|Chris Davis is one of the many successful alumns from last year's Mancrush list. (cbssports.com)|
One of the highlights of my Fantasy Baseball stuff last year was my Mancrush picks. Basically, position by position I went through a couple of deeper options for players and gave a preferred choice followed by a He'll Do choice to add a little meat to the sleeper bone.
Turned out it was an amazing success. Players like Mike Napoli, Allen Craig, Chris Davis, Starling Marte, Domonic Brown, Matt Harvey (RIP), Hisashi Iwakuma, and Kenley Jansen all had their names named. Sure, there was a sprinkling of Jesus Montero and Will Middlebrooks in there, but overall I was happy with the results. Frozen in time for all to see.
Well, it's time to move on. I've linked to this article about a million times, so I think I've patted myself on the back enough. As we move on from the 2013 picks, we can look forward to the 2014 class. The main modification I have is that I will be including players that, yes, are highly ranked, but higher on my personal ranks than others. For example, last year I was also very high on Paul Goldschmidt and Yu Darvish, so as a result I stayed away from the Top 50 or so players. Well, if I think the player ranked #49 could be a top #20 player that's something I should highlight. Don't think I'm taking the easy way out there, those highly ranked players that make an appearance on here are few and far between. We're opening up the goodie bag to see who is worth the wait in fantasy.
|Wilson Ramos seems to be ready to finally breakout. (latimes.com)|
People have been waiting for Ramos' breakout for some time now. He his 15 HR in 113 games for the Nationals in 2011, but then in the off season was kidnapped in his local Venezuela. It couldn't be easy to come back from something like that, but Ramos did get 25 games of action in 2012 before tearing his ACL. Last year, with a clear mind and plenty of potential, he was knocked off track due to separate hamstring issues. He did manage to stay health from July on - smacking 14 HR and building momentum for 2014. His .199 ISO ranked him 4th amongst catchers with at least 350 PA. Catching is deep this year, and if you can wait and nab Ramos as the 9th or 10th catcher off the board, there is plenty of room for profit with him.
He'll Do - Miguel Montero, ARZ
2013 was a terrible year for Montero. The usually steady producing catcher fell off a cliff with career lows across the board. It really just looks like whatever could go wrong for Montero did. He shouldn't be in a state of decline, but his usually nice #4 spot in the batting order could be in jeopardy in Arizona. That'll dip his numbers below his career average, but the power and RBI totals could still be there.
|Jose Abreu is primed for success in 2014. (majoronions.com)|
The latest Cuban sensation to come to America is also the most highly touted. He first came across my purview in this Grantland piece by Jonah Keri in early 2012. Needless to say, I was intrigued. It's obvious that he won't put up those kinds of numbers in the majors, but it's not as though he didn't do what he did in Cuba. The guy is a hitter. He's had major success in every tournament he's been in (including the World Baseball Classic) and it just seems to me he's getting more negative pub than all of the former Cubans combined. I'm assuming a majority of this is to temper expectations that he's the next Yasiel Puig, which he isn't - a quick look at their height and weight will confirm their skill sets, but in doing so they're greatly underrating Abreu. He hasn't set the world on fire in spring training, but who really cares about that? He isn't striking out a lot, hitting the ball to all parts of the field, and showing good discipline and getting rave reviews for his work ethic. Pending any on-going issues with his ankles, I would expect him to play everyday and crack at least 25 home runs, but contrary to many reports, I don't see a 3-true-outcome players, but a well rounded one. I've been happy to gobble him up in the 10th or 11th rounds in drafts this year.
He'll Do - Victor Martinez, DET
Some fantasy sites have him listed as a utility player only, but Yahoo has him at 1B, so this is where I'll put him. Martinez lost his catcher eligibility last year only appearing there 3 times. This was a loss in someways, but largely a benefit to the aging batsman. He got off to a slow start, but post-All Star break raked to the tune of a .913 OPS. This year he'll be in the clean-up spot behind Miguel Cabrera with ample opportunities to drive in runs. As an added bonus, there's a chance he could regain his catcher eligibility around mid-season due to new Tigers' coach Brad Ausmus playing him there during interleague games. Could be a fantastic year for V-Mart.
|Javier Baez is destroying baseballs so far this spring. (USAT)|
The problem I have with analysts that undervalue speed is that they often say, "Well you can get that later in drafts as opposed to power," or, "Why use an early pick on Elvis Andrus when you can just take Jonathan Villar with your last pick?" Well, the reason for taking an Andrus type over Villar is obvious: Andrus plays everyday, in a top line-up, and won't hit .220. Okay, not a fair comp? How about Villar's teammate Jose Altuve? The Twitter-famous Altuve is able to steal 30+ bases, hit for a decent average, and depending on how the rest of the Astros' line-up looks - score 90+ runs. The Astros are in the process of getting better, and as they do, so will Altuve. I have him as my 6th ranked 2B.
He'll Do - Javier Baez, CHC
Baez is the prospect creating the most buzz this Spring Training. His swing and bat speed have had scouts swooning for the past year as he hit 37 home runs across two levels in the minors. The expectation coming into camp is that Baez would start the season in AAA, demolish pitching there, and come up in June. Well, 5 home runs later (2 off of proven MLB'ers Randy Wolf and Marco Estrada) might be changing the Cubs' stance. It's not only that Baez is still in camp, but that the Cubs have played him a lot. With Starlin Castro still not 100% Baez has made the most of his opportunity filling in for the Cubs' franchise shortstop. His bat is almost certainly MLB ready, but his fielding leaves much to be desired. The hope is that he'll be able to adapt to a less demanding position at 2B and remove Darwin Barney. I have to imagine that this will happen sooner rather than later. And while I'm taking these with a grain of salt, look at Oliver's 5 year projections for Baez and try not to get a little excited:
|Pedro Alvarez has some power for you. (postgazette.com)|
People just seem to be down on sluggers these days. Alvarez, like Abreu, is more known for the negative things he does at the plate than the positive. Yes, his .233 AVG last year was brutal, and he'll never be a Top 25 guy hitting like that, but what he is able to do is hit a baseball over the outfield wall. He got off to a bit of a slow start before a monster June gave him 24 home runs before the All-Star Break. He again showed some trade mark streakiness in the second half finishing with an NL-tying lead of 35 home runs. Alvarez is all power, but in today's game that's not a terrible thing. While he is going to strike out a lot and you will need to bench him against lefties, what he has improved on is his ability to hit breaking pitches for power (he hit 15 of those). All he needs is a bit more patience at the plate, and in his new home as the Buccs clean-up hitter a 40 HR 100 RBI season nears.
He'll Do - Kyle Seager, SEA
This is not a cheat because while I had Seager on my list last year, he was a 2B. This year, he's only 3B eligible. When you look at Seager's numbers overall, you see a player that made minimal improvements over his 2012 campaign, which was still good. What people should realize is that Seager was on pace for close to 30 HR and batting in the high .200s before a horrific slump over the last 50 games of the season dragged his numbers back down to a respectable, yet uninspiring level. Think about it, this is a guy that finished with better numbers than 2012 despite hitting .194 with 4 HR in August and .172 with 1 HR in September. This could be a red flag, but batting in front of Robinson Cano I'm picking Seager to capitalize on the strides he made last year.
|A steady home at 2B will help Profar excel at the plate. (cbssports.com)|
Carrying around multiple position eligibility due to his playing time last year in Texas, Profar is ready to take on his first full season in the majors. The former top prospect in all of baseball will be slotted low in the Rangers' batting order, but should Elvis Andrus be hurt or even struggle, Profar could creep his way up. Profar is still a work in progress on offense, but with Ron Washington's free wheeling ways on the base paths, I would expect Profar to benefit with double digit steals, low teens in home runs, and the benefit of him being near the bottom of the lineup is that he's not too far away from Shin-Soo Choo and the top of the Rangers' lineup to drive him in. I would expect a 2013 Ben Zobrist output for Profar this year.
He'll Do - Brad Miller, SEA
First things first, he has to win the starting shortstop job in Seattle over Nick Franklin. Then after that Miller can be a productive middle infielder. When Miller was called up last year, it wasn't to much fan fare primarily due to the fact that he was at the tail end of a bunch of Mariners' call ups that didn't do much to thrill fantasy owners. Jesus Montero, Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, Brandon Maurer, and even Taijuan Walker did a ho-hum job. Miller, however, had 8 HR 36 RBI and 5 SB in 306 at bats. Also, out of his 81 hits, he had 11 doubles and 9 triples. He's a good hitter who can increase his batting average, and locking down an everyday spot for the Mariners should push him towards 15/15 range in 2014.
|Thin mints and samoas! Bryce Harper continues to be the man. (deadspin.com)|
It's Bryce, with a "Y." Anyway, I've talked about him, written about him, and continue to be geared up for his monster year that is coming. My rule for Harper in 2014 is this: Any draft I get him in the 2nd round, I'm winning the league.
They'll Do -
Jason Heyward, ATL
Is it time to readjust what kind of player Heyward will be? He'll be batting lead off for the Braves in 2014 thanks to his ability to get on base. This doesn't mean he won't hit for power like many people expected him to, but if he takes off as a lead off hitter then he won't exactly be driving in 130 RBI. But if he can score 100+ with 20+HR and he's allowed to steal again ... that's some kind of player. One could even say a new breed of lead off hitter. 2014 is definitely an experiment for Heyward, but that doesn't mean it won't work out well. Also, with him being one of the few young Braves to not sign a big extension, he could be hitting the road in a few to most likely be that middle of the order bopper. The dream isn't dead, Jason!
Jayson Werth, WAS
On to another Jayson. Werth torched baseball last year. In only 129 games last year, Werth still finished as a top 30 player. Surprisingly, his 2013 was a throw back to his glory days in Philadelphia. Werth is underrated due to his age and injury history, but he is in the position to hit for power, score runs, and steal double digit bases. His ADP is 81, and I'd jump a round earlier to get him.
Brandon Moss, OAK
You'll definitely need to platoon him against lefties, but against righties he mashes. Over the past year and a half, he's hit 51 home runs and has ISO of .306 and .267. The power is real, and the A's utilize him to the max.
Alejandra de Aza, CHW?
With the addition of Adam Eaton in the off season it's possible that de Aza will find himself as a part time player in Chicago, which is a shame because he is able to bring a good mix of power and speed to the table. He went 17/20 last year, and in a full-time gig could get to 20/20.
Christian Yelich, MIA
If you're looking for a de Aza type that's going to be playing all the time, then look at Christian Yelich. The highly touted prospect went 4/10 in 62 games with a respectable .288 AVG. This year he will be batting in front of Giancarlo Stanton so it's tough to know how that will affect his steal numbers, but Yelich has some pop and he could potentially score 75+ runs.
|Not Graphs: Homer Bailey looks just like Christian Bale. (mlb.com)|
Anyone that has done any research in fantasy this year knows this about Homer Bailey: He has improved his strikout-to-walk ratio in each of his seven seasons in the bigs. This is important because it shows a player that is obviously getting better, but also a player that started in a pretty rough spot. When Bailey debuted in 2007, he was a 21-year-old elite pitching prospect from Texas. He had limited success early on, regularly posting mid-4.00 ERAs and high WHIPs. While it has been a slow and gradual improvement, Bailey took a leap forward the past two years increasing his K% to 18.9% and eclipsing the 20% mark at 23.4% last year to put him in elite status. Bailey has been over 200 IP in his last two seasons and if his trends continue he could become an elite starter this year. There may not be much more improvement left for Bailey, but he is entering his prime years as an ace.
They'll Do -
West Coast Pitchers - Hyun-jin Ryu, Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, Andrew Cashner, Ian Kennedy
I'm classifying Ryu and Cashner as pretty sure things this year, meaning, they both had a solid 2013 and have the pedigree to continue doing good things in 2014. Both are underrated. The remaining pitchers ceratinly do interest me a lot. Sonny Gray is being mentioned in the same breath as fellow hyped young pitcher Danny Salazar, and while they bring different skills to the table it's really a toss up between these two for pitching supremacy. The opinions on both are split. I've seen a bit more negative stuff on Gray, but Salazar will almost certainly have an innings cap along with some control issues he'll have to work through as well. Gray is on the better team and better environment, so I'm happy to cast my support for him in 2014.
Kazmir and Kennedy are reclamation projects. Kazmir started his road back to meaningful fantasy innings last year in Cleveland. His velocity on his fastball ticked up 2 MPH and threw a solid albeit up and down 158 IP, but his K/9 was over 9. Health will always be an issue with Kazmir. If he can stay health he should be able to add some innings and lower his ERA back to a mid-3.00 range. Kennedy on the other hand is hoping a full season in San Diego will help him. Kennedy's production is tied strictly to his walk rate. As he's walked more batters, he's gotten worse. His fly ball tendencies didn't play well in Arizona, but Petco should help him out a bit. I have Kennedy in a couple of leagues, but if he struggles with his command early on, he'll be out the door quickly.
Justin Masterson, CLE
Underrated off of last year's performance, as well as being overshadowed by Salazar and Corey Kluber.
Marco Estrada, MIL
It can get ugly sometimes for Estrada. He isn't a set it and forget it pitcher and the bad part is, you never know when he might toss a stinker. Overall though, he is underrated. In the second half he had a 5/1 K:BB ratio, and while he still loved to give up the long ball, treated his owners to a 2.15 ERA. Hopefully he gets his act together earlier this year, but he has the potential to be a solid starter.
Kevin Gausman, BAL
At this point, Gausman has no spot on the Orioles' major league roster. Why that is, I have no clue. If you don't want to bump Bud Norris from your rotation, okay, whatever. But if you want to keep trotting Tommy Hunter out there to close games AND keep Norris in the rotation, that's an issue. Gausman certainly had a poor first season, but as a back of the bullpen force late in the season found his form. Gausman is one of those players that should be treated in the Archie Bradleys of the world as the next big pitching prospect to get the call. Gausman has had a strong spring, so there's still hope he'll break camp which would mean whether as a reliever or starter; he should be owned.
A Marlins' Pitcher not named Jose Fernandez - Nathan Eovaldi, Henderson Alvarez, Jacob Turner
This is purely a gut call. I remember watching some Marlins' games last year and seeing flickers of potential. Eovaldi and Turner both have highly touted arms. Eovaldi has one of the best fastballs in baseball, but each of these three have issues. Alvarez is a low strike out guy, Turner has control issues, and Eovaldi's lack of a decent 2nd pitch leaves his fastball open to be crushed. Of course playing for the Marlins will limit their win opportunities, but I just have a feeling something has to click for one of these pitchers.
Hector Santiago, LAA
Santiago tends to get hit around a bit. His WHIP the last two seasons are 1.34 and 1.40, but his K% has been over 20% the past two as well. A move to Los Angeles might help calm some of these issues, and he might be a great candidate to start out the season hot, but fizzle toward the second half.
DL Pitchers - Kris Medlen, A.J. Griffin, Jarrod Parker, Patrick Corbin
So, there have been a lot of pitching injuries so far, huh?
|Mitch Williams doing Mitch Williams things. (GETTY)|
There's always a new closer primed to make a big jump year after year. Nate Jones is that player. His high strike outs and killer slider suit him nicely in the Southside. Former closer Addison Reed never had any issues finding save opportunities, and while - like Reed - Jones won't be an elite option when it comes to ERA and WHIP, he'll make up for it with close to 30 saves and a K/9 of 10+.
They'll Do -
David Robertson, NYY
There's the pressure of closing out a game and the pressure of living up to Mariano Rivera. With plenty of notice Robertson looks to take over for Mo in 2014. Robertson has to wiggle himself out of some jams, and while it would have been nice to see him take the reigns 2 years ago when Rivera went down with a torn ACL, it appears that with limited competition Robertson will have to lay an egg to lose this spot.
Ernesto Frieri, LAA
High Ks and a lot of uneasiness. There's just something I find intriguing about crazy closers. Guess growing up as a Phillies fan during the late 80's and 90's will do that to you.
Cody Allen, CLE/Tyler Clippard, WAS
Which incumbent starter is losing his job first? Likely John Axford, but you must always be vigilant. These two work frequently enough and rack up enough Ks that it's worth giving an P spot up to them.