A Case for Anthony Rizzo:
Anthony Rizzo is consistently being drafted in rounds two and three, but the Cubs' first baseman offers enough upside and consistency to return first round value this season. One of the best barometers of a player's value is how competitors in the Main Event National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) are drafting their teams since these players are posting entry fees of $1,600 to play. Last weekend was the first weekend of Main Event drafts and of the nine total contests, the highest Rizzo was drafted was 21st overall and the lowest at 32nd overall. Even as a second or third round pick, Rizzo offers some profit potential thanks to the combination of his stat predictability, position scarcity, and unique category offerings. Among qualified first baseman, Rizzo was one of just four players to hit at least 30 homeruns and steal at least 10 bases, with Paul Goldschmidt, Cody Bellinger and Wil Myers being the others. Moreover, Rizzo posted a .273 batting average, his lowest mark since 2013, yet still finished second to just Paul Goldschmidt among the power/speed threats at his position. Rizzo is truly a five category contributor, albeit a limited one in speed, but at his price and his in-season availability (155 games played in 4 of last 5 seasons), he comes with relatively low downside risk. In a year where first base tends to dry up relatively quickly after the first 10-12 players, those in deeper leagues can get an advantage by locking up the position and the predictability of Rizzo's statistics early.
The Three Musketeers: Who Is The Cubs Best Pitcher?
Currently viewed as the Chicago Cubs' third starting pitcher (at least from a real baseball perspective), Jose Quintana flashed the ability to be the Cubs' best starting pitcher after being acquired by the team in July last season. While Jon Lester and Yu Darvish carry household names, Jose Quintana's overall skillset is actually just as impressive in the sabermetric statbook as any of the other two. Don't believe me? Here's a blind view of each player's second half statistics from 2018, as an example.
Player A: 68 IP, 4.50 ERA, 3.18 xFIP, 41.5% GB rate, 33.2% hard hit rate, 29.7% strikeout rate
Player B: 84.1 IP, 3.74 ERA, 3.24 xFIP, 47.2% GB rate, 33.8% hard hit rate, 28.3% strikeout rate
Player C: 72.2 IP, 4.46 ERA, 4.02 xFIP, 42.6% GB rate, 29.4% hard hit rate, 22.8% strikeout rate
Guess who is who? Yu Darvish is Player A, Jose Quintana is Player B, and Jon Lester is Player C. With ADPs ranging between 50.2 for Darvish, 70.4 for Quintana, and 117.4 for Lester, it's actually pretty surprising to see how close their overall performance was in the second half. If we look at the entire season, the split is even closer, but second half performance is often a better predictor of a player's performance in the following year, assuming he was healthy. The point of this excerise is that while Darvish is going as one of the first starting pitcher off the board in the second tier, it shouldn't be shocking to anyone to see Quintana post similar or better numbers when it's all said and done and at a two round discount. The true value, however, may actually be Jon Lester, who is going at a 50-70 round discount from both of his teammates. Don't sleep on the value of Quintana or Lester in your draft room.
San Diego Padres:
Checking Back in on Jose Pirela
With Jose Pirela swinging a red-hot bat this spring (.452/.520/.714) and the Padres outfield getting even more crowded (Margot, Myers, Renfroe, Cordero), it makes plenty of sense for the Padres to explore the possibility of Pirela finding playing time at second base at the expense of Carlos Asuaje. For fantasy purposes, we don't necessarily care where he plays, only that he's on the field getting at-bats. However, getting second base eligibility in a season where second base in an extremely thin position could be the key to a late round profit.
Is Dinelson Lamet a must-own starting pitcher?
Dinelson Lamet is currently going off the board as the 79th starting pitcher according to NFBC average draft position. In a 12-team mixed league, that would mean he's borderline rosterable, depending upon your format. The second-year starter enters the year on the heels of an impressive rookie campaign where he struck out nearly 29% of the batters he faced and posted a 4.57 ERA and 1.24 WHIP. Considering his bloated 11% walk rate, it actually makes his 1.24 WHIP even more enticing since it means opposing batters had difficulty squaring him up, as evidenced by his 73% contact rate. Lamet has never shown command of the strikezone, which makes the chances of accelerated growth in that area unlikely, but there's definite optimism for a better 2018 than 2017. Looking at his 69% strand rate from 2017, that number is artificially low, especially given his elite strikeout and contact rates, so look for that number to bounce back. As that number improves, so will his ERA and other rate statistics. He's a definite must-own across all mixed leagues and possesses an upside at his ADP that is unlike many other similar options.
Kansas City Royals:
The Moose is Loose:
Even after re-signing with the Royals, Mike Moustakas remains an excellent value across most fantasy sports drafts. In fact, his aggregate ADP from Feb 1st to March 9th was 134, but since being signed, it has actually fallen to 140 overall. No, he didn't sign in a better park environment. Yes, the Royals lost both Hosmer and Cain. Nonetheless, Moustakas will see everyday at-bats, hit 38 homeruns with a .272 batting average in 2017, and will likely be motivated after signing a pillow deal to hit free agency again next off-season. The other counting stats may take a hit without the extra protection, but there remains intrigue in the power potential of Moustakas' at-bat.
Jorge Soler: The MVP of the Cactus League?
Jorge Soler is finally healthy and has put on quite the show during the Cactus League, hitting .250/.339/.654 with 6 home runs, 11 RBI and even adding a pair of steals. The departure of Lorenzo Cain has all but guaranteed Soler a spot in the Opening Day outfield and the 26 year old appears poised to prove he's ready to take on a full-time role for the first time in his career. Soler's free-swinging tendencies will always keep his strikeout rate high and his batting average at risk, but there's no denying his prodigious power.
Around the League:
It's officially fantasy baseball draft month, so in honor of that, I'm going to devote a large chunk of my player notes on the best relievers to target in the final rounds of your draft. These are all relievers with either a good opportunity at saves or the skillsets to excel in the closing role when/if it presents itself.
AJ Minter (ATL) - One of the most electric arms in the minor leagues last season, Minter came up in September and dominated major league batters. He enters the year in the passenger seat to Arodys Vizcaino, but if history tells us anything, it's that Vizcaino has a long list of nagging injuries and inconsistent performances. While his strikeout ability is tough to knock, he did induce groundballs just 37% of the time last season and given the small dimensions of Atlanta's ballpark, there is some risk. Minter has allowed just 6 hits and 1 walk over 6.1 innings this spring, while racking up 9 strikeouts.
Drew Steckenrider (MIA) - While he's not as young as some of the players on this list (27 years old), Steckenrider was called up for his major league debut at the end of last season and opened some eyes with his electric stuff. While the majority of fantasy owners are targeting Kyle Barraclough as the primary handcuff to Brad Ziegler, shrewd owners are taking a deeper look towards Steckenrider. While the latter battled a high walk rate in huge debut, he showed significant improvement in his control in the minor leagues, while Barraclough has yet to highlight that skill. With a 36% strikeout rate being supported by a 13% swingining strike rate, there's lots to be excited about. His 38% hard hit rate is mildly concerning, but given the small sample size, it remains to be seen if this will be a continued issue into 2018.
Dominic Leone (STL) - Despite likely opening the season as the Cardinals closer, Dominic Leone continues to fall in drafts. Luke Gregerson was originally acquired to fill the role as closer, but he's dealing with an oblique injury and is likely to be out at least two more weeks. Additionally, throughout his career, Gregerson has always been an elite set-up man, but has usually been less than great in the ninth inning. Leone has all the tools to be successful in the ninth inning, a high strikeout rate, low ground ball rate, ability to induce swings outside of the zone and, most importantly, a low contact rate. He still needs to prove he can handle the pressure, but if he does, there's a good chance Mike Matheny could keep him in the role.
Addison Reed (MIN) - Stop me if you have heard this before: Fernando Rodney signs with new team. New team wants to use Rodney as closer. Fantasy analysts salivate over Fernando Rodney's handcuff. Fernando Rodney fails to ever relinquish the role. It's a tried and true story line, yet here we go again. Rodney turned 41 years old on Sunday, yet he's still pumping heat with a 94 MPH fastball. Reed was serviceable as the Mets closer last season, but he doesn't carry the same level of skillset upside as the other three guys on this list. Nonetheless, he carries the all-important experience trait, which most managers value above all else.
Nate Jones (CWS) - There's still no definite clarity on the closing situation on Chicago's south side, but of the group consisting of Nate Jones, Joel Minaya and Joakim Soria, Jones has clearly more upside than any of the others thanks to his excellent swinging strike rate (13% career average) paired with his high ground ball rate (47% career average). Since he and Minaya are both on team-friendly contracts, it makes more sense for the club to let Soria establish himself as the closer, only so he has more value to flip at the trade deadline. Nonetheless, if you're drafting for upside, Jones has it.
Carlos Carrasco (CLE) - A rough day got even worse for Carlos Carrasco on Wednesday when he allowed six runs on nine hits before getting hit with a line drive and leaving the game. The initial reaction by the team doesn't suggest a serious injury, but he's still likely to go for x-rays. Despite the tough day, Carrasco has pitched very well before yesterday's game with 10 IP, 8 H, 4 ER, 16K and 3 BB. At the moment, there's no reason not to consider him as the 6th or 7th best starting pitcher off the board.
AJ Puk (OAK) - Top prospect AJ Puk was optioned to Triple-A earlier this week and on Wednesday he was diagnosed with biceps soreness and shut down. Luckily, he underwent an MRI, which showed no structural damage. The A's will likely handle Puk with kid clothes, so don't expect him to make his major league debut anytime soon.
Alex Cobb (BAL) - Alex Cobb and the Orioles finalized a four-year contract worth $57 million on Tuesday. Cobb has already agreed to allow the team to use his final option to send him to Triple-A to begin the season, but he'll likely only need a couple weeks on the farm until he's back into game shape. Cobb stopped throwing his splitter in August and September last season, about the same time he dealt with turf toe. The splitter is his most effective pitch, so if he can re-establish it with Baltimore, he could be a very nice value in fantasy drafts. The ballpark shift is unfavorable, but it's the same division and being a groundball pitcher in Camden isn't nearly as scary as being a flyball pitcher.
Aaron Judge (NYY) - Aaron Judge hit two home runs on Wednesday, his second and third of the season. Judge has actually seen his stock fall slightly in recent expert drafts, but he typically stays in the second round. Nonetheless, Aaron Judge looks like he's all healed up from his off-season shoulder injury and is poised to once again compete with Giancarlo Stanton for the home run title (although this time they'll be teammates). The strikeout and batting average downside is real, but Judge can make up for it in the other counting stats.
Matt Carpenter (STL) - Matt Carpenter went 2-3 with a homerun on Wednesday and looks to be fully healed from the back injury that plagued him to begin camp. Mike Matheny has already said he plans to use Carpenter at various positions in the infield this season to help get Jose Martinez into the lineup on a regular basis, so getting multi-position eligibility will further help Carpenter's fantasy value. People are scared off by the injury, so you might be able to grab Carpenter at a discount.