How bright can Starlin Castro shine?
Castro's sophomore season showed continued growth in his power and his SB efficiency while maintaining his plate discipline (33% chase rate, 92% contact rate) and his tremendous LD skills (20.1% LD Rate). This all came at the ripe age of 21 as Castro posted an impressive .307/.341/.432 line that was good enough to rank him the top 35 on ESPN's player rater in 2011. Posting the strong line at age 21 immediately raises the question of how much further Castro can grow from here? Castro figures to keep building on his ISO (.125 last season) which peaked at .193 in the minors. Look for much of the ISO to come from 2B's and 3B's as Castro's HR totals will be limited by his middling FB Rates. In part due to Castro's elite LD skills, he's posted GB Rates right around 50% in his first two big league seasons. I'd expect some natural growth in his power to help push into the low-teens but I'd be surprised to see the HR total challenge the high teens or 20's. Similarly, Castro's improved SB output in 2011 might approach his ceiling. Castro isn't an elite straight line runner (as evidenced by his 65% success rate in his major league career, 69% minor league) and add in the improved power rates you'll end up with more 2B's and 3B's than 1B's and ultimately fewer SB opportunities. While I'm not particularly optimistic in large growth in his HR/SB numbers, I do think there's more overall growth for Castro on the horizon. His contact rates in the minors were above 90% and I'd expect the K Rate to start trending down soon. This should lead to more balls in play and with his LD Rate, a batting average that should challenge .310+ year-in and year-out. Given Castro's limited BB Rate, the batting average component will continue to play more of a role in your standings than many understand. Similar to Ichiro Suzuki, Castro's high AB totals (674 last year) give stronger weight to his average contributions. Some upside remains in his power and his SB numbers, but I expect those totals to build gradually towards 25-20 seasons in his prime. The immediate growth this year should be on the plate discipline side where his average will be aided by more balls in play and the Runs/RBI contributions will grow with an improved 2B's and 3B's rate. Castro was a top 40 overall player at age 21, and I'd expect him to continue to perform at that level going forward.
Cheap Speed - Can Tony Campana earn enough AB's?
In just 155 PA's last year Tony Campana stole 24 bases (26 attempts). If we project that out to a full season worth of PA's, we're looking at a potential 80+ SB season. Given Campana's SB track record in the minor leagues (66, 55, 48 - last 3 years), the lofty extrapolation doesn't seem impossible. The challenge for Campana is a Cubs OF that appears thin on opportunity. Marlon Byrd is locked into CF at the start of the season. Alfonso Soriano's bloated contract is locked into LF for what feels like an eternity; and recently acquired David DeJesus has already been penciled in as the leadoff hitter in RF. The Cubs also brought back Reed Johnson (.354 wOBA) as a backup OF and acquired Dave Sappelt from the Reds in the offseason. Throw in the Cubs, arguably, top prospect at AAA is OF Brett Jackson and the pathway to playing time would appear to be a challenging one for Campana. There is room for change as Marlon Byrd is in the last year of his deal and would figure to be a prime trade candidate. In addition, Alfonso Soriano has had plenty of injury issues in the past. While playing time may not be there initially it's certainly possible it opens up for the rebuilding Cubs as the season wears on. Campana posted an adequate .303/.359/.353 line in the minors that demonstrated a strong ability to get on base and use his legs and in his brief stint last year with the Cubs many of the fielding metrics were very kind to Campana. Hoping to become a poor man's Brett Gardner, Campana has the tools but will need the opportunity. He's a name to stash away for those needing speed during the season, but only a draft consideration for NL Only formats with deep reserves.
The most valuable (fantasy player) Marlin in a position battle?
If asked to provide the most valuable fantasy option on the Marlins last year, most would immediately think of Hanley Ramirez's disappointing season, Josh Johnson's injury, and likely proclaim Mike Stanton with his .262-79-34-87-5 line as the most valuable; but they'd be wrong! Stanton ranked 76th on ESPN's player rater (for 5x5 leagues), while Emilio Bonifacio (.296-78-5-36-40) clocked in at 61st thanks to his contributions in the SB category and his friendly position eligibility that landed him with eligibility at SS, 3B, and the OF. Heading into this season though Bonifacio's role as ultimate utility player has become unnecessary (no gaping 3B hole for the Marlins anymore) and he's been asked to compete for the everyday role with Chris Coghlan. Given Bonifacio's strong 2011 performance and Ozzie Guillen's preference for speed, Bonifacio seems a likely candidate to win the opening day job and hit 2nd in the batting order behind Jose Reyes. Understanding there is some mild risk in job security, let's take a look at Bonifacio's 2011 and see how likely he is to repeat it.
When looking at 2011 two things jump out immediately with respect to Bonifacio: 1) He maintained small improvements in plate discipline from 2010 that helped him get on base more and make him a viable offensive threat; and 2) a .372 BABIP exaggerated things even further. When those two things were combined, Bonifacio became a legitimate offensive force (.341 wOBA, career .307) and a very valuable fantasy commodity. Going forward I think the 9+% BB Rate which has been helped by a solid 29% chase rate, is likely to maintain. The .372 BABIP which was helped by a 24% LD Rate and Bonifacio's sweet speed is probably unlikely to happen again, but given Bonifacio's LD Rate has eclipsed 21% in three of the last four years, I'm not ready to write it off completely. The most likely result is somewhere closer to 2011 than 2010, which should make him a pretty solid fantasy option with the position flexibility. Our projection of .278-76-5-33-35 feels pretty spot on to me and with eligibility at 3B, SS, and OF Bonifacio has some hidden value that makes him a viable 14th round pick (current ADP).
Hanley Ramirez 200% Committed to Playing 3B!
There has been plenty of speculation about Hanley Ramirez's disposition after the Marlins signed Jose Reyes in the offseason but early on in camp Ramirez has done his best to put the speculation to bed. All the focus on Ramirez's preferences has taken away some of the focus of his performance which has been startling the last two years. Despite entering what many would deem his "prime years", Ramirez has posted a .799 OPS over his last 1000 PA's. The ISO has steadily dropped as Ramirez has had issues getting lift on the ball (51% GB Rate last two years) and his dominance against fastballs has dipped. The BB Rate and chase rate have stayed consistent, and even shown improvement in spurts; making it difficult to evaluate where the sudden drop-off in power is coming from. Even with the "struggles" the last few years, Hanley's projection still warrants a top 20 pick, with the upside of a top 5 performance. The dual position eligibility this year with 3B and SS should also provide some sneaky value for owners. We currently have him projected as a relative bargain going in the late 2nd round, but I have to admit the risk associated with Hanley has me seeing the drop into the mid-2nd rd as reasonable.
Veterans with Value in Colorado:
Marco Scutaro - The Rockies have been searching for some stability and production out of 2B for the last few years and with the acquisition of Marco Scutaro this offseason it appears they may have found the right stop-gap. At 36, Scutaro is not a long-term solution, but he's a proven defender at the MI spots and has strong enough plate discipline and bat skills to consistently find his way on-base. Projected as the ideal #2 hitter behind Dexter Fowler and ahead of Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki, Scutaro's .350 OBP over the last 6 seasons should lead to plenty of runs scored. In addition the big gaps in Coors spacious OF should help Scutaro (career 19.8% LD hitter) plenty of opportunity for an above average BABIP. The HR/SB production will continue to be modest, as will the RBI's, but Scutaro's 80+ Runs and .280+ average should play nicely as a MI option in mixed leagues. We currently rank him as the 16th best 2B option in 5x5 leagues.
Ramon Hernandez - Jim Tracy and the Rockies had difficulty appreciating the strengths of their previous catcher, Chris Iannetta, so they shipped him out of town this offseason and traded for Ramon Hernandez to bridge the gap before Wilin Rosario is ready to take over. Rosario is an intriguing prospect (posting an .894 OPS at AA in 2010), but Tracy's preference towards veterans and Rosario's difficult adjustment in limited major league time (35+% K Rate) should leave Hernandez with plenty of playing time. A platoon option in Cincinnati, Hernandez has posted OPS of .792 and .788 the last two seasons while showing renewed power with the usual great LD Rates. At 36, there are certainly some reasons for concern with Hernandez's statistical profile. His chase rate has risen to career highs and his swing % was 3 percentage points higher than his career average. Both are signs of bat-speed slowing down and potential warning signs to things falling apart. The other potential risk for Hernandez this year is that Tracy falls in love with the veteran catcher and over-uses him after years of a platoon situation in Cincinnati. If it does play out this way, Hernandez would likely hold some strong value early in the season before succumbing to wear and tear. We've got Hernandez as the 36th ranked Catcher assuming a continued platoon split, but I'm planning on snagging him as a 2nd catcher late early in the season and trying to ride some Coors effect before it breaks down mid-way through the season.
Notes from Around the League:
Chris Perez (RP - CLE): In order to aptly give my take on the Chris Perez injury news I debated copying and pasting everything from Joseph Hettler's twitter feed into this space. While you would've had my take summed up pretty quickly you also would've had 14 beer status updates and as much news and notes about Notre Dame basketball as you can handle; so I decided to pass. You're left with this:
Chris Perez injured his oblique in a BP session earlier in the week and is now going to be out 4-6 weeks resting the oblique. Perez has noted he intends to be back by March 15th, which would allow him more than enough time to be ready for opening day. Relief pitchers don't need much time to get game-ready, but Perez's timeline would certainly seem optimistic compared to the team's timeline. While Manny Acta was hesitant to supplant Perez from the closer's role he did note Vinnie Pestano would act as the closer if Perez's absence lingered into the season. Joe's done a nice job dissecting the difference in skill between the two closing options (short take: Pestano's superior K Rate, BB Rate, GB Rate, xFIP, kindness to strangers, and boyish good looks lead to him being the better closing option), so I won't waste too much time on that. The impact here is that Perez will slide down draft boards (already shaky on our boards - 25th) and Pestano should now be drafted late. Managers like to always say a player won't lose their job due to injury, but closer replacements with better peripherals tend to linger. I would absolutely draft Pestano ahead of Perez at this point as I'd rather take a chance on the skills now that the door has opened slightly for Pestano.
Ryan Zimmerman (3B - WAS): Ryan Zimmerman and the Nationals finalized a contract extension on Sunday that will keep the 3B in a Nationals uniform through 2019. Zimmerman's coming off an injury plagued season that saw his BB Rate and his ISO evaporate. Given the injury issue was one that started in spring training and then eventually became too much for Zimmerman to deal with mid-season I'm willing to write off some of the drops in power and plate discipline. If we throw away last season, Zimmerman is coming off two seasons in 2009 and 2010 where he showed strong growth in his power rates posting .200+ ISOs, while improving his EYE and maintaining strongly above average chase rates (right around 25%). With the contract situation resolved and injury issues past him (for now), I expect Zimmerman to get back to those 2009-2010 seasons where his bat plays as a 2nd tier 3B option. We're currently projecting him for a .291-81-26-89-4 campaign.
Torri Hunter (OF - LAA): With the Angels OF crowded and Torri Hunter in the last year of his contract, Hunter has entered Angels' camp with questions surrounding his future. In an article posted on Sunday afternoon, Hunter responded by noting his desire to play beyond his current contract and not wanting to leave a few good years on the table. Hunter's been one of the most consistent fantasy assets in all of baseball, churning out 20 HR and 160 combined R/RBI seasons in ten of the last eleven years. After a slow start last year Hunter was able to reach the plateau yet again last year thanks to a strong finish in August/September that saw Hunter rack up 10 HR's, 37 Runs, and 31 RBI's. Prior to the strong finish, Hunter posted a .232/.307/.378 line through July that had many wondering if 2011 was the end. While Hunter showed it wasn't quite the end, the first four months of the season showed some of the downside possible with drafting Hunter this year. He's no longer a successful base-stealer (14 SB's, 19 CS last two years), his ISO dropped to its lowest point in 10 years, and his chase rate rose to a career high 30% last year. One of the most consistent players in fantasy over the last decade is showing some reasons not to trust that consistency this year. Throw in some log-jam in terms of playing time in the Angels OF and I'm tempering down some of my expectations for Torri Hunter this year.
Joel Zumaya (RP - MIN): Unfortunately it's become a bit of a redundant headline in recent years, but the Twins announced on Sunday that Joel Zumaya was lost for the season with a torn UCL in his right elbow. Zumaya once again will meet with Dr. Andrews and have another Tommy John surgery. Matt Capps will likely open the season as the Twins closer with Glen Perkins next in line.
Lucas Duda (1B/OF - NYM): The thing I love most about Lucas Duda in his first 440 PA's, spread across two seasons, is his consistency across all the major indicators. Duda has shown really good plate discipline throughout his major league AB's, posting chase rates around 30%. Last year the contact rates showed some improved growth, topping 81% and his K Rate dropped to levels even better than his minor league rates. The ISO fell short of some of his impressive minor league totals .960+ OPS last two years in AA and AAA, but heading into his age 26 season with Citi Field moving the fences in some, I think we could see the power spike nicely. Duda's been able to keep the ball in the air through his first 440+ PA's, posting consistent GB Rates below 35%. The statistical profile is strong across the board and while not great, it's likely Duda can be very good. I think he breaks through into a .285-80-20-90 type season, making him an excellent cheap 1B option
Tommy Hanson (SP - ATL): The Braves updated Tommy Hanson's status on Sunday noting he'd have another concussion test on Monday and if all looked good could return to the mound on Tuesday. I've been a HUGE Tommy Hanson supporter and went so far as last year in the preseason to call him a Top 10 SP because I felt a K Rate jump was coming. Injuries and some unusual issues with HR's prevented Hanson from hitting that target, but signs of future growth were there. Hanson's K Rate did jump above 9 and his swinging strike % rose above 10%. Heading into his age 26 season Hanson appears to be ready to jump towards stardom; however question marks remain. Hanson finished the season on the DL with a small tear in his rotator cuff and the news at the start of spring training hasn't improved much. Hanson noted he's altered his delivery to take some pressure off the shoulder, which immediately raised some concerns and then he got into a car accident that landed him with a concussion that is delaying his throwing program. The Braves have downplayed the extent of the injury or the change in delivery but the warning signs are enough that I'll have to see a steep discount in Hanson's ADP before I dive in. I'm interested to see him this spring and see if he can generate the same swinging strike % from a new delivery, but all the negative news surrounding Hanson's finish to last season and the delayed start to this one have me concerned.
Adam Wainwright (SP - STL): Adam Wainwright skipped his bullpen session on Sunday but there doesn't appear to be any reason for concern here. Wainwright indicated he felt so good in his live BP session on Friday that he chose to just throw off flat ground on Sunday. He'll return to facing live hitters on Tuesday. Wainwright is an interesting draft case coming into the season. A bona-fide fantasy ace when healthy, Wainwright's stock is rightly depressed because of some mild setbacks TJ recoveries face in the first year. Typically teams will be overly cautious with soreness and pitchers often struggle with command in their first year back. Given Wainwright had the surgery last spring, I'm interested to see if he's been able to get over the hump with some of those issues before the season starts. He's one of the pitchers I'm most interested in seeing this spring. If the strong reports quickly carry over into games, Wainwright will shoot up draft boards quickly. Our current projection is rightfully cautious on the WHIP (1.21) and the IP (193), but will be adjusted as we see more in spring.
Andrew Bailey (RP - BOS): With the slow news cycle around baseball camps, even the smallest setbacks get attention these days. On Sunday it was reported that Andrew Bailey has been limited the last few days after suffering a lat pull while going through vertical leap drills. Bailey will resume full workouts on Monday, so there is no long-term concern here; but the injury allows me to highlight some of my concerns surrounding Bailey. Even prior to the Red Sox acquiring Bailey I noted Bailey was my candidate to be the most disappointing trade acquisition of the offseason. Granted, I anticipated a bigger package going back to Oakland than one head-lined by Josh Redick, but even with that price paid I could see Bailey disappointing. Bailey's had multiple DL stints with elbow injuries in recent years and his average FB velocity dropped over 1 mph last year. When healthy he was able to post strong closing numbers, supported by strong peripherals, but he's averaging just 45 IP a season the last two years and his high FB approach (45%) is unlikely to hold up as well outside of the Coliseum in Oakland. Currently being drafted as a Top 15 closer, I think Bailey's slightly over-rated as I can't get the multiple trips with elbow issues out of my mind.
Tyler Greene (2B - STL): Perhaps the most interesting reports out of camps early on come from the interviews done with new managerial candidates. Some of the new managers don't have as much tact in hiding their preferences so we've already seen lineup configurations from Dale Sveum and on Sunday we got some insight into the Cardinals 2B job from new manager Mike Matheny, who indicated he preferred Tyler Greene as their starting 2B. Greene is an interesting candidate. He's posted tremendous numbers at the minor league level, hitting .323/.422/.579 in 300+ PA's at AAA last year and posting .800+ OPS' in 2009 and 2010 at AAA, but he's done very little with the bat or the glove at the major league level. Greene's posted a .218/.307/.313 composite line in 359 PA's spread over 3 seasons and UZR has him as a net negative around the diamond, with particular awful numbers in 230 innings at 2B. Greene has shown a decent approach at the plate (10+% BB Rate, 30% chase rate), but his sub-par contact skills (74%) have led to high K Rates that have sub-marined his major league performance. If he can show any semblance of the hitter he's been in AAA (good power and speed), he'll be a nice sleeper for deep leaguers.
Scott Sizemore (3B - OAK): We haven't even started games yet and it's been a tough spring training for guys named Sizemore. Late last week it was revealed that Grady Sizemore would likely miss opening day with back issues and this past weekend Scott Sizemore suffered a knee sprain that will keep him out 4-6 weeks. The injury will make Sizemore a question mark for opening day and leave Adam Rosales, Eric Sogard, and Wes Simmons to compete for playing time. Sizemore showed strong pop after moving to Oakland (.184 ISO) along with his typical great BB Rate (12+%) but he continued to struggle with contact (26% K Rate). Ultimately the issues with contact and the shaky lineup support/run scoring environment will hold down Sizemore's value, but with 20 HR potential, he's cracked our top 20 in the early 3B ranks.
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