Chicago Cubs News:
Is Kyle Schwarber Still Worth a Second-Round Pick?
About three weeks ago, I had the great opportunity to travel to Arizona to scout the Cubs as they opened up camp in Mesa. The buzz surrounding the team was incredible for February, yet the players seemed unfazed by all the added attention (and expectations) for the upcoming season. The excitement hit a fever pitch when Dexter Fowler surprised the team on the morning after it was (incorrectly) announced that he had inked a deal with the Orioles. In fact, many players thought he arrived to say his final goodbyes, not to suit up and join the roster. The two weeks I spent in Arizona helped me learn a lot of about this team and how manager Joe Maddon is going to handle their players for the upcoming season. Coincidentally, the Dexter Fowler signing is the one deal that quite possibly had the biggest fantasy impact for the upcoming year. Now that he will assume centerfield duties, that moves Jason Heyward to right field and pushes Jorge Soler and Kyle Schwarber into a platoon in left field. Without a potential everyday role, where does that leave Kyle Schwarber? Before we get too far down into the rabbit hole, I must first remind you that Joe Maddon is the manager of the Cubs and if there's one thing Maddon does extremely well, it's squeezing out every ounce of versatility out of his roster. This is an important fact because Schwarber has an impact bat and Maddon has a creative mind. There's been talk that Schwarber might be Kyle Hendricks' personal catcher this year. If he indeed becomes a regular catcher for Hendricks', not only does that ensure at-bats every fifth day, it also ensures he has catcher eligibility for next year in dynasty leagues. For 2016, however, he's likely going to take a seat on days when the Cubs face left-handed pitchers. His poor results versus southpaws are getting a little overblown by the media this spring, but admittedly, they weren't pretty (he slashed just .172/.213/.268). It's important to keep in mind the sample size of these statistics, however, especially since he only saw 56 at-bats against lefties in 2015. Meanwhile, in the minor leagues in 2015 in similar sample sizes, he managed to slash .256/.373/.465 in AA and .379/.419/.759 against left-handers in AAA. My point in bringing up the minor league splits is that this is a guy who can hit, plain and simple, and while hitting major league left-handers is going to be different than minor-league left-handers, he has had previous success against them. He's absolutely worth drafting as the second catcher off the board, but I'm just not convinced he's going to be able to return the value he needs if he's drafted in the second round.
Will Heyward Suffer "Big Contract, New Place" Struggles?
I'm not sure whether it was the crack of his bat or just simply the excitement surrounding his contract signing over the winter, but all eyes were on Jason Heyward every time he took batting practice while I was in Arizona. I've loved watching Heyward swing the bat ever since he broke into the league, but as a Cubs fan myself, it's so much sweeter to watch him swing it in Cubbie blue. Many Cubs fans might remember Jason Heyward's first career home run on Opening Day against the Cubs' Carlos Zambrano in 2010. From that moment on, I knew the ball came off this guy's bat differently than a lot of other players - but does my eye test sync up with what the stats say? Our batted ball tracking has come a long way since that point, and we can finally quantitatively assign values to a player's hits. Heyward, of course, had a solid 102.3 average velocity on homeruns in 2015, but it's his hard hit rate that really tells the story of Heyward's offensive success throughout his career. When he broke in as a rookie, Heyward crushed 18 homeruns and had a hard hit rate of 39.1% (anything above 28% is considered average), but then we saw that dip down to 28% in 2011 along with his homeruns, before rebounding with a 34.5% hard hit rate and 27 homeruns in 2012. Since that season, Heyward barely managed a hard hit rate above league average and his homerun totals have remained stagnant in the low-teens each year. On the positive side, he has drastically improved his approach at the plate, reducing his strikeout rate all the way down to 14.8% last year to go along with his great 84% contact rate, 6.5% swinging strike rate, and 25.7% chase rate are all elite. So what's the key to Heyward's success? It seems like when he gets lift to his swing, he's been more successful. Throughout his career, the years when his FB:GB rate approached a 1.0, he tended to hit for more power than the years his FB:GB rate was closer to 2:1. The signing of Dexter Fowler squashes any thought that Heyward might leadoff for the Cubs, which is great news for fantasy owners because hitting lower in the order will likely mean a he will try to get little more lift in his swing.
Kansas City Royals News:
Is the Royals Rotation Good Enough to Repeat?
After losing Johnny Cueto to the Giants via Free Agency, the Royals replaced him in their rotation with Ian Kennedy. On paper, it seems like a big downgrade for the defending World Champs, but you have to remember that the Royals won the World Series despite having Johnny Cueto, not because they had Johnny Cueto. Regardless of how bad he was during the playoffs, that still means that Edison Volquez and Yordano Ventura will headline a very shaky pitching staff in 2016. Of the two, Ventura certainly has the most upside, but it's actually Volquez who is probably the safest and most projectable arm of the two. Early in his career, Volquez was plagued with huge control issues, but he's been consistently around 8-9% BB% the last two years. The added control has come at the cost of strikeouts, despite maintaining a velocity on his fastball around 93 MPH. While that certainly isn't elite, it's good enough to keep him out of trouble and places him at the back end of many fantasy rosters. Ventura, on the other hand, has the potential to be a special pitcher. His fastball velocity is unquestionably elite, but he has some work to do on his secondary pitches (curveball and changeup) before he will be able to take the next step forward. He had a bit of unluckiness bring down his overall ratios last year (72.5% stand rate & 3.60 xFIP), so there is some hope for improvement there. Ventura is a fine SP3 for your fantasy teams, but due to his inconsistency start-to-start, he probably holds a little more value in rotisserie formats than head-to-head. Ian Kennedy will slot into the number 3 slot into the rotation, and if things break the right way, he could end up being the most valuable pitcher in the rotation by the end of the year. Moving to Kauffman stadium should help his 17% HR/FB from 2015 regress back closer to his 11% career mark, which will in turn help lower his bloated ERA. The most interesting part of his stat line has been 3 consecutive years with strand rates around 70%. Normally this rate would point to positive regression, but since he has consistently performed around this mark, there's a chance that he simply struggles with batters aboard the bases. He's not going to single-handedly win you any league, but he does have strikeout upside with nice win potential given his excellent team. So where does that put the rest of the rotation? Likely off your fantast radar for now with Chris Young and Kris Medlen likely to round out the back-end. Medlen's arm continues to be intriguing, but he's already undergone two Tommy John surgeries and until he can put together a full, healthy season, he remains nothing more than a late round lottery pick.
Is Eric Hosmer poised for a power breakout?
It's hard to believe that despite entering his 6th MLB season, Eric Hosmer is still only 26 years old. So far in his career, Hosmer has never managed to hit more than 20 homeruns despite a better than average batted ball speed and hard hit ratio. Currently being drafted with an ADP in the 5th round, Fantistics is projecting him to return 3rd round value. So that's all well and good, but what is it about Hosmer that has us so bullish on the Royals first baseman? The answer is two-fold, but it's largely driven by his exit velocity on his homeruns and his average homerun distance, both of which rank near the top of the league at 106.8MPH and 414.7 ft, respectively. Unfortunately, those elite numbers only apply when he actually gets lift on the ball and hits it in the air. In every season of his career, Hosmer has always had a groundball rate of at least 50%. For a player with a batted ball profile like Hosmer's, the last thing you want to see if a guy who hits the ball on the ground nearly twice as often as through the air. If Hosmer can manage to get some lift to his swing, we will see a player take a big step forward in the power department in 2016. Even if he doesn't move away from his groundball ways, Hosmer still has enough value to return 5th round value thanks to his excellent batting EYE (108:61), strong lineup, and projected batting order spot.
San Diego Padres News:
Is this the year of Matt Kemp's resurgence?
In Matt Kemp's first season with the Padres in 2015, he managed to put together a respectable season as a 3rd outfielder for most fantasy teams. Kemp has always hit the ball hard, but over the last 2 seasons, he has registered a hard hit rate exceeding 40%, a mark that's usually reserved for the league's elite power hitters. With that in mind, his 20-21% HR/FB ratios from 2011-2014 seem like a reasonable baseline. In other words, his 14.3% HR/FB ratio on his career best 41.4% hard hit rate was an extreme outlier, which points to HR upside for him in 2016. With a little positive regression, there's reason to think that Kemp can hit 30 HRs, especially now that Petco Park is actually considered a hitters ballpark for long balls. Kemp has never been a big contact hitter, so that's going to be a drag on the batting average, but he did manage to steal 12-of-14 stolen bases last year. If Kemp manages to hit 30 homeruns with 10+ stolen bases, you're looking at a player who has tremendous value in drafts right now.
Who is going to be catching games in San Diego?
The Padres have no shortage of catching options with year, with Derek Norris, Christian Betancourt, and Austin Hedges all likely to see time behind the plate. The uncertainty is an annoyance of fantasy owners, especially those rostering Norris hoping for a repeat of his breakout offensive performance from 2015. Having a few more days off might do Norris good this season, because it appeared he started to wear down near the end of the year. While he did see some time at first base last season, the team has already made it known that they don't have plans to use him there this year. That means he's either going to be behind the plate or sitting on the bench. Meanwhile, Christian Bethancourt is a strong defensive catcher who was acquired from Braves this off-season, but he won't scratch fantasy relevance given his big time offensive struggles. Austin Hedges is a name to watch this spring and through the first two weeks, he has been one of the best hitters on the team. It's going to be an uphill battle for Hedges to make the roster right out of camp because his main competition (Bethancourt) is out of minor league options. With that said, Hedges remains a work in progress at the plate and that alone may force him to lose out to Bethancourt for a spot of the 25-man roster immediately.
Around the League:
Joe Ross (WAS - SP) - For a player with a sibling who is already an established major league pitcher (Tyson Ross), the hype on Joe Ross has been extremely low this pre-season. The rookie was very successful in a small stint with the Washington Nationals in 2015, but that success hasn't translated to a high ADP in drafts this spring. The 6'4'' right-hander relies heavily on his sinking fastball (93MPH) and slider (84 MPH), which predictably resulted in a very strong 50% groundball rate. Unfortunately, his PitchFx pitch value on his fastball is just 0.3 and with a velocity in the low 90's, it's difficult to see him able to maintain his above league average swinging strike rate (11.9%), chase rate (35.1%), and contact rate (75.5%). His slider is excellent, but he needs to work on improving the effectiveness of his fastball and change-up if he wants to remain in the Nationals rotation for the long haul. So what do I like? I really love his long track record of pinpoint control with an excellent 3.3:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and you can't argue with his pedigree. He's already leaps and bounds ahead of where his brother was when he was Joe's age, I'm just not convinced this will be the year he takes the "next step". That said, I'm willing to draft his at least 2-3 rounds ahead of his current ADP in the 19th round.
Sean Manaea (OAK - SP) - Sean Manaea is a former supplemental round draft pick by the Kansas City Royals and was sent to Oakland last season as part of the Ben Zobrist trade. Manaea has an electrifying arm with a fastball that tops out in the high 90's. After the trade, Manaea posted a cool 1.90 ERA with 51 strikeouts over 42.2 innings pitched. With a crowded rotation, Manaea doesn't have a clear path to a role out of spring training, but his path become a lot clearer after Jarrod Parker's fractured elbow on Thursday. So far into camp, Manaea has been one of the most impressive pitchers on the team and struck out 4 over 2 scoreless innings in his spring debut. He's certainly worth a late-round flier in deeper leagues and his own manager has already taken notice saying "we were impressed with him before, and even more so now". As long as he can leave camp healthy (which is a big "if" with him!), it won't be long before he's striking out guys in the Oakland Coliseum, but he's going to have to be flawless in the rest of his outings to break the rotation immediately.
Delino Deshields Jr (TEX - OF) - Speed is scarce this year, but that's no reason to overpay for it at the top of the draft. Currently going in the 17th round, DeShields has the opportunity to bat leadoff for one of the best teams in the AL and he has the speed to steal 30-40 bases. Unfortunately, he's a defensive liability who makes contact at a below league average rate, which isn't exactly the combination you want to see from a leadoff centerfielder. As a fantasy owner, you need him in the lineup and you need him getting on base. Thankfully, his strong plate discipline helps him do just that by not chasing pitches out of the strike zone (20% chase rate vs 31% league average) and strong 10.8% walk rate. Save your money at the top of the draft and fill out your speed category starting here.
Ryan Zimmerman (1B - WAS) - News broke on Sunday that Ryan Zimmerman is still battling plantar fasciitis in his left foot, which is the reason he has yet to play in a Spring Training game. Zimmerman missed nearly two weeks with the injury last year and has struggled with injuries for much of his career. In fact, he hasn't reached 400 ABs in a season since 2013. Playing first base will help him get some playing time in spite of the injury, but this type of issue is typically chronic and he'll likely be battling this all season long. I wouldn't touch him at his current ADP in the 16th round.
Socrates Brito (OF - AZ) - There's usually a lot of noise that comes packaged with Spring Training news flow. However, I tend to pay attention when we're getting a lot of action on a previously unproven player who is playing particularly well. In the case of Socrates Brito, he has been playing so well this spring that manager Chip Hale called his team's left field position an "open competition" with Yasmany Tomas and Socrates Brito the two most likely candidates. Brito has been in the Diamondbacks organization since 2010, but the 23 year-old just started moving up through the levels the last two season. In 2014 and 2015 between High-A and Double-A, Brito hit just under .300 with 19 homeruns and 58 stolen bases over 1,083 plate appearances. So far this spring, Brito is 9-20 with a homerun. Meanwhile, Yasmany Tomas is missing action with a sore knee. Brito is a left-handed batter and Tomas is a right-handed batter, so it's possible we could see some type of platoon situation play out if Brito continues to play well. With that said, Tomas' reverse splits were just as good as his number against LHP, so it's not necessarily a need. Brito still might be worth a late round pick given the Diamondbacks lack of depth in the outfield (although Peter O'Brien might have something to say about that - the 25 year old journeyman minor leaguer hit his 2nd and 3rd HRs of the spring on Sunday).
Corey Seager (SS - LAD) - Corey Seager left Friday's game early with a knee injury, but thankfully an MRI revealed it was only a minor sprain and he isn't expected to miss more than a couple of weeks. At the time of the injury, Seager admitted that he was concerned it would require surgery. While the news flow on this one turned positive quickly, keep an eye on how this story develops over the next couple of weeks. Seager is currently going in the 4th or 5th round in most drafts, but if the injury lingers or he suffers any setbacks, that will obviously put a damper on his value. Seager was quite impressive during his cup of coffee in the major leagues last year, hitting the ball extremely hard (45.5% hard hit rate), which is especially impressive when you consider that he still made contact at a good clip (78.5%).
Danny Salazar (SP - CLE) - Danny Salazar was electric on Saturday, striking out 7 Padres in 4 innings of work. He also held the Padres to no runs on 3 hits and no walks. The strikeout ability is absolutely legit with a 12% swinging strike rate, a mark that usually only reserved for late inning relievers. Salazar mixes in an 85 MPH changeup to go along with his 95 MPH fastball, giving him the magical 10 MPH velocity differential between the two pitches. Salazar has battled control issues from time-to-time throughout his career, but he looked much better in 2015 and focused much more on challenging hitters and pounding the strike zone, boosting his zone % from a near league average rate of 46% in 2014 up to a very strong 49% mark in 2015. Considering that he maintained the same swinging strike rate with a constant z-swing% (% of pitches swung at within the strike zone) and the higher overall zone%, it means his overall "stuff" continues to improve and continues to be difficult to hit. Salazar is brimming with potential and could be the breakout star of 2016.
Cody Anderson (SP - CLE) - In an interesting snippet of information from the Cleveland Plain Dealer on Sunday, the paper mentioned that Cody Anderson has been consistently hitting 95-96 MPH on the radar gun this spring. A quick look on Brooks Baseball shows that Anderson averaged 94 MPH in June last year before seeing his average velocity steadily decrease each month before ending the year just under 93 MPH in September. If this reports are true (and the radar gun can be trusted), a 2 MPH jump in velocity will be significant for him, especially if he can keep his changeup around 84-85 MPH where he was last season. The added velocity on the fastball, will give him a larger speed disparity between his pitches, and should lead to added effectiveness. Anderson showed up to camp "in the best shape of his life", working in the offseason on his conditioning and diet, but it's nice to hear that's we actually see tangible benefit from this rhetoric. He still needs to beat out Tomlin for the 5th spot in the rotation, but from a fantasy perspective, it does seem like he has a name that we're going to hear a lot more about in the coming weeks.
Matt Wieters (C - BAL) - Matt Wieters left Saturday's game with an injury to his (previously surgically repaired) right elbow. He underwent an X-Ray and the results came back clean, so for now he will simply rest the arm until he shows improvement. While the diagnosis seems straight forward in the surface, it's a notable news item because it's the same elbow that underwent Tommy John reconstructive surgery several years ago. The Orioles and fantasy owners are counting on Matt Wieters to continue his comeback to return to his pre-injury form. The one interesting aspect of Wieters stat line from 2015 was is big jump in strikeout rate (19% career mark vs 24% in 2015). Perhaps it was bad luck, or perhaps he was just rusty, but Wieters definitely saw some regression in his plate discipline, suffering a 3% jump in whiff rate and enduring a drastic 9% drop in his contact rate on pitches outside of the strike zone. That means pitchers were getting him to chase more pitches outside of the zone (and miss on those pitches) which he normally would have put in play. Whether or not this injury turns out to be serious underscores the fact that Matt Wieters is not a lock to hit 500 at-bats this season and fantasy owners should plan accordingly.
Mike Napoli (1B - CLE) - Suffering under the age bias in fantasy baseball, Mike Napoli is getting completely ignored in fantasy drafts right now. The 34-year old former catcher is now the starting 1st baseman for the Cleveland Indians and has gotten off to a hot start this spring, including going 2-3 on Sunday with his 2nd HR of the spring and 3 RBI. With regular at-bats, Napoli should have no problem hitting at least 20 HRs and hitting in the heart of the Indians lineup should also give him a shot at 75 RBIs. Given his superior feel for the strike zone, he's also a nice "cheap" way to add power in OBP leagues, especially.
Draft Advisor: bring our winning strategy (Serpentine / Auction) to your draft. Our player rankings adjust as players are selected, adhering to the changing dynamics of your draft. After a player is selected/drafted, the software will display/suggest the best players remaining. Purchase Today!