Will this be the year that Randal Grichuk puts it all together?
Randal Grichuk looks to be the Blue Jays OF that will receive regular playing time with Pillar, Hernandez, and McKinney fighting for the other two spots. Grichuk hit .245 with 25 HR, 60 R, 61 RBI, and 3 SB in 124 games a year ago. He cut his strikeout rate by 4% while maintaining his power profile (.257 ISO, 36% Hard, 47% FB, 50% Pull). Those underlying stats point to someone who has 30-40 HR upside over the course of a full season. Grichuk's problem has been that he has averaged 120 games over his four seasons in the majors. Part of this has been injury and part has been ineffectiveness due to lack of contact. At this point in his career, the Blue Jays need to find out what he can do over the course of an entire season. He is not going to hit for average given his strikeout rate (26%) and fly ball tendency (47%) but he could be a serious power threat and that is what you are paying for on draft day. Currently, he is going outside the top 200 with an ADP of #238 in NFBC drafts since February 1st. At that point in the draft, Grichuk is worth the gamble given his improvement in his strikeout rate and power potential for 2019.
Can Clay Buchholz repeat his strong 2018?
Clay Buchholz came out of nowhere to be fantasy relevant in 2018. For the Diamondbacks, he posted a 2.01 ERA with a 1.04 WHIP over 98.1 IP. He did a little bit of everything to keep hitters off balanced. His strikeout rate was below average at 21% but he rarely walked anyone (5% BB), kept the ball in the yard (0.82 HR/9), and got ahead of hitters (68% F-strike%). Buchholz's success was due to the introduction of a cutter that he threw 24% of the time. In fact, he used all five of his pitches 15% of the time or more which kept hitters off balance. The main concern for Buchholz's fantasy value heading into 2019 is that he is no longer in the NL or a pitchers park. The move to the AL East is not a good one for a pitcher that doesn't miss many bats like Buchholz. He is likely going to be hit hard by regression so don't look at his sterling 2.04 ERA and draft him in mixed leagues.
What can we expect out Aaron Sanchez in 2019?
Aaron Sanchez has thrown just 141 IP over the past two seasons since his breakout 2016 season. He has been hampered by numerous finger related injuries including blisters and a contusion. The blister issue is a major concern because it is something that simply doesn't go away and has forced him to change his pitch mix. In 2016, he posted a 3.00 ERA with a 1.17 WHIP over 192 IP. He was throwing his sinker 53% of the time and his curve 16%, which are his two best pitches. This past year, he used his sinker just 34% of the time and curve 12%. Sanchez started to use his change-up 26% of the time. Overall, his strikeout rate, which was below average, to begin with, went down to 18% and his walk rate spiked to 12%. There are a lot of parts (health, pitch mix, and improved control) that need to go right for Sanchez to have a successful 2019 season. This makes him a huge gamble on draft day.
Will Joey Votto rebound or was 2018 the beginning of the end?
Joey Votto had his worst season since 2014 and it came at an age (34) where questions about decline start to become serious. Votto hit .284 with 12 HR, 67 R, 67 RBI, and 2 SB. The main issue was a significant drop in power. The underlying skills remain above average in terms of plate discipline and ability to make contact. His batted ball profile remained above average as well. The only statistics that sticks out is a 7% drop in his fly ball rate but those were at the expense of line drives and his hard hit rate was actually up 3%. Votto has said that he believes the issue was mechanical and not physical which is positive. If anyone can make the mechanical changes needed to increase production it is Joey Votto. He is someone to buy despite entering his age 35 season. Votto has elite plate skills (17% BB,16% BB), still hits the ball hard (43%), and will hit in the middle of a very good Reds lineup in a hitters park.
Raisel Iglesias value in drafts after manager David Bell's comments...
Manager David Bell has said this spring that the plan is to use Raisel Iglesias in the games toughest situations. On the surface, this has the implication that Iglesias will be used in a Josh Hader type of role and that the Reds will not have a set closer. For fantasy purposes, this matters because it is an uncertain situation in an already uncertain closer market. It is a good bet that Iglesias will lead the team in saves and get the majority of the chances but if Bell uses him as said he will lose some save chances. He will likely make that value up buy through increased innings, strikeouts, and the possibility for wins. This means that we should not bump him down despite this news. From a skills standpoint, Iglesias increased his swinging strike rate to 15.3% but also saw some decline in his overall strikeout rate. He also saw a 6% drop in his first-pitch strike percentage. His home run rate spiked to 1.50 as his fastball became more hittable. These are trends to keep an eye on but he has a solid hold on the closer job in Cincinnati and has the secondary pitches to continue to strikeout hitters.
Rookie Phenom: Nick Senzel
Nick Senzel is rising up draft boards and is being viewed as the favorite to win the CF job for the Reds. This is not a guarantee but he has the skills to succeed in that role and would have five category appeal in fantasy. This time last year Senzel was someone that was thought to be major league ready and would be called up before the All-Star break. Senzel dealt with a variety of injuries last year including vertigo, a fractured finger, and surgery on his left elbow. The good news is that he is completely healthy and could be a quick call-up after the service time deadline is up a couple of weeks into the season. Senzel hit .310 with 6 HR/23 R/25 RBI/8 SB in 44 games at Triple-A. This exemplifies his five-category ability for roto purposes. He is not going to be elite in any one category but solid across the board. I liken his fantasy skillset to a young Anthony Rendon when he was still running. Senzel doesn't have the same plate discipline but will contribute across the board very similarly to Rendon but on a lesser level. His current ADP since Feb. 15 in NFBC drafts is pick #191 with a high pick of #167. Fantasy owners are recognizing his potential for profit if he does indeed get the CF job.
Jose Leclerc and the Rangers have agreed to a 4 yr/$14.75 M extension. Normally, contracts don't have a whole lot of impact on the fantasy community but this one does. There was concern that the Rangers would fall out of contention and then deal Leclerc to a contending team reducing his save chances and overall value. This deal signifies that Leclerc is locked and loaded as the Rangers closer. He was excellent last year with a 1.56 ERA and 0.85 WHIP with 38% K. Since the middle of February, Leclerc is being drafted on average at pick #110 as the 11th closer off the board. He is likely to move ahead of guys like Sean Doolittle and Kirby Yates into the Brad Hand and Roberto Osuna range which is about right given his skills.
Luiz Gohara threw live BP on Wednesday which is a positive step after experiencing shoulder tightness early in camp. Gohara came into camp in much better shape after losing 35-40 lbs. during the offseason. He is unlikely to break camp with a spot in the Braves rotation. This is going to drive down his draft day price. The Braves rotation has depth but it is currently banged up with Kevin Gausman, Mike Soroka, and Mike Foltynewicz dealing with injuries. Gohara has a plus fastball and wipeout slider. If he can show improved control and the advancement of his change-up to combat right-handed hitters, Gohara is an intriguing upside pick given his strikeout upside. He is someone to keep an eye on the rest of spring and the beginning of the year because he could be a very valuable pick up early in the year when given an opportunity.
Justin Upton is still not ready to make his Cactus league debut but is getting close according to manager Brad Ausmus. Upton is dealing with patellar tendinitis in his right knee. He is someone that needs to be playing every day as he is more of an accumulator than elite skills. Upton has played in 145 games or more in eight straight seasons. He has also hit 26+ HR with 80+ runs and RBI's in each of the past four seasons. That includes 50 SB over those four years as well. He is someone that gets overlooked because he is not elite in any one category but is super steady across the board. The average is never going to be great due to a 28% K but he has above average plate skills (10% BB) and hits the ball hard (44%) when he does make contact. The knee injury might limit his SB attempts but the power and counting stats should be there in the middle of a pretty good Angels lineup with Trout and Ohtani. Keep an eye on his playing status as Spring Training continues and if he makes it back soon he will be fine for Opening Day.
Tyler O'Neill went 2-4 with his 4th HR of the spring on Wednesday. He is hitting just .238 in 21 AB with 7 K outside of the home runs. O'Neill currently doesn't have an avenue to playing time with Dexter Fowler, Harrison Bader, and Marcel Ozuna holding down the three outfield spots in STL. He does offer an intriguing blend of power and speed if given a full-time role. The strikeouts are going to be there at the major league level but the power is legit. He is someone to stash that could pay off later in the year once Fowler plays himself out of a role or Ozuna's recovery takes longer than expected.
Paul DeJong was 2-3 with first Spring Training home run. DeJong is an interesting player heading into 2019. He hit .241 with 19 HR, 68 R, 68 RBI and 1 SB in 119 games last year. That does not look all that encouraging on the surface but he lowered his strikeout rate and upped his walk rate which is a huge deal for someone that had terrible plate discipline in his rookie year (2017). DeJong also dealt with a wrist injury that affected his power and ability to hit for a large chunk of the season. He is someone that is going later in drafts that is going to hit in the middle of the improved Cardinals lineup and has considerable power upside. A .250 AVG with 25-30 HR at SS is nothing to sneeze at pick #184 and the 19th SS off the board.
Trevor Story stole his third base of the spring on Wednesday. This is significant because Story is coming off an amazing .291 AVG with 37 HR/88 R/108 RBI/27 SB season. Yes, he benefits from playing half his games in Coors Field but that doesn't matter from a fantasy perspective. The only reason Story isn't going in the first round this year is that people do not believe in the average holding up and/or the stolen bases. What they are missing is that he cut his strikeout rate down to a respectable 25% while increasing his walk rate to 7%. He is now a career .268 hitter through three seasons at the major league level so he is not going to hurt you in that category. The 27 steals seemingly came out of nowhere but he has top 20 sprint speed and a career 76% success rate. Story is a good bet to go 30 HR/20 SB with good counting stats and an average that won't hurt you. That is first round talent that is being drafted in the second round.
Trevor Richards turned in another strong start in spring with 1 ER over 3.2 IP with 4 K. Richards is coming off an up and down 2018 season in which he showed flashes of upside but overall his 4.42 ERA and 1.39 WHIP left a lot to be desired. He showed good skills with 24% K, 11% SwStr, 62% F-Strike%. Richards success is due to his elite change-up. In the second half, Richards saw his strikeout rate jump to 27% and his walk rate drop to 8% which were both encouraging signs. He does not have a good fastball, so there will be times that he gets hit around but he does have good skills and pitches in an excellent home park. He is worth a flier late in deep mixed leagues.
Nomar Mazara is hitting .313 this spring and looks to be on the verge of a breakout 2019 season. In 2018, Mazara was a tale of two halves. In the first half, Mazara hit .272 with 15 HR but cratered to .221 with just 5 HR in the second half. The down second half was due to a thumb injury suffered right before the break which hurt his power and swing mechanics. The thumb injury has healed but is not as strong as Mazara would like. This is concerning for the 23 yr. old OF that is looking to make good on his potential with a breakout 2019 season. He has risk due to injuries but he is coming off a season in which he set career highs in average exit velocity and barrel%. The tools are there for Mazara to breakout, he just needs to stay healthy.
Steven Souza Jr.-Diamondbacks-OF
Steven Souza hit his second home run of the spring on Wednesday. Souza had a dismal 2018 season due to injuries. He never could get on track and appeared in just 72 games. He did hit 5 HR with 6 SB highlighting his fantasy upside. Souza has become an afterthought in the fantasy community after his down 2018 season. He is flawed in the fact that strikeouts out a lot (28%) which is going to hurt his average (career .233 AVG) but he still has power and speed. It's easy to forget that he went 30 HR/16 SB for the Rays in 2017. The humidor in Chase Field is going to affect him but he is still someone that could go 25 HR/15 SB which is valuable in today's fantasy climate and the price is not prohibitive at pick #289 in NFBC drafts.
Touki Toussaint had his first positive spring start after two rough starts to begin. Toussaint is looking like he will open the season as the Braves fifth starter with the numerous injuries they have suffered on staff. Toussaint had a 4.03 ERA with a 1.34 WHIP in five starts a year ago. He showed swing and miss stuff (26% K, 10% SwStr) but did nothing to quell the belief that he would be better suited as a reliever due to his lack of control (17% BB, 51% F-Strike%). He is just 22 yrs. old with plus stuff so he could turn it around quickly but improving control is no easy task and not worth buying into heading into drafts.