What can we expect out of Aaron Sanchez this year?
It's easy to forget that Aaron Sanchez was one of the top pitchers in the American League in 2016. He posted a 3.00 ERA over 192 IP with 161 K's. The strikeout numbers weren't great but Sanchez did pair them with 54% GB, which made him an elite starter. The bad news is that Sanchez missed most of 2017 with blister issues that were a result of the new ball. He did make eight starts but totaled only 43.2 IP across both the majors and minors. This leaves him in a tough situation heading into 2018. The likelihood of him topping 180 innings takes a major hit without mentioning the risk for a recurrence of the blister problem that plagued him last year. Sanchez's skills are legit but one has to question his overall value because he is not a strikeout pitcher and needs to accumulate innings to get his strikeout totals. He is currently going as the 77th pitcher off the board in NFBC drafts at around pick 202 overall. The injury risk and lack of strikeouts is built into that price. He is going around guys like Kenta Maeda who is going back into the rotation, Dinelson Lamet (struggles with command), Mike Clevinger (high walk rate), and Taijuan Walker. This is the section in the draft in which drafters are going after upside and Sanchez has that with his potential for above average ratios with average strikeouts and a ton of weak contact.
Is J.A. Happ being overlooked?
J.A. Happ has been nothing but very solid since his turnaround with Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage. Over the past three seasons he has thrown 25+ starts each year with a 3.44 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, and 21% K. The ceiling is not there for him to reach the upper echelon of fantasy pitchers but the floor is fantastic for the 99th pitcher off the board at pick #254 (NFBC). He is being overlooked because late in drafts the prevailing strategy is to draft upside, which causes drafters to overlook the very solid Happ. If one drafts upside at SP early in the draft he is the perfect pitcher to balance out that risk without costing much at all.
The Blue Jays leadoff hitter will be?
Blue Jays manager Jon Gibbons has not decided on a leadoff hitter for the 2018 season. The names being thrown around are free agent signing and aging veteran Curtis Granderson and the often injured Devon Travis. This is an important battle to watch because the outcome has potential fantasy relevance. Curtis Granderson is who he is at this point in his career which is a power threat against right-handers and a guy who strikes out a lot with decent on-base skills. The concern here is that his on-base percentage has declined three straight years and he can't lefties (career .668 OPS). The real fantasy impact could be in Devon Travis. His value increases significantly if he becomes the leadoff hitter. He is not the ideal leadoff hitter considering he has not had a walk rate above 8% at the major league level but he does make a lot of contact (83%). The concern here is that is highest games played total over the past three seasons is 101 games in 2016. He has the potential to go 10 HR/10 SB with a .270 average and his runs scored would get a huge boost hitting in front of Donaldson, Morales, and Smoak. He is not a starter in a shallow mixed league but he does have deep league appeal given his decent upside.
Nick Senzel is the Reds top prospect and one of the top hitting prospects in the minors. While he will not break camp with the big league club is presumed that he will be up at some point this summer due to his bat being big league ready. The hype is coming from his time at Double-A in which he hit .340 with 10 HR, 40 R, 34 RBI, and 5 SB in 57 games. This came with very solid plate skills (11% BB & 18% K). He has legitimate skills and has the potential to be an above average fantasy contributor down the road. However, he is being drafted like a sure thing in the 23th round (#353) in 15 team mixed leagues (NFBC). At that point he has to contribute because he takes up a roster spot while we await his arrival. The concern is that he only has 57 games above Single-A and shifting positions to one of the most difficult positions on the diamond in shortstop. That is a lot for a young player to deal with, so immediate success is not a guarantee.
More injuries to the starting rotation...
The Reds rotation entered spring training with a slew of injured starters. The only two locks for the Reds rotation at this point are Luis Castillo and Homer Bailey. Anthony Desclafani was an interesting pitcher coming into draft season after posting a strong 2016 season but missing most of 2017 with injury. This was until he suffered an oblique injury that will sideline him for eight weeks making him a risky proposition. Left-handed starter Brandon Finnegan spent most of last season dealing with a shoulder injury has a forearm injury that he says is not serious but should be a pause for concern. Robert Stephenson seems to have an inside track at a rotation spot after posting a 3.30 ERA with 22% K over 60 IP in the second half but he has had a terrible spring (9.00 ERA over 8 IP). Sal Romano will most likely have a spot as well after posting a 4.45 ERA over 16 starts last year. He is not a great fantasy option outside of deep mixed leagues and NL-only because his strikeout rate is below average (19%) and he lacks control (10% BB). The good news is that he does induce weak contact with 50% GB. Michael Lorenzen is fighting for one of the last spots but likely won't be fantasy relevant. The most intriguing guy is Tyler Mahle as he posted strong numbers across the minors last year and in his four starts at the major league level. He has shown excellent control in the minors with walk rates below 7%. The concern is that he doesn't miss many bats (21% K, 9% SwStr at AAA) and is a fly-ball pitcher (37% FB) in a hitters park in Cincinnati. The safe thing would be to avoid all Reds pitchers outside of Luis Castillo until things become clearer and guys show skill development.
Billy Hamilton-First shot at leadoff
Bryan Price is going to give Billy Hamilton the opportunity to leadoff for the Reds, which is a coveted position in fantasy hitting in front of Joey Votto and an underrated Reds lineup. The concern is that Hamilton has struggled here in the past and does not have the skill set to be a leadoff hitter (career .298 OBP) outside of his speed. He did score a career high 85 runs last season but that will be hard to repeat getting on base less than a third of the time. At this point Hamilton is a one trick pony (speed) with 55+ SB in four straight seasons. He is not a great baseball player but he is an above average fantasy player due to his elite speed in an age when stolen bases are rapidly declining. The move to leadoff should boost his runs scored and overall value provided that he can hold the job all year.
Around the League
Adam Eaton is slowly making his way back from ACL surgery last year. The Nationals have been careful with him this spring. He is expected to make his Spring Training debut this weekend which will be key for his readiness for the start of the year. Eaton does not stand out in any one category but he is quietly a very solid five category guy. He has the potential to be a .290 hitter with 10 HR/15 SB with excellent OBP skills in a loaded Washington lineup, which means he could score a ton of runs hitting in front of Harper, Murphy, and Zimmerman. He is going on average as pick #152 in NFBC drafts which is a nice value for a rock solid five category contributor.
Josh Donaldson-Blue Jays-3B
Josh Donaldson has recently missed time due to calf cramps, which is frightening for those who owned him last season when he missed a large chunk of the Spring Training and the first half due to a recurring calf strain. Donaldson's overall numbers last year (.270/33/65/78) showed his elite upside despite playing in only 113 games. He represents a tremendous value in round two this year if he is completely healthy. The Blue Jays and Donaldson do not seem concerned and said that it was a result of his dehydration last week. Keep an eye on his status the next week or so to make sure that he is healthy.
Daniel Murphy is still recovering from knee surgery and has been slow to ramp up baseball activities this spring. Microfracture surgery is not an easy recovery and with the season two weeks away it seems likely that Murphy will miss part of April. Those who have drafted Murphy need to make sure that they have a replacement ready. If you haven't drafted yet, he needs to be dropped down in your rankings due to the potential for missed time. When on the field Murphy has transformed himself into an elite fantasy option. He provides elite average with excellent counting stats due to the overall quality of the Nationals lineup. His ability to hit .300+ cannot be overlooked in today's fantasy environment. His return from injury is not guaranteed but the reward outweighs the risk in this case provided that you get him at a discount.
Corey Seager is dealing with an elbow issue this spring which is the same injury he dealt with at the end of last year. The Dodgers expect him to be 100% by Opening Day but it is concerning that the injury is not healed after an off-season of rest. The Dodgers figure to once again to be very careful with their players through the use of the ten-day disabled list, which could cut into Seager's playing time if this injury does not go away. Seager is a polarizing player for fantasy purposes. One could look at his profile and think the sky's the ceiling for a young player to have so much success at the big league level so early. One could also look at his profile and suggest that he could be at his peak performance-wise already. From a fantasy perspective, Seager is an above average performer but not an elite player that some may think. He has the ability to hit close to .300 with 25 HR and nice counting stats due to the Dodgers lineup but he lacks the stolen bases to be elite. He is risky because of the injury despite having a really nice floor.
Mark Trumbo is going to be out 3-4 weeks with a strained quad. He has been dealing with soreness throughout Spring Training. He is going to miss time to start the year which is concerning after a huge dropoff in 2017. Trumbo had a huge 2016 season in which he led the majors with 47 home runs. In 2017 when power across the league rises, he hit only 23 HRs. The drop in power is concerning given his age (32) and the decline in his overall skills. His ISO dropped from his career average of .213 to .163 last year. This was in conjunction with a drop 3% drop in fly-ball rate as well (43%-40%). His hard contact dropped from 39% to 30%, which is the true indicator of his lack of success. Things are not looking up for the 32-year old outfielder.
Relief pitcher Greg Holland still has not been signed to a major league contract. A year ago Holland saved 41 games for the Rockies while posting a 3.61 ERA with a 30% K. The bad was an 11% BB and 1.10 HR/9 due to his 45% FB. The skills are there for Holland to be a high strikeout closer but the risk is immense. He is being drafted on average at pick #171 in NFBC drafts. Considering that he doesn't have a closer's job that is as risky of a proposition as it gets. Keep in mind that he rejected a qualifying offer meaning a team has to not only pay him millions of dollars but they also lose a draft pick. This has the potential to keep Holland unemployed until after the June draft. That would be extreme but it is the worst case scenario for Holland and fantasy owners. Keep this in mind when considering drafting him in the 11th round of 15 team mixed leagues.
Kyle Hendricks struck out seven and gave up one earned run over six innings pitched on Thursday. Hendricks had a 3.03 ERA last year over 24 starts. He is currently going as a 30th starting pitcher off the board at around pick #116 (NFBC). If you look at under his surface stats there is a lot to be concerned about. His fastball velocity was never great but it dropped to 86 mph last year, which doesn't leave much wiggle room for mistakes. His hard contact given up went up 5% from 25% to 30%, which was reflected in his home run rate spiking from 0.71 to 1.10 HR/9. His xFIP of 3.76 seems more likely than a return to the low threes. Hendricks is still going to be an above-average starter even with a 3.76 ERA but not worth his current ADP.
Joe Musgrove toed the rubber for the first time this spring after dealing with shoulder soreness. Musgrove is an interesting name to consider at the backend of mixed league drafts. The shift from the AL to the NL is a good one and so is the park he will call home (PNC Park). Musgrove experienced increased velocity coming out of the pen last year, which will one of the things to watch this spring to see if he holds those gains. He has good control (6% BB) and the stuff to miss bats (22% K, 12% SwStr). At a minimum, he is not going to hurt you where you are drafting him and he has the potential to bring back nice value if he can get his ERA under four and maintain the 22% K and 6% BB. There is also the chance that he flourishes under the tutelage of Ray Searage.
Francisco Lindor hit his fourth home run of the spring yesterday. It is nice to see him replicating his power breakout from last year. Lindor is a true fantasy superstar. He offers five category production without a weakness. Last year he hit .273 with 33 HR, 99 R, 89 RBI, and 15 SB. The scary part is that the power looks legit given the change in his profile (42% FB, 35% Hard, and 41% Pull) and he good see positive regression in his batting average given his low strikeout rate (13%) and BABIP (.275). Lindor is a first round talent that is currently going in the second round.
Yasmany Tomas is hitting .423 with a 1.115 OPS this spring. Despite the strong spring it is still likely that Tomas gets traded/released or doesn't have a full time role. The Diamondbacks have A.J. Pollack, David Peralta, Steven Souza, and Jarrod Dyson in the outfield. He is a decent hitter with some power but his strikeout rate and poor defense will most likely prevent him from landing a starting job anywhere. This makes him irrelevant in fantasy.