Will Jose Bautista bounce back in 2017 or is it the end of the road?
Jose Bautista is coming off an injury-riddled 2016 season in which he hit .234 with 22 HR and 69 RBI. He is being drafted as the 25th OF off the board at pick 114. He is not going to be a batting average asset but his power skills have not declined to the point in which you think his career is hanging on by a thread. He posted a .217 ISO with 41% Hard contact last year. His batted ball profile was not out of line with his most recent seasons. There is reason to believe that Bautista will return to being a 35+ HR power threat this year. He is also more valuable in OBP leagues where he has posted an OBP north of .350 in seven straight seasons thanks to a double digit walk rate. Bautista always plays with a chip on his shoulder, so he will be motivated to prove to everyone that he still has something left in the tank.
How will the Blue Jays replace the production void left by the departure of Edwin Encarnacion?
Edwin Encarnacion left Toronto to sign a three-year, $60 million deal with the Cleveland Indians. This left a huge hole of production for the Blue Jays to replace (.263/42/127). The Blue Jays signed 1B/DH Kendrys Morales to replace a large chunk of Encarnacion's production. Morales is moving from a pitcher friendly park to one of the best parks for power hitters in the Rogers Centre. Morales hit .263 with 30 HR and 93 RBIs for the Royals a year ago. Morales posted a career high .204 ISO, which coupled with his contact skills (19.4% K) and hard hit rate (41%) makes a projection of around 30 HR more realistic. He should also see an increase in his counting stats as the Blue Jays lineup projects to be among the game's very best once again this year. He is going on average as pick #167, which is a bargain for his upside in Toronto.
The other player the Blue Jays brought in to help replace Encarnacion's production was Steve Pearce. He plays multiple positions but was brought in to primarily play first base. Pearce is going to be useful in leagues that have daily roster moves. Pearce is not going to be in the lineup everyday but in the right matchup he will provide value in a great lineup, in an excellent home park. Pearce has a .390 wOBA vs. LHP over the past three seasons with a .281 ISO over that same time period.
Will Devon Travis be ready for Opening Day 2017?
Devon Travis had surgery on his knee in November and has been slow to recover this spring. He has started participating in drills and receiving minor league at-bats. There is an outside chance that he is ready for Opening Day. Travis is likely to serve as the Blue Jays leadoff hitter. Travis hit .300 with 11 HR and 4 SB in 101 games a year ago. Travis has the ability to for average but he is going to be lackluster when it comes to counting stats and speed. He also has injuries to his shoulder and knee over the past two seasons missing significant time with both injuries. The good news is that the Blue Jays do not have a solid backup at second base, which gives Travis a long leash. They also do not have a leadoff hitter, so Travis should be secure there as well. He is going as the 16th 2B off the board at pick #205. There are plenty of second baseman that have better health histories and statistical profiles like Logan Forsythe (#225) and Starlin Castro (#238).
How can we squeeze value out of the dreaded closer by committee in CIN?
Reds manager Bryan Price has already stated that he is going to use a committee at closer, which is a nightmare for fantasy owners. Not only is it going to be a committee, but there could be upwards of four guys fighting for the role. They would include Michael Lorenzen, Tony Cingrani, Rasiel Iglesias, and Drew Storen. Some will look at this and immediately want to avoid this situation, but it could also represent an opportunity for value. Right off the bat I would disregard Tony Cingrani since he is left-handed and struggles with control at times. Michael Lorenzen had a really fine year last year, but he does not have the dominant stuff (23.4% K, 9.4% SwStr) to be a closer. That leaves Rasiel Iglesias and Drew Storen as the best options. Iglesias saved six games at the end of the year for the Reds and has the best stuff on staff. Iglesias finished the year with a 2.53 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 25.5% K. His SwStr of 11.9% suggests that he could see an uptick in strikeout percentage as well, which would be an asset as a closer. Drew Storen is the dark horse in this scenario as he is the newest member of the Reds bullpen, but he does has the most experience as a closer. Storen posted a 5.23 ERA (4.06 xFIP) last year and his underlying skills were not good. He struck out just 21.1% of batters and allowed 36% Hard contact, which would not play well in Great American Ballpark. Targeting Rasiel Iglesias looks like the best bet to lead the Reds in saves and if he could lock down the job for the whole year out of spring he could return significant value at pick #174 (NFBC).
Is Jose Peraza being over drafted?
With the trade of Brandon Phillips to Atlanta, Jose Peraza is now the starting second baseman in Cincinnati. Peraza hit .321 with 3 HR and 21 SB in 72 games for the Reds a year ago. He has elite level speed and the contact skills to maintain an OBP over .310. Peraza has never struck out more than 14% at any level. He does not walk much so it is extremely important that he makes a ton of contact to drive his OBP, which in turn is going to allow him to steal 30+ bases. Projecting Peraza for a .285 AVG with 5 HR and 30+ SB is going to make him a value at his current ADP of pick 111 (NFBC ADP). Add in the fact that he is going to hit second in front of Joey Votto and we could see a spike in his runs total which would only add to his overall value. An interesting note to make is that he has a high pick of #61 overall. He will not go that high in most leagues, but it is something to pay attention to if he is one of your targets heading into draft day.
Which Reds pitcher has a chance to breakout and bring back value on their current ADP's?
The Reds rotation does not look great on paper, but it does have the potential for value when it comes to fantasy. Currently only two Reds starters are being drafted outside of the reserve rounds of 15-team leagues (DeSclafani/Finnegan). Anthony DeSclafani is being drafted on average at pick #240 as the 65th pitcher off the board. DeSclafani is going to fall in drafts due to a sprained UCL, which is going to keep him out for four weeks if not longer. Anything related to the an elbow injury is a major pause for concern. If we simply dive into his numbers from last year, DeSclafani finished the year with a 3.28 ERA with 105 Ks over 123.1 IP. This was a high end outcome for DeSclafani based upon his underlying skills. His xFIP was 3.99, which suggests that he was due regression this year. He has a league average strikeout rate (20.7%) and his SwStr does not suggest growth (9.5%). He also is not an extreme groundball pitcher (42% GB), which would help him get by with a league average strikeout rate. I would be very cautious of DeSclafani heading into drafts and would only take a look if he fell into the reserve rounds.
The Reds pitcher that could bring the most value back at his current price is SP Brandon Finnegan. He is going as the 94th pitcher off the board at pick #333 overall. Finnegan finished last year with a 3.98 ERA with 145 Ks over 172 IP, which paints a rosy picture of Finnegan in his first full season as a starter at the major league level. The bad was his 4.87 xFIP, 19.8% K, 11.4% BB, and 36% Hard contact. However, with young pitchers this does not paint the whole picture. Late last season Finnegan developed a changeup, which is a perfect compliment to his above average FB and SL. The changeup has really good movement, which resulted in 57% GB and a 16.5% SwStr. After increasing his CH usage in August and September, Finnegan posted a 2.47 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, and 26% K. It is an extremely small sample size, but that is the necessary adjustments that you want to see from a 23 yr. old starter in his first big league season. He is never going to have a rosy ERA due to his control issues (11% BB) but he has intriguing strikeout upside and comes extremely cheap.
The Rays locked up Kevin Kiermaier with a six-year, $50+ million deal. Kiermaier is arguably the best defensive CF in the game. He has not had a breakout season at the plate, but he offers a little bit of everything. He hit .246 with 12 HR and 21 SB over 105 games last year. Kiermaier hits the ball hard (31%) and on the ground (42%) which coupled with his speed should lead to a batting average better than the .246 he posted last year. He also strikes out less than the league average which points to an uptick in average as well. He projects for a 15 HR/25 SB season provided he stays healthy.
Manager Craig Counsell said that there is a possibility that Villar could get time at shortstop this year as the backup there to Oswaldo Arcia. Villar is going to start the year playing primarily second base but regaining shortstop eligibility for next year would be huge. Villar hit .285 with 19 HR and 62 SB. Villar's speed is legit and the Brewers were the most aggressive team on the basepaths, which makes Villar a candidate to steal 45+ bases again. The 19 HR are going to regress this year as Villar is not likely to repeat a 20% HR/FB while hitting 55% GB. Either way he is still one of the most versatile and productive fantasy options this year.
Michael Brantley went 1-3 with a double and three RBI while playing on the minor league side on Thursday. Brantley is making his way back from shoulder surgery that limited him to 11 games last year. Brantley prior to injury was a .300 hitter with 15 HR/20 SB upside. Shoulder injuries are especially troublesome for hitters and this makes Brantley a huge risk coming into the year. He is going as the 53rd OF at pick 226 in NFBC drafts. Drafting Brantley in the 15th round would return tremendous value if he were to regain his 13'-15' form but that is far from a guarantee. Keep an eye on reports out of Cleveland regarding his health.
Jordan Zimmerman did not make it out of the first inning in his Thursday start against the Braves. Zimmerman gave up four runs over two-thirds of an inning on forty pitches. Zimmerman has given up ten runs and thirteen hits over six innings pitched this spring. This is not a good sign coming off a year in which he had a 4.87 ERA with just 14.7% K. His SwStr fell to 7.7%, which is not a good sign. Some will point to his injury as an excuse but his skills have been declining for three straight years. His strikeout rate has fallen. His walks have increased and his SIERA has jumped from 3.15 in 2014 to 4.84 last year. The American League is not a good match for someone who pitches to contact, so stay away from Zimmerman.
Matt Harvey went 3.1 IP against the Marlins on Thursday. He gave up four runs (two earned) on 5 H, 1 BB, and 3 K. Harvey's velocity was down once again from where it used to be. It has been eight months since Harvey had TOS surgery so he could regain velocity as the season begins. This is obviously very risky and very few pitchers have fully recovered from this type of surgery which makes Harvey a huge gamble on draft day.
Sam Travis-Red Sox-1B
Sam Travis hit his third home run of the spring. Travis missed most of last season after having ACL surgery. Travis is 23 years old with a track record of being an above average hitter at the minor league level. Last year in 47 games at AAA he hit .267 with 6 HR and 29 RBI. Travis will most likely not make the major league roster, but the Red Sox have a hole at first base which Travis could fill if he hits well in AAA. He is someone to keep your eye as the season goes along.
Brian McCann was 3-3 with a home run in the Astros 8-2 victory over the Nationals. McCann is hitting .273 with 2 HR this spring. McCann is going to be part of a very good Astros lineup. He will not hit for average due to his slow speed and the large number of shifts that he sees, but his power should remain in tack in Houston. He has hit 20+ homers in nine straight seasons and he is slated to hit fifth which is going to help raise his counting stats from a year ago.
Ken Giles was able to work a scoreless inning against the Nationals. He is coming off a season in which he finished the year as the Astros closer. Giles posted a 4.11 ERA with a 35.7% K and 19.9% SwStr. The strikeout stuff is undeniable, but his walk rate is concerning for a closer on a team that has already shown that they are not afraid to ride the hot hand at closer. Keep a close eye on his walk rate throughout the spring and the beginning of the year.
Michael Pineda struck out eight over five hitless innings against the Phillies. Pineda is coming off a year in which he recorded 207 Ks over 175 IP. This came with a 4.82 ERA. Pineda has an excellent strikeout rate (27.4%) and walk rate (7%). He also gets 46% ground balls but what Pineda struggles with is hard contact (33%) and home runs (1.38 HR/9). His advanced metrics like him to outperform his traditional ERA (3.30 xFIP), but it is hard to ignore his home run rate when playing in Yankee Stadium. Pineda throws too many pitches around the strike zone that it hurts him in the form of hard contact/homeruns. Pineda has the potential to have a true breakout season, but he needs to refine his command and solve his home run problem.
Jameson Taillon went four innings against the Orioles and gave up one earned run. Taillon had an excellent first year in the big leagues after missing two consecutive years to injuries. Taillon finished last year with a 3.38 ERA (3.43 xFIP), 1.12 WHIP, and 52% GB. Taillon's strikeout rate was league average at 20%, but he showed excellent control (4%) to go along with his groundball tilt. Taillon will pitch half of his games in a pitcher friendly park behind a good Pirates defense. Taillon has been working on a new change-up grip, which could result in an above average offering to go along with his FB and CV. Taillon is going as the 37th pitcher off the board, which is just about right and leaves room for growth for the 25 year old starter.