Blue Jays Back End Starters
The Blue Jays rotation doesn't have any front-line arms outside of Hyun Jin Ryu. They have built the rest of their rotation around interesting starters with major flaws. Robbie Ray has the ability to miss bats but gives up hard contact and too many walks. Tanner Roark has shown flashes of being an above-average starter but hasn't had an ERA under 4.30 in the past four seasons and doesn't miss many bats. Steven Matz has not been able to stay healthy. Nate Pearson is interesting because he is their top pitching prospect with a triple-digit fastball but is likely to experience growing pains. Ross Stripling was on the outside looking in but a groin injury to Pearson has him unlikely to be ready to start the year. Stripling has shown the ability to be an above-average starter prior to last season with good strikeout (23% K) and walk (6% BB) rates. Throw out 2020 and Stripling looks like a good bet to return nice value this season if he regains his stuff from the previous four seasons. Thomas Hatch is another interesting late-round flier in a 50-round Draft and Hold. He's got good velocity and a true three-pitch mix. He struck out 21% of batters a year ago but had a 13.8% SwStr which suggests more strikeouts could be coming. A small improvement in his control (12% BB) could unlock Hatch's potential.
Can Danny Jansen hold off Alejandro Kirk?
Alejandro Kirk was a preseason favorite due to his strong showing in his extremely small major league sample (.375/.400/.583) and minor league career. The major concern for fantasy managers is that Kirk has played zero games at Double-A or Triple-A. The additions of George Springer and Marcus Semien have made it likely that Kirk is headed to the minors to start the year. The Blue Jays seem content on going with Danny Jansen as their primary catcher which would give Kirk plenty of development time in the minors. Jansen is coming off a dismal 2020 (.183/.313/.358) but there were encouraging signs underneath the hood. He raised his walk rate (14% BB) while keeping his strikeout rate in check (21% K). He swung at just 25% of pitches out of the zone which is above average and a valuable skill to have. Jansen also increased his barrel% from 6% to 8.6%. Catchers can take a while to develop due to the focus on defense and pitch calling so this makes Jansen an interesting option at catcher this year with his bat trending in the right direction.
The Blue Jays batting order has been a hot topic of discussion as of late. It is looking likely that George Springer is going to leadoff which keeps his value on par with what it would have been in Houston. Marcus Semien has been hitting near the top or middle of the Blue Jays lineup in Spring Training and could hit second or third depending on what the Jays do with Bo Bichette. The two potential losers in this situation are Cavan Biggio and potentially Lourdes Gurriel Jr. Biggio has great on-base skills and enough power/speed to be fantasy-viable but his value comes from accumulating and hitting near the bottom of the lineup is going to hurt that. Gurriel Jr. could be pushed into the 6th or 7th spot which will cut down on his at-bats and counting stats. Both players still offer production across the board but take a slight hit in counting stats due to lower spots in the order than expected to begin the year.
Tejay Antone was very impressive in 2020 with a 2.80 ERA and 1.02 WHIP with 31% K. The bad was his walk rate (11% BB) but that fell in line with the Reds new pitching philosophy of strikeouts over contact. Antone was battling with Michael Lorenzen for the fifth spot but at the moment it looks as though Lorenzen has the upper hand. Antone is not someone to sleep on given his strikeout upside and potential for jumping in the rotation at any moment. Antone features a plus fastball and slider with a serviceable curve as a third offering. He has thrown 5 IP in spring and has 8 K and 0 BB. If someone were to get injured or Lorenzen falters out of the gate, Antone would see an immediate jump in value and one could roster him as a reliever in order to still extract value.
Is it Tyler Stephenson's time at catcher?
Tyler Stephenson has a career .294/.400/.647 line at the major league level. It is just eight total games so there is not much to take away from that sample but it follows his offensive-first game throughout the minors. Stephenson figures to make the Opening Day roster as the backup catcher behind Tucker Barnhart who is coming off a poor 2020 season (.204/.291/.388). Barnhart has never been an offensive catcher and has been more known for his defensive skills. Stephenson, known for his bat, has made strides defensively that could entice the Reds to make the switch at catcher. Especially if their lineup struggles offensively again to start 2021. Stephenson has top 15-catcher upside if given a regular role so he might not be draftable in deeper mixed leagues but is someone to keep an eye on in the early going.
Interesting Name to Watch
Jeff Hoffman was traded to the Reds from Colorado for RP Robert Stephenson. Hoffman has a career 6.40 ERA and 1.62 WHIP. He was likely targeted for his above-average spin on his fastball and curve. The Reds have done a very nice job of late in terms of developing pitching under pitching coach Derek Johnson and Driveline's Kyle Body. Hoffman is on the outside looking in terms of a rotation spot but is an interesting arm that could take a nice leap forward whether that is in the rotation or the bullpen. He has thrown 5 IP, 2 ER, 5 H, 1 BB, and 4 K this spring. Hoffman is a late-round dart throw in 50-round draft and hold formats.
Jesus Luzardo is expected to make his Spring Training debut on Thursday. He is slightly behind but should still be ready for the start of the regular season. Luzardo is coming off a 4.12 ERA and 1.27 WHIP across 57 IP with 24% K. This was considered a disappointment given the hype on Luzardo coming into last year. He is just 23 years-old with plus velocity front the left side. Luzardo is going just inside the top 100 overall players and is going in a range of pitchers without strikeout upside (Fried, Hendricks, and Wheeler). This makes Luzardo a nice upside play as your SP#2 or SP#3.
Fernando Tatis Jr.-Padres-SS
Fernando Tatis Jr. has now sat out three straight days of game action. Currently, they are describing it as "aches and pains" which in itself is not concerning given it is Spring Training. Fantasy managers and the Padres are watching this situation closely given his immense upside and any type of delay would not be ideal. Tatis Jr. has 35-40 HR upside with the ability to steal 20+ bases. This is extremely uncommon in today's game and the fact that he isn't a batting average liability (.270-.280) is a huge bonus.
Jose Ramirez and Franmil Reyes-Braves
Jose Ramirez and Franmil Reyes returned to Indians camp on Tuesday after being out due to breaking Covid protocols. Other than drawing the ire of their organization this is not a huge problem for their fantasy values. Ramirez is one of the top fantasy assets in the game given his position and power/speed combo. The loss of Lindor will hurt his counting stats but the top of the Indians lineup is still very solid with Hernandez, Ramirez, Rosario, and Reyes). A big season from Franmil Reyes would go a long way towards replacing Lindor's bat. Reyes is a huge power threat (45% Hard and 13% Barrels) with good plate skills (10% BB and 29% K).
Xander Bogaerts-Red Sox-SS
Xander Bogaerts is going to take batting practice on Wednesday. This is a positive step forward as he deals with a minor shoulder injury. Any shoulder injury is worth keeping a close eye on for both hitters and pitchers regardless of the severity. Bogaerts was creeping up draft boards (Pick #31 ADP) and has now started to drop slightly given the injury into the middle of the third round in 15-team leagues. Bogaerts used to be a safe player given his batting average, power, and speed but this injury has thrown major risk into his profile which could offer a nice buying opportunity if he falls in drafts.
Ross Stripling-Blue Jays-SP
Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro said that Ross Stripling is likely going to be in the Blue Jays rotation to start the year due to a groin injury that is going to keep top prospect, Nate Pearson, from being ready for Opening Day. Stripling has the most upside of any of the Blue Jays back of the rotation options (Tanner Roark and Steven Matz). He simply needs to go back to being the pitcher he was with the Dodgers. Stripling used the offseason to reshape his throwing program to include more long toss in order to get more velocity and to hold that velocity deeper into games. He also changed his fastball a year ago with terrible results and is going back to his old fastball.-Keegan Matheson MLB.com. Stripling knows what went wrong last year and has a plan to correct it which is highly encouraging.
Cardinals beat writer Derrick Goold tweeted that president John Mozeliak told St. Louis reporters that they have a plan for 100 IP for RHP Alex Reyes. This is not surprising considering his lengthy injury history but also puts a huge cap on his fantasy value because it is unlikely that he gets most of those innings as a starter. The team's closer's role is also likely to go to either Jordan Hicks or Giovanny Gallegos. Reyes has cleaned up his mechanics which was a positive in the hope that it would keep him healthy and help improve his walk rate (16% BB). He showed the ability to miss bats last year (31% K and 14% SwStr) but the lack of control and innings will kill most of his fantasy value. Baseball will be better with him on the mound but there are better options for your fantasy team in 2021.
Stephen Strasburg went 1.2 IP and gave up 0 ER with 4 K against the Astros. Strasburg has been on a regular throwing program all offseason coming off carpal tunnel surgery. He has had a lengthy injury history but when on the mound one of the top pitchers in the game. He has a career 3.19 ERA and 1.09 WHIP. The injury risk is built into his draft-day price (ADP 63). Strasburg is going right next to Zach Plesac who is healthy but has a much shorter track record of success than Strasburg.
Ty France was brought over from San Diego last year. France hit .305 with 4 HR, 19 R, 23 RBI, and 0 SBi in 155 PA. The Mariners have Kyle Seager at third base but this is the last year of his deal and they seem intent on getting France regular playing time whether that is at second or DH. France had an amazing run at Triple-A in 2019 in which he hit .399 with 27 HR in just 76 GP. It is easy to chalk that small sample as an insane hot streak because he has never hit for that power or average at any level. He is an interesting late-round flier in deep mixed leagues because he should hit for a respectable average (.260-.270) given his decent plate skills (23% K, 7% BB) and has just enough power (.163 ISO) to be league average with everyday at-bats.
Joey Gallo went deep for the fifth time this spring on Tuesday. The offseason reports were centered around Gallo getting fitted for a new bat which is a cool story about the advancements of tech on the hitting side but isn't actionable for fantasy. He has also talked about getting back to hitting line drives and lowering his launch angle which for most people would be a bad thing. Not for Gallo and his 26.4 LA and 55% FB which is bad for batting average but not overly important for HR's given his strength and power. The narrative can be spun on Gallo however you want, but the reality is that he is going to hit for power and kill your batting average. If you plan on drafting Gallo there has to be a clear plan for how to counter his batting average and it limits other batting average risk players late in drafts.
Joc Pederson hit his third home run of the spring against the Athletics. He has started off the spring hot (.429 AVG). None of this is fantasy relevant because it is nothing more than Spring Training. The news that is relevant is that the Cubs are going to give Pederson every opportunity to play every day which is the reason he signed with them as a free agent. He had been used as a platoon bat for the Dodgers. Pederson has a career .238/.349/.501 triple slash against RHP good for a 128 wRC+. Against left-handers, he has a .191/.266/.310 slash line which is a dismal 59 wRC+. He has just 385 PA against LHP at the major league level. There is a good chance that he is not as bad against LHP as the small sample says. However, he is a power threat with a low batting average in the same vane as the man he is replacing in Chicago (Kyle Schwarber) who could see better counting stats with more at-bats.