Not a whole lot changes during the first month of the season. There simply haven’t been enough plate appearances yet to knock established players for poor performances, ditto boosting them due to strong performances. Injury is the biggest reason why players move from tier to tier at this point of the season. Our preseason consensus rankings can be found right here while the April tiers are right here.
How much longer do we consider Pujols an elite player? He’s off to another slow start (89 wRC+) and it’s painful just watching him run these days because of his knees and plantar fasciitis and whatever else. The homers and RBI totals are still there, but everything else is going south. Pretty scary.
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Over the last three or four years, it’s become pretty clear the Yankees have one of the better pro scouting departments in the game. Everyone offseason they acquire some retreads and somehow turn them into useful players, like Bartolo Colon or Eric Chavez or Marcus Thames. They seem to revive guys from the baseball graveyard, and this year they might have done their greatest work, turning Vernon Wells back into a legitimate big league player.
Wells, 34, was hilariously bad with the Angels the last two years. You know that. He hit .222/.258/.409 (82 wRC+) in 791 plate appearances from 2011-2012, his only saving grace the 33 homers he swatted from the right side. Wells was effectively done as a MLB caliber hitter, someone who kept his job only because of the tens of millions of dollars still owed to him. Fantasy owners didn’t even have to think twice about dropping him from their roster or consider him on draft day.
It’s a little early in the year to be overhauling preseason position rankings, but that doesn’t mean players have not shown good and bad signs yet. First base is a premium production position, so any change in a player’s projected value is a big deal. It’s almost impossible to win a league without big time first base production. Here are two guys who are improving their stock and two on the way down.
When the Yankees let Russell Martin walk as a free agent this offseason, their catching crop became fantasy irrelevant. Chris Stewart hasn’t hit a lick in his career and the team thought so little of Francisco Cervelli that he was the guy they sent to Triple-A when they acquired Stewart last year. Considering their track records, it was no surprise the Yankees ranked 29th in our Catcher Power Rankings.
Manager Joe Girardi indicated before the season that his catching plan called for “fairly even split” in terms of playing time between Stewart and Cervelli. Two weeks into the season, that plan is out the window. The 27-year-old Cervelli has managed a .360/.500/.520 (189 wRC+) batting line with seven walks and one strikeout (!) early on, so the “play the hot hand strategy” has prevailed. He’s started nine of the team’s eleven games this far, including all three against the division rival Orioles this past weekend.
Spring Training stats don’t mean much of anything, but the Red Sox couldn’t ignore the .419/.507/.613 batting line Jackie Bradley Jr. put up in camp. With a spare bench spot thanks to David Ortiz’s continued injury problems, Boston took their 22-year-old wunderkind north and installed him as their everyday left fielder. Manager John Farrell wasn’t joking about the “everyday” part either, he started the left-handed hitting Bradley against CC Sabathia on Opening Day. He was rewarded with three walks in five plate appearances.
Before we go any further, let’s take a second to look back at what our own Marc Hulet said about Bradley this past winter when he ranked him as the Red Sox’s third-best prospect:
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My comrades have been rolling out their bold predictions all week, so now it’s my turn to keep things going. I went 2-for-10 last season, which is probably replacement level for these things. Then again, I was one stupid Scott Downs save away from going 3-for-10, and 3-for-10 sounds a whole lot better than 2-for-10. Here are this year’s predictions:
1. Bryce Harper will be a top-five fantasy player.
The Yankees’ outfield has undergone quite a transformation not just since last season, but since the start of Spring Training. Since Grapefruit League games started in late-February, the Yankees have lost Curtis Granderson to injury (fractured forearm), released Matt Diaz, traded for Vernon Wells (still unofficial, but it will happen), and signed two players off the scrap heap after they were released by other clubs. Here’s the outfield alignment the team is looking at come Opening Day…
Earlier this month we rolled out our consensus rankings, and now it’s time to pick them apart a bit and separate everyone into individual tiers. The individual player rankings slightly different from our consensus — I did disagree with some rankings and adjusted accordingly — but not a whole lot. In the past I excluded the catcher-eligible guys from the first base rankings because no one ever bothered to actually plug those guys into first base in their lineups, but I’m going to include them this year for the sake of completeness. Here are the tiers:
Despite offseason knee surgery and what is now a four-year decline in wRC+, Pujols remains in the top spot because he’s as much of a lock for .280/30/100 as any player in the game. At first base you need guaranteed production, and that’s exactly what Albert gives you. Votto is kinda coming off a knee injury of his own and would occupy the top spot in OBP leagues. Fielder mashes andI don’t think there would be much argument if he ranked ahead of the other two.
My how times have changed. Four seasons ago the Yankees rode one of the best infields in baseball history — combined 23.5 WAR out of their starting catcher, first baseman, second baseman, shortstop, and third baseman — to the World Championship, but when 2013 opens they will have one bonafide superstar, one major question mark, and three guys either hurt or coming off injury on the infield. You have to see it to believe how ugly it is:
Times are changing for the Yankees bullpen, which will officially be without Mariano Rivera starting next season. The future Hall of Famer confirmed the 2013 season will be his last as a player over the weekend, but the club and its fans got a sneak preview of what life without Mo will be like last summer. Rivera threw only 8.1 innings before blowing his knee in a freak (fly ball!) shagging injury in early-May. Rafael Soriano stepped in and saved 42 games, but was allowed to leave as a free agent this winter.
For now, the team’s bullpen will resemble their bullpens of the last three or four years. There is a new face or two and a player coming back from injury, but the core is unchanged. That’s generally good news for fantasy owners.