Fantasy baseball 2014 draft preview: Super sophomores
Each year, the incoming crop of rookies excites fantasy baseball owners more than any other set of players, while the previous year's class graduates into the league's veteran talent pool with minimal fanfare. Smart owners, however, have reason to be very excited about the sophomores, given how much can change in an offseason.
Many second-year players enter spring training preparing to protect a starting job in the big leagues for the first time in their careers. Those who stumbled out of the gate have spent the offseason making adjustments, while the successful rookies from the year before must learn to deal with new levels of expectations and pressure.
Ranking last year's rookies based on their 2014 fantasy value allows us to reflect on the hype and promise the group inspired last year. Who handled early success well, who can rebound from a shaky debut and whose stars will dim after the fashion of former Rookies of the Year Angel Berroa, Bobby Crosby and Chris Coghlan?
1. Yasiel Puig (23), OF, Los Angeles Dodgers: Puig's mesmerizing, polarizing talent debuted in early June and became the talk of baseball within days. It's no surprise the right fielder is ranked among the top 50 fantasy players entering this season. He set a major league record with 34 hits and seven home runs in his first 20 games and went on to lead all rookies with a .319 batting average and 66 runs scored despite playing only two-thirds of a season. Puig accomplished in his rookie year what we had hoped fellow Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes would have done in his sophomore year.
2. Jose Fernandez (21), SP, Miami Marlins: Fernandez showed up to the majors ahead of schedule and never gave Miami any reason to send him back down. The right-hander joined the Marlins in early April without a single minor-league start above Class A to his name and dominated from the outset, leading all rookie pitchers in ERA, strikeouts, WHIP and WAR. He finished third in NL Cy Young Award balloting, and his strong finish to the year in the face of an innings limit gives fantasy owners reason to believe he has more fireworks in store for Year 2.
3. Wil Myers (23), OF, Tampa Bay Rays: Myers was an extra-base hit machine, with 13 homers and 23 doubles in just over half a season of work last year. In the wake of Bryce Harper and Mike Trout exploding onto the scene the year before, his numbers didn't seem outstanding, but Myers could find himself as a top-40 fantasy pick by this time next season. He led AL rookies with 53 RBI, despite playing in only 88 games. Before Myers, no hitter had ever won the AL Rookie of the Year award with fewer than 100 games played.
4. Trevor Rosenthal (23), RP, St. Louis Cardinals: Rosenthal will enter the 2014 season as the Cardinals' closer, and fantasy owners are excited to see his 12.90 K/9 go to work in the ninth inning. Last season, he appeared in 74 regular season games and ranked sixth among all pitchers with an average fastball velocity of 96.4 mph. The Cardinals have a very good rotation in front of Rosenthal and a solid offense to support their staff, so we expect plenty of save opportunities to come his way. It remains to be seen whether Rosenthal has the makeup to work the ninth inning as the closer on a daily basis?
5. Gerrit Cole (23), SP, Pittsburgh Pirates: Cole won 10 of 19 starts in his rookie season, but he wasn't overwhelming for his fantasy owners, with less than a strikeout per nine innings. With improved command and the support of one of the most athletic outfields in baseball, dominance should follow in 2014.
6. Shelby Miller (23), SP, St. Louis Cardinals: While Michael Wacha got all the postseason publicity, the Cardinals might not have made it to the playoffs if not for Miller. He led all rookies with 15 wins last season but struggled late in the year, and the Cardinals reined him in with an innings limit, deploying the right-hander for only one frame in the entire postseason. With a 200-inning season ahead of him, Miller should rack up the wins again and contribute deeper into the fall as the Cardinals plot another pennant run.
7. Michael Wacha (22), SP, St. Louis Cardinals: Wacha won the NLCS MVP after becoming a reliable starter for manager Mike Matheny on the way to the World Series. His postseason work brought forth comparisons to Bob Gibson and rates among the best postseason pitching performances in franchise history. One thing to be wary of is the fact that Wacha is a 6-foot-6, hard-throwing pitcher. That could spell back problems in the future -- but in the meantime, he's being drafted among the top-30 starting pitchers heading into his sophomore season.
8. Jedd Gyorko (25), 2B, San Diego Padres: Gyorko is already drawing comparisons to a young Dan Uggla for his body type, position, power and propensity for swings and misses. He led all rookies with 23 home runs in 2013, and if he can be more patient at the plate, he'll no doubt see better pitches to drive, enabling him to improve upon the .249 batting average he posted as a rookie.
9. Julio Teheran (23), SP, Atlanta Braves: It seems like we've been waiting on Teheran to blossom for a few years now, but the Braves stayed patient with their top prospect and reaped the rewards in 2013. Teheran entered the season as the team's fifth starter and went on a dominant two-month midseason run after taking a no-hitter into the eighth inning against the Pirates in early June. He's already being tabbed as one of the Braves' top starters in future years, and after throwing 185 innings last season, Teheran should eclipse 200 innings in 2014 with a chance for career-best numbers across the board.
10. Matt Adams (25), 1B, St. Louis Cardinals: In the mold of Greg Luzinski and Jim Thome, Adams is a big, barrel-chested slugger with great power from the first base position. The Cardinals let Carlos Beltran walk in free agency with plans to move the oft-injured Allen Craig out to right field and giving Adams a shot at a full-time job at first. If Adams struggles out of the gate, Craig could be moved back to first base if super-prospect outfielder Oscar Taveras proves too talented to keep out of the lineup.
11. Hyun-Jin Ryu (26), SP, Los Angeles Dodgers: Ryu fatigued somewhat and received little run support down the stretch, but before that, you couldn't ask for much more from the Korean left-hander. My favorite part of his arsenal is his consistency: He allowed more than three earned runs in just six of 30 starts last year, and he went fewer than six innings in just seven starts. Ryu led all rookies with 192 innings pitched, and he could easily lead his class again this season.
12. Jurickson Profar (21), 2B, Texas Rangers: No player had more hype surrounding his minor league exploits last year than Profar, who was touted for a hot bat and a sticky glove as a prospect. Once he arrived in Arlington, the shine on his star faded somewhat when second baseman Ian Kinsler refused to slide over to first to open up a spot in the infield. Profar had to find at-bats at several other positions, which no doubt affected his play at the plate. His career's stutter-step out of the batter's box, so to speak, is exactly why you'll be able to get him much cheaper in 2014 than you will next season. Also, for leagues that need just 10 games played the previous season, Profar holds eligibility at second, shortstop and third base.
13. Danny Salazar (24), SP, Cleveland Indians: Salazar became so valuable to the Indians in his first season that manager Terry Francona gave him the start in the wild card game against the Rays. Salazar allowed more than two earned runs in just three of his 10 regular season starts and struck out seven or more batters on six different occasions. Salazar has electric stuff good enough to handle most big league hitters, and now he'll have to adjust to the adjustments teams make to him the second time around. Had he made one fewer start last year, he'd still be a rookie for 2014.
14. Evan Gattis (27), C, Atlanta Braves: People are lining up to label Gattis a bust candidate this season, but he led all rookies in RBI with 65 in 105 games last year and hit for power consistently enough to force himself into the everyday lineup and earn the trust of the Atlanta brass. The Braves will carry veteran Gerald Laird and Ryan Doumit on the roster in the event that Gattis stumbles out of the gate handling everyday catching duties for the first full season. His sub-.300 on-base percentage tells us it's going to be tough for him to do much damag in the long run until he learns some patience.
15. Sonny Gray (24), SP, Oakland Athletics: Gray was part of the great pitching class of 2013, posting a sub-3.00 ERA in 64 innings and turning in two memorable starts in the postseason against Detroit, one of the best scoring teams in the majors. The A's rarely grab the national spotlight because they're a blue-collar team that pieces together wins without high profile players, but Gray's October duels with Justin Verlander offered a glimpse of the young right-hander's potential. Gray should be good for over 165 innings and a 3.50 ERA in his sophomore season, and if he continues to strike out more than a batter per inning, he's well worth a selection close to Round 14.
Other intriguing sophomores to keep an eye on: Tony Cingrani, SP, Cincinnati; Jim Henderson, RP, Milwaukee; Zack Wheeler, SP, New York Mets; Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado; Khris Davis, OF, Milwaukee; Jonathan Villar, SS, Houston; Kole Calhoun, OF, Los Angeles Angels; Chris Archer, SP, Tampa Bay; Adam Eaton, OF, Chicago White Sox; Brad Miller, SS, Seattle; Dan Straily, SP, Oakland; Alex Wood, SP, Atlanta; Anthony Rendon, 2B, Washington; Martin Perez, SP, Texas.