Bounceback Candidate: Hunter Dozier
After being one of the best breakout stories of 2019, Hunter Dozier failed to live up to that same level of performance in 2020, which has caused his ADP to drop to 222nd overall. This spring he has looked more like his 2019 version, clubbing 4 home runs with 11 RBIs in 39 at-bats, while slashing .282/.349/.692. Dozier will have every day at-bats for the Royals and offers great value in rounds 17-20 of your draft. Dozier was diagnosed with COVID early in the 2020 season and wasn't activated until mid-August. From there, he never seemed to get going, but the team obviously has faith in him having just signed him to a 4-year extension last week.
If his hard hit rate bounces back to 40%+ as he had been in 2018-2019 and he maintains his 16-17 degree launch angle - Dozier could absolutely take your team to the moon.
Greg Holland Will Likely Lead the Committee for Saves
Greg Holland has enjoyed a fascinating career - going from one of the greatest closers in the game (twice nearly reaching 50 saves) to tearing his UCL and nearly exiting baseball completely (ironically while pitching for current manager Mike Matheny in St Louis) to suddenly back with the team where the magic started. As we saw last season, Matheny didn't officially label any of his relievers as the closer, giving him flexibility to mix-and-match his relievers based on the situation. Nonetheless, Holland picked up the majority of the saves down the stretch and looks to be the favorite for saves in 2021. Most appealing about Holland is that he seems to have rediscovered his excellent control - walking just 6% of batters last year compared with the 14% rate he has averaged since requiring Tommy John surgery. The Royals aren't expected to compete for the division, but they have a strong offense and there could be a fair number of save chances for the club, making Holland a steal late in drafts at his current ADP of 257.
Filling out the Cubs Rotation:
With Kyle Hendricks, Zach Davies and Jake Arrieta locked into the first three rotation spots, veterans Trevor Williams, Shelby Miller, and Alec Mills are competing for the final two. The Cubs sudden depth at the position is a bit of a surprise since Miller had been signed to be a reliever, but he has pitched so well in spring that he's in the mix. As a result, youngster Adbert Alzolay, who still has an option, will likely head to Triple-A to get ready starts. At this point, Williams and Miller seem to have the lead for the final spot. Miller, specifically, has been intriguing, posting a 1.00 ERA with a 12:5 strikeout-to-walk rate over 9 innings of work. Miller pitched a "full" season for the Rangers last year, but the results were unimpressive (13% walk rate and 13% strikeout rate). The latter two spots in the Cubs rotation probably won't be fantasy relevant in any format but NL only, but given the fact both Miller and Williams have shown fantasy relevance in the past, they're names to watch as they start April and May.
Ian Happ Picking Up Where He Left Off
Ian Happ is picking up exactly where he left off last season - slashing a scorching .297/.422/.541 with a .88 batting EYE. Of his 11 spring hits, 5 have been the extra-base variety. Happ will bat leadoff for the Cubs this season, giving him a nice boost in value on sheer volume alone. In NFBC drafts, Happ is criminally undervalued, going 155th overall. Happ has never stolen many bases at the major league level, but he has above average speed and showed double-digit stolen base ability in the minor leagues. Hitting atop the order will give him more opportunities to run. Don't sleep on him in the mid-rounds!
Padres Catching Situation Remains Unclear
After fracturing his finger two weeks ago, Austin Nola will resume batting practice this weekend. That's a key step for the timing of his availability in the regular season since he's already been able to catch balls (his injured finger is on his glove hand). It remains likely that Nola will start the year on the injured list, opening the door for Victor Caratini to take on a larger role. Caratini was already destined to be Yu Darvish's catcher - a role he had with the Cubs and contributed, at least in part, to Darvish reestablishing himself among the league's elite starters. For managers in two-catcher formats that may have punted the catcher position, Caratini is a must add for the short-term given his decent batting ability and increased role early in the season.
Tatis Jr Shoulder Looks Fine
After missing a few days with a shoulder injury, fantasy owners were able to breathe a sigh of relief on Thursday when the dynamic slugger returned to the lineup and crushed a 3-run home run. Tatis is slashing a cool .385/.448/.731 with 3 home runs this spring as he solidifies himself as a top-5 pick in most fantasy drafts. Tatis' quality of contact metrics are absolutely absurd and off-the-charts, especially when you consider that 40% of the batted balls he hit in 2020 had a batted ball speed of 102 MPH or more. All eyes will be on Tatis as he tries to replicate his 17 home-run pace from 2020 over the course of a 162-game season, but it's truly difficulty to find many holes in his underlying supporting metrics.
Around the League:
Daniel Ponce de Leon - Cardinals manager Mike Schildt told the media that it's likely Daniel Ponce de Leon will open the season in the team's rotation while regular starters Miles Mikolas (shoulder) and Kwang-Hyun Kim (back) start the season on the injured list. Ponce de Leon is a 29 year old right-hander that has spent his entire 7 year professional career within the Cardinals organization and has served out of the bullpen and as a spot starter for the Cardinals since 2018. Ponce de Leon will likely draw the Marlins in his first start, which may give him streaming appeal, but he's probably not a piece you will want to include in your long-term plans for your fantasy rotation. The righty has posted below average a below average CSW% (called strikes + whiffs) each of his first 3 seasons, a worrisome statistic since he also struggles with walks. Nonetheless, if you're a manager committed to streaming starting pitchers, he's worth a last round selection with the intention to drop him after the first week of the season.
Casey Mize - Top pitching prospect, Casey Mize, has officially won a rotation spot according to Tigers manager AJ Hinch. Michael Fulmer will pitch out of the bullpen, as a result. Mize seemingly earned it after his latest Grapefuit League start, striking out 9 batters over 4 innings, but overall his spring performance has been up-and-down. Prior to Thursday's start, Mize 5 earned runs and 6 earned runs in his previous two starts, respectively, and his first three starts featured 3 walk in about 2 innings pitched per appearance. The good news is that his latest outings have resulted in just 1 walk and 14 strikeouts over 7.2 innings. The news will undoubtedly raise Mize's ADP in the final draft weekend of the year, but beware there may be some growing pains despite having one of the brightest outlooks among any rookie this year.
Carter Kieboom - Carter Kieboom had the confidence of his manager heading into spring training when he was named the team's starting 3rd baseman, but does he still have it? The once vaunted prospect's shine is down to just a flicker after back-to-back disappointing seasons to start his career and an even more disappointing spring training in 2021. In 40 at-bats, Kieboom has struck out 15 times and notched just 6 hits. Kieboom's career strikeout rate is 30% - which is interesting because his he actually has a better than average contact rate, chase rate and swinging strike rate. In his case, called strikes seem to be his downfall, indicating a need for a little more aggressiveness around the plate.
Jackie Bradley - The Brewers new outfielder is facing an uphill climb to be ready for Opening Day and the team's President of Baseball operations officially said his status is "still a little bit TBD". Bradley has dealt with wrist soreness for most of this week after signing with the Brewers after Spring Training already commenced. JBJ is expected to be available and back in Saturday's lineup, but wirst injuries in general are a little worrisome - particularly when they just pop up like Bradley's, rather than caused by an explicit impact, etc. Bradley still have moderate power and speed tools and a new organization may help him take a step forward, but he's nothing more than depth for mixed league fantasy purposes.
Freddie Peralta - One of the best heavy relievers in baseball last year, Freddie Peralta will officially be in the Brewers starting rotation to begin the season. Peralta has thrown really well during Spring Training posting a 1.08 ERA with a 15:3 strikeout-to-walk rate. While this seems too good to be true for fantasy owners drafting him late in drafts expecting a reliever, it's important to note that Peralta has struggled as a starting pitcher in the past and will need to show improvement the 2nd and 3rd time through the order. His 31.6% called+swstr% is good, but he'll likely see some regression as he moved to the rotation, so don't expect his 38% strikeout rate from 2020 to carry over. Nonetheless, he may be available on some waiver wires and absolutely should be a priority pickup ahead of this weekend's transactions.
Christian Yelich - Psssst....remember Christian Yelich? Yes, he's a first rounder, but he's probably still being under-valued at the end of the first round as he comes off a dreadful 2020 campaign. But that's all water under the bridge now, especially since he looks like his old self during Spring Training, slashing .391/.381/.870 with 3 home runs and a 0.80 batting EYE in 23 at-bats. Yelich possesses rare league-leading power with equally rare league-leading batting average upside. Also don't overlook the fact that he's just a year removed from a 30 stolen base season. If you have a draft today or tomorrow and you have your choice of a draft slot, selecting mid-to-late isn't the worst spot to be since Yelich will likely still be there and offer the same upside as the top-5 picks.
Khris Davis - New Texas outfielder Khris Davis suffered a Grade 2 quad strain while trying to beat out a bunt single and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. Davis hasn't had a great spring, but his performance is probably about what the Rangers expected - .219/.306/.438 with a pair of home runs and 11 strikeouts over 32 at-bats. Davis had been expected to serve as the team's cleanup hitter and filling the void of a much needed right-handed power bat to give protection to lefties Joey Gallo and David Dahl.
Joey Votto - Votto has been recovering from a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, but he's been cleared to play and returned to the lineup on Friday. Votto's production has been on a downward trajectory for three straight seasons, particularly when it comes to power. With that said, in the shortened 60 game season, Votto managed to hit 11 home runs with a 19.6% HR/FB rate, a mark he hadn't reached since 2017. Unfortunately, he did it with a below league-average hard% and he saw his pull rate spike to 46% - an uncharacteristically high mark for the 1st baseman who usually pulls the ball only 35% of the time. If that trend continues, he may be able to maintain his power numbers in the Great American Ballpark, but his batting average will continue to suffer (he hit just .226 last year).
Nick Pivetta - Another old face in a new place, Nick Pivetta threw 96 pitches in his latest outing for the Red Sox. If you take out Pivetta's March 21st start, the right-hander would have a 3.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 8 strikeouts this spring. Pivetta will be in the Red Sox rotation and has post-hype sleeper appeal for Boston. Pivetta's biggest issue has been pitching deep into games - often struggling the third time through the order. For his career, his has an xFIP of 3.58 the 1st time, 3.83 the 2nd time, 4.97 the 3rd and 10.15 the 4th time through the order. To take the next step forward, he needs both the opportunity to pitch deep into games and he'll need to execute while fatigued. He's a nice late-round name to stash in your queue for the end of drafts.
Jazz Chisholm - One of the best sources for sleeper steals this upcoming season is from Jazz Chisholm, the former 1st round pick and current favorite for the starting second baseman for Miami. Chisholm hit 21 home runs and stole 16 bases across two minor league levels in 2019, but failed to find much success with the big club in 2020. Interestingly, his barrel rate was 10.8%, which is well above average, but his hard hit rate was an abysmal 27%, indicating he was a little lost at the plate, but when he did make quality contact, he hit it well. On Thursday, Chisholm flashed his upside by walking twice and stealing three bases.