NEW YORK YANKEES:
Johnny Lasagna to the rescue - It's looking more and more likely that the Yanks will open the season with both Domingo German and Jonathan Loaisiga (AKA: Johnny Lasagna) in the rotation, as Severino and Sabathia are both expected to miss a bit of time to start the year. German projects to be league average at best for me, offsetting some good velo and swing-and-miss stuff with mediocre control and difficulty keeping the ball in the park. Loaisiga, though, has some upside. Everyone raves about his raw stuff, from the 96 mph avg FB velocity to the excellent changeup (27% swinging strike rate on the pitch!) and the solid control of his curveball. His control wasn't great in his 25 inning MLB debut last year, but it's been generally fantastic in the minors. He does allow quite a few flyballs, which could be tough at Yankee Stadium, but for me the supporting offense more than offsets the park impact. I see Loaisiga as having SP2 upside, and I'm actually pleased that he is going to get an opportunity early in the year to make his case to stay in NY. He is still likely just a reserve in shallow leagues, but in average to deeper leagues I see him as a very solid fifth starter to begin the year.
First base battle - With the expected makeup of the Yankee roster to begin the season, it's essentially Bird vs. Voit for not only the starting 1B gig, but for a spot on the roster, period. Voit came out of nowhere to blast 15 homers in just 143 ABs last year, and despite having a very pedestrian track record below AAA, the Statcast numbers back it up (5th highest barrel rate in the past 4 seasons). He has to be considered the favorite right now. Bird, on the other hand, appears to be finally healthy for perhaps the first time since 2015, and he's already tallied 4 XBH in his first 18 spring ABs. The Yanks are so heavily RH that I'm sure they'd love to see Bird win the job outright, but I don't find that all that likely at this point. He does have quite a bit of upside though, as even in a very down year last season his hard contact rate was just about 40%. With his high pull% and FB% he would seem to be a perfect fit for the park, and as such I consider him a solid sleeper in deeper formats if he can win the job. Voit is somehow the 25th 1B by ADP right now....personally I have him about 5-6 spots higher than that, and there's upside from there. I believe he should be owned in just about all formats if he breaks camp as the starter.
LOS ANGELES ANGELS:
Can Cozart stay healthy? - After a 2017 in which Cozart established career-bests in every meaningful offensive category (which were supported by a massive drop in chase rate), his first year in Anaheim was disastrous in comparison as he missed over 100 games for the second time in 4 years. He struggled when he did play as well, although a fair amount of bad luck was likely a major contributing factor. He held on to some of the gains in chase rate and actually showed better batted ball data (LD up 2%, HC up 6%) than he did in 2017, so there's reason for optimism that he could perform more like 2017 than 2018 this season. The problem is that the injuries have already started, this time a calf strain that is extremely mild but will still keep him off the field for a few weeks. I do think there's a bit of potential here, especially when you consider his eligibility everywhere in the IF but 1B, but he's a deep league play only at present. He is someone I believe could perform at a top-25 level at 3B if he can remain healthy, but since he's missed at least 40 games in each of the past 4 years, there's a lot more hope in there than I would prefer.
I'm just not that into you - I've always felt that Andrew Heaney was overhyped. He's a guy with decent stuff and decent control, but fairly high hard-hit rates. He's getting a bit more swing-and-miss now from the typically high chase rates that he sustains, but there's just nothing about him that makes me think there's a big step forward in the cards. He did manage an xFIP ERA of 3.68 last year, and if he could replicate that in terms of ERA he would likely make it to the SP3-4 range that people are forecasting. For me, he's an SP5 being drafted as the 45th SP off the board right now. I like most of the 10-15 pitchers going immediately after him more.
Steady Stras.....underrated? - It's worth asking the question: Is Stephen Strasburg underrated? He's only topped 150 innings once in the past 4 seasons, which is probably the crux of the problem, but the real issue here is the fairly consistent gap between his ERA and his xFIP ERA. His xFIPs have been 3.20, 3.27, and 3.28 over the past 3 seasons, painting a picture of a very consistent low-end #1 starter. His ERAs have been 3.60 or higher in two of those three years, and he's been a massive disappointment to his fantasy owners (and Nationals fans) in those years. The velo drop last year is the biggest concern of mine, but his swinging strike rate was the 3rd highest of his 9 year career, so I'm not THAT concerned about it. He's being drafted 17th among SPs right now, toward the end of the 5th round. I like him to outperform that value this year.
Can Dozier's pull power return? - Dozier's move to Washington and revelation that he played almost all of 2018 with a bone bruise in his left knee have kindled quite a bit of optimism in a resurgence this year, and as far as the HR and SB totals I would imagine those folks will be correct to an extent. Dozier is an extreme fastball, flyball, pull hitter that has really lowered his chase rate the past few seasons, enabling him to maximize this skill set. The one thing that has given me pause with regards to Dozier over the past 3-4 seasons is the exit velo and HR distance numbers: they're about as low as it gets for anyone that hits 20 HR or more. He relies on just clearing the shortest portion of the fences, and while those still count, it's fairly easy to lose 5-10 homers a year if your power/bat speed drops at all. Still just 31, Dozier should still be a year or two away from the point where the physical skills start to slip a bit, but where he's being drafted (round 11, 2B #16), I'd probably prefer to wait a round or two and look at Odor, Moncada, or even Hampson or Wendle.
AROUND THE LEAGUE:
Jon Gray (SP-COL) - Gray would probably make my "top 10 undervalued players" this spring on the heels of a season where his ERA was 1.65 runs higher than his xFIP ERA. With no adjustments at all I'd still expect Gray to bounce back a bit, but Gray made the trek up to Driveline this winter and basically said "guys, I'm going to go out here and throw all my pitches....tell me what you see." He hasn't gone into any great detail about what changes he's made, but if his first three spring outings are any indication (9 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 10 K), the changes are positive ones. Colorado will likely always have a negative impact on arms, but a rebound to 2017 levels is a strong possibility for Gray, which means that his current draft position (SP #54, round 17) is far too low for a potential top-30 SP. He and Nick Pivetta are the two pitchers I feel most strongly about outperforming their current draft position so far this spring.
Garrett Hampson (2B-COL) - The battle for the starting 2B job in Colorado is a barnburner this spring, with Ryan McMahon, Garrett Hampson, and Pat Valaika all killing the ball in the early going. Whomever wins the job will need to be rostered as a Colorado starter, but Hampson is the most intriguing for me. He's just 24 with excellent contact ability and 30+ steal speed, and below average power in Coors could still mean 15-20 homers. He could easily be a top-10 2B this season, yet he's being drafted as 2b #25 in the 19th round on average. Yes, drafting this early could mean you end up with a player that's sent to AAA if McMahon or Valaika end up getting the job, but contact issues abound with both of those players....Hampson seems to offer the most complete package, and for me is the likely winner of this battle. I would definitely be looking at him 3-4 rounds earlier than his current ADP.
Pablo Lopez (SP-MIA) - To piggyback on Michael's comment from a few days ago, Lopez is certainly a sleeper this spring. If he can make the rotation (there are essentially 4 guys competing for the last 2 spots), his excellent control and underrated stuff could lead to above-average performance, particularly in that ballpark. Lopez has shown up this spring with an extra 5-10 pounds on his skinny frame, and he's already showing better velocity than he did at any point last season, touching 97 in his last start. He's someone I will be watching closely over the next 2-3 weeks, and I'd take a flyer on him in deeper leagues already.
Rafael Devers (3B-BOS) - Devers had a very disappointing first full season with the Sox, hitting just .240 with 21 HR and 66 RBI. There is far more talent here than that, and he's off to a great start this spring, hitting .500 with a HR and looking about 10-15 pounds slimmer. Devers only had 358 PAs above A-ball before arriving in Boston, so a little bit of regression in his first full season is completely understandable. I expect him to outperform is current ADP of the early 13th round (3B #20) by a couple of rounds, and I'd certainly be targeting him after the first 12 3B are off the board. .280 and 25 HR are easily within reach.
Mike Moustakas (3B/2B-MIL) - Moustakas should get a slight upgrade on your board now, as the Brewers have announced that they're going to be playing him at 2B and keeping Travis Shaw at 3B. 2B is a touch weaker, and the added flexibility is always enjoyable for Moose. Last year he retained most of the extremely aggressive nature that he developed in 2017, but with poorer results: despite a 9.3% jump in hard contact rate, his AVG dropped by .21 points and his HRs fell by 10. He doesn't strike out much despite the aggressiveness, and even though the change in park didn't help him late last year, I have to think it'll be worth a couple more HRs this year. Pegging him for .255-.265 and 30-35 HRs seems reasonable, and 100 RBI is likely attainable as well. For me, he places somewhere around 15th among 2B and 17-18th at 3B, making him a reasonable MI or CI choice in standard formats around the 11th round.
Francisco Mejia (C-SD) - _Mejia is 9-19 with 3 2B and 2 HR already this spring, and that's help push him up to #15 among catchers in ADP right now.....despite being the backup! There has even been discussion of letting veteran Chris Stewart be the backup to start the year and allow Mejia to pick up regular ABs at AAA. Look, Mejia is talented to be sure, and catchers that can hit don't grow on trees. That said, I'd rather open the year with a second catcher that actually plays if I can help it, someone like Barnhart, Lucroy, Cervelli, Garver, or even Willians Astudillo now that Miguel Sano is going to be out a month or more. Mejia has more upside than all but Astudillo on that list, but there's a fairly sizable chance that whomever grabs Mejia ends up cutting him before he provides much value this year. I don't like the gamble here, but this just goes to show you how weak this position is right now.
Mike Clevinger (SP-CLE) - Clevinger was great in the second half last season, pumping his K/9 up above 10 and lowering his ERA under 3.00, but a 90+% strand rate? Doubtfully sustainable, and he's going 19th among SP (late 5th/early 6th round) despite an xFIP ERA of 3.86. The velo gains and command improvement are nice to be sure, but I have Clevinger down closer to 30th among SP, which means he's going a couple of rounds early for my liking. I expect a bit of regression here, although the improvements he's made may be enough to keep him in the top 25 SP for the coming season.
Shane Bieber (SP-CLE) - I don't want it to seem like I'm picking on the Tribe....honest guys, you're going to win the Central by quit a bit I imagine. Still, I think Bieber is a bit overvalued right now, although it's easy to understand why with his minor league numbers. His ERA ballooned to over 5.00 in the second half despite relatively similar peripherals, and his xFIP ERA of 3.30 would normally look like a candidate for some pretty substantial improvement. I do think there'll be some, but Bieber is pretty much a one-pitch guy as far as effectiveness right now (his slider, which is excellent), something that's borne out by his line vs. LHB: 311/362/547. The hard contact rate north of 40% is a major red flag as well. Bieber is being valued as an SP4, and for me, he's more of an SP5. Seems like a fine distinction, but that's about three rounds later in a standard league draft, which is meaningful. I think he will be decent, but expectations are higher than that right now.
Elvis Andrus (SS-TEX) - People are real quick to dismiss Andrus' 2017 as a fluke, and with only 5 SB last season, many are forecasting little to no value from him for the upcoming season. I'd caution everyone to keep in mind that Andrus was hitting 327/426/500 when his elbow was broken by a Keynan Middleton fastball, and he never looked right the rest of the season. That was also the first injury of his career, and he was pretty vocal about how much it bothered him not to play. I'm not sure about the running: it's possible, maybe even likely, that we won't see any more 20-steal seasons from him. I do, however, think that there was more to his 2017 than random chance. He was clearly much more aggressive at the plate and much more likely to hit the ball in the air in both his career year and last season, so I think a philosophy change is apparent. I think our forecast of .282 and 16 homers is a reasonable one, and I think he's going 2-3 rounds too late right now with an average ADP in the late 16th round (SS #19). I would have no trouble targeting him after the first 12 players are off the board at the position.
Scott Kingery (2B/3B-PHI) - Kingery is 12 months removed from a ton of hype, yet there's seemingly no buzz about him this spring despite his competing for the starting 3B spot with Maikel Franco. This is a guy that hit over .300 with 26 HR and 29 SB between AA and AAA before flopping last year with the Phillies, and if he can win the 3B job he's going to be in what is likely the top offense in the NL. Those in deeper leagues should definitely be aware of this competition as this month goes by, and both he and Franco make excellent late-game, high-upside additions to your bench in most formats.