This past weekend, I am guessing most of you had your attention focused in two directions: one eye on your fantasy drafts and another on March Madness. I had two drafts this past Saturday and thankfully, my iPad shows a good image through the CBS March Madness app as my league huddled around the iPad to watch the final moments of Florida /Butler. Others may have been doing NFBC drafts this weekend at either one of the live drafts or a satellite event and if so, I'd love to see what kind of team you put together (post in comments).
While all of that was going on, the major league teams made another round of cuts as they get closer to the final 25 that will be introduced on Opening Day later this week. Yes, Opening Day is finally here in three or four sleeps depending on whom your favorite team is or if you refuse to acknowledge these made-for-TV opening night events. I am not much of a traditionalist when it comes to baseball as I believe in the DH, I'm fine playing baseball under a roof, and I grew up watching the Astros play on Astroturf and have only seen the Rays play on the stuff and it has grown on me throughout the years, but I also believe Opening Day should kick off in Cincinnati. There may be another player cut here or there before March 31st, but it appears that we will see a number of young faces on clubs this weekend in a variety of roles.
These are the prospects that are projected to make the Opening Day roster, broken down in tiers based on the role they will have with their respective clubs:
Tier I: Full-time Starters:
- Freddie Freeman - Freeman has the starting first base job with Atlanta after a successful yet brief minor league career. He's not going to finish in the top half of home run totals at first base but his batting average should easily be in that top half.
- Brandon Beachy - In a bit of a shock, Beachy beat out Mike Minor for the fifth starter's spot in Atlanta. Minor easily has the higher ceiling of the two and Jair Jurrjens' recent injury may make this a moot point but Beachy is nothing more than a back end pitcher and does not have a high ceiling. Kris Medlen filled this role before he was injured and Beachy can do the same and be efficient.
- Brad Emaus - Rule 5 picks rarely make 25 man rosters and it is even more rare that they get starting roles but Emaus has done both with the Mets as he is slated to start at second base. Emaus owns a .276/.364/.426 slash line as a minor leaguer and has walked just eight less times than he has struck out. Everth Cabrera sticks out as a Rule 5 guy who made it and had problems but he made the jump from A-ball while Emaus has over 1100 at bats above A-ball and had a .397 OBP last season in Triple-A walking 81 times while striking out just 69. He went for $1 in NL Tout Wars and I grabbed him myself at $2 in my local NL league as the Mets aren't going to let a cheap talent get away in their current financial condition. If he loses his job, it will be due to his defense, which is quite limited.
- Danny Espinosa - Espinosa is already popular with his potential to be a 20/20 guy at some point in his career but contact is a problem and it could limit his batting average to under .250 this season. Last season in 112 plate appearances, he struck out 30% of the time and hit .214 and did not swipe a single bag after stealing 25 in the minors. The job is his; if he makes enough contact, he is going to be very productive and his ADP right now is still an excellent value at 383.
- Aneury Rodriguez - The Astros are bad enough, but they're seriously considering a Rule 5 pick as their fifth starter this season. Rodriguez was a middle of the pack prospect for the Rays who twice been taken in this draft. He had a pretty decent year with the Durham Bulls last year but walked 3.9 per nine innings. He at least has a lot of upper level experience but if you draft him for anything other than strikeouts, you're making a bad move.
- Ivan Nova - Nova is in a much better situation pitching with a good defense and great offensive support behind him. Last season, he had a 7.1 K/9 in Triple-A and he has won a starting spot in the Yankees' rotation. He had his issues with walks in his call-up last year and he really struggled after 50 pitches as batters had a .988 OPS against him compared to .569 and .607 the first two times through the lineup.
- Jeremy Hellickson - The crème de la crème of rookie pitchers who should be a good to solid contributor all across the board. He will take the fifth spot, meaning he is likely to be skipped every now and then and may even miss the first start of this season as he is a few steps behind the other starting pitchers having missed time early in camp with a hamstring strain. I feel Hellickson will have the third highest roto value on the team by season's end.
- J.P. Arencibia - The power-hitting catcher has the job for better or for worse. He was just 5 for 35 in his call-up last season with 11 strikeouts but he does have 53 home runs over the past two Triple-A seasons in the bandbox in Las Vegas. The power is there, but the selectivity is not. He was exposed in his brief cup of coffee last season and his 64 walks to 204 strikeouts over the last two seasons does not give me much optimism that he hits above .230 this year.
- Kyle Drabek - The rookie beat out Marc Rzepczynski for the final spot despite skipping over Triple-A ball entirely. Last season, his K/BB was 1.9 but he did allow just 126 hits in 162 Double-A innings. He is just 23 years old and everyone who has followed the young rookie pitchers in the AL East are quite familiar with the level of struggles they go through. Keeper league players are wise to invest - reset leagues proceed with extreme caution.
- Brent Morel - He turns 24 three weeks into the season and has the starting role for the White Sox. He has hit 29 home runs in his last 1123 at bats but never hit lower than .281 in any minor league season. Draft him for the average and hope that the park factors at US Cellular fuel him to double-digit home runs this season.
- Mark Trumbo - It was Trumbo, not Arencibia, that led the Pacific Coast League in home runs last season. Trumbo has a job as long as Kendrys Morales' foot is acting up but his playing time becomes non-existent once Morales is healthy. The Angels have Wells, Bourjos, and Hunter in the outfield now and would rather not put Bobby Abreu's awful defense back into the outfield. Trumbo either has to hope Morales is out for awhile or that Bourjos' bat is so bad that the club decides it just is not worth his defense being in the lineup every day.
- Michael Pineda - The Mariners are favored to win the AL We ... hell, I can't even type that sentence without laughing. Why would they burn service time for a pitcher that has but 140 innings above A-ball and is only 22 years old? Yes, Pineda is talented but unless they're worried about his arm falling off at 26 years old, I have to question the aggressiveness of this promotion. Until then, I'll roster him for the strikeouts and hope that he can somehow win some games despite yet another putrid offense in Seattle.
Tier II: Middle Relievers
- Craig Kimbrel - Freddy Gonzalez has not decided whether Kimbrel or Venters will close but either will still have value. Kimbrel has control issues as his walk rate has been high but his strikeout rate has been though the roof - much like Carlos Marmol. He could have the job by this weekend and lose it by Monday if he walks too many batters. Still, he should be one of the more valuable middle relievers in NL-Only leagues and reserve material in mixed leagues until his role is defined.
- Mike Dunn - I was first impressed with Dunn watching him pitch in the 2009 AFL but was underwhelmed with him when I went out to specifically watch him throw for the Braves in a Grapefruit League game against the Nationals last March. He has a lot of arm, but his control comes and goes, even at the age of 25 with his experience. It is why I'd rather target Ryan Webb as a Leo Nunez handcuff. Dunn could pick up a situational save here or there, but I do not believe he has a future as a closer with his current skills.
- Aroldis Chapman - Chapman has the same command issues Dunn has, but when you throw 103 mph, they tend to get overlooked. Chapman can either start or relieve but the Reds appear to be committed to using him in the pen this year. He is currently being taken ahead of Leo Nunez and Jonny Venters by as many as 20 picks and I think that is a mistake until he either starts or has the ball in the ninth inning.
- Brandon Kintzler - The Brewers found this short righty in the Independent League after he flamed out as a Padres prospect, and has put up some impressive numbers since. In 85 innings with the Milwaukee organization, he has permitted 71 hits, walked 16, allowing six home runs while striking out 76 batters. John Axford has a firm hold on the closer role and Saito and Braddock should set him up well, but Kintzler could have some success in a seventh inning situational role and bears watching in deeper NL leagues.
- Kenley Jansen - Jansen was the most impressive pitcher I got to see in the 2009 AFL league and immediately had visions of Kelvim Escobar watching him pitch. Jansen has a live arm as a former catcher and strikeouts should come in bunches, but save opportunities will have to wait for Jonathan Broxton and Hong-Chih Kuo to fail first. In the meantime, enjoy the strikeouts and ratios and see what happens.
- Jake McGee - McGee is in a clearer situation because he has the same kind of strikeout skills and flashed his dominance at both Double-A and Triple-A last season before a limited cup of coffee at the big league level. All that currently stands in his way of being a closer for the Rays is Kyle Farnsworth and Joel Peralta and potentially a returning J.P. Howell from a shoulder injury. McGee has the best pure stuff of the grouping but it would be very much unlike Joe Maddon to rush a prospect into a position as he has been anything but patient with other prospects in any role during his tenture with the Rays.
- Chris Sale - All Sale has to do is hope that the very consistent and talented Matt Thornton somehow slips up, and that is if the White Sox leave him in relief. Jake Peavy is already slowed down with complications and the club may decide to put him in the rotation at some point. I like his fantasy potential more as a dominant late game reliever right now but he is still draftable in any league format based on skills alone.
- Vinny Pestano - The former 20th round draft pick has made the Indians' bullpen coming off a season in which he struck out 77 batters while walking just 16 in 60 innings and allowed just two home runs. Pestano has piled up 71 saves in four minor league seasons so he could get a shot at some saves should Chris Perez falter as the other big arms in the bullpen are lefties in Tony Sipp and Rafael Perez. He makes for an interesting speculation in AL-Only reserve rounds.
- Daniel Schlereth - Not worth drafting in anything but the deepest leagues as Joaquin Benoit will take whatever saves that Jose Valverde does not get. Besides, Schlereth's command is simply not good enough to be trusted with the ball in the 9th inning.
- Tim Collins - The little engine that could did make the Royals' pen. Collins looks like the kid that cuts your lawn until he uncorks his heater. He owns a career 13.3 K/9 as a minor leaguer and has permitted just 141 hits in 223 innings pitched. He and Jeremy Jeffress are likely to see most of the set-up opportunities to Soria and if Soria is ever traded, the closing role could be an open audition. I have targeted both pitchers in recent AL drafts but Collins has gone before Jeffress both times.
- Nathan Adcock - A Rule 5 pick by the Royals, he is nothing more than roster filler in 12-team AL leagues with 80 man rosters.
- Jordan Walden - Walden is another guy with a very live arm who will have fantasy value either as a reliever or potentially as a closer this season if Rodney and Downs among others struggle. He is not a finished product as he is mostly fastball, but the potential is there for him to be a valued asset later in the season.
Tier III: Bench Players
- Matt Young
- Scott Cousins
- Wilson Ramos
- Josh Rodriguez
- Allen Craig
- Elliot Johnson
- Eric Sogard
Cousins is intriguing for NL Ultra leagues, but he reminds me of another Aaron Cunningham in that he doesn't do any one thing terribly well statistically and is 26 years old and has but a handful of games at the major league level. Johnson made his first Opening Day roster after 10 years in the Rays' organization and should have both multi-positional eligibility with the club and the potential to steal 10 bases as a late inning pinch-runner because he has good wheels and base-stealing instincts. Sogard owns a career .380 OBP in the minors and is coming off a year in Triple-A with a .300/.391/.407 slash line but there is no power there and he has never swiped more than 16 bases.