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2014 Draft Prep: Busts, 1.0

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Scott White's busts | Nando Di Fino's busts

Not long after the annual unveiling of our bust lists, we are usually bombarded with questions about why we "hate" this player or that player. Speaking for myself, I can say with certainty that I don't hate every player on this list (and, of course, we're discussing "hate" here in a strictly Fantasy Baseball-related sense).

In fact, I don't expect any of the 12 players who made it into this column to stink up the joint. Only one of them -- Mike Zunino -- is someone whom I would avoid entirely in a standard mixed league, and several who made the list have considerable upside. What each of the dozen has in common is a strong likelihood of not returning sufficient value on the draft pick or bid it would take to acquire him. In short, I view each of these players as overrated, whether it's because of prospect hype run amuck, signs of impending age-related decline, general erosion of skills or the likely regression to come after an unusually good season.

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So, yes, you are about to enter the Negativity Zone, where I will lay out all the reasons why a player may not be as good as he appears to be. That doesn't mean these players should be avoided at all costs, but rather that they require an extra measure of patience before you add them to your draft queue. There may be a temptation to go after them; after all, that's why I've bothered to include them. Otherwise, this would just be a column about players no one really wants to draft.

With this group, the uncertainty or downside just happens to outweigh the upside potential.

Mike Zunino, C, Mariners (Roto: Rd. 24, H2H: Rd. N/A)

Frankly, my inclusion of Zunino here might reflect an overestimation of the interest in the 23-year-old catcher. He is basically going undrafted in standard mixed leagues, and given the slim pickings that are available towards the end of two-catcher league drafts, I figured there would be some interest in a young catcher with a strong minor league track record.

Even in deeper mixed leagues, though, Zunino could be a disappointment. Much of the hype that built up around Zunino during his brief time as a prospect occurred when he was in short season A-ball in the Northwest League. After a brief 15-game stopover at Double-A Jackson, Zunino struggled upon promotion to Triple-A Tacoma. Both at Tacoma and Seattle, Zunino struck out frequently, and with the Mariners, he mustered only five doubles and five homers in 173 at-bats. There is a long history of catchers who have mashed in the minors but never caught fire in the majors.

It's too early to know if we can add Zunino to that list, but it's also premature to assume that, just because he hit well in limited exposure to minor league pitching, he will be able to produce as anything more than an AL-only option.

Albert Pujols, 1B, Angels (Roto: Rd. 5, H2H: Rd. 5)

Pujols has been slowed in recent seasons by plantar fasciitis, and reports indicate that his left foot is now fully healed. So far, owners aren't taking that as a signal to draft him in the first round once again, but he could still fall short of his new, more modest expectations.

Pujols is now 34, and it could take him time to literally regain his footing. Even a 30-homer, 100-RBI season like he had in 2012 might not be enough to leapfrog him over Eric Hosmer in the first base rankings, unless he enjoys a massive increase in his batting average on grounders or contact rate. Neither of those things are easy for a mid-30s hitter to achieve, even with healthier feet.

Pujols should have a much better season this year, but not necessarily one good enough to keep him in the top seven or eight first basemen.

Brandon Phillips, 2B, Reds (Roto: Rd. 11, H2H: Rd. 13)

From a skills perspective, Phillips has been pretty steady as he heads into his mid-30s, though we started to see some slippage last year. That got papered over by his first-ever 100-RBI season, which was a function of him batting cleanup behind Joey Votto and hitting .338 with runners in scoring position.

Now Phillips is slated to bat second, and he's probably not going to hit even .300 in those run-producing situations again. Worse yet, Phillips struck out more often and lost some doubles power last season. While it's clear that Phillips' RBI bonanza is over, the news could be worse than him just going back to being regular old Brandon Phillips. The decline could be underway.

Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Nationals (Roto: Rd. 7, H2H: Rd. 8)

For all the concerns that owners have had about Zimmerman due to inconsistency and injury, he has been a steady producer of 25-plus homers (2011 aside). However, his batting average has slowly eroded over the last three seasons, and his doubles power dropped sharply, falling from 36 in 578 at-bats in 2012 to 26 in 568 at-bats in 2013.

Batting averages can be volatile, and the doubles decline could be waved off as a one-year aberration ... or both could be reflections of Zimmerman's deteriorating plate discipline. His chase rate has increased in each of the last three years, and his strikeout rate has climbed in back-to-back years. If that trend continues, not only will Zimmerman lose more points off his batting average, but he will start hitting fewer homers as well as doubles.

Zimmerman has been hanging around among the top seven third baseman the last couple of seasons, but without a reversal in his plate discipline trends, he could fall back to the pack.

Pablo Sandoval, 3B, Giants (Roto: Rd. 15, H2H: Rd. 14)

As mentioned above, being on the bust list doesn't mean you have no chance at delivering value. Here Sandoval is, yet in two of his five-plus seasons, he has hit above .310 with 20-plus homers.

Depending on how you view him, you could look at the Panda as a sleeper. What I see instead is a player whose best batting averages have been built on high rates of hits on ground balls -- not something that I expect regularly from the not-so-speedy Sandoval. His potential for power is legitimate, but we haven't actually seen it since 2011, and since Sandoval hasn't played more than 141 games in any of the last three seasons, it's hard to rely on him to pile up on counting stats.

Jean Segura, SS, Brewers (Roto: Rd. 4, H2H: Rd. 7)

Segura won over Fantasy owners with a red-hot first half in which he batted .325 with 11 home runs and 27 stolen bases. Even after enduring a brutal second half slump (.241/1/17), Segura finished as the top ranking shortstop in Rotisserie and with the fourth-highest point total at his position in Head-to-Head leagues.

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Can Segura turn in another 40-plus steal season? Absolutely. Can he hit over .290 again? If everything breaks right, sure. And what about those 12 home runs? Unless he can improve upon on last season's 19 percent flyball rate, it's highly unlikely, and he could lose some doubles and triples, too.

Segura did show moderate power at times as a prospect, but that was when he was putting up higher flyball rates. Since Segura is just 24, he looks like he is at the right age to take a step forward into Jose Reyes territory. More likely, though, he will produce closer to Everth Cabrera's level. There's nothing wrong with that, but that's not where he is being drafted.

Jed Lowrie, SS, Athletics (Roto: Rd. 19, H2H: Rd. 16)

In his sixth major league season, Lowrie finally put together a full season's worth of games, and he broke through as a top five shortstop in Head-to-Head leagues and top 10 in Roto.

Lowrie's overall value was enhanced by a .290 batting average and in Head-to-Head, his value was bolstered by his 45 doubles. As a hitter, Lowrie does a lot of things well, but hitting line drives wasn't one of them -- until last year. From 2010 to 2012, Lowrie never posted a line drive rate as high as 18 percent, but in 2013, his rate rocketed up to 28 percent. It's possible that the increase was at least partly due to a change in approach, but it's even more plausible that Lowrie experienced some random fluctuation in his line drive rate.

Aside from his four years worth of games at Fenway Park with the Red Sox, Lowrie has been merely a decent doubles hitter, and with a regressed liner rate, he would go back to being just that. Look for Lowrie to fall out of the top 10 shortstops this year.

Jose Bautista, OF, Blue Jays (Roto: Rd. 4, H2H: Rd. 4)

Bautista's 54-homer campaign in 2010 shocked the Fantasy world, and he's been an early-round pick ever since.

The perception of his value has been dampened by the wrist and hip injuries that caused him to miss time over the last two seasons, but he could still fail to meet diminished expectations. Over the last three seasons, Bautista has been increasing his ground ball rate and hitting fewer home runs on the ever-decreasing portion of flyballs he's lofted. These developments have produced the following Isolated Power trend from 2010 to 2013: .357, .306, .286, .239.

Particularly if Bautista can remain healthy this year, he could reverse or at least stabilize that trend. Or he could present the scary prospect of continuing it. If his ISO dips below .200, he risks falling further from the elite outfielders, especially if he misses a chunk of games again.

Alex Gordon, OF, Royals (Roto: Rd. 9, H2H: Rd. 10)

Gordon's high doubles and walk counts have made him a sneaky favorite in Head-to-Head leagues in recent years, but both of those strengths became weaknesses in 2013.

According to PitchFX data from BrooksBaseball.net, Gordon's plate discipline on breaking pitches has been declining over the last two seasons. Much of his decline in doubles came on sliders, as he hit none on the pitch in 2013, as opposed to 10 the year before. Gordon has been chasing pitches out of the zone at a higher rate for three years running, but last year was the first time that pitchers made him pay for it, as they threw pitches in the zone at a lower rate than in 2011 or 2012.

Maybe it's a coincidence. Maybe Gordon can adjust. But given that there's a plausible explanation for last year's dropoff in value, I'm not planning on drafting Gordon anywhere close to the top 12 Head-to-Head outfielder he was in '11 and '12.

Michael Cuddyer, OF, Rockies (Roto: Rd. 11, H2H: Rd. 16)

Judging by early ADP, no one is expecting Cuddyer to repeat as a batting champion, but there still could be further disappointments ahead for his owners.

Cuddyer's .331 batting average was largely built on him hitting .330 on grounders, which doesn't square up at all with his career .256 mark, so he looks due for a huge correction in that category. With what could be a dramatic reduction in his visits to the basepaths, he should see sizable drops in his run and RBI totals, too.

For owners hoping that Cuddyer will make up the difference with an increase from last season's 130 games played, bear in mind that he hasn't played as many as 140 games in a season since 2010. With only moderate power and run production and an average in the .270s, Cuddyer could easily sit outside the top 40 outfielders after finishing in the top 20 last year.

Zack Greinke, SP, Dodgers (Roto: Rd. 7, H2H: Rd. 3)

Even though Greinke's K/9 ratio took another tumble in 2013 (dropping from 8.5 to 7.5), he regained some of his luster as a potential Fantasy ace by posting a 2.63 ERA.

That mark could have been about a full run higher if not for a 79 percent strand rate and 7.6 percent home run-to-flyball ratio (HR/FB), both of which were unusually favorable. If Greinke repeats what he did last year, but with fewer stranded runners and a more typical home run rate, owners will find themselves with a pitcher who owns a mediocre K-rate and a mid-3.00s ERA. That could actually be a best-case scenario.

In 2013, Greinke held opponents to lower batting averages on his curveball (.185) and changeup (.234) than in previous years, even though hitters were swinging at those pitches more often and whiffing less frequently (according to BrooksBaseball.net). He may not be so lucky this year. Greinke looks due for increases in BABIP, HR/FB and strand rate, so he could be in for some truly pedestrian Fantasy numbers.

Joe Nathan, RP, Tigers (Roto: Rd. 9, H2H: Rd. 9)

Nathan's warning signs aren't nearly as dire as Greinke's, but given that he turned 39 this offseason, even mild downturns can be a cause for some caution.

Nathan lost nearly 2 mph on his fastball last season, and nearly-imperceptible dips in his K/9 ratio (from 10.9 to 10.2) and swinging strike rate (from 13.5 to 12.8 percent) could foreshadow worse things ahead. It's really just as simple as that. Maybe Nathan will pitch like an elite closer for yet another year, but with so many other steady options available, why risk it?

Honorable mention: Allen Craig, 1B, Cardinals; Chase Utley, 2B, Phillies; Brett Gardner, OF, Yankees, Matt Moore, SP, Rays; Justin Masterson, SP, Indians.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Al at @almelccbs .

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Player News
Indians outfielder Michael Brantley working on opposite-field power
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(9:45 pm ET) Indians outfielder Michael Brantley is battling off injury issues this spring. But, the outfielder is still working to get better. And listening to his father, reports MLB.com.

"Hitting it over the left fielder's head -- not always in front," Michael Brantley said. "Making sure that we're catching the ball still out front, but still staying through it so we could stay behind the ball and drive the ball to left-center and over the left fielder's head this year."

His dad, Mickey Brantley is now a hitting coach and continues to give his son advice. Brantley wants to continue to be aggressive at the plate.

"That's not going to change. It worked OK," Brantley said with a laugh. "I don't want to change things that work. There's no set way of going about it, but you've got to be aggressive in this game. The pitching is getting too good to not be aggressive anymore."


Carlos Rodon likely to start season in minors for White Sox
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(9:42 pm ET) The White Sox will probably have pitcher Carlos Rodon start the season in the minors. 

The number two overall pick in last year's draft, Rodon still needs to work on his changeup, in the opinion of manager Robin Ventura. 

"Everybody has different opinions on him, but you don’t want to put him in there with one pitch or two pitches," Ventura said, per ESPN's Doug Padilla. "You want him to be armed with the things that make him successful and you don’t want him to come up here and be a flash in the pan, and he’s got to go down and work on stuff. He needs to be a complete product when he comes out of here."

Rodon has made progress with the changeup, so it may not be a long time before he's in Chicago to stay. 

"The changeup is getting much better every time he goes out there," Ventura said. 


Rough day on mound for White Sox pitcher Jeff Samardzija
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(9:38 pm ET) White Sox pitcher Jeff Samardzija got batted around by his old team on Friday. The Cubs hit four home runs off Samardzija in six innings. 

Samrdzija gave up six runs on seven hits. He struck out nine batters in the game. 

Samardzija suffered the loss, dropping to 1-2 in the spring with a 7.79 ERA.


Astros 1B Jon Singleton working to simplify things at the plate
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(9:24 pm ET) Astros first baseman Jon Singleton is continuing to progress as a hitter. Singleton has hit .244 so far this spring and manager A.J. Hinch is seeing him get better every day, reports the Houston Chronicle.

"He's working on things to simplify things at the plate, clear his head and take a good pass at the ball and swing at strikes," Hinch said Friday. "Get in a good body posture, making sure that his effort level is at the right consistent. He can swing ferociously with the best of them, and that's not always the best balance swing for him. I think he's trying to find a happy medium on how to try to take his best swing while staying under control. And I think that’s starting to translate into games."

Singleton is getting in the mindset of focusing more at the plate.

"A lot of it is thinking," Singleton said. "You got to get in the box and just let everything go. Let everything that you're working on go. Compete. I think that has a little bit to do with it. I also think it's still early, pitches that I'm missing now I don't think I'm going to miss in May or June. But it’s all a work in progress."


Indians pitcher Corey Kluber reaches seventh inning in start
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(9:07 pm ET) Indians pitcher Corey Kluber threw 107 pitches Friday in his outing against the Diamondbacks. Kluber, the AL Cy Young award winner in 2014, reached the seventh inning, but was pulled before recording an out.

"I felt good," Kluber said to MLB.com. "I feel like I'm getting stronger each time out. I was able to get the pitch count up to where I wanted to today. For the most part, I executed pretty well."

Kluber allowed six hits with nine strikeouts in the outing.

"He wanted to get out there pretty good," manager Terry Francona said of Kluber's high pitch count. "So, the next outing, if he wanted, if he feels like scaling it back, he can. But, he feels like he's ready. I thought he did a really good job. He's in such good shape. Most guys, when they get out to that point, they're kind of pushing to get through it. He's strong."


MRI reveals no damage to Diamondbacks pitcher Matt Stites' elbow
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(9:02 pm ET) Diamondbacks pitcher Matt Stites does not have any structural damage in his right elbow after receiving a second MRI, reports MLB.com.

Stites' right arm locked up on him last Saturday and the initial MRI revealed inflammation in the elbow.

"What we heard is it looked good," D-backs manager Chip Hale said. "They said this one was even cleaner. The MRI looked very clean, so they're going to figure out a plan of attack."

It is unclear when Stites will resume throwing again.


Royals' Alex Rios says thumb better, but problem will linger
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(8:54 pm ET) Royals outfielder Alex Rios said his thumb is doing better, reports Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star.

Rios sat out two games after jamming the thumb, the same injury he suffered last season. 

Even though the thumb is improved, Rios said he'll likely have to manage the condition all season long. 


Rangers pitcher Anthony Ranaudo tosses six innings Friday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(8:41 pm ET) Rangers pitcher Anthony Ranaudo went six innings Friday against the Athletics, allowing just two runs.

Ranaudo, who is competing for a spot in the starting rotation, liked that he was able to get up to the six-inning plateau.

"This was a good day. It was the first time I got up six times (innings) and I felt good," Ranaudo said. "I was throwing my pitches for strikes and mixing my pitches well. It was a step in the right direction as far as getting ready for the season."

Ranaudo added three strikeouts and lowered his spring ERA to 5.02.


Cubs' Javier Baez shaken up after collision at second base Friday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(8:35 pm ET) Cubs shortstop Javier Baez was in the middle of a nasty collision Friday at second base while trying to turn a double play. It looked bad enough manager Joe Maddon was a bit nervous Baez may have suffered a serious injury, reports MLB.com.

"I asked him when was the last time a Puerto Rican had played in the NFL, because he just felt it right there," Maddon said of the crash with the Angels' Kole Calhoun on a double play. "[Baez] got smoked. I didn't know what was wrong with him, but he got hammered. I loved it."

Baez remained in the game and turned the double play. It is unknown yet whether Baez will make the final roster for Opening Day.


Athletics pitcher A.J. Griffin throws bullpen session Friday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(8:26 pm ET) Athletics pitcher A.J. Griffin was able to throw 50-plus pitches in a bullpen session Friday, reports MLB.com.

Manager Bob Melvin said all of his pitches were looking great. Griffin, who is still recovering from Tommy John surgery, is continuing to rehab in hopes of joining the team once the regular season begins. He went 14-10 in 2014 with a 3.83 ERA and 171 strikeouts in 200 innings pitched.


 
 
 
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