Will Aaron Sanchez lead the AL in ERA again?
Aaron Sanchez took a huge step forward last season as a starter. He posted a 3.00 ERA over 192 IP with a 1.17 WHIP and 54% GB. He saw a 100 IP increase last season, which is a lot for a young pitcher. It has not been proven that a certain number of innings increase has led to more injuries, but it is something to keep an eye on. Sanchez's peripheral stats suggest that he is going to regress this year in the ratio categories. He finished 2016 with a 4.01 SIERA and 3.75 xFIP. His strikeout rate is league average at 20.4% and there doesn't look to be a ton of growth considering he has an 8.4% SwStr, which is below average. Sanchez is a much better "real-life" pitcher than he is a fantasy asset. Sanchez has the skills to succeed in the AL East with his GB% and control (8% BB), but he will not likely repeat his excellent ratios from a year ago, which balanced out his below average strikeout numbers.
What to make of Francisco Liriano?
Francisco Liriano came over to Toronto late in the year in a trade with Pittsburgh. Liriano was dismal in his time in Pittsburgh last year. He had always been inconsistent, but last year he posted a 5.46 ERA with 13% BB with the Pirates. In the three previous years with the Pirates, he posted ERA's under 3.50 and walk rates hovering around 10%. You could live with the 10% walk rate with ERA's in the mid 3's with a 25% strikeout rate. The good news is that Liriano went on to work out of the bullpen and start eight games for the Blue Jays and he posted a 3.36 ERA with 26% K and 8% BB. Liriano's numbers do not look good this spring (6.08 ERA), but what you should be concerned with is he has a 13/3 K-BB ratio, which is a really good sign heading into the year. He is being drafted on average as pick #306 in 15 mixed NFBC drafts. At that point in the draft, if you need the strikeouts and have some cushion in the ratio categories, Liriano is worth the upside pick.
Will Melvin Upton Jr. get enough playing time to be fantasy relevant in 2017?
Melvin Upton Jr. was fantasy relevant in 2016 after posting his fourth 20 HR/20 SB season of his career. In fact, he hit .238 with 20 HR and 26 SB. This was likely the result of a waiver wire pick up or speculative pick at the end of the draft. Unfortunately, if the season were to start today, Upton would be in a reserve role for the Blue Jays, which significantly limits his playing time. He was definitely a volume compiler last season for the Padres/Jays. This year he is likely to see just 300-350 PA in his current role. This limits his upside in the counting categories and his ability to hit for power/steal bases, which is where the majority of his value is driven from. He is still projected for a 10 HR/15 SB season in limited time, but that also comes with low counting stats and a huge batting average risk. Upton is worth taking a flier on at the end of drafts for his speed alone in deep mixed leagues. Stash him and wait for a full-time role to open up.
Can Joey Votto hit .400 with a .500 OBP?
This may seem ludicrous and unimaginable in today's game, but if anyone were to flirt with a .400 batting average Joey Votto has to be in consideration. He was hitting .213 with 9 HR and a .330 OBP through May. Over the course of the next four months, he went on to hit .378 with 20 HR and a .482 OBP. Votto admitted he got out of rhythm/focus in the earlier part of the year and when he dialed his approach from June to September, he was the best hitter in the league. Will he come close to hitting .400 probably not, but we should not expect Votto to decline heading into his age 34 season. His skill set is one that will age well and he should be considered a second round pick in mixed leagues. Don't be afraid of his counting stats not being there as the Reds lineup has the potential to be better than expected.
What type of impact will prospect Jesse Winker have on the Reds OF this year?
Jesse Winker is one of the Reds top hitting prospects. He is entering his age 24 season and saw 448 PA at Triple-A last year. He hit .303 with 3 HR and 45 RBI, which is not all that impressive. Winker has shown above average power in the minors previously. He also flashed impressive plate skills at Triple-A, which is going to help him hit the ground running in the majors. He struck out just 13% of the time with a 13% walk rate. He has an excellent contact oriented swing from the left side of the plate. If he progresses like many expect in terms of power he could be a .280-.290 hitter with 15-20 HR in the majors. He is also going to benefit from playing half of his games in the hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark. Currently, the Reds plan on going with an outfield of Billy Hamilton, Adam Duvall, and Scott Schebler. Schebler could easily see his playing time slashed if Winker comes out hot in Triple-A to start the year. He is someone to keep in mind for waivers or potentially stash in very deep leagues.
Reds Rotation: Who's in and Who's Out?
The Reds rotation is currently very much up in the air in regards to who is in and who is out. The only locks as of today are Scott Feldman and Brandon Finnegan. Anthony DeSclafani would be the Reds "ace", but he is dealing with a sprained UCL and should be avoided for the foreseeable future. Scott Feldman should only be considered in NL Only formats as a late round pick and Brandon Finnegan was detailed in last weeks write-up. The final three spots are down to Amir Garrett, Cody Reed, Robert Stephenson, Tim Adelman, and Sal Romano.
From a fantasy perspective, Amir Garrett and Cody Reed are the two most intriguing options. Amir Garrett is the Reds top pitching prospect. He is entering his age 25 season and has just eleven starts above Double-A. Last year he posted a respectable 3.46 ERA, but the peripheral stats are not encouraging. He struck out just 20% of batters and walked 11%. This led to a 4.14 FIP, which is not what you want heading into a potential spot in the rotation. Cody Reed has major league experience but a lack of a third pitch has held him back. He has above average velocity for a left-hander and a wipeout slider, but no way to attack right-handed hitters. He started ten games for the Reds last year and showed good skills. He got 9.3% SwStr, which suggest he could get his K% above the 18.7% from a year ago and he also got 51% GB, which will help in Great American Ball Park. The bad is that he gave up a .329 AVG and .619 SLG to right-handed batters. This resulted in 40% Hard contact overall. If Reed can develop a changeup to combat righties he could take a major step forward.
Robert Stephenson looks to be headed to the bullpen and Tim Adelman could make the rotation but doesn't have a lot of fantasy appeal. The newcomer to this group is Sal Romano, who is impressing at camp despite not pitching above Double-A. He posted a 3.52 ERA with 22% K and 5% BB at Double-A last year. He is a righty that can run his fastball upwards of 98 mph with an above average slider. His changeup is below average, which could hamper him at the major league level. If he does break camp in the rotation he is definitely worth a speculative pick in deep leagues.
Around the League
Greg Bird hit two mores home runs today. This brings his spring total to six. He missed all of 2016 at the major league level due to a shoulder injury. In his initial call-up in 2015, Bird hit .261 with 11 HR in 46 games. Bird has a sweet left-handed swing that is built perfectly for Yankee Stadium. He is never going to hit for a high average due to a high strikeout rate, but the power is legit. He is also going to be more of an asset in OBP leagues as he has posted double-digit walk rates across his minor league career and in his short stint in the majors. Bird is going to lose playing time to Chris Carter, but not enough to shy away from Bird in 2017. A .260 average with 25+ HR is not out of the question for the 24-year-old lefty.
Vincent Velasquez was not sharp in his spring training outing on Wednesday. He gave up five runs over 5.2 IP. This included two home runs to Greg Bird. The good news is that Velasquez struck out seven. He posted a 4.12 ERA with 28% K over 131 IP last year. He is an injury risk, but the upside is apparent with his strikeout rate in the National League. His 11.2% SwStr backs up the 28% K and if he can approach 175 IP this year he should join the 200+ K club, which is extremely valuable in fantasy.
Marco Estrada-Blue Jays-SP
Marco Estrada probably does not get the fantasy love that he deserves. He has posted back to back seasons with ERA's under 3.50 in the AL East. Estrada gets by with an 88 mph FB, which is where people are skeptical. He throws his fastball up in the zone, which allows it to seem faster than it really is. This also allows his plus changeup to play extremely well down in the zone. He was able to register an 11% SwStr, which backs up the 23% K he posted a year ago. He is able to succeed on location and great sequencing. As long as you know that he is not going to come close to approaching 200 IP then you can live with him as a value pick late in drafts. He is going as the 64th pitcher off the board in 15 team mixed leagues.
Daniel Norris went five innings for the Tigers on Wednesday against the Blue Jays. Norris struck out five and walked two. Norris is in the post-hype sleeper category this year. He is not getting a lot of buzz as a sleeper despite posting a 3.38 ERA and 24% K in thirteen starts last year. Norris was once one of the premier pitching prospects in the game. He was able to get 10.5% SwStr, which suggests that could even be room for growth in his strikeout rate. He is likely to give back some ground in his ratios, but an uptick in strikeouts would make up for it. He is being drafted on average as pick #282 and as the 75th pitcher off the board, which gives him plenty of room to return value on that spot.
Max Scherzer was able to go 4.2 IP against the Cardinals on Wednesday. He allowed two runs while striking out four and walking one. Scherzer has been able to go back to his original fastball grip, which is highly encouraging. He is slated at this point to start the third game of the year, which means that he wouldn't miss any starts for the Nationals. If you can still get him at a relative bargain on draft day it would be now, because he will be going for full price very soon.
Matt Carpenter-Red Sox-2B, 3B
Matt Carpenter was 2-3 with a triple and four RBI against the Nationals. Carpenter is coming off a year in which he hit .271 with 21 HR and 68 RBI in 129 games. Carpenter has proven that his swing changes have resulted in legit power. Carpenter posted back to back seasons with .230+ ISO's. These have been backed up by 40%+FB and 37%+ Hard contact. Carpenter does get dinged up from time to time given his approach to the game, but when he is on the field his skills are elite.
Jurickson Profar is going to play a utility role for the Rangers in the sense that he is going to being moving from position to position. He should see everyday at-bats just at different positions. Profar hit .239 with 5 HR and 20 RBI. Profar at this point is valuable as a former prospect with upside and multi-position eligibility. The skills suggest that he could go .260-.270 with 10 HR/10 SB this year. He would need a complete overhaul of his batted ball profile to break out in the power department. He hits far too many GB (51%) and doesn't hit the ball hard enough (23%) to have legitimate power. Profar at this point is only valuable in deep leagues due to his multi-position eligibility because the skills are lacking.
There were reports that came out late Tuesday night and Wednesday during the day that Jay Bruce wants to hit more fly balls this year. Bruce has apparently embraced the analytical side of hitting and has found out that going the other way and hitting ground balls is bad for power. Bruce hit .250 with 33 HR and 99 RBI for the Reds/Mets last year. Bruce hit the ball the hardest of his career (38%) so he would benefit from more fly balls this year. He also lowered his strikeout rate to 21.4%, which is going to give more of an opportunity to drive the ball. The industry, in general, is down on Bruce, but he made nice strides last year overall and his mental approach coming into the season is heading in the right direction.
J.D. Martinez is going to see a foot specialist in Charlotte on Friday. Reports are that he is able to put weight on his injured foot. Anytime a player has to leave camp to seek a specialist is never a good sign. He is unlikely to be ready for the start of the year and this should drop him down draft boards. The Tigers do not have any internal options to replace Martinez that are worth targeting in fantasy leagues. The biggest beneficiary of Martinez missing time should be Jacoby Jones, who was fighting for the CF job. He should see playing time now and has the most upside in fantasy due to his power/speed combination.
Jeurys Familia returned to Mets camp and promptly blew his second spring save by giving up three runs over two-thirds of an inning. Familia is likely to be suspended for the first month of the season if not more. This means that Addison Reed is going to close games for the Mets in his absence. There is also an outside chance that Reed could run away with the job. Familia was good last year but he saw a spike in his walk rate (6%-10%), drop in his strikeout rate (28%-26%), and his SwStr (16%-15%). None were huge declines outside of the walk rate, but it is worth noting. Familia has 94 saves over the past two seasons so if you can get him at a discount on draft day then you are looking at 30+ saves out of Familia if he misses the first month.
All of the top prospects are included in the 2017 Fantistics Software. To see them in order, sort by the Notes Column for both Hitters and Pitchers.