Fantasy baseball 2014 draft prep: Player rankings, position primers, burning questions and more
Since last October, news has swirled constantly, players have switched teams and pitchers have been knocked out for the season with injury; all information that greatly affects fantasy baseball. So, I present it to you in alphabetical order, to prove I know my ABCs.
PRINTABLE DRAFT SHEETS: Top 300 | Rankings by position
A -- An Angel ascends to No. 1
Mike Trout is your new undisputed No. 1 overall draft pick in most fantasy leagues now. Last year, there was a lot of debate between Miguel Cabrera, Ryan Braun and Trout going first, but after the sophomore posted another amazing year -- he's at the top of all wish lists. (With that in mind, Cabrera was the most expensive player in last week's Tout Wars experts auction, but they use on-base percentage rather than batting average. Cabrera had a .447 OBP in 2013, while Trout had a .431 OBP.)
B -- Bigger in Texas
The Rangers had a surplus of middle infielders, so they traded away 2B Ian Kinsler to Detroit for slugger Prince Fielder in the biggest offseason trade in the league. Fielder will hit third in a stacked lineup, and the close fences in Globe Life Park in Arlington should make him a big hit (pun intended) right away. Ball park factors show that Globe Life Park (1.517) was second to just Citizens Bank Park (1.338) in home runs in that park as opposed to other stadiums in 2013.
C -- Cuban defectors
After seeing what Yoenis Cespedes could do a couple years ago, the market for good Cuban hitting got a bump in value this past offseason. The biggest prize was first baseman Jose Dariel Abreu, who signed with the White Sox, as they try to retool their offense. Abreu will hit third in what was one of the weakest offenses in the majors last season. He has plenty of power potential, but it might take him some time to get there.
D -- Detroit fixes its back end
Only six other major-league teams had a worse bullpen ERA than the Tigers last season, as guys like Bruce Rondon, Joaquin Benoit, Drew Smyly, Jose Veras and Jose Valverde got saves. Joe Nathan moves to Motown, joining the fourth major league team of his career. Only four other closers have more than Nathan's 80 combined saves over the past two seasons.
E -- Eaton healthy in Chicago
The White Sox brought in power, with the signing of Abreu, but they also traded away closer Addison Reed for leadoff hitter Adam Eaton. The speedy center fielder is healthy this spring, after missing the start of last season with a sprained UCL in his left elbow. The White Sox will be better than last season offensively -- the question is -- how much better?
F -- First games have already been played
The Dodgers and Diamondbacks started the season already, with a two-game set in Australia. If you haven't drafted your head-to-head team yet, check to see if those stats count in Week 1 matchups. It might not change your draft strategy, but it will be good to know going in.
PINCUS: Fantasy impact of the opening series in Australia
G -- Going from Red Sox to Pinstripes
Jacoby Ellsbury follows Johnny Damon's lead, leaving center field in Fenway Park for the Bronx, where he'll lead a rebuilt Yankees offense. Ellsbury remains a stolen base threat, but he has a bad trend going, with bad seasons following up his big years. Players coming off big contract years often take a step back in their new digs. (See Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols and B.J. Upton.)
H -- Hit in the face by a liner
Hopefully, we won't see an injury as ugly as the one we saw against Reds closer Aroldis Chapman last week, when a line drive came back and hit him in the face. He had surgery to place a metal plate on the fractured bone above his eye, and might not be back until mid-May or so. Despite his injury, fantasy experts in the Tout Wars auction took him as the 19th-most expensive closers ($11). J.J. Hoover seems to be the most popular option as Chapman's replacement.
I -- Injured players (almost) ready to return
While Carlos Gonzalez (emergency appendectomy) and Grady Sizemore (knee) are expected to be ready by Opening Day, Matt Kemp (ankle) and Manny Machado (knee) should start the season on the 15-day disabled list. Sizemore has been out of baseball for a couple years, but he essentially owns the starting spot in center field for Boston now.
J -- Japanese import
The Yankees (anyone surprised?) ponied up $155 million for right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, who hopes to follow the successes of Yu Darvish, Hisashi Iwakuma and Hiroki Kuroda. He's in a tough division, though, with four of the top-scoring offenses in the majors.
K -- Kansas City fixes the top of the order
The Royals made some strides last season, but it was very apparent that they needed talent atop the order so that Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler and Alex Gordon could knock them in. Gordon led off a lot games last season, but he'll move back to fifth in the lineup, as Norichika Aoki comes from Milwaukee to hit first. Omar Infante leaves Detroit to bat second with his former divisional opponents.
L -- Lots of moves at catcher
Indians catcher Carlos Santana will start at third base this season, as he adds to his position eligibility (you'll still use him at catcher). Brian McCann leaves Atlanta for the first time to play in the AL with the Yankees, as Jarrod Saltalamacchia will hit in the NL for the first time with the Marlins. The Red Sox will rely on A.J. Pierzynski behind the plate, and division rival Tampa Bay brought in Ryan Hanigan from Cincinnati to start behind the plate. The Giants considered moving Buster Posey over to first base full time, but he'll still probably get a lot of action over there. John Jaso becomes the regular designated hitter in Oakland, which means many more at-bats, and Kurt Suzuki takes over the catcher spot in Minnesota. Why? Because...
M -- Mauer on first
The Twins moved catcher Joe Mauer from behind the plate over to first base, so he should be able to eclipse his career-high of 545 at-bats. Michael Beller and I debated over whether you should draft Mauer or Santana.
N -- No Mo' Mo
Mariano Rivera, after coming back in 2013 from 2012 knee surgery, retired as the greatest closer in MLB history. I'd venture to say that 80 percent of the people playing fantasy baseball these days have never played in a season that didn't have Rivera pitching in pinstripes, since he started in 1995. David Robertson will take over as closer for the Yankees, and we will never see another player wear No. 42 on the back of his jersey again.
O -- Oakland in trouble
Before Spring Training started, Jarrod Parker was Oakland's ace, and A.J. Griffin was a big part of the team's future. But now, Parker is done after undergoing Tommy John surgery, and Griffin is out for most of April, also with an elbow injury. The A's will turn to super sophomore Sonny Gray for the opener, and Scott Kazmir will be asked to do what he did last year with Cleveland. Dan Straily is healthy, too, but Jesse Chavez and Tommy Milone as rotation fillers is not a good thing.
GONOS: These standouts from last year's rookie class should be first off the board
P -- Price remains in Tampa Bay
After many rumors floating around (like David Price going to Seattle for Taijuan Walker), the Rays and their franchise lefty are together again for the start of 2014. Price will be a free agent in 2016, which means the Rays will want to get as much as they can for their ace, unless they're in the mix come trade deadline.
Q -- Quiet return of strikeout pitchers
Yu Darvish, Max Scherzer, Jose Fernandez and Stephen Strasburg lead a group of strikeout pitchers that we haven't seen in a while. Darvish led the league last season with 277 strikeouts, which is the closest anyone has come to 300 strikeouts since Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling did it in 2002. Darvish is expected to return from a neck/back injury by the end of April -- so it's doubtful he'll reach 300 Ks this year.
R -- Returning suspended players
Several players are ready to reset their careers this season after serving suspensions for their involvement in the Biogenesis scandal for PEDs last season, including Ryan Braun, Everth Cabrera, Nelson Cruz and Jhonny Peralta. Fantasy writers are not worried about a dip in talent for Braun -- he went for $38 in Tout Wars as the third-most expensive outfielder, after Trout and Andrew McCutchen.
S -- Say it isn't so, Sano!
One of the top power hitters in the minors, 3B Miguel Sano underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow on March 12 and will be out for the season. He was rated as Baseball America's sixth-best prospect entering 2014. The Twins still have No. 1 prospect Byron Buxton, but he'll likely play most of the season at Double-A New Britain, once he returns from a sprained wrist.
T -- Tommy John surgeries
Speaking of Tommy John surgeries, the list continues to grow, after Parker and Sano, other players expected to miss the season after undergoing the procedure include Kris Medlen, Bruce Rondon, Brandon Beachy, Patrick Corbin and Luke Hochevar.
U -- Up-in-the-air bullpens
Astros, White Sox Rangers, and Rockies have the most unstable situations in their closer spots, although, the Rangers named Joakim Soria their closer this past weekend. Even so, he's still a couple years removed from Tommy John surgery. The Astros are starting with a committee, likely led by veteran Chad Qualls. The Rockies will lean on LaTroy Hawkins, with Rex Brothers at the ready. And the White Sox have an open competition between Nate Jones, Matt Lindstrom and Daniel Webb.
V -- Very big new contracts
A few players are entering 2014 with brand spanking new deals that they made with their previous team. Aces Homer Bailey and Clayton Kershaw signed for a combined $320 million this offseason. (Kershaw already started earning his, with a strong outing in his first win Down Under.)
W -- Wheel of revolving closers
Much like the catchers that were swapping jerseys this past offseason, there were plenty of closers that played musical chairs as well. Grant Balfour goes from Oakland to Tampa Bay (after the Orioles didn't like what they saw with his physical). Balfour will replace Fernando Rodney in St. Pete, but had Balfour gone to Baltimore, he would have replaced the man replacing him in the ninth in Oakland: Jim Johnson. Instead, Tommy Hunter will close games for the Orioles, but he's already considered the closer that will likely get replaced the earliest this season. Rodney ended up in Seattle, and he'll close for them in 2014. Trevor Rosenthal is installed as the Cardinals' closer, and Addison Reed was trade to the Diamondbacks.
X -- X-tra power in Arizona
(Sometimes, we have to force things.) The Angels traded Mark Trumbo to the Diamondbacks for pitching prospect Tyler Skaggs, and he hit his first home run for Arizona against the Dodgers on Saturday in Australia. There were just four major league teams that hit fewer home runs than the Diamondbacks' 130 last season. Expect that to change.
Y -- Yankees rebirth
From 2013 to 2014, the Yankees changed more than 50-percent of their lineup, with five new hitters joining the Bronx Bombers. Led by Ellsbury, the Yankees also brought in McCann, OF Carlos Beltran, 3B Kelly Johnson and 2B Brian Roberts. For the rotation, they brought in Tanaka, who we've already mentioned, and former Mariners righty Michael Pineda won the fifth spot in the rotation after finally returning from various shoulder issues.
Z -- Zero to 90 feet in 3.3 seconds!
With Shin-Choo Soo going to Texas in free agency, the Reds installed speedy rookie SS Billy Hamilton as their new leadoff hitter. His speed is blinding, which means he'll beat out a ton of infield hits, before stealing second and third. He supposedly got to first base in 3.3 seconds recently, which is unworldly. He has a very good lineup behind him, so you can bet he'll be in scoring position when Joey Votto steps to the plate. Expect a lot of comments from announcers wondering what's faster: Hamilton to first base or a Chapman 100-mph fastball? (Interesting note: Another Billy Hamilton stole over 100 bases in four separate seasons -- between 1889 and 1894. That has to mean something.)
David Gonos is a fantasy sports veteran of over 20 years and over 100 fantasy leagues. You can also follow him @davidgonos on Twitter.