Los Angeles Angels:
Garrett Richards and his Trick Elbow - Richards was much better in his second preseason outing, going 2 1/3 scoreless innings and fanning 4 batters against the Dodgers. Even with the success of Masahiro Tanaka in rehabbing a partially torn UCL, the risk in that approach causes many to shy away, and Richards seems to believe that he will be on a 100-pitch limit this year. That being said, he's the 64th ranked SP by ADP right now, and if that ligament holds together I'd be very surprised if he doesn't outperform that position by 20-25 spots. Particularly in more shallow leagues where there are a passel of options on the waiver wire to replace injured players, I feel that Richards is a worthwhile gamble. SPs with swinging strike rates in the 11% range are hard to find.
C.J. Cron and the 1B battle - I understand the luke-warm attitude to Cron this spring due to the Valbuena signing, but there are other avenues to playing time for Valbuena with Danny Espinosa and Yunel Escobar currently holding starting spots in the Angel IF. Valbuena probably couldn't play much 2B anymore, but he played mostly 3B last year....not extremely well, but still. Cron has been killing it this spring, with 2 doubles, 3 homers, and 2 steals in just 31 ABs. His avg HR distance would have been good for 11th in MLB last year with a qualifying number of homers, giving him some definite upside there, and at age 27 he's just reaching the top of the age curve. The playing time risk is there, as the Angels don't always do things in a way that would maximize their offense, but I think Cron is going to be worth the gamble in deeper leagues this year.
Mighty Joe Ross and his K's - Ross was very solid in a spring training start Sunday, holding the Astros to 2 hits and a walk over 4 innings, striking out 4. The value of Ross is primarily in the swinging strike rate, which rang in at 11% in 2016 despite a shoulder issue that cost him most of the 2nd half. He is a very solid arm that has mid-rotation upside, yet his ADP is #67 for SP currently. Other than injury, I believe his floor is higher than many in his draft range due to the control and dominance of RHB (218/269/343 in 2016), making him a very safe option for the back end of your rotation in all formats.
Bryce Harper, still early 1st round material? - Yes, Harper had a disappointing 2016 by his standards. Let's keep in mind a few things: he's younger than both Kris Bryant and Mookie Betts (currently being drafted ahead of him), he vastly improved his swinging strike% last year, courtesy of a better chase rate and contact rate both in and out of the strike zone, and his avg HR distance remained very solid last year at just under 410 feet. I'd have no problem drafting him as early as #3, and I like him to bounce back in a big way in 2017.
New York Yankees:
Judge not too early - You end up with a "post-hype" phase from lots of players.....not too many guys show up immediately as stars, or even solid players, at the big league level. One of the reasons the Yanks signed Matt Holliday was to act as a sort of mentor/tutor to Aaron Judge. The two have similar body types and swings, although Judge is about 3 inches taller. Judge's contact issues are well-known, and I'm not sure there's any significance to this spring's improvement through 33 PAs. I do think it's significant that he had a higher average exit velocity than any regular in MLB last year by between 3-4%, and I do believe it's significant that he's still just 24 years old. The power potential here is enormous....the only player I've seen consistently post the velocity numbers we are talking about here is Giancarlo Stanton, and Judge's hard contact rate was up around 50% in 2016. Any improvement in contact rate will be concurrent with immense value gains, so for me, Judge is definitely a gamble worth taking in the later rounds.
Have you heard? - It's only fair to share that being stuck in your head for hours.....Greg Bird is hitting .400 with a .520 ISO this spring, and even as meaningless as we know spring stats to be, one can't help but be enthused that he seems healthy....especially since he didn't in the AFL last fall. Bird is still just 24, and with a LH, flyball, pull hitter profile, is perfect for his home park. He also makes contact at a much better rate than many young power hitters (75.5% in 2015). Depending on the playing-time split with Chris Carter, Bird could hit 20-25 HRs with a reasonable average, which likely gives him a bit of upside from his current ADP as the #30 1B. He might be a bit of a stretch in standard formats, profiling more as a very good bench bat at his 50th percentile projection, but in any format much deeper than that he'd make a fine CI.
Around the League:
Jharel Cotton (SP) OAK - No park in the majors had a lower HR rate than Oakland last season, and Jharel Cotton posted a FB rate of nearly 50% in his 5 September starts, something that wasn't very far out of line with his minor league numbers. You see where I'm going with this. Cotton boasts a re-diddly-damn-diculous 15 mph split between his FB and changeup to go along with solid cutter, a mix that's allowed him to rack up terrific K numbers in the minors. Even in his debut last year he posted a chase rate of 38% and a swinging strike percentage of 12.5, although his K/9 was only 7.06. At worst, I think Cotton will be a tremendous streaming SP for his home match-ups....he allowed 3 runs on 7 hits in 20 1/3 IP at home last year. At best, I think Cotton is a mid-rotation arm that might mandate benching in the most HR-friendly stadiums. Either way, you've got a guy that should outpace his current #74 SP draft position.
Mitch Haniger (OF) SEA - I'll add my voice to the chorus in favor of Mitch Haniger as a late-round option this year. The 26 year old hit 30 homers last year across 3 levels, and his contact ability in 34 games at the big league level was better than you'd expect for that level of power in a player's first exposure to MLB. Add in his stated desire to steal more bases this year (he's typically been between 8-12 in the minors), and you've got a potential 5-category contributor with an ADP as the #102 OF right now. Certainly a worthwhile late-round gamble in any format.
Taijuan Walker (SP) ARI - I think there's a tendency to ignore a guy like Walker in 2017, between the move to Arizona and the subpar 2016. There are three points to consider that might lead to a different mindset here. 1) The NL is always an easier league to pitch in than the AL with the pitchers hitting; 2) Walker's pedigree is outstanding, and he still has 4 potentially plus pitches; and 3) Walker had 10 bone spurs removed from his right (plant) foot in October, something that I believe must have contributed to his erratic performances last season. I would have no problem selecting Walker as a high-upside late-round choice to finish up my pitching staff this year....the chase rate and swinging strike% are very solid. And if you care about these sorts of things.....Walker has tossed 9 shutout innings to start the spring, allowing 3 hits and a walk while fanning 13.
Ian Desmond (1B/OF) COL - Just a few weeks after I questioned why Ian Desmond was being drafted outside of the top-50, the new Rockie 1B had his hand broken by a Rookie Davis fastball. He will heading to see a specialist Monday, but I would guess that he's out until May at the earliest, which means a big boost to the value of Mark Reynolds and a modest bump to that of Jordan Patterson. Reynolds hit very well last year for the Rockies, but the youth and left-handedness of Patterson make him an intriguing deep-league sleeper due to the persistent contact issues of Reynolds. Reynolds can be safely added as a late-round selection in most formats....as we all know, any bat starting in Colorado is likely to have value. Patterson should be a watch-list sort at present. Hand injuries are tricky, so you've got to downgrade Desmond quite a bit....I wouldn't expect to see normal levels of power from him until around the break in all likelihood.
Jason Kipnis (2B) CLE - Kipnis is going to be shut down for two weeks with a right rotator cuff strain, similar to the issue that he had in 2015. It isn't expected to be a long-term malady right now, but Opening Day is likely out of the question. Missing 2-3 weeks is the most likely scenario, and the short-term beneficiaries there are probably either Erik Gonzalez or Giovanny Urshela, neither of whom are likely to provide you with any sort of value barring a longer-term absence for Kipnis. I'd be a bit concerned about a decline in power for Kipnis, who is coming off career bests in HRs, FB rate, and hard contact rate. All of the batted ball data supports that increase, but an injury to the lead shoulder could reduce the bat speed a bit...I'd downgrade him slightly based on this news.
A.J. Reed (1B) HOU - Spring training numbers, blah, blah, worthless, etc. In Reed's case, it's good to see him back hitting the ball well after some excellent minor league numbers were followed by a fairly awful MLB debut in 2016. With roughly 1 full season above A-ball, Reed could probably stand some more minor league time, making him more of a dynasty league selection this spring, but the 360/448/880 performance thus far could push him on to the roster, and I wouldn't say that the 1B job in Houston is locked up by Yulieski Gurriel just yet. Reed merits watching in all formats over the next few weeks, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him offer some value later in 2017 even if he doesn't make the roster out of camp.
Jarrett Parker (OF) SF - Parker is having a hot spring, perhaps creating a bit of a gap between himself and Mac Williamson in the LF competition in SF. Parker has hit 50 homers in roughly 1 2/3 seasons worth of games over the last two years between AAA and the majors, and before you say "come on Schuyler, everyone knows about the PCL", Sacramento is most definitely a "pitchers park". Parker would be on the god side of any platoon, he posts an excellent walk rate, has enough speed to steal a few bases, and possesses average-plus power. He does strike out, but when you're looking for a OF sleeper they're all going to have some warts. With the ability to produce in all categories and the opportunity for consistent playing time, Parker fits the bill for a "sleeper" in my book.
Robert Gsellman (SP) NYM - Gsellman is currently being drafted between Zach Davies and Jason Hammel as the #89 SP off the board. I know the small sample size deal as well as anybody, but what the sample size doesn't account for is the extra 2-3 mph that Gsellman had on his fastball (sinker) last season. I'm in the camp of that fact being the predominant reason for the improved K rate, and thus am happy to consider a better projection for him than most heading into 2017. Even if he somehow doesn't make the rotation coming out of camp, which I think is unlikely, the odds of the other 5 youngsters staying healthy all season are pretty close to zero, so he'll get his opportunities. You'll have to watch the rotation announcement later this spring, as Zach Wheeler has started pitching, but I think Gsellman could be a steal right now, offering #4 starter production at swingman prices.
Chris Owings (SS/OF) ARI - Owings set a number of career bests last season, including chase rate, hard contact rate, and SBs. In four seasons he has posted LD rates between 23.1 and 26.4 percent, so AVG is likely to be at least decent, and the speed is clearly there. He hit double-digit HRs in all three of his full minor league seasons, so the potential for significant growth on his 5 HRs last year is there as well, and the steals speak for themselves. He seems like he's been around forever, but he's still just 25, an age where gains in power are fairly common. All in all, I think he has as much upside as any SS being drafted outside the top 20, and he's currently #31. A 275/10/20 season is certainly plausible, which would be fantastic from a MI in deeper leagues....he's a solid late-game addition in those formats.
Charlie Tilson (OF) CWS - Whomever gets the nod out of spring training for the White Sox in CF is likely to be a cheap source of steals. Charlie Tilson is, in my opinion, the best overall player of the bunch, as he is at least somewhat capable of getting on base as well as running once he's there. Unfortunately for Tilson, he's been dealing with a stress reaction in his foot for about three weeks now, and he's going to get it looked at again on Monday as the pain is still there. Once he's healthy he should be worth a look in many formats. In his absence, Jacob May, Leury Garcia, and Peter Bourjos are batting for the job. All three are playing well this spring, but all three have shown very little to make you optimistic that they can produce at the big league level...they are emergency-use only.
Tyler Naquin (OF) CLE - A lot of folks are down on Naquin this spring, so much that he's slid to the #95 OF in ADP right now. I understand the K rate and BABIP point to regression, but regression from 296/372/514 can still be a very solid ballplayer. The hard contact rate (38.5%), the avg HR distance (403.7 ft), avg is just under 400), the BB rate (9.9%), and the age (still 25) offer hope that he can remain an above average OF, producing in all 5 categories. I'm much more optimistic than most projections that I see here.