Kansas City Royals
Mike Moustakas Ready to Breakout?
After coming up through the Royals system and being tagged as a cornerstone for the franchise for years to come, Mike Moustakas has struggled mightily. It's a key year for the young third baseman and it looks like some of his poor performance in 2013 may have been due to bad luck. His BABIP of .257 is a bit low considering his line drive rate of 19%, which should help him post a higher batting average in 2014. Despite the dip in batting average, he improved his contact rate by 4% to 82%. He also swung at more pitches inside the zone and chased fewer pitches out of the zone. On Sunday, Moustakas launched two homeruns while going 2-for-3 with three RBIs. "Moose" is now hitting .556 on the spring and looks poised to take a big step forward offensively.
Rotation Battle in KC
Kansas City has a battle brewing for the final spot in their rotation. Candidates include veterans Luke Hochevar and Wade Davis and top propsects Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy. Luke Hochevar was outstanding out of the bullpen last year and has not had much success as a starter. For that reason, it's hard to believe the Royals would remove him from the bullpen when they have other options for the final spot. Wade Davis also had success pitching out of the bullpen late last year but struggled in his starts earlier in the year. Davis started for the Royals on Sunday and looked outstanding. In two innings, he stuck out three batters and gave up just one hit and one walk. He'll need to continue these performances to remain in the running for a rotation spot. A lot has been said about Yordano Ventura this spring and his stock is rising in drafts. In order to return value for his owners, he needs to lock down the fifth rotation spot. In five seasons in the minors, Ventura has struck out just under 10 batters per 9 innings with a 3.47 ERA and 1.25 WHIP. In his first major league game last year, he threw a 101.9 MPH fastball. Unfortunately, he has yet to develop successful secondary pitches so a great fastball will only go so far. Another issue is his somewhat small frame at 5'11'' and 180 pounds. For a power pitcher, he's certainly on the small size. Thanks to an underwhelming major league debut in 2011, followed by Tommy John surgery in 2012, Danny Duffy is being overlooked in a lot of drafts this year. Through 6 seasons in the minors, Duffy has a K/9 of 10.6 with a 2.88 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. Now 20 months removed from surgery, Duffy believes he's ready to compete for the 5th starting job and is in the best shape since being drafted. Duffy was outstanding in five starts last year after returning from the injury, posting an ERA of 1.85 with 22 strikeouts in 24 innings. From a fantasy perspective, owners are hoping that Hochevar and Davis go to the bullpen to give Ventura or Duffy a chance to start.
Who is going to man the hot corner in Wrigley?
The Cubs have a few different options at third base for the 2014 season. Donnie Murphy and Luis Valbuena split time at 3B last year and both are returning for this season. The Cubs could go with a similar platoon this year with Valbuena playing against righties and Murphy against lefties. In this scenario, neither player would be relevant in fantasy leagues so fantasy owners should be rooting for Mike Olt to win the job this spring. Acquired in last year's Matt Garza deal, Olt was sent to the Cubs along with CJ Edwards, Justin Grimm, and Neil Ramirez. Olt was a highly touted prospect for the Rangers going into 2013 but suffered an eye injury that caused him to have problems picking up the ball out of the pitcher's hand. He insists that he is over the issue and is ready to leave behind his .201 batting average between the Cubs' and Rangers' minor league teams last season. In 2012, Olt tore up Double-A, hitting 25 HRs with an OPS of .977 before getting called up to the Rangers in August. He struggled in his first taste of the majors but only had 40 PAs, so it's not fair to put too much weight into this. It's worth noting that he is currently dealing with minor shoulder discomfort, which is why he DH'ed in the Cubs' Spring Training Opener last Thursday. If he wins the gig, Olt is worth owning in fantasy leagues simply for his great power potential but his batting average is always going to be at risk due to high strikeout rates. In the minors, he did walk often, but as we've seen with a lot of players, this skill doesn't always translate immediately in the big leagues. He plays good defense so as long as he can hit and stay healthy this spring, he should have a good shot at grabbing the job. Regardless of who wins this spring, they are likely only keeping the seat warm for Cubs #2 best prospect, Kris Bryant, who is expected to compete for the job in 2015.
Back of the rotation questions for the Cubs
After losing out on Masahiro Tanaka, the Cubs snagged Jason Hammel and James McDonald to compete with Jake Arrieta, Chris Rusin and Kyle Hendricks for the fourth and fifth rotation spots. Jason Hammel had a great 2012 but suffered a forearm strain last year, and he saw his numbers regress back closer to his career averages. Getting back into the NL should help him a little bit, but with a HR/FB rate close to 11%, he'll need to work to limit his fly balls at Wrigley. As long as he stays healthy, he should lock up 4th rotation spot. Going into the spring, Jake Arrieta was the favorite for the 5th rotation spot. However, he has been slowed the first few weeks of Spring Training due to a sore shoulder. Shoulder injuries for pitchers are rarely day-to-day issues, and we've already seen a few guys go down with shoulder injuries this spring (Taijuan Walker the latest), so his availability at the start of the season is in question. Arrieta's fastball is pretty good but his breaking balls are below average, which is part of the reason why he doesn't have huge strikeout totals. From a fantasy perspective, he has strung together a few fantasy performances here and there but he hasn't been consistent. Much like Hammel, he should benefit from moving from the AL East to the NL Central. If he gets healthy in time, he could into the 5th rotation spot behind Hammel. If Arrieta can't go, James McDonald might be a sneaky option. He got a start on Friday but was lit up for 6 runs on 3 hits and 3 walks in one inning. Two of those hits were homeruns (including a Grand Slam to Mike Trout). Despite the performance, it's still early in spring and he's still very much in the running. His worst year of his career was last year when he posted an ERA of 5.76. However, looking a little deeper, McDonald's BABIP was inflated and his LOB% was just 55% (vs. career 72%). His FIP was in line with his career average at 4.13 and he posted the lowest HR/9 of his career at 0.30. If McDonald can limit his walks this spring, he has an outside chance at grabbing the 5th spot in the rotation. Another interesting name to watch is Kyle Hendricks, the Cubs minor league pitcher of the year in 2013. Hendricks is not a big strikeout guy, but he has kept his ratios low in the minor leagues. His fastball tops out in the high eighties to low nineties and relies more on his control and changing speeds to fool batters. Hendricks will likely just be an innings eater and won't have much value in fantasy leagues unless they are very deep. Chris Rusin is the final and least exciting option from a fantasy perspective. He's pretty much just a soft-tosser with an above average change-up. If he wins the job, he can be ignored in all but the deepest of leagues.
Toronto Blue Jays
Can Jose Bautista regain his form?
After hitting 54 and 43 homeruns in 2010 and 2011 for the Blue Jays, Jose Bautista battled through injuries in 2012 and 2013 and hit just 55 HRs between the two latter years. The good news is that it looks like his struggles in 2013 were likely due to his hip injury rather than his age. Typically, as players decline with age, their contact rate decreases. In Bautista's case, he actually improved his contact from around 80% in 2010-2012 to almost 84% in 2013. On Sunday, Bautista went 1-for-3 and chased a pitch outside of the zone to hit his second homerun of the spring against the Yankees. If Bautista can return to the 35-40 HR range, he can pay a great dividend to owners currently drafting him in the third round.
What Happened to Brett Lawrie?
The buzz on Brett Lawrie has certainly died off this year. In fact, it's hard to find any reports on him. After bursting onto the scene in 2011, Lawrie has underachieved each of the last two years. Between the last two seasons, he has missed 92 games in large part due to injuries. When he did play last year, he was quite unlucky, posting a BABIP of .280 which is well below his career average. One weird anomaly in his stats last year was his performance against southpaws. He hit just .219 against lefties versus .319 in 2012 and .295 in 2011. Assuming a bounceback in the batting average, Lawrie's career HR/FB ratio of 11% and batted ball speed on his homeruns of 104.5 should help him post solid homerun totals while playing in the AL East. Lawrie's current ADP of 13.08 could end up being a steal if he can stay healthy this year.
Around the League:
Cameron Maybin (OF - SD) - It's a another year and another injury for Cameron Maybin . After making a diving catch on Sunday, Maybin left the game with a shoulder injury. He will undergo an MRI on Monday to see the severity of the injury. Considering how long he has been around, it's amazing he's only 26 years old. Highly touted as having the coveted power/speed combination, Maybin has never actually broken into the double digits in homeruns. He does have a 40-steal season to his name in 2011, but he's only played more than 82 games in a season twice and he has always been plagued with injuries. Maybin has developed his approach at the plate since first breaking into the league with improvements to his walk and strikeout rates, and his career chase rate of 28% is better than league average. Maybin's style plays well in San Diego, but until he can prove he can stay healthy, it's tough relying on him to be a starter in any fantasy format.
Buster Posey (C-SF) - Buster Posey had a good day at the plate on Sunday, going 2-for-3 with an RBI and a run scored. In a tier by himself at the top of Fantistics Catcher ratings, Posey is primed for yet another big year. Posey boasts a career ISO of .179 but his average batted ball speed on his homeruns was just 103 MPH, which partially led to 40% of his homeruns being "just enough" to clear the wall. According to Bill James' Ballpark Index, AT&T park has a homerun index of 77 in 2013, meaning it was 23% harder to hit a homerun in that stadium than in other NL parks. Couple this with a normalization of his HR/FB rate last year and it's likely Posey will remain more of a doubles hitter than a homerun hitter. Still, he has an elite contact rate of 87% and he doesn't chase many pitches out of the zone so he's a lock of a strong batting average.
Tim Hudson (SP - SF) - Tim Hudson made his spring debut on Sunday by pitching two scoreless innings and striking out one batter. Pitching in San Francisco should continue to help Hudson keep his ERA and WHIP low thanks to his 58% career groundball rate. Don't expect a lot of strikeouts but he should pay back good value as a late round pick, especially in leagues without innings limits.
Victor Martinez (DH - DET) - Victor Martinez went 2-for-3 on Sunday while DH'ing for the Tigers. So far this spring, V-Mart is batting .455 with a double and 2 RBIs. Last month, Brad Ausmus announced that Martinez would see time catcher in Detroit's 10 interleague games this year. Depending on your league format, this means he may gain valuable catcher eligibility in fantasy leagues. In the second half last year, Martinez posted more walks than strikeouts. Showing no regression in the contact rate, Martinez remains a solid bet for a high batting average and modest power this coming year.
Jackie Bradley, Jr (OF - BOS) - Competing for the centerfield position this spring, Jackie Bradley Jr. had a great day at the plate on Sunday, going 2-for-3 with a double, RBI and run scored. Bradley struggled in his first taste of the big leagues last year but improved slightly in 14 games in September. He only played in 218 games in the minor leagues after being drafted in the first round of the 2011 draft, but performed pretty well. Bradley appears to have a pretty good batting eye, posting a BB:K ratio of 0.77 in the minors. Bradley's glove will help him earn a roster spot this spring but there may be some growing pains on the offensive side.
Felix Doubront (SP - BOS) - Doubront started Sunday's game against the Orioles and threw two scoreless innings and struck out three batters. The front-runner for the fifth starter spot in Boston, there is a lot to like about Doubront. With a career K/9 of 8.4 and an xFIP and FIP below his ERA in 2013, there's hope for Doubront to improve on his numbers once he gets locked into a consistent role on the Red Sox.
Josh Beckett (SP - LAD) - Recovering from a serious shoulder injury (Thoracic Outlet Surgery), Josh Beckett made his spring debut on Sunday tossing two shutout innings while striking out three batters. Shoulder injuries are always difficult for pitchers to overcome so keep an eye on Beckett this spring. If he can remain healthy, he'll likely have a lead on the Dodgers 5th rotation spot thanks to his $15.75M contract. With a career swinging strike percentage close to 10%, Beckett has always been solid source of strikeouts. Playing in the NL West should help him improve upon the numbers he posted with Boston but until he can prove that his shoulder can hold up with the wear and tear of a major league season, Beckett remains a risky play.
Evan Longoria (3B - TB) - Evan Longoria went 1-for-2 with a two-run homerun on Sunday. A former fringe first-rounder in fantasy drafts, Longoria is unlikely to ever put up first round-type numbers thanks to his diminishing stolen bases and batting average in the .270 range. At 28 years old, Longoria is still a threat to post a season of 30/100 from a scarce position, so he could easily return solid second-round value.
Mark Trumbo (OF - AZ) - Mark Trumbo popped a double and scored a run as part of his 1-for-2 effort in Sunday's game against the Giants. He batted fifth today but on Saturday manager Kirk Gibson hinted that he would be open to batting Trumbo in the bottom half of the order to spread out his RBI guys to give the team a chance to capitalize and score runs lower in the lineup. If he does indeed bat lower in the lineup, his fantasy value will be negatively affected. Regardless, Trumbo should be a source of plenty HRs with year playing in Arizona with a career 21% HR/FB rate.
Neftali Feliz (RP - TEX) - Battling for the closing gig in Texas, Neftali Feliz had a rough inning of work on Sunday, yielding two runs on three hits, including a two-run homerun by Tyler Flowers. Feliz's velocity topped out at just 90 MPH, which is a far cry from his career 96 MPH average. Feliz is still recovering from Tommy John surgery, so it's possible he will regain his form. In the meantime, it looks like the battle between him, Joakim Soria and Tanner Scheppers for the closing role is a lot closer than some expected.