Osuna is currently the sixth reliever getting drafted based on ADP, but he could finish the year as the league's highest scoring relief pitcher. The 24-year-old has had his share of off-field problems, but posted a 1.99 ERA with 12 saves in 12 opportunities after joining the Astros in late July last season. Osuna has five pitches including a fastball that touches the upper 90s (MPH) and a dominant slider that limited opposing batters to a .103 batting average last year. One month into his Astros career, Osuna doubled the use of his cutter as well, signifying that it could become more of a featured pitch in 2019. Osuna didn't wow anyone with his swing and miss stuff last year but posted an impressive 33.3% strikeout rate in 2017 and has maintained a very strong walk rate over his four year career (4.5% career average, 2.7% last season). Osuna also posted an elite and career best 41.7% o-swing rate and solid 14.7% swinging strike rate last season, so his strikeout numbers will likely rise in 2019. The Astros tied with the Yankees for the third most save opportunities in baseball last season and will likely finish 2019 among the top 5 teams in the category again. Osuna has a history of blowing some saves (he blew just one last season but 10 in 2017) but his strong arsenal of pitches and successful track record make him an attractive relief option in 2019.
In his first healthy season since 2015, Michael Brantley posted a .309/.364/.468 slash line with 17 home runs and 12 stolen bases last year. Brantley is one of the league's best contact hitters (90.9% contact rate last year, 91.2% career average) and added some extra pop to his swing last year with a career best 37.1% hard hit rate (12.2% soft contact rate) while posting a desirable batted ball profile featuring a 31% line drive rate and 6% IF/FB ratio. The one question with Brantley has always been injuries -- the 31-year-old played just 101 games between the 2016 and 2017 seasons and the Astros will be in no rush to force him into playing time with Kyle Tucker waiting to claim his outfield spot -- but getting him in Mallex Smith territory (Smith is being drafted two spots ahead of Brantley on average) sets the price much closer to Brantley's floor than his ceiling. Take Brantley with confidence that he'll be a ~.300 hitter with 15+ home runs, 10+ stolen bases, infrequent strikeouts, and a dark horse shot at 100 RBIs as long as he stays healthy.
Although he pitched only 80.2 innings for the Brewers last season, Wade Miley had his second most valuable season since his All-Star 2012 campaign with a 2.57 ERA in 16 starts. Miley reinvented himself last season by ramping up his cutter usage: in 2017, Miley used his cutter under 12% of the time -- that number jumped to just under 43% last year. Miley's cutter was his best pitch by opposing batting average last year and the two pitches that he dumped to increase the cutter's usage (his sinker and slider) ranked among his two worst pitches by the same metric. While some of Miley's success can be attributed to his new pitch mix, an uninspiring amount appears to be the result of a small sample size and luck. The first red flag on Miley's performance is his lack of whiffs; Miley did actually see a slight increase in his swinging strike rate last season but still posted an underwhelming 9.1% swinging strike rate and his cutter ranked as his worst pitch by whiffs per swing. Hitters chased about 32% of Miley's pitches outside of the strike zone last year (30.6% career average), and his 79.2% contact rate sat right in line with his career average. Despite his 3% HR/FB ratio and .274 BABIP opposing batters hit Miley pretty hard, too, to the tune of a 37.4% hard hit rate -- no qualified pitcher last season gave up more hard contact with a HR/FB ratio below 11% (only 3 qualified pitchers who gave up hard contact at least a 34% rate also posted a sub-10% HR/FB ratio). If Miley's performance does slip too far from last season (which it looks like it might), the Astros don't have much of a reason to keep him on a long leash. Don't trust Miley's 2018 season on draft night.
Seager turned in the worst statistical season of his career in 2018 with a .221/.273/.400 slash line, but there's plenty of reason for optimism coming into this season. For one, Seager played with a broken toe from the end of June through the end of the season, partially explaining his horrible August and substantial drop in hard hit rate over July. Even with his injury, Seager's peripheral numbers looked as strong as ever last season. Last year, Seager posted a strong 37% hard hit rate (34.2% career average) to go along with a career best 11.1% soft contact rate. Seager's strong batted ball profile (25% line drive rate, 0.53 GB/FB ratio, 11% IF/FB ratio) indicates that his .251 BABIP was unusually low, and much of that appears to be explained by his injury -- Seager's BABIP sat at .267 and .192 in July and August, respectively. Seager's plate discipline does give some cause for concern, but nothing worth getting too worried over. 2018 saw Seager get more aggressive at the plate as his swing rate jumped over four percent from the prior season to 47.1%, with a slightly higher increase on pitches in the zone (7 point z-swing increase, 4 point o-swing increase). In turn, Seager's contact rate fell slightly while his swinging strike rate rose. Still, Seager posted respectable contact (78.8%) and swinging strike (9.9%) rates last year and his plate discipline (29% o-swing rate last year) should remain strong entering the 2019 season. Expect Seager to bounce back next season and hit around .260 with a shot at 30 home runs and average strikeout and walk rates.
2018 was a tale of two halves for Marco Gonzales as he posted a solid 3.41 ERA in the first half before imploding to post a 5.23 ERA in the second half of the season. Gonzales just didn't seem to have the endurance to finish the season strong (or got hurt), as his velocity dropped significantly as the season went on. Ultimately, Gonzales lost 2 MPH on each of his four primary pitches (sinker, cutter, changeup, curveball) between May and September, likely causing some of his poor second half performance. Results-wise, Gonzales didn't see a substantial change in his strikeouts or walks between the first and second halves of the season. Instead, the second half of the season saw Gonzales get hit harder and pay for it with a higher BABIP and more home runs. Gonzales offers solid command and got hitters to chase balls at an impressive 35.9% rate last year (fifth best o-swing rate in the league), helping him keep hard contact down to a respectable 34% rate (plus Gonzales gets a ton of ground balls with his curveball, additionally helping to push his floor up). Gonzales has the tools to put together another solid first half and could carry some momentum into the second half if he can keep his velocity up through the season. Take him comfortably late in drafts -- his 255 ADP (just ahead of Jeurys Familia) makes him an attractive sleeper candidate for a starting rotation.
The Mariners are thin at catcher after jettisoning Mike Zunino to the Rays this offseason, and Omar Narvaez should have the first shot at claiming the starting catcher job for the M's this season. Narvaez showed some promise as a hitter with the White Sox last season, slashing .275/.366/.429 with 38 walks in 97 games. Narvaez has always had strong plate discipline skills (23.5% o-swing rate, 83% contact rate last season), but the 27-year-old posted a paltry 19.4% hard hit rate in 2017. Narvaez was able to maintain a solid slash line on the back of his plate discipline and strong batted ball profile (career 31% line drive hitter, 8% IF/FB ratio), but he'll have to add more power to continue hitting well enough to make up for his poor defense (and be productive enough as a fantasy asset). Fortunately, Narvaez appears to be making strides in the right direction. Narvaez's hard hit rate jumped by almost 10 points last season to 28.4% while his soft contact rate dropped to 18% -- in each of his three years in the major leagues, Narvaez's hard hit rate has risen while his soft contact rate has dropped. If Narvaez can get his hard hit rate up into the 30's, he'll have a legitimate shot at keeping a stronghold over the Mariners catching job and finishing the season as a solid option at catcher. The catcher position drops off steeply after Yadier Molina (the 8th catcher going in drafts on average), so a late selection of Narvaez could pay off well at a thin position.
Around the League:
Homer Bailey (KCR) - The Royals signed Homer Bailey to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training on Saturday. Bailey might be able to crack the Royals' roster due to the team's weak pitching staff, but he likely won't be much use to fantasy owners. If the Royals hope to squeeze any value out of the 32-year-old (hard to believe that Bailey is just 32), it'll likely be out of the bullpen. If Bailey can regain some of his pre-2015 (when he got Tommy John surgery) velocity and focus on his slider and sinker (both of which actually have impressive whiff rates) at the expense of his other pitches -- all of which is possible with a move to the 'pen -- then Bailey has a shot at being a valuable contributor in Kansas City in a long relief or potentially opener style role (Bailey was bad the first two times through the order last year, but he really got crushed on the third time through to the tune of a .376/.431/.632 slash line). Even if Bailey is successful in that role he won't be of much use to fantasy owners, so stay away from Bailey in drafts.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa (TEX) - The Rangers have reportedly decided to primarily use Kiner-Falefa as a catcher in 2019 after having him bounce all over the field as a rookie. This is probably the best news Kiner-Falefa could get from a fantasy perspective as his solid but unspectacular hitting profile could be legitimately valuable with catcher eligibility. Kiner-Falefa owns a pretty average batted ball profile (29.3% hard hit rate, 25% line drive rate, 12% IF/FB ratio, .306 BABIP) and while his poor 3.2% HR/FB ratio will probably rise in 2019 (bringing up his paltry 1% home run rate up with it), Kiner-Falefa's main draw is his strong plate discipline. Kiner-Falefa posted an impressive 15.7% strikeout rate last year, and he did so by laying off of pitches outside of the strike zone with a solid 28.7% o-swing rate and by making a bunch of contact (85.7% contact rate). Getting a valuable catcher later in drafts is going to be difficult, and Kiner-Falefa has the chance to be a solid if unspectacular option at the position this season.
Jeff Samardzija (SFG) - Samardzija recently began throwing again after suffering a shoulder injury during the 2018 season. A strained shoulder plagued Samardzija all season last year, and he turned in his worst professional season with a 6.25 ERA in just 44.2 innings and a near 2 MPH drop on his average fastball. If Samardzija can start the 2019 at full health, then he could be a semi-valuable fantasy option like he has been in past years. Don't expect another All-Star caliber, 2.99 ERA style season like 2014, but a sub-4.00 ERA could be within reach for the 34-year-old.
Brian Anderson (MIA) - The Marlins have announced that Brian Anderson will be the team's primary third baseman this season. Anderson had an impressive rookie year last season that saw him finish among the top five in a crowded race for the NL-ROY award. There's a lot to like out of Anderson -- the 25-year-old offers a strong combination of power (38.2% hard hit rate) and plate discipline (28.1% o-swing rate, 78.2% contact rate) -- and if he continues to improve as a player over the 2019 season then he could become a middle to upper tier option at third base. Getting consistent reps as the starting third baseman for the Marlins should help Anderson's development and while playing at Marlins Park won't help pad his offensive numbers, he has a real chance at making an impact for fantasy owners.
Lucas Duda (MIN) - The Twins signed Duda to a minor league deal with an invite to spring training on Saturday. Duda doesn't make a lot of contact (70% contact rate last year) but hits the ball hard when does manage to make contact (career 38.2% hard hit rate, 38.4% last season) and will always put up decent numbers as a result. Duda also owns pretty substantial righty/lefty splits and has always had significant more success against righties than lefties over his career, so he could emerge as a solid platoon candidate with C.J. Chron (who has the opposite split) in Minnesota. If Duda manages to claim a roster spot with the Twins, he could be a cheap DFS option that churns out home runs but strikes out frequently.
Brett Lawrie (MIL) - Lawrie hasn't played professional baseball since a brief stint with the White Sox in 2016, but the 29-year-old is trying to make a comeback as he signed a minor league contract with the Brewers on Saturday. There isn't a lot to like out of Lawries recent MLB play -- the infielder struggled to make good contact (21% soft contact rate, 28.8% hard hit rate, 72.1% contact rate in 2016) and whiffed at pitches frequently -- but a couple of years away from the game might help Lawrie turn his career around. Don't expect Lawrie to even break the Brewers' Opening Day roster, but he'll be an interesting player to watch progress over the course of the season.
Jesus Luzardo (OAK) - The A's reportedly expect Luzardo to compete for a rotation spot this spring and are prepared to give him one with a strong Spring Training performance. Luzardo is baseball's seventh best prospect per Baseball America and offers three major league ready pitches in a fastball that can touch the upper 90's MPH, a dominant changeup, and a strong curveball. Luzardo posted a 2.88 ERA with a 10.6 K/9 across three different minor league levels last season, and the 21-year-old will look to carry that success into 2019. Even if Luzardo doesn't break the major league roster out of camp, expect him to play a role on this Athletics team, and his impressive pitch arsenal should make him a valuable fantasy asset once he gets to the MLB.
Archie Bradley (ARI) - Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo held back on naming Bradley the Dbacks' closer on Saturday, calling it too premature to give Bradley the job. Bradley gained almost 3 MPH on his fastball since moving to the bullpen in 2017 and has been successful in that role, posting a 2.68 ERA over 144.2 innings. Bradley introduced a sinker into his arsenal (that remains mostly fastball) last season and as a result got more whiffs and ground balls. Arizona finished last season with the eighth most save opportunities in the league (tied with Boston and San Francisco) but may not be in as many leading situations with the departures of Paul Goldschmidt and Patrick Corbin over the offseason. Lovullo's apparent lack of confidence in Bradley doesn't bode well for the 26-year-old's fantasy value either, so stay away from Bradley for now.
Steven Duggar (SFG) - Duggar is reportedly feeling fully healthy and will report to Spring Training with pitchers and catchers. The 25-year-old outfielder is slated to open the season as the starting center fielder for the Giants, but there isn't much for fantasy owners to like after his mediocre and brief stint in the major leagues last season. Duggar did a solid job avoiding pitches outside of the strike zone (29.8% o-swing rate) but didn't make contact particularly often (75.7% contact rate), hit the ball particularly well (29.6% hard hit rate, 19.4% soft contact rate), or post a particularly impressive batted ball profile (28% line drive rate, 0.75 GB/FB ratio). Don't expect more than roughly league average numbers from Duggar this season, although his small sample from last season could prove to be misleading.
Matt Joyce (CLE) - The Indians recently signed Joyce to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training. Joyce has a solid shot at breaking the roster with the Indians' thin outfield mix, and he could become a useful DFS option when facing righties. While Joyce posted one of the worst statistical seasons of his career last season, he still hid the ball hard frequently (35.7% hard hit rate) while maintaining impressive plate discipline skills (23.4% o-swing rate) and making an adequate amount of contact (75.7% contact rate). Despite a 31% line drive rate and 0.58 GB/FB ratio, Joyce wound up with a .242 BABIP and 2.9% home run rate, so both numbers should improve in 2019. If Joyce manages to get major league playing team this season he could be a sneaky valuable DFS option, so keep an eye on him.
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