The season isn't even a week old yet, and already we've had our first elite prospect arrive about a year earlier than expected.
Jose Fernandez, come on down. You're the next contestant on Let's Sell Some Tickets, Miami Edition.
The move was so unexpected that Fantasy owners are still trying to figure out what to make of it. Fernandez has been the most viewed and most added player every day since the Marlins announced he had won a spot in the starting rotation. And he still hasn't appeared in a game yet.
The response suggests those genuinely excited about his arrival are only as plentiful as those trying their hardest to resist the hype. Even among my colleagues, it's a divisive subject.
Granted, none of them doubt Fernandez's long-term appeal. Among pitching prospects, he's second only to Dylan Bundy in terms of upside. True, assessing upside is a somewhat subjective task, but as LeVar Burton used to say on Reading Rainbow, you don't have to take my word for it.
While most every publication agreed on the same top four prospects entering this season, Baseball America chose Fernandez as its No. 5, saying his fastball had "unbelievable explosion" and touting his maturity as "uncommon for a player in his first full year as a pro."
You want uncommon? Check out his numbers. In 25 starts, he went 14-1 with a 1.75 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings. And again, that was in his first full year as a pro.
Now, Debbie Downer will tell you that he did all of that between two levels of Class A, that he has only 55 career innings above lower Class A, that any 20-year-old making the jump to the majors is in for a bumpy ride and that the lack of Double- or Triple-A experience makes Fernandez's task all the more unlikely.
It's too much, too fast, which means it's doomed to end in demotion. So if you buy into Fernandez now, you'll be sorry.
But that's where Debbie loses me. Why will I be sorry? What do I have to give up to take a flier on Fernandez, and would I really miss it?
I don't know how most leagues are. I don't know if most people play with friends who have only a passing interest in Fantasy Baseball -- ones who either didn't show up for the draft or who went on autopilot for all of their late-round picks, leaving the sleepers to the few who genuinely care.
But I know in my leagues, everybody cares. Everybody studies, and everybody tries. Everybody's sleepers are more or less the same sleepers, which means I only get one or two of mine. Naturally, the back ends of my rosters are players I don't really care about. Maybe I like them on some level, but only in relation to what else is out there.
Translation: They're replacement-level players.
By definition, a replacement-level player is one you could replace with ease, quite possibly with another waiver claim.
Dillon Gee? Replacement level. Paul Maholm? Replacement level. James McDonald? After the way he performed in the second half, you bet he's replacement level, at least in terms of standard mixed leagues. I have an inkling those three pitchers will perform better than most of the others at replacement level, but at the end of the day, I don't have especially high hopes for them.
You know who I do have high hopes for? Fernandez. I understand the downside and recognize it might even be the most-likely scenario. But back in 2006, plenty of people doubted Justin Verlander when the Tigers gave him and his 20 career minor-league starts a job out of spring training, and he went on to win AL Rookie of the Year. The comparison isn't so far-fetched. Fernandez touches 99 miles per hour with his fastball, commands the strike zone and already has four plus pitches. It's not that he wasn't prepared for Double-A last year. It's just that the Marlins didn't pull the trigger.
Clearly, they have now.
No doubt, you know your league better than I do, and if it's so deep that Gee, Maholm and McDonald -- as well as maybe Lucas Harrell and Jose Quintana -- are already owned, making a replacement-level pitcher something along the lines of a Jeff Locke or Nick Tepesch, then OK, maybe the risk of getting nothing from Fernandez is too high for you to drop the comparatively safe Rodriguez. But in those leagues, Fernandez is long gone anyway.
If, like the majority, you have fallback options, now is the time to gamble on talent.
Not every prospect garners the same attention. Though, a good spring can put any minor leaguer on the map quickly.
Here's a short list of prospects that had promising springs we feel Fantasy owners -- seasonal and long-term -- should keep on your radar.
You won't find players like Kevin Gausman, Nolan Arenado, Yasiel Puig, George Springer or Christian Yelich on this list. While all of them had great springs, these players already bask in the limelight. Our goal is to highlight five players with burgeoning major-league prospects.
Michael Wacha, SP, Cardinals
Grant Green, UTL, Athletics
Joey Terdoslavich, 1B, Braves
Derek Dietrich, 2B/3B, Marlins
Alex Wood, SP, Braves
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