Pittsburgh Pirates Spring Notes:
Just Like the GM Drew It Up
Pirates GM Neil Huntington recently indicated that he sees Drew Hutchison breaking camp in the rotation unless Tyler Glasnow wows this spring. Knowing how the budget-conscious Pirates operate and keeping in mind that Huntington traded Francisco Liriano and prospects to acquire Hutch last season, I see the former-Jay getting a shot. He didn't look great in 24 innings last season, posting a 5.25 ERA and allowing a 34% hard-hit rate, but beneath the surface signs of a breakout linger. He posted an 11% swinging-strike rate and a 60% first-pitch-strike rate, and began to show more separation between his fastball and changeup. With a full spring to work with Ray Searage (see J.A. Happ, Francisco Liriano, and Ivan Nova), there is hope that the 26-year-old Hutchison will begin to realize his potential. As his NFBC ADP of 528 shows, the price is right to take a late round flier for your bench in deeper leagues. Those in even deeper leagues will want to monitor the progress of Nick Kingham, who will be in line to start in the second half should Hutch and others falter or if a trade is consummated.
How Will Jung Ho Kang's Wrongs Impact Fantasy Values?
With a pending trial for his most recent DUI arrest, Jung Ho Kang will miss the start of Spring Training. Even if that all goes smoothly, Kang finds himself questionable for the start of the MLB season, as he'll likely receive a conduct punishment from the Commissioner's Office. While 2017 comes with uncertainty, 2016 went very well for Kang when he was on the field. He hit 21 homers in 103 games, boosting his hard hit rate to an elite 39% while increasing his flyball rate to 37%. He also improved his BB-rate by 3%, and his .278 BABIP looks underrepresented given his hard-hit rate an overall batted-ball profile (he was especially unlucky on groundballs, posting a well-below league-average mark of .157). Don't forget about Kang even though he'll likely miss time in April. While this likely frees up space for David Freeze and John Jaso to receive more looks in the infield, deeper leaguers will want to keep an eye on the forgotten prospect, Alan Hanson, who has the speed we all covet and who should finally receive some significant time in the Majors.
Miami Marlins Spring Notes:
Will Bour See More Time vs. Lefties?
Manager Don Mattingly indicated that he wants to challenge Justin Bour more against tougher lefties, which should allow the slugger to reach 500 plate appearances for the first time in his MLB career. While this may hurt the AVG, it can only help with the counting stats, and boosts Bour's stock as a viable corner infielder/utility play in 12-team+ leagues. The lefty battled through ankle injuries in 2016 but still managed to hit 15 homers and drive in 51 in 91 games while improving his EYE from .34 to .68. His batted ball speed statistics and hard hit rate fall on the fringes of the elite range, supporting his 19% HR/FB rate.
Going off the board on average at 309 in early drafts, Bour makes for the perfect late round pick with his combination of floor and upside.
A Closer Controversy?
A.J. Ramos converted 40 of 43 save opportunities in 2016 and looks to have the job secured heading into 2017. So what's the problem? For one, the Marlins signed Brad Ziegler, who saved 22 games in 2016 for the Diamondbacks, to a two-year, $16 million dollar deal. For another, Ramos regressed beneath the surface. He walked 12.6% of the batters he faced while watching his swinging strike rate drop from 16% to 10%, both likely due in part to a loss in velocity. The combination of viable options behind him and questionable skills underneath will lead me to approach Ramos with caution at his current ADP of 131
Philadelphia Phillies Spring Notes:
Hail Cesar Hernandez?
Most players show up (or claim to show up) in the best shape of their lives, but in Hernandez's case, it may be more than a cliché. He reportedly arrived in camp with an extra 15 pounds of muscle and expressed his focus on being more aggressive and successful on the basepaths. Hernandez quietly posted a solid 2016 campaign, his first full season as a starter, stealing 17 bases while posting a .294/.371/.393 line. His groundball profile, speed, and 82% contact rate should help him maintain his career .352 BABIP. If he delivers on his promise and improves his stolen base efficiency--he was 17 for 30 in 2016--he'll deliver plenty of value hitting atop the Phillies lineup. Waiting on second base and middle infield isn't advisable, but if they fly off the board, Hernandez makes for a sneaky grab near his ADP of 300.
Jeanmer Gomez is the Closer...For Now
Despite manager Pete Mackanin recently naming Jeanmar Gomez as his closer heading in to 2017 nearly, early drafters are taking Gomez 200 spots after setup man Hector Neris. 200! So what do we make of this situation? Gomez struck out 16% of the batters he faced--one of the worst marks among late inning relievers--and his 7% swinging strike rate offers little promise for upside. He also blew six saves in 43 chances, particularly struggling against left-handed batters. Neris, meanwhile, posted a 31% strikeout rate backed by a 15% swinging strike rate over 80 impressive innings. The early drafters are onto something, and Neris should earn enough save chances to justify his current draft spot; but Mackanin is the manager, and as long as Gomez has the job, he should be going sooner than 432nd overall.
Spring Notes from Around the League:
Adrian Gonzalez (1B-LAD): AGONE reportedly cannot swing a bat just yet due to inflammation in his right elbow and won't test the ailment for another two weeks. While this doesn't appear to be serious, early drafters should exercise caution until the veteran is given the green light. Gonzalez hit 18 homers in 2015--a year in which 110 players hit 20 or more--and saw his groundball and hard hit rates head in separate directions, which has prompted early drafters to punish him with a 167 ADP overall. I wouldn't count on him for his traditional AVG contributions, and given the plethora of power available below him at 1B and CI, I'd pass unless he falls into the 180 range. Deep leaguers will also want to put uber-prospect Cody Bellinger on their radar for a second half promotion.
Adrian Beltre (3B-TEX): Beltre will reportedly miss at least three weeks with a strained calf. Our software likes Beltre significantly more than the current ADP, and at 37, Beltre will yet again provide owners with a veteran discount. 2016 saw him up his homer totals by 14 from 2015, and while we are projecting 26 homers in 2017, we see it coming with a solid batting average. He continues to make elite contact and consistently hard contact while hitting in the middle of a top offense playing in a launching pad, and makes for a great consolation prize should you miss on the elite 3B options.
Tyler Austin (OF-NYY): Austin was diagnosed with a small fracture in his left foot and will not resume baseball activities for six weeks. Deeper leaguers and AL-only players were hoping Austin could break camp as a utility and bench bat for a crowded Yankees lineup, but this all but assures that won't happen. He likely needed more seasoning after posting a 40% K-rate in 90 plate appearances with the Yankees last season. However, he posted a solid 34% hard hit rate while lifting and pulling the ball consistently, and while his 8% walk rate stands for improvement, he demonstrated a more patient approach in the high minors. Chris Carter and Greg Bird will likely platoon at first while Matt Holliday will DH most days, but given the number of injury prone guys on the field, Austin should work his way into AB's as the season progresses. Don't forget about him in deeper leagues with bench spots.
Tyler O'Neill (OF-SEA): The Mariners are rolling with Dyson, Haniger, and Martin as their starting OF to begin the season, emphasizing more defensive metrics. While there is plenty of upside with that trio, none have shown the ability to handle a full MLB workload over 162 games. Should one of them struggle, need a platoon mate, or fall to injury, Tyler O'Neill will likely be the first summoned to the Show. While the big right-hander had consistently displayed elite power, many questioned his ability to develop patience and hit for average coming into last season, especially in an environment outside of the CAL League. In 2016 he answered those questions with a .374 OBP and a .293 AVG while hitting 24 homers in 130 games in the offense-neutral Southern League. He's nearly ready and is a prospect to keep in mind as the season progresses.
Carter Capps (RP-SD): Capps began his moundwork this week with a slightly modified, although still unorthodox and violent delivery as he aims to be ready by Opening Day. While Brandon Maurer is penciled in as the closer, a strong camp from Capps could make things interesting as April approaches. Capps struck out a historic 49% of the batters he faced in 31 innings during the 2015 season before blowing out his elbow during Spring Training last season with the Marlins. Even if Capps works his way into save chances, he'll likely share the role as he has yet to reach 60 innings in a season during his MLB career. Maurer, with his 240 ADP, offers solid value for those looking to fill out their RP3 position.
Melvin Upton (OF-TOR): Reports out of Blue Jays camp indicate that Upton and Ezequiel Carrera will open the season in a LF platoon. Upton posted a 20-homer, 27-steal season in 2016 and provided excellent value to those playing in ROTO leagues. But he also posted a 29% K-rate/67% contact rate and hit only .238 despite a .300 BABIP. Now playing on the short-side of a platoon, Upton loses mixed league value outside of those with daily transactions. Dalton Pompey is a name to keep in mind in deeper leagues should both Upton and Carrera falter.
Lance McCullers (SP-HOU): Reports coming out of Houston suggest McCullers is tinkering with his mechanics in order to alleviate stress on his arm and maintain his health deeper into the season. In 81 innings last year McCullers displayed elite stuff, striking out 30% of the batters he faced while allowing a meager 25% hard hit rate. However, he also posted a 13% walk rate and consistently struggled to pitch deep into games. I love the upside, but the modified mechanics, issues with control, and likelihood the Astros will treat him with kid gloves lead me to believe the risk is too high to justify his current ADP of 181
Gerrit Cole (SP-PIT): Cole reported to camp with a clean bill of health after struggling through arm issues during the second half of 2016. He also struggled with performance, posting a career low 19% K-rate and career highs with a 7% BB-rate and a 30% hard hit rate. The injuries clearly affected him, and Cole has seemingly made physical conditioning and preparation more of a priority this offseason with the help of agent Scott Boras. His ADP of 116 seems reasonable, but be careful about trusting him as your number 1. Much like McCullers, pitchers coming off arm troubles are likely to see restrictions on pitch counts and innings.
Dilson Herrera (INF-CIN): While the fantasy world salivates over the thought of Jose Peraza playing everyday thanks to the Brandon Phillips trade, players in deeper leagues may want to put Dilson Herrera on their radar. The former Pirate and Met has been blocked for most of his young career, but he's only an injury or a Zack Cozart trade away from finally getting his chance. Herrera plateaued a bit through his second round at Triple-A, posting a .274/.335/.456 line with 15 homers, 7 steals, and a 38:87 BB:K rate in 110 games. Don't let the numbers deceive: the 22-year-old Herrera has skills and could work his way onto many rosters in the second half, if not sooner.
Travis d'Arnaud (C-NYM): Reports surfacing from Mets camp suggest d'Arnaud has been working with Mets hitting coach Kevin Long on finding more consistency and shortening his swing. Other reports suggest the oft-injured catcher is finally healthy and ready to contribute as a starter. Count me in. We say it all the time: catchers take longer to develop offensively due to the heavy physical demands of the position and the intense amount of focus it takes to handle a pitching staff. Even through his struggles in 2016 d'Arnaud posted an 85% contact rate and a 32% hard hit rate. Terry Collins wants him to play 100 games, and if he can stay healthy and produce, the catcher may force his way into 110-120 games and over 400 AB's for the first time in his career. Drafting d'Arnaud around his 299 ADP as a number two catcher presents solid value.