Fantasy Baseball 2014: Draft Values of Spring Training's Top 10 Breakout Stars
A breakout in spring training is different from a breakout in the regular season. Except when it's not. Sometimes, in fact, a player's promising performance during the games that don't count can be a real—wait for it—spring awakening that's indicative of what's to come in the games that do.
That's not to say that every spring success story will carry over into the summer—or that each one is cut from the same cloth. The ones fantasy owners should be paying attention to involve players who are in the nascent stages of their careers or who haven't fully figured themselves outs in the majors just yet.
For instance, rookies and players entering their first or second full seasons certainly are in play for this. So, too, are hitters and pitchers whose career paths already are a few years in but remain in that either/or pile at the moment, as in: Either something is going to click soon...or it'll be time to cut bait shortly thereafter.
For these types, a monster month of March matters, or at least it can.
This fantasy column will highlight a batch of spring breakout-ers who may have put themselves in position to continue their strong showings once the season starts. In other words, while they may not have started as such at the beginning of camp, they're now fantasy relevant in 10-team leagues on Opening Day.
To that end, despite impressive numbers, the likes of Jesse Chavez (2.74 ERA, 1.13 ERA in 23.0 IP), Jordan Danks (.333 BA, 5 HR, 10 RBI) and Juan Perez (.311 BA, 14 R, 4 SB), well, they just ain't crackin' that criteria. No offense.
Here are 10 breakout stars of this spring who could continue on into the upcoming fantasy season, listed in order of lowest to highest average draft position (ADP) from Fantasy Pros, which collects and averages those figures from several major fantasy baseball host sites.
Jake Marisnick, OF, Marlins (ADP: N/A)
Mike Olt, 3B, Cubs (ADP: 437.5)
Corey Dickerson, OF, Rockies (ADP: 388.0)
Erasmo Ramirez, SP, Mariners (ADP: 370.5)
Drew Hutchison, SP, Blue Jays (ADP: 367.0)
Javier Baez, SS, Cubs (ADP: 328.0)
Ivan Nova, SP, Yankees (ADP: 257.2)
Dustin Ackley, 2B/OF, Mariners (ADP: 320.0)
Dustin Ackley bombed out quickly in 2013, to the point that he was demoted to Triple-A and seemed like a lost cause after being selected second overall in 2009.
In fairness to the 26-year-old, he was only in his second full big league season and might have faced expectations that were too steep for him to live up to as such a lofty pick. Once he returned from the minors late last June, the one-time second baseman had a new position—center field—and proceeded to hit .285/.354/.404 over his final 68 games. That's not great, but it's something.
Ackley's got just enough pop and speed to pull off double digits in both categories if he can stay in the lineup every day. That's something that his great spring, namely a .406 average, 10 extra-base hits and 16 RBI, should help him with at the outset. His quirky 2B/OF eligibility also makes him a handy reserve plug-in option.
Nick Castellanos, 3B, Tigers (ADP: 279.8)
At 22, Nick Castellanos is using March as a spring board (get it?) to show he's ready for The Show.
So far this month, the rookie is tied for second with nine doubles and has 16 RBI, also tied for second most (with Ackley). Castellanos, who will be the Opening Day hot cornerman for Detroit, does have a pair of home runs, too.
If he transitions quickly to the majors from Triple-A, where he hit .276 with 18 homers and 37 doubles as one of the International League's youngest players in 2013, Castellanos could approach 15 four-baggers and 30 of the two-base variety while hitting for a helpful average. In the Tigers lineup, that should play up enough to make him a capable fantasy corner infielder when he's going well.
Kolten Wong, 2B, Cardinals (ADP: 265.3)
Kolten Wong, all 5'9 and 185 pounds of him, isn't a power hitter, but his spring OPS of 1.125 ranks just outside the top 10.
The 23-year-old rook's performance has won him the starting second base gig in St. Louis, although he's likely to cede some action against southpaws to veteran Mark Ellis, a righty hitter to Wong's lefty stick.
Regardless, Wong's diverse skill set—he can hit for average and a little oomph on occasion, steal some bases and score runs—should be enough to keep his fantasy owners content with him as a fill-in who can start when those ahead of him are on an off-day or hurt.
Mike Moustakas, 3B, Royals (ADP: 262.6)
Following a brutal 2013 in which his average sunk to .233 and his homers and RBI dropped from 20 and 73 to 12 and 42, respectively, Mike Moustakas is in a make-or-break year.
The good news is the lefty slugger has been mashing baseballs all spring long, as his .431 average and 10 extra-base hits—including four over walls—and spiffy 8-to-11 strikeout-to-walk rate shows. For what it's worth, Moustakas also leads the sport with 17 RBI.
Heading into his third full season with a heck of a lot to prove, this 25-year-old needs to get off to a hot start to avoid falling into a platoon with offseason acquisition Danny Valencia. If everything goes just right for Moustakas, it's not out of the question that he could be a fringy starting third baseman, but more likely, he'd be a useful corner infield option.
Michael Pineda, SP, Yankees (ADP: 257.5)
Remember this guy? By now, it's taken more than two years for Michael Pineda to get to this point—being on the verge of helping the Yankees, who acquired him in that regrettable-for-everyone-involved trade for Jesus Montero in January 2012.
A torn labrum in his pitching shoulder required surgery and essentially stopped what was a very promising career in its tracks. Pineda had pitched to a 3.74 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 9.1 K/9 in 171 innings as a rookie in 2011.
Still only 25, the 6'7" behemoth has looked strong this spring, giving up just two earned runs on 14 hits in 15 frames. His 16-to-1 strikeout-to-walk mark is even more impressive, considering that while Pineda's mid-to-upper-90s velocity isn't all the way back—and may never be—he's proving he can get K's with what he has.
For fantasy, Pineda could be an SP4 when he's rolling, but his innings likely will be monitored closely, and the injury history obviously makes him tough to count on as more than a spot starter. But if you own him, you should use him while you can, as long as he's throwing well.
Yordano Ventura, SP, Royals (ADP: 244.0)
Yordano Ventura turned his competition with Danny Duffy to win the Royals fifth-starter job into, well, anything but a competition.
Through five outings this month, the 22-year-old flamethrower sports a 1.77 ERA and an 0.93 ERA in 20.1 innings, to go with an 18-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Kansas City is going to need Ventura to step into the rotation as a rookie and help cover for the loss of fellow right-hander Ervin Santana. Ventura's stuff is wicked enough to do just that, with the primary concern being his occasionally spotty command and control that can preclude him from pitching deep into games.
Ventura has the goods to whiff about a batter per inning while keeping his ERA below 4.00 in 2014, but owners should expect some hiccups and a blowup here and there. Plus, his slight frame might make anything more than 150 innings gravy. Ventura is SP4/5 material who might pitch like a No. 3 in fantasy for a stretch of time once he gets into the swing of things.
Alex Wood, SP/RP, Braves (ADP: 236.0)
Unless you're the kind of owner who pays close attention all the time, you may have missed out on what Alex Wood did in a very brief mid-summer rotation trial in 2013.
The 2012 second-rounder zoomed to the majors and joined the Braves bullpen initially in late May. After proving he could get big leaguers out in one-, two- and three-inning stints as a reliever, Wood was needed as an injury replacement in the five-man.
During a six-start stretch from the end of July through August, the 23-year-old surrendered only 36 baserunners and six runs over 37 innings. He also struck out 35. His next three starts didn't go well, though, and the club shifted him back to the pen in mid-September to prepare for that job in October.
Wood was expected to be in the rotation mix entering camp, but season-ending surgeries to Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy ensure Wood will have a shot to make 25-30 starts if he can hold up during his first full season. Of course, his stellar 20 innings this spring (1 ER, 17 H, 16:2 K:BB) would have won him a spot regardless.
There's some risk here, but this southpaw has strikeout stuff and should be at least a steady matchups play in fantasy with the potential to become an SP4/5.
Brad Miller, SS, Mariners (ADP: 206.4)
Brad Miller: Current spring training OPS leader? You betcha.
The 24-year-old shortstop fought his tail off to beat out fellow second-year infielder Nick Franklin for the starting job this month. In Miller's 57 at-bats so far, he has 25 hits (.439), 14 of which have gone for extra bases—the most of the spring. The breakdown: six doubles, four triples and four homers. Add it all up, and Miller has an OPS of 1.395.
Since being drafted in 2011's second round, the lefty swinger has done nothing but hit, with a .334 average in the minors). That's exactly what he did in his half-season debut last year when he batted a respectable .265 with 25 extra-base knocks (eight homers) in just over 300 at-bats.
Miller clearly knows what he's doing at the dish, and while he'd best be utilized at middle infield in fantasy, he could pass for a starting shortstop in deeper leagues if an owner is comfortable gambling on upside. A 15-homer, 15-steal season is within his range of outcomes in his first full year.
Nolan Arenado, 3B, Rockies (ADP: 203.0)
A former top prospect, Nolan Arenado's rookie year was solid enough but far from fantasy friendly.
The 22-year-old (23 in April) hit a so-so .267 with a passable 10 homers and a decent 49 runs and 52 RBI in 133 games last year. About the best that can be said is that nothing there hurt an owner who gave Arenado a shot as a reserve who filled in at third base and corner infield.
This spring, though, the righty swinger who makes a lot of contact (14 percent strikeout rate) is on a hot streak, hitting .365 (19-for-52) with three homers and 10 RBI in 18 games. He's also racked up five doubles, which is a continuation of his not-to-be-overlooked 29 two-baggers as a rook in fewer than 500 at-bats after coming up just before the start of May.
He's outside the top 10 fantasy third basemen for now, but Arenado could hit his way into the back end with a full 600-plus plate appearances and a little improvement here and there. If he's in the mix as a corner infielder or utility hitter for your roster to start the season, that'll do in most leagues. And if he becomes your starter at 3B, it'll be because he earned it.
Billy Hamilton, OF, Reds (ADP: 75.6)
Billy Hamilton just might be the most fascinating player in Major League Baseball this year for oh-so-many reasons.
The Reds need him to handle center field defensively as well as take the leadoff spot and, well, run with it. And that's just what the 23-year-old's legs should allow him to do—if he can hit, walk and get on base enough.
That remains a question for the skinny switch-hitter who slashed .256/.308/.343 at Triple-A in 2013. Despite that, Hamilton stole 75 bases (while being caught only 15 times) and then came up in September and proved his wheels work just as well in the majors by being successful in 13 of 14 tries in only 13 games.
If March holds any answers for fantasy owners looking to invest in a guy who could help win the SB category, certainly Hamilton looks like he's capable of putting bat to ball, as he's gone 15-for-51 (.294) with two doubles, a triple and a homer. Perhaps more importantly, he owns a promising 9-to-6 strikeout-to-walk rate in his 59 trips to the plate. Also? He's gone 9-for-9 in thefts.
Look, Hamilton is going to struggle with the stick: He might not hit above .250-.270, and he will be of no use in homers and RBI. The key for him to work as a third outfielder in fantasy is to avoid massive slumps by beating out infield singles, bunting himself on and walking enough to give himself a chance to steal 60-plus bases and score 80-plus runs—and make the Reds keep him up and atop the lineup all season.
To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11