12-TEAM MIXED LEAGUES (HITTERS)
Prado was my pick for “favorite player outside the top-300 (ADP)” in the fantasy team’s preseason predictions. He was not my favorite because I thought he was going to produce the most value; rather, I thought he was the best bet to provide solid value given the price. We almost always overreact to down seasons, but that is particularly the case for boring hitters and players who already do not fit their positional mold.
In 2016, the 32 year old is back to doing what he seemingly always does—making tons of above average contact, walking and striking out 7.8 percent and 9.8 percent of the time, respectively. Moreover, after some early season struggles from Marcell Ozuna, Prado has hit in the two-hole four of the last five games with the one absence being a day of rest. Hitting behind Dee Gordon and in front of Christian Yelich, Giancarlo Stanton, and Ozuna is a great spot for Prado to be a plus to our teams in runs, RBI, and AVG.
Heading into 2016, Paulsen was looking to see the strong side of the Rockies’ first base platoon, an enviable position for a player who hit 11 home runs to go with a .277 AVG in 354 plate appearances last season. Then, a strong spring from Mark Reynolds turned this would-be straightforward platoon into more of a timeshare. Add in a kind-of-slow first week or so for Paulsen (two for his first 13) and he became a popular drop candidate. Charlie Blackmon’s trip to the DL and some decent hitting over the past week and all of sudden Paulsen is back to being the player many hoped he would. I also like his prospects going forward when Blackmon returns as Mark Reynolds is striking out 37.5 percent of the time this young season.
15-TEAM MIXED LEAGUES (HITTERS)
After being overrated after a breakout 2011 season (25 home runs and 17 stolen bases), Cabrera has been quietly steady since, going for at least 14 home runs and six stolen bases each season. The stolen base total could certainly be in decline and he is not hitting for power yet, but I am expecting that to come. Why? He is hitting a lot of flyballs (inflated by some infield flyballs) and I think it is likely we start to see more doubles and home runs soon.
It has been really ugly so far for Cron, but if it had not been ugly, he would not be eligible for this recommendation. His walk rate is up and strikeout rate is down and there is nothing in his batted ball profile that screams that he is due to continue to be terrible. It is more likely that Cron happens to be a player whose worst three weeks of the 2016 season will be the first three. Cron, 26 years old, is young for one of these lumbering first-base types, and it could be that he is being forced to make some adjustments coming off his first full season. He has always hit at least relatively well and I am going to be that he finds a way to do that the rest of the way in 2016. —Jeff Quinton
12-TEAM MIXED LEAGUES (PITCHERS)
Eickhoff enjoyed a lot of preseason hype in stat-friendly circles. He posted a 2.65 ERA in 2015 with a 24.1 percent strikeout rate in a brief eight-start debut for the Phillies. I want to remain skeptical, as we’re only talking about 11 big-league starts, but the right-hander is commanding attention with his curveball and his success. In his first three outings this year, he has compiled a 1.89 ERA and is striking out more than a batter per inning. Moreover, Eickhoff owns a whiff rate above 15 percent on his slider, curveball, and changeup—which suggests that his lofty strikeout percentage has some meat to it. Opposing hitters are also managing a putrid .081 batting average with a .027 ISO against his curveball since he made his debut in 2015. He throws that over 30 percent of the time, and it gives him a plus-pitch to anchor his arsenal on the mound. I’m coming around on the 25-year-old hurler. I just need to see him sustain success the third and fourth time time teams see him this year. Then, I’ll be willing to stick my neck out a bit more on him. For now, though, he’s absolutely worth rostering in a 12-team mixed league, and he’s on the waiver wire in nearly 70 percent of ESPN leagues. The anonymity found on a bad Phillies team is likely a large factor in that. Take advantage.
Narratives regarding pitching coaches and “reclamation projects” have gotten a bit out of hand, especially in relation to Ray Searage, but one can’t argue with the objective fact that Happ has a 1.86 ERA since joining the Pirates a year ago. His 15.8 percent strikeout rate is unimpressive and likely keeping fantasy owners from grabbing him off the waiver wire. At the same time, his swinging-strike rate is 9.5 percent, which is a career-high and almost identical to what he posted after donning a Pirates uniform. Happ isn’t a world-beater by any stretch, but he’ll benefit from huge run support and his 3.42 FIP is promising enough to make one believe that he’s rosterable in a 12-team mixed league. If his increased swinging-strike rate eventually results in more actual strikeouts, his stock will only improve. The fly-ball pitcher will probably have a helluva time avoiding the long ball in home starts, though, so that will be something to monitor.
15-TEAM MIXED LEAGUES (PITCHERS)
The lefty currently ranks as a top-50 starter this year yet is only owned in 6.4 percent of leagues. He still has his warts—I’m still worried that he won’t throw enough strikes and I’m worried that he’ll give up too many homers—but the early strikeout rate suggests his big gains from a year ago are legitimate. The velocity increase has held. The strikeout rate is now 22.1 percent. The swinging-strike rate is 11 percent. All small samples if one only looks at the 2016 season, but the most encouraging aspect of his early-season performance is that it’s proving to be more of the same. And that “same” resulted in a 3.52 ERA and 3.53 FIP in 127 2/3 innings a year ago. He should be owned in deep mixed leagues.
Dyson is a groundball machine who manages to strike people out at a healthy clip, which happens to be one of my favorite combinations for a reliever. The fact that Shawn Tolleson owns a 10.80 ERA through his first seven appearances means that one of the more tenuous preseason closing situations in Major League Baseball has gotten a even more precarious. It won’t take too much for Tolleson to lose his ninth-inning job. If he is forced to step down, Dyson is the obvious candidate to replace him—a guy who has allowed just one run in seven appearances this year, a guy whose worst ERA since the beginning of the 2014 season is 2.63. With a 30.8 percent strikeout rate, too, he can still help out a bit while you’re waiting for Dyson to inherit the closer’s role for the Rangers. —J.P. Breen
A.J Griffin, SP, Texas Rangers
After not pitching in the majors since 2013, Griffin is back and he has brought with him a slider. His 3.27 ERA after his first two starts was promising, but the walk rate and strikeout rate left something to be desired. That said, it was only two starts, and he looks to be commanding all his pitches quite well tonight (Thursday night). If I was looking for rotation help in an AL-only, then a FAAB bid for Griffin would certainly be likely to come from me even if the Astros tag him for a couple more runs (and if Nick Tropeano has already been picked up). —Jeff Quinton
Mark Reynolds, Colorado Rockies
A dude with a career .222 ISO gets to play the vast majority of his games at Coors Field and he’s still owned in fewer than five percent of ESPN leagues? That’s rough. He’s hitting .257/.350/.457 with one home run and five RBI, and he should be seeing a healthy amount of playing time, despite the risk that he’s relegated to the short side of the platoon. When it comes to corner infielders in NL-only leagues, it’s hard to see too many more guys currently in the big leagues who have more power potential. —J.P. Breen