Toronto Blue Jays
Breaking Down the Blue Jays' Left Field Battle
Eric Thames and Travis Snider have entered Spring Training in a battle for the Blue Jays' starting LF spot come Opening Day. Thames is a 25 YO left handed batter that never really projected to be much more than a 4th OF. He performed okay for the Blue Jays with a .262/.313/.456 line in his first Major League action last season (394 plate appearances). From a fantasy perspective, Thames' .193 ISO was nice, but not enough to erase the red flags. He posted a .26 EYE thanks to a low walk rate of 5.8% (low for a guy whose best asset was his power), and there is reason to believe that Thames' 22.3 K% may grow as both his chase rate (37.9%) and swinging strike rate (11.2%) were well worse than the league average. There just isn't much fantasy upside with Thames. A guy at an OF position who hits at the bottom of a lineup (albeit a pretty good one) and projects to hit around .250 with 15-20 homers and about 5 steals is not desirable. About the best thing going for Thames fantasy wise is he probably had a leg up on winning the job entering Spring Training as Blue Jays' Manager John Farrell has made comments alluding to the idea that the good job Thames did last season would not go unnoticed.
Competing with Thames is Travis Snider, a former top prospect who projected to have plus power. Snider should not be completely written off as a bust yet (just 23 YO), but he has surely disappointed. Playing in the Majors for parts of 4 seasons, Snider has a career .248/.307/.423 line (877 plate appearances). He has not shown signs of improvement from a pitch recognition standpoint as his chase rate has not dropped while the EYE has gotten worse: .37/.27/.20. The one thing we do have with Snider is the upside that Thames lacks. In small sample sizes, Snider has shown skills. He walked 10.5% of the time in 276 plate appearances in 2009 at the age of 21. In 319 plate appearances in 2010 Snider posted impressive LD (24.3%) and HR/FB (18.4%) rates. And while Thames probably had the edge heading into camp, Snider early on is doing all he can to turn the tables. He has hit 3 homers in 19 at bats boasting an OPS edge of .325 points over Thames. This is an extremely small sample size but a good start.
All in all, neither Thames nor Snider should be counted on for fantasy purposes due to lack of current skill and playing time uncertainty. However, if I were in an AL only league or a deep league, Snider is the guy I would take a late round flier on. I'd rather take the chance on a former top prospect (who has shown some skills sporadically) putting things together than take Thames whose best case outcome really isn't that helpful to fantasy teams.
Deep League Sleeper: Dustin McGowan
Let's start this blurb off by saying that Dustin McGowan is a huge health risk. He made 5 appearances at the end of last season (following 15 minor league starts), but prior to that McGowan last pitched in 2008. So, if you are drafting him it is as a complete flier in deep leagues. Still, he's only 29 and looks like a good bet to make Toronto's Opening Day rotation and was an up and coming young starting pitcher before being derailed by injuries. For his career, McGowan has a 7.33 K/9 and 47.5 GB rate, and we have to remember that the majority of his starts came in 2007 and 2008 when the run scoring environment across baseball was way higher than it is now. When McGowan came back at the end of last season he did show an ability to repeat his K and GB skills flashing an 8.57 K/9 and 50 GB%. However, there was some bad too: see 5.57 BB/9 and 1.71 HR/9. McGowan made his Spring debut this past Saturday hurling 2 scoreless innings and throwing 15 of 24 pitches for strikes. Perhaps most importantly was the radar gun which had McGowan at 93 mph.
Keep an Eye on Pirates' Pitching Prospects
If you play in keeper or dynasty formats, a couple of Pirates' should catch your attention: Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole. On our top 50 fantasy pitching prospects list, Taillon and Cole rank 4th and 7th respectively. Taillon (Our Prospect Guru David Regan has his ETA pegged for 2014) is 20 YO and was the 2nd overall pick of the 2010 draft. He started 23 games at single A last season and struck out 24.6% of the batters he faced while walking just 5.6%. Cole (ETA of 2013) was the 1st overall pick of the 2011 draft but is closer to being Major League ready as he is a year older than Taillon and was a top college pitcher for UCLA. David (check out all his rankings and notes if you are a subscriber over at the Fantistics Prospect Central) notes that Cole's stuff, "is ace material, but he'll need to work on consistency this season." If you are able to be patient with your Minor League/Prospect spots in your keeper/dynasty format, you might be able to nab Taillon or Cole or both after a guy such as Jarrod Parker who will contribute much more quickly but does not have as high of a ceiling.
Neil Walker may be a good value play at 2B
For those of you who want to wait on a 2B in drafts, Neil Walker may come at a good value. Walker was a little bit of a disappointment (not that expectations were that high) last season. His AVG/OBP/SLG line fell from .296/.349/.462 as a rookie to .273/.334/.408. I think there's a good basis for believing Walker will be more valuable this season. Walker (entering his prime at 26) saw his EYE improve last season from .41 to .48 as his BB rate grew and K rate dropped simultaneously. He also posted a LD% over 21% for the second consecutive season so he continued to make solid contact. Walker's biggest problem was a drop in power; his ISO fell 33 points and HR/FB% 1.5 points. I definitely see an uptick in homers coming, though. In 2010 he had 18 homers between the Majors and AAA at the age of 24, and last season he had just 12 in almost exactly as many plate appearances. So there is a history of a little bit more pop at a younger age. Furthermore, Walker's FB% dropped 6 points last season; I expect both that and his HR/FB% to recover slightly. And we must keep in mind that Walker's 36 doubles were 5th among all 2B. Of the 4 in front of him and 1 behind him, the lowest HR total was 18 by Brandon Phillips. All in all, I think Walker is more likely to hit 15-20 homers than he is to hit 12 again. Take those homers with around 10 steals and a 2B that hits cleanup, and he certainly seems to be a good value in the 13th round as a top 15 2B.
Kansas City Royals
Billy Butler: He Is who He Is
I feel like this has become an annual tradition; me breaking down why you should be optimistic about Billy Butler breaking out power wise. Not this year, though. To steal from Dennis Green, "he is who we thought he was," and I'm not letting Billy off the hook this time around. Yes, he will be 26 YO for the majority of the season, but I just don't see a 30 homer Butler in the near future. His improvements are too middling or non-existent. Let's look at some numbers from the past 3 years of Butler's 5 year career. His BB rate: 8.6/10.2/9.8. His ISO: .191/.151/.169. His SLG: .492/.462/.461. His FB%: 34.6/34/35.8. His HR/FB%: 11.9/8.4/10.4. There just aren't any trends to suggest a power outburst is inevitable. Sure, it could happen, but the smart play is to draft Butler expecting 18-20 homers, not 25-30. I'm not building much growth potential into Butler's value, but it should be noted that a better lineup around him will boost the RS/RBI totals a tad. As a side note, those of you in leagues where eligibility is based on 20 games played at a position last season, Butler played just 11 at first base in 2011 and will only be eligible at UTIL to start 2012.
Deep League Sleeper: Danny Duffy
Danny Duffy struggled in his rookie season, posting a 5.64 ERA over 20 starts and going 4-8, but I like him as a deep league sleeper for a few reasons. First of all, Duffy wasn't quite as bad as the ERA suggested; his xFIP was over a run lower at 4.53. Per his minor league numbers, we should expect Duffy to improve his peripherals. In 7 starts at AA (his first time at this level) in 2010 Duffy struck out 25.6% of the batters he faced and walked just 5.6%. Last year before getting called up, Duffy managed to improve his K/BB ratio despite pitching at the AAA level for the first time. He made 8 starts there, striking out a whopping 28.1% of the batters he faced and walking just 5.9%. In his only Spring Training appearance thus far this season, Duffy pitched 2 perfect innings, striking out 5 of 6 batters. Look for Duffy to be a solid source of strikeouts late in drafts whose ERA and WHIP will improve towards the 4 and 1.30 marks as he gets some better luck and the K and BB rates improve.
Other MLB News
Gavin Floyd SP (CHW) - If you are searching for someone to make an ERA improvement this season, Floyd is certainly a candidate. Last season, Floyd posted a 4.37 ERA but a low LOB% of 67.7% prevented him from matching his FIP of 3.81. The previous season Floyd's unlucky BABIP (.325) led to an ERA of 4.08, which was much higher than his FIP of 3.46. Hopefully this season both Floyd's BABIP and LOB% will be neutral, which should lead him to posting a sub-4 ERA for the first time since 2008. And while it looks like Floyd's actual ERA always underperforms his FIP, the career marks (ERA of 4.50, FIP of 4.37) suggest this is only slightly true.
Drew Pomeranz SP (COL) - Pomeranz says he is not worried about the hip tightness he experienced yesterday, but we at Fantistics are concerned with his ability to post fantasy relevant numbers this season. Pomeranz came over to the Rockies as the biggest piece coming back in the Ubaldo Jimenez trade. Despite being viewed as a top 10 starting pitcher prospect by some, there are some red flags that he'll be able to produce right away. For starters, Coors field isn't kind to anyone's pitching numbers. Secondly, Pomeranz's K% of 16.9 last season in 4 starts (admittedly small sample size) was below league average and won't play well in Coors. Thirdly, the 23 YO Pomeranz just doesn't have much professional experience. He posted just 5 starts outside of single A last season, his only professional season. There just doesn't seem a lot to go on to suggest Pomeranz is worth an upside flier.
Jimmy Rollins SS (PHI) - Both name recognition and a scarce position may lead owners to making the mistake of drafting Jimmy Rollins too early. Don't be that owner. The 33 YO is undoubtedly in decline. Rollins has posted just a .131 ISO the past 2 seasons; the previous 4 seasons his ISO's were .200/.235/.160/.173. The EYE has remained good at .98, but that is a little bit deceiving. Rollins posted a career worst chase rate last season at 27% (career mark of 20.9%). We are still calling for Rollins to be a top 10 SS option but the upside is limited and the value isn't there when you consider the 2 guys ranked ahead of him (Alexei Ramirez and Jhonny Peralta) are going on average 4-5 rounds later.
Mike Stanton OF (MIA) - Stanton has been dealing with a wrist injury since being hit by a pitch, but he was able to take batting practice yesterday which is certainly a good sign. The 22 YO outfielder is already one of the league's premier power hitters and is as good as of a bet as anyone to lead the league in homers. Last season he improved his EYE by 14 points (which makes him less riskier this season) and his ISO 27 points from his rookie year. So much for a sophomore slump; only Curtis Granderson and Jose Bautista posted higher ISO's. Not surprisingly, Stanton's HR/FB% grew as well, going from 22.9% to 24.8%. If all goes right, a 50 homer season is not out of the question; Fantistics currently calls for 42 homers.
Ian Kinsler 2B (TEX) - Kinsler's back stiffness appears to be a non-issue as he has been cleared to return to Spring Training games today. I have Kinsler locked in as a second round asset with back end of the first round potential in 12 and 15 team leagues. In 2010 Kinsler saw his BB% increase from 9.2 to 12.2. This season that actually got better even as his K% dropped from 12.4 to 9.8. The result is an eye popping growth in EYE the past 3 seasons (.77/.98/1.25) and some absurdly good swing data. His chase rate of 20% was second only to Bobby Abreu, and his swinging strike rate of 3.1% was only behind far less powerful hitters Juan Pierre, Jamey Carroll and Brett Gardner. Throw in a positive environment, both ballpark and lineup wise, and an expected uptick in batting average following a .182 singles average, and Ian Kinsler could post an MVP type season in 2012 if he is able to stay healthy.
Troy Tulowitzki SS (COL) - Why does Fantistics have Troy Tulowitzki posting a career year? For starters, the context is right. Tulowitzki is 27 YO in a good lineup in the best hitting environment of the league. However, that context only matters in this conversation because Tulowitzki is extremely skilled and trending upwards. Last season he posted the second best BB rate of his career (9.7%) while simultaneously posting the best contact rate of his career (87%). The contact rate is a result of Tulowitzki's downward trending swinging strike rates: 6.7/5.9/4.5 the past three seasons. Tulowitzki has also consistently posted top of the line power with 3 year ISO's of .256/.253/.242 and HR/FB%'s of 18.5/17.3/16.8. Oh, and I'll mention it again, he is entering his peak power years. Given the scarcity of quality SS's, Tulowtizki's elite talent and his favorable environment, Tulo is a candidate to be the top pick in almost any fantasy format.
Hanley Ramirez SS (FLA) - I was asked on Twitter if we should expect to see 2010 Hanley Ramirez or the 2011 version? Fantistics projects Hanley to return to his 2010 form and perhaps be even a little bit more valuable. Keep in mind Hanley is still only 28 and the lineup surrounding him is improving. Also, Hanley wasn't as bad as people seem to think last season. As per the Fantistics projection notes, he did post an XBH% of 11.2% but an unlucky singles average of .224 deflated his overall value. That is why we expect a full bounce back. IMPORTANT: Also, if you play in a league where Hanley is eligible at SS still (and he should be in the majority of leagues) make sure to change his position in the Fantistics software from 3B to SS as this will impact his VAM rating.
Jacob Turner SP (DET) - The Tigers received bad news on their top pitching prospect (our 11th ranked pitching prospect overall) Jacob Turner. He is going through a dead-arm period and will be shut down for a few days. Apparently, his velocity was down during an appearance on Monday in which he got rocked. Not only could this be fatal to Turner's chances of beginning the year in the Majors as a part of the Tiger's rotation, this is the type of stuff that screams injury. Look elsewhere for a prospect sleeper on draft day.