Round 25: Carlos Martinez, SP, St. Louis Cardinals: Same thing as Gausman. Total upside pick. If he’s bad, there are going to be plenty of starting pitchers available, guys like the Dodgers’ Brandon McCarthy, the Marlins’ Henderson Alvarez and the Pirates’ A.J. Burnett, who could strike out 200 hitters! So much depth!

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Demotions help clarify fantasy value 

March, 27, 2015
Mar 27
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Brett Cecil Reinhold Matay/USA TODAY SportsBrett Cecil enters his seventh season with six career saves, five of which came in 2014.
Getting demoted isn’t much fun, as those that have been in such a predicament can certainly attest. Many of us have been there or know of others that have, whether we’re in 9-to-5 jobs, do what I do or boast the good fortune to be good enough to play professional baseball for a living. We might think that when a player gets sent from spring training to minor league camp -- a demotion -- that it’s no big deal, since they’re all getting paid handsomely (not everyone is) and it’s better than getting a real job, but still, that uncertainty, the loss of income, dealing with frustrated family members, it has to stink. Not all demotions are the same, of course, but we can learn from them. For example, we’ve discussed way too much a certain slugging Chicago Cubs third-base prospect likely to call Iowa and not Illinois home for a few weeks in April, but his situation isn't like most others. All around baseball other players are being told they’re just not good enough or someone else is better, and the result is they get demoted or just flat-out released. It’s not a good feeling, right? Of course it’s not! And these moves happen every day, for the most part, year-round in baseball. So while those of us in deeper fantasy baseball formats wait to see how this all shakes out, whether some of the players we have chosen -- or want to choose -- even make their respective big league rosters out of March, transactions don’t stop. Like people in other jobs, like yours and mine, the demoted individual can act myriad ways, perhaps working harder to get back to where he wants to be, which is on the 25-man roster of a big league baseball team! As we close another week in the fantasy world, here’s what we’ve learned about some players and situations from the transactions occurring in the real baseball world. Demotions are not irreversible, after all. Toronto Blue Jays bullpen: It was a bit surprising that right-hander Steve Delabar was sent packing to the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons, because he seemed to have a chance at earning saves. He misses many bats and was, though it’s irrelevant in the big picture but often not to big league organizations, an All-Star in 2013. Lefty Brett Cecil was recently named Toronto’s closer, and perhaps he’ll be great, as colleague Tristan H. Cockcroft theorized in his recent Tristan’s Twenty article. Delabar’s demotion screams out that the organization really likes hard-throwing, 20-year-old right-handers Miguel Castro and Roberto Osuna, as they move up to potential setup roles. Nothing against Cecil, but I think Castro becomes one of my favorite saves sleepers now. Cleveland Indians middle infield: Prospect Francisco Lindor certainly didn’t embarrass himself at the plate this month, posting an OPS on the good side of .900, and he’s terrific defensively, but he’s only 21 and the organization can be patient. I doubt Lindor will be at Triple-A Columbus for long. However, let this be a reminder that starting shortstop Jose Ramirez is someone that really should matter in deeper fantasy leagues this season. For one, he steals bases. Ramirez attempted 30 steals in 60 games at Columbus last season, though he needs to work on his success rate. Second, he might actually hit second in the lineup. Third, I’m starting to think Jason Kipnis is a poor investment for where he’s being selected in ADP, in the seventh round; he’s been sidelined by back problems this month after dealing with injuries last year, and few believe he’ll hit .284 again (as in 2013), even if healthy. Ramirez can play second base, by the way, and better than Kipnis. I’m just saying it wouldn’t be surprising if Kipnis is the odd man out in this middle infield, either on the DL or moved to a corner outfield spot. Milwaukee Brewers middle infield: The Brewers sent right-hander Yovani Gallardo to the Texas Rangers this winter for several prospects, one of whom was 21-year-old Luis Sardinas, a speedy shortstop who hits right-handed. Sardinas could have made the Brewers and platooned with lefty-hitting Scooter Gennett, but the fact he didn’t is still important. It tells us that Gennett could play regularly, regardless of pitcher, and I’d argue that’s a positive step. Sure, he won’t crush lefty pitching, but for counting stats purposes, we want our players out there every day. I doubt longtime minor leaguer Hector Gomez, who can play middle infield, will platoon with Gennett. Sardinas will play at Triple-A Colorado Springs and as with the Indians, the fact he’s not on the big league roster as a utility guy has me intrigued for the long term. Gennett and shortstop Jean Segura need to hit, because someone is lurking.
[+] EnlargeTyler Clippard
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsAs the Nationals' primary closer in 2012, Tyler Clippard logged 32 saves, but his 3.72 ERA was his worst in a full season.
Oakland Athletics bullpen: Lefty closer Sean Doolittle is dealing with shoulder woes and might not pitch until May, but this really isn’t breaking news. Neither is the fact right-hander Tyler Clippard, acquired from the Washington Nationals, is the easy fill-in choice. In fact, I predicted last week that Clippard will keep the closer role all season. However, the fact right-hander Ryan Cook, saver of 14 games in 2012 and with a career ERA of 2.77, was sent to Triple-A Nashville this week is interesting. Dan Otero inherits setup duties and is not a strikeout guy, giving Clippard more security. Texas Rangers left field: Two of the myriad right-handed batters vying for this position are out of the picture, as Kyle Blanks was reassigned to minor league camp and Ryan Ludwick might be headed to retirement. That leaves lefty-hitting Nate Schierholtz and Carlos Peguero along with Jake Smolinski and Ryan Rua. Prospect Delino DeShields Jr. also remains, but he's not likely to play much. Schierholtz hit 21 home runs in 2013, and now that he’s in a sweet hitter’s park, he’s again enticing for deep formats even when platooned, but Peguero has had a big spring and with a new plate approach, he could win the job. Smolinski doesn’t seem so special, as he doesn’t hit for power or steal bases and he didn’t hit for much average in the minors. He can draw a walk and defend. Rua is one of my big sleepers, a natural slugger who also has enough plate discipline to succeed. Rua has the upside even for standard fantasy formats and even if the Rangers don’t use him in left field, designated hitter Mitch Moreland isn’t safe. We need to see how Peguero potentially fits in, too. Others: Right-hander Heath Hembree didn’t make the Boston Red Sox bullpen, and while we never say never, he’s 26 and all those minor league saves are becoming irrelevant. In other words, he’s not an option even if Koji Uehara misses time. ... Geovany Soto, who used to be a pretty decent offensive catcher, is now with the Chicago White Sox. With Tyler Flowers really struggling this spring and with Rob Brantly, who isn’t much of a hitter, having been demoted, Soto could matter. He should win a job over George Kottaras and if Soto can stay healthy, those in multi-catcher formats should pay attention. ... The Houston Astros optioned out right-hander Dan Straily this week, removing one of the competitors for the fifth-starter job. Straily was fantasy relevant in 2013 and now, two franchises later, he’s headed to his third Triple-A team in a year, though I would not give up on him in deep dynasty formats. Right-hander Asher Wojciechowski is the guy to watch. He’s got more upside than Roberto Hernandez, that’s for sure. It appears Samuel Deduno is headed for the bullpen. ... The Kansas City Royals optioned lefty Brandon Finnegan and outfielder Terrance Gore to different places. Finnegan was a first-round pick in the 2014 MLB draft and pitched in relief for the big club soon after. He should be groomed as a starter, which he is at Double-A Northwest Arkansas. Gore is a speed demon also along for the AL championship ride, but he cannot hit and was sent to Class A Wilmington. Nobody should be drafting him in any fantasy league, for now or the future. Keep an eye on Finnegan, though. He might bypass Triple-A, especially if Edinson Volquez can’t hold a rotation spot.

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Miguel CabreraAP Photo/Carlos OsorioIt may be difficult for Miguel Cabrera to make it 12 straight seasons with at least 148 games played.
The main reason Detroit Tigers slugger Victor Martinez is not a huge risk, but his more celebrated teammate, Miguel Cabrera, is comes down to draft-day value and overall status. Each player, eligible at first base and no other position, is working his respective way back from injury. Martinez, who finished a stunning seventh among all options on last year’s Player Rater, is going in the fifth round in ESPN average live drafts. Cabrera, who has been a fantasy stalwart and potential top pick for years, finished 15th on the Rater last year and is going sixth overall this season, despite the fact ESPN Fantasy ranks him outside the top 10. Only one of them is a risky early-round draft pick. While Cabrera isn’t the only top-flight offensive player, according to ADP, dealing with a physical ailment and hoping to be recovered enough to play when the season opens in less than two weeks, the nature of his injury and his lofty draft status makes him by far the riskiest. Martinez, progressing nicely from knee surgery, can be regarded as an upside pick –- we saw the upside in 2014 –- in the fifth round. However, as trusted colleague Stephania Bell has noted in relation to Cabrera’s offseason ankle surgery, it certainly wasn’t an ordinary procedure without potential pitfalls. Cabrera still isn’t able to run at his normal speed, which granted wasn’t fast, and he’s not playing the field yet. He might be ready to hit –- he likely is all the time -- and could play Opening Day, but my concern about Cabrera’s risk isn’t solely physical. What if he turns into Albert Pujols, at least statistically? When Pujols left the St. Louis Cardinals for the Los Angeles Angels a few years back, he wasn’t regarded as a player in steep decline. Sure, Pujols wasn’t his usual awesome self in 2011, his final season in the National League, as his OPS fell 100 points to a still-robust .907, but his statistics in the American League haven’t even been at that level. Pujols is still formidable enough to warrant a top-50 pick in most leagues, because the overall baseline for available sluggers has lessened and it’s far tougher to find a 30-homer, 100-RBI option, which he still is. Cabrera is several years younger, but this injury is a very big deal and could certainly help his statistics regress. Last season, Cabrera’s OPS dropped to .895, still very good, but more than 100 points worse than any of his previous four seasons. Fantasy owners seem to be assuming Cabrera, at 32, will simply return to 40-plus homers and batting titles, which is a bit of a reach. The question can then be asked: Why is Cabrera still among my top-10 options? The answer is complicated. I really don’t like any other hitters ranked later more than him, though I’ve considered Seattle Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano, Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones and even young Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo. I haven’t chosen Cabrera in any drafts, mock or real. I’m probably over-ranking him, but can’t find anyone else to push him out. Yet. But also, I feel like Cabrera’s regression is more likely a year or two away. Even if he starts the season on the disabled list, it doesn’t validate that Cabrera was ranked too generously. He clearly played through injury last year, yet he played nearly every day and still was a top-20 overall player. Pujols’ fall was more precipitous. I just worry Cabrera is on a similar path, more so for 2016, for dynasty owners. Anyway, that’s a long way of writing that Cabrera, projected fairly at a .318 batting average with 29 home runs and 109 RBIs, is risky, perhaps considerably more than a tad. I don’t really buy into the old axiom that a draft isn’t won in the early rounds, but it can sure be lost. There are always late-round picks or midseason pickups in baseball making significant contributions. But here are others going in the first five rounds according to ESPN ADP whom I’d certainly regard as risky, and the common theme is generally health. Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Colorado Rockies: Well, this is pretty obvious, no? Tulowitzki has played an average of 88 games the past three seasons, though I’d argue the .316 batting average, and average of 18 home runs and 54 RBIs he’s produced on that span in roughly half a season of work -– thus permitting fantasy owners the rest of the time to garner more shortstop stats! –- is still worth a second-round pick. He could go back to playing 143 games, like 2011, and be the best player in the game. Anyway, he’s risky but you’d much prefer your shortstop give these numbers in half a season, rather than dragging it out over six months. Oh, and no shortstop came remotely close to hitting .316 with 18 home runs in 2014. Jose Altuve, 2B, Houston Astros: This selection will surely anger many an Astros fan and fantasy owner, but when Altuve slips from .341 to .307 (our projection), and if the stolen bases revert to pre-2014 form (in the 30s), he won’t be close to second-round worthy. His risk is in regression, because he won’t hit for power.
[+] EnlargeAnthony Rendon
AP Images/Evan VucciKnee troubles pose a threat to Anthony Rendon's attempt at a repeat of his breakout 2014 season.
Anthony Rendon, 2B/3B, Washington Nationals: Originally thisclose to my top 10 overall, recent knee woes have dropped Rendon quite a bit. Now a DL stint seems likely. What if your third-rounder misses more than a few weeks of April? Rendon has a history, after all, and last year was his first elite season. Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, New York Yankees: He also can’t help you from the DL, and Ellsbury, who missed nearly all of 2010 and half of 2012, is dealing with an oblique strain. The team calls it mild, but with Ellsbury’s history, that word has different context. He’s a risk, especially if the 16 home runs are cut in half; look at this guy’s power the past four years: 32 home runs, then 4, 9 and 16. Bryce Harper, OF, Nationals: The risk here is that the 22-year-old simply doesn’t reach superstardom for yet another year. Obviously, many people believe he will do so in 2015. Corey Kluber, SP, Cleveland Indians: I’m not the least bit worried about him, but the fact is he went from undrafted in most leagues to the AL Cy Young award, and the track record isn’t there. I believe. Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Rockies: Four consecutive seasons of 20-homer, 20-steal production went badly awry last season due to several injuries. Gonzalez brought ample risk with him into 2014, when he was a first-rounder, despite fancy stats, since he was missing many games even during the awesome stretch. And by the way, even if Tulo and CarGo are healthy, the Rockies could decide to send these fellows to another team that doesn’t play its home games a million miles above sea level. That would be a significant problem. Victor Martinez, 1B, Tigers: OK, there’s some risk here not only in health but performance. After all, the guy hadn’t hit more than 20 home runs since 2009, so last year’s 32 really stand out. And he’s 36. Consider this: When Altuve, a second-rounder for many, drops 30 batting average points, it will hurt more than when Martinez, going in Round 5, does so. It’s 30-homer versus 40-steal potential, too, and it’s not easy to draft either of those numbers after Round 5. Chris Davis, 1B/3B, Baltimore Orioles: The risk here is that Davis hits .196 again. It could certainly happen. He went from .286 and 53 homers to .196 and 26 blasts. Most are expecting something right in the middle for each category and again, in Round 5 -- his ADP is currently 46th overall -- the risk is lessened as compared to last spring, when he was a first-rounder. Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds: Votto went from 162 games to 62 thanks to a quad tear. Not only don’t we know about his durability, but his power and potential lineup slot are factors. He could, in theory, hit second and knock in 60 runs, as opposed to 90. Perhaps you’re drafting him needing the latter. I think if you’ve got the No. 47 pick and Votto is available, he’s worth it. And by the way, Texas Rangers first baseman Prince Fielder is a risk as well, but he’s being selected outside the top 50, which is where I drew the line for consideration. But I suppose we threw him in here anyway.

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Mookie Betts, Garrett Richards & Joc PedersonAP Photo, Getty ImagesMookie Betts, Garrett Richards and Joc Pederson often end up on Eric Karabell's teams.
While competing in my final session in #MockDraftMonday at @ESPNFantasy, someone in the room gleefully chose Boston Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts in, like, the seventh round and then, with what must have been a gleam in their eyes, confidently asked me if I was jealous of the pick. At this point, anyone following my work online or on the Fantasy Focus Baseball #06010 podcast must know I’ve been recommending the gifted player for a year, and now that regular playing time really does seem assured, attention turns to just how much I like him. After all, it’s one thing to rank Betts in the top 100 in January when others have him 100 spots worse and, in a manner of speaking, plant your flag on the guy. I like him. He’s going to be great. But then what happens when everyone, including the guy’s big league team, realizes he really is going to be a special player? Do we adjust the projections and rankings up, and if so, how far up? This isn’t Mike Trout, of course, but say Betts does lead off and does play every day and does hit for power and steal bases and score 100 runs ... is he a top-50 option? I’m just about there, which is shocking for ol’ cautious me, but I’m finding a theme in several of the “plant my flag” players for this season, at least among the outfielders: They’re young and capable of contributing across the board in the standard five categories. It’s not merely Betts, whom ESPN Fantasy projects to hit .291 with 11 home runs, 56 RBIs, 28 steals and 85 runs scored, all of which I pretty much concur with. I’m all-in with Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson and Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Steven Souza as well, and I think Toronto Blue Jays speedster Dalton Pompey will surprise us too. It's a beautiful thing when young outfielders fill the box score with fantasy goodness. I love it. So as we embark on another season, here is my annual report on players I seem to like quite a bit more than others, players who seem to be ending up on my teams with distinction and without concern, and it doesn’t always have to be about finding a sleeper in later rounds. This year I’ll divide into sections, with players from the top 100 and then others, and go by position, because I’m all about making it easier for the readers, so they can tell me I’ve lost my mind later on! Go for it! First base
[+] EnlargeAdrian Gonzalez
AP Photo/Andrew A. NellesAdrian Gonzalez quietly puts up big numbers every season.
Top 100: The top options I keep seeing on my teams are Adrian Gonzalez of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles. Gonzalez is safe and reliable, perhaps boring to some. Davis is laden with upside that we saw two seasons ago. I’ve seen enough of him this spring that I’m buying a big power return. What does your team need more, 40 home runs, or that .300 batting average and safe RBI total? Not top-100: Mike Napoli of the Boston Red Sox should be going five or six rounds earlier. His physical issue was fixed this offseason and he’s otherwise been consistent and reliable. I’m also still, as always, on the bandwagon of the San Francisco Giants' Brandon Belt, and I believe what the Orioles’ Steve Pearce achieved last year, despite journeyman status, was indeed real. Also, why will nobody take New York Mets Gold Glover -- obviously, I jest -- Lucas Duda where his numbers say he should go, which is right around the top 100? I will! Second base Top 100: Nobody in the top 100 makes sense here other than perhaps Brian Dozier of the Minnesota Twins. I don’t mind the low batting average. I keep ending up with Dozier on teams and bypassing the Cleveland Indians' Jason Kipnis and Boston’s gritty Dustin Pedroia. Not top-100: Scooter Gennett of the Milwaukee Brewers fits the criteria, because I think he could actually beat the numbers provided by Kipnis and Pedroia, but is hardly ranked that way. This is good, take him late. My other choice would be Chicago White Sox prospect Micah Johnson. He’s a legit 40-steal option if he wins the job out of spring training, and unlike Miami Marlins speedster Dee Gordon, for example, Johnson has a plan at the plate and it should work for years. Shortstop Top 100: I recently decided that I had been under-ranking the Washington Nationals' Ian Desmond, especially since I had to move his teammate Anthony Rendon out of the second round due to injury. If I had the first overall pick, I’d surely select Desmond at the 20-21 turn. Not top-100: It has nothing to do with Philadelphia Phillies homer bias, but Jimmy Rollins should keep putting up the numbers and he’s ranked poorly by most. I just cannot see the reason for choosing a shortstop sans power such as Elvis Andrus of the Texas Rangers so much earlier than Rollins. Also, Alcides Escobar of the Kansas City Royals has the same numbers as Andrus! I rank Escobar better, but ESPN Fantasy does not. There’s an unexplainable eight-round difference in ADP. Later, I think the expected regression for Danny Santana of the Twins is a bit overblown, and people have forgotten how good Boston’s Xander Bogaerts will be, though it might not all translate to fantasy since he doesn’t run. Third base
[+] EnlargeTodd Frazier
AP Photo/Al BehrmanTodd Frazier seems capable of repeating his 20/20 numbers from 2014.
Top 100: The Rangers’ Adrian Beltre, like Desmond, is someone I’d also take at 20-21, but ADP has him going later. I do not believe Beltre, because his power was down in 2014, is incapable of raising the power numbers this year. He’s hardly too old. The Cincinnati Reds' Todd Frazier is a better example of someone I’ll keep selecting regardless of draft position. Those numbers were legit. He says he’ll keep running and I actually believe him. He’s on several of my teams already. Not top-100: Washington’s Ryan Zimmerman, now a first baseman but eligible at third base, is in my top 100, but clearly not everyone else’s. I think a return to prominence is coming. It’s the same with Pedro Alvarez of the Pittsburgh Pirates. We know he has power. He’s shown it. Perhaps an official position move helps him find it. And for deeper formats, I’m actually thinking David Freese of the Los Angeles Angels, in a contract year and potentially the team’s No. 5 hitter, will surprise. Catcher Top 100: Are you kidding? Only one backstop made my top 100, and the Giants’ Buster Posey is being overdrafted in Round 3. Not top-100: Nobody really fits the precise criteria of a catcher I love, though in leagues that aren’t ESPN standard -- i.e., multiple catchers -- I’m going after Yasmani Grandal of the Los Angeles Dodgers. I also have Yan Gomes of the Cleveland Indians as my No. 2 catcher, but he’s going seventh in ADP. So I guess that means something. Outfield
[+] EnlargeSteven Souza
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezRays rookie Steven Souza seems poised for a big fantasy season.
Top 100: For top names I seem to like more than most, it’s the Brewers’ Ryan Braun, Colorado Rockies' Corey Dickerson, Pirates’ Starling Marte and St. Louis Cardinals' Jason Heyward and Matt Holliday. The final one of the 26 outfielders going in the ADP top 100 is Betts! All aboard the Mookie train! He’ll be the best Mookie ever! Not top-100: The Dodgers’ Pederson just snuck into the top 200 overall in ADP. I’ve got him in my top 100. Same with Souza. Hey, you don’t have to agree or even think about these guys, but they’re 20/20 capable and I cannot presume they’ll hit .240, as the projections say. For bigger names, and more in the 100-to-200 range, I like the Rangers’ Leonys Martin, Detroit Tigers' J.D. Martinez, Boston’s Rusney Castillo, Phillies’ Ben Revere, Arizona Diamondbacks' A.J. Pollock and Washington’s Jayson Werth better than their ADP. Revere finished last season as the No. 10 outfielder on the ESPN Player Rater, and none of it was a fluke. He runs and hits for average, and will do it again. The fact his rank and ADP aren’t acknowledging that surprises me. He should be much closer to the Reds’ Billy Hamilton and Marlins’ Gordon, among others, in each. Later on, I like Adam Eaton of the Chicago White Sox, the Brewers’ Khris Davis and Pompey, and would be fine with any of them as my No. 5 outfielder even in a standard league. Starting pitcher Top 100: If I was eschewing overall positions in this blog entry and rating my top five players for “planting the flag” purposes, Los Angeles Angels right-hander Garrett Richards would be high on the list. Richards was the No. 7 starting pitcher on the Rater when his incredible breakout season ended prematurely, and despite missing September he still finished in the top 20. I realize his knee injury is a big deal and he might miss a few starts in April, but I trust this guy. He’s my No. 20 pitcher, and obviously he isn’t ranked that way by others or treated as such in ADP. I’m generally waiting on pitching after securing a top-10 guy, and Richards is a perfect No. 2, but going at No. 3 or 4 prices. Alas, Richards isn’t going in the ADP top 100, but I have other names for the next paragraph! Not top-100: Assuming most of my rotation comes after round 10, those who keep showing up on teams include Cardinals right-hander Lance Lynn, Atlanta Braves lefty Alex Wood, San Diego Padres right-hander Ian Kennedy, Houston Astros Collin McHugh and Dallas Keuchel, Twins right-hander Phil Hughes, Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Jake Odorizzi, and far outside the top 200, it’s Pirates right-hander A.J. Burnett, Braves right-hander Shelby Miller, Brewers right-hander Mike Fiers, Cardinals right-hander John Lackey, Dodgers right-hander Brandon McCarthy, Indians right-hander Trevor Bauer and an ol’ staple on this list, Giants right-hander Tim Hudson. Not all your starting pitchers have to pile on the whiffs. Relief pitcher After the 10th round: I seem to have an affinity for West Coast right-handers, as the Angels’ Huston Street, Padres’ Joaquin Benoit, Giants’ Santiago Casilla and Oakland’s Tyler Clippard are common fixtures on my teams. In Clippard’s case, a big year seems obvious to me since he’s pitching for a new contract and incumbent, bearded lefty Sean Doolittle has shoulder woes. Still, Clippard is no sure thing, but then again, when half the closers turn over each season, how many are?

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Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis ChapmanUSA TODAY SportsCraig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman are great closers, but are they worth the high price to get them?
Atlanta Braves closer Craig Kimbrel has delivered fantastic fantasy-relevant statistics for four consecutive years, and still, annually in March, he ends up on my "Do Not Draft" list. One would think I'd learn my lesson as, over that four-year span, Kimbrel’s average season features 46 saves, a 1.51 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and 109 strikeouts. Um, what's wrong with that? Nothing is wrong with that! In fact, those numbers, if the right-hander can continue providing them for another decade, would likely land Kimbrel in the Hall of Fame. Kimbrel is, frankly, awesome. He's been a staple of my oldest keeper team since I added him to my roster the final week of the 2010 season, and he's certainly a difference-maker. However, when we speak of the oft-misinterpreted "Do Not Draft" list, we have to remember this game, and all fantasy games, are about value and cost, so saying not to draft someone doesn't really mean precisely that, but rather implies to be careful of excessively overpaying for sheer results, be it in a draft or auction. Selecting Kimbrel in the fifth round, which is his current stock, is simply too generous for me. His closer pal Aroldis Chapman of the Cincinnati Reds is going 39th overall, so feel free to insert his name for Kimbrel's for avoidance purposes. I'm building my teams around offense, offense, more offense, an ace or two, a mid-rounds bullpen, capable starters and then, yes, more offense. The top closer tier of Chapman, Kimbrel, Kansas City Royals right-hander Greg Holland and, when healthy and ready for full-time action, Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Kenley Jansen, supplied fantasy owners with spectacular numbers across the board last season. There couldn't be complaints, really. Well, I can think of one. Who might you have chosen with that fourth-, fifth- or sixth-round draft pick that instead was used on a relief pitcher, certainly more than a one-category fellow, but how much more? Perhaps the hitter you could have selected wouldn't have finished higher on the Player Rater, but what did the hitter you settled for 10 rounds later provide? I'd argue the complaint would be that the initial investment of a closer in the first 10 rounds makes it a bit more difficult to construct a suitable team in an era of offensive instability. That hardly means a fantasy team can't win with Kimbrel or one of his strikeout-loving, save-garnering pals. Remember, this and most blog entries are about ESPN standard draft leagues. Surely, Kimbrel is more valuable than a bad closer. Nobody would choose Addison Reed of the Arizona Diamondbacks or Joe Nathan of the Detroit Tigers over him. Then again, those guys aren't costing fantasy owners much these days, and saves still are merely saves. If Kimbrel gets 46 saves and Reed and Nathan get 40-plus, like they did in 2013, that's not a big difference. Last season Kimbrel, despite great numbers, was barely more valuable on the Rater -- which is only one gauge -- than Baltimore Orioles lefty Zach Britton and Milwaukee Brewers octogenarian (OK, not really) Francisco Rodriguez, hurlers who were undrafted in leagues because they weren't closers. Regardless, here's another one of my "Do Not Draft" lists, and, yes, Kimbrel is on it again, sharing the spotlight with Holland and Chapman. Hey, have at it in the comments section at the end. Of course I'd draft Chapman, Kimbrel and Holland, but definitely a few rounds later. My goal isn't to win saves or have the best bullpen but to construct a balanced, productive team. Let's use ESPN's ADP as the basis for the debate as well. KershawClayton Kershaw, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers (ESPN ADP: No. 4): Sorry, I tried it in a few mock drafts and just didn't like my team without a Paul Goldschmidt or Carlos Gomez anchoring the offense. I can't choose a starting pitcher that early or spend the requisite dollars in an auction on the best pitcher in the land. Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez is also going in the first round, over sluggers Jose Abreu and Jose Bautista, among others, which I think is ill advised considering not only the outstanding depth among starting pitchers, but more so the significant dearth of top hitters. Kershaw and a great offense must be a beautiful thing, and this isn't Kershaw's fault, but it's too risky based on alternatives. PoseyBuster Posey, C, San Francisco Giants (ESPN ADP: No. 24): Another Kimbrel-like staple of this annual blog, Posey is a wonderful player, for the Giants and fantasy owners. But catchers, even when baserunners aren't deliberately running into them, are more dangerous to rely on than most hitters who handle less rigorous defensive positions, since they generally play less, don't produce in more than two or three offensive categories and tend to see overall numbers drop off later in a season due to fatigue or injury. And yes, I'm aware we can find examples in which catchers do not wear down. Posey was the opposite in 2014, as he started slowly but blessed us with another monster second half to overcome Jonathan Lucroy of the Brewers as fantasy's top catcher. Posey wasn't the top catcher in 2013, though, or all that close to it. Ultimately, I can't select a catcher in Round 3, especially in ESPN standard leagues, when only one is needed and knowing the risk. A catcher is probably my last pick. CruzNelson Cruz, OF, Seattle Mariners (ESPN ADP: No. 58): It's understandable that the Mariners, desperate for right-handed power, would sign the only player to reach 40 home runs last season to a free-agent deal. Cruz had a terrific season, but he is 34 and had last topped 30 home runs in 2009. He had never knocked in 100 runs. I'll concede he's no longer a great injury risk, but I just can't see not only this contract ending well, but starting well. Players with Safeco Field as their home stadium don't hit 40 home runs. The last Mariner to reach 30 was Russell Branyan in 2009. This isn't Camden Yards, and Cruz isn't playing on a one-year contract any longer. I've got Cruz, who actually misses my top 100, hitting roughly .250 with 25 home runs. I won't select that in Round 6. I can get Milwaukee's Khris Davis to do it 12 rounds later. HarveyMatt Harvey, SP, New York Mets (ESPN ADP: No. 62): I can't see choosing Harvey over Julio Teheran, Sonny Gray and hordes of others who didn't just miss a season due to Tommy John surgery, and nothing I see from Harvey's box scores in March can change that. I hope the ol' Harvey returns to top-10 greatness, but the Mets are planning to be a lot more cautious than it appears fantasy owners are being with this ADP. GattisEvan Gattis, C, Houston Astros (ESPN ADP: No. 99): The lure of an NL East catcher moving to the more hitter-friendly circuit and being free of catching is, I admit, enticing, but I'm afraid the facts don't support this much love. Joe Mauer and Carlos Santana didn't suddenly turn into Johnny Bench after avoiding the tools of ignorance (that's a term for catchers). Frankly, I think the idea is a fallacy. Plus, Gattis has a wrist injury, and an April DL stint would hardly be a surprise. Some think I just don't like Gattis, and perhaps that's true. He's neither a good hitter nor a patient one. He was terrible in the second half last season. Pitchers can get him out, notably when they're not teeing up fastballs. Sure, Gattis will launch his share of home runs in his new stadium, but that's it, and there's no guarantee of 500 at-bats. I've ranked him 10 rounds later, and not only because I wait on catchers. After the top 100, it's tough to recommend not drafting anyone, because the value has drastically altered. We can debate Chicago Cubs prospect Kris Bryant for another week, but the bottom line is if you wish to select him a few rounds earlier, after the core of your team is set -- and especially in a dynasty format -- go for it. And I won't debate someone like Braves lefty Alex Wood going in Round 12 versus Round 16. In the second half of a draft, anything goes. In the first half, perhaps not everything good goes, but the risk is certainly heightened.

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Dodgers want Guerrero in lineup 

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Alex GuerreroBrendon Thorne/MLB/Getty ImagesAlex Guerrero is worth a roster spot, despite not having a clear path to at-bats right now.
Some day soon, Los Angeles Dodgers slugger Alex Guerrero will cease being known as the guy who had part of his ear bitten off by a minor league teammate in a clubhouse fight, and instead will be recognized for what he can actually do with a bat on a baseball field. That "some day" is coming. Guerrero clearly can hit, and while many still have doubts about any level of proficiency to defend at any position, it’s the bat that really could force him into regular at-bats anyway. Guerrero, thanks to a stipulation in his contract, is going to be on the big league roster this April and . . . well, I’d certainly use a bench spot or even middle infield spot on him in deeper formats, just in case playing time is forthcoming. A 28-year-old, right-handed Cuban import who has hit with ferocity seemingly all his life, Guerrero batted .333 with big power in the minors last season, his first in this country and mainly at Triple-A Albuquerque. Yes, everyone hits in the thin air of Albuquerque, but still, there’s little question about that part of his game. The Dodgers don’t really have any current openings for a starting job, but Guerrero has played each infield position this spring, and he’s hit .400 as well. Of course, with Adrian Gonzalez, Howie Kendrick, Jimmy Rollins and Juan Uribe as the infielders, like the classic "Sesame Street" song, one of those names is not like the others.

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Team-by-team AL saves projections 

March, 19, 2015
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Betances/HollandUSA TODAY SportsDellin Betances and Greg Holland are among the top closers taken in fantasy drafts this season.
The National League closer situations were handled in blog entry form first, with an opening explanation, so check that out. Here we go with the American League. The same caveats about surprises being surprising because few expect them applies here, too. As a reminder, here are the ESPN Fantasy saves projections and the closer depth chart.

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Team-by-team NL saves projections 

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Kimbrel/JansenUSA TODAY SportsHow many saves should fantasy owners expect from Craig Kimbrel and Kenley Jansen?
A significant part of figuring out who the sleeper candidates are for saves this season is being able to actually pinpoint who will be earning the ninth-inning roles for each team to start the season. In some cases, it’s not immediately clear. Last March, I went through each team with my projected save totals, and that seemed to go well, so it’s bottom-line time again. We start with the National League, alphabetically. Remember: While many of these front-line fellows seem safe today, that’s hardly the case. Joe Nathan of the Detroit Tigers and Sergio Romo of the San Francisco Giants were deemed top-10 closers in ESPN ADP the past season, and Jim Johnson, who pitched for the Oakland Athletics but was so brutally bad he was literally released when they couldn’t trade him, was No. 11. Things change, and if you think my projections are low for some, note only 21 pitchers earned 25 or more saves in 2014, and the year before it was 23. By the way, here are the ESPN Fantasy saves projections and the closer depth chart. Arizona Diamondbacks: Addison Reed and his sore shoulder have yet to appear in a spring game, and it’s possible he needs a DL stint to the start the season. It’s more than possible that even if Reed is OK, he’s losing this job. Don’t look at save totals; he does more harm than good in ERA and WHIP. Brad Ziegler has knee woes, and that makes Evan Marshall the big sleeper here. It might not be pretty, but he misses bats. Projection: Reed makes the Opening Day roster, closes for a few weeks, then hits the DL. He and Marshall go back and forth for saves. Let’s say no Diamondback tops 20 saves.

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Adam EatonNuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty ImagesAdam Eaton is a prime candidate for 30 steals if only he could stay healthy.
Oakland Athletics outfielder Billy Burns created quite the stir around this time last year in the fantasy world when he ran wild in spring training, accumulating 10 stolen bases. Few knew much about the diminutive speedster, and it became popular strategy to stash him on reserve rosters and benches in deeper formats for his inevitable and surely successful promotion to the major leagues.

The problem, however, is that Burns isn’t much of a hitter. His OPS across two minor league levels last season was a paltry .618. He ran when he was on base, enough to rank tied for sixth in all the minors in stolen bases with 54, but didn’t get many chances and the Athletics didn’t give him a shot until September, and even then, it wasn’t much. Last March, Burns seemed like a perfect candidate for sleeper stolen bases in 2014, but in the end, his offensive game exposed, he provided only three of them.

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WheelerJim McIsaac/Getty ImagesIt's looking like Zack Wheeler will be next in line among MLB pitchers to undergo Tommy John surgery.
Just minutes before the Fantasy Focus Baseball podcast started Monday morning -- and went daily -- we got the unfortunate (but hardly unexpected) news that New York Mets pitcher Zack Wheeler's elbow would be depriving all of us of his talented services this season, and for part of 2016 as well. Wheeler had been handled carefully by the Mets, but still, when word came out last week that he had tenderness in his pitching elbow, well, it’s not a romantic thing. It’s generally bad news, and it is again in this case, as Wheeler will need Tommy John surgery.

Wheeler's pending ligament-replacement surgery, which will sideline him all of 2015 and part of next year, is yet another in a never-ending string of reminders of how delicate pitchers are, and why I remain more cautious than ever about investing in them in long-term leagues.

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Kris BryantMark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsEven if Kris Bryant starts the season in Triple-A Iowa, it's unlikely he'll be there very long.

Two of the third basemen I was most interested in seeing when I was out West in Arizona last weekend might not be manning the hot corner when games start to count in three-plus weeks. One is Arizona Diamondbacks newcomer Yasmany Tomas, who will surely be in the team’s lineup somewhere, but the early returns on him playing the position defensively sure haven’t been positive. The other is Chicago Cubs prospect Kris Bryant, who's been flashing his immense power pretty regularly this week. It’s been impressive, frankly, but he could smash one to the moon today and still, the Cubs seem determined to send the young slugger to Triple-A Iowa, for reasons that don’t involve winning games in April.


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Clayton KershawJeff Roberson/Pool/Getty ImagesStarting pitcher is certainly among the deepest positions in fantasy baseball, but Clayton Kershaw provides a statistical foundation few others can approach.

We hear the words “position scarcity” thrown out there in chatter quite a bit in the fantasy baseball world, but what do they really mean? When I look at depth when aiming to construct a balanced, formidable team, I see statistical scarcity. Oh, there are starting pitchers everywhere and one can find the requisite statistics available early in drafts, but the bottom line on the aforementioned strategic term about how few catchers or shortstops or whatever we want to rely on is offense as a whole is weak. And it’s not getting stronger.


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videoIt has to be frustrating for injured baseball players, stars or not, to have to deal with the incessant, daily parade of people -- friends, family, media, the mailman -- asking them when they’re going to return to the lineup. I wouldn’t enjoy it. Yet there I was in Arizona this past weekend gingerly walking up to Los Angeles Angels right-hander Garrett Richards, San Francisco Giants outfielder Hunter Pence and others querying them on precisely that topic: What’s the deal and can you possibly assuage the many fears of fantasy owners not only about the projected return date but your high level of proficiency hitting or throwing a baseball from that point on? It can’t be fun for them.

Richards, wearing shorts and sitting outside his cubby on Sunday morning in Tempe, Arizona, before his team met the Kansas City Royals, didn’t seem the least bit annoyed talking to Stephania Bell and then me about his recovery from major knee surgery. He even showed us the considerable knee scar and discussed the latest updates. But Richards couldn’t answer with precise accuracy what day in April -- we’re presuming it’s that month -- he’d start again for the Angels. Pence, who unlike Richards came to spring training in perfect health until a pitched ball broke his forearm one week ago, wasn’t in the same level of high spirits for our brief talk, but also couldn’t bring clarity to his situation. How could he? Doctors don’t even know. Six to eight weeks seems like forever to players. Pence said, basically, “We’ll see.”


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