Vlad Guerrero Jr.
"Best shape of his life" is a common phrase issued annually during Spring Training. Oddly enough this time it is about 21-year-old Vlad Guerrero Jr. He has lost 42 lbs. since last season which is a big deal for fantasy players. It means that he should be able to play first base regularly which will hopefully allow for regular at-bats for 1B/DH Rowdy Tellez. Guerrero Jr. has been an above-average hitter in both his major league seasons (107 wRC+) but has not met the expectations of the fantasy community. The Statcast numbers are elite (max EV 118.9, Barrel% 8.7, and 43% Hard). The problem has been a lack of elevation (51% GB). He's not fast enough to turn the high number of ground balls into a high BABIP so it would benefit him to get more lift on his swing. Regardless, the underlying skills package (16% K, 8% BB, 9% Barrels) plus prospect pedigree only makes it more likely that he breaks out in 2021. He is also going almost a round later this year (mid-fourth) which gives plenty of room for profit. The improved Jays lineup is another plus for Guerrero Jr. and his breakout 2021.
The Blue Jays announced that they will be starting the year playing their home games in Dunedin, Florida. They are hoping to return to the Rogers Centre at some point but that is looking unlikely, making Buffalo a likely destination once it is warm enough to play there. Either way, both Dunedin and Buffalo are projected to favor hitters. Add this to Yankee Stadium and Camden Yards in the AL East and the prospect of owning Blue Jays pitchers looks less enticing. Hyun Jin Ryu has the skills and depth of pitches to survive. His draft day value has never been about skills but health. The other intriguing name in the Jays rotation is top prospect, Nate Pearson. However, he has multiple issues to fix before becoming an elite starter. He didn't miss as many bats (19% K) in his small sample despite plus stuff and struggled with command (16% BB). This looks like a year for growing pains for the right-hander and hitter-friendly home parks aren't going to help. It also makes Robbie Ray, Steven Matz, and Tanner Roark even less appealing even as late-round fliers.
The Blue Jays signed Kirby Yates to a one-year, $3 million deal. This is coming off elbow surgery during the 2020 season. Immediately, Jordan Romano's value took a massive hit with this signing. The Blue Jays did not bring Yates in to be a seventh-inning guy if he is healthy which is the key factor. It would also make sense from a financial aspect to keep their young relievers (Romano and Dolis) as cheap as possible for the future. They could also use Romano and Rafeal Dolis in high-leverage situations with Yates closing out games. If healthy, Yates is a top ten closer to top five. Romano/Dolis don't have much value in mixed leagues outside of draft and hold as a handcuff. Paying attention to reports out of Blue Jays camp is going to be critical in terms of determining Yates health heading into the year.
Joey Votto is entering his 15th season with the Reds. He is coming off an interesting 2020 season. He hit .226 with 11 HR, 32 R, 22 RBI, and 0 SB. The underlying skills remained very solid (19% K, 17% BB, and 36% Hard). What is missing in this analysis is Votto's change in approach after getting a breather/benching in late August. He made an adjustment in his stance to stand more upright and focused on making hard contact over getting on base. He hit .258 with 8 HR over his last 29 games. Votto said his emphasis will be on barrels heading into the 2021 season. This change in approach brings Votto back into fantasy relevance as a deep league CI. He is going to hit in the middle of the Reds lineup which is not going to be as bad as a year ago. The power should continue to trend upwards with increased hard contact and more pulled fly balls. The counting stats should be there as well even if he does trade off some OBP for increased strikeouts.
Eugenio Suarez reportedly lost 15lbs. and is much leaner coming into this season. This is good news after Suarez is coming off a disappointing follow-up to his breakout 2019 season. Suarez hit just .202 during the shortened season. The good news is that he is now over a year removed from shoulder surgery and there was not a skills drop off despite the .202 AVG. The only real difference was a .214 BABIP compared to his career .310 BABIP. There has even been talk of Suarez potentially playing shortstop which would boost his fantasy value by adding a second position but this seems like a longshot despite the rumblings. Suarez's power is among the best in the game but he is not being drafted like it. Pete Alonso who has a very similar profile is going at pick #62 compared to pick #79 for Suarez.
Two weeks ago we looked at the Reds outfield situation which has four players fighting for three spots without the NL DH. The Reds manager, David Bell, said that Nick Senzel was the everyday centerfielder which was music to fantasy player's ears. The only problem with the statement was that he then went on to talk about getting regular playing time for all four outfielders (Senzel, Akiyama, Winker, and Castellanos) and that every day doesn't mean 162 GP anymore. It appears as though Nick Senzel is going to get every opportunity to become the everyday centerfielder but he needs to produce and stay healthy in order for that to occur. He has 20 HR/20 SB with a respectable average (.260-.270). This is why he is worth the gamble at pick #266 in 15-team NFBC drafts. His health track record and unknown playing time are baked into his draft position so no need to discount him further. In his brief major league career (127 GP) he has a .245 AVG with 14 HR, 63 R, 50 RBI, and 16 SB. In his Fangraphs prospect grades, he had a current 55 hit tool with a future 70. This points to his potential growth in that category, which would make him a true five-category contributor and that is extremely hard to find after pick #250.
Shohei Ohtani changed his offseason training in order to be prepared to both pitch and hit. This is a make-it-or-break-it season for Ohtani in terms of attempting both pitching and hitting. The good news is that Ohtani is fully recovered from both his elbow and knee surgeries a year ago. Ohtani hit 100 mph in a live BP session on Saturday. This is extremely good news for the right-hander. The next step will be to see him in live-action during Spring Training games. With positive news coming out of Angels camp the price on Ohtani is only going to grow. He is a highly specific league-type play though with a ton of value in daily moves leagues and more of a headache in NFBC type formats where you have to choose between hitting and pitching.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr.-Blue Jays-OF
Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said that they are having Lourdes Gurriel Jr. get infield work during the spring in case he is needed there in season. He was working out at third base but Montoyo said his primary infield focus would be first base. This is not actionable news because it is only in case of an emergency but it would be nice to see Gurriel Jr. get infield eligibility again. Gurriel Jr. is coming off an impressive 2020 season in which he hit .308 with 11 HR, 28 R, 33 RBI, and 3 SB. Over the course of a full season, he has 30 HR/10 SB potential with batting average upside.
Chris Sale-Red Sox-SP
Chris Sale does not have a timeline for a return this season coming off Tommy John surgery a year ago. The prevailing thought has been sometime in June but pitching coach Dave Bush said "sometime during the season" to reporters. This is not great news for fantasy purposes. Sale is hard to draft in NFBC style leagues with no IL slots. Add in the fact that pitchers are likely to struggle with command their first year back from TJ and Sale looks less palatable. However, in leagues with unlimited IL slots, it wouldn't hurt to roster Sale given his upside if the cost isn't prohibitive.
Eduardo Rodriguez-Red Sox-SP
Eduardo Rodriguez was able to throw two simulated innings on Saturday without any issues. This is good news for someone who had to be cleared to walk after experiencing Covid symptoms a year ago. Rodriguez was a workhorse in 2019 pitching 203.1 IP with decent strikeout (25% K) and walk rates (8.7% BB). He also induced weak contact 5.9% Barrels and 48.5% GB to go along with the strikeouts. With a clean bill of health Rodriguez should be drafted as a mid-rotation starter with strikeout upside.
Wander Franco said that he is fully recovered from shoulder and bicep injuries that hampered him during winter ball. Franco is the top prospect in baseball and is being drafted at pick #318 with a high of #244. There is no guarantee he is called up right away after no minor league season a year ago which makes him a tough guy to draft in leagues with limited bench spots. The other factor to consider is that Franco has elite plate skills and an advanced hit tool but the power is questionable at this point in his career. He hit 48% GB in 2019 which doesn't suggest major power at the major league level. This of course is initially because long-term outlooks have him growing into power. Franco should hit for average and have speed for fantasy purposes but the lack of power and unknown call-up makes him a tough draft in redraft leagues this year.
Clarke Schmidt has an extensor strain in his elbow. This is bad news for Schmidt who was trying to make an impression in Spring Training to be one of the first call-ups if the Yankees need another starter. Currently, the Yankees rotation is full of question marks (Taillon, Kluber, Severino, and German) outside of Gerrit Cole. This setback makes Schmidt undraftable this year due to the nature of the injury (elbow injury) and how far down he is in the pecking order for starts at the major league level.
Yordan Alvarez has seen his draft price rise as positive reports have come out of Astros camp. He will see a dramatic rise in draft cost once he plays in Spring Training games and is running smoothly. The Astros have said that Alvarez will see most of his time at DH this year but will work out at 1B and not the outfield if he were to play the field. How he responds to the new position is unknown. This is a critical development because gaining any positional eligibility would be huge for Alvarez so that he would not be DH-only. This would greatly help his value both this season and next.
There has been a lot of talk about Myles Straw being the leadoff man for the Astros. From an old-school perspective, it makes sense given his elite speed but not so much for an analytically inclined organization like the Astros. He has a career .327 OBP and .649 OPS with just 19% Hard contact. This is a well below-average major league hitter while the Astros have guys like Alex Bregman (.381 OBP) or Jose Altuve (.361 OBP) who could truly set the table for the rest of the lineup. Given his elite speed, if he does lead off all year that would be an extremely valuable fantasy asset. That's a huge risk though because he is a below-average hitter that could not only get moved down the order but also lose regular playing time. This makes him an extremely risky proposition on draft day.
Yasmani Grandal-White Sox-C
Yasmani Grandal is dealing with a minor knee inflammation after twisting his right knee during team drills. The good news is that this is early enough in camp that the White Sox can get Grandal healthy before the start of the season. Grandal is a top-five fantasy catcher due to his playing time and spot in the middle of the White Sox order so any missed time would hurt his value but this looks unlikely. Grandal figures once again to eclipse 20+ HR with good counting stats for a catcher given his place in the batting order but he will be a batting average liability with a career .240 AVG.
J.A. Happ has not reported to camp yet because of Covid. He is going to start the screening process on Monday. He should have enough time to still be on schedule to start the season in the Twins rotation. He is coming off a very nice shortened season for the Yankees. He posted a 3.47 ERA and 1.05 WHIP across 49.1 IP with 21% K and 7% BB. He doesn't have a massive upside but he has been an above-average pitcher five out of the last six seasons. The Twins also have done a nice job putting pitchers in a good position to succeed in terms of pitch mix and limiting their third time through the order. In deep mixed league formats, Happ is worth a roster spot.