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2014 Draft Prep: Sleepers, 2.0

Senior Fantasy Writer

Busts, 2.0 | Breakouts, 2.0

Remember when I first introduced my sleepers? It was, like, Valentine's Day. You were thinking about whether or not you really like those little candy hearts or were just conditioned to believe so, not Fantasy Baseball.

I didn't have much information to go on then. Average draft position took into account maybe a couple dozen drafts, many of which were distorted by keepers since only the most convoluted leagues would draft that early. If the defining quality of a sleeper is value, then where players go is critical to know.

So I've made a few revisions with the new information available to me. Granted, some of my choices are exactly the same as before, and for exact the same reasons. I've labeled them The Holdovers. But The Newcomers at the top are exactly that, having replaced The Dropouts at the bottom in my original list of 12.

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Important point: Just because I no longer consider a player a sleeper doesn't mean I don't like him anymore. Again, it's a question of value. I explain each individually, but generally speaking, The Dropouts are all going earlier than I thought they would. I'm not so willing to reach for them beyond that, so I don't end up drafting them as often as some of The Newcomers. And ultimately, this list should reflect what I'm actually doing.

Once again, I feel the need to remind you that a separate "breakouts" column is coming consisting of players I like even more than some of these. Your draft prep doesn't end here.

Note: The numbers in parentheses reflect average draft position on, assuming a 12-team league.

The Newcomers

Justin Masterson, SP, Indians (Roto: Rd. 15, H2H: Rd. 12)

It's not that Masterson is better than his numbers indicate, which is most often the case for an undervalued player. It's just that Fantasy owners don't give his numbers the credit they deserve.

I'm guessing it's the strikeouts. In his first three years as a full-time starter beginning in 2010, Masterson wasn't a strikeout pitcher, performing about like Hiroki Kuroda in that area. Only last year did he emerge as a strikeout-per-inning type, his 195 putting him ahead of Stephen Strasburg, Matt Harvey and Jose Fernandez.

In Rotisserie leagues especially, that's a big deal.

So why do I think he'll keep it going? For starters, it's what I've expected from him all along. Masterson is among the hardest throwers in the game, his four-seam fastball ranking up there with Max Scherzer's's and Yu Darvish's in terms of average velocity. Granted, plus velocity doesn't always translate to a high number of strikeouts. The pitcher still needs to deceive the batter in some way, whether by creating movement with the fastball itself or by making better use of his secondary pitches.

Confined to the bullpen for most of the first three years of his career, Masterson got used to just blowing the ball by hitters. He seemed to recognize the need to refine his arsenal last year, throwing his slider more than he ever has as a starter, and it was a brilliant pitch for him. For power pitchers like him, it's usually a must.

And it's not like he just caught hitters by surprise with it. He was a strikeout pitcher from start to finish, posting the same rate in the second half as the first.

Say he can't keep it up and reverts to his old ways. For as many innings as he pitches, going six or more in 25 of 29 starts before suffering an oblique injury in September, he'll still give you about 150 strikeouts, making him exactly the No. 4 you drafted him to be.

But if he does keep it, he's a 200-strikeout guy, putting him closer to the James Shields class of starting pitchers than not. Late in a Rotisserie draft, he's your best hope to make up ground in the category.

Alex Wood, SP/RP, Braves (Roto: Rd. 19, H2H: Rd. 13)

My concern with Wood was never his ability. It was whether or not the Braves were willing to give him a starting job out of spring training knowing Gavin Floyd might be just a month from returning from Tommy John surgery. Why not limit his innings by putting him in the bullpen to begin the year, a la Kris Medlen in 2012?

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But long-term injuries to Medlen and Brandon Beachy, not to mention Wood's performance this spring (a 0.00 ERA in 14 innings, with 12 strikeouts to just one walk), have put those thoughts to rest.

He's ready, and they need him.

I got the sense he was ready last year, when he complied 1.46 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings during a six-start stretch before a couple of shaky starts and a shortage of left-handed relievers banished him to the bullpen down the stretch.

He has a little Tony Cingrani in him, meaning scouts didn't realize just how deceptive his delivery was until he began dominating the minors, posting a 1.73 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 8.9 strikeouts per nine innings in parts of two seasons there. And for the most part, it's carried over to the majors. Obviously, he still needs to prove himself over a full season, but his spring performance should ease concerns that the league caught up to him late last year, a la Mike Fiers in 2012.

Though I suspect he'll have some five-inning starts mixed in there, Wood has the capacity for stellar ratios -- not as good as Cingrani's, of course, but better than his so-so pedigree would have you believe.

Particularly in Head-to-Head points leagues, where you can start him at relief pitcher, he's become a priority in the middle rounds.

Michael Pineda, SP, Yankees (Roto: Rd. 20, H2H: Rd. 17)

Remember back in 2011, when Pineda first broke onto the scene with the Mariners? He was that year's version of Jose Fernandez. Yeah, he faded down the stretch as his innings piled up, making his final numbers not as memorable, but given his electric stuff and impressive strikeout-to-walk ratio for a pitcher with his arsenal, everyone was sure he was the next big thing, targeting him among the top 20 starting pitchers the following year.

But then he tore the labrum in his right shoulder in spring training, and that was that. He'd have to miss all of that season -- and the next, it turned out -- and his velocity wouldn't be the same when he returned, not coming off shoulder surgery.

Well, it's true. His velocity hasn't been the same this spring. He's topped out at 92 or 93 mph instead of 96 or 97. But it hasn't mattered. He has piled up 14 strikeouts in nine innings without allowing an earned run, showcasing a wipeout slider that has left hitters shaking their heads.

And look, it's still early. He may get his velocity up yet. But if he doesn't, he's shown what he has is good enough, particularly since he doesn't hurt himself with walks.

As good as he was before the injury, a late-round pick is certainly justified.

Yordano Ventura, SP, Royals (Roto: Rd. 23, H2H: Rd. 21)

Coming into spring training, the scouting report on Ventura read something like this:

Yeah, he can throw 100 mph, which in and of itself gives him prospect appeal, but his inability to find the strike zone consistently could hold him back at the major-league level.

For all the opportunities he's had this spring in his bid for a rotation spot, for all the headlines he's made and all the jaws he's dropped, he's issued exactly one walk. One.

And that's supposed to be his downfall.

It's like the astronomical leap Julio Teheran made last spring after struggling with a remade delivery and reduced velocity at Triple-A Gwinnett the year before. You've never been so happy to be so misled. You knew he had the kind of upside that could make him a game-changer in Fantasy, but after the way he finished up his minor-league career, you didn't expect him to meet it so soon.

The Royals didn't necessarily either, which is why Danny Duffy entered spring training as the favorite for the fifth starter role. But even with the limited sample size against suspect competition, Ventura's dominance was so evident that the competition became a farce.

"It doesn't do any good to drag this stuff on," manager Ned Yost told The Kansas City Star Tuesday. "Really, after an outing like tonight, and after outings like he's had all spring, you look foolish if you try to continue to hold your cards close to your chest."

It's like that scene in My Cousin Vinny when Joe Pesci's character so thoroughly outclasses the public defender on the first day of the trial that the co-defendant, his biggest skeptic, stands up and proclaims, "I want him!" Ventura is just in a different league.

With as much as the starting pitcher pool has thinned out in recent weeks, he's basically the upside pick in the late round of drafts now. If Teheran's breakthrough carried over to the regular season, why not his?

Kolten Wong, 2B, Cardinals (Roto: Rd. 21, H2H: Rd. 24)

Given how right they were about Allen Craig and Matt Carpenter the last two seasons, carving out everyday roles for them on the hunch their part-time production would translate, I defer to the Cardinals' judgment on hitters. I like whoever they like, and right now, they like Wong.

And he's not nearly the stretch Craig and Carpenter were. The prospect hounds have rated him highly since the Cardinals selected him 22nd overall in 2011.

I had some initial skepticism. Wong looked completely overmatched in a late-season trial, and as small as he is, standing only 5-feet-9, I thought he might lack the punch to make an impact in Fantasy. But he's put those concerns to rest with his performance over his last nine spring games, batting .519 (14 for 27) with two home runs, four doubles and a triple.

And power isn't even Wong's calling card. First and foremost, he's a contact hitter. Still, his spring power surge has confirmed what the scouting reports have suggested all along: He's a gap hitter, not a slap hitter. Maybe someday, he'll muscle up for 15 homers, but in the meantime, he'll pile up doubles.

Naturally, you shouldn't expect him to match Carpenter's MLB-leading 55 of last year, and because he won't be overtaking Carpenter in the leadoff spot, he won't be scoring 126 runs either. But the speed element to his game might help close the gap a little.

Wong is one of those jack-of-all-trades, Shane Victorino types whose whole is greater than the sum of his parts. Between Brian Dozier, Jurickson Profar and Anthony Rendon, second base offers no shortage of late-round talent, but given the Cardinals' track record, Wong ranks right up there with them.

The Holdovers

Jose Abreu, 1B, White Sox (Roto: Rd. 9, H2H: Rd. 10)

Most of what we know about Abreu is anecdotal. He's coming from Cuba, where competition is watered down and access is limited. The number of unresolved variables makes Abreu, like Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig before him, a virtual shot in the dark.

So how'd that work out for them?

To recap, here's what we do know about Abreu. He had better numbers than both Cespedes and Puig in Cuba, setting a record for home runs in a season. The more the White Sox see of him, the more convinced they are of his abilities, raving about his low-effort swing and ability to drive the ball the other way. He's strong. He's disciplined. He has a job all to himself.

About the only knock on him so far isn't so easily measured: bat speed. If he's short on it, it could hinder him against some of the harder throwers in the game. But then again, a good enough hitter should be able to compensate to some degree. It doesn't seem like a complete deal-breaker, but again, nobody can assess him with any real certainty.

It's ultimately a question of relativity. Does the reward justify the risk? For a fifth-round pick, I'd say no. Why turn down a proven high-end player for a potential one? But in the 10h round, when you'd otherwise be deciding between Aaron Hill and Daniel Murphy, why in the world wouldn't you take him?

You won't find a player with a clearer shot at early-round numbers at that stage of the draft. And if he doesn't deliver them, who cares? Nobody has ever lost a league in the 12th round.

But if Abreu delivers somewhere between Freddie Freeman and Edwin Encarnacion numbers, which seems within the realm of possibility, he may well win it for you.

Khris Davis, OF, Brewers (Roto: Rd. 12, H2H: Rd. 16)

Those who spent the last two months of 2013 lamenting Ryan Braun's betrayal may have missed something special in his replacement. Davis returned from Triple-A Nashville to hit .294 with 11 home runs and a 1.004 OPS in his final 119 at-bats, spending most of that time as the starting left fielder.

There was a Shane Spencer quality to his emergence that leaves some Fantasy owners skeptical. Here he was, at age 25 and with no pedigree to speak of, making a mockery of the best the game has to offer. It seemed too much like a fairy tale to be true.

But Davis' minor-league numbers tell a different story. He could always hit, batting .350 with 15 home runs and a 1.055 OPS in half a season of at-bats between three levels in 2012, but injuries and defensive limitations kept him off the prospect radar. Instead of Spencer, the closer comparison might be Allen Craig, whose impressive minor-league track record translated perfectly to the majors, much to everyone's wonderment.

The Brewers are certainly buying into the idea, not only trading Norichika Aoki this offseason, but also moving Braun, their franchise player, from left field to right to accommodate Davis. Their enthusiasm should have you hopeful of a best-case scenario, especially if his lack of track record allows him to slide to the late rounds.

Marco Estrada, SP, Brewers (Roto: Rd. 16, H2H: Rd. 15)

Haven't we done this before with Estrada? Just last year, in this very space? What happened to "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me?"

Quite simply, I don't think he fooled me.

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Maybe in the early stages of 2013, when that initial sleeper pick looked like a miss. On June 3, he had a 5.32 ERA and 1.36 WHIP and was rightfully on the waiver wire in most leagues. But something must have been off then, something he couldn't address until he went on the DL with a strained hamstring soon afterward. When he returned two months later, he was as effective as ever, posting a 2.15 ERA, 0.75 WHIP and 8.6 strikeouts per nine innings in nine starts.

He has mastered the art of bat-missing, piling up strikeouts while averaging less than 90 mph on his fastball, which keeps him in the strike zone as much as any pitcher in baseball. His 5.09 K/BB ratio during that nine-start stretch would have ranked fifth among all starting pitchers over the full season.

And it's not like it just started. Over his last 29 starts now, he has a 3.36 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 8.9 strikeouts per nine innings. And that's including that rough patch to begin 2013. Remove it from the equation and, well, look out, Cliff Lee.

Maybe Estrada is one of those streaky pitchers who will never sustain his best over a full season. In terms of pure ability, he certainly leaves something to be desired. But for a 15th-round pick, you have nothing to lose and so much to gain with him.

Honestly, what are Matt Garza and Corey Kluber going to do that he won't?

Brian Dozier, 2B, Twins (Roto: Rd. 13, H2H: Rd. 16)

Like Wong, Dozier is one of those jack-of-all-trades-type hitters who Fantasy owners tend to overlook because they don't excel at any one thing. No, he won't help with everything, but the sum is greater than the parts. Think Ben Zobrist, Martin Prado, Shane Victorino, etc. These guys have won me championships over the years by repeatedly slipping through the cracks.

And now, another second baseman joins the fray, giving an historically shallow position surprising depth. In fact, Dozier is a big reason why, unless I'm the one to draft Robinson Cano in the first round, I tend to wait at second base, knowing I can nab him or a high-upside type like Anthony Rendon closer to the end.

I just don't see what he did over the final three months of the season (which doesn't even include the power binge in mid-June that first introduced him to Fantasy owners) that's so unsustainable. It's not like he had some otherworldly batting average or disproportionate RBI total. During that time, he hit .255 with 11 homers, eight steals and a .762 OPS, which isn't impressive on its own, but when you factor in all the doubles, he averaged 2.97 Fantasy points per game from July 1 on, which would have ranked sixth among second basemen for the season, behind Cano, Dustin Pedroia, Matt Carpenter, Jason Kipnis and Ian Kinsler.

Dozier slugged .491 in his last year in the minors, so again, nothing particularly odd here for a player in the early stages of his prime. I'll bet on him doing it again, particularly for the price.

George Springer, OF, Astros (Roto: Rd. 11, H2H: Rd. 19)

Remember how last year, Wil Myers was the prospect Fantasy owners were targeting in the middle-to-late rounds in anticipation of his arrival a little ways down the road? This year, that prospect is Springer, who nearly put together a 40-40 campaign in 492 at-bats split almost evenly between Double- and Triple-A last year.

Of course, for Myers, the wait was longer than most people expected, extending into mid-June. For Springer, it could be shorter. But don't take my word for it.

"I think we're close," general manager Jeff Luhnow told in late January. "I do expect, based on what he did last year, he'll spend a majority of the season with the Houston Astros."

Now, as prospects go, Springer is something slightly less than can't-miss. He has struck out about every third at-bat so far as a professional, which could come back to bite him at the highest level. But he makes such hard contact that a Matt Kemp scenario -- a respectable batting average despite a low contact rate -- seems likely.

Ultimately, the Astros could go the route of other rebuilding clubs and wait until mid-summer -- when Super 2 is no longer a concern -- to promote Springer, but he's already 24 and has dominated at every stop. By all accounts, he's ready. In Round 11, the risk may not quite justify the reward, but two or three rounds later, he's the kind of pick that wins championships.

Chris Tillman, SP, Orioles (Roto: Rd. 21, H2H: Rd. 15)

Tillman developed a reputation as a good-luck pitcher in 2013, ranking 19th at his position in Head-to-Head points leagues even though his 3.71 ERA and 1.22 WHIP portray him as significantly less than that. Most Fantasy owners attribute it to his 16 victories and don't put much stock in a repeat performance, allowing him to slide to the late rounds or perhaps even go undrafted in Rotisserie leagues. And going by his overall numbers, I'm right there with them.

But while it's true Tillman's 2013 began with good fortune, he grew into the pitcher his win-loss record made him out to be. In the second half -- a span of 14 starts -- he averaged 8.6 strikeouts and 2.6 walks per nine innings -- a good ratio by anyone's standards. For comparison's sake, Homer Bailey averaged 8.6 and 2.3. The result was a 3.42 ERA and 1.07 WHIP during that stretch. And again, that's in nearly half a season.

Maybe if some flavor-of-the-week Carlos Villanueva-type put up those numbers in that span you could dismiss it, not wanting to pursue a mirage. But for Tillman -- a former top prospect rushed to the big leagues at age 21, still throwing as hard as ever and just now entering his prime at age 25, it may well be the start of something special.

And now may well be your last chance to get him at a discount.

Oswaldo Arcia, OF, Twins (Roto: Rd. 23, H2H: Rd. 28)

Of all the sleepers on this list, Arcia may be the truest interpretation in that nothing about his performance to date should have Fantasy owners excited. He spent most of 2013 in the majors but didn't have the plate discipline to matter in Head-to-Head leagues or the power to matter in Rotisserie. He was just another guy on the waiver wire.

But he wasn't an outright disaster. He held his own, which is all you can expect from a 22-year-old playing at the highest level for the first time. Rookies like Mike Trout and Yasiel Puig have spoiled us, making us think they should all be world-beaters right way, when really the Arcia path of taking a few lumps before eventually growing into the role is the more common one.

And if his minor-league track record is any indication, he has some room to grow. Over six seasons, he compiled a .314 batting average and .915 OPS. No California League or Pacific Coast League to inflate his numbers. That's all talent, baby.

With Ryan Doumit out of the picture, Arcia should have a job all to himself in 2014 and is a year closer to his prime. I'd like for his plate discipline to be better, but in Rotisserie leagues, I'm already rolling the dice on him as my fifth outfielder. It's a Brett Lawrie-like leap of faith, only half a draft later and without all the missteps along the way.

The Dropouts

Billy Hamilton, OF, Reds (Roto: Rd. 6, H2H: Rd. 13)

Hamilton is the perfect example of a player whose sleeper hype may ultimately defeat itself. Already in Rotisserie leagues, it's looking that way. You'd be crazy to gamble on him in Round 5, with so much assured greatness still available at that point. So for now, let's assume outlier data is having its say there and that he'll more likely go where we've seen him go in some of our mock drafts -- eighth round, ninth round, something like that. Again, we're early in the process still. If it continues, I'll adjust.

In leagues where I know I can get him later, I've taken to reserving my third outfield spot for him, loading up at other positions in the meantime. His speed is already the stuff of legend. Scoring from third base on an infield fly ball, scoring from second on an infield grounder -- these are feats he actually accomplished in the minors in addition to his record-setting 155 stolen bases in 2012. And as is usually the case for that particular skill set, it translated perfectly to the majors last year. In 13 games, Hamilton stole 13 bases, one in each of his first five pinch-running opportunities and four in his first ever start. If he plays full-time as expected, 60 is probably the low point for him, with 70 or even 80 a distinct possibility.

Of course, if he's more Willy Taveras than Michael Bourn with the bat, as some believe his .256 batting average and .308 on-base percentage at Triple-A Louisville last year indicate, he'll be a Roto specialist and nothing more. But judging by his .311 batting average and .410 on-base percentage between high Class A and Double-A in 2012, I'm willing to wager on him being better than both.

I mean, the infield hits alone ... just imagine.

Reason for removal: I still have faith in Hamilton's hitting ability -- more than most people, probably -- but at least in Rotisserie leagues, owners are so enamored by his steals potential that he's going at a point where the reward no longer justifies the risk. I don't know why they assume a best-case scenario in that format, but not in Head-to-Head leagues, where an 80-steal season would still result in a massive number of points, but unfortunately, this column isn't just for Head-to-Head sleepers.

Chris Archer, SP, Rays (Roto: Rd. 17, H2H: 14)

Archer is just the latest example of why analytics may not be the best way to assess prospects. His minor-league numbers made him out to be a free-wheeling flame-thrower with no grasp of the strike zone, but after his first month or so in the big leagues last year, there wasn't even a hint of control issues. Just the opposite, in fact. His 1.7 walks per nine innings over his final 16 starts would have ranked ninth among starting pitchers over the full season.

He compiled a 2.84 ERA and 1.01 WHIP during that stretch but averaged just 6.9 strikeouts per nine innings. So now, the reason Fantasy owners may avoid him on Draft Day is because he didn't pile up strikeouts the way he did in the minors. My, how the tides have turned.

But which is better, really? This way, he's pitching deep into games, giving him a better chance at wins in addition to the low ERA and WHIP. Of course, pitchers who average seven strikeouts per nine innings are so common these days that perhaps Archer doesn't deserve more than a late-round pick, but I wouldn't rule out the best of both worlds for him, given his stuff. If he had the innings to qualify, his average fastball velocity would have ranked third among all starting pitchers, behind only Matt Harvey and Stephen Strasburg.

As he continues to learn hitter tendencies and hone his secondary pitches, I'm thinking the strikeouts will come.

Reason for removal: Everything I said about Archer still applies, and I don't like him any less than before. It just seems that in every draft, someone else likes him a little more. He's one of the trendier sleepers at starting pitcher, but when it comes to following trends or securing strikeouts, I'll opt for the strikeouts and take Justin Masterson, Marco Estrada or Ubaldo Jimenez instead.

Jose Quintana, SP, White Sox (Roto: Rd. 20, H2H: Rd. 15)

Anyone with even a peripheral understanding of baseball statistics can see Quintana is a quality pitcher. He reached 200 innings for the first time last year, has surprisingly good control for a young left-handed pitcher and won't bury you in ERA, WHIP or strikeouts. He has no major faults of any kind, really, so no one would balk at him as a late-round, fill-out-your-pitching-staff kind of guy.

So why include him in a sleepers column? I'm not so sure he's not something more.

Why are we so quick to assume a 25-year-old with less than two full years of experience has already peaked? He's just now entering his prime. True, he wasn't much of a prospect coming up through the minors, so maybe we just can't fathom him overachieving more than he already has. But he was a legitimate bat-misser in his six minor-league seasons, recording 10.0 strikeouts per nine innings while giving up just 6.6 hits per nine. Most likely, he doesn't have the stuff for those kinds of numbers in the majors, but he took a step in that direction over his final 17 starts last year, compiling a 3.11 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 8.2 strikeouts per nine innings.

With an innings-eater mentality and underrated strikeout ability, Quintana may not be an ace in waiting, but he's more than he gets credit for. When your draft reaches the point where all the higher-profile starting pitcher sleepers are gone, such as the next two on this list, he's a priority pick.

Reason for removal: Read that last sentence again. I don't know about you, but Quintana is already off the board by the time my drafts reach that point. In a vacuum, yeah, I like him, but not on the level of Marco Estrada, Chris Tillman, John Lackey or Yordano Ventura. Drafting Quintana at that point is too low in priority for me to call him one of my sleepers.

Brandon Beachy, SP, Braves (Roto: Rd. 22, H2H: Rd. 17)

Think back to May 2012, before anyone had heard of Yasiel Puig or a royal baby. It wasn't so long ago, really. Back then, a 27-year-old right-hander was following up an impressive rookie campaign with what was shaping up to be a Cy Young-caliber season. Through 13 starts, he had a 2.00 ERA and 0.96 WHIP and was extending himself beyond six innings for the first time in his career.

Now, more than a year-and-a-half removed from Tommy John surgery, he might as well be Jaime Garcia in the hearts and minds of Fantasy owners: damaged goods with some fleeting memories of promise. They don't want to take the bait, especially after his first attempt to return last season ended in a second surgery.

It's a completely different situation, though. Beachy had some debris in his elbow that needed to be cleaned out, creating tightness that had previously gone unexplained. He says he feels great now, and the procedure has proven to be so reliable over the years that you have no reason for pessimism with him. An 18-month timetable is more typical anyway.

Just how good could Beachy be? In 2012, he became just the 13 pitcher in major-league history to average more than 10 strikeouts and fewer than three walks per nine innings (minimum 140 innings), and he did it as a rookie.

Reason for removal: Turns out Beachy wasn't feeling so great and, in fact, needed a second Tommy John surgery. I in no way recommend drafting him.

Brad Peacock, SP, Astros (Roto: N/A, H2H: N/A)

Even accounting for Jarred Cosart's completely unsustainable 1.95 ERA (seriously, check out his strikeout and walk rates, just not while you're eating), the Astros pitcher most deserving of a second look is Peacock, he of the 5.18 ERA and 1.38 WHIP last year.

So here it is.

His season began in dreadful fashion with an 8.07 ERA, 1.76 WHIP and completely deserved demotion (or several, actually) to Triple-A Oklahoma City of the heavy-hitting Pacific Coast League, where baseballs fly and pitchers die. Pitching for the Athletics' Triple-A affiliate at the time, Peacock himself had a 6.01 ERA and 1.58 WHIP there in 2012. How could he ever earn his way back with numbers like that?

He couldn't. So instead, he compiled a 2.73 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and -- get this -- 8.7 strikeouts per nine innings in 14 appearances, including 13 starts. It wasn't too unlike the 2.39 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 10.9 strikeouts per nine he compiled in the Nationals system in 2011, when he first emerged on the prospect scene to become a key piece in the Gio Gonzalez deal. Better yet, the numbers translated when he returned to the majors in August, resulting in a 3.64 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 8.9 strikeouts per nine in nine starts.

So what changed for him? He added a slider. Sometimes that's all it takes for a pitcher known to have the ability.

Right now, Peacock is going undrafted in mixed leagues, and you don't need to buck the trend. But a quick start should have you racing to the waiver wire.

Reason for removal: In theory, I still like Peacock, but in reality -- or the reality of Fantasy, anyway -- I keep passing him up even in AL-only leagues. The Astros have given him so few opportunities to prove himself this spring that I have to wonder if they even see him as a legitimate rotation candidate. They give every indication they're leaning toward Dallas Keuchel instead. If I'm drafting a pitcher destined for the minor leagues, it's a premier prospect like Mark Appel or Noah Syndergaard, not a retread like Peacock.

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Player News
Brewers' Khris Davis to work on being a patient hitter in 2015
by R.J. White |
(2/27/2015) Brewers outfielder Khris Davis realizes he didn't show patience at the plate last year in his first full major-league season, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

"I built a reputation in the organization of being a patient hitter," Davis said. "I felt like I wasn't a patient hitter at all last year. I was a little eager, wanting to please too much, too early. I found out I'm human."

Davis drew just 32 walks in 549 plate appearances while posting a .299 OBP in 2014, a number far away from his career .392 OBP in the minors.

"He was different last year," manager Ron Roenicke said. "Everybody goes through different phases. Guys change. (His walk total) was too low. He's a guy I think should be fairly patient. He sees pitches well. When he starts getting anxious, he becomes more aggressive and chases more. He realizes it, which is the first step. If you don't realize it and don't listen to other people when they tell you that, then you have issues. You have to have good self-awareness to be a good player. Sometimes these players don't have good self-awareness. But if they had better self-awareness they'd be a better player."

Davis is determined to fulfill the potential that caused the organization to move Ryan Braun to right field before the 2014 season and plug Davis into the regular left-field role.

"I can't thank them enough for having patience with me," Davis said. "I'm going to work it out. When you get here, you want to stay. That's the toughest part at first. I don't think this league has seen the best of me yet. I'm ready to pull that out and prove it day by day. I learned so many lessons there are too many to name."

Davis hit .244/.299/.457 with 22 home runs and 69 RBI in 501 at-bats.

Indians' Francona keeping a close eye on Giovanny Urshela
by R.J. White |
(2/27/2015) Indians manager Terry Francona has been keeping a close eye on third-base prospect Giovanny Urshela, who was only recently cleared for a full range of activities after tweaking his knee during winter ball, reports.

"He has a tremendous reputation of being a really good defender," Francona said. "I think I've been more wanting to watch his gait, just to make sure he's not favoring that leg. He promised us that, if he was, he'd let us know, but I also know he's a young kid in his first major-league camp."

Urshela suffered the injury on Nov. 15 and has rehabbed the injured knee at the team's spring-training facility in Goodyear, Ariz.

"He's worked really hard to get himself to where he can go through a normal spring," said Indians' director of player development Carter Hawkins. "We're very excited about the spot he's in right now, given the possible outcomes of the injury."

Urshela saw his first action at the Triple-A level in 2014, hitting .276/.331/.473 with 13 home runs and 65 RBI in 395 at-bats with Columbus.

Reds' Brennan Boesch to see time at first base this spring
by R.J. White |
(2/27/2015) Reds manager Bryan Price indicated Friday that outfielder Brennan Boesch would see time at all three outfield spots as well as at first base as he competes for a roster spot this spring, reports.

"We already know he's a terrific player," Price said of Boesch, who has never played first base professionally. "He kind of got banged up and lost his way a little bit, but I think he feels -- and we feel -- that he's back on top of his game, and maybe his best days are ahead of him."

Boesch said he doesn't see the battle for a reserve outfield role as a "competition."

"I only care about the competition against the pitcher, and that's really as basic as I keep it," Boesch said. "You aren't competing against other players. We're all on the same side here. We're all wearing Red jerseys. Let the chips fall where they may."

Boesch struggled in limited time with the Angels in 2014 but hit .332/.381/.636 with 25 home runs, 85 RBI and 10 stolen bases in 374 at-bats with Triple-A Salt Lake.

Dodgers' Mattingly: Turner has 'put a lot of time in and it shows'
by R.J. White |
(2/27/2015) Dodgers infielder Justin Turner earned a nonroster invitation to the team's camp last year and ended up leading the team in batting average, and he's been working on his body like a fiend over the winter, reports.

"Going into last year, we felt if he played every day, he'd get in trouble, and we found that out, but this year maybe he can handle more," manager Don Mattingly said Friday. "He's really been diligent about his work, been at Dodger Stadium almost daily. He's put a lot of time in and it shows."

Turner credited strength-and-conditioning coach Brandon McDaniel for his workout success.

"Brandon did everything. He's been a one-man wrecking crew," said Turner. "He and his family deserve the credit. I've been able to establish a routine and train consistently. Before I signed a year ago, I was on my own, going to 24 Hour Fitness, had to coordinate everything myself."

Turner added that he lost 18 pounds this winter through a healthier diet. Mattingly said that he intends to use the infielder at the corner-infield positions and also potentially up the middle.

Nationals' Matt Skole: 'I'm eating healthy and working hard'
by R.J. White |
(2/27/2015) Nationals first baseman Matt Skole missed most of 2013 after undergoing Tommy John surgery and struggled at the plate in 2014 but showed up to camp in better shape and will look to rebound in 2015, reports.

"This offseason, I had a little more time to work on my body," Skole said. "I really got after it in the weight room. I ate right. I ate healthy. I think that was probably the biggest difference for me. I'm about the same weight as I was. I just leaned out a little bit. I'm eating healthy and working hard."

Skole worked with hitting coordinator Troy Gingrich for a month after the season and learned to keep his hands up in order to hit the ball consistently after having his hands too low during his down 2014 season.

"After taking a year off, it was more difficult than I thought it would be," the left-handed-swinging Skole said. "But coming back, I turned some corners, made some strides as far as getting to know myself as a player and know the things I need to fix. I think everything I did last year was a stepping stone for this year."

Skole hit .241/.352/.399 with 14 home runs and 68 RBI in 461 at-bats with Double-A Harrisburg last season.

Report: Dodgers sign center fielder Travis Witherspoon
by Jason Butt |
(2/27/2015) The Dodgers signed center fielder Travis Witherspoon to their organization, according to a report from Baseball America

Witherspoon has previously been in the Angels and Mariners organizations. In six years of minor-league ball, Witherspoon has posted a career batting average of .252 with 68 home runs. He hit a minor-league single-season best 15 home runs in 2014 with the Mariners' Single-A affiliate High Desert Mavericks. 

Phillies' Buchanan 'working on being a complete pitcher'
by R.J. White |
(2/27/2015) Phillies pitcher David Buchanan is "working on being a complete pitcher," manager Ryan Sandberg said, per the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The team's coaches spoke with Buchanan in the fall about command and pitch sequencing, executing bunts and thwarting would-be base-stealers, and Sandberg noted while examining the players that arrived early that the pitcher had taken the advice to heart.

"My biggest goal [this spring] is to show our front office and our coaches that I can throw the ball over the plate," Buchanan said. "That's one thing I had success with last year. I wasn't walking guys. I was throwing strikes, and that's what I'm known for. That's why I succeeded in the minor leagues; I was throwing strikes. So that's what I want to do this spring training, is continue to do that, pound the zone, force early contact and keep the ball on the ground."

Buchanan is scheduled to pitch the team's Grapefruit League opener Tuesday against the Yankees.

Giants' Bochy: Hunter Strickland 'needs to get a little smarter'
by Jason Butt |
(2/27/2015) Giants pitcher Hunter Strickland is ready to learn from his mistakes from the tail end of his 2014 season.

Starting strong once he was called up from Double-A Richmond, Strickland gave up six home runs in the postseason. Giants manager Bruce Bochy said the remedy to put Strickland back on track is simple. 

"He needs to get a little smarter," Bochy said, per  

Strickland will be competing for a spot in the bullpen during spring training. His fastball is a strength, though it's a matter of his command improving on the mound. 

"The failures are what make guys better, I feel like," Strickland said. "I feel like they made me better. Just being in tune with yourself and knowing who you are and what you've got to do. In this game, you're not going to make it too far if you don't have confidence. If you don't believe in yourself, who else is going to believe in you?"

Mets' Nieuwenhuis, den Dekker competing for roster spot
by R.J. White |
(2/27/2015) Mets left-handed hitters Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Matt den Dekker will be battling for one roster spot this spring, reports.

While Nieuwenhuis is out of options, manager Terry Collins indicated that den Dekker has responded to the team's request that he reduce his strikeouts when sent to Triple-A last season.

"We'll just see how it translates this spring into what kind of an offensive player he can be," Collins said of den Dekker. "We know he's got the defensive skills."

Collins said that whichever outfielder shows the most promise will make the initial 25-man roster.

"He plays the game right. He's fearless," Collins said of Nieuwenhuis. "But right now, we've got to get some offense from one of those two guys. Which one of those two guys is going to be able to come off the bench as a pinch-hitter? The best closers in our division are all right-handed, so the left-handed hitter off that bench is going to be a big piece."

Stephen Strasburg wants to stay with Nationals
by Jason Butt |
(2/27/2015) Though Stephen Strasburg's agent Scott Boras denied a report that he wanted to be traded in January, the right-handed pitcher said himself that he wants to remain with the Nationals and has no issues with the organization. 

"I haven't said anything like that," Strasburg said in an interview with "I don't feel like that. You have to accept it because that's how the system works. It's like they pick up on any little thing and they twist it. Some people want to turn it to see how many clicks they can get on the webpage."

Strasburg is set to be the ace of a deep rotation that looks to be on of the best in baseball this coming season. With the Nationals winning their second divisional title in the past three seasons, Strasburg said he's happy with the organization. 

"It's the team that drafted me. I love the players here, I love D.C. Winning cures everything, that's for sure," Strasburg said. "I'm excited to be part of the resurgence so far. It's great to see the type of players we bring in here every year. The expectations keep going up and up. Hopefully, we can do big things this year."