Power Surge in the Twin Cities?
There is potential in Minnesota to have a lethal power combo in the middle of the lineup where Miguel Sano and Nelson Cruz Look to become the first pair of AL teammates to hit 40+ homer runs in the same season since 2015. Despite playing into his age 39 season Cruz has hit 37+ home runs each of the past 5 seasons, although his .850 OPS was his lowest since 2013 and his .256 AVG was his lowest ever for a season he played in 100+ games. Cruz posted a career high 42.7% hard hit rate last year and it appears he may have been the recipient of some bad luck with .264 babip and also had his lowest K% (20.6%) since 2014. The main issue from a fantasy perspective for Cruz is eligibility - he has only logged 54 innings in the field over the past 2 seasons combined, which doesn't give fantasy managers much flexibility. 40 home runs may be a longshot - but with a clean bill of health look for Cruz to hit at least 35 home runs and push his OPS closer to .900
Sano on the other hand enters 2019 as what can be seen as a potential make or break year as he is only signed through 2019 and coming off a horrific 2018 that saw him slash .199/.281/.398 which was buoyed by a miserable 38.5 K%. Most fantasy owners who had Sano rostered for last season know the story - poor conditioning, injuries and even a demotion to the Twins A+ team during the season made for a long year. 2019 is a new year and there already a few signs that the demotion and injuries were a turning point. Sano played winter league ball in the Dominican Republic this offseason and while his .222 avg over 12 league playoff games is not super inspiring, he did pick up 3 extra base hits and put together a 4:12 BB:K ratio which albeit in a very small sample size compares much more favorably (24.5 K%) then what he did last season. In order for Sano to approach his prodigious power numbers that many think he is capable of he will need to do a few things in 2019. First 2018 saw a 5% decrease in line drives and a 5% increase in groundballs. He has always been among the leaders in hard hit% since arriving to the show, and if he can bring his line drive % back to a respectable rate it should help his slash line trend up in the right direction. Sano has a career high games played of 116 but if he can stay healthy and cut his k% even a few points there is potential for him to go neck and neck with Cruz in home runs this season.
Twins Futures Watch - Nick Gordon
Since being the 5th overall pick of the 2014 overall draft Nick Gordon has had a fast and successful rise through the Twins farm system and there was growing buzz last May when Gordon earned his promotion to AAA by crushing AA pitching to the tune of a .333/.381/.525 line with 18 extra base hits and his lowest K rate - 14.9% - at any stop in the minors. Gordon then proceeded to pick up multi-hit games in 6 of his first 15 games at AAA but really struggled after that and finished with a dismal .544 OPS in 99 AAA games with just 19 extra base hits. Gordon saw a steep decline in babip with the jump in levels, dropping .366 to .264 would could be attributed to decline in line drives (25.2% in AA vs 19.9% at AAA) while increasing his FB% 4%. On the plus side, Gordon did swipe 13 bags in 16 chances and added 4 triples. The Twins will want to make sure he can truly handle AAA pitching before he gets the call, and while a 2019 debut is not out of the question the Twins already have Jorge Polanco penciled in for starting SS duty to open the year. Gordon may in fact end up being a better real-life ball player then fantasy player as he also grades out with plus defensive metrics - but could be a 10 triple / 20+SB kind of player down the road.
Jonathan Schoop - 2019 Rebound Candidate?
Following a dazzling 32 home run and .841 OPS season in 2017 that saw him make his first All Star game Schoop seemed to be headed to stardom entering his age 26-season last year. Those realizations came crashing down as Schoop got off to a slow start with the Orioles and was traded midseason to the Brewers where he struggled even more - finishing with a .202 AVG and 4 home runs in 46 games for Milwaukee. Injuries early in the season may be part of the tale but Schoop couldn't right the ship after the trade. Schoop has always been a bit of a free swinger but following his trade to the Brewers that part of his game was really on display - his K% Ballooned to over 30%, he had a swinging strike rate of 18.2% and a contact% of just 68.3% - all numbers that rivaled a Joey Gallo stat line - but without any of the power that make Gallo a commodity. Interestingly, Schoop saw an increase in his hard-hit rate% but this just didn't translate to success at the dish. One other interesting note there is a possibility he may have been pressing at the plate to make up for some defensive struggles. He committed 7 errors in just 189 innings at 2B after the trade compared to 8 in 752 innings before. As for a 2019 I would expect Schoop to settle in somewhere between his 2017 and 2018 seasons - a .260 AVG, 20+ home runs and 30+ doubles are not out of the question, as he has the inside track on at bats at 2B for the Twins.
Ramon Laureano - 2019 All star?
There are many fascinating stories regarding the 2018 Oakland Athletics 97-win season including the rise of Ramon Laureano. The former 16th round pick of the Houston Astros bust onto the scene for Oakland becoming a key contributor with a .288/.358/.474 line with a nice blend of power (18 XBH'S) and speed (7 SB) in 48 games while also grading out well in center field. A relative unknown to most before his promotion he arrived in Oakland in 2017 via trade he has made a relatively fast rise through the minor leagues, ripping through 3 levels in 3 and a half years, and earning a promotion with a .905 OPS for AAA Nashville last season. For 2019 Laureano can continue to be a key cog in the Oakland batting order if he can continue to show improved plate discipline. His 28.4% K rate was among the worst in the league had be been qualified and his inability to improve this may result in him batting in the lower of the batting order as opposed to leadoff a spot he did hit out of 11 times last year. A 20/20 season is not out of the question over provided a full season of work.
Mike Fiers - Opening Day Starter?
Acquired in early August last season, Fiers was a key contributor to the A's advancing to the AL Wild Card game going 5-2 with a 3.74 ERA with an 8.8 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9. With Oakland entering 2019 without the services of their top arm, Sean Manaea until at least after the All-Star break, Fiers appears to have the inside track to being the opening day starter - for better or for worse. His 2018 surface numbers are a little misleading - he checks in at a combined 4.93 FIP and he was able to work his way out of jams when batters reached base with a 84.2% LOB rate - an outlier from his other seasons that does match up well with his career low 2.13 ERA season in 2014. Owners will also need to be weary of the longball - as he did surrender 12 in just 53 innings for Oakland last season. Oakland profiles to have a high-scoring offense in 2019 and Fiers, at the very least could pick up wins for fantasy owners that need that category - but will be an inconsistent option over the course of the season.
What to make of a fully healthy Jurickson Profar
2018 gave fans a glimpse of what we have been seemingly been waiting forever - a breakout from a fully healthy Jurickson Profar. While a .254/.335/.458 line doesn't may not scream breakout Profar easily has his best season as a pro and a trade to a potent Oakland lineup puts him in position to improve on that. Profar showed exceptional plate discipline, checking in with a 9.1% BB rate, 14.8% K rate and found his power stroke with a .204 ISO from hitting 35 doubles and 20 home runs. He also showed off on the base paths stealing 10 bags without getting caught. He played in a career high 146 games and played all over the diamond for Texas logging 10+ games at every infield position while also having 31 games of OF experience under his belt from previous years. Owners should enjoy his position versatility this year as Oakland has a much more fluent setup around the infield, and barring injury to other players he should the majority of his reps at 2B. With the lineup around him scoring opportunities could be plenty and Profar has a chance to score 100+ runs while he looks to top his 61 extra base hits he contributed last season.
Around the League:
Nick Hundley (C-OAK)
Hundley agreed to minor league contract with the Oakland Athletics Monday with an invitation to Spring training. Oakland enters camp with just Josh Phegley and Chris Herrmann on the 40-man roster and neither has produced much in the majors. Hundley, on the other had been the primary backup to Buster Posey for the past 2 seasons and provided serviceable results last season, hitting .241 with a .706 OPS, and 25 extra base hits including 10 home runs in 305 PAs. While he is not as strong defensively as Phegley, Hundley is a player worth following throughout spring, as you could do a lot worse on your fantasy roster at the catching position. A strong spring could him a roster spot and potential starting nod, at least until top catching prospect Sean Murphy is ready.
Stephen Vogt (C-SF)
Vogt agreed to a minor League deal with the Giants Monday. Following the loss of backup Nick Hundley, The Giants appear to be having an open audition of sorts for the backup C spot. Vogt though may have a hard time cracking the opening day roster, considering he sat out all of 2018 with a shoulder injury and has yet to begin throwing from the normal catchers crouching position. Vogt does have a solid track record with the bat owning a career.251/.310/.416 line and had a relatively decent 7.7% BB rate and 16.9% K rate with 12+ home runs from 2015-2017. Health will be key for Vogt in the next few weeks as spring training gets under way, but the Giants backup C spot could be worth monitoring for those who own Buster Posey as the Giants most likely will continue to keep him fresh with off days or playing time at 1B.
Kyler Murray (OF-OAK)
Murray announced Monday that he will be focusing "100%" of his time on football going forward. The back and forth ride finally culminated with the two-sport star deciding to begin the quest towards stardom as an NFL QB. Oakland will add him to their restricted list to retain his rights encase he changes course, and as he already signed they will not receive any compensation in the 2019 draft. Murray, who hit .296 with a .556 SLG% with 10 home runs and 10 steals over the summer for the Oklahoma baseball program, can be safely dropped by dynasty owners who have been stashing him.
Zach Duke (RP-CIN)
Duke signed a one-year deal with the Reds Monday. This will be the lefty's second stint with the Reds, as he appeared for 14 games for the club back in 2013. Duke will presumably join the Reds bullpen after pitching to the tune of a 4.15 ERA with an 8.83 K/9 over 55 innings with the Twins and Mariners. Duke pitched better than those surface numbers indicate, as he had a 3.01 FIP to go along with a career high 59.4% groundball rate and a miniscule .17 HR/9 (he only allowed 1 all season). While his fastball velocity topped out at 88mph, Duke was able to fool hitters all season long with his curveball to the tune of a .136 AVG, a pitch he threw 8% of the time - not a lot, but his highest rate since 2014.
Corey Kluber (SP-CLE)
On the eve before pitchers and catcher report it appears one trade candidate - Corey Kluber - will indeed report to Indians camp tomorrow much to the delight of Cleveland fans. Kluber will anchor what could be another strong Cleveland rotation with numbers that rivaled his 2017 Cy Young as he reached the 20-win mark for the first time in his career with a 2.89 ERA and .99 WHIP. He continues to be an absolute innings eater and front-line fantasy starter, chewing up a league leading 215 innings over 33 starts with his pinpoint control (1.4 BB/9) allowing him to pitch deep into just about every game. He is about as reliable as it gets from a starting pitcher - but owners should take note as he pitches into his age 33 season that he did have his lowest career fastball velocity last year (92.4mph) and a 9.29 K/9 rate, well below his 11.71 mark in 2017.
Melky Cabrera (OF-PIT)
Cabrera signed a minor league deal with the Pirates over the weekend with an invite to big league spring training. The veteran is coming of a 2018 season that saw him slash a respectable .280/.335/.420 with his trademark solid command of the plate (7.2% BB rate, 13.7% K rate) and a roughly league average 102 wrc+. With the Pirates looking for some stability in the outfield with Gregory Polanco out for the early part of the season, Cabrera could play his way onto the roster and possibly a starting gig with a strong spring and some struggles from Lonnie Chisenhall, who figures to be the starter. Either way, Cabrera is only worth a speculative look in deep NL-only
Bradley Zimmer (OF-CLE)
Reports from Indians camp indicate that Zimmer, who is recovering from a torn labrum in his right shoulder should be good to go for spring training, even if he takes it easy to open things up. The injury cost Zimmer the last 3 months of 2018 one that saw him struggle mightily with a .611 OPS and a 7:44 BB:K rate in 34 games. Zimmer always struck out at a high rate in the minors but was able to pair that with high walk rates as well - but has not been the case thus far in his big-league career as he has been generally overmatched continually chasing pitches out of the zone (30.4%) and struggling to make contact just - 41.5% of the time on those swings. Zimmer twice swiped 30+ bags in the minor leagues and did pop 8 home runs with 18 stolen bases in 101 games as a Rookie in 2017 and should get ample opportunity to prove his worth with the bat when he is fully healthy.
Caleb Smith (SP-MIA)
Smith just recently threw off the mound for the first time since suffering a Lat injury in June of last season. As the Marlins open camp this week one storyline will be the health of the Smith who looked impressive at times in 2018 who pitched to the tune of a 4.19 ERA (3.96 FIP) with a 10.24 K/9 and 11.6% Swinging Strike rate. The sample size was small for Smith and he will have to cut down his walk rate 3.84 BB/9 to help him go deeper into ball games as he lasted just 77 innings over 16 starts. Owners should monitor the reports from Marlins camp as the status of his health - but he is a player to keep an eye on and possibly target as a late round starter.
Yu Chang (SS-CLE)
With news that Francisco Lindor will miss 7-9 weeks many are probably wondering who will step in to fill his shoes. One in-house candidate is the 23-year-old Chang. Chang has risen through the Indians minor league system after showing good pop in the lower levels and put together a respectable .256/.330/.411 line in 127 games at AAA last year. Those number don't jump off the page - but Chang made an appearance in the Arizona Fall League this offseason and absolutely raked slashing .337.396/.523 and leading his team in home runs (4) and RBIs (17). Those sorts of numbers will certainly afford him to win the SS job in camp until Lindor returns.
A.J. Cole (RP-CLE)
Cole cleared waivers for the Indians to AAA but will still come to camp with the Indians. Cole, who was claimed from the Yankees in January has failed to put it together at the major league level after posting string numbers in the Nationals farm system although arguably had his best pro season with the Yankees last year tossing a 4.26 ERA with an 11.6 K/9 over 38 innings. Cole still struggled with the longball (2.1 HR/9) and control issues (3.8 BB/9) but could have a place as a long reliever for Cleveland. One thing to keep an on is pitch usage. Following his acquisition by the Yankees last year he nearly doubled the use of his slider (27.9% to 47.4%) a pitch that a pitch batter hit just .188 on last year.
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