Allow me to re-introduce myself my name is HOOOO….oh wait. Nevermind. That was the intro I was writing for the Jay-Z fan fiction blog I also write for. MY B. So what’s up, seamheads? This is your boy, Jake, coming at you with the hottest takes on fantasy baseball this side of the Mississippi. It’s been a minute since I wrote about fantasy baseball, but I HAVE done it before. If you have no life…and let’s be real if you play fantasy baseball then you kind of don’t….a quick Google search of my past musings should turn up some interesting results. Just don’t click on page 17 of the Google search if you know what I mean. At least turn on the Private Window feature first. Anywho, I’m thrilled to be back in the saddle and writing about fantasy baseball again. I’m basically the Team Canada Eric Gagne of fantasy writers!
An Eric Gagne sighting!!!
Enough about me already. Let’s talk fantasy! The season started two days ago, but it’s still early enough that I can talk about what I’ll be on the lookout for this season. Though you won’t find more helium for my “Bartolo for Cy Young” campaign below, you will find 5 topics that I will be tracking as the season progresses. This is what has my interest as 2017 gets underway.
5. Health Concerns
Two years ago, I was in one league where 10 of my first 11 players selected spent significant time on the DL. I still won the league. LATE APRIL FOOLS NO I DIDN’T. But the lesson is that injuries happen. It’s a part of every sport, but even more so in baseball, because the season is painfully long. In fact, I may or may not write a whole diatribe on this topic later this year outlining my plan for a shortened season that has the last possible game of the World Series no latter than September 30th. If the people want it, I’LL DELIVER!
But I digress. Health is a truly uncontrollable variable. There are three big name that stick out to me with what I consider major injury concerns already. I drafted exactly zero of them. Maybe you didn’t either. But maybe, JUST MAYBE, you like to dance with the devil and took Prince Fielder with your last pick after polishing off the Wild Turkey and shouting ‘YOLO. I TAKE PRINCE FIELDER, IDIOTS! LET’S DO THIS!” Let’s start in Beantown.
David Price (P, Boston Red Sox): We first heard of the southpaw’s elbow injury on February 28th, which strangely led him to the NFL combine. Contrary to popular belief, he was not running the cone drill to improve his draft stock for the Minnesota Vikings and their gaping hole at running back. Instead, Price was getting the cannon checked out by Dr. James Andrews, who just happens to rep my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. Go Barons. Anyways, the Boston media put down their Dunkin Iced Coffees the other day just long enough to tell us that Price isn’t even throwing off the mound yet. There is still no timetable for his return, in fact. Conservative reports say it’s going to be sometime in June. Methinks you’re going to be saying “what fantasy team?” in disgust by July if you keep waiting on him. The almighty Steamer projections have him at 10 starts, which is just not worth it in my book. 10 starts of Kershaw? Sure. 10 starts of Price in the Al East? Nope. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’d rather take fliers on Hellickson, Colon, Ervin Santana, or just use the spot to stream all season.
Ian Desmond (1B/OF, Colorado Rockies): His hand got in the way of a heater in spring training, which obviously fractured his left paw. It’s not his throwing hand, but we could go out behind the shed and smash your hand with a hammer if you want to know if it still hurts regardless. He had the surgery, and the Denver media says there has been no change from the original 6-week timetable. If he has setbacks and takes longer, we can blame the thin mountain air or the legal dispensaries. Your call. Either way, I am cool with sitting Desmond on my bench for a month because I think he’s going to rake in Coors this season. If he fell in your draft, you got yourself a bargain.
Michael Brantley (OF, Cleveland Indians): What Brantley was to last year is what I see Price being this year. An entire season of wishing and hoping only to get like 11 games out of the dude. After a whole season of trying to heal that bum right shoulder, Brantley finally looks 100% ready to go for the first time since mid-2015. He’s going to bat third and start in left for a team that nearly won the World Series without him. The top of their lineup is stacked with Edwin Encarnacion in town, but the back end is absolute garbage. Like AAA at the major league level bad. Brantley may not score a lot of runs as a result, but expect the rest of the stats to return to 2014- mid 2015 form.
4. The Baby Bombers
I usually avoid writing or even thinking about the Yankees, but I’m so intrigued by them this year, that I can no longer avoid the topic. The front office wisely became sellers at the deadline last year and acquired a wealth of minor league talent in the process. Gleyber Torres, Clint Frazier, and Billy McKinney won’t make an impact this year, but here are the young Bombers I’m excited about in 2017.
Gary Sanchez (C, The Evil Empire): This is the obvious one. In the drafts I participated in, he was taken as high as the 5th round (by me), and I do not think it’s all that crazy. Yes. Of course, there will be regression. He hit 20 home runs in 53 games last season, which sent the fantasy community into a tizzy like the first time my third grade class heard the Macarena. He won’t hit 156 home runs or something like that, but Steamer has him projected at a 68/27/80/.268 line. Note: I’ll be using that line a lot. For all you noobs, that’s Runs/Homeruns/RBIs/AVG. That would make him one of the best if not the best fantasy catcher in the game. He’s hitting second in lineup that could have a lot of pop, and if you’re into drafting catchers early, meet your newest man-crush.
Greg Bird (1B, The Evil Empire): He gained some steam with a major spring, which bummed me out because I thought I’d be the only nerd who remembered how good he was to finish 2015. He missed all of 2016 with an injury, but he’s back and looking better than ever. Projections have him hitting a 62/23/68/.264 line in the 3-hole behind Sanchez. He was a mid to late round pick, and he’s got the potential to pay off in a big way. Mark Teixhifabhgb-who?
Aaron Judge (OF, The Evil Empire): In one of my deep keeper leagues with minor league rosters, I drafted him before the 2015 season because of his legendary power grades and comparisons to Mi…Giancarlo Stanton. It took him a solid two years to work out his strikeout kinks, which he’s still struggling with but not AS much, but it finally looks like he’s ready to contribute for the big league club. He grades out with better raw power than Bird albeit with more Ks and a worse average. I see 25-30 HRs, but proceed with caution. Playing time could be an issue here because of his lack of on-base ability. He’s more of a flier than the other two, but this is the kind of guy you take a gamble on for cheap power.
I’ve heard it said many times before, but I’ll say it again. Do sleepers really exist anymore? There’s so much info out there that guys just don’t fly under the radar anymore. Me saying that is not original and would be like me running for governor of Bibb County (where my S-TOWN podcast homies at?!) and using the campaign slogan “Make America Great Again!” It’s been said many times before, but now my voice has officially been added to the digital conversation of sleepers. Anyways, here are the “sleepers” I’m watching.
James Paxton (P, Seattle Mariners): I know. I know. This is almost lazy on my part. I ended up with Paxton in exactly zero of my leagues because I wasn’t willing to spend a top 10-12 round pick on a guy with an injury history similar to a person with hypocalcemia. LOOK IT UP, NERDS. Reached on that joke as much as some owners reached on Paxton. But real talk. People got in that 3rd grade Macarena tizzy I mentioned earlier about Paxton because they noticed improved command and velocity from him last season. AND he stayed healthy, which he hadn’t done since 2013. As far as projections, I honestly don’t get all too excited about him. Steamer and Depth Charts have him at an 8+ K/9, mid to high 3s ERA, around 160 Ks, and a 1.25 WHIP. Is that usable? Sure. That’s a nice depth piece to your rotation. The Fans on Fangraphs have him projected at a 9 K/9 with a 3.42 ERA, 182 Ks, and 1.13 WHIP. NOW we’re talking. That’s top 30 range and would have me way more excited. I think he ends up closer to the Steamer projections. Glad I didn’t reach, and you should temper expectations if you did.
Ryon Healy (3B, Oakland A’s): His team is absolute trash this season, but I am way high on this guy. Razzball called him a baby Josh Donaldson earlier this preseason, and that’s a great comparison in my book. He hit the quietest .305 average with 13 homeruns in 72 games last year and projects to cross the 20 HR, 70 RBI threshold this season with a slick .275 average. He was taken in the very backend of most drafts I took part in, which I thought was crazy. Although, guys like Baez, Jake Lamb, and Maikel Franco had ADPs right before him, and I can’t tell you NOT to draft those guys first. I’m all about those track records like some dudes are all about that bass. As you can imagine, I ended up with tons of shares of him. He’s going to bat third for the A’s, which is like saying I beat Mike Pence in a ‘who’s more liberal’ contest. Another reach. Not like the reach you probably made on Paxton.
Ah, rookies. The last few years, they’ve made huge impacts on fantasy both negative and positive. The guy who was willing to wait on 2015 Kris Bryant got rewarded handsomely, but on the flip side of that, the Byron Buxton dynasty owner can’t even get you to give up Yangervis Solarte. It’s a gamble, but one worth taking sometimes in order to get that elusive title. Here are my impact guys for 2017.
Yoan Moncada (2B, Chicago White Sox): He came over to ChiTown in the Chris Sale trade last year, and at 21, he is currently one of the top fantasy prospects of 2017. Similar to Kris Bryant, he more than likely won’t be up until mid-May due to service time rules. When he does come up, fire away. Here’s a guy who torched the minors last year to the tune of 15 HRs, 45 SBs, and a .916 OPS. That’s pretty darn good. He’s got the speed and the pop to be a future 1st or 2nd round pick very soon, and he’s only 21. Chicago is in a full rebuild right now, so once he’s up, I think he stays up.
Tim Anderson (SS, Chicago White Sox): Another White Sox prospect. Smells like a rebuild to me! Oh wait, that’s just the smell coming from the NYC subway outside my apartment. I’ll brag for a second and say that I got to see this guy in action with my own two eyes two years ago in Birmingham. Go Barons, again! Anderson is a better real-life player than fantasy due to his fancy glove work, but he’s a super cheap source of steals. It’s going to be tough to swallow his low average and lack of counting stats as he adjusts to his first full season in the majors, but those steals! He’s a one-trick pony, but just like a re-run of The Jersey Shore, you know what you’re getting into.
Manuel Margot (OF, San Diego Padres): Here’s another former Red Sox AND steals guy. It’s like a Frankenstein of the first two guys I mentioned but different. Margot plays for a super bad team, but less fun because neither Michael Cera or Jonah Hill will be there. I think he’s got a ceiling of 35 SBs with a floor of 25, and he will get all the playing time he can handle. There’s literally no one coming up behind him in their system that’s got the potential he does. Bonus: Take a flier on his teammate Hunter Renfroe who will probably hit 20 HRs with his eyes closed. But not really because you can’t hit baseballs with your eyes closed. Not well at least.
Pitchers: I don’t really believe in pitching prospects as anything more than a streamer. They’re just too volatile, face innings caps, and need time to adjust. With that being said, I won’t be mad if you roster Robert Gsellman, Jharel Cotton, or Jose de Leon at various times this season.
1. Jose Altuve
Full disclosure. I am just as tall as Jose Altuve. It’s an inspiration to me. So much, in fact, that I feel I can do anything. Like write about fantasy sports for a baseball blog. But real talk, Jose Altuve will be the best player in fantasy baseball this year. I will not use this paragraph to convince you that Mike Trout sucks. Mike Trout is very good at baseball. I just think that Lil’ Jose, as I imagine his Astros teammates call him, is the one you want to own. First off, he has had a MINIMUM of 30 SBs the last 5 years. Projections have him eclipsing that mark again this year. For some reason, the Angels don’t like when Trout runs. Throw in the fact that his power has grown the past two years, and you now have an all-out fantasy beast. He crushed 24 HRs last season, and I see no reason why he can’t easily eclipse 20 again this season. Also, the Astros look like one of the best offenses in the league. Let’s say he puts up a 100/25/80/35/.320 line. That is pretty darn sexy if I do say so myself. All of those numbers are achievable. Play in an OBP and Slugging league? Altuve is still your guy. He always hits over .300, gets his butt on base, and has boomed in the slugging category over the last two seasons. Again, I’m not saying Altuve is better than Trout. I just think the gap between Trout and everyone else has decreased considerably. Altuve has crept up behind Trout, and I think the real Altuve could easily sneak up behind most major leaguers.
So those are a few of the things I’m watching for. Certainly not a comprehensive list, but it’s what’s standing out to me. I’ll be back this time next week! Enjoy the first week of fantasy baseball, folks!