With spring training winding down and most owners turning their attention towards opening day, the Yahoo fantasy baseball crew offers up their thoughts on the players they feel can ill afford to start the regular season off on the wrong foot:
Q. Which infielder, owned in a majority of Yahoo leagues, needs to get off to a hot start for the sake of job security?
Brandon Funston: JAKE LAMB. The Arizona third baseman opened ’16 like a lion but finished it like, well, you know. … Lamb, who finished the season as one of the top breakout stars with 29 HRs and 91 RBI, hit just .197 with nine home runs after the All-Star break. And he delivered a woeful .164 BA vs. southpaws over the course of the entire ’16 campaign, which fell right in line with his career average vs LHP (.169). If he struggles out of the gate in April, it’ll be the third straight month of doing so, which could certainly give Diamondback management pause (as well as his fantasy owners). It’s at least encouraging that he’s tearing the cover off the ball in March (.340 BA in 47 spring ABs).
Dalton Del Don: HERNAN PEREZ. He’s one of the sneakiest picks in fantasy drafts, but there’s no clear starting role for him right now. Perez is essentially free with an ADP of #159, which is crazy for someone who hit 13 homers and stole 34 bases in barely 400 at bats last year. A hot start would help, but Perez is going to provide fantasy value regardless, and his multi position eligibility and home park are both huge boons for his fantasy value.
Scott Pianowski: The Cardinals have such an overflow of infielders, I think they’ll essentially be in open auditions for a while. Can KOLTEN WONG get a firm grip on the second base job? Can JHONNY PERALTA do the same at third? Where is JEDD GYORKO going to slot most of the time? We know Matt Carpenter and Aledmys Diaz have dedicated spots, but the others need to charge out of the gate, mark territory.
Q. Which outfielder, owned in a majority of Yahoo leagues, needs to get off to a hot start for the sake of job security?
Funston: BYRON BUXTON. People have been predicting MLB stardom for Buxton even before he was the No. 2 overall pick in the ’12 draft. But, through 469 career plate appearances with the Twins, his only standout talent has been his ability to strike out (34.5%). I don’t own him anywhere, but those who targeted him based on a hot ’16 finish (9 HR, .287 BA in final 29 games), should be worried if we see another April slide (.497 OPS, 0 HR in April ’16).
Del Don: YASIEL PUIG. I’m a full believer in Puig, but the Dodgers are loaded, so he needs to prove his worth early or he’ll shortly get benched or traded. My other candidates here are speed guys getting full time jobs for the first time, like Jarrod Dyson and Rajai Davis.
Andy Behrens: I’m gonna need to see immediate returns from ERIC THAMES, or he gets kicked to the curb in mixed leagues. He was a legend in Korea, but he hasn’t really been anything special this spring. He’s currently eligible in the outfield and playing first base for the Brewers, so he’ll offer power, modest speed and positional flexibility if he pans out. If Thames struggles, the team has plenty of options, including Travis Shaw and Jesus Aguilar.
Q. Which pitcher, owned in a majority of Yahoo leagues, needs to get off to a hot start for the sake of job security?
Funston: TONY WATSON. In the three seasons prior to ’16, Watson combined for a 17-4 record and a sub-2.00 ERA as a stalwart lefty set-up man for the Pirates. Last season he finally got a chance to close out games after Mark Melancon was traded to the Nationals, and Watson acquitted himself solidly (15 saves in 18 chances), save for a swoon in the final month of the season in which he blew two of seven save opportunities and allowed 5 HRs in 11.2 IP. Sure, it’s a small sample size, but a rough opening to the ’17 campaign for Watson could have the team nostalgically pondering a move back into a set-up role, especially if Daniel Hudson, who has risen from the ashes of Tommy John hell throwing upper 90s heat, shows well in April.
Pianowski: The Rangers weren’t long for closer Shawn Tolleson last year, quickly turning to SAM DYSON by the second month. I suspect another flip could be in order if Dyson struggles out of the gate this year; Texas is a team designed to win now. Perhaps Dyson’s ground-ball profile will lead to good things, but he’s also someone who will have to succeed through contact; he doesn’t have the typical strikeout rate you’d prefer at closer.
Behrens: I’m not panicked, exactly, but it would sure be nice if WADE DAVIS could give us a clean inning. The Cubs’ bullpen appears loaded (Koji, Carl, Strop, Rondon), but Davis has the keys to the ninth. Keep an eye on this situation, just in case.