Fantasy 411: Separating gems from riskier options
"The times, they are a-changin'." -- Bob Dylan.
Smart fantasy owners always carry over impressions of individual players from the previous seasons. But it is also important for owners to keep up with the times and not get fixated on the "name value" that players earned in past campaigns. The ability to accumulate 2015 statistics is all that should matter when evaluating a fantasy option, and sometimes an emerging player is a smarter pick than a former star. Here is a recap of some of our most eye-opening 2015 rankings, and some background to consider on each player.
Jose Altuve (Astros): Many owners are unaware that despite logging fewer than 10 homers 60 RBIs and 90 runs, Altuve was the top fantasy hitter last season. The diminutive star could see a significant drop from his .341 batting average and 56 steals and still be the top middle infielder in 2015. Fantasy owners are often intent of chasing power, but talented speedsters are also hard to come by. Altuve's ability to post elite numbers at a premium position makes him worthy of a first-round pick, especially if the Astros' improved lineup offers him more support.
Corey Dickerson (Rockies): Dickerson was an outstanding fantasy asset last season despite having only 82 at-bats at the end of May. If he could repeat his 2014 rate of production over 550 at-bats in the coming season, the 25-year-old would post 30 homers, 96 RBIs, 93 runs, 10 steals and a .312 batting average. Those numbers would make Dickerson worthy of a first-round selection, so he can suffer a notable regression and still retain third or fourth-round value. Owners will be wise to draft this ascending talent over many stud veterans.
Starling Marte (Pirates): Marte started the 2014 season slowly, but 21 first-half steals retained most of his value until he caught fire with a .348 batting average and eight homers in 187 second-half at-bats. The speedster should be able to swipe 35 bases this season, and if he can maintain the power surge, he could approach 20 dingers. As a poor man's Carlos Gomez, Marte is worth a third-round selection.
Alex Cobb (Rays): Cobb has quietly become a fantasy stud, as he has posted a sub-3.00 ERA in each of the past two seasons. The right-hander took his game to another level in the second half of 2014, when he posted a 1.79 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP. Durability has been Cobb's biggest shortcoming to date, as he has yet to exceed 170 innings in a single season, but if he can make 33 starts, he should be a borderline ace.
Evan Gattis (Astros): Catchers are a risky proposition, but in 2015 Gattis will present fantasy owners with the attractive option of having a backstop who never dons his catching gear. As a combination outfielder/first baseman/designated hitter, Gattis should exceed 500 at-bats, which is great news for a stud slugger who has hit 43 homers in 723 at-bats over the past two campaigns. The 28-year-old has a better chance to reach the 30-homer mark than any other catcher-eligible option, and he is the best choice at the position once Buster Posey is off the board.
Carlos Gonzalez (Rockies): There are some owners who still consider Gonzalez to be a first or second-round pick. But he has amassed a total of 651 at-bats over the past two years. The Rockies' stud could post a stellar line across a 500 at-bat season, but that may be wishful thinking, considering that he has amassed that total just once in the past four seasons. Also, in 2014 Gonzalez attempted three steals in 70 games, which is a troubling trend for a player who was a lock for 20-plus swipes from 2010-13.
Evan Longoria (Rays): The Rays' star has hit more than 22 homers just twice in the past five seasons, despite logging at least 483 at-bats in four of those campaigns. Longoria has hit over .270 once in the past four years, and he has hit under .255 in two of those seasons. Speed is no longer a part of the 29-year-old's game, as he has swiped a total of 11 bases over the past four years. Longoria is still a quality third-base option, but he has become an inconsistent power hitter who offers no speed and struggles to hit for average.
David Wright (Mets): Like Longoria, Wright is a popular player who has been quite inconsistent. The Mets' stud has failed to top 430 at-bats in two of the past four years. He hit less than .270 in two of those seasons, and he topped the 20-homer and 15-steal marks just once in that four-year stretch. The Mets did little to augment their offense this winter, which is troubling since Wright did not surpass 65 runs or RBIs 2011, '13 or '14.
Joey Votto (Reds): In terms of getting on base, Votto is without peer. However, few fantasy leagues use on-base percentage as a category, and injuries are really catching up with the Canadian, as he has failed to reach 375 at-bats in two of the past three years. He has collected 44 homers and 152 RBIs during the past three seasons, and the lack of power may have dragged down his batting average last year, when he hit .255. At this point, Votto owners are dealing with a player at the deepest fantasy position, who does not supply much power, rarely swipes bases and may not post a high batting average.
Carlos Santana (Indians): There is some residual, "Carlos Santana is a valuable asset" sentiment in fantasy circles, left over from his days as a catcher. But the 28-year-old is not a catcher anymore, and the standards are much higher for corner infielders. Santana hit .231 last season, he lacks speed, and he has exceeded the 20-homer mark once in the past three years. He is a useful third baseman in mixed leagues, but he is not a special asset now that he no longer serves behind the plate.
Joe Mauer (Twins): Mauer, who has exceeded 455 at-bats once in the past four seasons, has topped 13 homers once in his 11-year career. His lack of power is virtually unheard of for a mixed-league first baseman, and Mauer, who used to be a high-average hitter, has hit under .288 in two of the past four seasons. The Twin Cities star has surpassed 75 RBIs once in the past five years. Fantasy owners are better off to lock in one of the many first basemen who can supply 20-25 homers and 80-90 RBIs.