Fantasy is a speculative game. Predict the future, and you look like a genius. Don't, and you're painfully human. Gazing into the crystal ball, here's our view on a dozen corner infield over/unders entering the spring.
Post-hype sleeper to the third power, Chris Davis, finally slugged his way into the hearts of fantasy owners, reaching the cheap seats 53 times over 584 at-bats in 2013. Total dingers in the follow-up 39.5
Dalton – UNDER. I expect him to come very close and am in no way calling Davis a bust in 2014, but only two players hit more than 37 home runs last season. Moreover, Davis hit "just" 16 dingers over 241 at-bats after the All-Star break. It's tough to bank another 40 bombs.
Scott – Has to be UNDER. The first-half barrage was a blast last year, but otherwise he profiles to a guy with 30-something homers, a ton of strikeouts, and a handful of batting risk. I won't take him in the first round.
Andy – UNDER, but not because I dislike Davis. In fact, I think he should probably be a mid-first rounder. He'll likely give us ~35 homers in a healthy season. But it's crazy — in this era — to forecast a 40-homer line for anyone.
Pedro Alvarez, a consensus top-10 hot corner among the Yahoo 'experts,' is more or less a BA vampire. Final batting average this season .244
Andy – UNDER, barely. That's certainly not a reason to avoid him at the draft table, however. You'll just need to factor his lousy batting average into your draft plans. Pedro is one of only two National League hitters to reach the 30-homer mark in each of the past two seasons (Jay Bruce being the other).
Brandon – UNDER. He hit .213 in the second half of last season and has never sustained a batting average above this number for any meaningful length of time in his MLB career.
Scott – Someone has to pitch the OVER, so I'll be that guy. Alvarez had a 32-point dip in BABIP last year despite an increase in his line-drive rate - that's bad luck. Maybe he can sneak into the high .240s (I know, damning with faint praise).
Showdown in the City of Broad Shoulders. Who hits more long-balls: South-sider Jose Abreu or North-sider Anthony Rizzo?
Andy – Gimme ABREU. It's close, and I appreciate the fact that Rizzo's peripherals were kinda promising last season. (Although we should note that Rizzo can't touch lefties, and he might simply remain a low-BABIP hitter.) Abreu was just ridiculously dominant in Cuba — better, in fact, than other stars who've made the jump. I think he'll give us excellent power totals in 2014.
Brandon – ABREU. Rizzo is a near-automatic out against lefties, and his career ISO (.174) is uninspiring. I'd prefer to roll the dice on the major power upside of the behemoth that is Abreu, who manager Robin Ventura has described as a guy with a very professional approach to hitting.
Brad – ABREU. He once clubbed 33 home runs in 66 games. No matter what the level of play – Majors, Japan, Cuba, semi-pro, backyard wiffle ball – that's ridiculous power. In his prime at 27, his game should translate seamlessly. A 25-HR projection may be too conservative.
Scott – They didn't ask me, but I barged in to say RIZZO. Someone has to. The great Gene McCaffrey is concerned about Abreu's tendency to get hit with pitches, and so am I. Armor up, rookie.
Manny Machado, who clubbed 51 doubles in a breakout campaign last year and is expected to be cleared to run bases sometime mid-March, total home runs this summer 19.5
Brandon – UNDER. I think he'll finish just shy of this number, especially since there's a good chance he'll miss a couple weeks of the season as he works his way back from a knee injury. Also, if you look at the recent history of guys that have hit 50 doubles, there's nothing to suggest a HR surge the next season, even among the younger players that have accomplished that feat.
Dalton – UNDER. It's hard not to be excited about Machado long term, but this is someone who slugged .370 over the second half of last season coming off major knee surgery just four months ago. And for all those doubles, he had a 32.3 FB%, with nearly half of them infield popups (15.8%). I'd confidently expect fewer than 20 homers from him this year.
Scott – OVER. This is rare ground for me, as I'm known to be pessimistic on injury returns and I don't like to price significant improvement into a ranking. But it's not like Machado hit a few doubles, he hit 51. He's in a perfect park. And when I see that swing (I know, your eyes can lie to you), I see a young version of A-Rod (intended as a compliment). This is our last chance to get Machado at a reasonable cost.
What late-round Adam will be the most desirable: Lind, LaRoche, Dunn, Sandler, Ant?
Dalton – LIND. He's four years younger than LaRoche and Dunn and less of a batting average risk. Lind somewhat quietly posted a .288/.357/.497 line last season despite an awful start to the year, and it's surprising Dunn has the (albeit slightly) higher ADP right now.
Scott – LIND by default, since I want no part of the toxic Dunn or the streaky LaRoche. My off-the-board pick would be Sean McAdam, Red Sox beat writer.
Sleeper Sleuthing: Brandon Belt vs. Matt Adams. Who finishes with the higher OPS?
Scott – BELT was held back by his manager for a while, but thankfully that's over. The rose has bloomed, the breakout has begun. I'm still not positive Adams plays for a full season.
Andy – Hmm. Interesting decision to give us a custom category here. If this were strictly about home runs, I'd take Adams in a rout. But BELT is a doubles machine with on-base skills, so he gets the nod.
Brandon – BELT. Whereas Adams is likely to regress from an OPS standpoint because he'll accrue a lot more ABs against lefties this season, I think Belt is still on the upswing and established last season that he can hold his own against southpaws.
Once high-publicized Toronto top prospect, Brett Lawrie, combined homers/steals in his Age 24 season 29.5.
Andy – OVER, probably with ease. He reached 20 last year in only 107 games, while disappointing everyone. Lawrie is still just 24; there's no reason to assume we've seen his best.
Brandon – OVER. It feels like Lawrie is in post-hype territory because he's underwhelmed in the two seasons since his impressive '11 debut. But it is worth reiterating that he's still only 24 years old – plenty of time left to reach his potential. I think he takes a step forward this season, falling just a hair shy of the 20/20 club.
Dalton – OVER. This total seems about right, and I'm going to bank on some growth from the 24-year-old. For what it's worth, Rogers Centre has boosted home runs for right-handed batters by 21 percent over the past three years, which is the fourth-most in all of baseball.
Brad – TEIXEIRA. Full disclosure, the switch-hitter is still experiencing tightness from the left side in his surgically repaired wrist, but he nor Joe Girardi seem overly concerned. Assuming he slots back into the clean-up spot, the 34-year-old should smack 25-28 jacks with a shot at 90-plus RBI. Keep in mind, Howard, could be forced into a platoon if his struggles against southpaws continue.
Dalton – HOWARD. I literally have these three ranked back-to-back-to-back and just recently decided to move Howard ahead of Morneau. In other words, I don't feel strongly. Teixeira would be well ahead of the others if not for the fact he's admitted he'll still be dealing with his wrist injury throughout 2014. Howard won't be all that helpful to the Phillies, but he should produce nice counting stats hitting in the middle of the lineup.
Scott – MORNEAU, for the thin air. Teixeira's injury history and slow-start history have him buried in my ranks.
Dalton – MOSS. Last season Donaldson had a 1.23 GB/FB ratio to go along with a 35.6 FB% and an 11.8 IFFB%. His career HR/FB% is 13.2. Moss had a 0.58 GB/FB ratio to go along with a 51.8 FB% and an 8.8 IFFB%. His career HR/FB% is 15.5. Neither have long track records, so based off those batted ball profiles, it sure seems like betting on Moss is the safer side.
Andy – MOSS, for no good reason. Donaldson will likely have more overall value, but Moss gets the edge in power.
Scott – MOSS is your power source, but Donaldson should be a considerably better roto play. I hate when we all agree.
Pablo Sandoval, never shy at an all-you-can-eat buffet or at the dish, RBIs this season 79.5
Scott – OVER. I know the "best shape of his life" meme gets a lot of laughs and dismissive comments, but it's a good thing when the story is real. And it's never been a problem of talent with the Panda. He's one of my favorite mid-round targets, and this is from a pundit who hates to target anyone.
Andy – OVER. This is really a question about his ability to stay healthy, right? Because if he can simply give us 145 games, he'll surely get to 80 RBIs. He's a best-shape-of-his-life guy this spring, plus he's entering a contract year. Draft and enjoy.
Brandon – UNDER. Surprisingly, he's only topped this number once in his career. Banking on a stars-aligning campaign for Sandoval is foolish if you look at his past. Slumps, injuries, weight, hitting down in the order, etc. Something always seems to keep him from putting it all together for a full season.
NL West Breakout Battle. Jedd Gyorko or Nolan Arenado?
Andy – GYORKO. I'll take the second base eligibility, thank you
Brandon – GYORKO. This is one guy that definitely passes the eyeball test when you watch him hit. He just looks like he was born to play the game. And only Robinson Cano hit more home runs among 2B last season, this despite a miserable April and a mid-season groin injury that helped limit him to just 125 games.
Brad – ARENADO. Gyorko's second base eligibility is awfully attractive, but in a side-by-side comparison of raw numbers, the Rocky will win the season. Scouts projected him to be a perennial 25-30 HR masher just a couple years ago. Playing half his games in the thin air of Coors Field certainly boosts his chances of getting there. If the Gold Glover can cut down on the unnecessary outside swings, he busts out in Year 2. A final line around .280-22-80-75 would be no surprise.
Shocker Special. What off the radar third basemen has the best chance of cracking the position's top-15: Matt Davidson, Mike Moustakas, Todd Frazier, Will Middlebrooks?
Scott – MOUSTAKAS, for the pedigree. He also has the most job and lineup security of this group.
Brandon – MIDDLEBROOKS. I don't think you can comfortably project any of these guys to hit above .250. So, for me, it comes down to bankable power and the environment in which they play in. And, in that regard, I think Middlebrooks wins out.
Dalton – MIDDLEBROOKS. I rank all of these closely and kept going back and forth here. Moustakas has the best pedigree, but the difference in his home park (especially for LHB) is close to the opposite of Middlebrooks, which ultimately made me choose the latter. Of course, I wouldn't be surprised if Frazier were the winner here either. He also plays in a favorable hitter's park and had a .269 BABIP last season.