Red Sox full of fantasy value for 2015 

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
Rusney CastilloCharles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsRusney Castillo singled for his first major league hit Wednesday. How should you value him in 2015?
The Rusney Castillo era began for the Boston Red Sox Wednesday, as the 27-year-old Cuban made his big league debut in center field, hitting seventh and delivering an infield single in four at-bats of a 9-1 loss. This was my first look at Castillo, and while time will tell if he can hit pitching consistently at this level, the recent experiences of others from his homeland make me think at the least he won't be overwhelmed. After all, he's not some raw kid two years out of high school. Castillo's impressive build reminds me of former outfielder Ron Gant, who brought power and speed and was a solid fantasy option for years, but that doesn't mean he'll match up statistically.

The Red Sox are an interesting team for next season because there's so much depth, and that could certainly affect how Castillo fits in.

Orioles, NationalsUSA TODAY SportsSteve Pearce, Nelson Cruz, Anthony Rendon and Ian Desmond have all been solid fantasy values.
Congrats to the first two teams to secure MLB playoff berths, as the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals, their stadiums separated by less than hour of drive time, won their respective East divisions Tuesday night. The Orioles received five passable innings from right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez and home runs by Steve Pearce and Jimmy Paredes to rout the Toronto Blue Jays, while the Nationals enjoyed seven shutout innings by right-hander Tanner Roark and home run No. 23 from shortstop Ian Desmond to shut out the Atlanta Braves. Let's discuss these successful "Beltway" teams from a fantasy perspective, because from that sense there are actually few similarities.

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How to value deGrom for now, 2015 

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
Jacob deGromElsa/Getty ImagesIn a full season of work, Mets right-hander Jacob deGrom is a threat to total 200 strikeouts.
It's certainly possible that Cincinnati Reds outfielder Billy Hamilton will be given the NL Rookie of the Year award for his flashy contributions in stolen bases, but New York Mets right-hander Jacob deGrom really should be earning more attention. Fantasy owners certainly love deGrom, who, in his 21st career start Monday night, struck out the first eight Miami Marlins of the game, tying a big league record set long ago by Jim Deshaies. The final line showed 13 strikeouts in seven innings, with three earned runs and a no-decision, yet another terrific performance in a season full of them. It's hard to believe now, but deGrom, a ninth-round choice by the Mets in the 2010 draft and not viewed as a special prospect, certainly has produced a special season.

Consider how deGrom has affected fantasy owners as opposed to Hamilton, for example: The Reds' speedster has stolen a ton of bases, but he offers little in the power categories and doesn't aid in batting average. The guy just isn't on base that much and he hasn't been helping many owners in September with his .156 batting average and three stolen bases. Basically, he's a one-category guy, while deGrom boasts a 2.68 ERA -- it actually went up a bit Monday -- and 1.14 WHIP with a ton of strikeouts and seven of his eight wins since July. Entering Monday he hadn't permitted an earned run over his past three outings, and his ERA since the All-Star break is a pristine 2.07. He's not Clayton Kershaw, but he's acted like him for the past few months!

With Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and eventually Noah Syndergaard, not to mention serviceable veterans, the Mets are loaded with rotation depth for the future, but is it possible the surprising deGrom is as good as any of them?

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The value of Holliday, Taveras in 2015 

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
Oscar Taveras and Matt Holliday Kyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsMatt Holliday and Oscar Taveras are likely to occupy corner outfield spots for the Cardinals in 2015.
It's going to be interesting to see how much fantasy owners really want St. Louis Cardinals outfielders Matt Holliday and Oscar Taveras for fantasy purposes next season. The two players will likely handle the corner outfield slots for the perennial NL Central contenders, so playing time figures to be guaranteed, but what about production? Holliday had a nice weekend against the Colorado Rockies, hitting a pair of doubles Sunday after homering in the first two games of the series, and Taveras has raised his hollow batting average to a season-best .247, but it's easy to find fault with these gentlemen moving forward.

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Giancarlo Stanton's season done? 

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12

Giancarlo StantonAP Photo/Morry GashGiancarlo Stanton suffered facial lacerations, facial fractures and dental damage after being hit.
Thursday night was an oddly dark one around the major leagues as several players were hit by pitches and forced to leave games, with the biggest name being potential National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton. The excellent Miami Marlins outfielder was struck by Milwaukee Brewers right-hander Mike Fiers in the face and taken off on a stretcher, and while our first, second and third thoughts should go to Stanton's health, certainly this is also going to affect the Marlins and fantasy owners. It seems unlikely that Stanton, who entered Thursday as fantasy's No. 3 option on the Player Rater, is going to play again this season.

Stanton, who doubled in two official at-bats and raised his batting average to .288, was ruled to have swung at the pitch that hit him below the left eye, giving him a laceration. The Marlins, who lost and fell to three games under .500, remain nominal wild-card contenders in theory, but even then they don't figure to rush their star player back. It would be great for everyone if Stanton could play again and continue his season power show. He leads the NL with 37 home runs, with 10 in the past 30 days, and 105 RBIs, and he had stolen a pair of bases the past few days. Sorry, folks; prepare to do without him. Outfielders available in more than half of ESPN standard leagues that have shown recent power include Oswaldo Arcia, Steve Pearce, Dayan Viciedo, Chris Heisey, Colby Rasmus and, believe it or not, Gregor Blanco. The Marlins will likely use Enrique Hernandez, Jordany Valdespin and Jeff Baker. Pass.

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Bounce back coming for low-OPS players? 

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
Allen CraigAP Photo/Steven SenneAllen Craig's .615 OPS this season is a career low. Should fantasy owners trust him in 2015?
None of the 152 hitters qualified for the batting title have a lower OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging) than Cincinnati Reds shortstop Zack Cozart, but he wasn't really expected to aid a fantasy team this season. However, several others near the bottom 10 of this category were. I have thoughts on them, so here we go:

Jean Segura, SS, Milwaukee Brewers: His OPS is a weak .600 after his single in three at-bats Wednesday, though he did steal his 18th base. Put simply, Segura has been terrible -- just as he was the second half of last season. So when a young player has two starkly different halves of baseball, which one do we believe? I didn't think Segura would be quite this awful, but it's always the second half. No power. No plate discipline. Big 2014 bust.

Allen Craig, 1B/OF, Boston Red Sox:

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Will Wright, Pedroia ever be top-50 again? 

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10

It seems a bit outrageous now, but a few seasons ago New York Mets third baseman David Wright and Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia were regarded as late first-round picks in fantasy drafts, deliverers of five-category goodness and viewed as secure, reliable options. On Tuesday, these guys were shut down by their respective teams for the duration of the season due to injuries that surely helped diminish their statistical upside. The question now, other than how contending fantasy squads replace them the final two weeks, is will we ever see Wright and Pedroia deliver top-50 numbers again?

[+] EnlargeDavid Wright
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsDavid Wright had career lows in on-base percentage, slugging percentage and home runs this season.
The answer to the first question is rather simple: It's not going to be overtly difficult to replace their numbers the rest of the way. Wright, whose left shoulder had been bothering him for months and those watching him regularly could see it in his play and actions, had actually hit a bit better of late but still hadn't homered since July 11. He finishes his worst big league season with eight home runs, eight stolen bases and a .269 batting average that lowered his career mark to .298. A third-round choice in ESPN average live drafts (22nd overall), Wright is the No. 16 third baseman as of Wednesday.

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Michael Cuddyer homers in return 

September, 9, 2014
Sep 9

Michael CuddyerJim McIsaac/Getty ImagesMichael Cuddyer is hitting .328 with a .936 OPS but has been on the DL three times this year.
No player has a higher batting average with more than 600 at-bats since the start of the 2013 season than Colorado Rockies outfielder/first baseman Michael Cuddyer -- you can look it up! -- so fantasy owners certainly welcomed his return from the disabled list Monday. Cuddyer played first base against New York Mets lefty Jonathon Niese, giving Justin Morneau a day off, and he homered in his first at-bat of what ended up a 3-2 loss. It will be interesting to see how Cuddyer is deployed in the final three weeks of the regular season, as the Rockies have a crowded situation, and they certainly don't seem to owe the free-agent-to-be playing time.

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Juan Lagares running wild 

September, 8, 2014
Sep 8

Juan LagaresDavid Kohl/USA TODAY SportsJuan Lagares has eight steals in his past nine games and sports a nice .282 average.
New York Mets outfielder Juan Lagares entered this season known mainly for his elite glove work as opposed to anything he has shown at the plate, but so far his September play has been extremely valuable for fantasy owners looking for an edge in stolen bases. On Sunday at Cincinnati, Lagares stole second base three times against three different right-handed pitchers, giving him 12 on the season, but a superb eight of them have come over the past nine games. That's right, nobody is running more in September than Lagares, and he's still available in more than half of ESPN's standard leagues.

Lagares, an absolute joy to watch defensively in center field, is hardly an ideal choice for a leadoff hitter, as he's drawn 19 walks this season against 84 strikeouts in more than 400 plate appearances, but it appears this recent alteration in lineup duties is the main impetus for the adjustment in fantasy relevance. And you know what, we're OK with that! Lagares, 25, might have some more development left as a hitter, but he doesn't possess much power and his current batting average of .282 is certainly being propped up to some degree by a high BABIP. Plus, as noted, he doesn't get on base much. Still, Lagares walked twice Sunday. It's never too late to learn a new skill!

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What to expect from Michael Wacha 

September, 5, 2014
Sep 5
Michael Wacha Mike McGinnis/Getty ImagesMichael Wacha has compiled a 2.79 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in his 31 career appearances.

St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Michael Wacha never really had a chance to help fantasy owners much in his return to the mound Thursday, but that shouldn't be a problem moving ahead. Wacha tossed 50 pitches in three innings in what ended up being a crucial 3-2 win over the plummeting Milwaukee Brewers, and his teammates and management seemed overjoyed by how good he looked. Wacha, on a strict pitch count, broke 97 mph with his fastball, which he kept low in the zone, and was a bit spotty with curveball and changeup command, but he showed no ill effects from the shoulder woes that kept him out since mid-June. And next week he's scheduled to make two starts, at the Cincinnati Reds and at home against the Colorado Rockies, two lineups he should handle in those places. Michael Wacha, one of the heroes of the 2013 second half, is back.

Wacha is near the top of ESPN's most-added list and should be, for while there's tremendous pitching depth this season, he could be a real difference-maker over four or five starts. He debuted last season at 21 years old and dominated the final six weeks (2.11 ERA, 51 Ks in 47 innings), but to be fair, isn't the most experienced guy. Can he pitch like that again? What about the shoulder woes? The Cardinals claim he wasn't rushed back to the rotation because there's another pennant race going on -- there always is with the Cardinals -- but the time off was used to strengthen his balky shoulder, his core and lower body. The assortment of pitches Wacha throws, well, there was little questioning it Thursday, and one can see how there's a future ace looming.

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Dickerson could be top-10 OF in 2015 

September, 4, 2014
Sep 4
Corey DickersonThearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesCorey Dickerson smacked two home runs Wednesday, upping his OPS to .946 for the season.
Colorado Rockies hitters obviously hold a special place in the hearts of fantasy owners due to playing half their games in a wonderful offensive palace, but it is mildly interesting that only two Rockies finished last season among the top 50 options on the ESPN Player Rater and only two are likely to do so in 2014. Have Rockies hitters become a tad overrated? Perhaps, but next year is shaping up nicely if you want to be optimistic about health. Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki remains a wonderful, if brittle, talent, but who's the No. 2 Rockies player off the 2015 board? We've been presuming it will be outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, a top-five overall pick this year who succumbed to injury, but Corey Dickerson, who homered twice Wednesday and has been really good in his truncated season, could bring more value.

Gonzalez will have his streak of four consecutive 20-homer, 20-steal seasons end this year, but he's only 29 years old, and can surely return to prior heights. He was hitting .300 every year, and while CarGo's going to miss his fair share of games each season, my gut tells me he's arguably a third-round pick next year, a top-10 outfielder. Dickerson likely deserves similar attention, though.

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Fantasy impact of Carlos Gomez injury 

September, 3, 2014
Sep 3

Carlos GomezMike McGinnis/Getty ImagesCarlos Gomez has had at least a .280 average, 80 runs scored, 20 HRs and 65 RBIs in each of the past two years, after never having done so before.
The Milwaukee Brewers and fantasy owners received tough news on the left wrist injury suffered by awesome outfielder Carlos Gomez, one that could keep him out of action the next two weeks, if not more. Fantasy owners wisely love Gomez, who entered Tuesday as the No. 10 option on the season Player Rater and seventh among all hitters with a .282 batting average, 21 home runs and 29 stolen bases. Gomez is eighth in the majors in stolen bases, and the top seven options have combined for 38 home runs. He has 21. Minnesota Twins second baseman Brian Dozier is the only other player with as many as 20 home runs and 20 steals. While Gomez was hitting .219 over the past 30 days, which won't be missed, the six home runs and nine stolen bases will be.

For those needing every last bench spot in re-draft formats, yeah, if you need to drop Gomez, go for it. It's a wrist injury and there's little guarantee Gomez will hit upon return, or if he will return at all. Look around the league at other guys getting shut down left and right. Sure, the Brewers are a contender, but they might not be in a week. We could see Gomez pinch run, but since it's September and rosters have expanded there's no need for players to be placed on the disabled list, so don't look for the asterisk in our game. There are three-plus weeks remaining in the season. Those in their head-to-head playoffs, in which the season could end this weekend, also will be looking for every available edge. The truth is nobody knows when Gomez can play again, but the Brewers do have outfield depth and Gomez is a major part of their future, so I'm guessing no matter how many games the Brewers lose, he won't be rushed. Gerardo Parra handled center field Tuesday and he's a reasonable pickup in standard leagues. Parra homered Monday and stole a base last week and is on pace to reach double-digits in each.

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Call-ups with potential fantasy value 

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
Alex GuerreroBrendon Thorne/MLB/Getty ImagesNeed some help at second base? Dodgers call-up Alex Guerrero could be your man.
The first day of September doesn't merely highlight the opening of the final month of regular-season baseball, but it's time for an influx of young players to join the league as rosters expand. The top teams will promote prospects but probably not play them much. The bad teams will be more likely to see what the kids can do.

My colleague Christopher Crawford wrote about some of the more interesting high-impact call-ups, several top prospects among them, but in addition to those fellows I have some others to add to the potential fantasy mix

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Surprises abound on leaderboards 

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29

With a month of games to go in the regular season, the races for individual statistical honors are still up for grabs and in most cases they feature some surprising names. That's part of the fun of it for me. Anyone could have predicted Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton to lead everyone in home runs or Los Angeles Dodgers ace lefty Clayton Kershaw to set the pace in wins and ERA, but how about Baltimore Orioles outfielder Nelson Cruz, Milwaukee Brewers right-hander Wily Peralta and … have you seen the NL batting race? It's fun! Let's share a few thoughts on the races.

AL batting champ: In March, I actually predicted Seattle Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano to win this title, and he's close, a tad behind Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve, Detroit Tigers first baseman Victor Martinez and Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre. Two of those fellows are 35 years old and Cano is 31. Don't forget the old guys in drafts! And all four of these players are probably in my top 25 next season as well.

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Add Yadier Molina now 

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
Yadier MolinaFrank Victores/USA TODAY SportsYadier Molina generated a .751 OPS in 325 plate appearances this season prior to a thumb injury.
The St. Louis Cardinals had to be hoping that when superb catcher Yadier Molina was lost for a few months with a thumb injury, they could merely remain within striking distance of the NL Central lead. Mission accomplished there. The Cardinals are NL wild-card leaders, and the Milwaukee Brewers certainly didn't pull away in the division. Plenty of fantasy owners, however, moved on from the 50th overall pick and No. 2 catcher in ESPN average live drafts. Well, now it's time to become invested in Molina again!

Some will be cautious -- worried that a thumb injury suppresses power -- and while that certainly can be true, I view a blanket statement like this as total guesswork. We can't judge all thumb injuries the same. Perhaps Molina, now rested from his long break and not as fatigued in comparison to most backstops who have been grinding it out five or six days a week in that span, is ready to become the hitter he was in previous seasons.

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