Javier Baez Mania
I talked about Javier Baez a couple weeks ago but I think he has earned another write-up. This time, instead of talking just stats, I'd like to talk expectations for the youngster. With Starlin Castro's injury last weekend, Baez has seen regular playing time this week at shortstop. The Cubs' top prospect has continued to hit and consequently, has continued to impress. His performance has obviously generated plenty of buzz at Cubs camp this spring but it's important to still temper expectations for fantasy purposes. Castro's injury is not considered serious and all indications are that Baez is destined for Triple-A to begin the season to polish off a few aspects of his game (most notably his defense and plate discipline). Even if Baez were to receive a midseason call-up in 2014, most prospects struggle in their first taste of the majors. Anyone remember the 2011 debut of Mike Trout when he hit .220 with an EYE of 0.30? Now I'm not saying Javiez Baez will be the next Mike Trout, nor am I saying that he's guaranteed to struggle once he's up. I'm simply pointing out that even the best of the best sometimes need a little acclimating before they find success at the big league level. Making adjustments is part of the development process and it's important to remember that just because a player is a top prospect, it doesn't necessarily mean they will become a top fantasy player this year, next year or even five years down the road. Unless you're able to keep him on a minor league roster or you can afford to waste a roster spot for half a year, steer clear of the Baez hype. Even if you're looking for upside, there are other prospects that can provide that while also likely contributing right away (Xander Bogaerts, Nick Castellanos, and Billy Hamilton to name a few).
Edwin Jackson Unlucky in 2013
After a strong 2012 campaign with the Nationals, Edwin Jackson cashed in and signed a 4 yr/ $52M contract with the Cubs prior to 2013. In the first year of his contract, Jackson posted an uninspiring 4.98 ERA and 1.46 WHIP. EJax has bounced around with eight different major league organizations in just ten years of playing professional baseball. Assuming he isn't traded this year, this will be the first time in his career that he has played two full major league seasons back-to-back for the same team. Despite the ugly numbers, Jackson posted underlying statistics similar to the successful stats he put up with the White Sox and Cardinals in 2011 and Nationals in 2012. In 2013, Jackson's FIP and xFIP were 3.79 and 3.86, respectively. His strikeout rate, HR/FB and line drive percentage were around his career averages while his groundball percentage actually increased. He did show some regression in his swinging strike percentage dropping from 12% in 2012 to 9% in 2013 but his average pitch velocity remained about the same year over year. While it's hard to quantify, playing for the same team for multiple years may help Jackson build on his numbers he posted in 2011 and 2012, if he can reverse some of the bad luck in 2013. For what it's worth, Jackson threw all fastballs in his three innings of work on Friday without alerting the coaching staff. While it's likely he was just trying to work on his primary pitch, it's always concerning when a player and the coaching staff fail to communicate.
Toronto Blue Jays
Questions Surrounding Edwin Encarnacion
Edwin Encarnacion has been one of the most productive hitters in baseball the last couple seasons. After being bounced from Cincinatti, Encarnacion has blossomed in Toronto, especially the last two years. Between 2012 and 2013, Encarnacion has hit 78 HRs, 183 RBIs, .276 BA, and most notably has walked more than he has struck out (1.06 BB:K). He only chases about 25% of pitches out of the strike zone and has a contact rate above 80% for his career. He doesn't have extreme home/away or left/right splits and thanks to his EYE, he's also been very valuable in OBP leagues. One item to note is that he underwent successful wrist surgery in September to clean up scar tissue and damaged cartilage. While it was not reconstructive and a seemingly minor surgery, it's somewhat worrisome anytime a power hitter undergoes wrist surgery. Assuming he's 100% healthy, middle of the second round seems about the correct valuation for Encarnacion. For fantasy owners that are risk adverse early in drafts, it's probably best to steer away from Encarnacion until he proves he's healthy and his power won't be affected this year. For what it's worth, in 19 ABs this spring, Encarnacion is hitting .316 with 1 HR and 4 RBI.
Ervin Santana Will Pitch For the Blue Jays...Or Will He?
Conflicting reports came out over the weekend regarding Ervin Santana. It was first reported early Saturday that Santana no longer wanted to wait until mid-year to sign a contract (due to the draft pick compensation rule being waived after the first-year player draft). Instead, he is searching for a 1yr/$14M contract as soon as possible this spring. A few hours later, he and the Blue Jays reportedly agreed to a deal. Shortly after, other reports said that no deal was agreed upon with the Jays and the Orioles and a mystery team were both still very much in play for Santana's services. At the very least, it doesn't sound like there has been any agreement made but it's possible that Ervin Santana will make a decision very soon. Santana had a very good year for the Royals last year, posting an ERA of 3.24 to go along with a 1.14 WHIP. Santana has never been a big strikeout pitcher (career K/9 is about 7) but has always shown above average control and has enjoyed success when he keeps the ball in the park. Moving out of Kauffman Stadium might hurt him a bit since Kansas City is a very pitching friendly park. The AL East isn't an ideal landing spot but he's still roster-able in most fantasy leagues once he signs.
Kansas City Royals
More Clarity in the Royals Rotation
Last week we covered the battle for the fifth spot in the rotation for Kansas City. In the article, we mentioned that it was coming down between Yordano Ventura, Danny Duffy, Luke Hochevar and Wade Davis. In developments after the article was published, it was announced that Hochevar would miss the entire 2014 season due to Tommy John Surgery and Wade Davis would be moving to the bullpen in 2014 to fill the void left by the Hochevar injury. Interestingly, Royal's manager Ned Yost said that Davis would primarily be used late in games and hinted that he could be the team's backup closer on days off for Greg Holland. He re-iterated that he doesn't want to use Davis as a swing man so Davis could still see some value in leagues that use the category Holds. Yost also left the door open for either Duffy or Ventura to seize the 5th rotation spot but said the loser will likely start in Triple-A rather than out of the bullpen for the Royals. Ventura has continued to impress this spring and his triple digit fastball has been talked about at great lengths on both this website and others.
Alex Gordon Could Post Higher RBIs
Alex Gordon was a four letter word his first four years of his career in Kansas City. As a product of the Royals' patience (or side effect of a depleted farm system), Gordon floundered 2007-2010 for the major league club. By 2011, he was the epitome of a post-hype sleeper and finally put together a season that everyone had been expecting from and he has continued to put up solid numbers across the board since. Now 30, Gordon should have the opportunity to be in more RBI situations this upcoming year. The Royals traded for Norichika Aoki this off-season and it's assumed that he will replace Gordon as the leadoff hitter. Batting lower in the lineup should position Gordon, who had 81 RBIs from the leadoff spot last year, to knock in more runs in 2014 (whether it's batting 2nd or 5th). Gordon's homerun batted ball speed of 104 and average homerun distance of 403.5 are good indicators that his HR totals could increase, despite his 10% HR/FB ratio. Going in the 7th round of most drafts, Gordon is a consistent fantasy contributor who can be counted on putting up decent stats in five categories.
Around the League:
David Robertson (RP - NYY) - Replacing Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning this season will be veteran Yankee reliever David Robertson. Over the past three seasons, Robertson has averaged more than 12 strikeouts per nine innings with a 1.90 ERA. Going as the tenth closer off the board, Robertson has the opportunity and stuff to be able to provide an excellent return for players who take him in the 11th round of their leagues. Robertson relies mostly on his fastball and curveball, but both are above average pitches for him. This draft season, his value is being discounted in large part due to his inexperience as a closer. For his career, he is only 8 for 20 in save situations. Robertson has made good progress with his control in recent years and has kept his BB/9 below 3 for two straight years. If he can handle the pressure of closing in New York, he could provide the best value at the closer position this spring.
Doug Fister (SP- WAS) - Fister was scratched from his start last Friday due to what the team is calling inflammation in his pitching elbow. On Sunday, Nationals manager Matt Williams said that Fister is showing improvement and is downplaying the severity of the issue. Despite no timetable for his return, the Nationals don't appear concerned about him missing opening day. Fister's best asset is his control, evidenced by his career BB/9 of 1.81. He is predominately a ground ball pitcher and should continue to post respectable ratios for fantasy owners. Moving from the AL to the NL should help Fister build on his already quality numbers and could help him improve his strikeout rate as well.
Kris Medlen (SP- ATL) - Medlen left the game early on Sunday with what is being described as a mild forearm strain. As of Sunday night, not much information has been released and he will be re-evaluated on Monday. Medlen followed up an extraordinary 2012 campaign with a pretty good 2013. Much like Fister, he's a groundball pitcher with great control, boasting a career walk rate of 6% and a career strikeout rate of 21%. Medlen missed most of the 2011 after undergoing Tommy John surgery so another elbow injury is a little concerning. Keep an eye on this situation in the coming days to weeks. It's possible Medlen will have to start the season on the DL.
Michael Pineda (SP - NYY) - Michael Pineda made his first start of the spring for the Yankees on Friday and performed pretty well. He only pitched two innings but he struck out four batters. Catcher Brian McCann was quoted after the game saying that "his slider was pretty much unhittable". During his rookie year, Pineda's fastball velocity sat between 94-96 MPH. On Friday, he was clocked closer to 91-93 MPH. Pineda's swinging strike percentage of about 12% in his rookie year coupled with a walk rate below 8% make him an enticing late round flier. He's a high risk/high reward type of guy but there's definitely potential for high strikeout numbers from the former top prospect, if he can regain his form.
Brett Anderson (SP - COL) - Brett Anderson is another pitcher coming back from an injury that I'm beginning to really like as a value pick late in drafts. While moving from Oakland to Colorado will usually hurt pitchers, I don't believe it's going to hurt Anderson quite as much thanks to his career groundball rate of 55%. Further helping his chances in Coors are his GB/FB ratios of 3.59 and 2.96 in 2012 and 2013, respectively. As long as he continues to keep the ball out of the air, the ballpark shouldn't have much effect on his stats. Health is a major concern for the 26-year old, who has only started more than 19 games once in his five year career. Historically, he's a pitcher that has put up decent strikeouts and solid ratios. With a current ADP in the 39th round, he's relatively low-risk.
Billy Burns (OF - OAK) - Who is batting .300 with 7 stolen bases in 11 games this spring? His name is Billy but his last name is Burns, not Hamilton. Acquired from the Nationals in December 2013, Burns is seeing a long look this spring after moving through Single-A and Double-A last year. What stands out about his minor league numbers, besides his plus speed, is his ability to get on base. Burns' career minor league OBP is .420 and his EYE is 1.03. Between two levels, he stole 74 bases last year. He won't break camp with the A's but he could be an under-the-radar, mid-season call-up if he continues to hit, steal, and get on-base in the minor leagues this season.
Grant Balfour (RP - TB) - After failing a physical for the Baltimore Orioles in December, Grant Balfour settled for less money and signed a contract with the Rays to become their closer. Balfour repeatedly denied any health issues this off-season but admitted on Saturday that he's going through a dead arm period this spring. He has struggled in each of his last two appearances this spring, giving up 5 earned runs and 3 walks in just 1.1 IP. While it doesn't seem to be much of a concern yet, Tampa does have a few other options at closer should Balfour need to miss any time. Heath Bell has previous closer experience but struggled in his last closing gig in Florida, while Joel Peralta and Jake McGee have posted solid seasons as late inning relievers for the Rays the last couple of years.
George Springer (OF-HOU) - Despite an OBP of .368, George Springer has just 1 hit in 13 spring at-bats. One of the Astros' top prospects, Springer hit 37 HRs with 45 SBs with a slash line of .303/.411/.600 between Double-A and Triple-A last season. Springer's power/speed combo should translate to fantasy relevance once he's called up to the big leagues in the middle of this year. He posted a ridiculous ISO of .315 in 62 games at Triple-A to go along with an 88% stolen base success rate. Springer still needs to work on reducing his strikeouts but he has shown double-digit walk rates at each level in the minor leagues. Don't expect to see Springer earlier than June, however. The Astros are in no rush to start his arbitration clock.
Manny Machado (3B -BAL) - Coming off a gruesome knee injury in September last year, Machado has been rehabbing for most of the spring. While he isn't expected to be cleared for games for at least another week or two, Machado has been stepping up his activities recently and the Orioles haven't ruled out the possibility he will be ready for opening day. The third baseman got off to a great start last year, hitting 7 HRs, 57 RBIs, and .310/.337/.470 before the all-star break. Machado's sharp decrease in his LD rate in the second half from 24% to 16% could be partly responsible for the drop-off in some of his numbers. His power is still developing, as he's mainly a doubles hitter as opposed to a homerun hitter rightnow. A 6% jump in his contact rate bodes well for continued success in batting average.
Rex Brothers (RP -COL) - After filling in admirably at closer for Rafael Betancourt last season, the Rockies rewarded Rex Brothers by signing 41-year old LaToy Hawkins to close out games in 2014. Brothers posted an unsustainable 1.74 ERA with 19 saves, 12 holds, and struck out more than 10 batters per nine innings last year. He has always had a big arm but has historically struggled with his command (career average 4.76 BB/9). His fastball sits in the low to mid-90's but he also has a quality slider. Brothers' career swinging strike percentage of 13% makes it seem probable to again expect big strikeouts from him. Hawkins had a really good year last year but should he get hurt (or traded), Brothers will be a very interesting option at closer for the Rockies.
Follow on Twitter @MichaelWaldo to get player tidbits this season. I'll happily answer any keeper or trade questions for your team.