Adley Rutschman, C (BAL)
Baltimore's top prospect is dealing with elbow soreness. It is not considered serious but something to monitor nonetheless. The Orioles signed veteran Robinson Chirinos this week as a likely backup to Rutschman, and he could be the starter if the young switch-hitter isn't ready to go (the Orioles also signed Jacob Nottingham this offseason). In all likelihood, however, Rutschman will be up in the major leagues soon. He was excellent in the minor leagues last year, slashing .312/.405/.490 in 185 AAA plate appearances. He has a magnificent EYE (0.73) with good but not overwhelming power. He is unlikely to eclipse 350 at-bats, but only a handful of catchers are. Currently drafted among the top-10 catchers, there is some risk of playing time, but the upside is high. Let's see if this elbow injury becomes a problem. Rutschman could get some time at DH if there are issues with throwing.
Chris Owings, SS (BAL)
Owings signed with Baltimore as a non-roster invitee to spring training. He started the season hot with Colorado last season, but injuries derailed his campaign. Once a stolen-base threat, Owings isn't likely to earn enough playing time to consequently contribute in any category. Although there is a chance to earn playing time in a very underwhelming Orioles infield, Owings' plate discipline has greatly deteriorated and there isn't much in his profile to suggest any fantasy relevance. The bigger fantasy issue is what his signing could mean for Ramon Urias. Urias is the presumed starting shortstop, but Owings could wrestle that away with a hot spring. I wouldn't bet on it, and I wouldn't bet on Chris Owings.
Lance McCullers, Jr., SP (HOU)
Earlier this week, Astros manager Dusty Baker confirmed McCullers will not be ready to start the season on time. On Tuesday McCullers himself said it's a flexor tendon injury, not a UCL tear. He said he's already undergone PRP and stem cell treatment but gave no clarity as to when he'll be available to pitch. Injuries have hampered McCullers throughout his career, although last season he threw a career-high 162.1 innings. He delivered when available, finishing with a 13-5 record and 185 strikeouts to go along with a 3.16 ERA. The addition of a slider was a game-changer for the right-hander, generating a 26% whiff rate and allowing a .150 batting average. He provides a nice velo discrepancy between his hard sinker and his three complementary pitches (slider, curveball, changeup). However, unreliability keeps McCullers from elevating into the upper echelon of starting pitchers. Projecting more than the 162 innings he delivered last season seems unwise. In truth, we should only be expecting 130-140 innings, considering the uncertainty surrounding his injury right now.
Kevin Kiermaier, OF (TB)
Kiermaier said on Tuesday he is dealing with neck and upper back stiffness. He claims it resulted from packing for spring training. It's always concerning when a professional athlete sounds like my 75-year-old dad, but here we are. Injuries are a common theme in Kiermaier's career, although they usually result from playing the game. In this case, the stiffness is popping up amidst trade rumors. The Rays are deep at most positions, and players like Vidal Brujan, Josh Lowe, Brett Phillips and Taylor Walls are waiting to take playing time away from Kiermaier, not to mention Tampa Bay reportedly seeking a free agent hitter. The fantasy draw to Kiermaier is the ability to get double-digit home runs and stolen bases at a very cheap value. However, the risk is high because of his injury history and concerns over playing time. His defensive skills have afforded him more at-bats than his offensive output would warrant, but Father Time may be moving quicker on the 31-year-old grandpa.
Daniel Vogelbach, 1B (PIT)
The Pirates signed Vogelbach to a one-year contract, and he should be able to compete for regular at-bats, at either first base and/or designated hitter. Vogelbach's 49% hard-hit rate is really good, and for a power hitter with a violent swing, he has a really impressive EYE. Nonetheless, his batting average is consistently in the low .200's. He doesn't hit too many fly balls, so why is his career BABIP .242? Yes, his speed is non-existent, but it just feels like Vogelbach is capable of a more acceptable average. Meanwhile, if he truly gets regular playing time, 30 home runs are well within reach. This is a nice destination for Vogelbach's fantasy prospects, and I am moving him up my 1B rankings.
Pete Alonso, 1B (NYM)
Two days after what sounds like a terrifying car crash, Pete Alonso was on the baseball field taking batting practice. Alonso began his junior campaign slowly, but he finished red hot, hitting 24 home runs after July 3. Alonso finished with a career-high .262 average and a solid 37 home runs. He also improved his contact rate to 76.7% after stepping back in that category in 2020. What is most significant and most encouraging in evaluating Alonso is his improvement against breaking pitches. They flummoxed him over his first two seasons, and while he only hit .223 against them last season, his power was much-improved. In fact, he hit as many home runs (17) against breaking pitches as fastballs, despite nearly half as many plate appearances. If Alonso can consistently display power against breaking balls, it makes it that much more difficult for opposing pitchers to find the right mix against him. The Fantistics projections peg Alonso for 39 home runs, second-most among first basemen. Now that the scary accident clearly isn't going to hold him back, there's not much to hold YOU back from drafting the big right-hander in line with his fourth-round ADP.
Josh Harrison, 2B (CHW)
The White Sox made the signing of Harrison official on Tuesday, and he was already in camp with the club. Harrison has been a reliable utility player over the past two seasons, even tallying 505 at-bats last year, his most since 2014. That allowed the 34-year-old to accumulate eight home runs and nine stolen bases, a nice little boost for fantasy owners who picked him up in very deep leagues. He improved his contact rate and still offers enough power to pop some homers, especially in the offensive-friendly confines of Guaranteed Rate Field. As strong as Chicago's offense is, they have at-bats available. Leury Garcia, Adam Engel and Gavin Sheets are all replaceable, and Harrison will get his opportunities. He has value due to his positional eligibility (2B, 3B, OF) and offers a chunk of HRs and SBs. In deep leagues, if you need a little versatility, you could do worse than the veteran.
Brad Hand, RP (PHI)
According to reports, the Phillies signed Hand to a one-year contract, adding to a bullpen with a gluttony of players with closer experience but no true elite stopper. The expectation is Corey Knebel will assume the role, but Hand, Jose Alvarado, Jeurys Familia or even the returning Seranthony Dominguez could see action in the 9th. Hand has been a mixed bag. Last season, he saved 21 games for Washington before getting traded to Toronto, where he was abysmal, but then he latched on with the Mets and was solid at the end of the season. His xFIP isn't kind. It totaled 4.76. That, along with a diminishing slider, are reasons enough to keep fantasy owners away from the left-hander. However, if you need some spec saves, it's entirely possible Hand ends up as the last man standing in Philadelphia.
Anthony Rizzo, 1B (NYY)
Rizzo reportedly re-signed with the Yankees after finishing with a 113 wRC+ in 49 games following a trade deadline deal from the Cubs. Rizzo will benefit if MLB eventually opts to ban the shift. Always a pull-heavy hitter, Rizzo's batting average tanked the last two seasons. However, he dealt with some bad luck as well. The shift will impact BABIP, but it shouldn't make such an impact to drop it to where it was in 2020 and 2021 (.218 and .258 respectively). It isn't a result of weak contact either. In fact, Rizzo tied a career high with a 90.1-mph average exit velocity last season, although it was better with Chicago than New York. His average might not rebound to the high .200's of earlier in his career, but Rizzo should hit home runs at Yankee Stadium. It's the third-most potent stadium for home runs for left-handed hitters. The 32-year-old is still a really strong fielder, and the Yankees appear to be making an effort to improve their defense. Expect him to accumulate a full season's worth of at-bats and that should lead to a significant boost in home runs.
Matt Olson, 1B (ATL)
A day after sending shockwaves through MLB free agent frenzy by acquiring Olson in a multi-player trade with Oakland, the Braves signed the 27-year-old slugger to a massive long-term contract: 8 years, $168 million. It's probably a bargain for Atlanta, but it replaces Olson's final two seasons of his previous, much-less lucrative deal. Olson is now part of an incredible young corps for the defending champions. The Braves are buying into improvement from already strong production. Last year Olson had a career-year with a lifetime-best .271 average and 39 home runs. Hey, he even more than doubled his career stolen base total with four! And now he goes to an even better offense, surrounded by Ozzie Albies, Austin Riley, Marcell Ozuna, Adam Duvall, Dansby Swanson and eventually Ronald Acuna. But, regardless of his surrounding talent, Truist Field is so much better for Olson's power than the Oakland Coliseum. Olson made great strides in improving plate discipline last year, and hopefully that continues, but the power is undeniable and he is a player capable of leading the majors in home runs every season for the length of his new deal. The move to Atlanta is a boost to his value. The long-term security is nice for his pocketbook.
Aaron Judge, OF (NYY)
According to current regulations in New York City, unvaccinated Yankees and Mets players will not be eligible to play home games. Aaron Judge was evasive when questioned about his vaccination status, leading many to assume he is not currently eligible to play. It's important to note this could change. Many cities and states have lifted most if not all of their COVID protocols. New York City could follow, but like Kyrie Irving with the Brooklyn Nets, right now there are at least two Yankees players who would be unable to play in the Bronx (and remember, they also can't travel to Toronto for road games against the Blue Jays). Obviously that would be catastrophic for fantasy owners but it's particularly concerning for the Yankees. This is certainly a situation to monitor with Opening Day a few weeks away.
Stephen Strasburg, SP (WAS)
SHOCKING NEWS: Stephen Strasburg is likely to miss games due to injury! Yes, the oft-injured veteran said he probably won't be ready to go by Opening Day due to lingering neck and shoulder issues following thoracic outlet surgery last year. Drafting Strasburg is normally a perilous situation, but perhaps a bit less so this season with his ADP hovering around the 18th round. Even with that value though, what can fantasy owners truly expect following the intense surgery after two lost seasons? Only once since 2014 has Strasburg started 30 games, and that won't happen again this year. His velocity has sat in the low 90's in recent years and his strikeouts are dwindling. At 33 years old, with his availability in question and a lot of cuts in that arm and shoulder, the 18th round may actually be a REACH for the former number one overall pick.
Jack Flaherty, SP (STL)
Concerning news trickled out of Cardinals camp on Tuesday as Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Jack Flaherty is being evaluated for a shoulder injury. The young right-hander missed time in 2021 with soreness in the same shoulder. Even with the missed time, Flaherty delivered a solid season's worth of stats, albeit much of the good production occurred before his extended midseason stay on the injured list. Only 26 years old, Flaherty has the tools to deliver SP1 production. He has a versatile pitch mix and limits walks. However, this nagging shoulder injury is a concern. Even if the team doctors ultimately clear him to train, fantasy owners have to downgrade him just based on the potential his shoulder injury reoccurs during the season.
Cesar Hernandez, 2B (WAS)
Nationals manager Dave Martinez gave Hernandez his vote of confidence as the team's leadoff hitter. Hernandez led off most of the first half of last season with Cleveland but he bounced around the White Sox lineup following a midseason trade. From 2015-2018, Hernandez stole at least 15 bases every year. However, he only has one stolen base over the past two seasons, even though he's among the league leaders in sprint speed. As the leadoff hitter in Washington, perhaps he can tally a few more steals while maintaining a recent boost in power, including a career-high 21 home runs last season. Hernandez has become more aggressive and power-laden recently, but making contact and getting on base is more appropriate at the top of a Nationals lineup with Juan Soto and Nelson Cruz to follow.
Adbert Alzolay, SP (CHC)
Alzolay is likely to miss at least the first month and a half of the regular season with a right lat strain. It's the same injury that caused him to miss significant time in 2018. Alzolay has battled injuries and inconsistency in his young career, which masks an intriguing pitch arsenal. He is capable of throwing six pitches, including two versions of a mid-90's fastball. His changeup is improving and his slider is excellent. Meanwhile, last season he improved his command, lowering his walk rate to a respectable 6.6 percent. Unfortunately he didn't really offer much fantasy production, finishing the season with a 5-13 record and a 4.58 ERA. Yet his xFIP was a much more manageable 3.66 and his swinging strike rate was near 12 percent. There is still great potential for the right-hander, but another injury-plagued campaign will stunt his growth. On the flipside, Alzolay's injury opens the door for Justin Steele and Alec Mills in the Cubs rotation.
James Kaprielian, SP (OAK)
Another injury-riddled young starter with intriguing potential, James Kaprielian will miss at least a couple weeks in spring training due to AC joint irritation. Kaprielian battled so many injuries in the minor leagues before finally getting his chance as a midseason call-up with the A's last year, and he delivered, finishing with eight wins in 21 starts and flashing a 4.07 ERA. He has always been able to strike guys out, and he carried that over last season, finishing with 123 K's in 119.1 innings. However, a laundry list of ailments have limited his workload throughout his minor league career so it's possible last season's extensive playing time was a bit too much. With irritation already creeping up as spring training gets started, fantasy owners must be cautious and understand regression is possible if not likely for the one-time top prospect.