What can we expect from Josh Donaldson this year?
Josh Donaldson was limited to 113 games last year due to a nagging calf injury that sidelined him for a month during Spring Training and then most of April and May. His final line was a .270 AVG with 33 HR, 65 R, 78 RBI, and 2 SB. This was mainly due to a second half surge that saw Donaldson hit .276 with 24 HR and 53 RBI over 67 games. His skills remain elite despite the missed time due to injury and he is currently undervalued with an average draft position of #29 Overall (NFBC). He has elite power skills (.289 ISO) paired with good contact (22% K) and excellent plate discipline (15% BB). Donaldson is a great bet to return to form in 2018.
Crowded Blue Jays OF...
The Blue Jays outfield situation is one to monitor throughout camp. They return Kevin Pillar, Steve Pearce, and Ezequiel Carrera from their 2017 roster. They traded for toolsy OF Teoscar Hernandez from Houston, signed an aging Curtis Granderson, and then traded for right-handed power threat Randal Grichuk. If the season started today the Jays starting outfield would most likely be Grichuk, Pillar, and Granderson. Pillar has the potential to go 15 HR/15 SB with a low average/on base skills. Despite playing all-out defense he has been healthy and has played 145+ games each of the past three years. Curtis Granderson should only play against right-handed pitching and his skill set caters to OBP leagues. He is a career .263 AVG with an .854 OPS against RHP compared to .223 AVG with a .696 OPS against LHP. Randal Grichuk suddenly becomes very interesting for fantasy purposes because he should get a chance to play everyday. His power is real (.239 ISO, 43% FB, 40% Hard) but contact has been the issue over his career with a 30% strikeout rate. Grichuk is going to be a drain in the AVG and OBP categories but he has the potential to hit 35+ HR and chip in with some SB (5-10). Don't overestimate the park shift but the increased playing time should give Grichuk a chance to top 30+ HR's for the first time. However, he doesn't come without warts (30% K, low AVG/OBP). Teoscar Hernandez is the most intriguing from a fantasy perspective given that he has the potential to go 25 HR/15 SB but he is likely to start the year in Triple-A. If he were to earn an everyday job he would become very intriguing for mixed leagues.
Can Justin Smoak repeat his breakout 2017 season?
Justin Smoak finally made good on his potential by posting a breakout 2017 season that saw him hit .270 with 38 HR, 85 R, 90 RBI over 158 games. The skills are legit given that he makes good contact (20% K, 39% Hard) and has above average plate skills (12% BB). Smoak will see natural regression coming off a career year but a return of .260 with 30+ HR would be acceptable given his ADP of 150, which makes him the 18th 1B off the board. There is going to be regression but that is baked into his price this draft season and the skills are very solid overall.
Value to be had in the Reds rotation?
The Reds have a trio of pitchers coming back from injury in Homer Bailey, Brandon Finnegan, and Anthony Desclafani. Luis Castillo is the youngster with ace level upside but he is going pick #103, so there is not much value to be had there. Following Castillo in ADP it goes Desclafani (#404), Finnegan (#448), Finnegan (#449), and Bailey (#531). Outside of of Castillo all of these guys represent end game fliers in 15 team mixed leagues. In 2016, Desclafani posted a 3.28 ERA over 20 starts. His skills looked solid with 20% K, 5% BB, and 41% GB. The development of his curve and 10% SwStr suggest that there is potential to up his strikeout rate. He has the best floor of the group due to his excellent control and ground ball tilt but the upside is limited due to his low strikeout totals. Robert Stephenson is interesting from the perspective that he was once a top prospect who made a pitch change late in the year and started to have success. Stephenson started throwing his slider more (20%) leading to more strikeouts (23%). The downside to Stephenson is that he has terrible command (54% F-strike, 14% BB). Until he can learn control of his fastball it will be hard for Stephenson have sustained success. Brandon Finnegan is a lefty with above average stuff but his lack of control is concerning. He has double digit walk rates at every stop except for Single-A. He is only 24 years old but it would be wise to wait until he has proven that he can throw strikes consistently before buying in. Overall, if you wanted to take a chance on an end game flier out of the Reds rotation a healthy Desclafani has the best chance to be a top 100 pitcher in fantasy.
What can we expect out of Jesse Winker?
Jesse Winker got his first taste of the Majors last year. He hit .298 with 7 HR, 21 R, 15 RBI, and 1 SB over 47 games. Winker has shown excellent bat to ball skills throughout the minors with strikeout rates below 20%. He also shown above average plate discipline with double digit walk rates at every stop. This makes him more attractive in OBP leagues especially if he hits second in the Reds lineup in front of Joey Votto. The real question in terms of Winker's value is the power growth he showed in the majors for real? He makes a ton of contact with just 18% K and he hit the ball hard (36% Hard). If he maintains the 30% FB rate he showed in his cup of coffee, one could expect 10-15 HR. The key will be to keep an eye on his batted ball profile and if he continues to hit more fly balls he could grow into 20-25 HR type of power especially playing half of his games in Great American Ballpark. Winker is currently going as pick #381 as the 83rd OF of the board and he has the potential to bring back nice value at that draft position.
What to make of Scooter Gennett's breakout 2017 season?
Scooter Gennett was able to resurrect his career in Cincinnati by having a career year. He went on to hit .295 with 27 HR, 80 R, 97 RBI, and 3 SB. Gennett was always someone who could hit right-handed pitching fairly well (.809 OPS) but never showed anything like this in the past. His .295 AVG is going to regress but his .339 BABIP suggest it wasn't luck related. He keeps strikeouts to a modest rate at 23%, which suggest he could hit in the .260-.270 range. He pulled the ball in the air more last year which coupled with 34% Hard contact led to a career year in the power department. While he is not going to maintain a 21% HR/FB rate, he should settle in at 20 HR while playing everyday in an underrated Reds lineup.
Eduardo Nunez-Red Sox-3B, OF
Eduardo Nunez signed a one year deal to return to the Red Sox. Nunez hit .313 with 12 HR, 60 R, 58 RBI, and 24 SB over 114 games. From a fantasy perspective this is not a great move for Nunez considering he won't have a full-time job. He will play everyday at second base until Dustin Pedroia returns from his knee injury. After that, he will shift back into a utility role. Nunez's value comes from his ability to hit for average with his high contact rate (85% and 53% GB) and speed (24 SB). Even in a part time role he should return value from the stolen bases alone.
Jaime Garcia-Blue Jays-SP
Jaime Garcia signed a one-year, $10 million contract with an option for 2019. He should open the year as the Jays fifth starter. Garcia has never been a bastion of health throughout his career. He has started 20+ games in three straight years with a 3.84 ERA over that time period. From a fantasy perspective he leaves a lot to be desired with low strikeout totals (19%). He is a much better real life pitcher where his 55% GB rate delivers a lot of weak contact. The move from the National League to the American League East is not a good one for Garcia.
Alex Wood will have his throwing program pushed back due to a sprained ankle during drills. The injury doesn't appear to be serious and will only set him back a couple of days. Wood was fantastic last year with a 2.72 ERA over 152.1 IP. He posted a 25% K and 6% BB with 53% GB. Now that the good is out of the way let's talk about the negatives. Wood missed time with a shoulder injury and started the year throwing 93.5mph fastballs which dropped to just 90.4mph by the end of the year. He also lost nearly two inches of break on his curveball over that same time period. From May to August his strikeout rate dropped from 28% to 17% before rebounding in September to 19.4%. There are legitimate concerns about Wood's health and his ability to go more than 150 IP.
Andrew Cashner signed a two-year, $16 million dollar contract with the Orioles. The Orioles needed a veteran pitcher because outside of Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy they had no one recognizable filling out their rotation. Cashner is coming off a year in Texas where he posted a 3.40 ERA over 166 IP. If you quickly look past the ERA you will see past the mirage that was Andrew Cashner. His xFIP was 5.52 due to a measly 12% K and 9% BB. Expect Cashner to pitch closer to his xFIP than his ERA from last year, which means he is undraftable in mixed leagues.
Tim Lincecum threw for scouts and was reportedly throwing 90-92mph. Lincecum hasn't pitched in the big leagues since 2016 for the Angels where he posted a 9.16 ERA and was averaging 88.4 mph with his fastball. He is reportedly also in the best shape of his life but the reality here is that he will never get back the velocity that made him one of the best pitchers in the game from 2007-11. It is a fun story and he will likely get a shot with a big league club but his fantasy relevant days are over.
Matt Olsen broke onto the scene last year with 24 HR in 59 games for the Athletics. He hit .259 with 33 R and 45 RBI over that same time period. His strikeout rate was high at 28% but that is manageable in today's game. He is likely to hit in the low .230-.240 range over the course of a full season. The A's are going to let him play everyday which will give him the opportunity to hit 35+ HR with the potential for 40+. He is more valuable in OBP leagues due to his excellent plate skills with a 10% BB rate in limited action. He hits the ball hard (40% Hard) and in the air (46% FB) so the power is legit but this will also lead to low BABIP's and a lot of strikeouts. He is going as the 16th first baseman off the board, which is just about right.
Lucas Giolito-White Sox-SP
Lucas Giolito finished 2017 with 2.38 ERA over 45.1 IP at the big league level. His SIERA over that time period was 4.49 suggesting that he was getting lucky. He posted an average strikeout rate (19%) which was backed up by a 10% SwStr. It will be hard for Giolito to maintain this type of success at the big league level without upping his strikeout rate and/or getting more ground balls (45%). He is being taken as the 88th pitcher off the board in NFBC drafts just ahead of Michael Wacha and Jacob Faria, which feels like a stretch.
Dan Straily was boosted up draft boards in 2017 coming off a career year in 2016 and a move to Marlins Park. Straily posted a 4.26 ERA with 22% K and 8% BB over 181.2 IP. Straily now has gone 180+ IP each of the past two years without killing your ratios. On average he is going pick #320 in NFBC drafts. He may not be a sexy pick but 180 IP of a low fours ERA is valuable in this day and age of baseball. He will continue to benefit from pitching half of his games in a home park perfectly suited for his skill set.
Brewers manager Craig Counsell said that Stephen Vogt is not guaranteed a spot on the team and will have to fight for his position in spring training. He is coming off a year in which he hit .233 with 12 HR and 40 RBI in 99 games. He isn't known for his defense either, which means the Brewers could elect to go with Manny Pina and Jett Bandy as their catchers leaving Vogt is out of a job. This makes Vogt a risky pick in two catcher leagues regardless of his eroding offensive skills.
Michael Fulmer underwent ulnar nerve surgery in September but has reportedly been working hard and is supposed to be 100% by the start of Spring Training. This is the same surgery that Jacob deGrom had and was able to effectively come back from. Fulmer's numbers took a step back in 2017 with 3.83 ERA, 17% K, and 6% BB. He is a pitcher with three above average pitches in his fastball, slider, and change-up. Fulmer has shown excellent control and the ability to induce weak contact. This allowed Fulmer to work deep into games with an average of 6.6 IP per start. The fact that he was experiencing the loss of feeling in his fingers could be a reason for his struggles because he does rely heavily on his change-up, which is a "feel" pitch. Fulmer has the potential to return to being a mid 3's ERA pitcher with the upside for more strikeout given his stuff.