Fantasy Busts and Opportunities: NL East

Last week, a reader asked Brandon Warne a question. Behind the scenes, Warne passed it along to the rest of the RotoGraphs crew. I decided it was worth a post or six. This is how we got where we are today (aren’t you glad you read that?).

Here’s the question in paraphrased form – which current MLB starters will flop in 2017, opening an opportunity for a prospect or non-full time player?

Let’s talk about the NL East today. We’ll rinse and repeat for the other five divisions later this week. During Spring Training, we’ll go into a full dive on team depth charts, fleshing out these opportunities in more detail. This post is meant to be quick and dirty.

I’ve constrained myself to players I believe may predictably fail. The person who asked the question used the Tigers rotation, Jimmy Rollins, Shin-Soo Choo, and Luke Gregerson as examples. He or she profited from Michael Fulmer, Tim Anderson, Ken Giles, and Nomar Mazara.

NL East Opportunities

Bad teams are always a good place to scout for fresh opportunities. And despite a general improvement in the division, the NL East still has three lousy clubs. The Braves roster has plenty of players who will predictably fail. This time last week, I would have been talking up Mallex Smith as the beneficiary of an injury to Matt Kemp, Nick Markakis, and/or Ender Inciarte. Now the club will rely heavily on utility infielders to back up their fragile outfield. Look for a free agent signing.

The infield is also thin. Second base looks to be a time share between Sean Rodriguez and Jace Peterson. Third base is manned by Adonis Garcia. Combined, the trio projects for about 1.2 WAR. If I thought Ozzie Albies was the type of player to produce immediately, I’d recommend him. Alas, I expect Albies to be overmatched in his first exposure. He’s still a viable stash.

A lot of interesting things can happen in the Braves rotation and bullpen. Matt Wisler and Aaron Blair are the sixth and seventh starters. Arodys Vizcaino is the setup man for Jim Johnson.

Moving south to Miami, the Marlin to watch is David Phelps. Alex Chamberlain wrote about Phelps in detail last week. I agree with the analysis – Phelps is a solid breakout target. The club also seems dissatisfied with A.J. Ramos as the closer. Keep an eye on Kyle Barraclough, Phelps, and Brad Ziegler. The position players are relatively secure. Derek Dietrich draws the short straw until somebody hits the disabled list.

The Mets clogged outfield presents challenges, although the pain may be alleviated if Lucas Duda isn’t right. Michael Conforto is probably the second string first baseman. The infield as a whole is interestingly arranged. Nobody knows what to expect from David Wright which puts Jose Reyes‘ role in question. Asdrubal Cabrera and Neil Walker aren’t avatars of health either.

In the bullpen, I’m moving aggressively on Addison Reed. With Jeurys Familia out an undetermined amount of time (probably 30 days), Reed can and should steal the ninth inning. He’s a better pitcher than Familia who is now best known for ruining two straight postseasons.

In the rotation, the whole crew is an injury risk. Luckily, the fifth starter’s job is a battle between Zack Wheeler, Seth Lugo, and Robert Gsellman. When healthy, all three of them are good enough for normal 12 team formats.

The Nationals spent their rotation depth to acquire Adam Eaton. Now they really need their top five to stay on the bump. Joe Ross might temporarily get bumped from the rotation if the Nats sign somebody like Jason Hammel – which they probably should.

Their bullpen is interesting and deep. Shawn Kelley is the guy for now, but nobody will be surprised if hard throwers like Blake Treinen, Koda Glover, or Trevor Gott assert themselves. Kelley is an injury risk due to his over-reliance on sliders.

On the position side, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman have brittle holds on the starting job. The old man brigade isn’t under any real pressure. Backups include Michael Taylor and Clint Robinson.

Nearly the entire Phillies roster is at risk of overthrow. Starting catcher Cameron Rupp thrived on (unsustainable) lefty mashing in 2016. He has interesting power for a catcher, but not enough to hold off Jorge Alfaro once he’s ready.

Tommy Joseph is a guy I love this year, but players who come out of nowhere sometimes return to nowhere. He’s a volatile target. Rhys Hoskins has a Spring Training invite – mostly to familiarize himself with the process. He’ll start the season at Triple-A. Maikel Franco could be pushed across the diamond if the Phillies opt to take a shot on a split contract for somebody like Jae-hyun Hwang (not rumored to be likely).

In the middle infield, one of Freddy Galvis or Cesar Hernandez will probably cede their position to J.P. Crawford. When that happens depends entirely on Crawford’s development. Galvis nearly went 20-20 last summer while Hernandez posted over a .400 OBP in the second half. Neither performance looks sustainable. I’d bet on Galvis drawing the super utility role.

The Phillies supposedly want to sign another outfielder. With Howie Kendrick slated to play left while backing up the infield, there was already only one spot for Roman Quinn and Aaron Altherr. Both players need to be in a lineup to develop. At least one of them will open in Triple-A. They’re both better fantasy assets than Kendrick.

The rotation has injury issues, and the depth has more projection than actual performance. Jake Thompson, Zach Eflin, and Adam Morgan looked the closest to becoming fantasy eligible pitchers. I wouldn’t use them until they prove it in the majors. If you’re in a NL Only league, they’re worth a stash. I also like Thomas Eschelman, although he’ll have to adjust too.

Who knows what to expect out of the bullpen. I’d use Joaquin Benoit and Pat Neshek as the closer candidates with Hector Neris and other hard throwers as they reveal themselves. Maybe middle reliever Jeanmar Gomez keeps the ninth inning (unlikely). I know a lot of people are betting on Neris’ splitter, but he occasionally loses feel for the pitch. Benoit offers a similar profile and more consistency.

Grid of NL East Opportunities
Potential Bust Players to Stash Players to Stash Players to Stash
Braves OF Unsigned
Braves 2B/3B Ozzie Albies
Braves Rotation Matt Wisler Aaron Blair
Jim Johnson Arodys Vizcaino Mauricio Cabrera
Marlins Rotation David Phelps
A.J. Ramos Kyle Barraclough Brad Ziegler David Phelps
Lucas Duda Michael Conforto
Jay Bruce Michael Conforto Jose Reyes
David Wright Jose Reyes
Jeurys Familia Addison Reed
Mets Rotation Robert Gsellman Seth Lugo
Nationals Rotation unsigned
Shawn Kelley Blake Treinen Koda Glover Trevor Gott
Cameron Rupp Jorge Alfaro
Tommy Joseph Rhys Hoskins Converted Outfielders
Freddy Galvis J.P. Crawford
Phillies Rotation Jake Thompson et al
Phillies Bullpen Joaquin Benoit Hector Neris Pat Neshek

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All those injury risks in the Mets infield but no mention of Wilmer Flores? Is it because the Mets seem to be inexplicably down on him or am I missing something?