Monday, March 18, 2013


Only a couple of weeks away from Opening Day, let's check in on each position around Major League Baseball.

Entering a new golden age, the catcher position boasts top-tier talent: Yadier Molina and his world class defense, Buster Posey and Joe Mauer's hitting tools, and Matt Wieters flashing power from both sides of the plate.

Salvy Perez is the belle of the ball.
Carlos Santana should vault himself into the conversation with a career year this season or next. The Indians have been proactive about preserving his body, with over 100 starts at first base or DH over the past two years.

Victor Martinez, Mike Napoli, and Brian McCann are limping away from full-time duty behind the plate. V-Mart will DH in Detroit. Napoli will split time between first base and DH in Boston. McCann, recovering from shoulder surgery, is hoping to to be back by May 1st. The Braves will have to limit his starts this year, or trade him to an AL team. Next season, McCann will probably go to an American League team as a free agent and reestablish himself as a professional hitter with 100+ starts at DH and around 50 behind the plate.

It would be nice to see Jason Castro of the Astros raise his game. He has an opportunity to play as much as any National League catcher his age. Spring Training stats are not to be trusted, but they can be enjoyed. In ten games this Spring, Castro is hitting .450 with 3 HR's and 4 walks to just 5 strikeouts.

This position is deeper than in recent times, with at least 20 really good catchers in baseball and prospects like Travis d'Arnaud, Mike Zunino, Evan Gattis, and Gary Sanchez knocking on the door.

Fantasy Tips: Wait on catcher in non-keeper leagues. "Safe" alternatives may even be available as free agents between your draft and Opening Day. Personal favorites: Salvador Perez (AVG + HR), Jonathan Lucroy (HR), Alex Avila (hitter), Jesus Montero (hitter), and Wilin Rosario (HR). Devin Mesoraco is a future offensive standout. Ryan Doumit isn't terrible. Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Tyler Flowers could be nice surprises in the last round, or for $1. Yasmani Grandal will be a good player to add after his 50-game suspension.

**First Base**
Unlike the catcher position, first base has always been deep, and this year is no different. Look what happened last season with Freddie Freeman, for instance. He ranked 18th in ESPN's Player Rater last year, but his season was not that bad. Look at Freeman and the four players ranked directly ahead of him...

2012 Outfield ESPN Player Rater (14th-18th)
14. Paul Konerko 144 G, 66 R, 26 HR, 75 RBI, 0 sb, .298 Avg
15. Nick Swisher 148 G, 75 R, 24 HR, 93 RBI, 2 sb, .272 Avg
15. Garrett Jones: 145 G, 68 R, 27 HR, 86 RBI, 2 sb, .274 Avg
17. Joey Votto: 111 G, 59 R, 14 HR, 56 RBI, 5 sb, .337 Avg
18. Freddie Freeman 147 G, 91 R, 23 HR, 94 RBI, 2 sb, .259 Avg

Hi, Ryan, you stink.
Young players like Freeman, Ike Davis, Anthony Rizzo, Eric Hosmer, and Brandon Belt should raise their games this season.

The Astros have Brett Wallace penciled in for first base, with Carlos Peña serving as primary DH. If Matt Dominguez can't hit, Wallace could more to 3rd base, opening playing time for Rule V pick Nate Frieman. Houston would actually be a prime trade partner of the Yankees, as the Bronx Bombers look for corner infield help. Brett Wallace to the Yankees for a Top 10-20 prospect makes some sense for New York and a lot of sense for Houston.

One of the deepest sleepers of all time, Nate Freiman has shown patience and power in the minors. In 483 minor league games, Freiman hit 207 HR's with a robust .294/.364/.482 slash line. Unfortunately, his best case scenario for immediate playing time in Houston is as a pinch-hitter / once-a-week starter. Who knows? Freiman's ceiling might be that of Brian LaHair, who's preparing to play the 2013 season in Japan. Out of the Astros eligible at first base, Chris Carter is our favorite. We'll get back to him in the Outfield section, as the Astros are playing him in Left.

Sorting through stats on Baseball Prospectus, we stumbled across Others Batted In Percentage, a rate stat measuring the percentage of runners batted in, other than the batter himself when he homers. Among all hitters with at least 125 plate appearances last season, Adrian Gonzalez shows up twice in the Top 15 in this category, a curious bunch:

Highest 2013 OBI% (min 125 PA's)
Carl Crawford, BOS 25%
Adrian Gonzalez is a good RBI guy,
no matter what team he's on...
Marco Scutaro, SFN 24.4%
Chris Johnson, ARI 23.3%
Josh Hamilton, TEX 22.2%
Miguel Cabrera, DET 21.4%
Adrian Gonzalez, BOS 21.1%
Torii Hunter, ANA 20.8%
Carlos Lee, MIA 20.5%
Chris Nelson, COL 20.3%
Tyler Colvin, COL 20.2%
Carlos Ruiz, PHI 20%
Will Middlebrooks, BOS 20%
Chase Headley, SDN 19.9%
Travis Ishikawa, MIL 19.8%
Adrian Gonzalez, LAD 19.8%

That's a pretty interesting group of hitters. I'm sure we'll talk about Chris Johnson, when we get to third base. That guy is a trip. In 18 spring training games, he still doesn't have a walk, and due to a sacrifice fly, his OBP is lower than his Batting Average.

Fantasy Tips: Wait, wait, wait, wait. Replacement level fantasy first base stat lines will be about .270 BA, 20 HR, 75+ runs and RBI's. Each player will provide a little bit more or less in each category, and you can choose which one you like more. Personal Favorites: Hosmer, Freeman, Allen Craig, Anthony Rizzo, Lance Berkman, Ike Davis, Chris Davis, and Brandon Belt.

**Second Base**
We've discussed Robinson Cano again and again around these parts. We think he will have a great season. He will probably have a handful of more very good seasons. Will the Yankees bring him back? He is probably not going to be worth a 10-year pact, and New York's front office has lately shown restraint to let post-prime stars go to Los Angeles and Anaheim instead of the Bronx.

Jedd Gyorko has a little pop.
News out of Padres camp have highly rated prospect, Jedd Gyorko, winning the Friars' second base job. As a converted third baseman with power, he's an exciting prospect. Strikeouts could become a big problem, but if he can make contact, he could rank just beneath the Danny Espinosa / Howie Kendrick tier. Is he going to be better than Dustin Ackley? Will anyone be better than Ackley?

Brian Roberts is supposedly healthy in Baltimore, and part of me says he's a good bet to have a productive season, as a veteran leader on an exciting, young team. The other part of me tells me that he's a 'roided out retread, with a body that's always a day away from where it wants to be.

The opening in the Cardinals lineup adds the most intrigue to this position. Matt Carpenter can hit and play multiple positions. Will he be a starter or utility player for St. Louis? Kolten Wong is a guy that has been talked about in prospect circles for a few years. Daniel Descalso is in the mix, and Ronny Cedeno could give it a shot if Pete Kozma takes shortstop. The Cardinals will be a good team again, and it looks like they could choose offense over defense to see who plays second base. Matt Carpenter would be the best choice for fantasy players.

Fantasy Tips: Decide for yourself if Gyorko, Carpenter are worth sleeping on. If not, invest highly in Robinson Cano or to a lesser extent, make sure you get Ben Zobrist. According to ESPN's live draft results, Zobrist is going after Dustin Pedroia, Ian Kinsler and Brandon Phillips. Take Zobrist before Phillips to be safe.

Jose Iglesias will have his chances to claim the title of best defensive shortstop in the world, but this year the accolades will likely go to Atlanta's Andrelton Simmons. Extra small sample size warning talking about defense, and only 425 innings last year, but in that brief moment, scouts and stats agree that his defense was superlative. The numbers even had him above Brendan Ryan. Here's a look at Defensive Runs Saved above Average per Year (Rdrs/yr), for 2012, min 400 innings...

G Inn Rdrs/yr ▾
Andrelton Simmons 49 426.0 54
Brendan Ryan 138 1170.2 28
John McDonald 54 426.1 20
J.J. Hardy 158 1439.0 15
Mike Aviles 128 1107.2 15
Yunel Escobar 143 1250.2 14
Clint Barmes 142 1159.0 13
Brandon Crawford 139 1101.0 13
Alexei Ramirez 158 1392.0 12
Zack Cozart 138 1163.2 12
Paul Janish 55 450.1 11
Elvis Andrus 153 1333.0 7
Cliff Pennington 93 805.0 7
Erick Aybar 139 1189.2 3
Starlin Castro 162 1402.2 3
Brian Dozier 83 732.1 2
Ruben Tejada 112 964.2 0
Jhonny Peralta 149 1277.2 -1
Alcides Escobar 155 1379.2 -2
Jed Lowrie 93 773.1 -5
Everth Cabrera 111 915.1 -5
Rafael Furcal 120 1034.1 -5
Asdrubal Cabrera 136 1161.1 -5
Ian Desmond 128 1139.1 -6
Jimmy Rollins 156 1364.0 -7
Elliot Johnson 100 675.2 -11
Stephen Drew 75 658.2 -12
Jose Reyes 160 1410.2 -14
Hanley Ramirez 57 503.1 -17
Troy Tulowitzki 47 404.0 -18
Derek Jeter 135 1186.1 -18
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 3/16/2013.

Simmons is not much of a hitter, lacking any threat of power. Fortunately, he makes enough contact to find extra hits here and there. His 87.6% contact percentage is 7.9% higher than the 79.7% league average.

There are injury and aging risks with a lot of the games top shortstops. Some of the youngest players are one or two tool stars who can play good defense, and maybe hit or run a little. Starlin Castro is the best positioned player to take a big step forward towards the top of the class in 2013. Look at the ages of the top shortstops, according to ADP compliation from Yahoo, ESPN, CBS, Fox Sports, and MockDraftCentral:

No-one's better than a healthy Tulo
Troy Tulowitzki (28)
Hanley Ramirez (29)
Jose Reyes (30)
Starlin Castro (23)
Ben Zobrist (32)
Ian Desmond (27)
Jimmy Rollins (34)
Elvis Andrus (24)
Asdrubal Cabrera (27)
Danny Espinosa (26)
Derek Jeter (39)

Beware of Ian Desmond. He looks good, sandwiched between two tiers of Shortstops, with 25 HR's, 21 SB's, and a .292 batting average last season. Peripheral stats tell another story. He strikes out too much and was a bit lucky with the BABIP, but most notably he had an otherworldly HR/FB rate of 18.2%, which he will not be repeating. Desmond is more likely to end up with .270 batting average, 15 HR's and 15 steals, than a .290 average and 20/20 season.

Cub fans are hoping Starlin Castro has the work ethic
and focus to become the best Shortstop in the land.

Fantasy Tips: Beware of Ian Desmond. We like the top five of Tulo, Reyes, Castro, Hanley, and Zobrist, although Hanley appears a bit overvalued at the moment. If you do not want one of these guys, skip the middle tiers and sleep on Shortstop. Depending on what your team needs later in the draft/auction, select a Shortstop from the likes of Danny Espinosa (HR/SB), Alcides Escobar (SB), J.J. Hardy (HR), Everth Cabrera (SB), or Zack Cozart (HR).

**Third Base**
Chris Johnson, as we mentioned before, is an aggressive hitter. When he sees a pitch he likes, he tries to hit it hard. This makes him a good RBI man, as we saw in the OBI% statistic in our First Base section. What Johnson does not take into account is that his aggressiveness hampers his ability to reach base. This year, Johnson could follow the footsteps of Chipper Jones and become the starting third baseman in Atlanta, or more likely he will end up on the short end of a platoon with left-handed batter, Juan Francisco.

Excitement at the hot corner comes from future Hall of Famer, Miguel Cabrera, all time great Adrian Beltre, faces of their franchises: Evan Longoria, David Wright, and Ryan Zimmerman, new kid on the block Chase Headley, fine wine Aramis Ramirez, Canada's favorite brah Brett Lawrie, Big Panda, new D'back Martin Prado, Cardinals star David Freese, powerful super prospects Pedro Alvarez and Mike Moustakas, switch-hitting Kyle Seager, late-blooming Todd Frazier, new youk Will Middlebrooks, and Youk himself.

Looking at last year's 3rd basemen ranked by Baseball Prospectus' Runs Above Replacement Position adjusted (RARP) is a good reflection of offensive production...

Miguel Cabrera 59.4
Aramis is aging like a fine wine.
Chase Headley 56.9
David Wright 52.7
Adrian Beltre 50.3
Aramis Ramirez 39.9
Ryan Zimmerman 32.1
Evan Longoria 23.4
Kyle Seager 23
Chipper Jones 22.8
David Freese 22.6

Breaking news: Chase Headley jammed his thumb attempting to break up a double-play on Sunday. He may miss the start of the season. Stay close to the story to see if it is reason enough to drop Headley in the rankings, or a good opportunity to grab him at a discount if others do the same.

Fantasy Tips: MiggyCab is worthy of the #1 overall pick in drafts. That being said, third base is not as shallow as it has been in recent seasons. At this position, fantasy players can just take whomever they want. Personal favorites: MiggyCab, Wright, Headley, Zimmerman, Seager.

The sheer number or Major League outfielders with significant opportunities for playing time make it a position traditionally rife with sleepers. The positions are shallow, however, because the sleepers who could be the 60th or 80th best Outfielder are bigger long shots than aiming for the 12th or 20th best first baseman.

There are so many outfielders, that it's even harder to select a few to talk about. Matthew Berry's Love/Hate gimmick is a good template for sharing ideas on Outfielders. As a refresher, "hating" someone doesn't mean they are worse than someone who is "loved", the classifications have more to do with thinking if they are undervalued or overvalued, basically saying if you "love/hate" them at their current value. Make sense? Good. For right now, this a selection from our 2013 Outfield Hot/Cold:

Ryan Braun
Andrew McCutchen
Mike Trout
Jason Heyward
Jay Bruce
Ben Zobrist
Alex Gordon
Alejandro De Aza
Colby Rasmus
Cameron Maybin
Dexter Fowler
Adam Eaton
Domonic Brown
Travis Snider
Lorenzo Cain
Michael Cuddyer
Dayan Viciedo
David Murphy
Starling Marte
Lucas Duda
Avisail Garcia
Aaron Hicks

Josh Hamilton
Carlos Gomez ain't all that. The only
Brewers outfielder worth rostering
 is 2011 NL MVP Ryan Braun.
Jose Bautista
Michael Bourn
Shane Victorino
Carl Crawford
Mark Trumbo
Carlos Gomez
Ben Revere
Michael Morse
Emilio Bonifacio

Our deepest outfield sleeper for 2013, we mentioned before, is a first baseman who doesn't have OF eligibility, yet: Chris Carter. News out of Astros training camp reports the team is converting Carter to Left Field. We all know Mike Trout was the best rookie in baseball last season, but did you know that Chris Carter had the second highest OPS among all qualified rookies last year? It's true!

Highest OPS by 2012 MLB Rookies (Qualified)
1. Mike Trout .963
Chris Carter is ready to hit
into the Crawford Boxes
2. Chris Carter .864
3. Yasmani Grandal .863
4. Yoenis Cespedes .861
5. Wilin Rosario .843

Looking at players with Outfield eligibility, our top sleeper is Domonic Brown of the Phillies. Taking a look of the Average Draft Positions for Carter and Brown, we see some trends. Over the past three weeks, Chris Carter has dropped from 378th ranked player in the composite rankings to 385th.

Domonic Brown, conversely, has risen from 387th to 262nd. His stock should continue rising, as he hit his 4th home run of the Spring this weekend and currently has a .375/.453/.625 batting line with 6 BB and 7K's in 20 spring training games.

Prospects to keep an eye on over the next calendar year include Wil Myers, Oscar Taveras, Aaron Hicks, and Billy Hamilton.

Fantasy Tips: A lot depends on how many starters you need to have. The position is, naturally, much deeper in 10-team leagues that start 3 outfielders, than in a 12-team league that starts 5. As a general rule of thumb, I would try to acquire at least 1 projected Top 10 outfielder and 1 Top 20 outfielder, even in shallow leagues.

**Starting Pitcher**
Nobody ever talks about Wily Peralta. The soon to be 24-year old shouldn't have much of an innings limit, since he threw 185 innings last year. He's a big guy, listed at 6'2", 240 lbs. He throws very hard, with the highest average fastball velocity of all rookie starting pitchers who threw at least 20 innings. What's more, he placed 2nd among all starting pitchers who threw at least 20 innings last season:

Highest Average Fastball Velocity
2012 Starting Pitchers (min 20 ip)
Stephen Strasburg, Nationals 95.7 mph
Wily Peralta, Brewers 95.6 mph
David Price, Rays 95.5 mph
Danny Duffy, Royals 95.3 mph
Felipe Paulino, Royals 95.1 mph

Successful pitching involves more than just velocity, but it's good to note that one of the hardest throwing starters in the league is flying completely under the radar. A few peripheral stats that make Peralta look better include his 2-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, 2.65 FIP, 55% groundball rate, and that all five of his pitches carry a positive value on Fangraphs.

JJ has a lot to prove this season
Another interesting hurler is Josh Johnson, who's entering a contract year at 29-years old. Moving from Florida to Toronto should raise his career 3.15 ERA, but even at a 4.00 ERA, Johnson could have an outstanding season. His injury history is well documented, but he has practiced an offseason training routine since the end of 2011, with preventative and strengthening physical therapy exercises.

Could Robbie Ross be the next big thing in Texas? He's been a lights out LOOGY, flashing the potential to be more. His 2-to-1 K/BB ratio, 62% ground ball percentage, and minimal platoon split (.632 OPS vs Righties and .613 OPS vs Lefties) give him a leg up on the competition for Rangers 5th starter.

Marco Estrada's time is now.
Marco Estrada is a fashionable sleeper, and with good reason. He's currently going undrafted in many ESPN standard drafts and can easily be acquired as your last SP off the board. His 24% Career K% rate is high enough to warrant being owned in all leagues. Currently owned in about 3 our of every 4 leagues, if Estrada gets off to a good start, he will be owned in 100% of leagues by May.

Matt Harvey is another unproven strikeout pitcher with the look of a rising star (28.6 K% in 2012; 21% projected K% in 2013). Harvey is not as much of a sleeper as Estrada, since he's owned in 100% of ESPN leagues. He can help teams a lot with K's, ERA, and WHIP, but the Mets will not be winning many of his games. Given Harvey's tender age (turning 24 in 9 days), an innings limit isn't completely out of question. Optimistically, he should be good for at least 185 innings, since he threw 170 last year.

A few other potential stars who are undervalued in our opinion, besides Josh Johnson, include Adam Wainwright, Jordan Zimmerman, R.A. Dickey, Kris Medlen, Matt Moore, Brandon Morrow, Matt Harrison, Alex Cobb, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Chris Tillman, Paul Maholm, and James McDonald.

Prospects we think could be worth owning this year include Dylan Bundy, Trevor Bauer, Shelby Miller, Taijuan Walker, Alex White, and Gerrit Cole.

The Mariners have an abundance of pitching prospects, and Taijuan
Walker could be the best of the bunch. Now, about that offense?

Fantasy Tips: Be risk averse. Much like running backs in fantasy football, get young studs who should be able to stay healthy for at least this season. Lean towards youth. Take a guy who is two years removed from Tommy John surgery. They are due to have a healthy year, maybe moreso than a pitcher who has never been hurt. Avoid any pitcher who ahs ever had an injury to his throwing shoulder. Surgeries on shoulders are nowhere near as effective as elbows. We may occasionally miss out on a perfectly fine pitcher who had shoulder surgery, but being risk averse means avoiding high risk/reward players. Statistically speaking, look for high K% and low BB%. Those stats, along with BB/K ratio are more predictive, and therefore valuable, than K/9 or BB/9. Look at their Pitch F/X information to see how hard they throw, what kind of difference they have between their fastball and changeup, and how many positive-value pitches they have.

**Relief Pitcher**
The "Never Pay for Saves" mantra has served fantasy players well for years. Each year, new closers are found during the season, as Opening Day relievers expected to get their team's saves lose the job due to ineffectiveness or injury. Solidify fantasy bullpens with undervalued closers on lousy teams and lights-out middle relievers that add wins + strikeouts, and lower ERA + WHIP.

This year, that formula points at Greg Holland, Steve Cishek, Kyuji Fujikawa, Jason Grilli, Glen Perkins, and Jose Veras for Saves. The best middle relievers this year will likely include guys like Vinnie Pestano, Kelvin Herrera, Wilton Lopez, Brad Brach, David Hernandez, Tyler Clippard, Trevor Rosenthal, and about 88% of the Braves bullpen.

Fantasy Tips: Never Pay for Saves

Steve Cishek is our guy this year.
Who's your pick for best RP value?

The smartest people at BAseball Reality Tour will forever be the readers. Please enlighten us in the comments section. Whom did we overlook or overrate? Who are you most excited to see play this year? Which are the best/worst positions to sleep on in fantasy? Thanks for reading!

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