Each week, two members of the BP fantasy team will provide a rundown of potentially valuable players that are available as free agents in most fantasy formats across the major platforms. We will run one column on the National League and one on the American League each week, with Josh Shepardson tackling the senior circuit on Mondays and Paul Singman focusing on the junior circuit on Tuesdays.
Gattis made the highlight reel by hitting a homer in his first start in the majors, but he has the bat to be more than a one-hit wonder. Gattis burst onto the scene with a strong minor-league season in 2012 and followed it up with a big showing in both winter-league play and spring training. He's currently splitting time behind the plate with Gerald Laird, while Brian McCann is on the disabled list recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. McCann won't begin playing in rehab games until at least April 16, and that will allow Gattis some time to carve out a role for himself with the Braves. Because McCann will eventually be returning and reclaiming the starting catching role, Gattis' value is limited to NL-only leagues, large mixed leagues that use two catchers, and dynasty leagues. That said, in the short-term, he has a chance to help teams as a second catcher.
Castillo is more likely to have staying power on fantasy rosters in redraft leagues than Gattis. He's the starting catcher for a rebuilding Cubs team, and the two catchers behind him are nothing more than backups. Castillo flashed his power in the bigs last year, smacking five homers in just 190 plate appearances. He strikes out too often to be expected to build on his .265 average from last year, but his track record in the upper minors suggests he might be able to cut back on the whiffs a bit. He has recorded at least one hit in three of the four games in which he has played, and he's a solid option at catcher in NL-only leagues and 12+ team mixed formats that use at least two catchers.
The Reds’ starting left fielder, Ryan Ludwick, suffered a shoulder injury sliding into third base on Opening Day, and he’s expected to be shelved for at least three months. Outlets that have suggested this should open the door to Billy Hamilton reaching the bigs early this year are probably too optimistic. The exciting former shortstop is learning a new position, center field, and he has less than 300 plate appearances in the upper minors. Heisey is the guy that will benefit the most from Ludwick's absence, and he has a respectable .256/.312/.434 triple-slash line in 932 career plate appearances. In 2011, he hit 18 homers in 308 plate appearances while serving as a fourth outfielder. His power went backward last year, but he packs enough punch to approach 20 homers if he receives around 500 plate appearances. He adds a pinch of speed, as well, and should steal around 10 bases with regular work. Thus far, Dusty Baker has slotted him second in the lineup, and if he's able to remain sandwiched between Shin-Soo Choo and Joey Votto, his counting stats will benefit. Heisey is best used in NL-only leagues, but he could play his way into large mixed league relevance in formats that use five outfielders.
Ruggiano was blocked in the outfield as a member of the Rays, and that resulted in him tallying over 2,000 plate appearances at the Triple-A level. He's proven himself in the minors, and got an extended look in the majors for the Marlins last year. He played over his head in 2012, totaling 13 homers, 14 stolen bases, and a .401-BABIP-fueled .313 batting average in 320 plate appearances, but his sterling results speak to his well-rounded fantasy contributions. It didn't take him long to begin stuffing the stat sheet this year, as his 2013 stats above indicate. That said, he remains under-owned across all three major fantasy baseball platforms. All of Ruggiano's at-bats this year have come hitting fifth in the Marlins lineup, but the lack of an impact bat not named Giancarlo Stanton leaves the door open to a promotion to the cleanup slot. Ruggiano should be owned in all but shallow fantasy leagues.
Span battled through a concussion in 2011, but was healthy most of last season. His excellent on-base skills remained intact, but his fantasy value was hurt by playing in a poor Twins lineup. An offseason trade brought him to the Nationals, and hitting atop a talented lineup bodes well for his runs scored total. Span makes a lot of contact, and is a career .284 hitter. In addition to scoring runs, he'll help fantasy teams in batting averag. He's not going to hit more than a handful of home runs, and despite having above-average speed, he probably won't steal more than 20-25 bases. Span lacks a high fantasy ceiling, but he's a reliable option to round out fantasy outfields. He also gets a boost to his value in leagues that use OBP. Span should be owned in 12-team mixed leagues that start five outfielders and deeper formats.
The biggest knock on Quentin is his ability, or more accurately, inability, to stay healthy. There were questions as to whether or not he'd be ready to open the year on the active roster, but he did manage to avoid a disabled-list stint. He has already received two days off, but he pinch hit in each of those games, and the Padres are likely to take it easy on him until his knee feels 100 percent healthy. Quentin is one of the cheapest sources of 20-plus homers that is widely available across the three major platforms. He had no problem making the transition from playing home games at U.S. Cellular Field from 2008-2011 to playing them at PETCO Park last year. He totaled just 340 plate appearances for the Padres last year, but he made the most of them by hitting 16 homers (seven were hit at home). Quentin's at-bats will come in the heart of the order, and that should maximize his RBI opportunities. His batting average will leave something to be desired, and he's not a threat to steal bases, but his power is reason enough to roster him in all but shallow leagues. Like Span, he gets a value boost in leagues that count OBP.
Cashner failed to win a rotation spot this spring, but I fully expect him to eventually crack the starting five this season. He's currently being used as a long reliever, and his usage provides optimism that the Padres intend on keeping his arm stretched out. He has the repertoire necessary to successfully navigate a lineup multiple times, and his big heater has helped him strikeout nearly a batter per inning in his young big-league career. Cashner does an outstanding job of keeping the ball on the ground when it is put in play, and that should prevent the long ball from being a problem. The Padres will almost certainly limit Cashner's workload, but that won't prevent him from helping fantasy teams this year. He doesn't need to be rostered in mixed leagues yet, but he should be on watch lists in those leagues and rostered in most NL-only leagues. When he does move into the rotation, he has the upside to make waves in leagues of all sizes.
Cardinals closer Jason Motte is on the disabled list with a strained flexor tendon. Motte will have his elbow reexamined this week, but he hasn't begun throwing and there is currently no timetable for his return. Mitchell Boggs was anointed the closer in Motte's absence, but if Motte ends up missing a significant chunk of the season, my money is on Rosenthal finding his way into the ninth-inning duties. Instead of sending Rosenthal back to the minors to further refine his secondary pitches as a starter, the Cardinals decided they were best served keeping him in the major-league bullpen and allowing him to continue to blow away hitters with a fastball that sits in the upper-90s and can reach triple digits. His eye-popping cheddar would play well closing games, but even in a setup role, he'll help owner's ratios in large mixed leagues where non-closing relievers are rostered. He's already a must-own as a handcuff in NL-only leagues, and owners that have a roster spot to work with and a need for saves would be wise to stash Rosenthal now.
Henderson began his professional career in 2003 and didn't reach the majors for the first time until late last July. He saved three games for the Brewers last year filling in for an ineffective John Axford. Axford has gotten off to a disastrous start this year: He blew a save on Opening Day by allowing a solo home run to Dexter Fowler, allowed three more runs in a ninth-inning appearance in a game the Brewers were trailing by one run last Wednesday, and he was saddled with a loss as a result of serving up a two-run homer to Eric Hinske in extra innings on Sunday. Conversely, Henderson has yet to allow a run in three appearances, and he's primed to take over closing duties if manager Ron Roenicke decides that enough is enough with Axford. There has been no announcement of Axford being removed from closing duties, but it's a safe bet that he's on thin ice at this point. Henderson throws a mid-to-upper-90s fastball and a slider, though he could be susceptible to a platoon split because he lacks a weapon to use against left-handed batters. That said, he wouldn't be the first reliever to make the fastball/slider combination work in the ninth inning. Henderson has a history of rocky control, but he is capable of missing enough bats to offset that to an extent. He isn't likely to help teams’ ratios, but owners in need of saves should add him now regardless of league size.
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