We’re changing things up a bit this year when it comes to our Players to Target and Players to Avoid fantasy series.
Last year, we had every member of the BP fantasy staff provide you with quick-hit blurbs for every target and every avoid piece. The problem is, this led to so many players being covered that we ended up being duplicative, supporting some guys we didn't really love or knocking down some obvious candidates. It got so bad that Mauricio Rubio told fantasy players not to target Derek Jeter, leading to one of the greatest BP comments of all time.
This time around, we've broken the BP Fantasy Staff up into two teams who will alternate writing "target" and "avoid" pieces on a weekly basis. The blurbs you see on the players we cover will be more in-depth, and while we're not going to cover the same player twice in one target or one avoid piece, we will let BP staffers debate the same name should such a situation arise.
The rules laid out to the team were simple: don't target Mike Trout or avoid Clint Barmes, but for the most part, all players are fair game. We don’t' want to be super obvious, but we don't want to advocate drafting or dumping someone just for the sake of advocating. We do want to tell you who we think will provide you with excess value and who you should consider overlooking unless they fall to you quite late in drafts or quite cheaply in auctions.
We did keep one aspect of last year's target/avoid series; target articles will come out every Monday, and avoid pieces will come out every Friday. With that in mind, here's a deep look at five fantasy backstop targets for you to add to your queues once draft season comes around:
Travis d’Arnaud, Mets
2014 certainly did not get off to a promising start for the young Mets backstop. Following an April in which he hit a meager .209 with only one home run, he continued to struggle in May, managing just six hits in his first 35 at-bats to begin the month before taking a shot to the head on an Alfonso Soriano backswing that landed him on the DL with a concussion. Upon his return, he simply could not find his hitting stroke and was sent down to Triple-A to accrue at-bats and show the Mets and manager Terry Collins that he was back on the right track. It did not take long for this former first-round pick to recapture his swing> He put up video-game-type numbers during his stint in Las Vegas (.436/.475/.909 slash line with six HR in 15 games) and was recalled on June 24th to take his place behind the dish for the Mets.
At the time of his demotion, d’Arnaud was hitting an abysmal .180/.271/.273, but after his recall, he looked like a much more confident hitter overall, and the power stroke resurfaced, as he belted 10 homers over his last 69 games. His second-half slash line of .265/.313/.474, despite him dealing with nagging wrist and elbow injuries, is more indicative of what we can expect in 2015 from the Mets catcher. In his 139 career games in the major leagues, he has shown patience at the plate and solid contact rates, and you might also expect some normalization this year in his BABIP, as he suffered through a .260 mark in 2014. All signs point to a jump in production in 2015, making him a catcher to target in your respective fantasy drafts this season.
If you are still skeptical, that’s understandable, so let’s take a deeper dive into d’Arnaud’s overall numbers from 2014 from the catching position. With the naked eye, his stats seem quite pedestrian, but you might be surprised to read how d’Arnaud stacked up in terms of fantasy relevance compared with his fellow catching brethren. While only playing in a total of 108 games, his 13 home runs last year equaled that of higher-profile catchers Jonathan Lucroy, Wilin Rosario, and Miguel Montero. His 38 extra-base hits also helped him post a better slugging percentage than the likes of Brian McCann, Salvador Perez, and Yasmani Grandal. d’Arnaud was also productive in the sometimes-overlooked runs category, as even in limited Abs, his 48 runs scored ranked eighth among all big-league catchers. On the surface, d’Arnaud is definitely more desirable in standard NL-Only 4×4 or 5×5 leagues; however, looking at the fantasy catching landscape in 2015, he is shaping up to be a viable option in shallow mixed leagues as well. Other than the top four or five usual elite fantasy catcher suspects, there really is not that much variance in terms of fantasy value from the next tier of 10-15 backstops.
d’Arnaud will be a less expensive option than the bigger names and should produce positive fantasy numbers for a catcher in 3-4 categories. The knock on d’Arnaud has been his health, missing time in four of the last five seasons with various injuries, but none have been of the chronic variety. He had successful surgery immediately after the conclusion of the season to remove bone spurs from his right elbow and will be healthy to begin spring training. The expectations in New York are high for d’Arnaud, after he showed the ability to hit for power and average at every level of the minors. The strides he made at the plate in the second half last season breed optimism that this could be the year he puts it all together and becomes a solid fantasy producer. —Keith Cromer
Yan Gomes, Indians
Once upon a time, I scoffed at Gomes. I didn't think his 2013 season was legit and didn't trust his lack of a prospect profile, and as such I railed against drafting him last year. I'm sorry I failed you. Gomes hit .278/.313/.472 with 21 homers and 74 RBI last season, finishing as fantasy's fourth-most-valuable backstop. His walk rate declined and his strikeout rate jumped up from his breakout 2013, but Gomes also hit for more power, definitively pushed Carlos Santana out from behind the plate, and hit for a solid average despite a more reasonable BABIP.
It's always tough for me to judge players who weren't prospects from a fantasy POV because I don't have years of reference to bank on, but it's even harder to find a red flag anywhere in Gomes' profile. He hits lefties better than righties but is still respectable against right-handed pitchers. He hit poorly in September, as many catchers do, but was a monster in August. He hit 12 homers in the first half and 13 in the second, and his massive spike in line-drive rate from 2013 to 2014 is exactly the type of batted-ball shift you want to see.
Gomes doesn't walk much. That's about all I’ve got, really. Don't draft him if the only offensive category in your league is walks. Otherwise, he's a really safe bet to finish as a top-10 fantasy catcher once again and he has a chance at another top-five ranking, but his profile still isn't so high that you're going to have to reach to draft him. These are all good things, and I was a bad, dumb, wrong idiot for doubting him. He is a better Yan than Esteban and a better Gomes than Jonny. —Ben Carsley
Yasmani Grandal, Dodgers
There are three parts to targeting Grandal, and only one of them is the obvious analysis. Yes, Dodger Stadium is a better place for power on both sides of the plate and even with the departures of Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez, this will still be the best lineup he's ever played in. We’re also legally and morally required to note that he has a PED suspension on his record, so take that however you would usually take such information. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s look at the type of hitter Grandal is.
The former Padre is a switch-hitter, who takes a lot of pitches and isn’t afraid to either walk or strike out. He’s also lacked much of any platoon split across his major and minor league careers, which makes what happened in 2014 all the more eye opening. Grandal hit all 15 of his homers against right-handed pitching last season, and ended up with a .241/.329/.452 line. Unfortunately for his final line, he also took 96 plate appearances hitting right-handed, and ended up with an abysmal .162/.323/.189 line. Sometimes when these platoon splits jump in out of nowhere, they are just statistical noise, but maybe something different is happening here. Grandal had surgery to replace the ACL in his right knee last off-season, and there were whispers that it was affecting him throughout much of the season. That push-off knee when battling southpaws is his right, of course. There’s no way to know how much of that was from discomfort in his surgically repaired knee, it is a strong possibility that there was some effect there.
Now, he also just flat out hit better the further he got from the surgery as well, regardless of platoon split. His OPS over the first three months of the season was a meager .628 that grew into a shiny .800 from July 1st on. He also started 60 of the Padres’ final 70 games—a usage pattern that he could replicate in Los Angeles in 2015. There’s a very real possibility that Grandal, given extra time since his surgery, could hit .260-270 while approaching 25 homers and knocking in 75 runs—which would make him a top-five catcher. —Bret Sayre
Russell Martin, Blue Jays
Martin earned $11 in standard 12-team mixed leagues in 2014, falling just shy of the top five most valuable mixed league catchers. While his career-high .290 average and .336 BABIP appear as unrepeatable outliers, Martin’s move to Toronto (and the AL East) should help recoup some value through home runs. Martin comes from PNC Park, which had the worst park factor for right-handed home runs in 2014, and is going to Rogers Centre, which had the second best park factor in the American League for right-handed home runs in 2014. He hit just 11 home runs in 2014, but he hit at least 18 home runs in each of his seasons in the AL East with the Yankees (2011-’12).
Martin could be set for a prime spot in the batting order with the Blue Jays, who also added Josh Donaldson and Michael Saunders to an already powerful lineup this offseason. A repeat of his 2014 OBP (.402) is unlikely, but Martin’s 11 percent career walk rate will keep his OBP palatable even if he hits .240. The result could be a major increase in the runs category, where he totaled only 45 in 2014. There’s also a good chance he plays more than 111 games like he did in 2014 and that will benefit all of his counting stats. Martin earned $16 in “only” leagues in 2014 and figures to be one of the best fantasy backstops in the American League this year. —Nick Shlain
Brian McCann, Yankees
While I was going to analyze McCann myself, luckily, for you and me, Bret Sayre has given us a head start via internal BP fantasy team catcher ranking discussion. Below is an inside look at this internal discussion:
Bret: “I'll take up the torch for Brian McCann. I like to give players a bit of a pass in their first year transitioning between leagues (especially NL to AL) and even in a down season, [McCann] still hit 23 homers and drove in 75 runs, while finishing as a top-10 catcher. He'll get extra at bats because the Yankees like to play him at 1B/DH when he's not catching against right-handed pitchers (which may slow a little this year, but should still happen–he got 24 non-catcher starts last year). Yes, the average is rough, but even with the struggles against the shift, I think a .230 BABIP is lower than can be expected going forward. He also doesn't even turn 31 years old until next month, despite the fact that I always think he's older.”
Me: “McCann looks [not great] sans beard.”
As you can see, I do not have much to add. That said, McCann’s quickly declining walk rate should be discussed. McCann’s walk rate has quickly fallen from a peak of 13.1 percent in 2010 to a low of 5.9 percent in 2014. Pitchers threw strikes more frequently to McCann than ever before and while McCann made the second most contact of his career, he posted a career low BABIP to go with a .205 BABIP versus righties. While I certainly think his highest BABIP days are behind, I do expect to see some positive regression, especially against righties.
Ultimately, even if McCann continues to be a drag in batting average and even though a low walk rate makes that batting average hurt even more, he is still very likely to provide high-end home run and counting stat production for a catcher. Given all this, I am happily taking McCann when appropriate and hoping to even get him at a discount if enough people think his decline will be worse than I think it will be. —Jeff Quinton