It's Just a Flesh Wound - It's sad that when I saw that Stephen Strasburg left Sunday's game early and then found out it was a left calf issue, I said "oh good, just a lower body injury." I think that's the general impression of Strasburg though, that he's always hurt, but he isn't much less reliable than any other top arm, and I think he slides down farther than he should in most drafts. His ADP has pushed up to almost 70 after this latest early exit (which is supposedly a non-event), putting him at SP24. That's ridiculous value for someone of his talent and consistent production....people are drafting Lance Lynn 2 rounds earlier! I'm happy to snap up Strasburg anytime after the first 12 starters or so are gone, and I doubt I'll be disappointed with the results.
Tossing 2020 in the trash where it belongs - Josh Bell is one of the guys for whom I'm almost completely ignoring 2020. A 64% GB rate over the last month of the season? That's just insane for a power hitter, and something I don't think we will see from him this year (or ever again). He's already upgrading to an offense that is projected to be about 120 runs better than the one he left, which shouldn't be discounted, and I expect him to at least return to his 2017 numbers...that's sort of my minimum level expectation. If he does that, he's probably a productive CI (he'd be around 1B15 in all likelihood at that level). If he comes anywhere near his 2019 performance playing in a vastly superior lineup....suffice it to say that there's quite a bit of upside here.
LOS ANGELES ANGELS:
The Forgotten Man - Justin Upton is a bit of a forgotten man it seems, as after missing most of 2019 to injury and only playing 42 games in 2020 he's dropped down to OF75 via ADP. Looking at the stats though, I think he's been a victim of some bad luck along with a bit of "out of sight, out of mind" mixed in. Even with the injuries, Upton has maintained at least a 41% hard contact rate in each of the last 4 seasons, but his BABIP (never lower than .301 in his prior 11 seasons) dropped to .261 in 2019 before plummeting to .219 last year. Sure, the pull% went up quite a bit which would account for some of it, but not all. The exit velo is still top-40 in MLB, and I have a sneaking suspicion that Upton is going to revert to his 30 HR, middling AVG self here in 2021. The gaudy numbers from his Arizona days are pretty far in the rearview mirror at this point, but down in this range, do you really want to draft JBJ over a healthy Upton? I sure don't. I like him a good 10 spots higher among OF....he's a fringy OF5 for me in standard formats. FWIW, he's looking pretty solid so far this spring as well.
6th starter extraordinaire - Hope springs eternal, etc, etc....I know. Writing about a 6th starter that hasn't been a fantasy factor since early in the last decade doesn't have a ton of appeal, but hear me out on Alex Cobb. First of all, Driveline. Second of all, new pitch. Cobb has shown up to spring training with some added velo and a shiny new splitter, and he's honestly looked pretty good. There's not enough here to justify a roster spot in any but the deepest of leagues just yet, but it's something to be aware of....Joe Maddon has some experience with Cobb back from their time in TB when Cobb was a very good pitcher, and he says that there are a lot of similarities with how Cobb is throwing now, for what that's worth. I'll be watching with a lot more interest than I would have had over the next few weeks.
NEW YORK YANKEES:
The Full Monty - Jordan Montgomery was brilliant in spring training action on Wednesday, throwing 5 hitless innings against Toronto, walking one and striking out four. Most importantly, the velocity gains that have been present so far this spring remain intact. Currently at #70 via ADP among starting pitchers, Montgomery offers plenty of upside as the #4 starter for a clear top-5 offense. Last year's 10 starts weren't all that pretty from a W/L or ERA standpoint, but the 3.65 xFIP hints at some of the underlying improvement: a 37% chase rate, excellent control, improved bat-missing ability, and an extremely low exit velo allowed. There is a lot of reason for optimism here, and I think Montgomery should easily slot inside the top-60 SP, and he's knocking on the door of the top-50 for me.
5th starter battle - There's much more of a battle for the 5th spot in the Yankee rotation than I anticipated, as Domingo German has shown far less rust than expected. These are first-world problems to be sure, but whichever guy gets the spot will be worth drafting in most formats. German has been absolutely stellar thus far, tossing 9 shutout innings and striking out 13 while allowing just 5 hits and a walk. Garcia has been very good as well, allowing 2 earned runs over 8 innings of work with 2 walks and 10 K's. Trying to read between the lines, it seems like the Yankees feel that Garcia (still just 21) could use a bit more seasoning at the minor league level, so despite what I said a few weeks back, it looks like he may be the odd man out at this point. That being the case, he's probably best served on your watch list right now, while German (currently SP92 via ADP) is definitely 20-30 spots low right now if he does indeed have the inside track. This is something I'll revisit again next week, but that's how I see it so far.
AROUND THE LEAGUE:
Bobby Witt Jr. (SS/2B/OF? - KC) - So, within hours of the Dayton Moore statement that the Royals would be open-minded about Witt breaking camp with the team, I've seen him drafted in a couple of redraft leagues. All I can say is let's take it down a notch, sparky. Sure, it's possible that a 20 yo kid with 164 rookie ball ABs as the sum total of his professional experience could make a contribution to the Royals this year. The O's and Pirates could meet in a rematch of the 1979 World Series this year. I think it's far more likely that people are reading too much into 31 spring training ABs, seeing that Witt-sized hole at 2B in KC, and talking themselves into something extremely unlikely. Witt still has major contact issues, and although he's provided a few exciting moments this spring and does look like a future major leaguer, I don't see it. In redraft leagues, on the off chance you end up with him and he has a hot few weeks to start the year, I'd use that trade chip ASAP. Any young hitter with holes in his swing like Witt's (although those holes already look smaller than they did in 2019) will be exploited by veteran arms once there's enough video floating around, and I don't see any way that he's ready to make quick adjustments to something like that. He's definitely on the "avoid" list for me in redraft formats except for the extremely deep variety, where you can afford to have secondary contingency plans.
Ke'Bryan Hayes (3B - PIT) - I'm trying REALLY hard not to be super excited about Hayes....to temper my enthusiasm I just keep thinking about how bad the rest of that offense is now that Josh Bell has been shipped out of town. Still, I always thought that Hayes had the ability to post above-average contact and power numbers, but what he's shown so far has surpassed any reasonable expectations. He's continued to rake this spring as well, striking out just twice in 26 ABs to go along with 6 XBH. I think he'll run a bit more than he did in 2020 as well...he's not a blazer by any stretch, but he has above average speed. I could see a 20 HR, 10 SB player with a helping average here, although the counting stats won't be helped by the supporting cast. He's worked his way into the very bottom of my top-10 3B, and I'm not uncomfortable with that at all.
A.J. Puk (SP - OAK) - Puk has been a bit of a forgotten man with his injury woes, but he made his spring debut on Wednesday and struck out 4 over 2 innings, allowing a 2-run HR to Ryan McBroom. I love the upside here, but there are a lot of reasons to pump the breaks, not the least of which is his own injury history. Mike Fiers isn't likely to be ready for Opening Day, which leaves that slot open for either Puk or Daulton Jeffries. Whichever arm wins that spot is someone that I'll like for the first few weeks of the season, but they're still starters #6 and #7 for Oakland at present, so they shouldn't be counted on at all. Streamers with upside is how I'd look at both, but if a longer-term spot opens up for Puk (or Jeffries, frankly), I would become very interested. Puk's bat-missing ability is elite.
Max Muncy (1B - LAD) - Muncy is probably, in our eyes, one of the biggest overdrafts this season....which is something we said last season as well. There are quite a few reasons for it, from the pull/FB tendencies that put negative pressure on the BABIP (and hence the AVG), to the competition for playing time on a squad that is the current favorite to win the World Series, to the fact that players that break into the big leagues later in the career tend to fizzle out early (Muncy didn't garner meaningful playing time until age 27). His EV has dropped two years in a row as well, which is definitely an issue when power and plate discipline are your top-tier skills. I still like Muncy quite a bit in OBP-based formats, but for standard roto leagues there's simply no way he'll end up on any team of mine...he might not even be in my top-15 1B, yet he's 1B9 via ADP right now.
Jon Gray (SP - COL) - The two years that Jon Gray has averaged 96 mph or better with his fastball are, not coincidentally of course, the two years that he's been able to post under a 4.00 ERA. With his solid K numbers, that's pretty much the line where he becomes an asset to your rotation. I bring this up, because Gray was hitting 96-97 in his first spring action over the weekend. If he's able to replicate that for his next couple of outings, I will absolutely be including him at the back of my rotation in every format I can manage it...he was easily a top-60 SP in both 2017 and 2019 when his velo was at the top of its range.
Andrew Vaughn (1B - CWS) - Unlike his draft classmate Bobby Witt, Andrew Vaughn was expected to be one of the first 2019 draftees to reach the majors. Vaughn appears to have the inside track on the DH slot for the White Sox, and he's been pretty much as advertised this spring: a bit of power, a solid understanding of the strike zone (6 BB already this spring), and the feeling that you're watching a big-leaguer sooner rather than later. I'm not sure he would crack my top 20 1B just yet, but those in deeper formats should definitely use a reserve slot on Vaughn, as the upside here is substantial outside of the lack of speed.
Kevin Kiermaier (OF - TB) - Kiermaier remains one of those players that I feel compelled to target at the end of a draft. We've all seen the highlight-reel defense that will continue to earn him playing time even when he's struggling with the bat, and unfortunately that defensive effort lands him on the DL a bit more often than you'd like to see. Add in the perplexing BABIPs, and you have a player that disappoints far more than he rewards from a fantasy standpoint. I see signs here, though, that offer some promise. The barrel% has continued to rise consistently throughout his career. He's 15th in MLB in sprint speed. The EV has started to move upward the past two seasons. Perhaps most importantly, his batted ball profile would lead you to believe that he could easily offer either more power or a better average: he hits a ton of groundballs now, which should lead to better BABIPs, not worse, and he also has 3 years of the past 4 with a mid-teens HR/FB ratio. He's put up double digits in both HR and SB despite missing a ton of time in 4 of the past 5 full seasons....there's obviously potential here, and I feel like there has been some bad luck pushing against him quite a bit the past few seasons. He's a favorite OF of mine to target after I've filled my starting spots, as the upside here is significant.
Jon Berti - (2B/SS/3B/OF - MIA) - I think the Marlins would love to see either Jazz Chisholm or Isan Diaz grab the 2B job so they can use Jon Berti as a utility man again, but one way or the other I expect him to play 1/2 to 2/3 of the time in Miami this year. That wouldn't be all that exciting except for Berti's speed: in 391 career MLB AB's, Berti is 27/32 in SB, which would be in the ballpark of the playing time I expect him to get. The number of players that we forecast to steal 25 bases or more this season is barely into double-digits, which automatically gives Berti some value. There won't be any power here to speak of, but the contact rate of over 80% should help preserve a solid batting average for him as well. Guys like this with speed and positional flexibility (depending on your league rules, 2B, SS, 3B, and OF could all be in play) should absolutely be rostered in all rotisserie-style formats, while points leaguers would see Berti as more of a reserve option at best.
Travis Shaw (3B - MIL) - It's as official as these things can get: Shaw is going to open the season with the Brewers, as they added him to their 40-man roster early this week. One thing that I will look at a bit in spring training stats is BB:K ratio for hitters...I feel like the control of the strike zone is something that stabilizes rather quickly. Shaw has walked more than he's struck out (6:5) so far this spring, and with Luis Urias the only roadblock to playing time here, I wouldn't be surprised if Shaw ends up playing quite a bit. He isn't far removed from being an above average player at 3B, and although his stats have cratered the past two years, his EV was actually up and his chase rate was down. There was a wrist injury involved, so the combination of that no longer being an issue and a return to the site of his best years could lead to a return to production for the 30 year old. Deep leagues only for now, but he's worth a look in the endgame scenario.
Tim Locastro (OF - ARI) - With Kole Calhoun out for at least the first few weeks of the regular season, Tim Locastro is becoming one of my favorite sleepers for steals early here in 2021. Locastro combines excellent (low-to-mid 80's) contact rates with the unofficial title of fastest man in baseball in 2020, ranking #1 in sprint speed via Statcast. He's 26 for 26 in SB in less than 300 major league ABs thus far, and while power isn't going to be anything close to a strength, he's pretty consistently hit homers at approximately a 10 per season clip in the past. In other words, not quite Juan Pierre. Locastro could easily steal bases at a 40-50 per 162 G pace, and since that ability is still a precious commodity in many formats, Locastro should really be getting more press than he has been to this point.