FANTASY PLAYS: Spring training performances that matter
Despite being told yearly that spring training statistics are overrated, fantasy baseball owners still buy into them and will over or underrate players as a result.
While it's true that most spring training stats are meaningless and muddy the picture more than clearing it up, some performances are worthy of our attention. With the 2017 Fantasy Baseball season fast approaching, here are some player performances that actually mean something.
BRYCE HARPER, Washington Nationals: There is a reason Harper continues to be a high first round pick despite disappointing owners last year. It's his 2015 season. Harper batted .330 with 42 home runs, 118 runs and 99 RBIs. Harper saw a huge drop in average and hit only 24 homers last year, but he did steal 21 bases. This spring, Harper is tearing the cover off the ball, flashing that power again. While it would be surprising to see a .330 average and 40-plus home runs again, Harper is still just 24 years old. Hitting 30-plus home runs with a high-200s average and 20 steals is doable, and that would make Harper a top 5 hitter again.
JOSE BAUTISTA, Toronto Blue Jays: Bautista said he feels disrespected over this past offseason in free agency. He's taking out his frustrations at the plate, batting over .500 with an absurdly high OPS. Health was a major factor in Bautista's down 2016 season, and he has at least 35 home runs, 101 runs and 103 RBIs in each of the last four seasons where he played at least 149 games. Bautista looks healthy. and motivated. A rebound is coming.
KEON BROXTON, Milwaukee Brewers: It might be nice if Broxton would cool off -- too many people are taking notice and grabbing Broxton higher than he used to go around Round 20. You can't fault Broxton though, as this is the potential he brings. Broxton has the ability to post a 20/40 (20 home runs, 40 steals) season, and while he'll never hit for a good average, 20/40 is nearly impossible to find. Broxton's spring is impressive and sustainable, but as you see with the strikeouts, the average won't be.
JURICKSON PROFAR, Texas Rangers: Profar had limited action with the Rangers (3-for-7 with a double and triple) before heading off to the World Baseball Classic. Profar has been scorching hot in the competition, batting nearly .600 with a 1.446 OPS, including five doubles and a home run in his 12 hits (23 at-bats). It may seem as though we've been waiting forever for Profar, but he just turned 24 and was the No. 1 prospect in baseball not too long ago. Ryan Rua and Joey Gallo aren't as talented and won't do enough to warrant the Rangers having Profar back in the minors. Grab Profar late in your draft and reap the rewards.
JACOB deGROM, New York Mets: The Mets pitching staff didn't live up to its billing last year, and deGrom - due to injury - factored into that. Offseason surgery addressed the issue of scar tissue near deGrom's ulnar nerve, and the doctor said the ligament looked great, eliminating any concern of a more serious issue. During the spring, deGrom looks better than ever. He's hitting 97-98 on his fastball and has been sitting around 96 regularly. A healthy deGrom had a 2.54 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 205 strikeouts in 191 innings two years ago. The added speed and renewed health should guarantee a return to greatness for deGrom, and it could lead to a career year.
MASAHIRO TANAKA, New York Yankees: You may notice that most of these players had some form of injury factoring into their prior disappointments. Returning from injury is one of the few important factors to watch in spring. Tanaka returned from a UCL injury in 2015, but it often takes a year to recover completely. Even with that year coming last season, Tanaka has yet to get his strikeout ability back. Tanaka did have a 3.07 ERA and 1.08 WHIP, but his 7.4 K/9 was much lower than his 9.3 mark in his MLB debut season. The good news is that strikeouts are often the last piece to rebound when talking about a UCL injury, and Tanaka did improve his K/9 and K percentage in the second half last year. This spring, Tanaka has bumped his strikeouts to over one per inning while walking no one as of March 16. The missing strikeouts are all Tanaka needed in order to return to the elite level of Fantasy Baseball pitchers, and as John Wick would tell Tanaka to say, ''Yea, I'm thinking I'm back!''
This column was provided to The Associated Press by the Fantasy Sports Network, http://FNTSY.com