Prized Prospect Eloy Jimenez will begin the season in the major leagues and make his big league debut on opening day at Kansas City on Thursday. Eloy is considered to be the #2 prospect in baseball. Last season Eloy slugged 575+ while splitting time in AA and AAA. What really was impressive is his limited 15% K rate. There's a lot to be exited about with Eloy who is likely to make his presence felt in 2019. Prospect Central Analysis: Eloy and his raw power is obvious in his well-stacked 6-4/215 frame. Eloy's power comes easily, and he has a nicely contained swing which allows him to have a better hit tool than a prospect who needs to swing hard to get the ball out. Eloy's plate coverage is good, his discipline is good for his age and his power is real. There's no reason to doubt his projectability, especially in his power game and a league-average hitter with 30-HR is a reasonable expectation here. His defense is average, and he'll be able to handle a CO position, probably right field while producing from a high-leverage BO position in the White Sox lineup. Long Term Fantasy Grade: A (lblasi) His current ADP of round 13 will likely move up 5-6 rounds now.
The 2nd surprise at the close of camp is the pending announcement that prized prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. (#3 Overall Prospect in basbeall) will be up in the big leagues when the San Diego Padres open their season on Thursday. Tatis will be playing next to the Padres recent aquistion All-Star slugger Manny Machado. We talk about that power/speed combo a lot but there is more at play here with Tatis. In addition to those skills, Fernando already shows a strong and advanced plate approach with an acceptable K rate in light of his power and a desirable walk rate in light of his speed game. In addition to that Tatis has the build, athleticism, and arm to stay at SS even as he physically matures. One of the best prospects in baseball. Long Term Fantasy Grade: A (lblasi). His current ADP of round 24 will likely move up 8-10 rounds now.
Jean Segura still a strong fantasy option at short
After an up-and-down start to his career, Segura has been one of the most stable and productive fantasy options at shortstop over the last three years. While he hasn't quite been able to match the success of his monster 2016, when he led the NL in hits en route to batting .319 with 20 homers and 33 steals, he continued to post strong numbers with the Mariners over the past two seasons. He's now tallied double-digit homers while batting at least .300 in three straight seasons, making him a standout contributor at the plate. He's also been a consistent threat on the bases with six straight campaigns of at least 20 steals. Segura's been pretty durable, too, appearing in at least 140 games in five of the last six years. At age 29 he's still close to his prime, and he could get a boost at Citizens Bank Park after spending the last two years in the pitcher-friendly T-Mobile Park (formerly known as Safeco Field). If Phillies manager Gabe Kapler bats him near the top of the lineup, he could put up even more eye-popping numbers batting in front of Bryce Harper and company.
Jake Arrieta trending in wrong direction
After several seasons as a top-flight fantasy option with the Chicago Cubs, Arrieta has regressed into a middling fantasy option as he's progressed into his thirties. His ERA, FIP and WHIP have risen every year since he claimed the NL Cy Young award in 2015, resulting in his worst marks since he went to the National League during the 2013 season. The most obvious explanation has been a drop in velocity, with his average fastball dipping below 93 mph the last two seasons after exceeding 94 mph every year from 2012-2016. This has made his pitches more hittable, causing his hit rate to rise and his strikeout rate to fall. After averaging over a strikeout per inning from 2014-2017, his K/9 plummeted to 7.2 in his first season with the Phillies last year. His hit rate also ballooned to 8.6 H/9 - well above his stingy 6.2 H/9 from 2014-2016 - as his soft-contact rate (18.5%) was the lowest of his career. With his home starts coming at Citizens Bank Park, he's become increasingly vulnerable to the long ball. While Arrieta should see his 10-11 record improve with Philadelphia's new-look offense supporting him, his 4.21 FIP over the last two seasons indicates that his ERA will likely creep up over 4.00 for the first time since 2013, especially after he posted a 7.88 ERA and a 1.63 WHIP in spring training.
Can Zach Eflin be trusted?
Zach Eflin was one of the most surprising breakouts of 2018. After going 4-10 with a 5.85 ERA, a 5.79 FIP and a 1.37 WHIP in 22 starts over his first two seasons, Eflin began 2018 in the minors but was quickly called up as an injury replacement. Showing increased velocity and more confidence in his fastball, the third-year starter went a solid 11-8 with a 4.36 ERA and a 3.80 FIP in 24 starts. The surge in velocity helped make Eflin a much more effective pitcher, nearly doubling his strikeout rate from 4.9 K/9 in 2017 to 8.6 K/9 in 2018 while cutting his home run rate in half. Nothing in his peripherals suggests he was lucky either, as his .309 BABIP, 68.4% strand rate and 11.2% HR/FB ratio were all worse than average. Accordingly, his 3.80 FIP indicates room for additional improvement in 2019 from the 24-year-old, especially if he's able to lower his career-worst 2.6 BB/9 rate from last year.
Is this the year Daniel Norris puts it together?
Daniel Norris has been a tantalizing fantasy option for several years now, especially after he seemed to be on the cusp of a breakout. But after compiling a 3.55 ERA across 129 1/3 innings between 2015 and 2016, Norris has struggled to the tune of a 5.42 ERA and a 1.57 WHIP over the past two years. He's still working on honing his command, as evidenced by last year's 3.9 BB/9 rate and 1.6 HR/9 rate. It's important to remember, however, that he's amassed just 282 innings in the majors over five seasons, meaning he hasn't had the benefit of working through a full season yet. He also still has plenty of upside after posting a career-best 10.4 K/9 rate last year. The 25-year-old southpaw is certainly a risky pick, but if he can stay healthy and get his command under control there's still breakout potential here. Don't bank on it, though, after he put up a 6.75 ERA and a 1.98 WHIP during spring training.
Need power? Consider Candelario
There's not too much pop to be found on the team that ranked dead last in the American League in home runs last year, but Jeimer Candelario could be a sneaky power bat. In his first full season last year, Candelario launched 19 homers and 28 doubles in 539 at-bats. He also showed good plate discipline for a 24-year-old with 66 walks and a 10.7% walk rate. He's still pretty raw based on his 25.8% strikeout rate last year, but that could come down now that he has nearly 800 MLB plate appearances under his belt. There's also room for his .224 average to improve if he cuts down on his whiffs and has better luck on balls in play after posting a .279 BABIP last year. If you're looking for cheap power at the hot corner, Candelario could fit the bill in his age-25 season, especially after a strong spring training that saw him slash .283/.377/.630 with three homers in 18 games.
Matthew Boyd: Underrated
Matthew Boyd probably doesn't get enough credit in fantasy circles for tuning himself into a serviceable pitcher last year, improving his ERA nearly a full run from 5.27 in 2017 to 4.39. Several improvements led to this change, most notably a career-best 3.12 K/BB ratio after he increased his strikeouts (8.4 K/9) and decreased his walks (2.7 BB/9). The strikeout rate was the best of his career and helped him allow fewer than one hit per inning for the first time in his career. His improved command and 1.16 WHIP from last year are both positive signs heading into 2019, especially if he can slash his career 1.5 HR/9 rate. Wins will be hard to come by on a lackluster Tigers squad (he only had nine last year), but the 28-year-old is capable of providing fantasy-relevant production over a sizable workload after logging 31 starts and 170 1/3 innings last year.
Around the League:
Tommy Pham (TB) - Rays outfielder Tommy Pham went 1-for-1 with a triple, a walk, a run and an RBI during Tuesday's spring training game against the Tigers. After drawing a walk and coming around to score in the first inning, Pham showed off his wheels by legging out his first triple of the spring in the next frame, driving in a run that extended Tampa Bay's lead to 4-0 en route to a 9-3 victory. Pham flourished after being traded from St. Louis last year, batting .343/.448/.622 in 39 games with his new team. While those numbers are unsustainable for just about everyone, Pham should continue to be a strong fantasy option in his age-31 season after topping 20 homers and 15 steals in each of the last two campaigns.
John Hicks (DET) - Tigers catcher John Hicks went 2-for-2 with a double and an RBI during Tuesday's spring training game against the Rays. After singling in his first at-bat, Hicks put the Tigers on the board with his fourth-inning double for his fourth two-bagger and sixth RBI of the spring. After taking a backseat to James McCann the last few years, Hicks is primed to be Detroit's starting catcher this year and could have sneaky fantasy value after slashing .262/.317/.416 in 2017 and 2018 combined. With 15 homers in 141 games during that span, the 29-year-old has the potential to provide double-digit homers alongside a solid batting average for fantasy owners in AL-only leagues or two-catcher formats.
Matt Moore (DET) - Tigers lefty Matt Moore lost after allowing four runs (three earned) on four hits and one walk with three strikeouts in three innings against the Rays on Tuesday. Moore struggled in his final spring tuneup, allowing three runs in the first inning and another in the second. The outing dropped his spring record to 4-2 with a 5.48 ERA, which doesn't bode well for his first season with the Tigers. The former Rays star hasn't been the same since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2014, posting a 25-39 record with a 5.22 ERA and a 1.47 WHIP in more than 500 innings since. Now 29, Moore is no longer fantasy relevant at this stage of his career.
Ryan Yarbrough (TB) - Rays lefty Ryan Yarbrough won Tuesday after allowing one run on five hits and no walks with five strikeouts in four innings vs. the Tigers. With the help of some early run support from Tampa Bay, Yarbrough held Detroit scoreless until the fourth en route to his first spring training win. The four one-run innings lowered his ERA to 3.24, which is an encouraging sign that the 27-year-old sophomore will be able to repeat the success of his rookie season, when he went 16-6 with a 3.91 ERA. Yarbrough only started six of his 38 appearances, however, as he frequently came in right after the opener. That will likely be the case again this year, assuming the Rays don't opt to use him in a more traditional starting role.
Kevin Kiermaier (TB) - Rays outfielder Kevin Kiermaier went 1-for-1 with a double, a run and an RBI vs. the Tigers during Tuesday's spring training game. Kiermaier kept up his hot spring by ripping an RBI double in his first at-bat of the game, pushing Tampa Bay out to an early lead. Kiermaier, who raised his spring average to .295 with the two-bagger, later came around to score. Coming off an injury-plagued and disappointing season in which he batted just .217/.282/.370 in 88 games, Kiermaier is looking to get back on track in 2019. Fantasy owners looking for value should consider him, as he has reached double-digit homers and steals four times apiece in the last five seasons.
Sean Newcomb (ATL) - Braves lefty Sean Newcomb received the no-decision in Tuesday's start vs. the Reds after allowing two runs on three hits (one homer) and no walks with five strikeouts in four innings. Newcomb was on top of his game in his final spring training tuneup, save for the two-run homer he allowed in the third. The 25-year-old concludes the spring with a 1-0 record and a 5.14 ERA, albeit with 15 walks in 21 innings. That's not a good sign for the notoriously wild southpaw, who enters 2019 with a career 4.7 BB/9 rate. While he's also average more than a strikeout per inning, Newcomb's potential is limited until he starts throwing more strikes.
Dansby Swanson (ATL) - Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson went 2-for-2 with a two-run homer Tuesday vs. the Reds. Swanson smacked a go-ahead two-run shot in the bottom of the fifth, giving Atlanta a 3-2 lead in a game it ultimately won 7-5. The long ball was Swanson's second of the spring, raising his spring average to .353 along with his single from his first at-bat. Swanson did show notable power growth last year by increasing his ISO from .092 to .157 while raising his home run total from six to 14, suggesting he may be able to take a similar leap in his age-25 season. The rest of his offensive profile is pretty lackluster, however, as he's a career 243/.314/.369 hitter. He did provide additional value with 10 steals last year, however, making him worth a roster spot in deeper mixed leagues and NL-only formats.
George Springer (HOU) - Astros outfielder George Springer went 1-for-2 with a solo shot Tuesday vs. the Pirates. After the Pirates pulled ahead with two runs in the top of the fourth, Springer got one back in the bottom half of the frame with his second spring home run. While it hasn't been a prolific preseason for Springer, that shouldn't affect his fantasy stock, as he's now scored at least 100 runs in three straight years while topping 20 homers in four of his five seasons. At 29, Springer remains one of the most dangerous leadoff hitters in the game and should continue to thrive atop Houston's loaded lineup.
Nomar Mazara (TEX) - Rangers outfielder Nomar Mazara went 1-for-2 with a three-run homer during Tuesday's spring game vs. the Indians. Mazara put Texas ahead with a three-run blast off Mike Clevinger in the third inning for his first home run of the spring. It's surprising that it took until his 19th game, given that he's clubbed exactly 20 homers in each of his three seasons. Still just 23 years old, Mazara isn't even in his prime yet, making him a good bet to surpass 20 round-trippers this year.
Nelson Cruz (MIN) - Twins DH Nelson Cruz connected for his first homer of spring training -- a two-run shot -- on Tuesday against the Rockies. It took Cruz 10 games, but he finally went yard for the first time as a member of his new team with a two-run shot off Jon Gray in the bottom of the first. Cruz has been one of baseball's most reliable sluggers over the past decade, topping 20 homers every year since 2009 and more than 30 in each of the last five. He's 38 now, so those days might be coming to an end soon, but for now he still projects to be one of the top power hitters in baseball.
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