"Max"imum Effort - I don't think there's been too much doubt about Scherzer's health this spring, but after tossing a minor league game Thursday he pronounced himself "back to normal", and his pronouncement was backed up by the coaching staff in terms of both velocity and movement, but perhaps not command quite yet. The reigning Cy Young winner has been helped as much as we all expected by moving to the NL, and remains a solid late-1st/early-2nd round pick in standard leagues, despite the fact that there remains a chance that he will miss the first turn or two through the rotation this year.
Anthony Rendon, disappointingly solid? - I find Rendon to be a very interesting player. I really expect him to be capable of a .300/25/15 season, and many of the underlying statistics support the possibility of that level of play, and when the .275/20/12 shows up, it feels disappointing although it's a perfectly solid season. Rendon routinely exhibits excellent (85%) contact rates, solid (20-22%) LD rates, above average batted ball distance (404 ft avg HR), and good hard contact numbers (36-38%). I remain convinced that there's a "career year" coming soon, and since he's about at the top of the age curve right now.....no time like the present, right? Out of the 8 3B being drafted in front of him, I could see grabbing Rendon over the massive K numbers of the Toddfather and Methuselah Beltre, but probably not any more than that.
LOS ANGELES ANGELS:
Shoemaker? More like adjustment maker... - Shoemaker is quite possibly the most underrated SP heading into this season, at least if you believe that the league won't catch up with the "new" Shoemaker. Since he decided to throw his splitter a nearly infinite number of times more often last May, Shoemaker put up an FIP ERA of around 3.30 (and a 2.93 actual ERA) with barely over a walk and 8+ K's per 9. Where would that pitcher rank? Better than 61st, I'll tell you that much, but that's where he's being selected on average. I think he's much more of a 13th-15th round guy than an 18th-19th one, and he could easily provide SP4 value.
There's a better street for LA to try - With Huston Street out with a lat strain until perhaps the end of the month (not to mention seemingly in steep decline), Cam Bedrosian has a chance to grab the closer's role in Anaheim to start the year. Bedrosian substantially boosted his slider usage in 2016, and that combined with a velocity bump led to a breakout campaign. His control improved as well, from prohibitively poor to borderline acceptable. With Street's velocity dropping every season, Bedrosian would seem to be a better option to begin with, but Mike Scioscia loves his vets. I wouldn't touch Street before the end-game, but I might grab Bedrosian just a touch before that.
NEW YORK YANKEES:
And he's going to cure cancer too! - Let's get this out of the way: I love Gary Sanchez, I've loved him since the Yanks signed him 8 years ago. I think he's going to be a very good player. That being said, I think expectations have gotten a bit unwieldy here. That .299 AVG through 50 games last summer? Higher than any AVG at any stop of his lengthy minor league career. He hit twice as many homers in 53 games with NY as he did in 71 games with Scranton. He drew walks at a rate that he only exceeded at one stop out of 12 in the minors, and that was only for 20 games or so. Suffice it to say that I think projections need to be tempered a bit. This kid could be very, very good, but I like where our forecast sits at .269/25. Is that worth a 4th or 5th round pick? Maybe, but I think the fact that he's being drafted right around Posey and a bit ahead of Lucroy is a bit much....I'd probably let someone else take the gamble unless he slid down to the bottom of his pick range (17-72 in the NFBC).
Ground ball Gardner - Anybody notice that Brett Gardner regressed 5 years last season, except he lost a bit of speed? His 2016 was almost a carbon copy of his 2011, back before he started elevating the ball a little more (with the corresponding increase in power). A 52% GB rate is going to drop your power numbers, but his avg HR distance remained very slightly below average, so I think the bat speed is still mostly there. I expect a bit of a bounceback this season, although Father Time will continue to eat away bit by bit. Gardner has also stated that he's become more passive the past few years on the bases (SBA: 32, 26, 25 20 last 4 years), something that he would like to rectify this year. Those two things combined have me hopeful for a bit of a resurgence from Gardner this year, perhaps along the lines of a dozen homers and 20 steals. That puts him on the fringe of OF5 status in standard leagues, so likely somewhere around round 20-22 is appropriate.
AROUND THE LEAGUE:
Justin Turner (3B) LAD - Someone please explain to me why Justin Turner is somewhere around the 13th-15th 3B being drafted right now? Turner started very slow last season coming off of microfracture surgery, but he hit 298/349/549 in the second half, posting a career best hard contact rate (37.6%) to go along with a typically excellent LD rate (23.9%) and contact rate (84%). The power is probably maxed at this level, but the AVG has plenty of room to move upward based on the peripherals. I'd be looking at him a solid two rounds earlier than he's going on average (11th) at least...he should be a huge value.
Alex Cobb (SP) TB - We do tend to gloss over Tommy John surgery as fairly commonplace now, when there are still a number of pitchers that don't ever regain their former stuff. That could be the case with Cobb, who has been decent but not great thus far in camp, but at the #82 SP by ADP right now, I'd certainly be willing to gamble that he'll be one of the positive outcomes. Cobb was consistently a 3.00-3.50 FIP arm from 2012-2014....clearly a mid-rotation SP. To have a chance at getting a guy like that in round 25-26, well, I'd be willing to jump the gun a touch. At his best, Cobb is one of the coveted "GB/K" pitchers....right now, the problem seems to be feel on his changeup, which is fairly understandable after the better part of two years off. I wouldn't count on him as anything more than a 5th starter, but there's clear upside from there.
Gerardo Parra (OF/1B) COL - Parra had a dismal 2016, which is fairly surprising given the promise that existed this time last year. It looked like Parra would just be an expensive bench bat this year, but then the injuries hit the Rockies and they haven't really stopped. Dahl, Desmond, and catcher Tom Murphy are all out various amounts of time (likely late-April returns for all three, perhaps early May for Murphy), and although there are other options, Parra is doing his best to remind them that he could be one of the better ones. There are some reasons for optimism, and I'm not really counting the 345/406/483 line this spring. Parra only managed a .297 BABIP last season, a figure that might be one of the lowest BABIP's in Rockie history. Granted, his LD rate, dropped to 19.2%, but in Coors that rate is likely to produce a BABIP between .315-.330, so we should expect better things on that front this year. Parra also managed a hard contact rate that was a mere 0.1% off of his career best last year, but again, nothing really to show for it. Throw in the contact rate that remained above 80% even in an off year, and it isn't just that the 29 year old Parra COULD have a bounce-back season, it's likely that he SHOULD have one. This April opportunity could make him worth an end-game pickup in your draft...heading into last year I thought .300/15/15 was a reasonable target for Parra, and while the playing time won't likely be there for the counting stats, it looks like it could be there for the first part of the year at least.
Adalberto Mejia (SP) MIN - This is more of a deep-league guy, but Mejia was very impressive Wednesday against St. Louis in the Grapefruit League, fanning 8 batters in 3 2/3 innings. With Trevor May done for the year, there is at least one spot to be had in the Twins rotation, and that's if you count guys like Hughes and Santiago as locks, which by performance, you probably shouldn't. Mejia is pretty advanced for a pitching prospect, changing arm angles and speeds with solid command. His ceiling isn't typically seen as "8 K's in 3 2/3 IP", but he could be a solid rotation contributor. Just another name to keep in the back of your mind as a potential 5th SP to offset the risk of guys like, oh, Cobb, Ryu, and Reed.
Cody Reed (SP) CIN - Reed has made great strides over the past few season, harnessing his command and showing promise with his secondary stuff. Joey Votto said he has the nastiest stuff on the team, which should count for something since the guy sees more pitches than just about anybody. The problem is, Reed's MLB debut was awful. He was pummeled for a 7.00+ ERA in 10 starts, allowing a HR/FB ratio of almost 28%. That should keep his price down considerably, and let's be clear: there's major potential here. Despite the fact that he's "working on some things" this spring, he's managed 15 K's through 11 innings so far, and his changeup looks much improved once again. With an excellent slider and 93-96 mph velocity on his fastball (as a lefty), he has some major potential. I like Reed very much as a late-game "lottery ticket" in standard-sized formats and deeper.
Hyun-Jin Ryu (SP) LAD - Ryu was a very good mid-rotation SP in 2013-14, posting ERA's in the low-3.00's and WHIPs right around 1.20 with 14 wins a season. He's started 1 major league game since as he's recovered from should er and elbow injuries, so it would be easy to write him off completely. The Dodgers are still trying to figure out the last two spots of their rotation behing Kershaw, Maeda, and Hill, with Julio Urias not nearly stretched out to the point where you could count on him and Brandon McCarthy recovering from his own injuries. The club wants to take it slowly with Ryu, but they seemed very impressed with his stuff Thursday (he went 3 IP and allowed 1 ER with 4 K's), saying that he looked "normal". If he has truly gotten back to full strength, I wouldn't be surprised to see him in the rotation by the end of April, and he'd be a clear rotation member in all formats. As it stands now, he's not even being drafted in most formats, and he's the kind of guy I wouldn't mind adding as rotation depth late in the game.
Wil Myers (1B) SD - Wil Myers is currently a 5th round player in most leagues, and like all players who have a "breakout" season, the question is "does that value make sense"? 2016 was the first time Myers had been healthy since 2013, and since we all know that health is a skill, there's definitely some risk from that standpoint. Myers also plays on a horrible team, so the upside in the R and RBI categories is fairly low. He also really only hit in one month last year, hitting 11 HRs with a .327 AVG in June. Add in the unlikelihood that he will continue to run any more, or any more successfully as he has been, and it's easy to be negative. I do think there is some average upside. He made great strides in contact rate last year, and improved his LD rate by 4.5%, all to see his BABIP increase by 3 points. Other than that, I think the likelihood is that Myers is a bit worse in '17 than '16, although an AVG bump would probably keep his value in a similar range to last year. Looking for more than that is likely being overly optimistic, so I'd prefer to look at him toward the latter end of his current draft range (rounds 5-6 in standard 12-team leagues).
Raul Mondesi (2B) KC - The 39th ranked 2B by ADP so far this spring, Mondesi is doing his best to show people that there's a lot more potential in his game. Whit Merrifield has been slated to be the starter at the keystone for the Royals, but everyone knows that he's just a placeholder. Mondesi is still just 21, and despite his MLB struggles late last season he managed 9 HR and 33 SB in just 99 G across four levels. He has very good speed and improving power, but swings and misses a ton (contact rate below 67%). If you'd asked me two months ago, I would have said there was about a 5% chance that Mondesi would make the roster out of camp, but while Merrifield has been his typical vanilla self, Mondesi has been on fire, hitting 444/464/741 through the first few weeks. Once the manager starts talking about him like he has a chance, which Ned Yost has already done, you have to take him seriously. Throw in the excellent defense, which buys him a longer leash and a better chance to get the job in the first place, and it's time to start taking a flyer on him in the later rounds of deeper leagues as a potential 10/25 guy. The AVG could be an issue, but the potential here is sizable and the steals are, as always, worth quite a bit at the likely price.
Andrew Toles (OF) LAD - Toles is a kid that was kicked out of the Rays organization for disciplinary reasons, then given a second chance in LA by his old Tampa GM. He blitzed through the minors last year (as a 24 year old), hitting over .300 and slugging over .500 at every stop, including 115 PAs in LA. He doesn't have huge power but he does run very well....he finished with 10 HRs and 24 SBs across those 4 levels last year in around 450 PAs. It looks like the Dodgers are going to run him out there in LF to start the season, and there's definitely some upside potential here, particularly in steals. I'm not sure he's standard-league worthy right off the bat, unless you really are desperate for steals in the late-game, but any league deeper than that should take a strong look at him.....he doesn't turn 25 until May and he missed a year, so some more development is likely. He also doesn't whiff much, although he doesn't walk much either.....for what it's worth he's struck out just 1 time this spring in 25 ABs.
Brandon Belt (1B) SF - Belt is one of those guys that always seems to fly under the radar. He puts up solid (if unspectacular) numbers across the board, putting up value reasonably similar to Eric Hosmer. The problem is, he's getting drafted 5 rounds behind Hosmer. Look deeper, and you'll see a player that is victimized by his home park as much as anyone, as AT&T Park limits HRs to left-handed batters by over 40%. That situation is still in force, but with a HR/FB rate of just 9.3% to go along with an avg HR distance of over 405 feet, some positive movement in the HR category should be expected even with the park effect. He's decreased his chase rate tremendously over the past two seasons (over a 7% drop), which has caused a spike in his walk rate (along with a decent AVG boost). Obviously he's rather valuable in OBP-based formats, but I would contend that he should be a starter in all formats, and that he has as much upside of any 1B after the top 7 or 8.