(Photo by George Walker/Icon Sportswire)
To any readers who are trying to escape the Monday blues, I’m here to remind you that today is the last Monday without major league baseball until October! That means that for the next seven months, you’ll be able to distract yourself by focusing on your fantasy baseball team. While the majority of fantasy drafts have already occurred, those of you who have waited until the last minute can review the Pitcher List top 300, our staff consensus for this year. Below are a few players I ranked significantly higher or lower than the rest of the staff, and my reasoning why.
Players I love
Carlos Correa (SS, HOU) – Staff Rank 11/ My rank 3
The only players I would confidently take above superstar shortstop Carlos Correa are Mike Trout and Correa’s double-play partner, Jose Altuve. Correa just has so much going for him: 30 home run power, an elite walk-rate (11%), arguably the best offense in baseball around him, a hitter-friendly ballpark, and of course positional scarcity. While SS is not the black hole for production that it once was, the position drops off in value after Correa, Trea Turner, Francisco Lindor and Corey Seager. For me, I’d much rather have Correa’s .300/30/100 potential at the third spot than some of the other guys going around there. While Mookie Betts and Manny Machado are studs, they are coming off down years and play positions that are easier to snag value in the later rounds (although Machado will likely get SS early on this season). With the thumb injury behind him, I expect Correa to cruise to an elite fantasy season at shortstop, making him worthy of a top-three selection.
Michael Fulmer (SP, DET) – Staff Rank 122/ My rank 92
Michael Fulmer burst onto the scene as a rookie in 2016, posting a 3.06 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP with a 7.47 strikeout rate. Through his first 16 starts of 2017, Fulmer looked equally as good, holding down a 3.20 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP. Then, Fulmer limped to the finish line, posting a 5.07 ERA in his last nine starts with a 1.25 WHIP. He was suffering from an elbow injury, one that eventually ended his season in August and caused him to get ulnar nerve surgery, the same injury that Jacob deGrom had in 2016.
The good news is that Fulmer is fully healthy heading into 2018. Considering that healthy Fulmer is a low 3.00 ERA and 1.10 WHIP pitcher, he is worth gambling on at his current ADP. While his strikeouts have never been elite, there is still room for him to grow in that regard. At worst, Fulmer is an efficient starting pitcher who will provide a strong ERA and an elite WHIP. If he adds the strikeouts, he can easily be a top-20 pitcher.
Jeimer Candelario (3B, DET) – My rank 280/Staff unranked
I originally planned to talk about Cam Bedrosian here, but it looks like Myles Nelson already beat me to it. Instead I’ll focus on one of my late round targets, third baseman Jeimer Candelario. Candelario came over to the Tigers at the trade deadline last year, and smoked the ball to the tune of a .330/.406/.468 batting line in 106 plate appearances. Obviously that kind of production is not sustainable, but Candelario is a highly regarded prospect who had plus hit tools all through the minor leagues.
Candelario looks like he will be the number two hitter in Detroit, right in front of sluggers Miguel Cabrera, Nick Castellanos and Victor Martinez. While that isn’t the most elite 3-4-5 in the league, it is good enough that Candelario should score plenty of runs. He boasts average home run pop and limited speed, but he hits for a high average and should score a lot of runs. That’s enough to take a gamble on as a bench bat or CIF option in most fantasy formats.
Players I Hate
Justin Smoak (1B, TOR) – Staff rank 95/My rank 143
Maybe it’s bitterness from watching him colossally underperform for his entire career in Seattle, but I’m not willing to buy Justin Smoak at his current ADP, despite last season’s 38 home run, .270 performance. Obviously the Rogers Centre is a better hitting environment than Safeco field, and Smoak took part in baseball’s launch angle revolution in 2017, hitting fly balls at a career high 44.5% clip. His HR/FB rate and hard-hit rate indicate that the power might be legit, which I’m willing to accept. However, Toronto’s lineup is questionable heading into next season, with only Josh Donaldson and Kendrys Morales representing true power threats. I think Smoak’s RBI opportunities will be limited, and I have a hard time seeing a career .232 hitter hit .270 once again. Smoak’s previous career high was .238, and I think serious regression is coming in the BA department. Factor in the wealth of power-hitting first baseman, and suddenly a .235 hitter with 30 home runs is not someone I want to take in the top 100 picks.
Jeff Samardzija – Staff rank 158/My rank 269
It’s worth pointing out that these rankings came out before the recent news that Samardzija has a strained pec muscle which will put him on the DL to start the season. The injury does not appear to be too serious however, so Samardzija’s value should not be impacted that much.
Jeff Samardzija was somewhat of a sabermetric darling last year, posting an ugly 4.42 ERA but a much stronger 1.14 WHIP and 205 strikeouts. His high ERA came almost exclusively thanks to the long ball, as Shark surrendered 30 home runs, good for a career-high 1.3 HR/9. However, home runs have always impacted the 33-year-old right-hander, so it’s not like this was an anomaly. His solid WHIP and strikeout numbers are great, but I see a 33-year-old pitcher with well over 1,000 innings notched in the last five years, who gives up too many home runs in a strong hitting division. Age and fatigue regression are coming, and soon. I’ll pass.