LOS ANGELES ANGELS
Underrated in a New Spot? - Ian Kinsler remains an excellent contact hitter, and with the lowest pull% and highest hard contact rate of his career in 2017, you certainly wouldn't have expected a 70 point drop in BABIP. I think it's a foregone conclusion that his AVG will rebound some this season, and with a potentially friendlier manager in LA as far as baserunning goes, he might bounce back up toward 20 steals as well. I think he's underrated going outside of the top-20 at 2B...I'd be comfortable with him as a MI in standard formats.
The Dreaded Six-Man Rotation - The inflammation in Andrew Heaney's left elbow mustn't be a big deal, because every other contender for the last spot in the Angels six-man rotation has been sent down to AAA to start the year. There's upside in each of the first 4 (read: not so much Shoemaker, and definitely not Ramirez) in that rotation, and Richards and Heaney appear particularly undervalued this spring to me. With all of the health issues, six isn't likely to be enough, and I'm still intrigued by Nick Tropeano and his ever-improving K rates coming off of a 2017 missed entirely due to injury. He looked very solid coming back this spring, and I expect he will be in the mix at some point....he could be an intriguing sleeper for DFS and deep-league purposes at that point. For now, focus on Richards and Heaney, mixing in a bit of Ohtani for the adventurous.
NEW YORK YANKEES
The Best of the Worst - Over the past five years or so, it seems that every position in baseball (from a fantasy perspective, anyway) has gotten stronger save one: catcher. Catcher is so weak relative to the other positions now, that you can only go about five deep before you start running into fairly serious questions (Gattis is sixth, Yadi Molina seventh). With that in mind, it's possible that Gary Sanchez is still undervalued as the clear #1 backstop. He's being drafted late 2nd/early 3rd in most standard formats, but with a monster lineup around him, a friendly ballpark, and some slightly improved peripherals entering his age 25 season, there may be cause for optimism here regarding continued upside. His BABIP was a bit low last year considering the LD rate and hard contact rate (despite the 51% pull rate), so is it possible to squint and see a .290 hitter with 40 homers and 110 RBIs? I believe so, and at such a premium position he might be worth a stretch up into the upper part of the second round. If I'm going to gamble, I'm going to do so on the proper side of the age curve.
The Forgotten One - Didi is sort of the forgotten man in NY now, and part of that is a subtle reminder that he's likely maxed out performance-wise. Gregorius ranks near the bottom in both distance and batted ball speed among hitters with over 20 homers, and if you look at a spray chart you'll notice that every single ball was pulled to RF, and most barely cleared the fence. Much like Brian Dozier, it's a skill to pull fly balls that frequently, so it's not to say that he won't keep doing it.....more that this is the maximum that he can be. Also, the more he pulls the ball (which is increasing by the year), the lower the AVG will likely be. I think Gregorius is fine down in the 10-12 range for SS...I just wouldn't overpay expecting a whole lot more because of the improved supporting cast.
I'm the Only One Not in the Best Shape of My Life - Every year there are the obligatory "player X showed up in the best shape of his life" stories. Matt Wieters does look noticeably slimmer this season, however, as he's dropped 15 pounds and retooled his swing a bit. The Nationals say they plan on keeping him fresh by limiting him to around 100 games, which limits his value even further, so despite the weakness of the catching position overall I'd have to say that Wieters is only a borderline 2nd catcher at best for fantasy purposes...the degradation in his skill set has been pretty extensive since his time in Baltimore. I don't doubt that there is some upside potential here, but I don't think it's greater than other players being drafted around his position like Alex Avila or Manny Pina.
He's Developed Old Man Skills on the Shelf - There are so many OFs going between OF40 and OF60 with a lot of upside, and Adam Eaton might seem at first glance to be more of a high-floor, low-ceiling sort of a guy. He stole 46 bags back in 2012 between 3 levels, and he hit 14 homers just 2 years ago with a GB rate of close to 55%. I could easily envision a healthy Eaton hitting close to .300, scoring over 100 runs, and reaching 20/20 in homers and steals. The key there is the healthy part, as I haven't seen him run very much yet. He says he's healthy but is "going to play the game a little slower now", whatever that means....he's only 29 and he's talking like my rec league teammates. He was beginning to hit the ball in the air much more than he had before in 2017, so if that trend continues I certainly expect more in the power category from him this year. As for the speed, we will just have to see. I love Eaton as an OF4 this year in standard formats....I think the floor is very good for him at that level, and the ceiling might be better than people expect.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
Madison Bumgarner (SP) SF and the Giant rotation - Awful news out of San Fran, where MadBum was hit on his pitching hand by a line drive, fracturing it and taking him out of the rotation for 6-8 weeks in all likelihood. With Samardzjia also going down this week for a month or so with a strained pectoral, the Giants will be hard-pressed to keep pace in a reasonably competitive NL West. The rotation for April will likely be something like Cueto/Stratton/Blach/Derek Holland/Andrew Suarez or Tyler Beede, and there isn't a lot of hope to be found there. Beede was a first round pick in 2014 and has decent stuff, but his PCL performance last year (4.79 ERA, less than 7 K/9) left a lot to be desired, as has his spring training. He could be a lottery ticket in deeper leagues. Suarez has been roughly league average as a swingman the past few years, and really doesn't inspire a lot of confidence that there's more than that available. If Cueto continues his decline from last year, this situation could be really ugly by the time Shark and Bumgarner return.If you still haven't drafted yet, I'd likely drop MadBum into the SP2 batch in most formats, but the moore shallow the league the more I'd keep him up toward the top, as the replacement-level is so much higher.
Byron Buxton (OF) MIN - Let's put Buxton's second-half of 2017 in the proper perspective: if he did that (300/347/546, 11 HR, 13 SB) for a full year, he's worth a first-round pick. In that light, it makes total sense why he's being drafted right at the end of the top-60 so far this spring. He really did look like he figured it out across the board, as the K rate dropped by 3%, the hard contact rate increased by 5% to over 30, and he compiled all of these numbers in just 56 games. He's the fastest player in the game per Statcast, so he could likely run quite a bit more (he was 29/30 in steals last year, and the CS was when he overslid the bag)....I could see a 25/40 season out of him easily. The AVG will be the key, as there's still a lot of swing-and-miss here, but if I were going to reach for somebody outside of the consensus top-50 in the first four rounds, he's the guy.
A.J. Pollock (OF) ARI - It seems like Pollock may be sliding under the radar a bit this year, after coming into 2017 as a borderline OF1 he's in the low OF2 range this season as far as draft position goes. The funny thing is, when referencing Pollock's excellent 2015, his underlying stats were better last season almost across the board. His LD rate was 2.5% better, yet his BABIP was .047 worse. His hard contact rate was 0.6% better with 3% more flyballs, contributing to a .023 increase in ISO. Even his chase rate was 3% better...the only thing that he didn't do as well was steal bases, but he still swiped 20 in 112 G. I expect a season somewhere in between his career year and last year, and if that's what we get, I like him perhaps a full round earlier than the mid-6th draft position he currently enjoys.
Tyler Mahle (SP) CIN - With the injuries sustained this spring to multiple rotation members combined with Mahle's spring performance, it looks like he may very well break camp as the 3rd or 4th starter for the Reds. Mahle has been very steady during his climb up through the minors, posting a 2.85 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP with excellent control and solid GB rates. There wasn't much deterioration in performance at all until his 4 starts with Cincy, where his control appeared to desert him a bit. This spring has seen him pitch almost exactly like he did in the minor leagues, with excellent control and just enough bat-missing ability to be successful. I'm not sure he has the upside of some other youngsters around the league, but Mahle looks like he could be a solid back-end starter as soon as this year. I'd probably look at him only for deeper leagues right now, but he could squeeze his way into the top-75 or so before year's end.
Gregory Polanco (OF) PIT - If Polanco was truly playing hurt all of last year, I'm willing to give him a mulligan. Looking back to his 2016, we see a 24 year old with a power spike that was very unfortunate with his BABIP, limiting his AVG by perhaps 20 points. Going off of those projections, could we expect .275-280 with 20/20 for Polanco? It certainly looks like he's fired up this spring, as he has come into camp fit and inspired (326/370/651 in 43 AB). At OF45, I love the value he presents.....I can't imagine a player with his talent will suffer through another season like last year, and I expect more OF3 value than OF4.
Marco Gonzales (SP) SEA - Michael touched on Gonzales three weeks ago, but I think it's worth revisiting things this late in spring. WHIP of 1.03, ERA of 1.69...blah, blah, blah, spring stats. More importantly, it looks like the velo gains of last summer have been maintained, and more importantly the differential between his change and fastball has widened again. With a favorable home park to curb a bit of his longball tendencies and a rotation spot guaranteed, Gonzales could definitely work his way into a top-60 pitching performance this season. I would absolutely have no qualms about rostering him as my last pitcher in standard leagues....right now he's SP179 by ADP, so he should be there.
Nomar Mazara (OF) TEX - Everybody knows I love my post-hype guys, and Mazara certainly belongs in that category. He's played two full seasons for the Rangers now, tallying 40 homers and 165 RBI with a lackluster .259 AVG at ages 21 and 22. There hasn't been as much growth as we'd like to see, although the walk rate and hard contact rate both showed sizable gains in 2017. Quality hitters usually show a couple of performance spikes between 21-26, and I'd probably be willing to bump Mazara up from his current OF48 position by about five spots in hopes that we will see that this year. A .275/30/110 campaign doesn't seem all that far-fetched to me.
Sean Newcomb (SP) ATL - It looks like Newcomb has done enough to open the season in the rotation, and boy, there's upside here. He's never failed to strike out a batter an inning at any level, and despite relatively low-to-average GB rates he hasn't had major issues with HRs either. The walks though, ouch. He won't be able to be a positive contributor up around 5 BB/9. If he could bring that down to 4 somehow (or the mid-3's like he has in limited time this spring), he could provide substantial value. With the amount of upside, he really has to be rostered in most formats, but trust should be limited.
Diamondbacks RF - The injury to Steven Souza (6-8 weeks, strained pectoral) is going to open up some playing time, but for whom? Chris Owings was the first to fill in there post-injury, but Jarrod Dyson and Yasmany Tomas also have the potential to claim the spot. I prefer Owings, but the club may want to keep him as a utility man for the time being...there just isn't a lot of clarity yet, and there's only a week to get it. All three players have something to offer from a fantasy perspective if they get the time (Owings, a bit of everything; Dyson, speed; Tomas, tremendous upside in power), so this situation will bear close scrutiny. Tomas in particular interests me, as he has posted hard contact rates above 40% in each of the past two years, but his massive contact issues and atrocious defense have soured the D-Backs on him. He's still just 27, and I have a hard time seeing him flail away at AAA...I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him get the bulk of the April work to see if a career can be salvaged here. He would be worth a late speculative choice in most formats if this proves to be the case.
Matt Boyd (SP) DET - Boyd is a guy that I'm trying to stash on reserve lists in most formats this spring. He saw a nice velocity spike and concurrent bump in swinging strike rate last year, and in the second half he was able to but his walk rate by 0.6, raise his K rate by over 2.0, and cut his hard contact rate by 13%. He's also fanning over a batter an inning this spring, so to me, I see a guy that is starting to figure things out. He's clearly mastered AAA, as his ERA is 2.54 over 25 career starts at that level (over 4 seasons, too), so there's enough talent here to hope for top-50 SP performance.