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2014 Draft Prep: Top 10 Fantasy storylines

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Opening day is right around the corner, but even as Fantasy (and real) rosters start to take shape, there are plenty of features on the Fantasy landscape that are still out of focus.

With many drafts and auctions still looming over the next few days, it pays to know whether Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera are really in a class by themselves in terms of value. It may also behoove Fantasy owners to get a sense of the degree to which Joe Mauer's change of position creates a change in value, or how much to downgrade Matt Kemp due to missed playing time.

Also, we have yet to see Jose Abreu or George Springer play in a major league game, so some owners are likely wondering if they are really worth the hype they've received in recent weeks.

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These are just some of the major storylines that are creating buzz in draft rooms, and I'm tackling 10 of them here. Drafts and auctions will only be with us for so much longer, though, so I will also dig into some storylines that could have legs well beyond opening day. The unfolding of the Rockies' closer situation and the eventual graduation of the Cubs' potent prospect class to the majors are just a couple of topics that are likely to be on the minds of owners weeks and months into the 2014 season.

So whether you are done drafting and already working on fine-tuning your roster, or your upcoming weekend will be devoted to staring at and restocking your player queue, here are 10 questions worth pondering, along with my view on each of them.

How much better are Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera than everyone else?

The simple answer is "a lot." Both players have 2014 projections that could be deemed as conservative, as both are predicted to drop off somewhat from last season's lofty levels. Even so, only Paul Goldschmidt's projected Fantasy point total comes within 60 points of either Trout's or Cabrera's, and given that Goldschmidt plays at the position with the largest bounty of high-end offensive talent, his value doesn't come close to either of theirs. To put that 60-point gap in perspective, it is approximately the same distance that separates Hanley Ramirez from Andrelton Simmons.

The Dynamic Duo's dominance translates to Rotisserie scoring as well. Again, setting Goldschmidt aside, both Trout and Cabrera project to add at least two more category points to your overall Rotisserie standings than any other hitter. Cabrera's dominance at his position is especially notable as he is projected to elevate your team at least four standings points more than any other third baseman would.

What's a realistic forecast for Matt Kemp?

Kemp's near-MVP season is now three years behind him, and that was his most recent full and healthy season. It now seems doubtful that Kemp can be the 50-50 player he aspired to be back then, but it's reasonable to expect enough production for him to finish as a top 10 outfielder in 2014. Despite dealing with a variety of injuries, Kemp embarked on a 35-homer pace in 2012, while posting a .303/.367/.538 slash line. Kemp didn't hit in an injury-ravaged 2013 season, but if he plays with a healthy ankle and shoulder, he's not too far removed from his 2012 level of production to be able to repeat it.

Beginning the season on the disabled list, Kemp has already put himself in a hole. However, even if he misses 30 games throughout the season, a return to his 2012 form would be good enough to place Kemp in the top 10 outfield rankings for Roto and top 30 for Head-to-Head formats, though on a per- game basis, he could essentially be a top 10 outfielder in the latter format, too. And Kemp doesn't need to steal more than 15 bases to earn that status.

Was Yasiel Puig too good to be true?

For starters, let's put aside whatever concerns we may have about the tension between Puig and Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, particularly regarding Puig's indications that his back may be ailing him. I'm willing to assume that a) they'll work things out and b) Puig's back is fine.

Producing at the plate has a funny way of making controversies go away, and Puig can do enough offensively to make his personality quirks tolerable to management. He won't repeat last season's .300-plus batting average, as that was fueled by a difficult-to-sustain .347 average on grounders. Whatever regression Puig experiences won't be drastic, though, as his strikeout rate was inflated by a three-week span in July when he struck out 23 times in 64 at-bats. So while fewer infield hits will likely mean a lower batting average, more contact could mean more frequent extra-base hits.

The tradeoff of some singles for additional doubles and homers should lead Puig to meet or exceed his projected .291/.356/.532 slash line, which in turn, should be good enough for him to finish as a top 10 outfielder. He will be especially useful in Rotisserie leagues in the runs category, slotted ahead of Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp in the Dodgers' lineup.

How long before Rex Brothers takes over as Rockies closer?

Can LaTroy Hawkins keep the closer's role in Colorado all season? Weirder things have happened, like the year Brandon Lyon nailed down 26 saves for the Diamondbacks, despite a 4.70 ERA and ugly peripherals. Or the year-and-a-half period in which Matt Capps converted 29 saves despite a strikeout rate that only the Twins could love.

Typically, though, contact pitchers with mediocre WHIPs are not usually destined for closing greatness, and that's an apt description of Hawkins. Especially since he will ply his trade half the time in Coors Field, Hawkins' season could hit a snag at any time, and when it does, Brothers represents a viable, experienced alternative. Maybe Hawkins can skate by half the season or longer with a passable performance, but my hunch is that Brothers will supplant him by mid-May, if not sooner.

Who can you trust in the Braves starting rotation?

Despite the losses of Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy to their second Tommy John surgeries, there are still four Braves starters worth drafting no later than the middle rounds in mixed leagues. Julio Teheran will likely be the only member of last year's opening day rotation who will start this season in the rotation, and after last season's performance, he's worth taking among the top 20 starting pitchers. Now it appears that Mike Minor (shoulder) could miss a few weeks, but like Teheran, he proved last season that he can be a strong contributor to mixed league rotations. The lefty has lost some value but can still be considered alongside the likes of Gio Gonzalez and Zack Greinke.

Prior to the injuries to Medlen and Beachy, Alex Wood looked like the odd man out of the Braves' rotation, but now his spot looks more than secure. Given Wood's strong performances during his meteoric rise through the minors and his solid showing as a rookie, he now profiles as a mid- round pick. Finally, new addition Ervin Santana is also a reasonable mid-round option in points leagues, due to his 220-inning potential with a decent ERA and WHIP. However, his appeal is more limited to later rounds in Rotisserie.

None of the other pitchers in the mix to get starts this year, namely David Hale, Aaron Harang and Gavin Floyd, are worth trusting in mixed leagues, though Floyd has some appeal as a stashee in NL-only formats.

How long before the Cubs open the floodgates?

The Cubs are absolutely loaded with top prospects, and as many as four could debut at some point this season. Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler probably won't make the jump all the way from Advanced Class A, but they might have a shot at a late-season callup. More intriguing for 2014 are Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara, who could supplant Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney in the middle infield. Baez could also be a candidate to take over at third base, though fellow rookie Mike Olt has a better chance for opening day or early in the season. Even if Olt gains a stranglehold on the third base job, we could see both Baez and Alcantara by midseason.

Outfielder Albert Almora and pitchers C.J. Edwards and Pierce Johnson are working their way up the ladder as well, though a 2015 arrival is a more realistic expectation for them.

Is the hype on Jose Abreu justified?

In a word, yes. While we can't know how a player's skills will translate to major league ball, it's hard not to get excited about Abreu's power potential. In each of his last three full seasons in Cuba, Abreu slugged at least .800. That's right, slugging percentage, not OPS. By comparison, Yoenis Cespedes' highest slugging percentage in Cuba was .667, Kendrys Morales' was .609 and Yasiel Puig's was .581.

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To get Abreu you'll need to take him well before proven fallback types, like Brandon Belt, Mark Teixeira, Brandon Moss and Nick Swisher, based on his current average draft position within the first 120 picks. He's being taken around the same time as breakout candidates Anthony Rizzo and Matt Adams, and while we have some idea of what production we could get from them, neither may have Abreu's upside. Add in the fact that Abreu will play home games at a great home run park (U.S. Cellular Field), and he should well be worth the investment it requires to get him.

Does George Springer honestly deserve a middle-round pick?

If you like hitters who can provide power, steals and a high on-base percentage (and who doesn't?), then Springer is someone to consider in the middle rounds. Because the 24-year-old won't break camp with the Astros and may not get called up for two months or more, it's a risky move, so I wouldn't recommend it unless you already have at least two very reliable and productive outfielders.

In Roto leagues, Springer is being drafted in the same neighborhood as Nelson Cruz, Austin Jackson, Michael Cuddyer and Khris Davis, each of whom presents his own risks and can be replaced with only a minor downgrade a couple of rounds later. It's worth the gamble to grab Springer among the first 40 outfielders, which leaves you time to address other needs while potentially getting the per-game production of a top 25 outfielder. In Head-to-Head leagues, though, he is typically being drafted just within the top 200 picks, so there's no need to reach for Springer in those formats.

Can Chris Davis do it again?

As in hitting 50-plus homers and knocking in 130-plus RBI ... no Davis will not do that again. But Davis has long had the potential to be a 40-homer threat, but that promise laid dormant between 2009 and 2011. Having emerged in each of the last two seasons (bear in mind that Davis' 33 homers in 2012 came in only 139 games), Davis can easily be trusted to surpass the 40 mark again..

Also, Davis' contact skills have come a long way since his 2009 season, when he struck out 150 times in only 391 at-bats. That's not to say that making contact is a strength, but his K-rate is low enough and his line drive rate high enough that he can hit .270 and drive in more than 100 runs. Repeating last season's .343 batting average with runners in scoring position appears unlikely, though, so don't look for Davis to come near his total of 138 RBI. What he can do makes him good enough to make him a top five first basemen who could be taken as early as second at the position in Roto leagues.

Does Joe Mauer's move to first base make that much of a difference?

Had Mauer remained a catcher, he could have still been the most valuable catcher-eligible player this year, though it would have been a close call among him, Carlos Santana and Buster Posey, with Jonathan Lucroy not far behind. Getting moved to first base will allow Mauer to play almost every day, and those extra at-bats allow him to separate himself from the field.

Mauer had not played in as many as 140 games in four of the last five seasons, and he fell short of 120 games in two of the last three years. With less need for rest and a smaller probability of injury at first base, Mauer could easily play in 150-to-155 games. With that much playing time, he should outdistance point-league monster Santana by at least 40 points, while also projecting to add close to a full standings gain point over Posey in Roto formats.

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
White Sox SS Tim Anderson looking to become long-term solution
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(9:55 pm ET) White Sox prospect Tim Anderson is on a mission in spring training this year. He wants to prove that he belongs in the majors with the big boys.

"Just show them I can stay at short and my defense has come a long way and it's going to get better," Anderson said. "I want to be a shortstop for a long time. I'm going to be a shortstop. I'm going to work hard to stay there."

Anderson is currently considered Chicago's No. 2 prospect and could be just the prospect the White Sox are looking for. In his 2015 debut, Anderson smacked a two-run single.

"I'm just staying calm and trying not to do too much and just doing what I've been doing to be here," Anderson said. "It has been exciting to get in here and work with all the big leaguers and get my reps in and see how they go in the daily routine."


Reds' Kevin Gregg hoping to win a spot in the bullpen
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9:52 pm ET) Reds pitcher Kevin Gregg is hoping to win a spot in the team's bullpen, according to MLB.com.

Gregg may be 36-years-old, but understands he still needs to prove himself.  "I don't mind coming in and earning a spot," he said. "I'm coming off elbow surgery. At this point in my career, it's something I need to do."

Gregg had bone chips removed from his elbow in August, but was able to hit 92 mph in a showcase in February. He believes his velocity has improved since then.

Manager Bryan Price had good things to say about Gregg thus far. "He looks great. He looks durable," Price said. "He's got hand speed. He's crisp with his location. I've been extremely impressed with Kevin to this point."

The 36-year-old tossed just nine innings in the majors last year.


Diamondbacks pitcher Matt Reynolds sidelined with oblique injury
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(9:26 pm ET) Diamondbacks pitcher Matt Reynolds was scheduled to throw batting practice Wednesday, but was unable to do so while dealing with a sore right oblique, reports MLB.com.

"I'm like, 'I'm in here again, I can't get out of this darn room,'" Reynolds said.

Reynolds missed all of 2014 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, but he isn't having any issues with the elbow.

"My elbow feels real good," he said. "It feels strong."


Report: MLB split on whether Josh Hamilton should go to rehab
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9:24 pm ET) Major League Baseball is split over whether Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton should go to rehab, according to the Los Angeles Times

The four person panel assigned to Hamilton's case are deadlocked, and the group will have to bring in an arbitrator in order to break the tie. The panel first must decide whether Hamilton violated any rules, and then must agree on a course of treatment. The panel has not been able to agree on the latter of those conditions, which is why an arbitrator is necessary. 

If Hamilton is sent to rehab, he would receive his full salary for 30 days, and then half his salary over the next 30 days. If he's suspended, but does not have to attend rehab, Hamilton would not be paid during the suspension. 

MLB is also trying to determine whether Hamilton should be charged as a fourth-time offender of the drug policy. If that's the case, Hamilton could be suspended for the entire season.

Hamilton, 33, admitted to MLB that he experienced a relapse a few months ago, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman. Hamilton has dealt with drug and alcohol issues throughout his career, and was suspended for three seasons after failing drug tests as a minor-leaguer. He met with officials in New York in February regarding the incident. 


Mets' Curtis Granderson re-working his swing
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9:06 pm ET) Mets outfielder Curtis Granderson is re-working his swing with hitting coach Kevin Long, according to the New York Post

Granderson and Long have a history. The two worked together with the Yankees. Long rebuilt Granderson's swing, turning him into a massive home run hitter from 2011 to 2012. Now, they are looking to repeat the process.

"This is actually very similar to the first time we started making adjustments," Granderson said. "The idea is we want to get to the strongest position as consistently as possible with as little movement as possible."

Long went into detail, saying he's trying to get Granderson to "preset" his hands. "Get him in the perfect hitting position so the hands are ready to fire and he can go as efficiently as possible from point A to point B," Long said.

Granderson said everything is "still a work in progress," but he feels like Long's drills are getting through to him.

The 33-year-old Granderson hit .227/.326/.388 over 564 at-bats last season. 


Nationals' Yunel Escobar ahead of schedule in position transition
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(9:02 pm ET) Nationals infielder Yunel Escobar was informed when he was traded from the Athletics he was switching from shortstop to second base for this season. Escobar has put in extra work to get himself ready for live action this spring at second, the position he's played since 2007, reports MLB.com.

"He is a big man and has real light feet. He is very bouncy, live body," defensive coordinator and advance coach Mark Weidemaier said. "He has taken to the footwork well, as far as turning double plays. There are things we have to polish a little bit, but he is way ahead of the game for me. He has taken to it like a duck to water. It's very natural to him."

Manager Matt Williams is planning to start Escobar at second Thursday.

"He is going to play. He needs to play games and get game experience and get back in the flow of [being on] the other side of the diamond," Williams said. "He is ready to go, I know that."


Athletics' Marcus Semien stays hot on Wednesday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(8:54 pm ET) Athletics infielder Marcus Semien cannot be stopped this spring.

After going 3 for 3 with two home runs on Tuesday, Semien again reached in all his plate appearances on Wednesday. He wasted no time getting to work, singling in two runs in the first inning. Semien would walk in his next appearance before driving in another run on a single in his final at-bat. 

Semien, who has yet to make an out this spring, downplayed his success, saying "I'm just getting good pitches to hit right now." The 24-year-old hit .234/.300/.372 over 231 at-bats last season. 


Rockies pitcher Brooks Brown set to make spring debut Thursday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(8:54 pm ET) Rockies pitcher Brooks Brown is considered one of Colorado's top options this season. What has many people excited is the velocity Brown has on his fastball. But what he wants to work on the most this spring, and the pitch that kept hitters on their toes, is his changeup.

"The more success I was having with it, the more aggressiveness I had with it," said Brown. "It was a pitch I'd always had, but by the All-Star break last year, I found I could throw it to right-handed and left-handed hitters. It became a put-away pitch."

Rockies pitching coach Darren Holmes thinks his changeup should be considered as good as his fastball.

"Brooks came up last year and did a great job," Rockies bullpen coach Darren Holmes said. "When you look at guys that don't throw as hard, for me, my good secondary pitch is a changeup. That's a complete equalizer, I don't care if you throw 85 or you throw 105."


Yankees' Andrew Miller 'happy' with scoreless inning Wednesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(8:53 pm ET) Yankees pitcher Andrew Miller made his Grapefruit League debut wednesday, giving up one hit in a scoreless inning against the Phillies while striking out two.

"I'm really happy with the way I was throwing the ball," Miller said after the outing, per MLB.com. "I'm not too concerned with things right now. It could have been absolutely horrendous and there's nothing to worry about. It's just going out there and getting it going. I felt my breaking ball was really good, so it's always nice to come back and realize it's still there after the offseason."

Miller signed a four-year, $36-million deal with the Yankees this offseason after going 5-5 with a 2.02 ERA and 103:17 K:BB ratio in 62 1/3 innings.


Rockies pitcher Jon Gray throws two scoreless innings Wednesday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(8:48 pm ET) Rockies pitcher Jon Gray was able to work two scoreless innings in Wednesday's 6-2 loss to the Diamondbacks. The prospect was able to get something to work off of as well: a strikeout on slugger Paul Goldschmidt.

Gray burned a 97 mph fastball past the power hitter and felt great afterward.

"I was saving that one for him," Gray said. "I knew I was going to need it. I was thinking 'grip and rip' on this one."

Gray also got back to what he knew best in his outing.

"I kind of went to the basics and focused on the target," Gray said. "At first, I was seeing the batter, the catcher, the plate, everything. But after that, I focused on the glove, got my deep breath in and threw."


 
 
 
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