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 our five catchers you’ll want to target out of the way, we move on now to five backstops you should think twice about before drafting.
Evan Gattis, Braves
In many ways, I’m going against my own advice when advocating that fantasy owners avoid Gattis on draft day. He will retain catcher eligibility due to 93 games played behind the dish last year, but he’s in line for the everyday role in left field for the Braves. This should ensure that the 28-year-old sees extra plate appearances in 2015 and can reasonably be projected to eclipse the 600-PA mark due to his everyday role. However, I have two primary concerns that lead me to shy away from Gattis: (1) platoon splits and (2) injuries.
Platoon splits are not uncommon; however, right-handed hitters who have significant splits have the disadvantage of being on the short side of the platoon. Guys like Brandon Moss benefit from the preponderance of righties in the league, while Gattis only mashes the occasional southpaw. He had a .970 OPS against lefties in 2014, while only compiling a .773 OPS against righties. It’s not a new issue, either, as he only hit .236/.284/.473 against righties in 2013. The fact that he continues to launch homers against righties should be of some comfort, but it’s unclear whether the Braves will continue to trot him out everyday against same-handed pitchers if his on-base percentage against them remains under .300.
Furthermore, Gattis suffered from a bulging disc in his back last year and landed on the DL with wrist and oblique issues in 2013. He’s only 28 years old, but far from an iron man. While those injury concerns are perhaps lessened now that he isn’t projected to catch regularly, it’s not an injury profile that I like to target in such a deep mid-tier catching class — one with myriad nagging muscle and back injuries.
With that said, the power is attractive. I understand the allure of El Oso Blanco on draft day. Not many guys have 30-plus-homer potential, like the 6-foot-4 big man. It’s just difficult to draft a guy to be your starting catcher who is a liability against right-handed pitching and who has an injury history. And if you’re in an OBP league, he becomes even more unattractive. He could bring some solid RBI totals in the middle of the Braves lineup, but he could only be a two-category contributor (power and RBI) and those two will need to be special to make up for his deficiencies elsewhere. I’m afraid the upside he could ultimately offer is a Dayan Viciedo special—25 homers, a .250 batting average, middling run totals, and no stolen bases—which roughly correlates to the a 10-13 range for catchers in 2014 that didn’t even truly include Yadier Molina, Matt Wieters, or Wilson Ramos.
I don’t think Gattis takes a nosedive in 2015. Something will have to change from his previous performance, though, for him to be more than a fringe top-10 catcher. I’m not sure that’s going to be worth the price in a really deep mid-tier catching market. I’d rather look elsewhere. —J.P. Breen
Derek Norris, Padres
Entering 2014, Norris was a deeper-league fantasy darling. With eight home runs, 35 RBI, 30 runs, and a .304 batting average through June 30, it seemed like he was finally going to deliver on the promise that led then-Baseball Prospectus prospect guru Kevin Goldstein to rank Norris as the 28th-best prospect in baseball entering 2010. However, Norris dropped off significantly in the second half, particularly in home runs. He only went yard twice in his last 239 plate appearances, compiling an anemic .243/.322/.318 slash line along the way.
There are two factors that have hampered Norris’ fantasy value career-to-date: 1) his numbers against right-handed pitchers and 2) a series of injuries that have kept him off the field or hobbled him even when he has been able to don the tools of ignorance. His performance against righties was kind of a mixed bag in 2014. Overall, Norris did improve on his .144/.261/.184 slash line against RHP in 2013, but while his .244/.340/.359 was much better, most of these gains came in the first half. Norris started reverting to bad habits post-All-Star break, chasing after bad pitches below the strike zone against righties frequently. It is possible that this was a product of the injuries. Perhaps Norris was playing hurt and—as a result—he wasn’t playing to full capacity. However, the nagging injuries may or may not go away. Moving to the National League isn’t going to help. With the exception of interleague games, the luxury of moving Norris to DH to keep him in games (and to keep him in your fantasy lineup) is gone. Additionally, the move out of Oakland’s unforgiving O.co Coliseum would help Norris in almost any major league park, but he is moving to Petco Park, a move that could undermine Norris’ power potential even more.
Norris could still be a solid contributor in fantasy in 2015. But it isn’t worth reaching for him in redraft leagues, particularly in redrafts that are shallow. Sixteen catchers hit 13 or more home runs and/or drove in 50 or more runs in 2014. While Norris could exceed both of these targets, he isn’t a great bet to do so by very much. I could take or leave him in a one-catcher, 12 or 15-team mixed league this season. -–Mike Gianella
Salvador Perez, Royals
It’s not that Perez isn’t a valuable player, even in fantasy, but the case against him lies in where he’s being picked and how he is used. As he’s cranked up the power (a career-high 17 home runs last year) Perez has given back batting average. Last season saw him plummet from the highs of the .290s to the plateaus of the .260s. He doesn’t walk either, so if he’s not getting on via base hit, he’s basically not getting on which is, as they say, a bad thing.
The big concern here, though, is playing time. That isn’t meant to be ironic or tongue in cheek because we’re not talking about opportunity. No one is worried about Erik Kratz stealing games from Perez. But 150 games (before the postseason) is an almost unconscionable number for a catcher, especially when a mere four of them came at DH. Even Jonathan Lucroy saw 10 fewer games behind the plate than Perez did, and again, that’s before we get to the postseason. I have no doubt Perez will start out strong, because he’s a talented player in all facets of the game. But if you’re counting on full-season production from someone who has been pushed the way Perez has in recent seasons, I think you’re going to come up short.
It’s a new year and that could mean a revised plan for how to use Perez, but if he produces early on, it’s likely the Royals will come to see his offense (and defense) as invaluable, which is what happened in 2014, and led to his .229/.236/.360 second-half slash line. Here’s hoping the Royals will take more care of Perez going forward, but betting they won’t be able to stop themselves from using him. —Craig Goldstein
Wilson Ramos, Nationals
For the past three years, I’ve been extremely excited to land Wilson Ramos on at least one of my redraft rosters, and for the past three years I’ve been supremely disappointed. When he’s on the field, Ramos has shown that he has the talent to be a productive fantasy player, but that’s the rub. He’s averaged a shade under 64 games per season since the start of 2012 with five trips to the disabled list in that time. With just one full season in his career, it seems to be a fool’s errand to gamble on him staying healthy for a whole year at this point. It’s not just the health, either; in the 88 games he appeared in last season, it was clear that there was a bit of rust in his game. His walk rate fell below five percent for the first time since becoming Washington’s starter, and he whiffed more than he ever had before.
Even with those trends, though, there is no denying Ramos’ offensive talent. If he’s healthy, he’s a good bet to hit somewhere around .265 with 15-20 home runs, which is nothing to sneeze at behind the plate. The risk in him actually playing for a whole season is too great for me, though. The risk becomes even greater when you consider that Ramos will likely be taken among the top-10 catchers for 2015. In the same area, you should be able to land one of Brian McCann, Russell Martin, Travis D’Arnaud, Matt Wieters, or Yasmani Grandal. All of those names carry their own risk, but at least most are a good bet to play in 100 games.
There’s a chance that 2015 is the year where Wilson Ramos can finally stay healthy, and he could pay big dividends for whoever takes him. That’s a risk I’m willing to let someone else take, especially given who else will be available around the same time in drafts, and for around the same price in auctions. —Matt Collins
Wilin Rosario, Rockies
Rosario posted a weird season last year, and outside of some nice gains in his overall contact rate, there were a whole bunch of troubling signs under the hood. Most notably, the vast majority of the additional contact he did make wasn’t good contact. He’s always struggled to hit same-handed pitching, and last year right-handers began pounding him much more steadily with a diet of two-seamers. The result was an explosion of his groundball rate (14 percentage points higher against righties, nine percentage point overall jump) and a second consecutive season of serious ISO decline. He also took a huge step back in his performance away from Coors, posting an unusable .533 OPS on the road that was almost 400 points lower than his mark in the thin home air.
I’m generally wary of targeting players for expected returns to form if there’s a discernible explanation for his struggles to be found in either a change in approach or opponent attack, and the latter negatives outweigh whatever positives can be found in the former here. It will be on Rosario to show he can make adjustments, particularly against same-handed pitching. The recent acquisition of Nick Hundley, along with the continued presence of Michael McKenry on the roster, serves notice that he may not end up getting the chance to make those adjustments in purple.
The specter of a potential trade away from Colorado adds an unwelcome additional layer of ambiguity to an already cloudy picture. Given the demonstrated power in previous seasons, the ostensible rebound potential given his youth, and the spectacular (current) home park he’s still likely to cost a pretty penny on draft day. But there’s just too much uncertainty in his profile right now to warrant aggressive investment. —Wilson Karaman