Even if you are new to fantasy, or an old vet, one of the first things stuffed down your face is don’t look at spring stats, they are worthless. Maybe it’s just how I am wired; maybe I have a problem with authority, but I cannot help myself to peek behind the curtain and look at spring stats. What else am I supposed to do during spring training? Some get caught up in the madness trying to find the next Albert Pujols in the lines of spring player stats, which begin to look like the Matrix if you stare at them long enough. Me? I don’t take these stats to the bank; however, they help reaffirm how I am feeling about a particular player coming into the fantasy season. Here are some worthless numbers reaffirming some guys I am targeting in my drafts and interested in taking.
1. The first round
For those lucky enough to land the number-one pick, the age-old argument of Mike Trout or Miguel Cabrera wages on. For me, Cabrera gets the slight nod only because it is really hard to pass up a guy with multi-position eligibility. Both are killing it thus far in spring training; however, this may finally be the year Trout grabs the unquestioned King of Fantasy title and never looks back.
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For those who don’t get one of the coveted first two picks, let me throw a name at you: Ryan Braun. Steroids … yeah, there was that. I don’t know about you, but for me, I don’t have a Hall of Fame or MVP vote. I do, however, like to win, therefore, what he sticks in his body1 is not going to make me pass over him so I can make some holier-than-thou political statement2. There is not any reason in the world that Braun should not be the clear number-three pick in any draft. Nevertheless, he’s not even in the first round in a lot of draft boards. Looking at spring numbers reaffirms my belief that Braun is going to absolutely kill it this season3, earning a spot in the top echelons of fantasy players this season.
2. Digging deep
If you don’t have some alert about every single Javier Baez at-bat this spring, then you, my friend, are not doing your job. This young up-and-comer had a stat line in the minors last season that makes fantasy nerds drool. Baez is one of those rare speed/power guys who actually may have a chance to break camp as the Cubs’ starting second baseman. In 12-team leagues, I am looking to grab Baez with one of my last few picks. In spring training, he is holding his own, batting .318 with three homers. But one red flag his is strikeout to walk ratio. He has five strikeouts and zero walks in 22 at-bats. At the end of any draft, you are just throwing stuff at a wall hoping it will stick. Baez could be one guy who does stick.
Another middle infielder I have my eye on is Jonathan Schoop. He came into camp as the dark-horse candidate for the starting second base position. He has not disappointed, posting a .458 average with a home run; but again, in 24 at-bats, he has eight strikeouts and two walks. But 20-25 home run potential at second base is a nice luxury to have. He, too, is someone I’m keeping an eye on in late-round drafts in deep leagues.
3. Breakout year?
Everyone looks like a potential Hall of Famer in spring training, but some guys stand out more than others. Trying to find that rare, elusive white rabbit of a “breakout season” is a tricky business. Last year, we got Jean Segura, whom everyone loved until the Internet turned on him like he had the plague4. However, with a new year, comes a new white rabbit. Before even looking at these pointless spring training numbers, I had Mike Moustakas pegged as a potential breakout guy. Last season, he took a step backwards in his development, but the kid is flat out crushing in the preseason, batting .483 with four home runs and 14 RBIs. More importantly is his strikeout-to-walk ratio. In 29 at-bats, he has four strikeouts and five walks. Let’s not get too carried away, but in live draft results, he is going 224th, so herein lies some draft-day value. Moustakas’ pedigree and spring numbers definitely seem to point to a potential breakout season.
Another guy I am intrigued by is Jason Heyward. When he came up, he had all the hype in the world. People were throwing out Hank Aaron comps for this kid, which he, of course, has not lived up to. I think he is a young player trying to put it all together, and watch out when he does! He is having a solid spring and is currently going 82nd in drafts. Depending on my outfield situation at that point in the draft, he deserves serious consideration. The year he does put it all together could earn fantasy teams their league titles.
4. When in doubt, check out Tampa
If you keep up with NFL free agency at all, teams like the Broncos have made all the headlines, but the Patriots not only are getting loads better, they are finding guys for cheap. Darrel Revis? For me, the Tampa Bay Rays are the MLB equivalent to the Patriots. I am always stunned at what Tampa does for players’ careers, and I’m kind of jealous when they make these sneaky signings. Jerry Sands was one of those guys they got this season. Remember him? Well, when he had his first go-around with the Dodgers, it did not go so well. Now he is with the Rays. The Rays are known for turning careers around; hell, they even made James Loney useful. Sands seems to look like a guy you should put on your draft-day board. He’s batting .375 with three homers, but in 24 at-bats, he has eight strikeouts and only two walks. Sands could be Chris Davis, but he also could be sent to the minors where we’ll never hear from him again — making this being the longest section of a column ever devoted to Jerry Sands. I’m just saying, he is on the Rays and anything is possible.
5. Pitching strategy
I have become a firm believer in waiting for pitching. It is a risky move, to be quite honest, but the payoff is massive. In a mock draft I did last night, I waited until I ended up with Mat Latos. Then I went pitcher heavy, ending up with Jeff Samardzija, Chris Archer and Michael Wacha, to name a few5. Going with a strategy like might be something you cannot do. Me? I tend to find pitching throughout the season. Jose Fernandez anyone6? With the list of pitchers I grabbed in a 12-team mock draft, all have “upside” to get into the conversation of elite pitchers. If I hit the lottery with one or two of these guys, I am going to be tough to beat because I loaded up on batters early and often in the former rounds.
Looking at spring numbers for pitching is a bit more difficult. Usually, the only thing to even care about is strikeout-to-walk ratio. Taking a look at my mock draft list mentioned previously, all have a good ratio. But even something like the strikeout-to-walk ratio must be taken with a grain of salt. For instance, lets look at Stephen Strasberg. In 5.0 innings pitched, he has only one strikeout and two walks. If you dig a bit further, you will find that he is toying with adding a slider to his arsenal. So everything he does in spring training is not useful for us7.
The one guy I was not able to get that I have my eye on is Julio Teheran. In 9.0 innings this spring, he has eight strikeouts and only one walk. The knock on Teheran has always been command. If his command is on point, he will be a top-20 pitcher guaranteed.
1 Unless it was some hard-core drugs like heroine. That probably knocks him out of the first round.
2 I’m on the side that these guys should get into the HOF. Put an asterisk by their name, put them in the basement, hell I don’t care. Just put them in the Hall.
3 14 AB, .571 AVG, .647 OBP, 1.790 OPS
4 There was sound logic in the hate. He had massive splits between the first and second halves. Guys like that are a stay-away for me.
5 Really, to name the only ones I remember.
6 I was loading people’s bags and taking tickets on the bandwagon last season.
7 Unless of course that slider becomes a serious weapon for him.