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2014 Draft Prep: Top 10 Storylines

Senior Fantasy Writer
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1. Will Hanley Ramirez come back down to earth?

In 2013, Hanley Ramirez hit .345 with 20 home runs, 10 steals and 25 doubles ... in just 304 at-bats. These numbers weren't exactly new to Ramirez -- he hit .342 in 2009 (and holds a lifetime .302 average) and he's hit 20-plus homers six times in his career. His 2011 and 2012 campaigns were injury-riddled messes, but we did see him begin to pull through after the trade to the Dodgers in 2012, hitting .271 with 10 home runs in the 64 games following the deal. And 2013 is significant because it was injury-riddled, but Ramirez was awesome. Ramirez is capable of hitting .340 with 30 home runs, but it's far more likely we see .320 with 25. Throw in 20-25 steals at a very weak position (Fantasy-wise), and sure -- Ramirez will be coming back down to earth, but he'll still be out in orbit somewhere with those numbers.

2. How do the Dodgers fit four outfielders into three spots?

I subscribe to the theory that things have ways of working out, usually through timely injuries. But if this doesn't happen, the Dodgers are going to have to deal with the possibility of having four very good outfielders -- Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, Yasiel Puig and Andre Ethier -- with only three spots in which to play them. The most likely scenario -- turning Ethier into a bench player once Kemp returns from the DL -- isn't really maximizing his value. Either is a solid defender who can play all three outfield spots, and he has a .288 lifetime average, with more career doubles (264) than Ryan Braun or Joey Votto and more home runs (141) than Adam Lind or Carlos Gonzalez. As Kemp comes back, he will probably yield a game or two a week to Ethier, but Kemp averaged 159 games played from 2008 to 2011 -- he'll eventually settle back into an everyday player groove. Maybe Crawford sits here or there to get Ethier into the lineup, but the Dodgers would probably be better served dealing Ethier and relying on Scott Van Slyke as the backup outfielder until Joc Pederson is ready. Until something like that happens, though, it appears Ethier (and maybe Crawford) will see the biggest dip in value.

3. Does the risk justify the reward with Billy Hamilton?

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Vince Coleman stole 100-plus bases twice in the minor leagues. He finished his career on the farm with a .283 batting average and .358 OBP. Billy Hamilton stole 100-plus bases twice in the minor leagues. He finished his career on the farm with a .280 batting average and .350 OBP. Coleman then went on to steal 100-plus bases in his first three seasons, averaging 107 runs scored in that span, while hitting just .263. The major worry with Hamilton is that he won't be able to hit, and will therefore not get those 80 steals everyone is depending on. But Coleman hit just .267 (with a .320 OBP) his rookie year and stole 110. Even if Hamilton wallows in the .240 area, we could still see 80-plus steals from him. And in a Roto league, that's a risk worth taking, especially if you've built a team based on power up to that point.

4. Who can you trust in the Rangers, White Sox and Diamondbacks bullpens?

These three bullpens are going to require a good amount of lucky guessing. Joakim Soria is the closer in Texas. Rangers manager Ron Washington made some comments about Feliz' drop in velocity recently, telling reporters that, "it's going to be a while until we get to the point where he can freely let it go."

The White Sox traded their closer, Addison Reed, to the Diamondbacks in the offseason. It left Nate Jones -- a hard-throwing 28-year old with a career 3.31 ERA and 1.30 WHIP -- as the favorite to close. However, Matt Lindstrom has saved 45 games in his career; and once he gets past a strained oblique, he could find himself in the mix for saves. For now, Jones looks to be the favorite. But if another Hector Santiago situation pops up -- he had an 8.53 ERA through the end of April after being named the team's closer in 2012, eventually giving way to Reed -- Lindstrom could swoop in.

Arizona's situation comes down to Reed and J.J. Putz. The team traded away top prospect Matt Davidson for Reed, so there may be some pressure to use their new asset. But Kirk Gibson seems to be the kind of manager who would install the veteran Putz -- and his 189 career saves, including 77 between 2011 and 2012 -- as the closer. Putz has a 2.56 ERA and 1.04 WHIP, with a 10.3 K/9 over the last four seasons. He may be far better than Fantasy players give him credit for.

5. So we know about Ryan Braun, but how should we approach those other players returning from Biogenesis suspensions?

Nelson Cruz's late signing pushed his ADP down far enough to the point where he may be somewhat of a bargain. That's essentially the only positive I have for those players. If you look at the leaked records indicating what Alex Rodriguez was doing on his Biogenesis regimen, it included oral shots of testosterone before games (the infamous gummy bears) -- kind of like an undetectable modern day greenie. These players aren't going to have that boost and focus before games this season (assuming they were on a similar regimen, which -- based on the spotty information and reluctance of the players to talk -- is all we have to go on). Additionally, we haven't seen what influence PED usage has on speed. Everth Cabrera's main Fantasy asset is his ability to run, and if he's suddenly losing leg strength (on top of losing the daily game boost and general muscle mass), he's going to lose speed. Jhonny Peralta -- a career .268 hitter who has sported an OPS above .705 just twice since 2009 -- is a decent bet to drop off, Bartolo Colon should hit that age wall at some point (although the move to the NL could offset some of that), and the rest of the Biogenesis players remain just below the line of Fantasy relevance.

6. Is Masahiro Tanaka an ace in the hole?

Masahiro Tanaka's ERA didn't go above 1.87 in any of the last three seasons (in Japan). His WHIP was below 1.00 in two of those. His K/9 has only been above 8.9 twice over seven years, but that may not be a big issue if he manages to keep his ERA and WHIP very low. The Yankees broke their budget to sign Tanaka, and this is a team that insisted for a solid two years that they wouldn't move above the $189 million level. To do that -- and to commit that long -- requires a ton of faith in Tanaka's skills. Yu Darvish had better numbers in Japan -- sustaining a lower ERA and WHIP over a longer period of time, and striking out more batters -- but Tanaka's last three seasons are comparable, with just a slightly lower strikeout rate. And with Darvish considered a top three Fantasy pitching option, Tanaka may prove to be top 10 by the time the dust settles on the season, especially with the early advantage of not having been throughly scouted by most teams.

7. Better grab a second baseman early, right?

Not exactly. Jedd Gyorko has breakout potential and he can be had in the eighth round. Go a little deeper and you have Anthony Rendon, Jed Lowrie, Nick Franklin and even better-than-you-may-think options in Omar Infante and Dustin Ackley. The Brewers' second basemen (Rickie Weeks and Scooter Gennett) could produce one good option, assuming a winner emerges soon, and people seem to forget that DJ LeMahieu hit .280 with 18 steals and 21 doubles over 109 games last year (after hitting .321 over five minor league seasons). There is serious depth at second base. How deep it goes depends on things like your faith in Brian Roberts staying healthy -- but the upside exists. There's no need to panic on second base this season -- it gently cascades, as opposed to violently dropping off.

8. Will everyday at-bats make all the difference for Jurickson Profar?

Oh, what could have been. Jurickson Profar was the top prospect in baseball heading into the 2013 season. Called up in late May, he hit .234 with six home runs and two steals over 286 at-bats. But Profar ended up playing five different positions (shortstop, third base, left field and DH) in an effort to get his bat in the lineup. There were just two stretches last season when Profar played in five or more consecutive games at the same position, and the 21-year-old saw his stats suffer for it. The regular at-bats in 2014 should have allowed Profar to get into a groove at the plate, but that's just not going to happen now. Not after suffering a shoulder injury that could keep him out of the lineup for half the season. If your league allows you to stash players in DL spots, he's still worth drafting and holding onto for a potential second-half boost. Profar is young and inexperienced, and the normal learning curve of the major leagues was likely steepened by him having to learn new positions and adjust to the intermittent playing time last season.

9. Is this the year Bryce Harper explodes?

Bryce Harper ran into a wall at Dodger Stadium on May 13 last year. He was hitting .303 at the time with 10 home runs, six doubles and a 1.022 OPS. He's spoken this spring about how he should have undergone surgery to address a knee injury instead of trying to play through it. He's also added weight in the offseason, has a stellar lineup surrounding him and went through an intense offseason conditioning program. Now pile all of this on to his seemingly limitless potential. Harper was on pace for 50 home runs last season. His .303 average through May 13 was accompanied by a league normal BABIP (.299). And we've probably seen just the start of some very real speed potential. Harper's current ADP has him going in the middle of the second round in most drafts. He may head into 2015 as a consensus top five Fantasy option.

10. How much faith do you put in the young guns with only half a year's experience, such as Michael Wacha, Gerrit Cole, Tony Cingrani, Sonny Gray and Danny Salazar?

It's tough to throw a blanket on this group, because they all have something different to offer. Wacha, Cole and Cingrani are high-strikeout (Cole eventually came around, with a 9.3 K/9 in his last 11 starts, coming off a 5.4 K/9 over the first eight), low ratio assets without much of an injury history. Salazar has that type of potential, but has battled arm issues in the past and comes with that stigma. Gray elevated his game in 2013 at the major league level, but has a spotty track record in the minors, with fluctuating strikeout rates (it went from 8.2 to 5.9 up to 9.0 in the last three seasons) and relatively high ratios (3.66 ERA and 1.36 WHIP over three years). Still, Gray had excellent control in 64 major league innings and struck out over a batter per inning (at age 23). Despite not having the greatest minor league numbers, he may turn out to be Alex Cobb-ish in his consistency and ratios.

Youth and inexperience shouldn't factor in much here. Wacha, Cingrani, Cole and Gray all pitched in college, while Salazar spent seven seasons in the minors. They've proven they can pitch at the major league level and can be relied on (to varying degrees) as 2014 Fantasy assets.

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Player News
Orioles SP Kevin Gausman to throw simulated game June 2
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(12:18 pm ET) Orioles pitcher Kevin Gausman, who has been sidelined since the start of the month with shoulder tendinitis, is tentatively scheduled to throw a simulated game on June 2, per MASNSports.com. 

It's all part of a carefully calculated rehab plan by the Orioles, who will have Gausman throw a bullpen session Tuesday and face live hitters on Friday, setting the stage for the two-inning sim game. He will then likely head to Triple-A Norfolk to stretch his arm out. 

Gausman is 1-0 with a 4.50 ERA in eight games this season. 


Cardinals return Jason Heyward, Matt Holliday to Monday lineup
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:15 pm ET) Cardinals outfielders Jason Heyward (hip) and Matt Holliday (arm) are both ready to roll Monday against Arizona.

Heyward, who has not played since Friday, has been hitless in six of his last 10 games.

Holliday was sidelind only Sunday with a contusion. He has slumped recently, but still boasts a fine slash line of .314/.434/.443.


Rockies: Illness has OF Carlos Gonzalez scratched Monday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:07 pm ET) Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez has been scratched from the Monday lineup against the host Reds because of illness, per MLB.com.

Gonzalez, who did not play Sunday, has been unproductive in 2015 with a slash line of .206/.285/.326.


Report: Elbow of Reds SP Johnny Cueto still not right Monday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:55 am ET) Concern is growing that the right elbow ailment plaguing Reds ace Johnny Cueto is worse that first anticipated, per Associated Press.

Cueto is having the elbow examined Monday after missing his Sunday start in Cleveland with stiffness. Though he exclaimed Sunday that he was not worred about it, the elbow was still not feeling right Monday.

The loss of Cueto for any significant period would be devastating for a Cincinnati team on an eight-game losing streak. He has eight quality starts in nine outings and a 3.03 ERA.


Sandoval returns to Red Sox lineup, Holt out
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(11:39 am ET) After missing five straight starts with a knee injury, third baseman Pablo Sandoval returns to the starting lineup for the Red Sox on Monday against the Twins. 

Sandoval pinch-hit from left side in Sunday's game and with right-hander Ricky Nolasco starting for the Twins, he will be able to hit lefty against a pitcher he's had a lot of success against, going .476 with three homers and seven RBIs. 

Sandoval's replacement at third base, Brock Holt, is out of the lineup Monday after he was hit by a pitch on his arm Sunday and began to lose feeling in his hand. 


Struggling SS Danny Santana sits again for Twins
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(11:25 am ET) Twins shortstop Danny Santana is out of the lineup for a second straight game Monday, replaced by Eduardo Escobar for the game against the Red Sox. 

Santana has had a rough week at the plate, going 1-for-16 with five strikeouts and no wallks. The free-swinging Santana has just two walks in 157 plate appearances this season. 

The Twins (+103) are slight underdogs per VegasInsider.com. 


Cubs happy 2B Javier Baez 'calming things down' at plate
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:23 am ET) It's all good at the moment for Cubs premier second base prospect Javier Baez. He't not trying to hit home runs at Triple-A Iowa, but baseballs are flying over the fence anyway.

The Cubs wanted Baez to stop swinging for the downs, which led to too many strikeouts in his stint with the team a year ago. He slugged two home runs Sunday, giving him five on the season, but his strikeouts are indeed down. He has 24 in 87 at-bats, which is still disturbing, but far off the pace he set last year.

"Both (home run at-bats Sunday), he laid off borderline pitches before getting good pitches to hit," Iowa batting coach Brian Harper said via milb.com. "That's the key for Javy. What he's done the most lately is not overswinging. He's not trying to hit 800-foot home runs any more. He's just trying to hit 350 to 400-foot home runs, that's all. He's working really hard to calming things down."

Baez owns a slash line of .322/.404/.540. He has fanned in 24.2 percent of his plate appearances, down from 30 percent a year ago.


Yankees' Brian McCann in, Carlos Beltran out Monday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(11:10 am ET) Yankees catcher Brian McCann is in the starting lineup on Monday, while Carlos Beltran remains out for his team's matchup with the Royals.

McCann left Sunday's game due to cramping in his left foot/calf, but the issue won't keep him from missing a start. Beltran is sitting for the second straight game due to an illness.

The Yankees are favorites (-125) at home on Monday, per VegasInsider.com.


Orioles RP Brian Matusz receives 8-game suspension
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(11:09 am ET) Orioles reliever Brian Matusz was issued an eight-game suspension by MLB Monday as punishment for being caught with a "foreign substance" on his arm during Saturday's game against the Marlins. 

Matusz was ejected in the 12th inning on Saturday after it was brought to the umpires' attention that Matusz had a visible substance on his arm. When the home plate umpire determined it was an illegal substance, he discussed with Orioles manager Buck Showalter briefly before ejecting Matusz from the game.

Matusz will appeal the suspension, which is the same doled out to Brewers reliever Will Smith after he was caught with an illegal substance on his arm earlier in the week. Matusz is 1-2 with a 3.18 ERA in 14 appearances this season. 


Brewers' Khris Davis batting second Monday vs. RHP
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(11:02 am ET) Brewers left fielder Khris Davis is batting second on Monday against the Giants and righty starter Tim Lincecum.

It's just the second time this season that Davis has been slotted second against the righty and his sixth time batting second against any pitcher. He's been much better against righties than lefties this season, hitting .257/.361/.396 with two home runs in 101 at-bats, while posting a .452 OPS against lefties. Lincecum has also seen more struggles against righties (.720 OPS against) than lefties (.455 OPS against).

The Brewers are favorites (-120) on Monday, per VegasInsider.com.


 
 
 
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