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New Top-50 Picks, Part 1

Yesterday was the final day of the regular season in football which marks something an unofficial start for fantasy baseball. I think the official start is the minute the Super Bowl ends, but with Week 17 wrapped up there is no more fantasy football (and you really shouldn't even be using Week 17 if I'm being honest, but now's not the time for that) and so those who have had a few months away from the diamond are starting to trickle back over to it.

To help with the transition back into baseball, I'm looking at the six biggest movers into the top-50 this week and also speculating on some guys who could emulate their jump in 2016. In other words, I'm not always looking for direct comps for these six newcomers (two-a-day through Wednesday), but rather guys being drafted in the same area this year who could make a similar leap. That might also be unclear, especially because it really only ties to the first guy on the list, but you'll see… let's just start.

By the way, the pool of players is those who had an average draft position (ADP) of 345 or better last year. That threshold marks 23 rounds for a 15-team draft, so if you didn't have an ADP in that range, you weren't really on the radar coming into the season (So no Carlos Correa or Kyle Schwarber).

Jose Fernandez [MIA, SP]

  • 2015 ADP: 196
  • 2016 ADP: 30
  • Difference: 166

We start with a really interesting case because we know the injury was the only reason that Fernandez was down that low. He was coming off of Tommy John surgery and we knew he wouldn't be returning until the summer, but that didn't stop him from going in the 14th round of NFBC drafts. He only made 11 starts. It's tough when the round drafted his higher than the start count.

There aren't too many scenarios where that doesn't hurt. Sure, in the reserve round of a deep draft you don't need your second-to-last pick to make 28 starts to pan out even though he's a 28th-rounder, but any pitcher taken for your starting roster should start more games than his draft round. The only real concern with Fernandez in 2016 is whether or not he will stay upright.

The skills were instantly amazing in those 11 starts, but a strained triceps cost him a month in an already-shortened season which tanked the potential return on investment for those who took the plunge. Of course that's the risk in taking TJ returns and why I generally don't do it outside of extenuating circumstances (like Matt Harvey having a longer recovery time that made a full season of starts more likely.

2016 Comp: Again, please don't get hung up on the word "comp" and think of it in the scouting sense as if I'm relating this guy directly to Fernandez's talent. Fernandez is one the five best pitchers in baseball when fully healthy. This is a unique case for this list as the rest are true breakouts who hadn't yet reached the heights of Fernandez. My favorite starter being drafted in that 190-210 range capable of making a huge leap in 2016 is Joe Ross (pick 208, 56th SP).

He showed the stuff to be special in a 76.7-inning romp with the Nationals to close out 2015, displaying both strikeout (22%) and groundball (50%) capabilities thanks to a fastball-slider combo that rivals big brother's already. I think even a dream-type season for Ross doesn't quite get him into the top-30 overall like Fernandez, but he could definitely jump into the top-30 starting pitchers which would still be a very impressive 100-pick jump into the low-100s overall (Garrett Richards is the 30th pitcher off the board at pick 112 right now).

Lorenzo Cain [KC, OF]

  • 2015 ADP: 211
  • 2016 ADP: 50
  • Difference: 161

I originally was going to look only at guys with a 345 ADP or better with the biggest jumps regardless of whether or not they made it into the top-50. If I had done that, Cain would've been one of three KC Royals to make the top six. I found the top-50 twist a bit more inviting, especially since we're just easing back into baseball here on January 4th. We've still got time to go deep into the rankings. So Wade Davis (191 pick jump to #62) and Mike Moustakas (190 pick jump to #136) will get their due another day.

Cain is the lone Royal now, but one of two speed-power outfielders to make a tremendous leap forward in 2015. I usually say "power-speed combo", but with Cain it was definitely the speed that was there first. In fact, he was relatively devoid of power from 2012-14, hitting just 7, 5, and 7 HR in those seasons while swiping 14, 28, and 28 bases.

I believe Cain's jump, my only concern carries over from last year: injury. He had at least one DL stint per year in the three seasons before last year and he plays all-out defense which puts him at risk. But the across-the-board profile is so enticing that it's a gamble I'm willing to take. If the power falls back, I still have a speed-batting average asset who should still score plenty of runs with KC, although it would be on a per-plate-appearance sort of thing because I think if he busts at pick 50, it's because of injury, not skills degradation.

2016 Comp: Cameron Maybin (pick 209, 54th OF). This one has some parallels. Two highly-skilled outfielders (pretty much the same size, too) who have battled injuries throughout their careers while flashing defense and speed with a tinge of pop. Where they sharply diverge is that Maybin was expected to already be at Cain's level years ago, as a former 1st-round pick (Milwaukee took Cain in the 17th).

Cain's breakout took time due in large part to his picking up baseball late, so that's not at play with Maybin. We've been waiting for a special season out of him for quite some time. He hits the ball on the ground a lot so I'm not sure how much more power is waiting in his bat. Maybe his best bet at a breakout is a contact-heavy approach that allows him to run wild (he has a 40-SB season under his belt already). It will be interesting to see how Maybin fares returning to the team that drafted him and eventually traded him (with Andrew Miller as the co-headliner) for Miguel Cabrera.

Tomorrow: another SP/OF combo of newcomers who might've actually been the biggest breakouts at their position in 2015.