Bradley Zimmer, OF, CLE
Zimmer has been sitting out with a groin injury, but he rejoined the Indians lineup for Thursday's game. He is expected to be the Tribe's starting CF this season, following a campaign in which he hit .241 with 8 HR's and 18 SB's in 101 games. Bradley had the 3rd highest Sprint Speed in MLB last season (behind only Byron Buxton and Billy Hamilton) and has showed moderate power in the minors. In a full season, it's reasonable to think he could approach 20 HR's and 30 SB's. He does strike out a lot (29.8% last season) and that is likely to make him a BA liability. Still, if he plays every day, the counting stats should be enough to counteract the BA and make him a viable fantasy OF. Right now, he's available near the end of drafts, and even in the FA pool in nearly half of fantasy leagues.
Rajai Davis, OF, CLE
Reports on Thursday indicate that Davis will make the Indians' Opening Day roster this season. While he most likely primarily be used a 4th OF this season, Michael Brantley's questionable Opening Day status could bump Davis into a more regular role, at least to start the season. Tribe fans most remember Davis for his World Series Game 7 homerun in 2016, but fantasy owners know Davis for his steals. He has amassed 394 SB's over his career, and although he's now 37, his age hasn't slowed him down as he swiped 43 and 29 bags in the past two years respectively. He'll continue to find a way to get his steals, but he won't contribute much in other categories. He has hit just .248 over the past 3 seasons and has only reached double-digit HR's once in his career. If you're looking for cheap steals, there are probably better options who offer more upside in other areas and more consistent playing time.
Michael Brantley, OF, CLE
Brantley (ankle) made his Cactus League debut on Wednesday, homering in his first at bat. While a decision still hasn't been made on Brantley's Opening Day status, Wednesday's performance was a good sign that he'll be ready to join the team sooner rather than later. Brantley has struggled with injuries the past couple of seasons, although the current ankle injury seems less likely to affect his swing than the shoulder injuries he's had the past two seasons. Brantley is currently unowned in more than half of Yahoo and ESPN leagues, but considering where he's at in his recovery and his five category potential, he could be a great late-draft or free agent pickup, especially if you have a DL spot available to start the season.
Mike Fiers, SP, DET
Fiers is dealing with back soreness and is likely to begin the season on the DL, moving Daniel Norris back into the Tigers' rotation. Fiers has had mixed success over the course of his career, but he has always been a FB-heavy pitcher (career 38.2% FB%) which has made him susceptible to the longball. His HR woes hit its peak last season when he allowed 1.88 HR/9, and while his 19.5% HR/FB could regress, the homeruns could still continue to pose a problem. Fiers' BB% also shot up to a career high 3.64 BB/9 last season, culminating in a 4.62 xFIP. Even when healthy, Fiers is not much more than perhaps a spot-starter in the right matchups.
Daniel Norris, SP, DET
With Mike Fiers likely heading to the DL to start the season, Norris has an good chance of starting the season in the Tigers' rotation. After a strong 2016 in which Norris posted a 9.22 K/9 and a 3.38 ERA over 69.1 IP, he took a huge step back last season as his K/9 dipped to 7.61, his BB/9 climbed from 2.86 to a bloated 3.90 and his xFIP shot up over a run to 5.06. There's no way I would draft Norris at this point, but considering that he's still just 24 years old and the success he's had in the past, I would keep an eye on him early in the season to see if he regains his 2016 form.
Dixon Machado, 2B, DET
Machado is set to start the season as the Tigers' starting 2B, taking over for the traded Ian Kinsler. Despite the opportunity for everyday at bats, Machado doesn't offer much in fantasy. He has had decent contact rates (career 18.4% K%), but his Hard% was a mere 29.0% last season and that's with the Comerica boost (his road Hard% was 18.5%!). Combine that with a 57.0% GB, and Machado is not someone to rely on for any power. He has consistently reached double-digit SB totals in the minors, but that hasn't translated at the big-league level, where he has collected just 2 steals in 105 games. He can be ignored in fantasy at this time.
White Sox Notes
Carson Fulmer, SP, CWS
The White Sox have reportedly decided that Fulmer will be the team's 5th starter to start the season. Fulmer posted a solid 3.86 ERA in 23.1 IP (7 games, 5 starts) last season for Chicago, but the underlying numbers aren't as pretty. His 7.33 K/9 was mediocre, but not as troublesome as his 5.01 BB/9, and his 54.5% FB% isn't encouraging either. He benefitted from a .190 BABIP last season, and his 6.20 xFIP tells you how much you can trust his ERA. Fulmer will need to make significant improvements to be a viable starter, real or fantasy.
Hector Santiago, SP, CWS
With Carson Fulmer set to begin the season in the White Sox rotation, Santiago seems destined to start the season out of the bullpen. Santiago had a four year stretch (2012-15) in which he posted an ERA under 4.00 every year despite average K-rates and high BB-rates, thanks to consistently low BABIP's which were fueled by high FB and pop-up rates. Through 7 starts last season, he appeared tohave regained that form, posting a 2.76 ERA despite a 5.48 xFIP, thanks to a .248 BABIP. But then the wheels came off completely, and in his next (and final) 7 starts, he posted an ERA of 9.96. Eventually the FB's turned to HR's and he allowed 12 longballs in 28 IP. Even if Santiago is able to maintain a low BABIP, his extreme FB% (career 48.9%) and elevated BB% (career 3.98 BB/9) make him completely unreliable in fantasy, even if he would at some point rejoin the rotation.
Jose Abreu, 1B, CWS
Abreu (hamstring) will be limited for the remainder of Spring Training, but all signs point to the first baseman being ready to go for Opening Day. There haven't been many players as consistent as Abreu, who has hit at least .290 with 25 HR's and 100 RBI in each of his first 4 MLB seasons. Last year was probably his best season yet, as he lowered his K% to a career-best 17.9% and also upped his FB% and Hard% to career-highs. If he maintains these gains, he's an even safer bet for another .300-30-100 season. Right now Abreu is going in about the 4th round of drafts, and considering his consistently high production, there aren't many better choices at that point.
Around the League
Jeff Samardzija, SP, SF
Samardzija is undergoing an MRI on his shoulder and his status for Opening day remains very much in question. Shark hasn't looked very good this spring with 10.64 ERA, 7:7 K:BB, and 6 HR's allowed in just 11 IP's and his shoulder apparently is not right. He entered the season as a strong bounce-back candidate as he posted an unimpressive 4.42 ERA, despite a career-low 3.8% BB%, his highest K% (24.2%) since 2012, and an xFIP of 3.60. That would make him an excellent pick at his current 15th round ADP, but with the current injury news, you may want to let someone else take the gamble. If he does slip to the end of drafts however, it may be a gamble worth taking, despite the possibility that this is a lengthy injury.
Mike Trout, OF, LAA
It's time for a Mike Trout update. As far as we can tell, Trout is still the best player in baseball. Through 36 AB's this spring, he has yet to strike out, while he has walked 7 times. A few years ago, strikeouts looked like Trout's one weakness, as he had a 26.1% K% in 2014 which resulted in a way too close to average .287 BA. But since then, he has improved his K% each year, knocking it down to 17.8% in 2017, and from looking at his spring numbers, it doesn't look like he's ready to give that gain back (not that there's any reason to think he would anyway.) By the way, he has also increased his BB% in each of the past 3 seasons. And his 44.9% FB% was the 2nd highest of his career, nearly 6% higher than his career average, which is why he was on pace for a career high in HR's had it not been for his 40-game injury absence. Believe it or not, Trout has never had a season of .300 and 40 HR's - yet. Of course, none of this matters in snake drafts where only one person gets to see Trout as an option.
Steven Souza, OF, ARI
Souza will be out until at least mid-May with a pectoral strain that he suffered while diving in Wednesday's game. Souza is coming off a breakout 30 HR, 16 SB campaign in 2017, and has a chance to improve on the power numbers moving from TB to Arizona (humidor notwithstanding). He strikes out too much to hit for a good average, although he did lower his K% by a full 5%, so it's possible we still see more improvement. For now, you can count on him for HR's and SB's and a decent amount of runs/RBI, but with the injury news, you don't need to worry about him much in drafts. If he is on the waiver wire as his return approaches, he'll be a worthwhile add if you can tolerate the BA.
Yoenis Cespedes, OF, NYM
Cespedes, who had missed a few days with a wrist injury, had a monster game on Thursday smashing 2 HR's and a 2B against the Nationals. He now has 5 HR's this spring. In limited time last season, Cespedes posted career highs in Hard% and FB%, and if he's healthy enough to play, he should have another excellent offensive season, with .280 and 30 HR's being a reasonable projection. You can't ignore the injury risk, but at his current 8th/9th round ADP, Cespedes has a great chance at providing value.
Lewis Brinson, OF, MIA
Brinson is having an excellent spring for the Marlins thus far, hitting .365 with 7 2B's, a 3B, and 2 HR's through 52 AB's. He will likely being playing every day for the Marlins and possibly hitting near the top of the lineup. He has shown double-digit power and speed in the minors, and the power he is showing this spring is a positive indication that he carry it over to the big-leagues. His K% and SwStr% were way too high in his brief stint with the Brewers last season, but his minor-league contact rates were decent, so there's reason for optimism. He's unlikely to hit for a great BA, but Brinson has the ability to contribute nicely in other categories and especially in runs scored if he finds a place atop the Marlins' lineup.
Eric Thames, 1B, OF, MIL
Thames is having an awful spring, hitting just .182 with 16 K's in 44 AB's. The strikeout woes are a continuation from last season when his K% was a whopping 29.6%. While his April power surge propelled him to 31 HR's last season, it's not really fair to expect him to match that number in 2018 considering his struggles from May onward and the fact that his playing time this season is somewhat in danger. I'm avoiding Thames even at his 20th round ADP.
Nate Karns, SP, KC
Karns struck out 7 in 5 IP against the Brewers on Thursday, and now has 1.98 ERA with 18 K's and 6 BB's in 13.2 IP this spring. Karns has also been a good strikeout pitcher, but he improved on that with a career-high 10.13 K/9 in 2017, albeit in a limited 45.1 IP due to injury. Walks have been a weakness for him, but he improved on that in the limited sample as well, lowering his BB/9 to 2.58. His xFIP last season was a very respectable 3.71, and with the strong spring, Karns makes for a solid sleeper candidate out of the Royals rotation.