Philadelphia Phillies Spring Notes:
Tommy Isn't a Regular Jo(seph)
Assuming he is over the wrist tendinitis that plagued him over the winter (and all indications suggest that he is), Tommy Joseph is ready to destroy baseballs in 2017. After an abysmal first two months in 2016--one that saw him post a 3:35 BB:K rate--Joseph made some solid adjustments the rest of the way and ended up hitting 21 homers in 107 games. His elite batted ball speed numbers and hard hit rate suggest that we shouldn't see much regression in his 18 percent HR/FB rate, and with regular AB's, I see his EYE continuing to improve as well. If you miss out on the elite 1B, look for Joseph, who is currently being picked as the 19th 1B off the board. He could easily work his way into the top 13 by season's end.
Can Clay Buck Recent Trends and Deliver?
Buchholz posted the kind of line--4.78 ERA with a 16 percent strikeout rate--that normally relegates its owner to the latter rounds of only-leagues. However, I think there could be something here with Buchholz. In 58 2/3 second-half innings the veteran posted a 3.22 ERA with a 17 percent strikeout rate, and most importantly, saw his strand rate rise thanks, in part, to his adoption of a different approach with men on base--he's no longer pitching out of the stretch. I'm curious to see how he'll perform outside of Fenway, and with a rotation spot assured, I'm looking to grab him as a number seven starter in deeper leagues.
Pittsburgh Pirates Spring Notes:
No Joshin: Bell Could Crack Top 200 By Season's End
Josh Bell faced live pitching on Tuesday for the first time since offseason knee surgery and afterwards reported feeling pain free. While he is two weeks behind a normal schedule, Bell has been working on his strength and conditioning and looks likely to ready by opening day. There is no questioning Josh Bell's talent. The Pirates knew what they were doing when they paid well over slot to grab him in the second round in 2011. When a player that has pedigree walks 21 times and strikes out 19 over his first 152 MLB plate appearances, he has my attention. Throw in a 33% hard hit rate and an 83 percent contact rate, and Bell looks ready to emerge as a must-start fantasy option. The only question remaining is whether the Pirates will trust him with regular playing time, or will they ease him into his first full season by working in John Jaso and David Freese at first. At pick 287 overall in the NFBC, I'm willing to find out.
Can Francisco Serve as Your Number Two Catcher?
Francisco Cervelli returned to action on Tuesday after sitting out the weekend with right foot discomfort. At pick 315, which is the 25th catcher off the board on average, Cervelli looks to be the forgotten man. But I see value in Cervelli as a number two catcher. He battled through a fractured left hand and various other ailments last season, so knocking him down too far because of the four percent fall in his hard hit rate seems unduly harsh. Throughout his physical struggles Cervelli posted an elite 14 percent walk rate and an above-average 80 percent contact rate. With the starting gig his and improvement in hand strength, I see Cervelli lifting the ball more, hitting it with more authority, and delivering top-20 value at catcher.
Miami Marlins Spring Notes:
Standing Up for Stanton
74 and 119 is the answer. The question: how many games has Stanton played the past two seasons? Yet, he is still being drafted 39th overall on average, which puts him as the 10th OF off the board. The talent he brings is unquestionably elite, and in today's environment that's flush with power, his hitting his ceiling could set you apart in the category. I mean, his batted ball speed data are not only elite (423 feet average distance on homers, 109 MPH average speed off bat), they are in a different stratosphere. And I actually believe the injuries have hampered his development as a hitter, as he had posted a walk rate near 15 percent and a contact rate near 70 in his monster 2014 season. With all of this being said, I'm willing to take the risk with him at his current ADP. I believe the new DL rule (now 10 days) will help him and his owners, and the potential he offers for separation is too much to pass up in the 3rd or 4th round, especially in 12-team or shallower leagues.
Which Back End SP Option Should You Fish For?
With Jeff Locke continuing to battle left bicep tendinitis, it's looking more and more likely that both Tom Koehler and Dan Straily will open the season in the Marlins rotation. While the ballpark should help Straily, he was extremely fortunate last season as indicated by his 3.76 ERA/5.02 xFIP. While I like the 10 percent swinging strike rate and see room for him on deep league rosters, his current ADP of 331 screams overpay. Koehler, on the other hand, offers intriguing value at pick 541. The veteran has thrown at least 176 innings each of the past three seasons, and last season he boasted his swinging strike rate to just under 10 percent while decreasing his hard hit rate to 28 percent. Finding those number six and seven starters are important, especially in deeper formats, and guys like Koehler who can eat up innings with respectable numbers across the board usually slip past guys with bigger upside that have no chance of throwing 150 innings.
Spring Notes From Around the League:
Zach Britton (RP-BAL): Britton did not pitch in an intrasquad game on Wednesday and is listed as day-to-day with an oblique issue. While this doesn't appear to be serious, early drafters are advised to monitor the situation closely over the coming weeks, as these have a tendency to linger. Britton had an historical season in 2016, closing out all 47 save opportunities while posting a 74:18 K:BB ratio and an 80 percent groundball rate to go along with a .54 ERA. If healthy he is a deserving top-60 selection, but if I were drafting today, I'd be slightly weary until I see him pitching at full speed in a game. Those first six rounds in a draft are too important to take unnecessary risks.
Todd Frazier (3B-CHW): Down goes Frazier! The Todd Father is listed as day-to-day with a sore left side. While he feels it's an oblique issue, there doesn't appear to be any official diagnosis out of White Sox camp. Much like with Britton, when I hear the O word, I grow nervous. Frazier went 40/15 last season with a puzzling .225 AVG. His 49 percent flyball rate and 73 percent contact rate will continue to put downward pressure on the AVG, and while his power is plus, his 18 percent HR/FB rate isn't supported by his hard hit rate and batted ball speed data. Put it all together and his ADP of 73 looks too expensive, especially with the outstanding depth at the position.
Robert Gsellman (SP-NYM): Zach Wheeler (elbow) threw a successful bullpen session on Wednesday and according to the New York Daily news, threw at 90 percent effort. However, rumblings out of Mets camp suggest that Robert Gsellman will likely grab the fifth spot in the rotation to begin the season, even if Wheeler continues to progress. In 44 2/3 innings in 2016 Gsellman posted a 3.38 xFIP, a 28 percent hard hit rate, and a 23 percent strikeout rate that was buoyed by a respectable nine percent swinging strike rate. The man has a deep arsenal and an advanced feel for pitching, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him post top-60 SP numbers by season's end.
Josh Hamilton (OF-TEX): Hamilton re-injured his surgically repaired knee and is heading back to Texas for a medical examination. The oft-injured slugger has had three surgeries on the knee and looks to be out indefinitely. Hamilton didn't play a game in the Majors in 2016, and in his last bit of action in 2015 he posted a modest .314 wOBA but did his eight homers in 50 games. Even if he did find his way on the roster, his health questions, subpar plate discipline and contact skills, and place on the depth chart would make him unrosterable outside of deep AL-only leagues.
Kennys Vargas (1B/DH-MIN): What's the frequency, Kennys? Reports emanating out of Minnesota indicate that Kennys Vargas has worked with Manny Ramirez during the offseason on his approach at the dish. If the Twins give Vargas regular playing time--and he is rumored to be the frontrunner for the starting DH role--he could provide fantasy owners with an immense amount of profit. Fueled by a 42 percent hard hit rate and a 104 MPH average BBS on homers, Vargas posted a .352 wOBA and an .833 OPS in 177 plate appearances in 2016. While he must cut down on the 32 percent strikeout rate, he posted an elite walk rate of just under 14 percent and should tap into his bat-to-ball skills with regular reps. He could be the Tommy Joseph of the AL. Hopefully the Twins get up to speed and let the man play!
Eduardo Rodriguez (SP-BOS): EROD is still dealing with the right knee discomfort that started to plague him during winter ball, but neither he nor the Red Sox seems concerned that the issue will linger into the season. While Steven Wright and Drew Pomeranz look to be the early favorites for the 4/5 slots in the rotation, I wouldn't count out Rodriguez. Wright and Pomeranz have lingering health concerns of their own. And Rodriguez allowed a .270 wOBA in his final 77 2/3 innings with a 79:28 K:BB ratio and a 24 percent hard hit rate. I love the stuff he brings to the table and have no issue investing a late-round pick in standard leagues to acquire his upside.
CJ Cron (1B-LAA): NFBC drafters know talent and that's why they are taking Cron at 231 on average in early drafts. However, playing time is everything, and news flow from Angels camp indicates that he'll be competing for AB's with the recently signed Luis Valbuena (why the Angels signed Valbuena is an interesting question, especially with Cron's reverse splits). Cron displayed an above-average hard hit rate and nearly elite batted-ball speed numbers, marks that support an uptick in the 12 percent HR/FB rate. He makes plenty of contact for a power guy so the average should safely stay in the .265-.275 range too. If he plays on a regular basis, he could be a top 200 player, but at this point, it's too risky to count on.
Michael Brantley (OF-CLE): Brantley still hasn't hit with maximum effort, although has been tracking pitches and doing OF drills. As we have seen with Brantley and other high-profile players, drafting guys who are injured in Spring Training rarely works out unless the price is right. At his current ADP of 221, I still don't see the value, although I understand the pick as the upside is a top 100 player who could go 20/20 with a .300 AVG. My main concern is that, even in the best-case scenario, he'll find himself sitting often to maintain health throughout the season and present owners with a plethora of difficult lineup decisions.
Mikie Mahtook (OF-DET): Mahtook is competing for the Tigers CF job, likely as a platoon player. For his career Mahtook has posted a .366 wOBA vs. lefties compared to a .236 wOBA vs. righties, although he has posted comparable hard hit rates of 36 and 34 percent respectively. He'll likely battle JaCoby Jones for the righty side of the platoon while Anthony Gose and Tyler Collins battle for the left one. Mahtook and Collins are the early favorites and could provide value in leagues with daily transactions.
Jake Lamb (3B-ARI): Lamb hit .197 with nine homers in the second half of 2016, which has prompted many early drafters to pass on the young left-handed slugger. I think it's a mistake. Let's not forget that Lamb battled a hand injury for the better part of the second half. Before the injury hit, he hit 20 homers in 85 games with a 42 percent hard hit rate. And even though the surface stats against lefties look subpar, indications beneath them--most notably his 13 percent walk rate and .197 BABIP--suggest that growth remains likely. Most importantly, Lamb has the confidence of his manager, who wants him to play regularly in 2016. He should have your confidence too.
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