Jackson Prince, sports editor
Fantasy baseball is back. The most taxing, most knowledge-requiring, most rewarding of all fantasy sports has made its long-awaited return. An offseason of massive signings and noise-making prospects has many hoping that this season will be the best yet.
Unlike those in other fantasy realms, fantasy baseball team owners must be committed for over eight months, from the end of March to the beginning of October, to setting lineups each and every day. They’re up at the crack of dawn, ensuring that their pitchers are taking the mound that day and their lefty hitters are facing right-handed pitchers. They’re perusing the waiver wire for prospects soon-to-be called up to the major leagues and constantly adding hitters on hot streaks and dropping players who have gone stale.
It is this daily struggle and attention to detail that has earned my utmost respect for fantasy baseballers.
This year, I’d like to be another voice in the nosebleed section of fantasy baseball “experts” that may help you in your chase of the trophy. Hey, sometimes, even Matthew Berry gets a little tiring. Try me.
PLAYERS YOU MUST HAVE
In 2013, Ramos had 16 homers and 59 RBIs. In only 77 games. This year, the backstop entered training camp fully healthy and, as he is expected to win out the starting job, will only ride the bench once a week. A wall behind the plate, Ramos has something to prove this season. If he remains healthy, Ramos could near 25 home runs and 80 RBIs. Pretty good for the 10th ranked catcher by ESPN.
Brandon Moss, Oakland A’s
Did you know that this guy hit 30 home runs last year? Five more than Prince Fielder? And yet, his average draft position (ADP) is 131st in 2014. In other words, Brandon Moss is a quiet stud. While he crushes right-handers and struggles against southpaws, Moss is a trusty output for RBIs and homers at an extremely cheap cost relative to his fellow power-hitters.
Prado is the ideal guy to own here for a cheap price. He’s eligible at second base, third base and outfield, and he’s slotted to hit cleanup in the D-backs’ lineup. Currently, he’s the ninth or tenth second baseman off of the board, which is simply insane. Prado hit 282 last year with 82 RBIs and 70 runs scored. Moreover, he was hot this spring, going 19-40 and scoring 10 times. If that, plus his flexibility in the field, is not worthy of being a top-five second baseman, I don’t know what to tell you.
As a bitter Dodger fan, I hate to love Adrian Beltre. I mean, it probably wasn’t a very wise front office move to release him after hitting 48 home runs in 2004. Frank McCourt might’ve seen that year as his prime, and predicted that he would break down in a few years. Well, unsurprisingly, he was wrong. Beltre has improved with age, like a fine wine. In fact, Beltre had 199 hits last year, one less hit than his magical 2004 season. Beltre should be the second third baseman taken off of the board, after Mr. Miguel Cabrera. If you want to own a consistently-performing beast at the hot corner, Beltre’s your guy.
New York Mets
Last year, it became cool to own a Met, because Matt Harvey was awesome. This year, however, Harvey’s out. And the only Met I will own in 2014 is Curtis Granderson. He only played 61 games last year due to two injuries. However, both incidents were caused by hit-by-pitches. In other words, Granderson is not “injury-prone.” Don’t forget, in the 2012 season (in which he was as healthy as he is now), Granderson launched 43 bombs, scoring 102 runs and recording 106 RBIs. While only missing two games. It’s a simple fact: when Curtis Granderson is healthy, he’s a beast. And he’ll begin the 2014 season…healthy.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Hey look! A Dodger! Ryu is ranked 28th among starting pitchers by ESPN, but some Dodger fans might be overly-cautious in approaching him, as he did show flashes of unreliability in his rookie season. But don’t be afraid of the Korean southpaw. He’s a horse, as he started in 30 games and averaged over six innings per start. While he is a pitch-to-contact guy, Ryu gets outs and was able to keep his ERA from rising above 3.00 in 2013. This year, I see the deceptive lefty earning 16 wins with a juggernaut of an offense behind him, and perhaps adding a few more strikeouts to his statbook, all while keeping his ERA below 3.25.
PLAYERS YOU MUST AVOID
To be honest, you can’t really go wrong at catcher this year. There are enough hitting catchers in 2014 that each one of you should end up with a sufficient starter and perhaps a solid backup. Just don’t wind up with Russell Martin. He hit .226 last year with only 15 home runs as a Pirate, and he’s supposedly a “power-hitting catcher.” Expect his power numbers to fall further as he ages.
Chicago White Sox
I can never flat-out tell you to avoid a prospect with potential. This is more of a message to be wise and not jump early to grab him. He’s projected to hit over 20 homers and hover around 80 RBIs, which sounds pretty sweet. Well…I have two problems. First, he has been compared to Pedro Alvarez: big power, low batting average. In a fantasy baseball league that rewards batting average, you might want to look elsewhere, like toward Adam Lind or Brandon Belt, before choosing Abreu. And Abreu’s a rookie, which means that he has yet to prove that he can hit a Major League fastball or a curveball that drops a foot. Just be wary, please.
Here’s some irony: in Spanish, “seguro” means “secure.” However, Jean Segura is, by no means, a “secure” pick. I’m calling a fluke. Big time fluke. Sure, his 2013 stats are sexy, as he batted .294 with 74 runs and 44 stolen bases. But Segura is coming off of a terrible second half of the season, only hitting one home run and sporting a .241 batting average. He’s not a power hitter, as he hit 11 taters in the first half of 2013, and only added one home run in the second part of the season. He’s obviously inconsistent. Segura will secure some steals and runs again in 2014, but don’t reach for him. He’s outside of my top-ten shortstops. (Hint: if you’re looking for cheap steals, look no further than Houston Astros’ shortstop Jonathan Villar. He manages to get on first base a lot and he is very, very fast.)
Give me the when and where to witness Cespedes’ coming-out party. But, I’m afraid he might be doomed to continue to let us down. Cespedes followed up a studly 2012 performance with a dud. While hitting 26 home runs is nice, he allowed his stats in all other categories to slip, excluding his strikeouts. I believe that Cespedes has all of the tools to be a top outfielder in the American League. But he has to show some more consistency for me to buy in. With such a class of outfielders in 2014, there are other, more safe options around, including Allen Craig, Matt Holliday and Hunter Pence.
I’m biased because I hate the Phillies. But Cliff Lee is 35 years old. He’s the third-ranked pitcher by ESPN, and he’s 35 years old. I won’t lie and tell you that he sucks. Lee is a strikeout machine, and doesn’t give up a lot of runs at all. But, the Phillies aren’t going to give him much more run-support than they did in 2013, meaning that he won’t win more than 14 games this year. I see a digression this year in his pitching abilities, too, as he’s not getting any younger, and I don’t believe in the Phillies organization enough for an increase in wins. Lee is a bottom-end top-ten pitcher, but make sure you own another ace to pair with him.
Thank you for reading, and I advise you to act on what you have just learned. Good luck with your respective seasons.