New York Yankees
A Yankee Sleeper? - It's exceedingly rare for a Yankee prospect to fly under the radar. So rare, in fact, that I'm not sure who the last one might have been. Brett Gardner? Andy Pettitte? Ron Guidry? Regardless, Miguel Andujar has a realistic chance of opening the season as the starting 3B despite the acquisition of Brandon Drury (who could conceivably slide to 2B), and he's doing everything he can to force that particular decision upon management. Friday saw a couple more ropes from Andujar, one of them a two-run double off of Lucas Sims. This is on the heels of Thursday's two-HR day (giving him 4 for the spring already), one of which was off of Nick Pivetta. Granted, these aren't aces that he's teeing off on, but they're actual MLB pitchers and not roster filler. The biggest reason that I think Andujar may be underrated is the perception of a lack of power. Andujar's FB rates were down significantly last season, helping push the AVG up into the .300s while serving to mask what appears to be a reasonable power bump. Andujar went from 12 homers in 2016 to 16 homers last year despite fewer ABs, a lower FB rate, and improved competition. Even in his very brief major league cameo he had 4 hard-hit (95 mph or greater) balls out of 7. I think there's power here, and as Walter mentioned a few weeks back, there's enough contact ability to go with that pop to provide a solid AVG as well. I hope that he wins the job, and if he does I fully expect him to provide standard-league value at the hot corner, particularly with the assistance provided by that loaded lineup for the counting stats (R and RBI). I'm really excited to watch this kid hit.
Sophomore Surprise - What do we look for from SP, particularly toward the back end of a rotation? Ability to get K's, solid supporting cast for W potential, BB and HR limitation. That's basically it, with a bit of stamina thrown in for good measure. Jordan Montgomery is coming off the board as SP73 so far this spring, but for me he's a clear #4 in 12-team formats at worst. He has a fantastic supporting offense, his swinging strike rate was in the top-15 among qualifying SPs last season, and his BB rate has been under 3 per 9 for his entire pro career. The two nits to pick here are the FB rate and the stamina, and if the early returns are any indication, we should see a better GB rate from Montgomery this season. He's done a great job keeping the ball down without sacrificing the K rate thus far, and yes, I know it's been two spring outings. I'll fall back on "his GB rates were great throughout the minors" as my defense. The stamina is the thing I wonder about, but I feel it's a factor somewhat mitigated by two things: the strength of the Yankee offense, and the strength of the Yankee bullpen. Yes, the ERA and WHIP won't carry as much weight without an extra 20-30 innings, but that's why he's a 4th starter and not a #2. I like the upside here very much, and I'd wager that he was being babied a bit last year with a career-high in IP, and that he could conceivably move up into the 170-180 IP range this season.
Los Angeles Angels
Shorter Fences are Better.....for Hitters - Kole Calhoun had a fairly rough 2017, hitting just 244/333/392 with 19 HR, 77 R, and 71 RBI. As he turns 30, it's fair to wonder why we should expect a rebound? Three reasons jump out to me: 1) better surrounding offense. Ohtani, Kinsler, and Cozart should improve the Angel offense significantly this year over the likes of Ben Revere, Yunel Escobar, and Cameron Maybin, and everyone's stats will benefit. 2) BABIP. Calhoun had a rather similar year to his past three as far as batted ball distribution, but the 1 percent drop in line drive rate resulted in a .025 decline in his BABIP. He can probably be expected to recoup .010 of that or so without doing anything differently. 3) Perhaps most importantly, the RF fence in LA is being lowered 10-13 feet depending on where you are in RF. That should increase HRs by approximately 8.5%, according to a batted ball study from the past two years. Furthermore, Kole Calhoun ranks 10th in flyballs hit to the pull side over that span, and batted ball data shows that he would likely have had 4 more homers in 2016 with this fence configuration. It's reasonable to expect a couple more without anything changing, making it likely that he eclipses the 20-HR mark again. Combined, these three items make me believe that it's likely that Calhoun outperforms his current OF83 draft position by a reasonable margin....I'd value him in the 55-65 range, personally.
Hopefully his Health is More Like Keith's From Now On - It's nearly impossible to say "this guy, right here, is the single most underrated player in fantasy this spring". There are countless people that could lay a claim to that, but if you asked me which player could most improve upon their current ADP, Garrett Richards would get serious consideration. Currently SP48 in drafts, Richards is easily an SP2 when healthy. He's managed 12 starts over the past two injury-plagued seasons, posting a 2.31 ERA and a 12.0 swinging strike rate. He keeps the ball in the park for the most part, and as we've mentioned, the Angel offense is much improved to support him. The health is a risk, as like a handful of other pitchers the past few seasons he has opted for rehab and stem-cell injections over ligament-replacement (TJ) surgery for his elbow. I think the risk is mostly binary with Richards, making him a better choice the more shallow your league is. In all probability he's either going to be good or he's going to be hurt. I'm targeting him in all formats earlier than his average ADP, but particularly in leagues of standard size or less.
Not So Fast - It's an odd year when two of the top-5 (by average ADP) have some potential team-related negatives surrounding them. With Goldschmidt you have the humidor and its potential power-sapping effects, while with Trea Turner you have his new manager, Dave Martinez. What's wrong with Martinez? Nothing, really, except that he said that he plans to bat Adam Eaton first and Turner second. Right in front of Harper, Rendon, and Zimmerman should be great, right? Sure, in terms of getting pitches to hit, but a big part of Turner's value is his speed. Yes, small sample size caveats apply, but Turner has averaged about 0.52 steal attempts per game in a little over a full season (185 games) hitting anywhere other than 2nd in the order. In 13 games hitting second, he's 0 for 1. Logic would tell you that this was a likely outcome, because it's easier to justify taking the bat out of Adam Eaton's (or whomever is hitting second) hands than it is Bryce Harper's. I'd expect a moderate downgrade in SBs for Turner for as long as he hits 2nd, and as such, I'd have some reservations about selecting him in the top half of the first round (standard-sized format).
Looking Over His Shoulder - Look, I think Michael Taylor is a perfectly serviceable player, and in a different organization I would think there's some upside here. Unfortunately, the highly-touted Victor Robles is slated to start the year at AAA, and you all know how I feel about the vast majority of players with sub-70% contact rates (non-Aaron Judge division). Taylor produced as hoped for in terms of power and speed last season, putting up 19 HRs and 17 SBs in roughly 3/4 of a season. The AVG was much higher than expected, fueled by a .363 BABIP that will be tough to replicate. We forecast Taylor for a .252 AVG this season, which with close to 20/20 production would likely be enough to keep his job due to his stellar defense. The problem with forecasts, though, is that you're going to fall short of them half the time if they're accurate. Taylor wouldn't have to hit too much lower than .250 before the Nationals would start thinking long and hard about Robles, if I'm not mistaken, so the risk here is fairly substantial in my eyes.
Around The League
Miles Mikolas (STL) SP - The Lizard King (Google it, trust me) is back stateside after an extraordinarily successful 3-year stint in Japan where he went 31-13 with a 2.18 ERA and a WHIP under 1.0. Being one of the best couple of pitchers in Japan is not like being one of the best pitchers in A or AA....it does mean something, so even if MLB is a large step up in quality, you have to think that Mikolas can contribute to the Cardinal rotation as a back-end starter at the very least, and there's likely mid-rotation upside. My take on Mikolas is that he should definitely be drafted in deeper leagues, and someone should likely take a flyer on him immediately outside of the top-60 SPs in standard formats....Colby Lewis pitched similarly (although not quite as effectively) in Japan, and went 26-23 with an ERA around 4.00 in the AL upon his return to MLB. A similar performance would likely see Mikolas with a sub-4.00 ERA and a winning record, which is lineup-worthy in the majority of formats.
Willie Calhoun (TEX) OF? - Calhoun came over to the Rangers in the Yu Darvish deal, and let me tell you, this kid can hit. He hit roughly .300 with 27 2B, 6 3B, and 31 HR at AAA last year, and almost every scouting report that you read starts with "well, his defense is pretty bad, but....". He's very likely to at least platoon in LF/DH with Ryan Rua and Shin-Soo Choo, and I'd actually be extremely surprised if he didn't finish the year in the top-60 OF, making him a bit of a bargain right now. The upside here is huge as long as he can get the playing time....he does not have the typical swing and miss issues that you see with many young hitters, and while he is a bit on the small side, his exit velocity was still in the Gary Sanchez, Miggy Cabrera, Robinson Cano area in limited time last year. I would absolutely have him on my roster in all formats for the upside potential.
Joe Musgrove (PIT) SP - I'm getting more and more enamored with the idea of targeting Musgrove as my SP5 this season, despite the sore shoulder that has prevented him from getting into live game action to this point (he says it is not serious). Musgrove bumped his swinging strike rate up to 11.6% last season, and his control is always very good. The bugaboo for him is always the HR, but the move to the NL and to a park that limits homers by about 8% over Minute Maid should help that quite a bit. Add in the fact that he was already carrying around an xFIP of right around 4.00, and I think there's definitely potential for a top-60 SP here. Right now he's being drafted as SP117, FYI.
Ryan McMahon (COL) 1B/3B - McMahon is slated to be the primary 1B for the Rockies this year, and anytime you have a 23 year old hitter suddenly getting playing time at Coors Field, it's time to pay attention. Right now he's being drafted as 1B37, which makes it seem like he's not likely to be a standard-league asset, but the upside here is obviously greater than most of the players taken between 20-37 at the position. Just for a taste, McMahon hit 374/411/612 in a half-season at AAA last season. He could easily be a 300/20/80 guy playing half his games at Coors....hell, he hit 355/20/88 in 3/4 of a season in the minors last year. The downsides? Well, he is much better defensively at 3B, but there's some Arenado guy that plays over there, and he has his issues against LHP like many young left-handed bats. He also saw a noticeable increase in his GB rate last year, something that could limit the utility of his power if it persists. There is certainly some risk here, especially with enough other offensive options that the Rox won't be overly patient with McMahon. Still, I do like the upside quite a bit....but I'd probably keep it to larger than standard-sized formats or leagues with a sizable reserve list for now.
Randal Grichuk (TOR) OF - At this point, we basically know what we have with Randal Grichuk: when he hits it, ball go far. Still just 26 and now north of the border in Toronto, perhaps this is finally the year where Grichuk can play a full slate of games and reach the 260/30/100 potential that he possesses. There's a ton of swing and miss here, but with a massive FB rate, a hard contact rate of around 40%, and a park boost of 8-10% from the move to Toronto, there is certainly upside here into the elite-level for the power categories. Despite the fact that he's currently OF99 via ADP, I do believe that he should be rostered in the majority of formats.
Luke Gregerson (STL) RP - The back-end of the Cardinal bullpen may not take shape for a few months yet, but it looks to me like Luke Gregerson and Dominic Leone are the prime candidates for saves at it stands on March 2nd. A lot of very sharp people are touting Leone as the up-and-comer with Gregerson on the way down, but is that actually the case? I guess by hard contact rate you do get the picture of a guy in decline from Gregerson, who hasn't shown any velocity decline to speak of just yet. I think 2017 was more of a blip in HR/FB than anything else though, and even with Leone's breakthrough season he still lagged Gregerson by 0.7% in swinging strike rate while allowing a 1.5% higher hard contact rate and 10% more flyballs. I still like Gregerson over Leone for the saves coming out of that bullpen this year, fully understanding that it isn't an ironclad situation and that both pitchers will have value in the majority of formats. I'd rather have Gregerson than a great many names being drafted earlier right now.
A.J. Puk (OAK) SP - You know, I thought Randy Johnson was a unicorn, I really did. I guess AJ Puk is a couple inches shorter, but when you watch him pitch you're absolutely going to reminisce a bit, at least if you're my age. Like Johnson, he has a double-plus fastball and slider without much else, fairly spotty command, but man can he miss bats with the combination of the stuff and the downward plane. He's already going to be 23 in April, and from I hear from the beat writers and fans out there, I wouldn't be surprised to see him make his debut right around the time summer hits. He's one of the best dynasty pitching prospects in the game of course, but even in deeper redraft leagues he should likely be owned at this point...his timetable is a bit ahead of where I expected.
Yonder Alonso (CLE) 1B - It would be easy to dismiss Yonder Alonso as a first-half wonder from last year, and it appears that that is exactly what's happening as he is currently 1B39 coming off the board. Here are some facts as to why I think he will outperform that spot enough to be a worthwhile standard-league CI: 1) moving to CLE, this will be the first year of his big-league career where he is a starter in a favorable park for hitting; 2) moving to CLE, this may very well be the first time in his career that he's in a better than average lineup; 3) the second half "swoon" that he experienced included a FB rate that was still 3 percent better than his previous best, and a hard contact rate that actually increased from the first half to a new career high. Better lineup, better environment, somewhat misleading second-half stats (particularly in AVG). I think he could definitely outpace last year's production this season in CLE, which should put him up around the top-20 at 1B.
Christian Yelich (MIL) OF - The love for Yelich this preseason is all-encompassing it seems, but I'd like to put some numbers to it so everyone can understand exactly why we are so excited. It's common knowledge that Miami is a tough park to hit in, but going from the 2nd-worst park to the 5th-best park for homers is more than just a slight improvement. Yelich has a HR/FB ratio that is 10% greater on the road than at home during his career. Keep in mind, that's the AVERAGE road park, not one of the better hitting parks in the game. He's also increase his FB rate 5% in each of the last two seasons, pushing that increase closer to 9% in the second half last year. The Brewer lineup also looks pretty solid, and he's slated to hit leadoff. With all of these things combined, it's no wonder there is buzz around Yelich this spring...I'd argue that there might not be enough. It's easy to get wild and crazy with prognostications, but I could easily envision a scenario in which Yelich hits over .300 with 25 HR, 110 R, 80 RBI, and 20 SB. I've got him valued at least a round higher than he's going on average right now, and I'm trying to be conservative with my estimates.
Lorenzo Cain (MIL) OF - What's true of Christian Yelich is true to a lesser extent of Lorenzo Cain, as he also makes a move to a park that is approximately 40% better for hitting homers than his previous home. Cain hit 12 homers on the road last season versus just 3 at home, coming on the heels of a year in which he hit 6 on the road versus 3 at home. Cain has never hit 20 homers in a season, but after posting the highest FB rate of his career (full-seasons only) last year, he could do so seemingly out of nowhere in 2018, something that would pump his value up much further than most expect. I'm not normally a proponent of expecting too much from guys exiting their prime (Cain is 32 shortly after Opening Day), but the park effect here is no joke.