Real, meaningful baseball games will begin while most of America is sleeping tonight, with the Dodgers and Diamondbacks facing each other in Sydney, Australia at 4 a.m. ET. The true Opening Day slate is still about a week away, putting us right in the thick of fantasy draft season. When you sit down at the draft table, make sure the following developments are on your mind.
Michael Pineda back in the fantasy discussion
Three years ago, as a 22-year-old rookie for the Mariners, Pineda had a 3.74 ERA, 3.42 WHIP, 1.10 WHIP, 173 strikeouts and just 55 non-intentional walks in 171 innings. But after missing all of the last two seasons plagued by shoulder injuries, Pineda is finally ready to return to a major league mound in meaningful games. He threw 4.1 scoreless innings on Tuesday, striking out five batters and walking none. His fastball was not of the blazing variety that it was when he was on the Mariners, but he generally sat in the low-90s. Moreover, his slider was biting the way it did when he looked like he could be the next big thing on the mound.
His shoulder issues look like a thing of the past, even if he never reclaims all of the velocity he once had. He has yet to give up a run in nine Grapefruit League innings while striking out 14 batters. Pineda's current ADP is 281.2, and he offers more upside than any pitcher being drafted that late. Make sure he's on your radar near the end of your draft; he easily has the ceiling of a top-40 starter if all breaks in his favor.
Aroldis Chapman out for six-to-eight weeks after being struck by line drive
Chapman experienced a nightmare scenario on Wednesday when a line drive off the bat of Salvador Perez came right back up the box and hit him in the face. He suffered fractures above his nose and left eye, and spent the night in the hospital. The Reds are saying he is expected to make a full recovery but will miss six-to-eight weeks, which would have him out until sometime in mid-May or early June.
Chapman has been one of the most dominant relievers since entering the majors in 2011, and has been an elite closer each of the last two seasons. For his career, he has a 2.40 ERA, 2.27 FIP, 1.04 WHIP and 324 strikeouts in 198.2 innings. Assuming he returns to the mound this season, he's still going to be a very valuable fantasy closer. He had more than 15 strikeouts per nine innings in 2012 and 2013, and guys like that don't exactly grow on trees. But the mere fact that he's going to miss about 30 percent of the season, at best, means that his counting stats will slide this year. I've got Chapman as the No. 12 closer on my board now.
As for the rest of the Reds bullpen, expect Jonathan Broxton and JJ Hoover to emerge as the top closer options for new manager Bryan Price in Chapman's stead. They should slot in as the final closers on your draft board, along with guys like Josh Fields and LaTroy Hawkins.
Javier Baez keeps on destroying baseballs
When it comes to their top prospects, the Cubs diligently keep to a plan -- they ensure that prospects get plenty of minor league seasoning and, most importantly, they try and keep prospects under team control for as long as possible. The only problem is that Baez cares not about the front office's plans.
Baez, the Cubs top pick in the 2011 amateur draft and the No. 7 prospect according to MLB.com, has had a huge spring, punctuated by tape-measure home runs. There was this one he hit against Rockies that traveled 452 feet. Then there was this one he hit to the opposite field off Alexi Ogando. And then there was this Randy Wolf belt-high changeup that he did not find all that impressive. Watch him for just a few at-bats, and you see that he's major league ready.
In 39 spring training at-bats, Baez is hitting .308 with five homers and a .769 slugging percentage. He dominated at High-A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee last year, hitting .282/.341/.578 with 37 homers and 111 RBI across the two levels. He's just 21 years old, but the Cubs won't be able to justify keeping him in the minors for much longer.
Baez will start the season with Triple-A Iowa, but he should be in Wrigley sometime this season. He's a natural shortstop, but the Cubs already have a key piece of the future, Starlin Castro, manning that position. They've been working Baez at out second and third base, and he has played a few Cactus League games at the keystone. Current starter Darwin Barney has been the subject of trade rumors, especially since his glove is strong enough for him to shift over to shortstop. The Tigers, most notably, are in the shortstop market after potentially losing Jose Iglesias for the season with stress fractures in both legs. If the Cubs move Barney, that could further accelerate Baez' ascension. Either way, he's going to be belting homers in the North Side of Chicago before long, and should be drafted in all formats this season.