Top 10 fantasy prospects for 2015 

January, 29, 2015
Jan 29
CastilloAP Photo/Mike JanesBoston outfielder Rusney Castillo brings an intriguing combo of power and speed to the table.
Investing heavily in rookie performers in any fantasy sport is certainly risky, especially in baseball. Consider that many of last season's expected first-year stars were anything but. Sure, Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu -- a rookie pretty much only in the technical sense, since the 27-year-old Cuban was actually very experienced in the sport -- was awesome, and New York Mets right-hander Jacob deGrom surprised even his own organization by seizing top NL rookie honors, but how many first-year players really carried fantasy owners from April until late September? Not as many as one would think.

Most of the hot rookies on the collective minds of fantasy owners at this time last year disappointed, led by Boston Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts, Detroit Tigers third baseman Nick Castellanos, Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Gregory Polanco and Seattle Mariners right-hander Taijuan Walker. New York Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka -- like Abreu, a professional import from another country and hardly raw -- was tremendous for half a season until his elbow gave out, and Cincinnati Reds outfielder Billy Hamilton stole the bases he was supposed to (but did little else), though we expected more. Wasn't Houston Astros outfielder George Springer supposed to be simply awesome right away? This game is tough for experienced veterans, let alone youngsters.

While colleague Keith Law ranks his top 100 prospects and you should certainly check that out, this blog entry is one man's opinion of the top 2015 rookies for fantasy purposes only.

Five closer situations worth watching 

January, 22, 2015
Jan 22

Dellin Betances, Andrew MillerGetty Images, AP PhotoWill the Yankees elevate Dellin Betances or use newly acquired Andrew Miller at closer?
Nothing against the awesome top tier of closers -- Atlanta Braves right-hander Craig Kimbrel, Cincinnati Reds lefty Aroldis Chapman, Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Kenley Jansen and Kansas City Royals right-hander Greg Holland -- but I’m far more interested in the lesser, even problematic tiers, because after filling offense and rotation, that’s what many will be left for to focus on in drafts. Fantasy teams certainly can be successful selecting a relief pitcher or two in the first 10 rounds of a draft, which is what it will take the get the top fellows, but that’s not my style. I’ll be patient, get a proven saver or two in the middle rounds, and then aim for depth later. So it is on a chilly day in the Northeast -- as if there’s any other -- that I’m thinking more about the late-round closers and the jobs that remain up for grabs, because I’m far more likely to be drafting Chicago Cubs right-hander Hector Rondon than I am Kimbrel.

It’s worth noting that several free-agent closers could soon find employment and saves (Casey Janssen, Francisco Rodriguez, Rafael Soriano) and mess up the plans for current leading candidates for ninth-inning work, such as Rondon, but the bottom line is I see perhaps five teams in which there’s real doubt about who’s closing. So let’s discuss, in order of importance.

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Mike TroutDominic DiSaia for ESPNMike Trout's combination of speed and power makes him a pretty easy choice as the No. 1 pick.
The first pick in 2015 fantasy baseball drafts is obvious, and while we can poke holes in the Mike Trout argument if we really want to, it’s mostly nitpicking. Sure, the massive increase in strikeouts is concerning, he has little motivation to return to stealing a lot of bases and … well, enough already. He's No. 1, and to me, the most interesting pick in the first round is going to be who comes next, because I can legitimately make the case for more than a few gentlemen.

My updated rankings for the first two rounds of ESPN standard formats appear below, and I admit they've changed recently and are likely to keep evolving the next two months. Look, like anyone else dedicated to and passionate about his craft, I'm constantly craving information, and occasionally, it's pertinent enough to convince me that I really would prefer drafting this player over that one. It happens. For now, my No. 2 player is Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen, a safe, reliable, five-category performer in his prime, but I could make a good case for:

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Fantasy fallout from Dodgers' trading frenzy 

December, 11, 2014

Howie Kendrick, Brandon McCarthy & Jimmy RollinsMatt Brown/Getty ImagesHowie Kendrick, Brandon McCarthy and Jimmy Rollins are all solid options in Dodger blue.
The Los Angeles Dodgers were busy Wednesday remaking their squad and as always, there are obvious fantasy baseball ramifications. Let's get right to it!

Dodgers' acquisitions:

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Can Lester repeat 2014 stats with Cubs? 

December, 10, 2014

Jon LesterAP Photo/Charlie RiedelJon Lester went 16-11 with a 2.46 ERA and 220 strikeouts last season for the A's and Red Sox.
For all the success new Chicago Cubs left-hander Jon Lester has achieved in his major league career, he's generally been a bit -- brace yourself, because nobody ever wants to hear or read this word -- overrated from a fantasy aspect, because we deal with regular-season statistics. Well, that is until this past season, when Lester posted career-bests in ERA, WHIP, innings pitched and came close in strikeouts. Now that Lester is filthy rich and being paid like a top-10 pitcher, it seems reasonable to ask if he's actually a top-10 fantasy pitcher and while the 2014 statistics say he was -- he finished seventh among starting pitchers on the Player Rater -- the track record says he's not. What we find is that the big offseason names tend to get a bit too much love come fantasy draft time, and Lester's likely to be at the forefront.

Make no mistake, Lester is a good pitcher, but his 2013 regular-season campaign -- let's not confuse what we're discussing here -- was a lot more like his average season than his 2014 success, and it's always a bit dangerous to presume the latest season is the new baseline. In 2013, Lester had a 3.75 ERA and 1.29 WHIP, with a strong but hardly Max Scherzer-like strikeout total, and he won games because he went deep into them and was on a good Boston Red Sox team. Now he's on the Cubs. I do think the Cubs, assuming a few of the young hitters emerge and help out first baseman Anthony Rizzo, are potential contenders, and we always give pitchers moving from the American League to the National League a bump, but fantasy owners need to keep perspective, too. Lester's 2013, for him an average season, was good for the No. 50 spot among starting pitchers on the Player Rater. Don't even ask about 2012, when his ERA skyrocketed to 4.82. I'm a bit surprised that in all this massive coverage about Lester the past few weeks, he's been viewed as a can't-miss regular-season performer.

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Hanley, Sandoval gain value in Boston 

November, 24, 2014

Hanley Ramirez and Pablo SandovalGetty ImagesHanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval move from pitcher-friendly parks to hitter-friendly Fenway.
The Boston Red Sox went from leading the major leagues in runs scored in 2013 to middle of the pack in 2014, from first place and a World Series championship to last place, so what better way to improve than to sign the top free-agent hitters available? In this case, infielders Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval are the prizes and there are certainly fantasy ramifications as well.

For Ramirez, the main complaints about him from a real-life standpoint are his lack of defensive prowess and the many missed games. This is only somewhat relevant for fantasy owners, however. Ramirez played in 128 games last season and still ended up a top-10 shortstop on the ESPN Fantasy Player Rater. Like the Colorado Rockies' Troy Tulowitzki, Ramirez always hits, so the fact there’s an annual disabled-list stint or two to deal with really doesn’t remove him from early-round draft consideration. He was the No. 13 overall pick according to ESPN ADP last season, and one could argue he’s top-10 now. I’d argue it! And defensively, we just don’t care. Ramirez is an awful shortstop, but with Sandoval joining him in Boston, he’s clearly not handling third base. I could see left field, but the Red Sox have depth there, too. The point is Ramirez always hits, he’ll hit more in the American League East and this is an even better overall option than usual for 2015 drafts.

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NL West: 2014 review/2015 preview 

November, 13, 2014

Madison Bumgarner, Clayton Kershaw, Paul GoldschmidtGetty ImagesMadison Bumgarner, Clayton Kershaw and Paul Goldschmidt should all be high picks in 2015.
As the baseball offseason continues, we conclude our divisional looks with the one that again boasts the World Series champs. The San Francisco Giants took the prize for the third time in five seasons, so let’s break down their fine squad and the others in the NL West. Check out the reports on the NL Central, NL East, AL West, AL Central and AL East, and enjoy!

Arizona Diamondbacks

Fantasy MVP: No MLB team lost more games, so it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing for this franchise. First baseman Paul Goldschmidt, a top-5 selection in most leagues, was doing his job nicely before an errant Ernesto Frieri pitch fractured his left hand Aug. 1. He was done, though still easily the team’s eventual leader on the Player Rater. The team actually had three helpful, off-the-radar outfielders: Ender Inciarte, A.J. Pollock and David Peralta. Inciarte, a speedy fourth outfielder, hit .308 in August/September and stole 13 bases. Not bad, not bad at all, a solid second place to Goldschmidt.

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NL Central: 2014 review/2015 preview 

November, 7, 2014

Carlos Gomez, Andrew McCutchen and Adam WainwrightGetty ImagesCarlos Gomez, Andrew McCutchen and Adam Wainwright finished in the Top 20 in 2014.
Welcome to November and more baseball talk! Four divisions down, two more to go as we look back at the exciting 2014 season and ahead to what should be an excellent 2015. Check out the NL East, AL East, AL Central, AL West and now it's the NL Central! Enjoy!

Chicago Cubs

Fantasy MVP: Two Cubbies helped fantasy owners more than most, with first baseman Anthony Rizzo hitting 32 home runs and finishing as the No. 6 first baseman, and right-hander Jake Arrieta turning into a magnificent strikeout pitcher, one with a 2.53 ERA and 0.99 WHIP. Rizzo was an 11th-round choice in ESPN live drafts, while Arrieta went undrafted. I've been a fan of Rizzo for years, waiting for him to turn his plate discipline into a decent batting average and more power, and he even handled left-handed pitchers fine. But Arrieta ended up the No. 17 starting pitcher. And nobody drafted him. He gets the nod.

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Arizona Fall League observations 

November, 4, 2014

Mark AppelChristian Petersen/Getty ImagesMark Appel may be a No. 1 overall pick, but he appears to be a work in progress.
For more than 20 years, the Arizona Fall League has been an annual showcase of some of the best baseball prospects. For the past few seasons, I've been lucky enough to attend the First Pitch Arizona symposium over Halloween weekend with other industry leaders. While seeing friends and baseball in the hot sun is always a joy for me, there are influential and informative speakers, panels, primers, drafts and more. I highly recommend the event. Anyway, you probably want to know about the players I saw and what I learned, so let's just get to that!

It's wise to overlook most of the statistics produced in this league, but there's nothing like seeing the players in person and forming opinions. I've done that. Every year, several AFL graduates emerge as legitimate fantasy stars, though not always initially. I was fortunate enough to catch four games over three days, including Saturday night's Fall Stars Game at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Arizona. Obviously, I wasn't able to see every player, and I was a bit late to catch future Minnesota Twins outfielder Byron Buxton and Boston Red Sox outfielder Rusney Castillo, who left the league early due to injuries. But I did see plenty.

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NL East: 2014 review/2015 preview 

October, 31, 2014

Anthony Rendon, Giancarlo Stanton, and Craig KimbrelGetty ImagesAnthony Rendon, Giancarlo Stanton and Craig Kimbrel all scored high on the Player Rater.
The World Series is over, ending the 2014 season, but we started looking ahead -- and back -- weeks ago! We've already covered the AL East, AL Central and AL West, and now, without further ado, it's the NL East! Enjoy!

Atlanta Braves
Fantasy MVP: The actual team winner on the Player Rater was the closest of any team, with outfielder Justin Upton edging out closer Craig Kimbrel by the slimmest of margins, one at-bat, one inning. Each was solid and delivered on expectations, finishing just inside the top 40 overall, but neither was a value pick. That's precisely where they were drafted. Right-hander Julio Teheran, on the other hand, was a 13th-round pick who ended up the No. 13 starting pitcher on the Rater, a major strikeout guy with an outstanding ERA and WHIP. Lefty Alex Wood would also have been a reasonable pick; he finished 32nd among starter-eligible pitchers, with a better K rate than Teheran, and he went undrafted. But many of his owners likely moved on when he was demoted to the minors, one of the many reasons the Braves missed out on a playoff spot that they had no right missing.

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AL West: 2014 review/2015 preview 

October, 24, 2014

Jose Altuve, Mike Trout, Felix HernandezGetty ImagesJose Altuve, Mike Trout and Felix Hernandez finished 2014 in the top tier on the Player Rater.
As the fantasy baseball offseason continues, it's time to recap/preview the American League West. Click here for the AL East and AL Central. Enjoy!

Houston Astros
Fantasy MVP: The best player in all the fantasy world was an Astro. No, really. Mike Trout didn't top the Player Rater. And he didn't get traded to the Astros, either. Second baseman Jose Altuve was one of only two Astros chosen among the top 200 in ESPN live drafts, but also the lone Astro to finish among the top 85 on the Player Rater. He gets the nod over shocking pitchers Collin McHugh and Dallas Keuchel, plus powerful Chris Carter.

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AL Central: 2014 review/2015 preview 

October, 17, 2014

Jose Abreu, Miguel Cabrera and Greg HollandGetty ImagesJose Abreu, Miguel Cabrera and Greg Holland could be their team's top picks next year.
As the fantasy baseball offseason continues, it's time to recap/preview the American League Central. Click here for the AL East. Enjoy!

Chicago White Sox
Fantasy MVP: While lefty Chris Sale was really, really good, finishing No. 6 among all pitchers, it's tough to beat Cuban slugger Jose Abreu ending up ninth overall on the ESPN Fantasy Player Rater. Shortstop Alexei Ramirez was also helpful, as the club's third fantasy option on draft day ended up the third most valuable, but that was about it. Abreu and Sale need a lot more help.

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AL East: 2014 review/2015 preview 

October, 9, 2014

Adam Jones, MLB), Jose Bautista, Jacoby EllsburyGetty ImagesAdam Jones, Jose Bautista and Jacoby Ellsbury were all top-25 players on the Player Rater.
Welcome to the fantasy baseball offseason and our division-by-division recaps/previews, starting with the American League East. Enjoy!

Baltimore Orioles

Fantasy MVP: Outfielder Nelson Cruz, signing late in the offseason on a one-year deal, certainly made good with 40 home runs and 108 RBIs, finishing 18th overall on the Player Rater. He was a 14th-rounder in ESPN live drafts and a reminder that nobody really knows for sure how players will perform the year(s) after being caught and/or shamed for taking steroids. Cruz outperformed second-rounder Adam Jones, though Jones did nothing wrong. How Jones manages to hit .280 every year, and with power, with such a ghastly walk rate, is amazing. It is rare. And kudos to lefty Zach Britton, drafted in nary a league but saver of 37 games. He finished third among all relief pitchers (Greg Holland, Craig Kimbrel) on the Player Rater. When Buck Showalter makes a move, we should listen.

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Mike Trout and Clayton KershawDominic DiSaia for ESPNCan Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw also be fantasy superstars in the postseason?
Welcome to October and the baseball playoffs! We know that some of you will be participating in postseason pools, and we're here to help with our annual rankings both by position and overall. If the Tuesday and Wednesday wild-card contests -- well, the Tuesday one at least -- told us anything, it's that the playoffs are going to be a blast, so why not get your buddies together and select rosters to compete though the month.

In past seasons, we've revealed rankings prior to the wild-card games, but there's so much risk in choosing players from a team that could perform in only one game, so now we've got the final eight remaining teams, and each is guaranteed a series. Certainly I have opinions on who will prevail in this series and so should you; a critical key to winning a baseball playoff pool include selecting players that make it through a series or two before elimination, so if you think the Washington Nationals will win it all -- as I do -- then load up on Nationals and avoid Giants. Full disclosure: I've got the Nationals topping the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series.

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My top 20 players for 2015 

September, 29, 2014
KershawAP Photo/Mark J. TerrillWhere does fantasy ace Clayton Kershaw land in Karabell's 2015 rankings?
Washington Nationals right-hander Jordan Zimmermann ended his 2014 regular season on a significant high note by no-hitting the Miami Marlins Sunday, but it's still not enough to get him into my overall top 20 for next season. This theme has resonated with me for years in fantasy leagues, loading up on hitting -- and specifically versatile power hitters -- as opposed to taking the safer route with starting pitching. There's tremendous depth in the latter group, but offensively, the cupboard is comparatively bare. The wise fantasy owner must covet hitting early. And as another season ends -- and I hope you loved it as much as I did! -- it's worth reminding everyone that there really isn't enough offense to go around, regardless of strategy.

Before we get to my ridiculously early look at 2015, let's discuss Zimmermann, because he deserves it. The 28-year-old has been one of fantasy's better options for four seasons, though he's never been regarded as a top-10 choice among hurlers. That's because of the depth, but also because Zimmermann isn't a major strikeout pitcher. He has made strides, though; his 10 whiffs Sunday gave him 182 in 199⅔ innings, the best rate of his career. Zimmermann has started 32 games for three consecutive seasons, so he's durable, and his ERA/WHIP are always strong. I'll rank him among my top 15 starting pitchers for 2015 based on safety and reliability, but not top 10. Those guys, such as teammate Stephen Strasburg, really pile on the strikeouts.

As for my overall top 20, it's heavy on the bats, though a few pitchers make it.

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