As the final days of spring training wind down, and teams make final cuts, opening day rosters begin to take shape. While many re-draft players are busy drafting their teams over the next week plus. Dynasty managers are on the other side of the spectrum, as this is the time when you look to acquire players that you see as potential breakouts. In my humble opinion these weeks leading up to the season can be amongst the most important for managers looking to reload and rebuild. So how should you approach this buying window? Who should you be looking to add? That’s a great question, but a difficult one to answer, because unlike re-draft not everyone is in contention every year. Values in dynasty and deep keeper leagues are dependent upon your team’s current window for competing. This is why player values from manager to manager within your league can vary greatly. So keep in mind, not every player is a fit for every roster. You need to decide what your window is, and build with that in mind. For example, if you have a win now team, with a great deal of aging vets you might be looking to get a little younger. Or you might throw caution to the wind, go full Dombrowski, and buy for today. While a non-competing team might be looking to acquire the best talent under 25, no matter position. Regardless of where your team falls on the competitive spectrum, it’s important to identify players you want to own, and those you’re looking to acquire. Below is a list I’ve made of the players I want to own. So all those in leagues with The God Emcee (that’s me) look away. I’m sure that worked. Now that my leaguemates are out of the room, let me just say I love these players. Some are prospects, while others are young vets. These are the guys I can see taking a step forward. These aren’t all that players with breakout upside, but they’re the ones I felt like writing about.
Walker Buehler, RHP Dodgers: A top 10 talent who’s the poster child of “Tommy John at the Wrong Time”. The Dodgers knew exactly what they were doing when they snatched up Buehler at 24th overall in the 2015 draft. Following a lengthy rehab Buehler made his professional debut late last season. So far in 2017 he’s been the talk of Dodgers camp, and reading between the lines looks to be in the long term plans of the Blue Bloods. He features 4 possibly plus pitches, and the ceiling of a fantasy ace in a great environment. Over the next 6 months the former Vanderbilt ace’s value could explode.
Ramon Laureano, OF Astros: Now’s a good time to buy the 2016 breakout. You can sell from the angle that he’s coming off a poor spring, and that you’re willing to take the risk on. A great add for non-competing teams looking to add a potential under the radar fantasy asset. Laureano brings to the table speed, approach, contact ability, and developing power. No matter how much Halp and I push Laureano, he’s still not a well known bat in many fantasy circles.
Greg Bird, 1B Yankees: Have you seen Bird’s production this spring? So maybe this is the wrong time to buy, or maybe it’s the last time you CAN buy Bird. Yesterday he was named the Yankees everyday first baseman, and at least at the beginning will see the majority of at bats over the righthanded hitting Chris Carter. Even beyond the right now opportunity, Bird’s long term setup is fantastic. A lefty power hitter in Yankee Stadium in his early to mid 20’s? Where do I sign up? Any concern over his Fall League struggles are way in the rear view.
Aledmys Diaz, SS Cardinals: Is this the most underrated player in dynasty and re-draft? He was off the radar last year when Jhonny Peralta went down, then proceeded to hit for contact and power, before succumbing to an injury of his own. Now back and healthy, Diaz is going well after other middle infielders with equal production. While I understand his pedigree and track record aren’t what his middle infidel comrades are, but still, in many dynasty drafts he’s going well after pick 100.
Mike Montgomery, LHP Cubs: I can’t say what his exact role is at the moment. He could be in the rotation, he could be in the pen, he could be in some sort of polygamous pitching setup, where Joe Maddon pays tribute to Bill Paxton. Either way Montgomery will have some value this year. I mentioned this in Grey’s comments yesterday, but Montgomery is one of 5 pitchers in the big leagues with three pitches that have both a 10%+ swinging strike rate, and a 50%+ groundball rate. The stuff is there, Maddon here’s my plea: Forget Anderson, and give the ball to Montgomery.
Taijuan Walker, RHP Diamondbacks: Once arguably the top pitching prospect in baseball, and still just 24, Walker has been a man possessed this spring. Formerly I haven’t been the biggest Walker proponent, but he looks to be riding his slider to a breakout. I don’t love the move from an extreme pitching environment to an extreme hitting environment, but the development of a third pitch to pair with his four-seemer, and splitter has always been the tipping point we were waiting on. Yo, Malcolm Gladwell, Taijuan is tipping.
Bradley Zimmer, OF Indians: Lately it feels like I’m a one man marketing campaign to get Zimmer in the Tribe’s outfield. Why isn’t he? This team that took the Cubs to game 7, the same one that signed Edwin Encarnacion, is now worried about the service time of a 24 year old they thought would break out last year? Give me a break, it’s only a matter of time until Zimmer is patrolling the Indians outfield. He’s already their best defensive centerfielder, and might be their most explosive basestealer as well. Then you factor in that he brings a nice power/speed skillset, with an elite on base tool, and you wonder why it seems like a foregone conclusion that he’s not breaking camp. Many dynasty managers still doubt Zimmer’s hit tool, take advantage of that. All we’ve seen in the spring is the results of a swing and stance adjustment Zimmer made, in order to improve his contact path through the zone. I’m buying in, and think you should too.
Tyler O’Neill, OF Mariners: If you listened to the last episode of the Razzball prospect podcast, it’s possible that Halp just sold our very own Fantasy Master Lothario Grey Albright on the benefits of Mr. O’Neill. It’s well documented that O’Neill is one of my personal favorites. Just read my top 100, I think we’re looking at a future middle of the order 30+ home run hitter. Some of his haters will cite the strikeouts, but be wary of this argument, they’re ignoring a significant shift in approach. O’Neill made adjustments at the plate last year, and his strikeouts rate dropped by over 4%, and his walk rate jumped 4% on the other side.
Koda Glover, RHP Nationals: This one should be easy, and truth be told you might be buying at the height of the market, but we could be looking at a top potential relief option about to burst onto the scene. I’m willing to bet on Koda eventually conquering the other Nats pen options, and being really good for the next 18 months until Dusty destroys his arm. Smokey’s got my back on this, and if you know anything about anything, Smokey and I are an unstoppable duo. Ask your mom.
Manuel Margot, OF Padres: I’m getting myself into my Razzball Staff Picks at the moment, and I’m between Padres rookie teammates Manuel Margot and Hunter Renfroe for NL Rookie of the year. At the moment I’m leaning Margot, and when it comes to projecting the next 5 years plus, it’s not even close. To me, Margot is the type of talent built for the National League, great speed, contact ability, fielding, and the skills to manufacturer offense in a multitude of ways. The Padres like to run (i.e. see 2016 Wil Myers & Travis Jankowski), and Margot is a dynamo on the base paths. It wouldn’t at all shock me if Margot finishes the season in the top 5 in stolen bases, and in the top 15 in the NL in runs scored.
Robert Gsellman/Seth Lugo, RHP Mets: Sometimes at night I dream, not every night because I’m partially robot, and smoke way too much pot, but sometimes I do dream. In many of these dreams I picture a world where Zack Wheeler was sold for a first baseman, and Matt Harvey retired. In this alternate dream reality both Gsellman and Lugo are in the Mets rotation occupying the roles of 4th and 5th starter. You’ve seen what Gsellman can do if you’ve watched any Mets late last season, and he’s continued that exhibition this spring. On the other side Lugo’s taken his show on the road, and been the go to starter for the Puerto Rican National Team in the WBC, a team that was undefeated prior to last night’s loss in the championship game. Lugo’s curveball spin rate has been discussed ad nauseam, however beyond hyperbole there is something there. Gsellman has been discussed in multiple write-ups, podcasts, and mountain top primal screams. He made tweaks to his mechanics entering 2016, which resulted in all of his pitches playing up. He’s a heavy groundball pitcher, with solid enough peripherals to be 12 team mixed league relevant. Hopefully the Mets do the right thing, and let Harvey and Wheeler “get healthy” in extended spring and let Lugo and Gsellman show what they can do. Either way for dynasty owners these arms will get their shot sooner rather than later.
Austin Hedges, C Padres: The everyday starter for the Padres, and he has real hitting ability. Blessed with an above average hit tool, and some average pop, Hedges could easily finish inside the top 10 at the position as soon as this season. When Tom Murphy went down, Hedges was my replacement in all my early redrafts, he carries even more value in dynasty.
Marcus Stroman, RHP Blue Jays: Anybody see Stroman’s performance, not only last night, but throughout the WBC? Yeah, this isn’t new, he’s been doing this since the All-Star break. Without getting too far into the weeds, I’m going to attempt to explain what Stroman has done and what adjustments he’s made. After poor results in the first half of 2016, the diminutive righty knew he had to make some tweaks to his approach, and sequencing. And tweak is exactly what he did (no not like that). He began throwing his sinker less, and started to work in his slider more. BTW his slider is a great alternative to his sinker, as it provided different movement and action, while not conceding any of the groundball inducing tendencies of his sinker. Additionally Stroman used his cut fastball, and his curveball to generate more swings and misses, as well as a significant jump in infield flyballs. In fact, with the introduction of this approach, Stroman’s IFFB% jumped from 2.7% in the first half to a 9.4% jump in the second, while actually slightly improving his GB%. Let your leaguemates question Stroman’s improvement, and be the one armed with actual factual information, not tired cliches like “small righty” etc.