Atlanta is so hot this time of year, and nothing is much hotter than “The Freeze”, a man in an uncomfortably tight leotard who uses his blazing speed to embarrass challengers in between innings. However, “The Freeze” isn’t the hottest thing within the Braves’ new SunTrust Park. That label belongs to its short-term first baseman, Matt Adams.
Adams was acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals on May 20th, just two days after their All-Star first baseman Freddie Freeman had his left wrist broken after being hit by a pitch. Since landing in the “A-T-L”, Adams has a .948 OPS with eight homers and 21 RBI in 24 games and 106 plate appearances.
“Big City” had become pretty useless in St. Louis, as the club decided to move Matt Carpenter to first base, with Jedd Gyorko, Aledmys Diaz, and Kolten Wong bringing “stability” to the rest of the infield. With Diaz in the midst of a sophomore slump and Wong dealing with injuries after his own bouts of ineffectiveness over the last two seasons, the Cardinals aren’t the same, competitive club as they seem to annually be. Still, they felt that Adams wouldn’t cut it in the outfield, even after his whopping 34 inning test-run in five starts there this season, taking a 19-year-old first base prospect in return to rid themselves of the 6’3″ slugger, even as the club rosters the likes of Tommy Pham, Chad Huffman, and Jose Martinez as options in left field today.
St. Louis’ focus on defense in left field has been the Braves’ offensive gain, and the Braves would be wise to continue to reap the benefits of Matt Adams when Freeman returns in July.
The Braves are in an interesting situation. Yes, they have the new stadium. Yes, they have an interesting blend of talent on their roster; however, they are in the midst of a rebuild, despite the presence of Matt Kemp, R.A. Dickey, and Bartolo Colon on their roster. Dealing Matt Adams at the deadline, or whenever Freeman returns, would benefit the club tremendously, as several teams could be interested in the slugger for their own playoff push.
Atlanta sits 10 games out of first place entering play today. Adams may be of value to a team like, say, the Yankees, whose first basemen have hit just .195/.298/.345 with eight home runs and 23 RBI all season (see Adams’ stats again since joining Atlanta!). Another team that could make some noise, if everyone gets healthy, would be Seattle, who could use an upgrade over Danny Valencia, who is the main culprit in the Mariners’ first basemen hitting just .244/.300/.368 with just six homers all season.
With an already crowded outfield and the likes of Ronald Acuna and Dustin Peterson racing their way to Atlanta and through the minors, the Braves should only consider Adams as a tradeable asset and not a piece of their future. If he continues to produce, his price tag only increases, but the club shouldn’t alter their current roster by trying to hold on to another solid first baseman…unless Major League Baseball suddenly adds the DH to the National League.
In fantasy baseball, it is impossible to have all of your teams loaded with the top-tier talent necessary to win every season. Even keeper leagues have players at the top every year who struggle with injuries. You need depth, you need to find a diamond in the rough, and you need to take gambles in order to win. For that reason, you need to know some players who may fly under the radar. This is a list of 12 players who may be available a little later than you think in your baseball drafts who could ruin the lives of your fiercest competitors.
Pollock had all of 46 plate appearances in 2016 due to injuries. It isn’t so much that he is a legitimate sleeper as much as how low he may rank on several draft boards due to his extended absence. Remember, this is a guy who hit .315/.367/.498 with 39 doubles, 20 home runs, and 39 steals in 2015. He was the Yang to Paul Goldschmidt‘s Ying, worthy of an early selection last season. Don’t let him fall too far and reap the benefits if he falls into your lap.
Gomez struggled so mightily last season that the Houston Astros released him on August 18th. Two days later, Gomez signed with the Texas Rangers and promptly put up the type of line that Houston was looking for during his time there, erupting to a .284/.362/.543 line with eight home runs and 24 RBI in just 33 games – he had five home runs and 29 RBI in 85 games for Houston. He signed for one-year and $11.5 million to prove himself capable of All-Star production in his age-31 season. He is playing in the right place for another offensive outburst.
Buxton has really disappointed a lot of fans and prospect fanatics with a pretty abysmal start to his career. He has struck out 162 times (with just 29 walks) in 469 plate appearances, which has led to a putrid .220/.274/.398 triple-slash in his brief career. While others will look at those numbers and run, you shouldn’t let the prospect fatigue and struggles lead you astray. Look at Buxton’s September from 2016:
While the strikeouts are still worrisome, this supposed clone of a young Eric Davis showed power and the abilities that made people drool. He was given the job for the month of September and ran with it, which is downright scary with his speed tool and the BABIP right where most speedsters have theirs. Look for a breakout in 2017.
Tomas was just a part of my story about overpaid Cuban free agents, so why would I have him on a sleeper list, you ask? Because Tomas has some tools that you can’t find everywhere, namely his power. He tore things up in the second half of 2016, posting a .913 OPS, which is impressive for a guy who walked in just 5.5% of his plate appearances. It meant that the 18 bombs in the second half – and 31 overall – could be overlooked due to how ridiculously horrific the Diamondbacks have handled him. With Jake Lamb locked in at third, it appears that Tomas is officially a slugging outfielder, and his numbers could continue to climb with the return of the previously mentioned Pollock to the Arizona lineup.
Over his first 351 career plate appearances (2012-2015), Perez was pretty useless, posting a .235/.251/.307 line with 15 doubles, three triples, one homer, and six stolen bases. Then, at age 25, Perez got an opportunity in Milwaukee, and, boy, did he make the most of it. In the second half of the 2016 season, this previously unknown, organizational depth player went on to post a .281/.313/.449 triple-slash with nine home runs, 14 doubles, two triples, and 24, count ’em…24, stolen bases. He’d total 13 bombs and 34 steals on the season, playing third, second, and outfield. While no one knows whether he will put up similar numbers, Perez has some value, even if it is only in deep mixed leagues. That position flexibility is Zobrist-like, while the production isn’t too far off, either. He would be a nice addition in late rounds for depth purposes, though the addition of Travis Shaw at third could lead to Perez being a one-year wonder.
Cotton was a 20th round pick by the Dodgers in 2012, acquired by the A’s in the Rich Hill and Josh Reddick deal last season. He had long had solid numbers in the minors, striking out 10 per 9 IP over the course of 490+ minor league innings. Upon reaching the majors for the first time in September, Cotton posted video game numbers over five starts with a 2.15 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, 23:4 K:BB, and 6 H/9. It is anyone’s guess as to whether the 5’11” right-hander will continue to miss bats at that rate, but you don’t want to be the one who watches someone else benefit from the gamble. He’s penciled in as Oakland’s No. 4 starter, so continue to monitor him this spring.
If only this guy could stay healthy…which is exactly why he is a sleeper. After making only 20 starts in 2016, Paxton is the type of guy that Brett Anderson would like to be and every other pitcher avoids becoming; however, his final 11 starts were pretty impressive, injury-free, and worthy of fantasy acknowledgment. He posted a 71:9 K:BB over 67.2 innings, a 3.19 ERA and 1.05 WHIP, and a .235 BAA. Seattle made a lot of deals this winter to become contenders, and Paxton could be a “guy” who improves enough or continues to pitch like he did last season, to help make that happen.
Norris had an interesting year, spending a lot of time rebuilding stamina after beating cancer between the 2015 and 2016 season. Upon sticking in the Tigers rotation (from August 9th onward), the young left-hander posted a 3.04 ERA and 55 punchouts in 56.1 innings. While the 1.37 WHIP and 19 walks in the same 56.1 innings is worrisome, Norris has shown the ability to make it work. He will turn just 24 in April and he has to beat Matt Boyd and Mike Pelfrey to earn the No. 5 spot, but, if he wins it, he has the stuff and the teachers (Justin Verlander and Jordan Zimmermann) to learn on the job.
Run in terror if you’d like, but don’t forget to look at the 11.3 K:9 that Ray posted in 2016. That led to a whopping 218 strikeouts in 174.1 innings. Sure, the 4.90 ERA is gross. Sure, the 1.47 WHIP is disgusting. There is something here. You don’t miss that many bats without having great stuff. This will be Ray’s age-25 season and he will take another step forward because he won’t be posting a .355 BABIP in 2017 and he won’t be losing 15 games again if he throws it by so many opposing hitters in 2017. Keep in mind, Ray’s FIP was 3.76 in 2016. Jose Peraza, 2B/OF, Cincinnati Reds
Everyone is going to be on the Peraza bandwagon, with valid reasons. When the Reds traded Brandon Phillips (and millions of dollars that “small-market” teams don’t have) to the Atlanta Braves, it made fantasy baseball fans celebrate. Peraza posted a .324/.352/.411 triple-slash and 21 stolen bases in just 72 games and 256 plate appearances. With Peraza and Billy Hamilton around, the Reds could look a lot like the St. Louis Cardinals of the 1980’s, when Vince Coleman and Willie McGee ran wild on the league. They just have to get on base for that to happen, and Peraza has been more of a hit-tool and speed talent than an on-base machine.
After getting hit in the head on June 18, Panik battled some concussion symptoms, having played through them by passing concussion protocol through MLB. After the beaning, Panik hit just .215/.305/.346. Prior to that, he was hitting .263/.326/.411. Obviously, there could be something in the Justin Morneau area here that could scare you away from wanting Panik on your fantasy team, but he showed a couple of statistics that would warrant a rebound. Overall, including the times that he was apparently dazed, Panik walked more than he struck out in 2016, while posting career highs in homers (10) and RBI (67). In addition to that, Panik had a woeful .245 BABIP. While the league average is typically around .300, Panik’s was incredibly low. There are always outliers and it appears that Panik was one of them in 2016. Expect a rebound in 2017.
The Reds have a lot of interesting young pitchers. Finnegan was, prior to Anthony DeSclafani‘s return from injury, the only Reds’ pitcher worth owning in fantasy leagues. Like any young pitcher, there were growing pains…lots of them; however, it wasn’t all Finnegan’s fault. The Reds had Finnegan paired with Ramon Cabrera in 12 of his 31 starts and Cabrera was ranked 113th out of 114 catchers in pitch framing. Whether that is something you consider or not, you should know that he should have Devin Mesoraco back there again, barring another injury, in 2017. In addition to the potentially damning battery mate in 2016, Finnegan was able to change something in his approach down the stretch, throwing a changeup more often and posting some ridiculous numbers over his final seven starts: 1.93 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 47:16 K:BB, 37.1 IP, .199 BAA. Sure, the Reds will be one of the worst teams in MLB in 2017…unless they have players like Finnegan continue to grow while on the job. Consider adding him in late rounds and be willing to bail on him if he goes through battles of inconsistency in the middle of the year.
Over the last several years, the Arizona Diamondbacks have had several people involved in running the organization into the ground. They’ve been through managers, having seen Kirk Gibson fired in 2014, Alan Trammell as interim, Chip Hale hired and fired, and, now, having first-year manager Torey Lovullo starting the 2017 season. The instability for this organization doesn’t just start and finish on the field, though. Since 2010, we’ve seen Josh Byrnes, Jerry DiPoto (interim), Kevin Towers, Dave Stewart, and newly-hired Mike Hazen, formerly with the Boston Red Sox, in the general manager role. After winning the 2011 NL West, the Diamondbacks have failed to finish over .500, though they have finished right at .500 twice during that span.
Segura, 27 on Opening Day, will be replaced at shortstop by Marte, who was rushed to the majors by Seattle at the age of 21 in 2015 out of desperation to fill their shortstop hole with just 377 at bats above AA. He’ll play the 2017 season at the age of 23 and he won’t be arbitration-eligible until after the 2018 season. Segura had much more pop in his bat than Marte ever will, but Marte puts the ball in play and has solid speed, which is basically what Segura was in 2014 and 2015 before he had his second breakout season – if that is a thing – in 2016.
Hazen saved some money at shortstop, while acquiring Walker, a potential ace, for his pitching staff. Walker, long labeled full of potential, could make this deal look silly for Seattle if he actually reaches or fulfills that potential; however, we’ve been waiting on that for a few years now, even though Walker will be just 24 on Opening Day. If he can overcome injuries and become more consistent, a familiar statement for young pitchers, this is an easy win for the Diamondbacks, and Mike Hazen has already proven himself worthy of the job. If it crashes and burns, who cares? The Diamondbacks went 69-93 while Segura was a star in 2016, so it was worth the gamble.
Mike Hazen had a lot more money to work with in his time with the Boston Red Sox. He may need to be a little more creative in landing talent in the desert, but the 40-year-old has a lot of respect in the game and will continue to put the Diamondbacks in a position to be successful, as long as ownership gives him the time necessary to turn it all around.
Be thankful, Diamondback fans. Mike Hazen finally has a plan for your team.
Over the next several weeks, The Baseball Haven will be creating season previews for all 30 MLB teams. You’ll find their projected records (based on PECOTA records from Baseball Prospectus, as of 2/15/2015), each team’s top three players (based on Steamer WAR projections from FanGraphs), and some valuable notes on each team, including likely bounce-back candidates, potential breakout players or fantasy sleepers, as well as a look back at offseason transactions which led to each team’s projections. Stop back frequently to see where your favorite team ranks!
2015 Projected Record: 87-75 (2nd in AL West, 6th in MLB)
Manager: Lloyd McClendon (87-75 in one season with Seattle, 423-521 in six seasons overall)
Top Three Players: 2B Robinson Cano (5.1), RHP Felix Hernandez (4.7), 3B Kyle Seager (4.1)
Bounce-back Player: LHP James Paxton
Paxton missed 102 games last season with a shoulder strain, but, upon returning, he was lights out, posting a 3.19 ERA and 1.31 WHIP over 62 innings and 11 starts, including the stinker in Toronto on 9/22 (2.2 IP, 9 R, 8 ER). He had the same injury that Reds RHP Johnny Cueto had in 2013, but Cueto came back to toss a career-high 243.2 innings in 2014 – so, this shouldn’t hold Paxton back from taking off again. Still, he has made only 17 starts in his brief career, and he’ll rebound from his injury-plaged 2014 and become the No.2 option behind Felix Hernandez in the Mariners’ rotation.
Fantasy Player to Watch: C Mike Zunino
Zunino should have most people’s eyes already thanks to his 22 home runs in 2014, but many will be terrified of his .199/.254/.404 line and 33.2 percent strikeout rate. Once upon a time, there was a guy who hit. 227 with 24 home runs and 56 RBI…that was the 2012-version of Mike Napoli, and, though Napoli took a few more pitches than Zunino has in his brief career, we need to remember that this kid will still be just 24 on Opening Day. Zunino is slick with the glove behind the plate and can mash, so he’ll carve out a nice, long career. Get on board and watch him improve as he gains more big league experience.
Offseason Overview: The Mariners had their third winning season since 2004 last year, and they had very little to do to keep things intact for another run, but they did make a few changes. The signed Nelson Cruz, fresh off of his 40-homer outburst in Baltimore, to fill their DH spot with a much-needed, right-handed power hitter. Seattle acquired Seth Smith from San Diego for power-armed, results-deficient Brandon Maurer, and they signed Rickie Weeks to become a super-utility type of player, likely to see a lot of outfield at-bats for the Mariners. The rotation added depth when J.A. Happ was acquired from Toronto for OF Michael Saunders. Several solid moves to improve the roster and the quality of depth, as Seattle tries to get over the hump and make their first World Series in franchise history.
The Verdict: Seattle made some smart decisions this winter. They gave Cruz a four-year, $57 million deal, which could be a gamble given his age (34 on Opening Day), but he was the top offensive talent available on the free agent market for the team’s need. He’ll fit in nicely with Kyle Seager and Robinson Cano in the middle of the order. The rotation is still strong, as Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma provide All-Star level production while young arms like Paxton and Taijuan Walker round out the rotation with Happ (if he didn’t pitch himself out of a rotation spot). The Mariners are primed to strike, especially with a Josh Hamilton-less Angels club that has far more question marks than Seattle does heading into the season. While PECOTA was generous with a duplication of the 2014 record, it wasn’t generous enough. Seattle will win 90 or more games in 2015.
The Detroit Tigers confused the world of baseball this winter when they traded right-hander Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals for Robbie Ray. Fister had three years of team control remaining, and he was coming off of two very good seasons (3.29 ERA, 1.19 WHIP) in Detroit. Ray was rated as the 97th best prospect prior to the 2014 season by MLB.com, but after the Tampa Bay Rays were able to get the haul that they did (including Wil Myers) for two years of control of James Shields, it was assumed by many that Fister would bring much more than a single prospect, particularly one that had posted most of his solid 2013 numbers while repeating High-A.
The 2014 season has been quite interesting to this point. With so many teams floating around contention due to unforeseen parity in a game that has had so little over the years, we haven’t seen many top talents reach the big leagues to assist their clubs compete. Gregory Polanco finally reached Pittsburgh, but the Cardinals just sent Oscar Taveras back to the minors following the activation of Matt Adams from the 15-day disabled list. With injuries to Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Archie Bradley, and Taijuan Walker, the elite level prospects haven’t provided a lot of positive material for minor league analysis. For that reason, you have to reach deeper. Here are some names that you may be familiar with, but, if you’re not, you should get to know a little better.
Bryant is a one-man wrecking crew in the Double-A Southern League in 2014, and you should already be familiar with him, as Bryant was the No.2 overall pick out of San Diego in the 2013 MLB Draft. For all of the fears that went along with the holes in his swing, which is still present based on the 75 strikeouts, Bryant can still draw a walk while producing elite-level power from the right side. He may have to move to an outfield corner in the long run due to Starlin Castro being at short and Javier Baez likely moving to third, as the Cubs have Anthony Rizzo locked up through 2021 (including options) at first. Regardless of where he plays, he’ll be an All-Star talent. The Cubs don’t need to bring him up due to their 27-38 record and ongoing rebuild, but the scariest part of his numbers are the fact that they could only get larger with a move to Triple-A and the Pacific Coast League. He could break camp with the Cubs in 2015 and will likely get a nice audition this September.
The Mariners have a lot of young pitchers who get a lot of attention with Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, and Erasmo Ramirez each earning some starts at the major league level over the last couple of seasons; however, with those names receiving so much attention, there is a sneaky exciting talent coming up who isn’t getting nearly as much recognition as most players with his skills would, and that is Victor Sanchez. At 19, Sanchez is already in Double-A, having skipped the horrific pitching environment of the California League, and he is pitching very well. Over his last two starts, Sanchez has allowed just two earned runs over 13.2 innings (1.32 ERA), striking out 13 and allowing 11 base runners (0.80 WHIP). Sanchez isn’t a dynamic strikeout pitcher, but he has plus command and, at his age, he may further develop his stuff to take another step forward. He could certainly give up fewer home runs, but when you consider that he is 5 1/2 years younger than the average player in the Southern League, he deserves a break. He’s a very mature pitcher given his age and deserves more attention than he is getting.
Another Houston Astros prospect who is near ready to make an impact at the major league level, Tucker was just promoted to Triple-A after being near the top of the Texas League in doubles, home runs, and total bases. After thriving in 2013 between High-A and Double-A, Tucker has made the adjustments necessary to continue his progression to Houston to join Jon Singleton and George Springer, while the club waits for Carlos Correa and others in the lower minors to help make Houston a World Series contender in the next three seasons. Even thriving against left-handers, Tucker is capable of being more than just an average outfielder in the majors.
After being taken in the 4th round of the 2012 MLB Draft out of South Carolina, Christian Walker had a somewhat productive first full minor league season in 2013 (.815 OPS, just 67 strikeouts in 439 plate appearances), but it was also somewhat disappointing (11 home runs). Walker did play at three levels in 2013, so, perhaps, he wasn’t in one location long enough to make the adjustments necessary to showcase his power, but the 2014 season has been quite different. Walker already has 17 home runs and is sporting an OPS of .913 as of publishing. While his strikeout rate has increased, that is allowing him to produce at higher levels. With Chris Davis under team control through the 2015 season, could you be looking at the future first baseman in Baltimore? It could be the case, but Walker has to continue his offensive outburst if he is going to make it in the majors as a right-handed hitting first baseman.
Even after missing all of the 2013 season due to Tommy John surgery, Rymer Liriano is young for his league. The 22-year-old outfielder is back on track, showcasing all of his tools, though the swing and miss looks to be a bit larger than anticipated after his long layoff. Regardless, in 2011, Liriano showed the speed (66 steals) and power (50 extra-base hits) that make fantasy baseball fans salivate. He could probably make the Padres offense a little better if he were called up today, but he still has some work to do to become an All-Star level talent in the future.
Prior to the 2013 season, Jackson was heading towards becoming an organizational arm, even though he was a first round draft pick in 2010. Then, it all seemed to click last year and over his last 200.1 innings he has a 2.34 ERA, a 1.10 WHIP, and 208 strikeouts. Now, with the Texas Rangers reeling and in need of pitching depth after injuries to Derek Holland, Martin Perez, and Matt Harrison, Luke Jackson has positioned himself for some time in Arlington at some point this summer.
Michael Taylor is breaking out. After an impressive repeat of High-A in 2013 (57 extra-base hits and 51 stolen bases), Taylor has reached a career-high in home runs in just 62 games, while still showing tremendous speed (17 steals) in his first go-round in Double-A. There is a lot of swing and miss in his bat, but the power and speed skills that he possesses make him an intriguing prospect, especially when you consider that he could be in a pretty electric lineup with Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, and company in the next couple of seasons. With Denard Span due a $9 million option or a $500,000 buyout in 2015, Taylor is likely leaving a lot of questions for Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo and Washington management about just what to do in center field in 2015. If nothing else, Taylor could spend some time in Triple-A next year, or even later this season, before earning a full-time role in 2016.
Jake Lamb was a 6th round pick out of Washington in 2012, and all that he has done since getting drafted is hit. This season, his numbers in the Southern League are being mocked by Kris Bryant’s absurd outburst, but they are still very, very good. The doubles and home runs show the power potential in Lamb’s bat, and the .996 OPS in 59 at-bats against left-handed pitching shows that Lamb is quite capable of becoming a regular in Arizona. With Kevin Towers around, Lamb could be traded before ever reaching the desert, but he would be an extremely solid option to force Martin Prado off of the hot corner, and joining Paul Goldschmidt as a tremendous offensive threat in the Diamondbacks lineup in the near future.