Toronto Blue Jays
Colby Rasmus - Post Hype Sleeper or 2013 Overachiever?
Colby Rasmus was one of the surprise stories of 2013. After breaking into the league with the Cardinals in 2009 with expectations of being the next five-tool superstar, Rasmus fell out of favor with the team (both for on-field and off the field issues) and was dealt to the Blue Jays in 2011. While his HR and RBI potential has always been there, traditionally his strikeout rate above 20% always dragged down his batting average and on-base percentage. Last year, however, he finished the year with 57 runs, 22 HRs, 66 RBIs and hit for .276/.338/.501. Superficially, this could be a sign that the 27 year old finally put all the pieces together to be a solid fantasy contributor. Digging a little deeper, we also see that when he made contact with the ball, he was hitting it harder (22.0% LD% in 2013 compared to 20.1% in 2012 and just 16.5% in 2011) and more of his flyballs were going for homeruns (17.3% HR/FB ratio vs 13.2% in 2012 and 8.3% in 2011). Unfortunately, we also see that his strikeout rate actually increased to 29.5% versus 23.8% in 2012 and his walk rate remained low at only 8.1%. Why, then, did he see his batting average jump by over 50 points? His BABIP soared to .356 compared to his career average of .298. When Colby Rasmus made contact with the ball (which was still on the low side at only 73.5%), he was getting extremely lucky. Rasmus battled injuries last season and has yet to play an entire season while healthy. For me, I think Rasmus will again be a good source of HRs and RBIs but he will be a liability in the batting average column. Unless he begins to utilize his speed on the basepaths, I see little reason why he will outperform his current ADP of 24.09.
Marcus Stroman - Darkhorse Rotation Candidate?
Marcus Stroman is an athletic righty who was drafted in the first round in 2012. On draft day, he was tabbed as the most major-league ready pitcher in his draft class, and he currently holds the record for the most career strikeouts at Duke University. Despite being suspended 50 games at the end of 2012 for using a banned stimulant, Stroman rebounded nicely at AA in 2013, posting an ERA of 3.30 with a WHIP of 1.13. Even more impressive was his K/9 of 10.4 and BB/9 of 2.18, both of which are great. The main thing that is preventing Stroman from topping the prospect ratings is his relatively small 5'9'' frame. He dropped on draft day due to questions regarding his ability to be a long-term starter but his performance in the minors the last two years has helped quiet some of the doubters. Stroman will be competing with Esmil Rogers and Kyle Drabek for the 5th rotation spot this spring. Even if he doesn't break with the team out of camp, expect to see him up sooner rather than later in Toronto, especially with Brandon Morrow's injury history.
Second Base Position Battle
One of the more interesting position battles this spring will be for the Cubs second base position. Incumbent Darwin Barney is a gold-glover but that's about the only aspect to his game. He's a below average hitter and with a slew of infield prospects nearing the big leagues, his time as the starter is limited. Last week, Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said that top prospect Javier Baez would see time at both 3B and 2B this spring. While a potential call-up for Baez will be exciting for fantasy owners, it's unlikely he'll win the job out of camp. Baez's swing has been compared to Gary Sheffield's and he hit for 37 HRs, 111 RBIs and stole 20 bases in High-A and Double-A last season. However, with a 28.8% strikeout rate and only 40 walks, the Cubs will likely want Baez to work on his approach for at least a few more months before a possible late season call-up. Earlier this week, Cubs finalized a minor league deal with recently-released Emilio Bonifacio. Despite having plus speed, Bonifacio's value is limited by his trouble getting on base and his shoddy defense that has prevented him from getting consistent at-bats. Bonifacio is likely to fill the super utility role for the Cubs and will most likely see time at positions all over the field rather than be the starter at second. My favorite darkhorse candidate for the position is Arismendy Alcantara. Despite an elevated strikeout rate (21.9%), he also has an above average walk rate (10.9%). Alcantara has decent speed, stealing 31 bases in 37 attempts at Double-A last year and has decent pop. His power is still developing but he posted an ISO of .180 last year and will likely touch double-digits homeruns, if given the opportunity. From a fantasy perspective, if Baez doesn't win the job, Alcantara is the next best option. Thanks to his big league-ready defense, I believe he is a serious option for opening day in Pittsburgh but keep an eye on the battle this spring.
Starlin Castro - Can be rebound?
It's hard to find a bigger non-injury related bust in 2013 than Starlin Castro. After posting solid stats as a 22-year old with a mix of power and speed in 2012, Castro was one of the first shortstops off the board in 2013. He responded by taking two giant leaps back. Castro has several troubling statistical trends that are worth keeping in mind. Since 2011, Castro's strikeout rate has increased from 13.4% to 18.3% last year. Couple that with a walk rate around 5% and it's evident that the youngster's plate discipline is poor. According to ESPN's homerun tracker, six of Castro's ten homeruns were "just enough", meaning his low 6.3% HR/FB ratio may not improve this coming year. One other interesting thing to note is his decline of his stolen base success rate. In 2011, he was successful 71% of the time, in 2012 he dropped to 66% and last year he fell to 60%. He also only attempted 15 steals last year. If he can't improve his baserunning, he may not contribute significantly in the steals category, which will further limit his fantasy value. At 24 years old, he's still learning the league and still has plenty of time to make adjustments to reach his high ceiling. With Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara and Kris Bryant approaching readiness for the big leagues, the pressure is on for Castro to perform this year.
Kansas City Royals
Salvador Perez - Top 10 Catching Option
Entering his second full season as the Royal's backstop, Perez is primed to take another step forward. Perez posted an 87% contact rate last year and has a favorable GB/FB ratio of 1.52. He also had a BABIP near his career levels last year while holding a batting average of .292. All these indicators point to another season of a high batting average while also providing decent power numbers from the catcher position. ESPN's homerun tracker shows an average batted ball speed of 104.7MPH on his homeruns last year, which is very good. At only 23 years old, Perez is trending upward.
Norichika Aoki - Value at his current ADP
The acquisition of Norichika Aoki came as a surprise to many people, given the relatively low price the Royals had to pay to acquire the right fielder (Will Smith). While Aoki saw his numbers regress in 2013 from his rookie season in the United States, he is still an excellent option atop Kansas City's lineup. The arrival of Aoki should help the team fill a void at leadoff. It also allows Alex Gordon to move to the middle of the lineup where he belongs. Aoki's OBP of .356 is above average, which should translate to plenty of runs scored hitting in front of Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler and the aforementioned Gordon. Aoki boasts strong strikeout and walk rates as well as a phenomenal contact rate of 92%. Couple those with his GB/FB ratio of 2.76 and one can easily assume he should be able to maintain a high batting average again in 2014. Aoki won't provide much in the way of power (.084 ISO last year), but he should be a solid contributor in SBs, R and obviously batting average. Aoki's current ADP of 14.06 could be a steal on draft day.
Around the League:
Jurickson Profar (2B - TEX) - After being medically cleared on Monday, Jurickson Profar was shut down for another week due to renewed soreness in his shoulder on Tuesday. Depending on your league format, Profar could be eligible to play 2B, SS, and 3B this season. Assuming he doesn't have any more setbacks, he will be the Ranger's starting second baseman but will likely hit in the bottom half of the order. Just a couple years removed from being one of the game's top prospects, Profar still needs to develop offensively in order to live up to his current ADP of 12.09. In the minors, he showed excellent plate discipline, walking more than 10% of the time, as well as great contact rates. While he hasn't walked as much in the majors, he still has a good contact rate above 80%. Despite posting double-digit homeruns in the minor leagues in 2011 and 2012, he has yet to exceed 6 HRs in a season for the Rangers. Now that he has a set position and won't be showing up everyday wondering where he will play, it's not far-fetched to think that he will continue to grow offensively. Keep watching the news to check the status of his shoulder. Should he have another setback, it wouldn't be surprising to see him start the season on the DL.
Jean Segura (SS-MIL) - It was reported over the weekend that the Brewers and Jean Segura were expected to start discussions regarding a long-term contract extension. Brewers GM Doug Melvin nixed these rumors and said no negotiations have taken place. Segura was a favorite target for many fantasy managers last season and he returned excellent value in the first half. Coming into this season, Segura is going in the top 50 overall and is Fantistics' #6 shortstop off the board. One thing to keep in mind on draft day was his steep drop-off in production in the second half. After hitting .325/11/36 in the first half with 27 stolen bases, Segura hit just .241/1/20 after the All-Star break and added just 17 stolen bases. A potential factor to Segura's great first half was a favorable BABIP of .349 which dropped to just .285 in the second half. Segura is going to need to make adjustments as pitchers exploit his weaknesses as a hitter. Look for the "real" Jean Segura to fall somewhere between the extreme first and second half splits. If nothing else, he will be a great source of speed at an always shallow position.
Francisco Liriano (SP-PIT) - Clint Hurdle named Francisco Liriano the opening day starter for the Pirates on Tuesday. Liriano finally stayed healthy and was able to control his pitches well enough to win 16 games for the surprise Pirates last season. True to his past, Liriano was successful at striking out batters but he also showed improvements in his HR/FB ratio (8.5%) and also induced more ground balls, which helped him post a FIP of 2.92. Liriano's swinging strike % at 13.2% is elite, which may have been helped by his velocity being higher on all of his pitches versus his career averages. Liriano's health and control have always been issues in the past, but if he can keep these areas in check, he could prove to be a value at his current ADP of 11.08.
Michael Pineda (SP-NYY) - On Monday, Michael Pineda announced that he is the "same" pitcher as he was before getting hurt. Joe Girardi also had good things to say about the right-hander. Pineda has a chance to compete for the fifth spot in the Yankees rotation this spring and if he can remain healthy, Pineda can be a sleeper candidate in many fantasy drafts. Despite not throwing a pitch in the majors since 2011, Pineda is still just 25 years old and has the potential to be a very good pitcher. In his rookie season as a Mariner, Pineda struck out more than a batter per inning and kept his walk rate better than average. If Pineda will have success this season, he will need to keep his flyballs to a minimum in Yankee Stadium.
Kevin Siegrist (RP-STL) - One of the surprise relievers in 2013 was Kyle Siegrist. Poised to be the top lefty in the Cardinals 'pen this season, Siegrist is battling soreness in his throwing arm. Keep an eye on the news and make sure this doesn't develop into anything serious. In fantasy leagues with holds, Siegrist will be quite valuable setting up for Trevor Rosenthal this year. After getting called up on June 6th last season, Siegrist dominated as a middle reliever posting a minuscule 0.45 ERA with a K/9 of 11.34 and a LOB% of 98.3%. Obviously, some regression is expected but even if his ERA normalizes, his FIP and xFIP were 2.29 and 3.00 last year.
Carlos Santana (C-CLE) - According to MLB.com's Jordan Bastian, Carlos Santana "looked comfortable" during a third base drill on Monday. While this is simply chatter coming from Twitter, it is good news for fantasy owners that the Indians appear willing to try him at a position other than DH with Yan Gomes taking over much of the catching responsibilities. Santana has great raw power and will be hitting in a decent Indians lineup in 2014. Santana's ISO of .187 is actually lower than his average through his career and points to positive power potential this year. He has never been a contributor in stolen bases and he has come in a little low on batting average, but for owners in on-base percentage leagues, Santana is an elite catching option. Moving out from behind the plate should help his overall offensive numbers and gaining 3B eligibility would just be icing on the cake.
Erik Johnson (SP-CHW) - On Monday, White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper said that rookie Erik Johnson is "penciled in pretty firmly" for a rotation spot this year. Johnson is a former 2nd round pick who put up an ERA of 1.96 between Double-A and Triple-A last season. He also drew five starts in September for the big club and went 3-2 with 3.25 ERA. Johnson's stuff isn't necessarily dominating, as he relies mostly on his low-90's fastball but also throws a slider, curveball and changeup. It's worth noting that Johnson's change up still needs polishing and he threw it just 5% of the time last year. If he can continue to induce ground balls around 50% of the time, he should fare well at U.S. Cellular Field. He's not going to be the next ace for your fantasy team, but he should get an opportunity to start on a regular basis and put up decent numbers as a back-end option in drafts.
Mat Latos (SP-CIN) - Reds GM Walt Jocketty had positive news for Mat Latos fans on Tuesday. He notified the media that his starting pitcher's meniscus surgery was successful and it sounds like he's still on pace to return to his throwing program in about ten days. The last two years, Latos has quietly put together solid seasons in one of baseball's most hitter friendly ballparks. Despite finishing the year with a K/9 below 8 for the second straight year, Latos showed improvements in IPs, HR/9, BB/9, and ERA. Unfortunately, his HR/FB ratio was unusually low at 6.9%, which means it is likely to rise closer to his career average of 8.6% next year. Still just 26-years old, Fantistics is projecting him to have 192 innings pitched with 12 W's, 3.52 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 165K's.
Brandon Belt (1B-SFG) - It sounds like Brandon Belt and the Giants will be having an arbitration hearing on Wednesday unless they can come to an agreement beforehand. In his second season as the Giants primary first baseman, Belt took a giant leap forward. The 25-year old saw his HR total more than double from 7 to 17 and also hit more doubles and scored more runs. Belt has steadily increased his wRC+ each of the last three years and finished 2013 with a wRC+ of 139, which put him in the top 20, ahead of superstars Buster Posey, Evan Longoria, Allen Craig, Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Bautista, and Carlos Santana. Playing at a position that is deceptively thin, Belt could provide good value when drafted in the middle rounds.
Matt Moore (SP-TB) - Matt Moore had a disappointing season in 2013 and he blames his performance on his off-season workout the year before. Moore said that poor preparation led to his elbow injury and consequently, his 2 MPH drop in velocity last year. Moore went on to say that he went back to his old training program this year and he feels better prepared for the upcoming season. Failing to live up to his former top prospect status, Moore followed up his rookie campaign with regressions to both his strikeout and walk rates and saw his fastball velocity drop from 94 MPH to 92 MPH. His swinging strike percent fell from 11.8% to 9.5% but that wasn't due to using his fastball less frequently (he is still throwing his fastball over 60% of the time). Further compounding the problem was Moore's inability to throw the ball in the strike zone. Last year, his pitches landed in the strike zone only 44% of the time. While few doubt that the talent is there, Moore needs to learn to pitch, not just throw the ball.