Ryan Braun-MIL-OF: Out to Prove Doubters
Ryan Braun had been one of the most valuable and consistent fantasy performers over the past couple of years. He was penciled in for a slash line of .300 avg./30 HR/100 RBI/20 SB. He was an all-category stud, but one now has to wonder how much of that production was due to his use of PED's. Braun most likely will see some regression in his power and will most likely be running less than he has in the past. Braun has struggled with nagging injuries the past couple of years. Running less will allow him to stay fresh and be less of a risk of injury. Braun will be out to prove that he is still one of the top players in the game in 2014. Being in the middle of his prime, a return to a Top 5 fantasy performer is not out of the question.
Matt Garza-MIL-SP: Will Garza spend more time on the mound or on the D.L. in 2014?
Matt Garza signed a four year, $50 million contract with the Brewers. Garza was one of the lucky SP to not have a draft pick tied to him. Garza did not garner as much attention as many thought going into the offseason. Many teams were concerned about Garza's elbow and the screw that was used to repair the elbow. Garza does have a four pitch arsenal that includes a two-seamer with good movement and slider that is used as his out pitch(75 of his 136 K's with his slider). However, he does not come without risk, he has made trips to the DL in each of the last three years. Garza was hurt last season by an elevated HR/FB rate. Miller Park has historically been kind to homeruns. Garza will have to lower his walks to limit the damage and rely on his two-seam fastball to induce more groundballs.
Aroldis Chapman-CIN-RP: Majors Best Arm
ESPN recently published a story detailing the struggles that Chapman has gone through since defecting from Cuba and joining the Reds. One thing Chapman has had no trouble adjusting to, is major league hitters. Chapman had an incredible 15.83 K/9 in 2014. Chapman struck out 112 batters in 63.2 innings. New Reds manager Bryan Price has been quoted as saying that he wants to "get more use" out of Chapman this year. This has to be music to fantasy owners everywhere. Chapman boasts the leagues best fastball and a devastating slider. Hitters have hit a paltry .154 against Chapman since entering the league in 2010. Chapman will once again be a sought out commodity on draft day.
Billy Hamilton-CIN-OF: Will he break the 70 SB plateau?
Hamilton was able to showcase his game changing speed in his September call-up last year. There isn't any doubt the he will be able to steal bases, but many doubt that he will be able to get on base enough to rack up the gaudy stolen base totals.
Hamilton was able to steal 13 bases in 13 games at the end of the year for the Reds.
Hamilton will be competing for the centerfield job with Chris Heisey and Skip Schumaker. The competition isn't great, but neither was Hamilton's OBP of .308 at Triple A last year. Obviously the Reds have some concern about the wiry Hamilton's ability to hit and get on base at the top of their order. They would not have gone after the often injured Grady Sizemore, if they were convinced the job was Hamilton's. With all that being said, if Hamilton does win the centerfield job and leadoff spot, he could be very valuable to fantasy owners if he can maintain a league average OBP.
St. Louis Cardinals
Oscar Taveras-STL-OF: Will he win the RF job out of Spring Training?
Recently, Cardinals GM John Mozeliak stated that Taveras was 100% cleared for all baseball activities. Taveras has been one of the top prospects in the game for the past couple of years. He was supposed to make his impact in late 2013, but a series of ankle injuries that would eventually lead to ankle surgery, led to him never get that chance. Taveras has an unconventional swing that can be described as violent, but he has an uncanny ability to put barrel to ball. He has the potential to be a plus hitter at the next level, while averaging 25 homers. Taveras is an aggressive hitter at the plate, but doesn't strike out much. If he can win the starting RF job out of spring training, he has the potential to win the N.L. Rookie of the Year Award.
Matt Adams-STL-1B: Big time power, but will he win a starting spot?
Matt Adams had put up big numbers in the minors prior to 2013. Adams was able to show what he can do at the major league level in limited playing time last year. Adams slashed .281/17/51 in only 295 at-bats. If you project that over the course of entire season Adams would be looking at a .275/30/100 slash line. However, if you look at his 77% contact rate and his 21.8% HR/FB rate, a regression in both Avg. and HR's are likely for Adams. Adams also posted a 25% K rate, which will hinder his ability to have an average in the .280 range again. If Adams is able to win the 1B job out of spring training, he could be a steal late in drafts for cheap power.
Around the League
Reports out of Marlins camp has been that they will give Heaney an opportunity to win a starting spot in their rotation. Heaney was the teams 1st round draft pick in the 2012. Heaney has only made six starts above A-ball. He posted a 1.60 ERA in 2013 with 89 strikeouts in 95 innings. Heaney is a left handed pitcher that boasts a three pitch arsenal that includes a 90-93 fastball, sharp breaking curveball, and change-up that is MLB quality. The Marlins showed last year with Jose Fernandez that they are not afraid to pick the most talented players for their major league roster, regardless of how much time they have spent in the minors. Heaney might just provide a devastating righty-lefty combination for the Marlins in 2014.
Bedard had signed a minor league contract with the Tampa Bay Rays. Bedard is not enticing option for fantasy owners. He posted a 4.59 ERA with 138 K's in 151 innings last year with the Astros. He is unlikely to win a job out of spring training, but represents potential depth for the Rays with Hellickson's recent injury.
Santana is the top pitcher on the FA market. He posted a 3.24 ERA and 1.14 WHIP with 161 K's in 211 innings. Santana has not found a home yet, because he has a draft pick tied to his signing. His most likely home, would be to return to the Kansas City Royals, but a team might surprise us and sign him to a deal during spring training. Whatever team signs Santana is hoping for 2013 Santana and not 2012 Santana.
Jose Veras-CHI Cubs-RP
New Cub's manager Rick Renteria has named Jose Veras his closer. The 33 year old, pitched for the Astros and Tigers in 2013. He posted a 3.02 ERA with 21 saves in 2013. Veras is not one of the top closers in the game, but he has a fairly secure job to start the 2014 season, which not many closer can say. Veras will provide a decent ERA, strikeouts, and saves. He will not be spectacular, but he also will not cost a lot on draft day.
News came out yesterday that the Braves had signed Tehran to a 6-year contract extension. Tehran put up a 3.20 ERA with 170 strikeouts in 185.2 innings in 2014. Tehran's xFIP was 3.76 for 2013. So it is likely that we will see some slight regression for Tehran in 2014.
The Phillies signed 27 year old Cuban Miguel Gonzalez, to a 3-year, $12 million contract. Gonzalez stands 6'3" and 195lbs. The Phillies signed him with the hope that he could step right into their major league rotation. Philly scouts believe that he can be a number 2 or 3 starter. Gonzalez was asked what pitches he throws. His response was, "fastball, curveball, changeup, cutter, and splitter". Reports from early Phillies camp, has been that Gonzalez does not have the velocity that was expected. With the signing of A.J. Burnett, Gonzalez no longer has a rotation spot. This will allow him time to increase his arm strength and adjust to American baseball in the minors. He will be a name to keep in mind over the course of the season.
Colome will compete for the final spot in the Rays' rotation this spring. Colome was shut down in 2013 due to strained elbow. He is only 26 years old and posted a 3.07 ERA with 72 strikeouts in 70 innings in Triple A for the Rays in 2013. He will be an interesting option to keep an eye on throughout Spring Training. If he wins the final spot in the rotation, he would be worth a late round flier pick based upon his ability to strikeout batters.
Owings and Didi Gregorious are battling it out for the starting SS position in 2014. Snakes GM Kevin Towers has gone on record saying that Gregorious is ahead going into spring ball, but that it is an open competition. Both players are out of options, so whoever loses the battle will be relegated to bench duties in 2014. Early reports out of camp have shown that Owings is also working on his skills at 2B, potentially boosting his bench value. Owings had a breakout season at Reno(AAA) last season. He hit .330/12/81 and stole 20 bases. If Owings can win the starting job and replicate any of his 2013 season, he will be valuable commodity at a shallow position, SS.
Reports have been coming out that the Angels and Trout are hoping to reach a contract extension prior to the start of the 2014 season. The deal will most likely make Trout one of, if not the highest paid player in history. He will most likely break A-Rod's 10-yr, $275 million deal. Some experts have Trout getting a contract in the 10-12yr deal, in the range of $300-400 million. Trout has posted a 20.5 WAR over the past two seasons and the second person on that list Andrew McCutchen's 15.0 doesn't even come close. Trout's production at his age is unprecedented and so will his new contract whenever that might be.
Sabathia has reported to Yankees camp at 275lbs, which is 40lbs less than last year. Sabathia posted a disappointing 4.78 ERA and 175/65 K/BB ratio over 211 innings. Sabathia's xFIP was actually 3.76, which was a run lower than his actual ERA. This might suggest that Sabathia was actually better than his numbers indicated. Sabathia is no longer in the prime of his career at the age of 33 and has a ton of mileage on his arm. Losing 40lbs, hopefully will help Sabathia stay injury free and improve upon his disappointing 2013 season. Sabathia will still be valuable for his durability, wins, strikeouts, and slightly above league average ERA. He will no longer be a top tier pitcher, but could potentially be a steal on draft day based upon his 2013 season.
Pineda was once thought to be on the path to stardom when he debuted at the age of 22 for the Seattle Mariners. He posted a 3.74 ERA with 173 strikeouts in 171 innings. The Mariners shocked their fan base by trading Pineda following the 2011 season for Jesus Montero, who had made a major impact for the Yankees in limited time. It looked like a win-win for both teams. However, Montero has not worked out for the Mariners and Pineda missed all of 2012 and most of 2013 because of shoulder injuries. Pineda is finally thought to be 100% this spring. If he can return to 2011 form, the Yankees might have found an intriguing option to their starting rotation. If Pineda can show that he still has the velocity and repertoire, which brought him success in 2011, the Yankees and fantasy owners might have a low risk, high reward SP.