Picks and Pans
by Joe Sheehan (@Joe_Sheehan)
Joe Sheehan's Picks and Pans will appear in the RotoWire Fantasy Baseball Guide 2014 that recently went to the printer. Look for more from Joe throughout the year in the Joe Sheehan Newsletter.
I have been writing this piece for a few years, and I never think to lead by checking back to last year's picks. Let's see…a year ago, I recommended that you draft Chris Archer, Stephen Drew and Eric Hosmer, while warning you of Derek Jeter. There were 11 other players covered in the piece, but in the interest of space let's just get to the 2014 picks and pans and assume the comments on those other players were all just as brilliant!
10 Players To Target for 2014
Nolan Arenado, 3B, COL
Young players who can pick it are safer bets to keep their jobs than young players who cannot. Arenado hit his way to the majors, but he stayed there by being one of the best defensive third basemen in the game. In other seasons, he would have had an awards case, even while batting .267/.301/.405 despite playing for the Rockies. Arenado was not overmatched; he had a reasonable 14% strikeout rate and an acceptable .138 ISO. A high groundball rate kept him from taking advantage of the thin air, and he needs to get better at hitting everything but fastballs -- both of which are in his skill set. Arenado, just 23, should take a big step forward this season and take better advantage of his home park.
Peter Bourjos, OF, STL
My one repeater from last year's list, Bourjos was hitting .333/.392/.457 on June 29 when a Jordan Lyles fastball broke his wrist. He went on the DL and when he came back, he simply couldn't hit, ruining his overall stats. Bourjos underwent surgery on the wrist and was later traded to the Cardinals. He's an excellent fit for his new team, which turns major-league talent into major-league production better than any organization in baseball. Bourjos is still a plus-plus defender with 25-steal speed, and when healthy and left alone to play every day, he has been a good hitter. He's a good pick if the Cards bat him low in the lineup, and if he can find his way to the No. 2 slot behind Matt Carpenter, he will be a great one. I promise he won't be in the 2015 version of this article.
Ike Davis, 1B, NYM
In 2012, Davis got off to a terrible start before saving his season with a huge second half. He did exactly one of those things in 2013, then suffered a strained oblique that ended his year in August. Davis has good raw power and, for a power hitter, a good idea of the strike zone: even last year, he had a 53:101 UIBB:K ratio and a .326 OBP -- despite a .205 batting average. The Mets went into the offseason looking to trade him, which may be best for both player and team. Davis, 27, is a fantastic bounceback candidate who could be Mark Trumbo with walks in the right setting. Pay very careful attention to where he lands in spring training.
Kyuji Fujikawa, RP, CHC
Signed to be the Cubs' closer -- in the grand tradition of Kazuhiro Sasaki, Shingo Takatsu and Akinori Otsuka -- Fujikawa made just 12 appearances before undergoing Tommy John surgery in June. His ERA was 5.25, but he had a 14:2 K:UIBB and struck out 28% of the men he faced in his 12.2 innings. He should be healthy by midseason. The Cubs have signed Jose Veras as a stopgap; Veras will not be a barrier to a healthy Fujikawa taking over the closer's role and picking up 15 saves in the second half. Make him a reserve pick in all formats.
Kevin Gausman, SP, BAL
One reason the Orioles took a step back in the standings in 2013 was that they didn't get the expected boost from first-round picks Gausman and Dylan Bundy. Bundy missed the season after Tommy John surgery, while Gausman ran up a 7.66 ERA in five starts, just one of them quality. Exiled to the bullpen, Gausman was better: a 3.52 ERA in 15 appearances. Overall, while Gausman did not have the impact the Orioles needed, there were some very good signs, including an exceptional 49:11 K:UIBB in 47.2 innings. Gausman works at 95 mph and has both a slider and splitter that he can use to get swings and misses. Like Chris Tillman did last year, Gausman could take a step forward and strike out 200 men while racking up wins and good ratios.
Phil Hughes, SP, MIN
Few players were as poor a match for their environment as Hughes was these past few years in New York. For his career, Hughes has a 4.82 ERA in the latest iteration of Yankee Stadium, with a home run allowed every five innings. Everywhere else, Hughes has a 4.47 ERA with a home run allowed every 10 innings -- including a 3.88 ERA with just seven homers allowed in 13 road starts last year. Signing with the Twins, for three years and $24 million, was a great decision by Hughes, who goes from an awful home-run park for a righty hurler to a good one. He'll benefit as well from the better outfield defenses the Twins have been putting on the field, and a softer slate of opponents outside the AL East. Hughes may not rack up wins, but he'll have a good ERA and WHIP while giving you strikeouts.
Desmond Jennings, OF, TAM
There's literally just one piece missing in Jennings' game: he can't get around on hard stuff from right-handed pitchers. Jennings is a good center fielder, an efficient basestealer, someone who is willing to take walks -- 64 last year -- and who can hit for power: 51 extra-base hits and a .161 ISO in 2013. But for two years in a row, he's been a mess against righties: a .238 average and a .308 OBP. He's too often blown away by power stuff: against fastballs from right-handed pitchers last year, he missed on more than a quarter of his swings. It's the one hole in his game, but it's a huge one that can be exploited by most pitchers. If Jennings can make that one adjustment, he can be a down ballot MVP candidate. It says here that in 2014, he will.
Brett Lawrie, 3B, TOR
The most important statistic in Lawrie's favor: 24. Despite being injured and disappointing in his first two full seasons, Lawrie fits the bill of a player who now has a lot of MLB reps – 1,149 PA -- at a young enough age to apply the lessons learned and see some strong growth. Lawrie gets the bat to the ball, with just a 15% strikeout rate last year; however, he's become a groundball hitter who doesn't make contact with authority: just 32 extra-base hits last year. He has significant fantasy value as a third baseman who runs: he's attempted 35 steals the past two years, a high number for someone playing the hot corner. There are no obvious markers here that point to a breakout, but the combination of talent, experience and age, coupled with Lawrie's fade from the spotlight, make him a draft-day target for you.
Sergio Santos, RP, TOR
We'll stay in Canada to highlight a high-value reliever with closing potential. After losing a season to shoulder surgery, Santos returned to whiff 32% of the batters he faced, with a ridiculous 28:2 K:UIBB. That's no fluke; Santos has a career strikeout rate of 30% with a better than 3.0 career K/UIBB. He, not Casey Janssen, is the best pitcher in the Jays' bullpen, and he should pick up a lot of saves in the season's second half.
Andrelton Simmons, SS, ATL
You know about the glove -- Simmons is the best defensive player in baseball and may be the best since Andruw Jones' heyday in the late 1990s. That doesn't help you much in fantasy, though. This does: Simmons' line last year was something out of the 1980s, a .248 batting average but an excellent 8% strikeout rate and 39:55 UIBB:K. Simmons roped 17 homers with a .148 ISO with one of the best contact rates in the game -- a combination you simply never see any longer -- but still batted below .250. Something has to give, and it's likely going to be a .247 BABIP that makes no sense for a player with a 42% groundball rate. Simmons' high pop-up rate may keep him from being a .300 hitter (he's like Ian Kinsler in some ways), but he certainly can get to .280 with just a bit more good fortune, and that should provide more opportunities to steal bags. Simmons may never have fantasy value that matches his real-life stock, but he should be one of the top-10 shortstops -- maybe even higher than that -- for the next few seasons.
5 Players to Avoid for 2014
Here are five players you should avoid, even if it means running from the room when their names come up in the auction.
Carlos Beltran, OF, NYY
He's a Hall of Famer already, but there are some cracks showing in the foundation. After a career of efficient basestealing, Beltran attempted just three steals last year, and may be shutting down that part of his game to save his body. He also hit just three triples and grounded into 12 double plays, all indications that his speed is going. Beltran had the worst walk rate (6%) and UIBB:K (37:90) since he was a 22-year-old rookie. The move to Yankee Stadium may help his power numbers, but you're better off playing up that change and letting someone else pay for the decline.
Curtis Granderson, OF, NYM
The player Beltran nominally replaces didn't go far, moving across town on a four-year deal to play for the Mets. This has "Jason Bay" written all over it, a three-true-outcomes (K, BB, HR) hitter hitting his decline and moving to a tougher park for a flyball hitter. Granderson, 33, isn't the five-tool threat he was in Detroit; he hit .231 at ages 31 and 32 and is a pick-his-spots basestealer now, with just 23 attempts in two years. Granderson's strikeout rate is rising and his walk rate his declining. There's no number at which I'd want to have him.
Doug Fister, SP, WAS
Sent to the Nationals in one of the stranger trades in the offseason, Fister is expected to be a key part of the Nats' rotation as they try to take back the NL East. Fister rates highly in advanced metrics over the past few seasons because he pounds the strike zone (4.7% walk rate as a Tiger) and gets batters to hit the ball on the ground more than half the time they make contact. However, we are talking about a starting pitcher who works at 89-90 mph, and velocity still matters in predicting a pitcher's future. You can survive without a power fastball, but you live on the edge. I think we've seen Fister's peak: he won't look as impressive over the next two seasons as he has the past two.
Ubaldo Jimenez, SP, FA
Just as his strong first half in 2010 came out of nowhere, so did Jimenez's great second half last year, in which he ran a 1.82 ERA in 13 starts, struck out 29% of the batters he faced and helped the Indians reach the postseason for the first time since 2007. At the All-Star break, Jimenez seemed likely to pick up his player option for 2014; by October, he was picking up his ticket to free agency. While Jimenez did find some lost velocity down the stretch, the more significant factor in his low ERA was an unsustainably low HR/FB -- 2.5% over those 13 outings. Jimenez has the durability and stuff to be what he was with the Rockies -- a credible No. 2 or No. 3 starter with a high WHIP -- but paying for last year's performance is a mistake.
Francisco Liriano, SP, PIT
Liriano has simply never been both effective and healthy in consecutive seasons. His 2013 dominance was largely the result of him being tougher on left-handed batters than any left-handed starter ever, thanks to the return of his devastating slider. That pitch didn't help so much against righties, who had a roughly league-average line -- .249/.329/.360 -- against Liriano. There are just too many red flags here, from Liriano's extensive injury history, to his reliance on the slider, to his stats being so much the product of dominating lefty batters (.131/.175/.146, or what you'd hope to get from your LOOGY). Let someone else take the performance and health risk, while you get Charlie Morton.