2015 sleepers and busts: Hitters 

February, 24, 2015
Feb 24

Ryan ZimmermanBrad Mills/USA TODAY SportsRyan Zimmerman is healthy and poised to put up big numbers at a new position in 2015.
Let’s be honest, I prefer to use the word value when describing players I like more or less than most in whatever fantasy league we’re talking about because the simple terms “sleepers” and “busts” are oft-misinterpreted. For example, look no further than St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright. Is it fair to call him a potential bust? I suppose, but if you ask me to project numbers for him, they’re obviously going to be better than what I expect from Colorado Rockies right-hander Kyle Kendrick. The difference with Wainwright is he’s viewed as a top-10 starting pitcher for his past achievements and the fact I’m concerned about his arm holding up means I wouldn’t view him as such. (A view shared by my colleague Mike Petriello, for that matter.) As a result, he’s not a great value to me and a potential bust. But would I draft him if he falls a few rounds to me? Of course!

So with that caveat, taken however you like really, let’s go position by position offensively with my "sleepers and busts," and one can only do so with a baseline. In this case, I’m using ESPN’s standard Top 300 rankings as my point of comparison in determining how much I view someone as a sleeper or bust, and don’t take the terms literally. In general, I don’t see how a top-50 pick can be viewed as a real sleeper, so I’ve got varying degrees of sleeper- and bust-hood, if you will. Whether you agree or disagree, form your own opinions about which players you find strong and not-so-strong values, and act accordingly. And since this blog entry got really long, pitchers will have to wait for another day!


Sleeper: Yasmani Grandal, Los Angeles Dodgers He’s a walker with power and a full-time starting gig for a really good team, one that doesn’t play its home games in spacious Petco Park. It’s considerably easier to hit for power at Dodger Stadium. Grandal closed last season strong and is poised to break out. Unlike most, I regard him as just missing my top 10, and he might still get there

Potential 2015 bounce-back candidates 

February, 17, 2015
Feb 17

Chris DavisAlgerina Perna/Baltimore Sun/MCT via Getty ImagesChris Davis followed up his 53-homer 2013 with 26 homers and a .196 average in 2014.
Many of you would be shocked at how the top 20 in ESPN live drafts looked one year ago. A guy who ended up hitting .196 was actually a first-round pick! A pair of first basemen chosen in the second round combined for nine home runs and 39 RBIs, and one of the starting pitchers deemed a top-10 option won four games while another posted a frightening 4.54 ERA and 1.40 WHIP! In other words, as in every season, there were plenty of disappointing individual performances, which in turn create many opportunities for players to bounce back. The question is whether they will do so.

As you might have guessed, I think it’s a good idea to check out how drafts looked a year ago, because it often sets up significant value for top players being modestly forgotten. After all, it’s been only one year, so if we liked them then, perhaps they are healthy now and ready to rock again. At the same time, some of those recently beloved, or at least seemingly reliable, players are not likely to return to their lofty statistical heights. Here are my opinions on some of the biggest names in the sport who certainly didn’t deliver expected value in 2014 and whether they will this season. We’ll use the top 75 in 2014 average draft position as a guideline. The first group I expect to bounce back to that level; the second group I do not.

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Ryan Braun Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsRyan Braun may be closer to returning to elite fantasy status than you might think.
There was someone who repeatedly showed up in my chat sessions most of last season -- I chat every Wednesday at 11 a.m. ET -- and couldn’t stop reminding me how I didn’t rank New York Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka as a top-10 option. It’s true, I didn’t. I readily admit it. But this individual also wanted it known he didn’t select Tanaka over any number of other starting pitchers in his or her drafts because of either my rankings or the main ESPN ones. Now this seems a bit odd to me. They’re your teams, right? I’ve got my own. I can handle any blame, but we give advice and not all of it is going to be correct. We do our best, though. I cannot recall owning Tanaka, who was awesome, on any teams, but that hardly means others shouldn’t invest. Please take our rankings not as gospel, but as a guide and comprise your own.

That brings me to this blog entry in which I point out some differences between my personal rankings and others out there because I might not like a player’s value the way you do. I might also rank a player far better than you do. We’ve got the ESPN staff rankings and yes, there are other sites with industry friends in which I’ll check out what they’re doing, but it’s a good thing that the love -- or lack thereof -- for certain players is dissimilar. More opinions are good! So why not point that out here? You’ll notice over the next month-plus that some of the names I do and do not recommend will be showing up in other places as well, like in our sleepers/busts coverage, bounce-back players, and others I’ll be planting the proverbial flag around.

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Top 200 rankings for 2015 

February, 12, 2015
Feb 12
Mike TroutKelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsMike Trout's average and steals dropped in '14, but he did post career highs in homers and RBIs.
Editor's note: These rankings were updated Feb. 12. We will be re-posting this blog regularly with Eric's updated top 200.

Rankings are perhaps the most basic and influential step in draft preparation, as the actual draft itself can move quickly, and regardless of fantasy sport, those participating should be ready to act in a matter of seconds. That’s what rankings are for. If pushed to a decision in a snap, it’s this player over this player, and that’s it. Of course, opinions can alter at any -- and often all -- times, so rankings are no different. My rankings are constantly changing, but this is how I feel this week. The good thing is that as I continue to learn more about these players analytically -- one never knows everything -- and instincts play a role, my rankings will change and we’ll be reflecting these adjustments in the weeks ahead.

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2015 position eligibility changes 

February, 9, 2015
Feb 9

Victor MartinezRick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsVictor Martinez has first base-eligibility entering 2015, after being DH-only to enter 2014.
I cannot recall with precise accuracy where I was when Detroit Tigers slugger Victor Martinez played his 20th game at first base last season, but as a Martinez owner in a keeper league, this was certainly good news. You see, Martinez was eligible in most fantasy baseball leagues solely at designated hitter entering the 2014 season, and while that’s not the worst thing ever, it’s a bit of a hindrance in constructing a team. It’s the reason Boston Red Sox DH David Ortiz gets pushed back in drafts every season. But this year, Martinez is a first baseman! He doesn’t clog the utility slot! There’s some measure of versatility!

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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.

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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.

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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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