As I write this, it's two weeks to go until Opening Day. I know I will be cracking open a cold one watching Kershaw vs. Bumgarner, a common matchup, but one that never gets old. It's also time to kick off this column, and as I look at the drafts I've done so far, as per usual, I'm ending up with many of the same players across teams. Some of those will work out and many won't, but I'm going to share 10 players who I've targeted, possibly over-drafted and/or ultimately might regret taking over other options.
Willie Calhoun, OF/DH, TEX
I'm still processing Tuesday's news that Calhoun will open the season in Triple-A, as all indications had him being the team's Opening Day left fielder. Calhoun, though, hit .243/.282/.324 with one XBH in 37 plate appearances this spring, but it's more likely a service time issue than a handful of March at-bats. Calhoun will need about a month in the minors for the Rangers to gain an extra year of control, and given concerns about his transition from second base to left field, it makes sense to work on his defense in Triple-A. We will see him up for good in May, and his bat is very good. Calhoun has struck out about 12 percent of the time in the minors, so he makes good contact, and while he's stocky (i.e. slow), that level of contact rate should set his AVG floor at .280 with .300-plus upside. While the Rangers wait for Calhoun, Drew Robinson
is expected to man left field. I can hear a deafening roar of “who?” out there. Robinson batted a modest .224/.314/.439 in 121 plate appearances with the Rangers last year, but he did hit six home runs despite striking out in more than a third of those plate appearances. The batting average floor is pretty low (.210?), but in deeper leagues, his power makes him a bit of a sleeper.
Miguel Andujar, 3B, NYY
The appeal for me was/is obvious. I wish he were related to Joaquin Andujar, as I loved watching him pitch back in the 1970s and 1980s. The appeal with Miguel is, first and foremost, being a part of a fearsome lineup. He would probably hit toward the bottom of the lineup, but even being in the same lineup as players like Giancarlo Stanton
and Aaron Judge
doesn't hurt. Andujar also hit .317/.364/.502 last season in Triple-A before going 4-for-7 with a pair of doubles in a brief cup of coffee in September. Andujar is batting .250/.270/.714 with a 7:1 K:BB and four home runs in 37 plate appearances this spring, so while he has 20-plus home run power, he probably needs a little more fine tuning at Triple-A. Andujar did have a decent 6.8 BB% there last year to go with a strong 13.2 K%, but with Brandon Drury
having a strong spring himself (.922 OPS) and Neil Walker
now aboard to fill second base, I expect Andujar to be optioned to Triple-A any day. I can see him hitting .280 with 15 homers for the Yankees this year, but a quick return to the big leagues isn't guaranteed.
Dansby Swanson, SS, ATL
Swanson is never going to be the force that fellow No. 1 overall picks Bryce Harper
, Carlos Correa
and Justin Upton
have become, but I still see that .302/.361/.442 he put up in 2016 with the Braves (145 PA) and think there's still hope. He even did that despite having just 84 games above A-ball under his belt, so to say he might have been rushed is probably an understatement. Swanson regressed mightily last year (.232/.412/.324) and is hitting .212/.297/.394 this spring through 12 games, but that just offers a buy-low situation, right? I look at things this way, though: he was a No. 1 overall pick, he was rushed and upon returning from Triple-A last year, Swanson hit an improved .268/.360/.348 (though he failed to homer in those 189 PA). He might not have the upside that we hope for from someone with his pedigree, but at least you can get him cheap. If you're wondering what Plan B could be should Swanson need further minor league seasoning, one scenario could be moving Johan Camargo
to shortstop and using either Rio Ruiz
or perhaps even top prospect Austin Riley
at third, though Riley has just 48 games above A-ball and doesn't turn 21 until next month.
Jose Berrios, SP, MIN
We have Berrios as our 29th-ranked starting pitcher, but there's enough here for him to sneak into the top 20 with further development. In comparing his MLB book of work from 2016 to 2017, the results are striking:
Berrios may have worn down over the course of the season, as in his first nine starts he notched a 2.98 followed by a 4.54 mark in his final 17 starts. Like most young starters, Berrios has great stuff highlighted by a 94 mph sinking fastball, but again like most, his changeup needs plenty of fine tuning. Berrios also posted a 5.17 ERA on the road versus 2.41 at home, so there's plenty of opportunity for improvement as he gets stronger, refines his stuff and gets comfortable on the road. He also showed an improved swinging-strike rate of 9.4 percent (8.2 percent in 2016), though that rate remains a bit low (10.4 percent is league average) and is nowhere near the 13-plus percent rates that league aces routinely put up. Still, he's still developing and with his pedigree as a former No. 32 overall pick and top prospect, it's easy to see further improvement in 2018. With new addition Logan Morrison
to an improving young offense, Berrios looks primed for big things this year.
Matt Kemp, OF, LAD
Yes, it's spring training, but Kemp hitting .379/.419/.862 (including four home runs) has Dodgers fans thinking back to Kemp's should've-been MVP season of 2011. Up close, Kemp appears to be in great shape out in Glendale, Ariz. He's having fun, playing well and the fans are giving him bigger ovations than any other Dodger. So, does that mean he's the frontrunner for left field? Not necessarily. Report of his defense remain mixed at best, and fellow left-field candidate Andrew Toles
is batting .355/.353/.677 himself. Toles is a better defender and is far faster on the base paths. A Toles/Enrique Hernandez
platoon remains a strong possibility. Kemp may really be auditioning at this point for other teams given the Dodgers would love to move a chunk of his remaining $42 million in salary off the books. Surely the reported 40-plus pounds Kemp dropped over the winter will help his defense, but it may result in just awful defense instead of historically bad. Still, if the Dodgers are willing to sacrifice defense for offense and no team offers to take on enough of Kemp's contract, he could be the team's everyday left fielder. Barring a red-hot couple weeks, Joc Pederson
will likely be traded or open in Triple-A, so this is really Kemp vs. Toles at this point. A platoon is a possibility, and that would seemingly favor Toles.
Mike Clevinger, SP, CLE
With Danny Salazar
(shoulder) set to open 2018 on the disabled list, Clevinger will get his chance to stick in the rotation. Clevinger opened eyes last year with a 3.11 ERA and 10.1 K/9 in 121.2 innings, though his 4.4 BB/9 resulted in a 3.89 FIP. Clevinger has struggled with his control throughout his career and sits with a career 4.6 BB/9 in 174.2 innings to go with a strong 9.6 K/9. If he can just get that BB/9 down to the low 3s, he'll provide a huge return on his 209 ADP. Clevinger has walked just one batter in nine innings this spring, so while the sample size is low, perhaps he's making progress. Clevinger also possesses Jacob deGrom
type hair, so if that's your thing, there you go. Salazar is slated to return within the first week or two of the season opener, so he'll have to start strong to stick, but there's always the very hittable Josh Tomlin
who can be banished to the bullpen. Tomlin incidentally has a 7.36 ERA in 7.1 innings this spring despite 10 strikeouts.
Steven Duggar, OF, SF
I've ended up with Duggar in a couple deeper formats, even though I'm not quite convinced he's old enough (24) for the Giants to view him as a viable CF option. All jokes aside, Duggar is competing with Austin Jackson
for the center field job and is off to a nice start, batting .300/.400/.733 with four home runs in 36 PA. Duggar has a history of performing fairly well against LHP as well as righties, so in theory he could be an everyday player, but it's tough to see that happening right away given the presence of Jackson as well as Duggar's in experience. Duggar has a 12.8 BB% in more than 1,000 minor league plate appearances, so if he can eventually develop 20-home run power, Duggar can be an effective or even slightly above-average regular. This year, I'd probably set the over/under for Duggar 300 at-bats. Still plenty of playing time to give him NL-only value.
Blake Swihart, C, BOS
Out of minor league options, Swihart would easily be claimed on waivers should the Red Sox elect to not keep him on the 25-man roster on Opening Day. Another scenario would be a trade to a catcher-hungry team, but Swihart is making a good case for sticking around. The catcher/utility man is still batting a solid .361/.425/.722 in 40 plate appearances. Swihart has seven doubles and two home runs among his 13 hits while posting a solid 7:4 K:BB. Swihart has seen some of the luster wear off the last couple years, but he turns just 26 next month and he was a 2011 first-round pick, so maybe he can be a late-bloomer. Swihart could see him at catcher, first base, DH and the outfield corners if he makes the team, but there still may not be more than 250 plate appearances available unless he really starts hot.
Matt Harvey, SP, NYM
A large part of me knows this has a good chance of not ending well, but the Mets know Harvey best and they were at least comfortable risking tendering Harvey a contract this winter, so I guess we should have some hope as well. Harvey's 5.59 ERA this spring is less-than-stellar, but five of the six runs came against a Yankees lineup that had many of their regulars, so we'll give him a slight pass on that one. On the plus side, after seeing his velocity drop in each of the last two seasons, Harvey has hit at least as high as 96 mph this spring after averaging 93.8 last year. His next start this week will give us more data, but if the velocity is good, Harvey can be a bit of a sleeper. Remember, this is a guy who had a 2.53 ERA in his first 65 big league starts while striking out more than a hitter per innings, so even recapturing 80-plus percent of that will bring a nice return on his current 345 ADP. I'd take a flier in the last couple rounds of a 12-team mixed league draft for sure.
Luke Weaver, SP, STL
Weaver has never been an elite prospect along the lines of teammate Alex Reyes
, but I like Weaver more this year and am pretty sure I'll end up owning multiple shares. After four perfect innings in his last start, Weaver has allowed one run in nine innings this spring with a 9:1 K:BB. Weaver features a 92-94 mph fastball with an elite changeup, which is usually the pitch that develops last. If his slightly below-average curve can develop into an above-average pitch, I can see Weaver as a No. 2 starter on a contender. With a 2.7 BB/9 in 96.2 big league innings, Weaver's control is already solid, but given his 1.8 minor league mark, he has elite control upside. I wonder about his workload, as Weaver tallied just 138 innings last year, and at a listed 170 pounds, expecting much more than 160 this season could be a stretch. Weaver sports a 112 ADP, a number that if it sticks, can certainly return a lot of value for his owners.