Is Matt Dominguez a late round sleeper?
Dominguez did not have the most productive year last season. 2013 was his first full season in the big leagues, and struggled overall with his offensive game. While Dominguez did display some home run power (21 HR in 589 plate appearances), the third baseman hit just .241/.286/.403. On the surface Dominguez looks as if he has some potential to improve considering his .254 BABIP. However, his 18.7 percent line drive rate was below average and he has the propensity to hit infield flies (15.2 percent in 2013). I don't think the likely improvement in his batting average warrants a roster spot in mixed leagues, but the lack of depth in the American League at the position makes him on the of the better options in AL-only leagues. Look for Dominguez to hit 22-25 home runs with a .255/.290/.410 type of slash line in 2014.
2014 Regression Candidate: Jason Castro
While 2013 was a house of horrors for the Astros organization, Castro's overall performance was one of the few bright spots during a tough year. The 26 year-old backstop hit 18 home runs with a .276/.350/.485 slash line in 491 plate appearances last season. Castro has always shown strong plate discipline walking in over 10 percent of his plate appearances over his career, but look for his batting average to take a hit in 2014. He managed to hit over .270 despite striking out in 26.5 percent of his plate appearances, and his BABIP (.351) is more than likely to regress even though he had a line drive rate of 25 percent last year. Castro's HR/FB ratio (16.5 percent) does not seem sustainable considering his past seasons and his home run distance. There is still some value there, but our software has him ranked 17th among eligible catchers this preseason.
New York Yankees
Masahiro Tanaka's Value
Tanaka threw a simulated game on Tuesday in Tampa throwing five innings striking out nine of the eighteen hitters he faced. There might not be a player in all of baseball whose performance will be monitored as closely as Tanaka's. The 25 year-old Japanese import has been rated very highly by both PECOTA and our software pitching to an ERA just above 3.40. I don't doubt that Tanaka will have success in the in the majors, but I do think he might be somewhat overrated this spring. Tanaka's control is a major asset, but I thought his strikeout rate over the course of his career was somewhat disappointing considering his overall stuff. In addition, I think many of the projection systems are shooting a little high concerning his ground ball rate. Tanaka's splitter is his best pitch, but he has a tendency to pitch up in the zone with his fastball. I look for him to finish the year with an ERA closer to 3.75 with a 7.5 K/9 rate.
Projecting Carlos Beltran
At 36, Beltran makes his way back to the American League to become the number three hitter in the Yankees lineup. The right-fielder is coming off of a strong year in which he hit 24 home runs with a .296/.339/.491 slash line in 600 plate appearances. A fly ball hitter (40 percent rate last season), Beltran should see his power numbers improve with the move to the Yankee Stadium. His HR/FB ratio should improve (think closer to 16 percent), and he should have plenty of opportunities to drive in runs hitting behind Ellsbury. As he hits 37 years of age, some are worried about injuries becoming a factor again and overall decline. However, look for Beltran to get a lot of extra days at the DH spot in the lineup and he has managed to play in 140 games with more than 20 home runs in each of the last three seasons.
AJ Griffin: Oakland's Best Fantasy SP Option?
Griffin was Oakland's most durable starting pitcher in 2013 pitching 200 innings and compiling a 14-10 record. While obviously has the most upside, Griffin might be the safest option among Oakland's starting pitchers considering his fly ball tendencies and his home park. The 26 year-old pitched to a 3.86 ERA and reasonable thinking would have him regressing considering his DIPS (4.55 FIP and 4.18 xFIP) and .245 BABIP. However, Griffin is able to succeed because Oakland's greatest strength is overall defense in the outfield. Griffin is able to record an above average strikeout rate (7.70 K/9) because of a strong 12-6 curveball, and he is an above average strike thrower. He will continue to give up his share of home runs because of his fly ball rate, but I would expect his 12.5 percent HR/FB ratio to regress somewhat. Griffin might not keep his BABIP below .250 this season, but Oakland's defense will continue to turn a lot of those fly balls into outs.
Brandon Moss: Top Platoon Option
Moss might be platooned this year at DH and first base, but the 30 year-old is a hitter I've targeted at first base because of his ability to rival others in he counting stats despite sitting against left-handed pitchers. Moss has hit 51 home runs over the last two seasons in only 800 plate appearances while spending half of his time in a pitcher friendly park. Moss should hit another 28-31 home runs this season considering his ability to hit fly balls (51.8 percent last season), and his HR/FB ratio should hover around 18 percent once again. His average batted ball distance in 2013 was 295 feet meaning that his HR/FB ratio last year was not a fluke. Moss won't hit for a high average because of his high strikeout rates (27.7 percent in 2013), but he should have a .250/.325/.490 type of slash line.
Bullish on Fister
Despite having some elbow issues this spring, I do not think potential owners should be thinking about taking the 30 year-old later in drafts. Fiser pitched to a 3.67 ERA last season, but his DIPS indicate that he was significantly hurt by an elevated BABIP (.332). His ground ball rate improved last season to a career best 54.3 percent and it has improved in each of the last four years. The high ground ball rate would explain his higher BABIP considering Detroit's below average infield defense last year. In addition, I would expect his strikeout rate to improve somewhat considering that rate regressed last year despite an identical swinging strike rate to his 2012 rate along with a move to the National League. Mike Williams told the press earlier this week that Fister should be able to make his first start of the season baring any setback.
Is Wilson Ramos Undervalued?
Ramos might be one of the more underrated fantasy options on the Nationals roster. The 26 year-old had a strong year considering it was his first season back from surgery on his ACL. Ramos hit 16 home runs with a .272/.307/.470 slash line in just 303 plate appearances. The Nationals are expected to give him a heavier workload in 2014 now that he is farther removed from the previously mentioned ACL surgery. His batting average should stay in the .270 range even though his BABIP is likely to improve. His strikeout rate should increase considering his much higher swinging strike rate (10 percent). However, Ramos should be able to produce 20 home runs with his career 16.5 percent HR/FB ratio. The Nationals lineup should give Ramos plenty of protection, and I think he will produce second-tier type of numbers despite being drafted lower. We have him ranked tenth among the position as of Tuesday.
Around the League
Ervin Santana (SP-ATL)- The Braves made a surprise announcement on Wednesday morning to announce the signing of Santana to a one-year contract. The right-hander will eventually take the spot vacated by Kris Medlen, who will more than likely undergo Tommy John surgery. Santana will likely be ready to join the rotation by mid-April, and he should be a decent option in the back of a rotation for many owners. Pitching in the National League will only benefit him, and look for his strikeout rate to get above 7.00 K/9. His 10 percent swinging strike rate last season was the second best of his career due in part to throwing more sliders and an increase in his average fastball velocity. Santana has made a living by keeping his BABIP below .280, and I would not expect differently this season Look for him to post an ERA somewhere between 3.60-3.80.
Aaron Hicks (CF-MIN)- Hicks has missed the last few days this spring due to some soreness in his elbow, but the Twins announced on Wednesday that he is expected back in the lineup on Thursday. Hicks really struggled in his rookie season. The 24 year-old hit just .192/.259/.338 with eight home runs and nine stolen bases on 313 plate appearances last year, and he is still battling with Alex Presley for the starting job in center field. Hicks struggled in large part to his high strikeout rate (26.8 percent), and a below average BABIP (.241). Even with a poor line drive rate (16.8 percent), look for that number to improve if given an opportunity. His strikeout rate was also very high considering his 8.6 percent swinging strike rate. Hicks can be a decent buy low candidate who could provide 20 stolen bases and 10-15 home runs if given the starting job. Luckily enough, Presley has been struggling this spring. Keep an eye on this battle moving forward, but it is more than likely he starts the year in triple-A.
Josh Beckett (SP-LAD)- Beckett is expected to miss his next spring training start that was originally schedule for Friday. The veteran right-hander, who is recovering from thoracic outlet surgery, is dealing with a sprained right thumb. Beckett struggled in his eight starts last season pitching to a 5.19 ERA (4.66 FIP and 3.81 xFIP) before he headed on the disabled list. He is slated to be the Dodgers fifth starter, which will give him plenty of time to recover from this minor injury since one will not be needed for the first weeks of the season. Not many are sure what to expect from Beckett this season, but I was encouraged by the swinging strikes he induces in his limited innings last year (10 percent). I do believe he will bet our current projected ERA of 4.43, but Beckett won't have any value in standard leagues.
Cole Hamels (SP-PHI)- Hamels completed a 20-pitch bullpen session on Wednesday, and told the media that "he felt great." Considering the setback he encountered last weeks, it sounds as if the left-hander will be able to return to the mound somewhat soon. Hamels also indicated that he is about a month behind where he usually is at spring training, and it sounds as if he should be able to return to the rotation by the beginning of May. Despite seeing his ERA increase from 3.05 to 3.60 last year, Hamels pitched better than his ERA would suggest. His 3.26 FIP and 3.44 xFIP were comparable to the numbers he posted in 2012, and his swinging strike rate sat at 12 percent. While potential owners should let Hamels slide somewhat on draft day, he should be able to maintain the type of numbers we have been accustomed to seeing once he is healthy.
Matt Wieters (C-BAL)- Wieters is not scheduled to appear in another game until Saturday after injuring his ankle on Tuesday. While the switch-hitting catcher has remained consistent over the last three years with his home run power, his performance last year was considered a major disappointment. Wieters hit 22 home runs last year with a .235/.287/.417 slash line in 579 plate appearances. 23-25 home runs seems like a safe bet for him this season, especially considering his 43.9 percent fly ball rate last year. However, I do not think his overall line will see much improvement. While his fly ball rate increased, his infield fly ball rate was also at a career high (11.1 percent). Additionally, Wieters has only produced a line drive rate higher 19 percent once in his career. He is not a bad option at the position, but someone like Wilson Ramos could give the same type of production while being available later in drafts.
Mat Latos (SP-CIN)- While it has been mentioned that Latos will not pitch for the Reds on Opening Day, it does seem as if the right-hander will hit his target to be ready to pitch by April 6th. Bryan Price said on Tuesday that Latos incorporated breaking balls in batting practice and that he will be ready for game action very soon. The 26 year-old had the second best season of his career in 2013 pitching to a 3.12 ERA (3.10 FIP and 3.56 xFIP). Look for his ERA to be closer to his career number (3.35) since his HR/FB ratio (6.9 percent) will more than likely increase. However, his control has improved and I think his strikeout rate has some room for improvement. Latos changed the grip on his change-up later in the year, and could help his overall numbers against left-handed hitters.