NEW YORK YANKEES:
Dididon't - Gregorius has a right shoulder injury that has caused him to leave the WBC, leaving his status for Opening Day up in the air. Even without the injury, Gregorius was unlikely to surpass his 2016 performance, putting up the lowest avg HR distance among hitters with 18 HR or more by over 10 feet. His chase rate jumped back over 40%, and his hard contact rate remained under 25%. For me, he's a fringe MI in deeper leagues and a reserve at best in standard formats....I would be very happy to let someone else take the risk that he replicates his 2016 line.
Have you seen my baseball? - Adam Warren still has a shot at breaking camp in the rotation....there's just something about his relationship with the Yankee coaching staff that brings the most out of his ability. He pitched almost an identical number of innings with the Cubs and Yanks last season, and despite the sizable difference in ballpark conditions (Yankee is much tougher to pitch in) his ERA was 2.2 runs lower with NY. During his NY tenure, he's routinely put up SIERAs in the 3.00's, and the Yankee offense has upside as they continue to incorporate the youngsters. if he breaks camp in the rotation, Warren could prove to have SP5 value in leagues of greater than average depth.
The S.S. Underrated? - Is it possible that the #12 SP off the board is actually undervalued? Steven Strasburg continued to underperform his peripherals for the 3rd straight season in 2016, posting an ERA of 3.60 despite an FIP ERA of 2.92 and a SIERA of 3.18. That was his worst SIERA in his 5 big league seasons; meanwhile, he's managed an ERA under 3.14 just once. Yes, the injuries are a big red flag, but you find me an SP that you think is safe, and it'll be a completely random event if he goes 2-3 seasons without some sort of arm scare. Strasburg is going in round 5 right now, and I would have no problem tabbing him a round earlier than that, risk factors be damned. I believe both he and Johnny Cueto to be undervalued relative to the SP tier that they're in (SPs 8-18, we'll say).
Trea bien - There's definitely a bit of a dichotomy between what I hear from much of the industry regarding Turner, and where I see him being drafted. A player with 100 MLB games under his belt being drafted, on average, with the first pick of the 2nd round is virtually unheard of.....but then again, so is hitting .342 with 13 homers and 33 steals in less than a half season. Turner's 73 games have been termed fluky by many, particularly the power numbers. He hadn't topped 5 homers in either of his previous two seasons in the minors, but the batted ball data supports last year's power surge to a large extent. He posted a hard contact rate of just under 35%, an avg HR distance of 406.7 ft, and batted ball speed on the homers of just over 105 mph. Those are well above average numbers, pointing to a 25-30 HR level. His splits from home to first and minor league SB success rate make the steals an easy call, and the 25% LD rate and the aforementioned speed lend credence to the AVG. I'm more confident in Turner's ability to, if not quite repeat last year's "cameo", to provide enough value to rank among the top 3 2B this season. Is that enough to justify pick 12-15? That's a tougher call. My inclination is to say that it might be a couple picks to early given the distinct possibility of a sophomore slump, otherwise known as the first time that MLB pitchers adjust to you and you have to figure out how to adjust back to them. Still, the combination of value that he's still likely to provide can only be offered by one, possibly two other players at the position, and there's a fairly sizable drop-off after the first handful of 2B. Context, as always, is the determining factor for all of you individually. A first round pick is a bit more risk than I'd want to take on for Turner, but anything after that and I'd likely accept it. We're talking best-case scenario here obviously, but this is a player that is legitimately capable of something like .320/100/25/85/50. How many other players can say that, 2 or 3?
LOS ANGELES ANGELS:
The other Marte - Writing about a guy like Marte feels like an exercise in futility, because the Angels are not one of those teams "committed to the progress of youth", but you have to at least pay attention to a kid that hit 19 HR in 374 PAs between 2015-16 in the majors. ISOs over .200, a hard contact rate over 36%, very reasonable K rates for that level of power, and a 407.5 ft avg HR distance. These are very promising numbers for a player that is still just 25. The problem is that there is no spot for him.....hell, there might not be much of a spot for C.J. Cron either. Call me crazy, but it wouldn't surprise me at all if Marte could give you 90% or more of what Pujols provides....let's remember that Pujols has managed one year with an ISO over .200 in the last 4. Keep a close eye on the playing time situation in Anaheim. Any injury or change in philosophy there, and Marte will suddenly have some very real value. There's easily 30-HR potential here, and when it comes with a K rate around 20% instead of the typical 30% for a player of that profile, the AVG may not be really harmful either.
CM - I'm definitely not a Maybin fan, but it is impressive just how much he has improved his contact rate over the past handful of years, going from 72.5% in his first exposure to steady playing time 7 years ago to 81.5% last year, transforming a clear weakness into a minor strength. The speed is still there to a large extent as well, as he swiped 15 bases in just 94 games last season. My issue with him is that he has almost completely sold out for slap hitting in an effort to make more contact. He hits the ball on the ground over 55% of the time, and his hard contact rate is below 25%. That gives him a very low ceiling now that he is no longer a threat to steal 40-50 bases, although the floor is respectable. In his ADP range, I much prefer guys like Soler, Peralta, Naquin....even Haniger, due to the upside potential. Still, there is something to be said for a higher-floor option for your OF5 in deeper leagues, and Maybin can fit that bill (much like Alex Gordon, who is similarly valued currently).
AROUND THE LEAGUE:
Jerad Eickhoff (SP) PHI - I think it is eminently possible that we've seen Jerad Eickhoff's ceiling during last season's second half, but even if that's true, you still might be looking at a #3 or #4 SP. Eickhoff (basically) scrapped his slider in favor of his curve in mid-August last season and proceeded to rattle off 8 consecutive starts allowing 3 ER or fewer to close out the year. His second half performance included a 3.46 ERA, a 1.02 WHIP, and a .271 OBP allowed. The long ball remains an issue, and the generally average nature of his raw stuff does limit the ceiling to that of a mid-rotation starter, but his floor appears to be fairly high, making him a solid choice for those with some higher-risk options elsewhere in the rotation. I'd have no problem selecting him anywhere after the first 50 SP are gone.
David Peralta (OF) ARI - Peralta is a bit of a forgotten soul this spring, coming off of a 2016 in which he only managed 183 PAs due to multiple wrist injuries. When healthy, Peralta has shown a bit of everything as far as his fantasy contributions, and at just 29 years old and as a converted pitcher, there's a reasonable case to be made that he hasn't quite finished maturing as a player. His underlying stats last year weren't entirely dissimilar from his excellent 2015 (312/371/522), yet he's currently the 83rd OF being drafted on average. I love his upside as a late-round choice, particularly in traditional roto-style formats, as he does offer a well-rounded set of contributions.
Kolten Wong (2B) STL - It can be easy to gloss over players that we've "made up our minds on". After a promising 262/321/386 2015 in which he hit 11 HRs and stole 15 bases at age 24, Wong struggled mightily in 2016, slashing just 240/327/355 while moving between AAA and the majors and 2B and the OF. Masked a bit by that disappointing line were career bests in BB rate, K rate, chase rate, and contact rate. Wong has had perpetually poor BABIPs relative to his LD rate, so maybe you can't count on more AVG, but it sure seems like a player that routinely posts LD rates above 20% (and doesn't K much) should at least hit above .250. He's still on the right side of the age curve, albeit barely, and you've got to think that on the right side of the platoon he'll be good for 10/15 again at the very least. There are a lot of very similar players vying for your attention at the bottom of the MI pool in deeper leagues, and in my mind Wong has a bit more upside potential than most of that group.
Patrick Corbin (SP) ARI - Corbin appears to have the inside track on the 5th starter's spot in Arizona right now, walking 3 and striking out 17 through 18 1/3 innings this spring. He clearly didn't look right in 2016 in his first full season back from TJ surgery, with both control and hard contact rates jumping out as significantly problematic. Masked by the poor raw numbers was an improvement to an FIP ERA of near 4.00 in the second half, and a K/9 over 10. The stuff is still there, and lest we forget, Corbin was clearly a valuable SP in 2013 with 14 wins and a 3.41 ERA that was completely backed up by the underlying stats. He's certainly a guy that I would consider for rotational depth in all formats, as a return to a mid-3.00's ERA in that difficult pitching environment would likely equate to mid-teens in wins once again.
Dee Gordon (2B) MIA - Today's theme seems to be players might be overlooked due to major absences in 2016. Player comments, like spring training stats, should probably be taken a a grain of salt, but Gordon has said that he's purposely trying to ease his way into 2017 due to the WBC-induced lengthy spring training. He expects to be running quite a bit more over the next few weeks than he has thus far. I'd wager that nearly everyone realizes that 2015 was a fluke that is unlikely to ever be repeated, but Gordon is still plenty fast enough to parley a solid contact rate into a .280-.290 AVG and 55-65 SBs. That's the optimistic end of the projections of course, but as the #8 2B via ADP right now, he's likely to give you top-5 numbers for the position in AVG, R, and SB, so there's some value here given that draft position.
Yasmani Grandal (C) LAD - Grandal had an excellent 2016 despite a very slow start, finishing with 27 homers on the strength of a 245/356/521 second half of the season. The batted ball data fully supports the power surge, as Grandal finished 9th among qualifiers in avg HR distance and tied for 19th in hard contact rate. I believe that he's a clear top-8 catcher with an outside chance to be top-5, yet his current ADP places him 9th. In his tier (Realmuto, Gattis, S. Perez), he is the one I would target.
Cody Asche (OF) CWS - There usually isn't a lot of call for discussing non-roster invitees, but with the White Sox fielding something akin to a AAA roster after their top 5 players or so, Cody Asche has an opportunity to deliver on some seemingly long-lost promise. When Asche was 21, he split a season between hi-A and AA in the Phillies organization. He hit 324/369/481 with 12 HR and 11 SB in 130 G. It was an open question as to whether he or Maikel Franco was the better prospect for quite some time. Fast forward 4 years, and we find Asche hitting 213/284/350 in 197 AB for the Phillies, although he did hit 279/350/514 in 111 AAA ABs. His LD rate has always been above 21% in the majors, and last year he posted the best hard contact rate (33.3%) of his career in addition to making sizable gains in chase rate and swinging strike%. The BABIP was a measly .271 despite the batted ball data though, continuing a trend of very poor BABIPs relative to his LD rates. I stubbornly believe that Asche could put up league average production in the right situation, and with 4 doubles and 3 homers this spring in just 26 ABs, he might be forcing his way into some playing time with the Pale Hose. For the time being he's merely a watch list guy, or perhaps a reserve in deeper formats, but as Bill James has said, once you exhibit a skill you own it. Asche was a 20/10 guy between AAA and the bigs at age 23. Is it that much of a stretch to believe that he could be one in the majors at 26?
Danny Salazar (SP) CLE - Which Salazar will we see in 2017, the budding ace or the maddening #4? The key will be the control, as Salazar has everything else that is required to be a bonafide #1: a clear putaway pitch (his change) that generates massive K rates, a steadily improving ability to keep the ball on the ground (GB% last 3 years: 34, 44, 48), and a solid offense (and defense, particularly at 2B, SS, and 3B) to provide support. Right now, Salazar is being drafted in between Aaron Sanchez, Rich Hill, and King Felix. I have to think that Salazar has the highest upside of the quartet, and he might even have the best downside as well. I love his upside in that range of arms, and I'd definitely make him my SP target in that round 9-10 area.
Yonder Alonso (1B) OAK - Yonder Alonso is a 1B that turns 30 during the first week of the season, yet has never hit 10 homers in a big league campaign. So, why are we discussing him? Typically I'm skeptical when discussing "adjustments" that players make during spring training, especially players that have a lengthy track record. There are a couple of points with Alonso's situation that have piqued my interest, though. Number one is when a player talks about (or even alludes to) using their own batted ball stats to change tactics. Alonso has stated that he feels that he needs to hit the ball in the air more to be successful, and I, of course, concur. More importantly, a slightly tweaked swing has been on display in Arizona this spring, one that clearly has the goal of hitting the ball in the air. He's hitting 333/486/593 (SSS caveat applies), and with 8 BB and 3 K he hasn't sacrificed any of his excellent plate discipline. A couple more items that are intriguing me a bit about Alonso, as I dug a bit deeper: Alonso's contact rate is fantastic. His K rate of 13.9% last year was his highest in the past 4 seasons. He also routinely posts BB rates in the 8-1% neighborhood. Combined with LD rates of 20% and above, he's in Joe Mauer territory.....without quite the performance thus far. The second item is the really interesting part. I'm guessing anybody that hasn't looked at the numbers would be surprised to find that Alonso's BBS on HRs was 0.2 mph slower than Khris Davis's (42 HR), and 1.4 mph faster than Marcus Semien's (27 HR). If we're adding loft and keeping the bat speed, well.....seeing a sudden spike in HRs would be the logical expectation. This is all far more theoretical than actual at this point, but my point is that Alonso is likely worth a speculative pick in deeper leagues this spring, and he merits watching across the board to see if his change in tactics can lead to the improved performance that I surmise it might.
Dansby Swanson (SS) ATL - Swanson had an excellent debut in 2016, hitting 302/361/442 in 38 big league games after just 127 games in the minors. He was solid across the board, posting a swinging strike% under 10 (very impressive for a guy with less than 1 minor league season of experience) and a hard contact rate of 34.7%. I think he's likely to be more of a steady player than a star in any category, as the AVG was a touch fluky with a .383 BABIP (although the LD rate was 22.7%), but at just 23 there could be more growth in the power category especially. He's currently the 17th SS by ADP, and he's the first name that I would target outside of the top-10.