Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening — whichever is applicable to you. Last week I took a tour around the National League, identifying one fantasy storyline per team that was of interest to me. Some of the stories could have an impact for this season, while some may be more about early prep work for 2017. This weeks post is taking the same approach with the AL squads.
Boston Red Sox
Does Andrew Benintendi earn draft day value in 2017? Barring a surprising OF signing in free agency, Benintendi figures to be on the Opening Day roster for 2017. Most prospect pundits labeled Benintendi as an elite contact hitter who should maintain a high average. While his power had yet to translate to the stat sheet, most projected him to be a solid 25 HR option sooner rather than later. Benintendi’s time in the minors to begin the season did nothing to change that. Prior to the season Benintendi seemed to be a September call-up at best, but his play combined with opportunity opened the door to be a regular in the Sox lineup. Hitting at the bottom of the order Benintendi has managed a .323 AVG with a .843 OPS in 20 Games since his promotion. While the ratio’s have been solid the counting stats have been rather bland; one home run and one stolen base with a 23% K rate.
As a fan of Benintendi moving forward I couldn’t be happier with this. In a time when seemingly 75% of prospects produce immediately, any type of disappointment or ho-hum production tends to come with a dismissal of sorts. With the departure of Ortiz at season’s end the top of the Sox lineup will take on a different look. I could easily see a scenario where Pedroia or Bogaerts are moved to the 3 or 4 spot and Benintendi could find himself at or near the top of the order for one of the best offenses in baseball. That simple role change combined with a high average could make Benintendi a top-100 player for a guy I suspect will be targeted closer to the 150 range. Naturally a DL stint would occur hours after I wrote this……
Toronto Blue Jays
Will there be fallout from the Marcus Stroman IP increase? In the midst of his best stretch of the season (last 4 starts 2.10 ERA/1.01 WHIP/11.9 K/9) Stroman doesn’t appear as though he’s coming up against the wall. Personally I feel that the majority of innings concerns are overblown, especially the in season variety. After all, Stephen Strasburg was handled “the right way” and we’ve seen how well that’s worked out in terms of his overall health history.
One area I do tend to subscribe to is when a pitcher has a big increase from one year to the next. The year of the innings increase is the least of my concerns; it’s the year after when I become hesitant. Marcus Stroman pitched in 54 innings last season, if you include the playoffs. As of this point in 2016 he is at 161 innings, and he is set to blow the doors off his 166.3 career high set in 2014. Should Stroman’s current run continues his ADP for 2017 would likely move into the 20’s considering it was 27th in NFBC for 2016, coming off a lost season of sorts. Combine the IP increase with the premium likely to be paid for his services – Stroman could be my preseason Sonny Gray for 2017.
Can the O’s produce a solid SP fantasy option? Dylan Bundy moved into the rotation July 17th. Over that timeframe Bundy has started 8 Games, winning five of those contests. He has posted a 3.56 ERA to go with a solid 8.79 K/9. Take away the Boston start on 8/17 and Bundy has won 4 straight starts with an ERA of 1.88. It would seem that he could finally begin to establish himself as the elite prospect he’s been touted to be for seemingly a decade.
Meanwhile Kevin Gausman would seem to be a forgotten commodity. Gausman’s ERA is hovering close to four, and he has won a meager five games in 23 starts. Despite this I still believe the Gausman, and not Bundy, will give the O’s their best chance at a true front end option since Mike Mussina. At 25, Gausman has posted a 8.86 K/9. While not a career high, it’s nearly two points higher than his 6.99 mark in 2014, which happened to be his last full season as a starter.
With the increase in his case has come the improvement in walks from his last SP exclusive season. In 2014 Gausman posted a 3.02 BB/9; this year that number is 2.57. I look for Bundy’s value to be the more volatile of the two. Should he finish the 2016 season a dumpster fire then the intrigue will quickly die. If more of Bundy’s recent work is repeated then the draft day price moving forward will be exaggerated. Gausman will likely be a more under-the-radar option that could have the better draft day profits.
New York Yankees
Will Gary Sanchez be the number 3 Catcher in 2017 according to ADP? The Catcher position can be best described as a cesspool. Wilson Ramos, Jonathan Lucroy, and Buster Posey are the only Catchers that rank among the top 300 overall players in Yahoo standard scoring. J.T. Realmuto and his empty .300 AVG ranks 4th, Salvador Perez and his empty 17 home runs rounds out the Top-five.
With 8 home runs in 18 games, Gary Sanchez is offering excitement to a position that is in desperate need of production. Over the last several seasons a precedent has been set in paying premium pricing for potentially elite Catchers. Kyle Schwarber was Top 50 pick last season based primarily on his C eligibility. Two seasons ago Devin Mesoraco shot up draft boards after batting .273 with 25 homers in 2014. If Sanchez avoids an extended dry stretch he will become the chic Catcher of choice for 2017.
Tampa Bay Rays
What will Alex Cobb do for his 2017 draft stock? Seemingly every year we have a notable starting pitcher who returns from Tommy John surgery around this time. I don’t know what is so comforting about 3-4 September starts, but it really makes a difference from an ADP standpoint. Alex Cobb is hoping to get a handful of starts under his belt, and no doubt fantasy owners will be looking with a watchful eye. With a career 7.69 K/9, decent control, and a 56.5 career GB%, Cobb is the type of pitcher who always sticks out to me. Those in keeper formats are looking for immediate returns while redraft leagues simply would like to see 1 or 2 good outings, with the highest priority being no setbacks.
Can a Guyer/Naquin platoon win you a Championship? Tyler Naquin (28% ownership in Yahoo) and Brandon Guyer (1% ownership in Yahoo) are not highly sought-after commodities. While I understand the hesitation toward both individually I question why more aren’t pairing the two? Obviously weekly leagues are a different beast, but in a daily format either would hold more roster value than a potential callup or roster surplus that most load their bench with. Guyer will see the majority of his time vs. LHP, a role he is hitting .345 with a .460 wOBA. When a RHP is on the mound you’d have to settle for Naquin’s .320 mark with a .406 wOBA. To summarize, Guyer’s wOBA of .460 is good for the 3rd best mark in baseball– meanwhile Naquin is essentially Mike Trout when facing a RHP.
Has Justin Verlander gotten better? After the 2014 season I thought Justin Verlander was done. While Verlander managed 15 wins that season his ERA nestled in at 4.54 while his K/9 was below 7.00. Statistically, 2015 was better. His ERA was 3.38 his K/9 bounced back; not to the levels you’d become accustomed to from Verlander, but an acceptable 7.63. In addition, his 2.16 BB/9 was the 2nd best mark of his career. On the downside, Verlander made only 20 starts due to a triceps strain, and failed to make 30 starts or log 200 innings for the first time since 2006.
As we sit here today, one must wonder how long the triceps had been an issue. Verlander’s current 9.40 K/9 would be good for his 2nd best total in his career. His BB/9 of 2.34 would be his 2nd lowest total ever. Verlander is currently sporting a 1.03 WHIP, and that mark would be good for his 2nd best mark of his career. With increased velocity on his fastball (92.8 to 93.2) one has to reasonably expect that this current trend of success should continue moving forward. The only pause for concern for me would be Verlander’s 34.7% GB rate, one significant spike in HR/FB% could lead to a full run increase on the ERA.
Kansas City Royals
Has Yordano Ventura turned the corner? How you close out a season can have a big impact on your draft stock the following year. Seemingly every offseason 3-4 players creep up the board little by little – strong 2nd half finishes are a very popular sales pitch used by analysts. With that in mind, one may want to consider scouting Yordano Ventura over the course of the final month.
After a two start stretch to end June and begin July resulted in 11 earned runs over eight innings, Ventura has proceeded to roll off seven quality starts over his past nine, posting a 2.79 ERA and 1.14 WHIP along with a 7.76 K/9 and 2.95 BB/9. Over his last three starts Ventura has managed a 1.86 ERA with a 10.24 K/9 and 1.86 BB/9. Sample sizing of this nature may be a waste of resources, but it is worth noting that Ventura’s fastball velocity has been over 97 and he’s increased the frequency of his curveball. When changes are evident, even small sample sizes deserve attention.
Chicago White Sox
What to make of Jose Abreu? Turn back the clock to March of 2015: many analyst-types targeted Abreu as a potential bust. With a 1.46 GB/FB rate and a 26.9% HR/FB ratio, many felt those 36 home runs in 2014 would be closer to the mid 20’s. Abreu managed to hit 30 in 2015 and once again cleared 100 RBI. The hitting profile had remained unchanged, but once again he was able to net a very respectable 19.7 HR/FB rate.
Now reflect back to March of this season. Abreu may not have been a first round selection, but with an NFBC ADP of 18th overall it was clear, the majority found safety in Abreu. His 2016 can essentially be summed up as what many forecasters predicted for 2015. His 1.45 GB/FB is a near carbon-copy of the 1.46 and 1.47 he’s managed to already put up. This season, however, his HR/FB rate is 13.3% netting him 17 home runs thus far, and he’s looking more like a 90 RBI bat rather than the 100+ that was expected. A strong finish to the season could go along way in improving his draft stock for next season. Should he continue his current pace or limp down the home stretch, Abreu’s 2017 Draft ADP could very well hold very good potential value.
Was 2016 a step back for Miguel Sano? Statistically speaking 2016 hasn’t been a loss for Sano. While 30 home runs isn’t what it was even last year, to be within reach in just your second season is impressive. Sano is on pace for a 60 run/75 RBI type season, which is low when you factor in the 30 home runs. In addition to run/RBI struggles, the .239 average takes a little shine away from those power numbers as well. While ultimately the numbers dictate to what degree of failure 2016 was, I’m personally more concerned with the underlying numbers moving forward.
Sano’s 11.7 BB/9 is 4% below last season. Meanwhile his 35.5 K% from last season has been improved by less than 1 percentage point, holding at 34.7% this season. Other plate discipline data would suggest the progress isn’t what would be desired. On the plus side his contact rate of 66.5% is nearly 6 points above last seasons mark. On the down side the majority of that can be attributed to an Out of the Zone contact gain, from 33.8 in 2015 to 41.6% this season. Thus far the 2nd half has really been a struggle in the majority of these areas. As we look more toward 2017, visible growth could easily go a long way in believing Sano would still belong among your top-75 players for next season.
Is the Joey Gallo era over in Texas before it even started? For as much praise as the Rangers farm system gets, one has to wonder if their development side is up to par? The Rangers have developed a track record of sorts for the classic AAAA player. Mike Olt, Justin Smoak, Chris Davis, and now Joey Gallo. Olt has yet to sustain even a steady Bench role. Smoak has graduated from AAAA player to “not-good occasional starter”, and it took a change of address in order for Chris Davis to fully display his power.
The Rangers committed themselves to Gallo playing 3B, yet Adrian Beltre is signed thru 2018. Due to early season injuries and ineffectiveness the Rangers added OF Nomar Mazara to the mix. Gallo has the ability to play the outfield and is older with more AAA experience at the time of Mazara‘s call-up. For me it’s evident the Rangers look at Gallo in much the same way as Chris Davis was viewed a handful of years ago. I would suspect Gallo will get a September callup, with his primary responsibility being a LH bat of the Bench. Unless Joey Gallo can curtail his 47.5 % K rate, you are looking at a player who will be moved in the offseason.
Is Edwin Diaz a top-5 Closer for next season? Diaz has appeared in 35 games and has 10 saves under his belt to go with a 16.50 K per 9 – that is the best mark in baseball with at least 5 IP. Much like Catcher, this season hasn’t been kind to top-tier closer talents. Wade Davis has battled injury, Craig Kimbrel has been good for one blowup per week, Trevor Rosenthal lost his job by June, and Jeurys Familia has struggled of late and has several warning signs that suggest his best days may not lie ahead. After Jansen, Chapman, and Britton, pitchers 4-5 could be anyone.
Those who would support a top-5 closer rank for Diaz will point toward his 49.3 GB% to go with the 16.5 K/9 and 42.6% K rate. My only concern would be the hitter’s adjustment should deception be a big factor in the outcomes. His highest K rate prior to this season was the 11.95 K/9, posted over 16 AA games this season. Should Diaz post similar numbers as to what he’s done thus far then a top-five ranking would seem to be a given. Should those K totals significantly fall back to the pack then Diaz’s outlook for 2017 should come into question regardless of his success rate on saves to close out the season.
Too many freaking people? When the Astros submit a lineup, I feel almost certain that 2B will be manned by Jose Altuve, SS will feature Carlos Correa, and the OF will have Gerorge Springer. But as for what the Astros lineup will look like once the bones and bruises have healed, is anyone’s guess. AJ Reed, Alex Bregman and Yulieski Gurriel could both offer nice fantasy value to close out the season. Yet both have the equal chance to become a 10 AB per week player should a slow stretch present itself. With veteran presence such as Louis Valbuena (upon return), Marwin Gonzalez, and Jake Marisnick, and a potential Wild Card Berth within their grasp, the Astros don’t have the luxury of letting the young guys figure it out.
Will any Athletic, aside from Khris Davis, be drafted among the top-150 next year? When I first posed this question to myself I felt rather confident the answer would be yes. After taking a closer look at the roster, I’m leaning heavily the other way. Khris Davis, Ryan Dull, and Ryan Madson are the only A’s to currently hold a top-150 ranking. Dull will likely still be in a middle relief role and Madson’s status will still likely be that of a back-end closer options, likely going closer to 200. Despite a disastrous 2016 Sonny Gray would likely seem to be the 2nd A’s player off the board. Ultimately what Gray does (if anything) in September could determine just that. Having still yet to begin a rehab assignment Gray could very well not pitch again this season. Should this be the result then I find it highly likely that Khris Davis could be the only A’s name worth remembering in draft prep.
Los Angeles Angels
Mike Trout #1 in 2017. Sure you’ve had other top pick contingencies the last few seasons, but Mike Trout has been the Number One selection of the Masses the last 4-5 seasons. Make no mistake; Mike Trout’s skill set is still among the games elite. His 2016 totals will surpass 2015’s in every standard category aside from home runs. In addition the beloved SB statistic has finally returned after a 2 season hiatus of sorts.
Despite the improvements, and despite the 30/30 potential, could a case be made for Mookie Betts? Betts is on pace to out-produce Trout in every category with the exception of stolen bases, which is currently deadlocked at 21 a piece. Given Trout’s track record it’s not hard to find the argument to still side with him, but comparing the supporting cast of Betts to Trout’s could be the deciding factor for me. One has to wonder just how long Albert Pujols can continue to drive him in.
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